S&R interviews PCAP's Bill Becker, Part 3

Posted on September 10, 2008


On Monday we introduced you to Bill Becker and heard all about PCAP’s policy suggestions. Yesterday we focused on how the United States could wean itself off of carbon using a cap-and-auction market system. Today we talk about national security and how it relates to energy and climate.

S&R: You’ve used a phrase that a photovoltaic panel, from a national security perspective, is equivalent to a rifle. Last night [at the Green Constitutional Congress] you also said that a plug-in hybrid was equivalent to a tank. How much into the public’s perception has national security risen that you’re starting to use this kind of language?

Bill Becker: Well, publicly I’m not sure it’s risen very far.

For several years there have been analyses of the national security impacts of climate change, but for the last two years we’ve seen a flurry of them. One was issued in April 2007 by the Center for Naval Analysis, the CNA. This study, headed by Sherri Goodman, who’s a former Assistant Secretary of Defense, involved eleven retired flag officers, generals and admirals, who came to the conclusion after a great deal of study that climate change was, as they put it, a “threat multiplier” that, if the science predictions are true – and they believe that they will be or could be – is going to cause upheaval in some of the most volatile parts of the world. Mass migrations, sea level rise, drought, those kinds of things. And that’s going to have direct security implications for the United States, even to the point where military bases don’t want to be connected to the grid because it’s not that reliable – [the bases] want to be independent of the grid so they’re not interrupted. Military bases located in coastal areas might be inundated [by seal level rise]. So it’s a wide-ranging issue.

Another big issue for them security wise is delivering fossil fuels to the field – it’s very expensive, the supply routes are hazardous for troops, it’s a dangerous thing to do, so they’re looking at all kinds of renewables. Another report is called “The Age of Consequences”, it was put out by a number of individuals including John Podesta at the Center for American Progress. [The report] looked at three different scenarios, sort of business as usual, kind of worse than that, and then really bad and then analyzed what the security implications would be.

And then most recently and probably most importantly, the National Intelligence Council did an analysis of the security implications of climate change and, last June in a classified report that they said something about on the hill, they agreed, that this is a national security issue, and their findings are very much in concert with those of the CNA. It’s a threat multiplier, we’ve got to act on it quickly, and it needs to be considered as a security issue.

Now, I use a bit of hyperbole [with the photovoltaics = an M-16 rifle, etc.], but what I mean to say is that investing in renewable energy and mitigating climate change and adapting to climate change needs to be considered a national security strategy. And so money that we’ve been spending thinking about security as a military issue and spending on weaponry might be invested in the kinds of technologies that prevent the security threat that these groups have identified. So there’s a little bit of hyperbole there, but really, we’re coming to the point where renewable energy is a very necessary and serious security strategy.

S&R: Are we to the point where we can consider, for example, shrinking foreign bases as a method to fund renewable energy research and development, or is that too aggressive?

BB: I wouldn’t presume to know how many foreign bases we should have and where. I would hope that we’d be entering a future where we don’t have foreign bases deployed in Muslim holy lands and other places to secure oil supplies. I would hope that we divorce ourselves as steadily and as rapidly as we can from imported oil. A lot of people have that aspiration for obvious reasons. But no, I can’t tell you where bases should be or how many there should be.

S&R: I understand. Today, one of the panelists in the Rocky Mountain Roundtable mentioned that one of the reasons the blue water navy existed was to protect access to oil shipping lanes. So basically, if I understand you correctly, you’re saying that if we wean ourselves off of oil especially, we won’t necessarily need so much Pentagon investment. Is that correct, or is that stretching it?

BB: It’s too simple. This is a very, very complex situation. Let me lay it out as best I can.

First of all, in PCAP, we suggest that America should not be the sole policeman and guardian of Persian Gulf shipping lanes. That ought to be a shared responsibility and a shared cost for all nations that rely on Persian Gulf oil. That hasn’t been the case and we think that we need to insist that way – a shared responsibility. That then frees up some money to do other things, if that comes about. But the truth is that the United States could completely cut off and stop using imported oil tomorrow and we’re still going to be vulnerable to oil shortages, embargos, and price manipulation because we’re part of a world economy, a global economy, and six of our top ten trading partners are net oil importers. And if their economies go down – Japan, China, or one of the others – our’s is going to feel it as well. So it’s a global commodity, it’s globally priced. We’re as vulnerable to the manipulations of the oil market as an oil consumer as we would be not importing it anymore.

What we suggest in PCAP is that all the oil importing nations get together and form something called the Organization of Petroleum Importing Countries, OPIC, so that the users are getting together and collaborating on research and development, policy, and mechanisms to wean us all gradually from foreign oil. And that’s necessary not just because we don’t like oil shocks, it’s necessary because oil supplies are running out. The cheap oil is no longer there. We’re reaching, if we have not already reached, peak oil, and what that means is that when one country in the world gets more oil, some other country is going to get less. When we had more demand for oil in the past, we just produced more. We’re not there any more. So that’s going to cause world tensions, it’s going to cause resource conflicts, and it’s in the interest of all nations to begin to backing out of a disappearing resource.

Monday: Part 1
Yesterday: Part 2
Tomorrow: S&R interviews PCAP’s Bill Becker, the conclusion.

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