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Imagine "net zero." That's the wonky phrase attached to an elegant idea – namely, converting communities to total renewable energy, complete recycling, and a culture of conservation to bring humankind's carbon footprint into a sustainable balance with a healthy earth.

Imagine “net zero.” That’s the wonky phrase attached to an elegant idea – namely, converting communities to total renewable energy, complete recycling, and a culture of conservation to bring humankind’s carbon footprint into a sustainable balance with a healthy earth.

Now, imagine the least likely place you’d expect this ideal to take root… and even flourish. How about an Army base? In Texas, no less! Astonishingly, America’s net zero future is being pioneered at Fort Bliss, a sprawling military base of 35,000 soldiers in El Paso.

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The post already has a 1.4-megawatt solar array and has placed rooftop solar panels on all base housing (generating 13.4-megawatts of energy), and it’s in partnership with El Paso Electric to add a 200-acre, 20-megawatt solar farm by 2015. It also has a plan to convert post waste into energy; is engaged in wind power; geothermal and conservation projects; is promoting energy-efficient vehicles; and is building bicycle lanes.

The Army! Who knew they cared?

Bliss’s rank and file soldiers, as well as the brass, are committed to achieving the goal of net zero by 2018, meaning the base will generate all of the energy it uses – and do it with renewables. Adding to the effort, the troops have planted nearly 15,000 trees and have become converts to recycling. To encourage the latter, the base commander, Gen. Dana Pittard has put the million-dollar-a-year revenue from recycling into skating parks, exercise facilities, and other morale-boosting recreation projects.

“Everybody is getting involved,” he says, noting that the effort is changing behavior and fostering a conservation culture, which he hopes “our soldiers will then take with them when they go on.”

There’s hope for the Earth when even the Army begins to care, take action, and change attitudes.

“Fort Bliss plans largest solar farm in military,” Austin American Statesman, April 6, 2013.

“Fort Bliss to launch military’s largest renewable energy project,” www.military.com, April 5, 2013.

“US Army Blows Away The Renewable Energy Competition,” www.cleantechnica.com, April 6, 2013.

“Fort Bliss, Texas,” www.millitaryinstallations.dod.mil, April 2013.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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