Getting on the Biofuel bus with Veterans for Clean Energy

Posted by Ben Jervey

biobus.22510Something's different about the latest climate action road trip barnstorming the country in a biodiesel bus, holding clean energy rallies in cities and towns along the way. Camouflage has replaced the polar bear costumes. There's less "Save Gaia" and more "Semper Fi." Less dreadlocks and more buzzcuts. That's because the volunteers in Operation Free are all veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and have since deployed on this tour to teach Americans how climate change and our dependence on foreign oil are serious threats to our national security…The goal of Operation Free is laid out plainly in military terms. Mission: Secure America with Clean Energy. A two-and-a-half month bus tour with over 70 stops at VFWs, American Legion halls, and veterans memorials across 17 states is the first leg of this mission. (There's also a commercial airing nationally to complement the tour.) Campaign director Jonathan Murray, who served four years in the Marines before going to college and getting involved with veterans campaigns, explained that while the tour was "concentrating on states with Senators that can be persuaded to vote for a climate change bill," this tour was more about education. "It's not a political message at all," Murray says. "It comes straight from the Pentagon. Nobody knows that the Pentagon has officially said that climate change is a destabilizing force."Murray highlights the Pentagon's Quadrennial Review, released earlier this month, that warned of climate change acting as an "accerlerant of instability" by weakening states, causing droughts and famine, increasing the spread of disease, spurring mass migration, and creating breeding grounds for terrorism. He also points to the CIA's recent creation of a climate change center and the National Intelligence Estimate officially finding climate change to be a national security threat.The messengers of Operation Free offer a three-prong argument for clean energy security. First, climate change makes the world a more dangerous place. Second, America is depending on geopolitical rivals for a resource–oil–that we need to both defend our country and run our economy, and this makes us vulnerable. And third, we're sending $1 billion every day to these countries that don't like us very much, and a lot of that money winds up in the hands of terrorists or forces fighting our troops abroad.

Operation Free's David Solimini expanded on this last point. "The single largest funder for the Taliban is not poppy, as many would like us to believe," he says. "It's donations from wealthy people in Saudi Arabia. How did they get wealthy? It wasn't because they were selling sand. When we fill up our tanks, we end up putting bullets in the guns of people firing at our guys in the mountains of Afghanistan."The message has resonated well in the VFWs and Legion halls, as well as on Main Street. Former Army 1st Armored Division's Robin Eckstein  says the people they meet tend to be more open minded because they're talking to veterans. "Most people just need some help putting this puzzle together," she says. "They see this isn't just a dirty hippie thing, that this is a national security issue, that it doesn't matter if you're left or right, and that it's the future of the U.S. we're talking about."Eckstein served for seven years, mostly driving a truck to deliver fuel and water to bases around Baghdad. Every time she left the secured gates of Baghdad International Airport was a "roll of the dice," and while risking her life daily, it became all too clear just how dangerous this dependence on one resource was for the military, and in a larger sense, for her country."Just because I've taken off my uniform and am no longer actually in the service, I feel like I'm still serving my country," she says. "I know I'm doing good."CORRECTION: This story reported that Operation Free is staffed with veterans of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. While most are War on Terror vets, some are peace time vets, and Vietnam era vets. Operation Free even has a participating Korean war vet. The title was updated to reflect the correction.This post originally appeared on www.refresheverything.com, as part of GOOD's collaboration with the Pepsi Refresh Project, a catalyst for world-changing ideas. Find out more about the Refresh campaign, or to submit your own idea today.