There has recently been a fair bit of media coverage discussing an announcement from the United States Air Force that they are trying to use 50% synthetic fuel by 2016. The Lede, a blog associated with the New York Times, seems to misunderstand the issue completely. They are citing this as an example of the Air Force “trying to be true stewards of the environment.” There is no reason for which synthetic fuels are necessarily more environmentally friendly than petroleum; indeed, those made from coal are significantly worse.
The actual fuel being used – dubbed JP-8 – is made from natural gas. Air Force officials say they eventually intend to make it from coal, given that the United States has abundant reserves. This inititative is about symbolically reducing dependence on petroleum imports, not about protecting the environment. The German and Japanese governments did the same thing during the Second World War, when their access to oil was restricted. Furthermore, it is worth stressing that efforts by militaries to be greener are virtually always going to be window dressing. The operation of armed forces is inevitably hugely environmentally destructive: from munitions factories to test ranges to the wanton fuel inefficiency of aircraft afterburners, the whole military complex is about as anti-green as you can get.
People should be unwilling to accept superficial claims that installing some solar panels and building hybrid tanks is going to change that.