This picture taken December 26, 2011 sho

The following commentary appeared in our sister publication, Breaking Energy. While we don’t usually write about the Defense Department’s energy use (except when it’s a casus belli or a major budget item in aggregate) this piece addresses a fundamental issue of American foreign and domestic policy: climate change and foreign sources of energy. The Editor.

Almost forty years ago, President Nixon exhorted the country: “By the year 1980, the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need to provide our jobs, to heat our homes, and to keep our transportation moving.” Today, more than 30 years later, the United States may actually be on a course to meet this elusive goal. America is experiencing a surge in energy production. The shale gas boom we see in places like Pennsylvania and Oklahoma means that the U.S. now has more than a century of gas reserves. Similar technology has opened up oil fields in places like the Bakken field in North Dakota and Eagle Ford in Texas. Last month, for the first time since 1995, the United States produced more crude oil than it imported.

In the four decades since President Nixon’s statement, every Presidential administration has identified “Energy Independence” as a critical goal.  As we approach the elusive goal however, we are learning that it may not actually deliver on the benefits promised. Oil remains above $90 per barrel, and gasoline prices continue to hover near $4 per gallon. We remain tethered to a global price of oil that is determined more by global demand and the threat of conflict in the Middle East than by production in North Dakota. The Navy’s 5th fleet remains based in the Persian Gulf and, among other duties, is protecting oil supply lines.

New challenges also reveal how the forty-year-old goal of “Energy Independence” needs updating. The problems associated with energy insecurity in the 1970s are not those of today. Climate change, caused largely by the burning of fossil fuels, is real and already affecting America’s national security. The Pentagon and America’s intelligence community call climate change a “threat multiplier” and an “accelerant of instability” around the world. This means over the next several decades, a changing climate will impact access to water and food production systems worldwide, increasing the possibility of conflict. The American military will be called to respond.

Together, we three authors share a combined 95 years of experience in America’s military. In our careers we saw how energy impacts everything America’s armed forces do. In the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our adversaries knew that the fuel convoy was a soft target – and many American lives were lost because of our energy dependence. At home, we saw how major disasters like last year’s super-storm Sandy can knock out power and fuel and disable vast stretches of the country.

We also know that America’s dependence on oil entwines our foreign policy with regimes hostile to American values, especially in the Middle East. Even if our production of oil here at home equals our consumption, world markets will ensure that our politics and economic welfare stay intertwined.

All this combines to mean that America must redefine “Energy Security” in the 21st Century. Energy Security no longer means that all energy produced at home is good, no matter how polluting it is. Instead of focusing on where energy comes from, our country needs an energy policy that considers the real costs and benefits of our energy production and use. Increased investment in R&D for renewable energy sources and improvements are essential. We need to realize that economic stability and environmental sustainability are as much a part of energy security as the threats of supply shortages.

We should start by acknowledging climate change risks are real and growing every day. We cannot afford to ignore them. Even if you choose not to believe that human activity contributes to climate change, or even that the climate is changing, from our military experience we know that waiting for certainty on the battlefield can be disastrous.  Managing risk requires a prudent response, the first step of which is an energy debate that addresses the challenges of the 21st Century, not one devised for the 1970s. The greatest dangers lie in our being unprepared.  All of this argues for prudent, no regrets action now to reduce future risk

The President has called on Congress to address climate change, and now we are told that he will release a detailed plan tomorrow to move forward because they have not acted. As the debate over this important proposal moves forward, we ask that all parties engage in a rational, fact-based assessment that fully recognizes the breadth and depth of the risks of energy insecurity.

Our energy system is fatally flawed: it is environmentally unsustainable, economically unstable, and we know it endangers our national security. We need a new conversation about energy, one that addresses the challenges of the 21st Century, not the ones that seemed to loom in the 1970s. We should not be misled by achieving what’s called “Energy Independence” while creating and using energy in the old ways.  Work with us instead on building an energy system that reduces risks to our economy, our environment, and our national security.

Vice Adm. Gunn, (ret.), Brig. Gen. Anderson, US Army (ret.), and Brigadier General Cheney, US Marine Corps are affiliated with the American Security Project, a non-partisan think tank focused on studying issues of national security. They are participating in a panel discussion, “Redefining US Energy Security for the 21st Century” on Tuesday, June 25 as a part of New York Energy Week.



  • Don Bacon

    All these guys can say about two useless wars which needlessly consumed thousands and thousands of barrels of fuel is that supply convoys were vulnerable? Don’t they ever think about the values involved in their professions, or are they mindless robots? Just end the wars and then forget a new energy system, how about that?

    • DonFromFairfax

      You should be grateful that “these guys” are speaking out for a new energy policy. Conservatives who typically block any pursuit of enlightened energy policy have an inate trust in the military, so “these guys” can be influential. How about “Just end the wars AND ALSO transition – quickly – to a new energy system”?

  • Hammer6

    A thoughtful statement from seasoned warriors with deep experience in supporting American foreign policy through force of arms. As retired military, I am happy to see these leaders point out the strategic as well as tactical implications of our de-facto energy strategy. There is much we can do in the energy field that can reshape our interests abroad. I look forward to hearing from others on how to address this issue with other aspects of American power – economic, diplomatic, and social.

  • Sid Friedman

    My idea, communicated to politicians, writers, and editors, without one reply—-
    If gas extraction is authorized in NY State, a portion of the royalties can be directed to a fund that will help finance green energy projects in the State that are in need of funding. The best of both worlds? What think the authors?
    As a Korean War Vet, it’s a pleasure to see top brass have clear ideas and thoughts. A very good prognosis, indeed, gentlemen!

    • DonFromFairfax

      A new documentary about the dangers of fracking will be released soon – “Gasland 2” I think it’s called. Watch it. Fracking is poisoning the water supply and releasing huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. No amount of “directing a portion of royalties to green energy projects” will make up for the damage being done.

  • chvlly

    None of this does the US any good if the mega international petroleum
    companies are allowed to export it. C’mon, people.

  • searchert

    Anyone that denies our current level of energy independence is a illuminatti bone smoking liar . just one form of tech is the Bush/Clinton era thorium reactor that was burried because of the oil cartels puting pressure on DC elected officials. YOU ALL KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! AS FOR THE SHIPS i AM SURE THE GERMANS HAVE LONG SINCE SHARED WITH US ( A NATO PARTNER) THE DOLPHIN SUB HYDROGEN TECHNOLOGY. As for the planes they fly fine on (jatrophe nut fuel, waste paper alcohol, waste vegetation from the fields turned into alcohol and just think what it would be like to sen kids into forests to clean fallen debris that usually causes forest fires. sounds like a big dent to me but the the oil lobby would lose their cushy jobs and “We the people would be so much better off” Did I speak of the held back tech that stop 100+ mpg hydrogen/ carbon fuel hybrids. that are forbidden.

  • Sid Abma

    Lets Do it. Americans do not want to have our environment one day to be like that in China where a particle mask is part of your daily clothing.
    America has to finally take a stand on it’s Climate Change issue.
    the 50 year old coal fired power plants need to be converted to natural gas, but lets do it right for the environment.
    Natural gas power plants don’t need chimneys. The heat in the exhaust needs to be captured by the technology of Condensing Flue Gas Heat Recovery.
    Lets have an algae company put up a 1,000 acres of algae ponds. We have lots of heat from the power plants exhaust to keep these algae ponds warm and fed with Cool CO2. The WATER “created during this Condensing Flue Gas Heat Recovery will be used to maintain water levels due to warm water evaporation.

    The algae will be grown and harvested and them processed into Bio Fuels for the DOD. How many full time jobs will be created?
    How many power plants will be converted over the coming years?

    Is this good for America? Yes it is.

  • Jeff

    Such sheep we are to allow the Commodities Markets to scam profits without even ever taking delivery of the products. Look at all the refined gasoline being EXPORTED while we continue to spend EVERY LAST DIME on health care and energy cost. All the while Congress looks the other way taking that LOBBY MONEY. Pay back will be a BITCH….