The top sustainability stories for the year ahead

Last month I shared my picks for the top sustainability stories of 2012; I also reflected on the predictions I made at the beginning of last year, summarizing what happened on the items that I saw, and adding a number of other items that I had missed.

Here are my picks for the top sustainability stories on the horizon for 2013.

Defense drives

The U.S. Department of Defense is emerging as a major driver of sustainability initiatives in the U.S., driven by a very steely-eyed assessment of national security considerations.

In September, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that military reliance on fossil fuels creates significant risks and costs on both tactical and strategic levels. The Defense Department (DoD) is looking at the impact both on military capacity — measured in dollars, mission effectiveness and lives — but also the impact on the national security of the country and the vulnerability of the country to unreliable fossil fuel supplies and climate disruption.

As a result, DoD has been a major player in the new energy economy, both as investor and as market maker. How important is this? Well, the past few times they tried it, we got transistors, the semiconductor industry and the internet.

The realism at DoD stands in stark contrast to the ideological blinders at the House of Representatives, where some conservatives have slammed DoD for investing in biofuels, renewables and energy efficiency. Though long seen as knee-jerk advocates for military spending, they act as though blind to the $400 a gallon to move diesel fuel to troops “in theater,” and to the harsh but real DoD's key performance metrics: the number of lives list per thousand gallons of diesel delivered.

I'm betting that realism will trump ideology — at least here.

Next page: Fossils dig in