Retired Military Leaders Working to Create Common Ground on Energy

Share this article

In recent weeks, retired military leaders have been stumping for a renewable energy policy on the grounds of national security.

Case in point, U.S. Navy Vice Admiral (Ret.) Dennis McGinn, a member of the military advisory board of the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) is on a listening tour with former Republican Senator from Virginia John Warner to talk about energy dependence and national security.

Their arsenal for trying to convince members of Congress and the public that climate change and energy dependence are urgent national security issues includes decades of experience, a 2 1/2 year old CNA report, “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change”, and a report from May of this year which McGinn co-authored, “Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security”.

McGinn was in Los Angeles this week addressing the city’s Environmental Affairs Commission on the issue of America’s energy posture and national security. The point he wants to drive home is that climate change, energy dependence and national security are a related set of global challenges. Furthermore, energy security and climate change goals should be clearly integrated into national security and military planning processes as well as national policy.

Concerning climate change, the CNA has taken the position that Retired General Gordon Sullivan takes on war:

“We never have 100% certainty. If you wait until you have 100% certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield. That’s something we know.”

McGinn has testified before the U.S. Senate about the need for U.S. leadership on climate and energy when international leaders meet at Copenhagen in December. “Setting an example is important,” he told the audience in Los Angeles. “If we don’t walk the walk by coming to the table with domestic policies, we don’t have moral authority.”

CNA’s concerns regarding climate change and national security have been well documented, although there is renewed interest recently from news outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post which Admiral McGinn attributes to the recent passage in the House of the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) bill and the upcoming debate on climate legislation in the Senate.

CNA appears to be making a deliberate attempt to put the national security concerns surrounding energy and climate change in the forefront. A dozen retired admirals and generals have speaking out to Congress and the media about the need for action.

McGinn believes that focusing on the national security issues surrounding the effects of climate change – instability, mass migration, conflict over resources, poverty leading to increased fanaticism and terrorism, climate change as a threat multiplier – is a means of finding common ground on climate action among disparate and sometimes warring parties.

“The military voice, as evidenced by these two reports, can have a positive effect in trying to take partisanship out of the conversation,” McGinn told the audience when I asked if the military has a role to play in the climate policy debate.

Later he added that the national security issues can help underscore the urgency of addressing climate change. “Energy dependence is not getting better, greenhouse gas emissions are not getting lower, we’ve got to do something about it in a non-partisan way.”

On the energy dependence front the report is clear; the U.S. should not pursue energy options inconsistent with the national response to climate change.

McGinn does not mince words either. He says America’s energy posture constitutes a serious and urgent threat and that the national security planning process has not been sufficiently responsive to those security impacts.

“Continuing energy business as usual creates an unacceptably high threat level from a series of converging risks; a market for fossil fuels shaped by finite supplies, increased demand and increased cost.”

He told the audience that America’s dependence on fossil fuels weakens international leverage and cripples foreign policy, using the example of Iran, where he believes we have lost diplomatic leverage because of our need for oil. When asked if getting the majority of our oil from Canada and Mexico makes a difference, he explained that oil is a fungible commodity, but because there is global reliance on it and it is a limited resource, it is almost irrelevant where our oil is sourced.

We use 25% of the world’s oil, McGinn explained, but we only sit on 3% of the reserves. “We sent $386 billion overseas last year to buy oil. That’s 1/3 of our national trade deficit.”

The CNA report also points to our energy posture jeopardizing the military and exacting a significant price in terms of dollars and lives by entangling the U.S. with hostile regimes, conflicts over fuel and water resources, and in areas of great economic imbalance.

McGinn used the examples of Russia cutting off natural gas as a weapon in its disputes with Georgia and economic inequality in Nigeria, where shanty towns sit directly across from lush green areas populated with oil storage tanks, giving rise to fanatics in a country with an unstable and corrupt government. McGinn and his colleagues would like Americans to understand the external costs related to oil – environmental, military and health costs – which McGinn says make the current price of a gallon of gas close to $7 (other reports say that price is actually over $11 a gallon).

“We are paying that now,” McGinn said, “we just don’t think we’re paying it.”

He went on to talk about personal responsibility and the military costs of fossil fuel dependence, saying, “If you really want to support our troops, don’t put that sticker on the back of a gas guzzling SUV going down the 405 freeway with one passenger in it. If you want to support our troops, help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.”

CNA is also concerned about the mission impacts of fossil fuel dependence and is connecting fuel efficiency to combat effectiveness. McGinn noted that one of the most vulnerable operations in Iraq was the movement of fuel convoys.

The military has a stated goal of a 75% reduction in fuel consumption by 2020. The U.S. Marines held an energy summit earlier this month to look at ways to reduce fuel load needs and the military is already working on electrification of the fleet with current technologies like plug-in hybrid electric Humvees and decreased overall energy needs with low-cost ready to use solar for overseas bases. During deliberations on the report, McGinn said, one of the participants put it this way:

“America, we gave you the Hummer, now we’re going to take it back.”

See also:

12 Generals, Admirals Speak Truth to Congress on Climate

Taking the Climate Fight to the Streets

Air Force Use of Liquid Coal & Tar Sands Fuels Illegal

Weapons of Mass Mitigation: Part 1

Weapons of Mass Mitigation: Part 2