My problems with “energy security”
I have to say I’m uneasy at the fact that the most prominent voices in favour of plug-in hybrids have been men like Tom Friedman and James Woolsey. For men like these, “energy security” is part of the wider war on terror. As Friedman is wont to say, we’re at war, and lessening our dependency on oil is a necessary part of that war.
We’d like to believe that progressive causes can be made universal causes by trying to appropriate the language of national security. It would be great if we could sell the Republicans on the environment or clean energy by using their own language. But the history of this isn’t great. As just one relevant example, the liberal red meat of humanitarian intervention went throught the meat grinder that is the Bush Administration, and came out Iraqi hamburger on the other end.
And we can see all over, solutions like PIHs or ethanol or biodiesel are sold, among other things, as cutting off the funds of the House of Saud. As just one example, this article on the Apollo Alliance’s website (admittedly from the 2003 Democratic primaries) is all over “energy security,” and points to wind, solar, and biofuels to wean us off the Persian Gulf teat.
There are a few problems with this. My lesser problem with it is the language presumes that it’s desirable or necessary to impoverish the oil-exporting nations of the Earth, most of whom aren’t run by Wahhabis, in case we’d forgotten. Really: Is further impoverishing Nigeria, or Bolivia, acceptable collateral damage? But I have a larger, more fundamental problem with this language, and it has to do with the consequences.
We can already see the problems of the “energy security” frame when it comes to the environment. Dave has chronicled the increasingly absurd lengths the U.S. is going to to make ethanol. This is a natural consequence of the “energy security” frame. If you make ethanol production a national security issue, then you make any kind of ethanol production not just acceptable, but necessary. So now we’ve got to make coal-fired, corn-grain ethanol plants to break the Saudi grip on our energy supply! Or else you love Osama! In short, if you make energy a military-industrial problem, you’re going to get a military-industrial solution.
You can see where this is headed, if it continues. We’ve got to build clean coal plants (sold to us by darling children, no doubt) or you wish Saddam were still in power!
There was a moment there where it looked like we could get the Republicans to sign on with a sensible energy plan that helped America without creating a gigantic mess. But this is what happens when you take the fair damsel of renewable energy and put her in military fatigues. Instead, maybe Gore’s film gives us a better option: Go back to the original (and in my mind, still superior) rationale: environmental sustainability.
As Gore’s movie opens to a wider audience, there’s a rare opportunity to sell the public on a better future, one that still has the national security benefits, but doesn’t put those front-and-center. In truth, they don’t even belong there. Environmentalists aren’t supposed to be getting involved in fighting America’s wars. We’re supposed to be saving the world.