Green Energy & National Security

With all due respect to necessity, war is the mother of all invention.

Need to find planes? Invent radar. Need to find submarines? Invent sonar. Need to wipe out cities? Split the atom. Need to beat the Soviets to the moon? Invent the math and technology required to do so.

If green energy and renewable fuels will be necessary for future military conflict, perhaps we should stop presenting them as environmental issues and instead frame them as matters of national security.

After all, how many years of economically sensible oil consumption remain? 30? 45? 60? A little more than that? Do we really need to wait for dire circumstances to develop an alternative means to operate tanks, trucks, aircraft, and warships? Being an innovator in this regard would give our nation a massive strategic advantage, not only placing us ahead of the international curve, but no longer making us dependent upon Middle Eastern despots for our energy needs.

If a Minnesota high schooler can turn floating plants into biodiesel, don’t tell me our nation’s finest scientists and engineers can’t get this done with a little gumption and a whole lot of funding.

The best news is that once alternate fuels become a national security concern, funding becomes infinite and criticism becomes irrelevant. The list of Defense Department cost overruns and cancelled military programs stretches a mile long.

In the end, everyone wins. Politicians get votes. The military gets money and new toys. The defense industry gets to build the things. America enjoys long-term security and energy stability. The entire planet reaps the environmental benefits. The only losers are the oil companies, who will either need to invest in something else or fall back to their GIANT FUCKING PILES OF MONEY.

The only missing ingredient is a leader with long-term vision and political courage. I’m not holding my breath either, but I will be thinking about this in 2016. Money talks, but an informed, intelligent electorate is far louder.

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2 thoughts on “Green Energy & National Security

  1. Great article per ushe, sir. I have a few comments, and a hypothetical nit to pick.

    Last Thursday one of my colleagues and best friends here at Cornell had a tank of algae delivered to him as part of a new research project. He off-handedly remarked about how the primary financial pitfall in algae biofuel production is the energy associated with the water — keeping it habitable and, especially, separating the fuel from the bulk (the “skimming” mentioned in the linked article). I have other friends and colleagues working on methods of producing high-octane fuel from incredibly finely ground woodchips, and sustainable energy practices being currently implemented in highly rural areas of India. As with most things, the devil is in the details, and you are right to assume that many scientists are working on those details. I might even go so far as to say too many scientists, but that’s another discussion entirely.

    I call my nit hypothetical because I don’t know what your definition of “green” energy is. Returning for a second to those details: the plain fact of the matter is that (1) any of the usually-accepted “green” energy sources will require (and should receive) some expensive modifications to our energy infrastructure that are not present for the comparably cheaper but limited fossil fuels and that (2) as powerful as *any* of these options may be, they are neither powerful enough to completely replace oil in the foreseeable (say, 25 years) future nor productive enough per dollar — and here is the real kicker — to be adopted in the developing world. With climate change weighing down on us all but the vast majority of energy needs shifting from North America and Europe to Indochina, Africa, and South America, we need to produce a shitton of energy at the lowest price and with the least environmental damage, and we need to do it right effing now.

    Unfortunately, in my opinion, the common conception of “green energy” usually ignores or vilifies one energy which is “green” by almost any metric I’ve seen, has a track record of safety for energy production better than almost every other form, and is about a brazillian times more powerful: nuclear power. Any serious platform of energy change that doesn’t prominently feature (if not center around) nuclear power is, I think, like so many coastal cities of the world may someday end up: dead in the water.

    There is a really enjoyable and challenging documentary I saw recently called Pandora’s Promise, and the majority of what I talked about above is laid out much more professionally in that movie. The movie webpage is here (http://pandoraspromise.com/), and I note that there are screenings coming up in several major cities (including Minneapolis) throughout June. As a counterpoint, here is an anti-nuclear webpage discussing the discrepancies they see in the movie (http://www.beyondnuclear.org/pandoras-false-promises/). I would advocate that anyone take the time to see this movie. As an already long-time lukewarm supporter of nuclear power, this movie made me realize negative misconceptions I had and installed in a me a heightened sense of urgency.

    • I am very grateful for your thoughts, especially on an issue like this. Science and math are pretty far outside my wheelhouse.

      Since most of the post treats fuel and energy as a method of operating war machines, my definition of “green energy” would simply be “fuels from renewable sources.” For aircraft, tanks, and naval vessels smaller than cruisers, what we consider “fuel” is really the only viable option, although the idea of a Flintstones tank is kind of intriguing…

      I had never really considered the differences in developed vs. developing nations. It’s seems like a regressive tax. The costs to redesign one’s infrastructure will be about the same, per area or population at least, but those costs will hit those nations far harder. Nuclear power sounds like a great solution. The foreign policy guru I wish to one day become, however, immediately thinks of nonproliferation. If every nation has nuclear power plants to provide energy to their people, then every nation has easy means of researching and/or producing nuclear weapons. This sounds like something only feasible if every nation on earth turns some of its sovereignty over to a regulatory body, like the UN.

      Is that science? Nuclear power plants make it so you can make nuclear weapons or make them easier?

      There are some general references in here to “green energy” beyond simple military hardware. I definitely plan on checking out that film, especially because, like you, I’ve always had some interest in the idea of nuclear energy. I love the output and the safety concerns don’t scare me. The thing keeping me from fully committing is what to do with the waste. There just seems to be nothing environmentally and morally responsible we can do with it. Of course, I haven’t been reading up on this since college either, so a lot could have changed since then. Have they?

      Thanks for the thoughts and I look forward to hearing more. You can pick my nits anytime. I hope that was sufficiently homoerotic.

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