1.21.2010

Green Army Men


Market-based solutions to climate change have proven so far elusive: politicians are too weak-kneed to impose more proper pricing signals via a carbon tax, cap and trade too easily morphs into a sop to your favorite industries and consultants, and regulations and subsidies leave it up to politicos to pick winners and losers. But might the people who brought you the computer and the Internet show us a better way?

I'm talking, of course, of the US military, who may or may not care about the planet but sure as heck care about dollars and death. The Economist profiles them in a recent Technology Quarterly supplement: "Greenery on the March." Given that tanks burn insane amounts of gas, and transporting all that gas involves actions that put soldiers in harm's way, the armed forces have every incentive to figure out how to go green.

One wrinkle that I hope finds some traction in the civilian world is this notion of a "fully burdened" cost: military planners account not only for the cost of fuel but of transporting it, which in war zones can make a two or three dollar gallon of gas cost closer to $400. Sounds like a funky thing to imitate outside of the battlefield, but then again I'm pretty sure the inventors of Arpanet weren't thinking about Twitter and Facebook when they were trying to figure out how to route data; the makers of Eniac sure weren't thinking about iBooks when they were tryingto figure out how to calculate what trajectory to launch their missiles.

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