Last week, U.S. President Trump gave his first State of the Union address. In light of the greatest existential threat mankind has ever faced (hint: it’s climate change), these historically-routine events should now be an annual stage to underscore the urgency of this issue and our nation’s commitment to addressing it. Unfortunately, while the world watched his address, Trump instead chose to play his fiddle as Rome burned.
For mankind’s mere existence, we need to rely on science and facts to craft our energy and climate change policies, which, at this point in time, should be one and the same. This starts with laughing loudly and forcefully at Trump when he says, “We have ended the war on American energy—and we have ended the war on clean coal.” This starts when we finally look past the climate change deniers and their miss-informed debates to focus on real issues and real solutions. This starts when we finally frame our energy and climate change policies around the true national security threat that they are.
A continued commitment to renewable and clean energy technologies is a no-brainer. It is good for the environment. It reduces the stresses of the Water-Energy Nexus. It is a job-creator. Sadly, these obvious arguments have done little to influence Trump, current GOP leaders, and their financial backers. With that in mind, I want to be as clear as I can be: Climate change and fossil fuel dependence are THE biggest national security threats we face.
My statement is not the result of a partisan or knee-jerk response. It is the realization after years of firsthand experience on the subject. Its magnitude cannot be understated. From my deployment to the Middle East as an Army Captain to my current efforts at Truman National Security Project and Operation Free, I have studied and personally witnessed climate changes’ effects for nearly two decades. The impacts are vast and undeniable.
We see it in Syria where climate change has been as much a driver of that nation’s political unrest as its authoritarian and ruthless leader. We see it in California where climate change brought about the state’s worst fires in history. We see it in Cape Town, South Africa, where the country’s second largest city has literally run out of water. And if these events don’t provide a cautionary tale, spend a couple of hours watching Jared Scott’s award-winning documentary, The Age of Consequences. The complete crumbling of nation-states because of rampant climate change is just getting started.
Yet, with all of these episodes of tragedy, our current energy policies remain awful. Worse still, they aren’t even the product of Trump’s breathtaking obfuscation of the subject—that would just give one hope to believe a concerted effort to educate this administration could right the ship. Rather, these policies are the result of the head-in-the-sand curmudgeons at the Heartland Institute. This monetarily-motivated group is funded by, wait for it, the Koch Brothers and Exxon.
Coal isn’t clean. According to the Department of Energy, more than 83 percent of all major air pollutants from power plants are from coal, despite the fact that coal now makes up only 43 percent of the power generation. (In case you were curious, power plants are the number one source of these toxic pollutants.) In fact, coal-fired power plants produce nearly twice as much heat-trapping carbon dioxide per energy created as natural gas. In 2011, coal burning emitted 13 TIMES more pollutants than all other energy sources combined.
Crude oil-based fuels are just as bad as coal, that goes without saying. The nation’s independent oil and gas producers might have reduced OPEC’s influence on our foreign policy, but the fact that we now produce more than 10 million barrels a day does little to improve national security. Petro-dollars are the primary source of terrorist funding. When the price of oil spikes, the U.S. military must repurpose funds away from training, maintenance, and readiness programs to offset the cost—which puts the mission at risk. Furthermore, delivering fuel and oils to equipment in the battlefield results in 1-in-24 fuel convoys sustaining casualties.
Natural gas could be better, but it isn’t at the moment. Natural gas can be burned with near-zero emissions. I have been directly involved in testing natural gas-fired fuel cells and witnessed the results. The potential is there. However, escaping methane at the wellhead is 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas such as carbon dioxide. Without proper regulations to ensure oil and gas producers eliminate these emissions, we are no better off.
Instead of tightening the rules on the globe’s biggest polluters (the energy industry), Trump supports EPA Chief Scott Pruitt in eliminating clean air rules. Instead of encouraging a shift from coal to cleaner energy fuels—thus creating new, permanent jobs—he doubles down on his coal cronies. Instead of pushing for biofuels, solar power, and fuel cells in the battlefield, Trump opts to let our nation’s servicemembers die just to ferry petroleum products around.
These realities of fossil fuels and associated climate change should be the driving force behind our nation’s energy policies. Yet, how to achieve these aims is becoming more and more challenging. We know Trump won’t change; nor will our current conservative officials. There’s no point in even wondering if financial donors like the Koch Brothers will change. (Psst: They’re not very good people.) Yet, sadly, it now appears that Trump’s core base won’t change either.
The only certain way to get our nation refocused and recommitted to arresting our planet’s headlong dive towards irreversible climate change is through increased active participation in the electoral process.
As previously stated, until our military weans itself from its total dependence on refined petroleum products, our nation’s security will remain at the mercy of foreign crude oil producing nations. This truth will exist whether we want to admit it or not—and until we take action to change it for ourselves.