Which would you rather have: a space program or cool army tents in the Mideast? The US military spends $20.2 billion annually on air conditioning for tents in Iraq and Afghanistan—an amount that NPR notes tops NASA's entire budget, all damages BP has paid for the Gulf oil spill, and what the G-8 has pledged for new democracies in Egypt and Tunisia.
"When you consider the cost to deliver the fuel to some of the most isolated places in the world—escorting, command and control, medevac support—when you throw all that infrastructure in, we're talking over $20 billion," says a former chief logistician for the army. In addition to the financial cost of transporting fuel more than 800 miles to outposts in Afghanistan, the practice has huge human cost—the expert estimates more than 1,000 troops have died in fuel convoys. He says the solution could be as simple as better tent insulation. "A simple policy signed by the secretary of defense—a one- or two-page memo, saying we will no longer build anything other than energy-efficient structures in Iraq and Afghanistan—would have a profound impact." (Read more army stories.)