This article is by Norman R. Augustine and Gary Hart. Norman Augustine is a board member of the American Security Project, a nonpartisan public policy and research organization, and has been chairman of the Council of the National Academy of Engineering. Gary Hart is a former senator from Colorado, a member of PSA’s bipartisan advisory board, and is chairman of the American Security Project. This originally appeared in Forbes.
A Challenge to America: Develop Fusion Power Within a Decade
America’s economy and security depend upon reliable sources of power. Over the next few decades, almost all of the power plants in the U.S. will need to be replaced, and America’s dependence on fossil fuels presents serious national security concerns. They sap our economy, exacerbate climate change, and constrict our foreign policy. Our newfound boom in natural gas and oil production will ease but not eliminate these underlying issues.
The only way that we can resolve these challenges, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a timeframe that avoids the worst consequences of climate change, is to develop next-generation sources of clean base load power. In short, America needs to produce energy that is clean, safe, secure and abundant, and to do it now.
The author, Julia Pyper, is a writer for E & E News’s ClimateWire. Reproduced with permission. Copyright 2013, E&E Publishing, LLC www.ClimateWire.net.
NATIONAL SECURITY: Defense experts say costs of climate change could be staggering
The ramifications of climate change pose a serious threat to U.S. security interests and will have devastating effects unless Washington takes immediate action, a bipartisan group of 38 former politicians and retired military officials wrote in a letter released yesterday.
“As a matter of risk management, the United States must work with international partners, public and private, to address this impending crisis,” the letter says. “Potential consequences are undeniable, and the cost of inaction, paid for in lives and valuable U.S. resources, will be staggering.”
Bud McFarlane, former national security advisor and PSA Board Member, along with James Woolsey, former director of central intelligence, authored this Op-ed in The New York Times about their new bi-partisan effort, the United States Energy Security Council, encouraging the introduction of flex-fuel cars into the US market to foster better competition and put America on the path to energy independence. The article can also be read here.
OUR country has just gone through a sober national retrospective on the 9/11 attacks. Apart from the heartfelt honoring of those lost — on that day and since — what seemed most striking is our seeming passivity and indifference toward the well from which our enemies draw their political strength and financial power: the strategic importance of oil, which provides the wherewithal for a generational war against us, as we mutter diplomatic niceties.
Oil’s strategic importance stems from its virtual monopoly as a transportation fuel. Today, 97 percent of all air, sea and land transportation systems in the United States have only one option: petroleum-based products. For more than 35 years we have engaged in self-delusion, saying either that we have reserves here at home large enough to meet our needs, or that the OPEC cartel will keep prices affordable out of self-interest. Neither assumption has proved valid. While the Western Hemisphere’s reserves are substantial and growing, they pale in the face of OPEC’s, which are substantial enough to effectively determine global supply and thus the global price.
“Virtually all serious observers of national security affairs now recognize the current structure of the national security system militates against unified problem-solving when the problem is a multiagency issue. The question is what to do about it.”
Counter-proliferation, counterinsurgency, food security, energy policy – all examples of complex and multifaceted issues that increasingly dominate America’s security priorities and starkly highlight the chronic limitations of the U.S. national security structure. The Project on National Security Reform and others stress the critical need for a Goldwater-Nichols Act of national security to take on the colossal and outdated bureaucracy built around the security challenges of the post WWII period. (more…)
Since the conclusion of last year’s UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, doubt surrounding the efficacy of the multilateral negotiating process had been steadily gaining momentum, and the criticism was set to explode in the event of failure in Cancun. Last December, after two years of unrealistically ambitious expectations, the Copenhagen Accord was cobbled together in the eleventh hour by President Obama and a handful of other heads of state, putting an end to a disappointing two weeks of controversy, chaos, and finger-pointing. The New York Times’ Andrew Revkin described watching events play out in Copenhagen to be “like witnessing the derailment of a slow freight train on a curve that could be seen to be too sharp well ahead of time.” By all accounts, the mood at this year’s conference at Cancun’s Moon Palace resort was much more cooperative, and the resulting set of decisions, the Cancun Agreements, is being lauded as a sensible and balanced compromise, albeit an imperfect one. Nevertheless, support for a move away from the UN process in favor of a bottom-up approach based on national policies and bilateral engagement will surely continue, and deservedly so. The Cancun Agreements can serve as the blueprint for an eventual legally-binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol. But there is still much progress to be made – and a wide gap to be bridged between stated commitments and scientifically-recommended action – that will require simultaneous action on several diplomatic tracks.
Even if the Cancun conference had not produced such an unexpectedly favorable result, the UN process deserves to be preserved. The all-inclusive forum is likely the best means of addressing certain issues affecting many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries, particularly adaptation, clean energy technology transfer, and deforestation. Furthermore, the perception that success hinges on the adoption of a legally-binding treaty is false. It is important not to downplay the ability of “soft law” political agreements to produce tangible results. Besides, without the political will in the U.S. Senate, any internationally-binding treaty would be irrelevant, and the woes of New START should shed any lingering hope that a climate change treaty stands a chance of Senate ratification in the foreseeable future. And even in the absence of legislation, the U.S. has the capacity, through federal regulation and aggressive state and local initiatives, to come very close to meeting its short-term emissions reduction commitments (17% reduction below 2005 levels by 2020). At that point, it is not unreasonable to envision the emergence of the political will for strong legislative action, especially if successful state or regional efforts present a sound model for a national initiative. (more…)
Another milestone in humanity’s quest for water will soon be conquered! A Canadian entrepreneur, Ron Stamp, is set to sail for a fjord in Greenland and harvest massive chunks of pure iceberg. His hope is to eventually sell the converted ice as bottled water for up to $10 per unit. Crazy? Maybe, but Mr. Stamp’s actions represent both an increasing trend of resource extraction and the creativity needed to sustain a better future.
Entrepreneurs like Mr. Stamp exhibit a valuable frontier mentality. They expand the boundaries of human activity, helping to open new geographic markets and take advantage of previously untapped resources. For centuries such entrepreneurs have been the drivers of our economic growth and prosperity.
Yet this frontier mentality is a double-edged sword when applied to scarce water resources. The world’s access to a sustainable freshwater supply is already at a tipping point. 800 million people, particularly in politically unstable Middle Eastern and North African countries, currently lack access to safe water. By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live under water-stressed conditions. Unless we act quickly, we could all potentially have to pay $10 for a glass of regular tap water, let alone iceberg water. (more…)
Days before the Senate dispersed for its August recess, Harry Reid announced that a vote would not be held on a “bare minimum” energy-only bill, just weeks after the Senate gave up on comprehensive climate and energy legislation. The inability of the Senate to gain any traction on even the most modest of energy bills in the wake of one of the most devastating environmental disasters in history is a clear indicator that there is still a long road ahead toward a strong U.S. climate change policy. There is no better time to reexamine the debate, and the debate begins with the science.
The science of climate change is sound but complex. Climate change will affect different parts of the planet in very different ways, and it is impossible to precisely quantify the physical impacts on Earth’s surface, let alone the social, political, and economic implications of those physical impacts. But ‘uncertainty’ in climate models – the expected variability in data – is too often mistaken for uncertainty about the science itself, and the well-funded lobbyists wishing to cast doubt on the science have made an almost effortless practice of manipulating the statistics and skewing the facts. Still, much of the public’s misunderstanding about climate change persists because of serious flaws in messaging by the science community to counter the misinformation. In many ways, the purpose of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is to bridge this communication gap with the public. But with recent polling suggesting that the U.S. public increasingly perceives climate change as a very low-priority issue, the IPCC – and the science community as a whole – needs to overhaul its communication strategy. (more…)
Bipartisanship is tough in an election year. Each candidate up for election is seeking ways to differentiate him/herself from the opposition. Particularly in primary battles, compromise is often punished. A few examples come to mind recently of election years politics getting in the way of bipartisan compromises. Candidates from both parties have let the politics of the moment derail sensible policy.
Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) is one Democrat who comes to mind. After financial regulatory reform, there are two important major legislative priorities that have a chance to getting bipartisan support in this Congress – immigration reform and climate change/energy security. The one Republican who has been willing to stick his neck out on both of these initiatives is Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Graham has worked with Senator Schumer (D-NY) on immigration reform and Senator Kerry (D-MA) on climate change. They had both come up with sensible compromises that had a chance of getting bipartisan support. It wasn’t going to be easy in an election year on either of these issues, but it was a start. The challenge for the Democrats was to maintain Graham’s support on both issues and hope to pick up some more Republicans who were willing to put aside partisan differences. Then came Harry Reid. (more…)
Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and there’s a bipartisan gift to the planet in the works. As Steven Pearlstein wrote in this op-ed, hopes for a bipartisan climate/energy bill getting passed have been resurrected from the dead in the past several weeks. With a 60 vote hurdle in the Senate and fossil fuel energy producers located in both red and blue states, this has to be a bipartisan effort. Although the bill has not been released, the sponsors of the bill – Senators Kerry (D-MA), Graham (R-SC), and Lieberman (I-CT) – have been making the necessary compromises to build a broad coalition of support.
Pearlstein describes here the rough outlines of what the bill will likely entail:
Although the Senate bill retains the cap-and-trade structure of the House bill, it would apply, at least initially, only to electric power producers, with other manufacturers coming under the regime after 2016. The oil and gas industry would be handled under a separate regime that requires refiners to buy emissions permits for all the carbon contained in the gasoline or other fuels they sell — in effect, a fee or tax on carbon. The amount of the fee would be determined by the price at which carbon emissions allowances are bought or sold by utilities on open exchanges. And while the fee would almost certainly be passed on to consumers in the form of higher fuel prices, most of it would be rebated through payroll and other tax credits. By paying more for energy and less for taxes, the idea is that Americans will use less energy and wind up with roughly the same amount of money to spend on everything else.
For some on the left, the compromises made to achieve bipartisan support will be too much. Yes, it will be a weaker than many environmentalists would hope. The cap and trade mechanism will not apply to the oil and gas industry. However, the alternative proposed could be an important step forward and a real improvement over the status quo. According to Pearlstein, it does provide for what will ultimately be a tax on carbon, which is an approach that I think is preferable to cap and trade. I know that many on the right will cry foul at the idea of any new tax. The important component of this tax or fee (whatever you want to call it) is that it will be refunded to consumers in the form of payroll tax reductions. That’s good news for business because, as many on the right argue, employment taxes discourage work. It’s also good news for lower income Americans because payroll taxes are regressive, putting a greater burden on them. (more…)
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On Wednesday, President Obama announced a proposal to lift the long-standing ban on offshore oil and natural gas drilling off much of the south Atlantic and north Alaskan coasts, as well as parts of the Gulf of Mexico. The announcement has drawn the ire of critics across the political spectrum. Some on the left are outraged by Obama’s “betrayal” of his environmentalist base, and some on the right have called the extent of new offshore access insufficient. In reality, the policy he outlined will do very little to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and it will have no effect on oil prices in the foreseeable future. And Obama knows it. From the administration’s perspective, this announcement is about one thing: building support in the Senate for comprehensive climate change and energy legislation.
Studies have shown that offshore drilling will have very little impact on domestic oil prices. In fact, not a drop of new oil from this proposal would be seen for at least seven years, and the modest uptick in production and negligible price dip would not even be felt for two decades. Offshore drilling’s impact on real prices pales in comparison to that which could result from sound financial regulatory reform to curb speculation in commodity futures exchanges, or from putting a stop to the supply manipulation routinely practiced by OPEC in response to the artificially rising demand.
Nevertheless, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham – who is expected to introduce a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by John Kerry and Joe Lieberman within the next month – has insisted that offshore drilling be part of the energy equation of the future. Obama’s announcement on Wednesday follows similar concessions in recent months to conservative nuclear and coal interests. The administration’s Fiscal Year 2011 budget request included $36 billion for the nuclear loan guarantee program and the stimulus bill included $3.8 billion for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) research and development. (more…)
All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.