Clean Energy, More than Ever a National Security Priority

March 4, 2022

Marine General Richard Zilmer was Commander of US Forces in Anbar Province, Iraq, in 2007.
Since his retirement he has studied energy and national security issues with the Think Tank CNA.

I recorded and interviewed him several times in recent years. His message about the role of clean energy in energy independence gets a serious hearing in the communities where wind and solar are being built out in America.

Washington Post:

The U.S. Army released its first climate strategy this week, an effort to brace the service for a world beset by global-warming-driven conflicts.

The plan aims to slash the Army’s emissions in half by 2030; electrify all noncombat vehicles by 2035 and develop electric combat vehicles by 2050; and train a generation of officers on how to prepare for a hotter, more chaotic world. It is part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to address climate change across government agencies, including at the Pentagon.

The nation’s military staff hasn’t suddenly turned into a bunch of tree-huggers. But strategists are increasingly alarmed about the security implications of climate change.

The strategy notes “an increased risk of armed conflict in places where established social orders and populations are disrupted. The risk will rise even more where climate effects compound social instability, reduce access to basic necessities, undermine fragile governments and economies, damage vital infrastructure, and lower agricultural production.”

Analysts fear what could happen if fights erupt about access to water, for instance. The Mekong River is vital to Southeast Asian nations, and its headwaters are in China. A climate-change-driven drought in Syria that lasted from 2006 to 2010 is widely credited with being among the sparks for the deadly conflict there. The melting of ice sheets in the Arctic Ocean has sparked a great-power competition for control of the north.

Spurred by President Biden’s focus on climate change, the Pentagon, the National Security Council and the U.S. intelligence community in October all issued thorough — and somewhat dire — assessments of the threat global warming poses to U.S. security.

Admiral Dennis McGinn in The Hill:

We are witnessing history repeating itself. America and our allies have once more been thrust into a conflict inextricably linked to the world’s addiction to fossil fuels. But if we heed the warning and decisively act now, it could be the last such global conflict. U.S. leadership for rapid national and global expansion of clean, sustainable renewable energy will increase our energy security, economic security and environmental security, the key elements that underpin our national security and quality of life.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s power on the international stage derives from Russia’s abundant supply of natural gas. He knows much of Europe still relies on it even as countries accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. Putin’s brazen attack on Ukraine, funded by petro-dollars, is connected to securing further risky gas exports to Europe. Desperate for new gas customers in a rapidly electrifying world, Putin met with Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan to discuss constructing a joint gas pipeline even as his attack on Ukraine began.  

Putin’s actions in Ukraine will have serious repercussions for energy markets across the world. Even before Russia’s attack, volatile oil prices and natural gas prices skyrocketed in response to the threat, and the Biden administration must now balance whether to impose sanctions on Russia’s gas exports while Americans already face higher energy costs driven by inflation and the risky global markets that control oil and gas prices. 

This is not a new story — from Iran to Saudi Arabia to Iraq and Venezuela — dictators have derived their strength from the fossil resources within their borders, flexing their powers because of their control of a finite resource made valuable only because of our addiction to it. Much of world history has been determined by the haves and have-nots when it comes to energy. The Ukrainian people are the latest victims of the world’s overreliance on fossil fuels, simply by way of their geography, separating Russia from a convenient gas client in Europe. 

Furthermore, while fossil fuels remain tied to U.S. military might and strategy, with military operations relying on the use and transport of oil and gas, that equation is changing rapidly as well. In reflecting on the challenges of Iraq and Afghanistan, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis has testified that the military must be “unleashed from the tether of fuel.” 

Below, slightly different mix of the grid security discussion, includes German energy official Thorsten Herdan.

2 Responses to “Clean Energy, More than Ever a National Security Priority”

  1. J4Zonian Says:

    Cutting emissions by half by 2030, and cutting the military by half by then will cut military emissions by 75%. Not enough, but it’s something.

  2. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    The US stopped using its army for fruit companies and banks, but continued to use it for oil.

    “I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912 (where have I heard that name before?). I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.”
     —Major General Smedley Butler, USMC

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