In the West Wing

View from the West Wing of the White House.

View from the West Wing of the White House.

So no shit, there I was: sitting in the Roosevelt Room of the West Wing of the White House, at one end of a long, elegantly crafted wooden table, shoulder to shoulder with smart, accomplished veterans from the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps who were there to speak to key White House and Administration staff about something critically important to us: the ongoing national security threat of U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, and the threats and catastrophes we see happening now as a result of climate change.

The Roosevelt Room was the perfect setting for what we were talking about: a portrait of Teddy Roosevelt mounted on a horse in his Rough Riders uniform–a Republican who blended American strength and military might with socially progressive policies–on one wall; and opposite that, a portrait of Franklin Roosevelt seated at a desk–a Democrat whose stalwart progressivism brought America out of economic and social collapse. These images served to remind us that our two primary political parties have had historically different ideas and approaches, but ultimately keeping America strong and thriving is hardly a partisan issue. Or it shouldn’t be.

In the short time we had in the West Wing, I talked about how as an Army loggie who has spent some time in Afghanistan, I saw how much effort and risk goes in to moving and managing fuel in hard-to-reach places like Afghanistan’s eastern mountains, what it’s like when troops have to hustle to overcome hiccups and shortages, and just how much fuel we used to power vehicles and generators on a daily basis. I also talked about how after I left active duty in 2007, I wanted to put the skills I learned in the Army to work in public service (as so many veterans also choose to do) to make us safer at home by working in emergency management. I spent almost six years helping to improve and refine plans for getting, moving, and distributing supplies and equipment after a large-scale disaster in New York City, plus helping to implement lessons learned from storms like Irene and Sandy, as well as looking ahead at what the next disaster might be.

I was just one person in a huge undertaking, but this much was clear to me in the work I did: climate change is here, and the emergency management crises caused by the increased precipitation we’ve had, from snowstorms to all-day rainstorms, now pose an incredible challenge to governments on a continuous basis. When Irene and Sandy hit NYC, they weren’t even hurricanes–and NYC is highly vulnerable to hurricanes–yet their impacts were breathtaking in consequence and cost to real people and businesses, as well as the overall health of our City, region, and nation. More recently, as a volunteer loggie with the other veterans and great people of Team Rubicon, I saw firsthand the catastrophic consequences of a “super” typhoon–a size and magnitude of storm never before seen–on the coastal communities of such a world treasure of a place as the Philippines. Climate change is real, it is happening, and it is affecting real people and places that I care about and have seen personally, from a boots-on-the ground perspective. The intensive work that governments and public-private partnerships are doing now to build resiliency into vulnerable communities is vital, but it also simply won’t be enough to keep pace with what is already happening to us, and is continuing to worsen. Unless we do something now about what’s causing it. And yeah, I basically said all of that, only with my wavy hands and awkward word choices.

Meetings in both the West Wing and the Eisenhower Building.

Meetings in both the West Wing and the Eisenhower Building.

This was my first event with the distinguished veterans of Operation Free, and it was truly an honor to get to tell my story in their presence, as well as to be speaking with senior staff of the Executive Branch of the most powerful and influential nation on the planet. It was a profound honor and humbling experience to be included among these amazing veterans at such a forum. The stories these other veterans told were just as personal, and far more eloquent: these are veterans whose experiences in military service (from spending time on ships circling oil platforms across the world and keeping oil shipping channels open, to driving in or overseeing fuel convoys that cost even more fuel, time, and lives) made them so committed to finding alternatives to oil that many of them are now working to put other veterans to work developing and installing renewable energy platforms, and otherwise advocating for programs and policies at local, state, and national levels to find alternative, renewable sources of energy that reduce American dependence on oil. The overall purpose of our stories and meetings in the Roosevelt Room, and later in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, was to show that veterans are maybe the ideal and most credible advocates to speak up and say why it matters to do something about oil dependence and climate change. It was really an amazing experience to be heard, and listened to.

We wrapped up the day with a screening of a new documentary called THE BURDEN at the Capitol Visitor Center, which was hosted by Operation Free and Rep. Scott Peters. The film is a sharp, focused, and highly informative look at the extremely high costs America pays to keep access to its fuel supply, as well as move it into combat zones and even to pumps at home in the U.S. And there simply aren’t enough oil reserves on American soil to ever break away from the rest of the global supply of oil. These reasons together make oil dependence a profound and critical national security issue, even without considering the added impacts that oil consumption has on climate change. I’ll talk more about The Burden in the future–and hopefully we can bring a screening to NYC as this important film gets going at festivals and finds the right distribution. Because it is a critical message, no matter where one falls on the political spectrum.

Operation Free veterans at the White House on July 23, 2014

Operation Free veterans at the White House on July 24, 2014

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