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While serving in Iraq, Owens bore witness to murders, suicide missions and other horrifying acts of brutality surrounding efforts to 1) thwart troop advances, 2) inhibit activities to purge communities of insurgents and 3) lay claim to the oil wells in Iraq, which, of course, provide critical conduits of power to civilians and military personnel throughout the country. In many respects, the oil wells of Iraq are the coveted trophies of both insurgents and those defending the interests of Iraq.
"It is easy to cut power lines, interrupt oil pipelines and target power plants with bombs, which creates mayhem and confusion he observed. That didnt translate well into how Iraqis saw their American allies. People were grateful for what we were attempting to do over there, he says,but the effects of the war the bombings and insurgent attacks were devastating to them. They would come up to me and say, You represent the most powerful nation in the world, why cant you keep our power on?
And that got the aspiring PhD in Physics thinking. Were investing a great deal of money in reconstruction over there, reasons Owens. This is the perfect opportunity to send a message to the rest of the world. Why dont we invest taxpayers money wisely, and look at cleaner, more independent and technologically-advanced energy systems in our rebuild?
This is a premise upon which both business and military leaders can agree, and its not only supportive of U.S. objectives in Iraq, but of Americas domestic and international economic interests.
Owens says he was reassured in his thinking by an article hed read in Solar Today magazine late last year called Greening the Green Zone. It was accompanied by an article drafted by retired Chrysler executive Frank Zaski, who warned, The Gulf War, the current Iraq war and the civil war in Sudan are but three conflicts in which securing oil rights was a key objective. Some predict we will see even more and larger conflicts as the worlds peaking oil supply is depleted. Declining sources of natural gas and uranium and the potential for misuse of nuclear energy are more sources of international tension. Renewable energy and energy efficiency are so vital to international accord that both should comprise a significant portion of international foreign aid. By including this assistance as part of the annual [multi-billion-dollar] U.S. Defense budget, we will help create jobs, stimulate economies, protect the environment, lessen nuclear proliferation and reduce pressure to secure fossil fuels.
U.S. Army Lt. General Peter Chiarelli brings that philosophy to an even more basic level for Iraq, Deploying additional forces [wont ultimately] solve Iraqs problems, but providing jobs, electricity and drinkable water [will].
The truth is, says Owens, these are the kinds of programs that will win the hearts and minds of Iraqis. I think that in certain areas, weve done a good job our troops have performed valiantly. But at this point, we could send a very strong message and show the world that were there for all the right reasons by providing reliable, politically-independent power, sharing leading-edge technology that can bring them the security, economic revitalization and opportunities for self-sufficiency they seek.
Owens is cognizant of the fact that using oil to produce electricity is currently prevalent and cheap in Iraq, which can make the idea of solar security notwithstanding a tough sell to some.
Oil is a polluting fossil fuel; its not a renewable resource and we need it for so much more than to power vehicles and heat our homes and offices, he noted. Its used in plastics, fertilizers and more products than most Americans are aware, products that regularly enhance our quality of life. We need to be prudent with how we deplete this finite resource.
Think of it this way, Owens continued, You live in a cozy cabin adorned with a beautiful shade tree. The tree provides comforting shade, cooling both you and your home in the summer. When winter rolls around, you need wood for your fireplace to warm your family, so you chop down that tree. What do you do when summer rolls around in a couple of months? The fact is, whether your energy source is here or half-way around the world, looking for clean, renewable alternatives to heating your home is the better long-term option.
The immense potential of these ideas motivated him to draft a letter to his Commander-In-Chief, President George W. Bush and administration officials volunteering his services to Green the Green Zone, with the use of renewable solar photovoltaic technology.
I offered to re-enlist as a public affairs officer with the mission of deploying solar technology across the rebuild areas, in the Green Zone, or on priority military bases across the region, said Owens, whatever could be most useful in achieving our objectives, he said.
The White House never responded to his letter.
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