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author, The Green Collar Economy:
How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems
Tonight the contenders for the U.S. presidency are scheduled to debate U.S. foreign policy. Maybe they will show up; maybe they won’t. But if they do come, on their way to the debate site, they literally will drive past the biggest threat to our national security.
To see the biggest gun aimed at the heads of the American people, Senators Obama and McCain need look no farther than the local gas station.
Both candidates need to take up the topic of energy security tonight. The days are past when candidates concerned about protecting America could focus primarily on threats from overseas – whether those dangers came from terror cells or nuclear missiles.
Today, our failed and foolish domestic energy strategy is at the core of all our perils – from an over-extended U.S. military, to our reckless reliance on petro-dictatorships, to the looming threat of climate chaos.
Energy security will be – in fact, must be – the centerpiece of any effective and coherent national security plan for the United States. In the new century: energy security IS national security.
First of all, our continued reliance on oil is accelerating to break our military. To protect the flow of petroleum from unstable regions, we are expending tremendous military resources all over the world. As long as we are fueling cars in the mid-west with black goo from the Middle East, we will continue to spend billions to defend those supply lines. Our military right now is at the breaking point, acting as the world’s traffic cop for petroleum distribution while fighting two wars. This situation cannot go on indefinitely.
Some say the answer is American energy independence. They are right. But achieving this end is harder than the “drill, drill, drill” crowd makes it sound. Simple math dictates that no amount of domestic drilling can ever free us.
Even conservative Texas oil man T. Boone Pickens knows this. He is spending $50 million of his own money to tell America the truth: we have three percent of the world's oil reserves, but we use 25 percent of the world's oil.
So as long as oil remains the centerpiece of our energy strategy, the numbers show irrefutably that we will never be energy independent. We will always be shipping vast quantities of the stuff – with all the troubles that come along with that. Therefore, it is more accurate to say that the problem is not our reliance on “overseas oil” or “foreign oil.” The problem is our reliance on the outdated oil – period.
This is especially true when one factors in the threat posed by climate disruption, which if driven by greenhouse gasses from carbon-based fuel like oil. Let’s not forget: the past 12 months have brought a cascade of extreme weather events. Historic floods left Iowa and Arkansas underwater. California’s fire season has become a year-round affair. A tornado tore up downtown Atlanta – to say nothing of the damage wrought by Hurricanes Ike and Gustav. To some, Al Gore’s dire climate predictions appear to be coming true.
Carbon-based fuels are last century’s technology. We can no longer afford to rely on a planet cooking, military stretching, budget-busting strategy to power our machines and our economy.
There is no simply no way to drill and burn our way out of our problem. For the sake of national security, we will have to invent and invest our way out.
Fortunately, there is a precedent for this. In the last century, we built a national highway system, as a national security measure to be able to move material and people around in the event of an invasion. Today, we must build a clean energy grid, which will let us move clean energy electrons around to end the invasion of our lives by the last-century’s pollution-based technologies.
We already have a Saudi Arabia of wind energy in the middle of the United States. We already have another potential Saudi Arabia in our solar corridor, which runs through the deserts of the west. What we lack is a national smart grid that would let us efficiently pipe all the clean energy from our power centers to our population centers. Inventing and deploying the technologies for an American smart grid should be the number one national security priority of the next administration.
Today, we are at a crossroads. We face a choice: our young men and women can either wear green fatigues overseas, or they can wear green hard hats at home. They can pick up weapons to destroy other countries, or they can pick up tools to rebuild and repower this one.
From a geopolitical, economic and climate perspective, our national security demands that we achieve TRUE energy independence. That means relying upon the wind that blows across our own plains, the sun that shines in our own skies, the geothermal energy that boils beneath our feet, the hyper-conductive power lines that we install with our own hands, the next generation bio-fuels we grow on our own lands, the buildings we retrofit and weatherize with our own tools, the super-batteries that we invent in our own labs and the new technologies that we build in our own factories.
That is a formula for true energy independence. Such an approach would let us redeploy our overseas military assets more intelligently, grow our economy and head off climate change.
Let’s never forget: America’s number one resource is not oil. It is our people. If we put them to work – if we give them the tools, the training and the technology to reboot, retrofit and repower America – then our future is safe and bright.
And if he is willing to lead us toward this outcome, the next president will enjoy an added benefit: re-election security.
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