As American citizens debate intervention in Syria, it’s important to remember one of the main reasons why we’re involved in this turbulent region. One word - energy. We’re there to protect shipping lanes that transport oil from producing countries to consuming countries. We’re there to protect our allies’ oil and natural gas infrastructures from threats from unfriendly nations – because disruptions to these fossil fuel supplies have profound disturbances to the global economy. That’s the real reason why we attacked Iraq in 2003 – to this day no one’s found any weapons of mass destruction there.
Geopolitics should be renamed petropolitics, because we haven’t done enough to protect the earth’s people or environment, and too much to protect oil interests. And look where that history has got us. There is a thought-provoking report titled The Climate and Energy Nexus: Challenges and Opportunities for Transatlantic Security from two think tanks that focus on strategic defense and national security issues. Their report for NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) highlights a category of critical consequences from climate change that is often overlooked – the link between energy security and climate security. As the report bluntly states, “Excessive reliance on oil – or any other critical fuel source – creates economic vulnerability to volatile global prices, supply lines, and the actions of foreign governments.” In the USA, we don’t buy oil based on an American market for oil. We buy oil based on a global market for it. Natural gas experiences its own price fluctuations based on weather, supply stability, storage and imports/exports.
Since 96% of our transportation sector runs on oil or natural gas, we have an economic and energy security problem that is not mitigated by increased domestic production of oil or gas. It doesn’t matter how much we frack or how much tar sand we cook to make gasoline. The price of a barrel of oil increased by $5/barrel on news that the USA is debating military intervention in Syria to confront a monster named Assad.
The military has a unique appreciation of the gravity of our energy/climate security situation, having calculated the price in blood and money to keep their forward bases in war zones supplied with fuel. The costs are too high on both counts. They have focused on building microgrids with renewables to harden their base infrastructures and reducing their reliance on fossil fuels by both electric transport and biofuels means. As General Chuck Wald, USAF (Ret.) was quoted as saying in the NATO report, “Military planners have to think long-range, because the decisions we make today about equipment acquisitions will stay with us for 30 or 40 years. Climate change has to be a part of those considerations. If not, a lot of the events we plan for, the assumptions we make, and the activities we prepare to do will be overrun by the demands brought on by climate change impacts.” That’s equally true for us civilians and our non-military sectors. For evidence, there’s the infrastructure damage wrought by Superstorm Sandy.
Volatility is something Americans know well from oil embargos and the price swings for natural gas and gasoline. Climate change means geopolitical volatility on a global scale. Our military interventions may expand as climate change causes nations to shift priorities – especially for water.
We must confront climate change by moving our economy and energy infrastructure to one based on clean renewables and electrification of transportation. Building a Smart Grid is a short- and long-term strategic response to overcome the climate, economic and energy insecurities caused by reliance on all fossil fuels. More than that, building a Smart Grid is a strategic geopolitical move to devalue oil.