National Security isn't traditionally thought of as a green issue, but the nexus of energy demand, global warming and violent extremism has made it so.
For many, the drive for energy independence the goal of producing all the energy the country needs domestically, particularly by reducing imports of oil from the Middle East is at its heart a national security goal.
Global warming, besides posing serious threats to the environment and to human health and safety, could destabilize already volatile nations. The United Nations recently identified Southeast Asia as a "hot spot" for the political effects of global warming, for instance, as governments there could be too weak to respond adequately to extreme weather events, triggering political chaos. Both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, and both Pakistan and Afghanistan share a tribal region where Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters organize. Low-lying Bangladesh, if inundated by sea-level rise and flooding, could send millions of refugees into the volatile mix.
Recognizing the long-term political risks of destabilizing the climate, and weaning the country off imported oil, should be a priority for any president.
But energy independence is often misleadingly lumped together with global warming in discussions of energy policy. The same strategies could be used to accomplish both. But energy independence could be achieved by burning domestic coal, for instance, the most highly polluting fossil fuel on the planet.
Lead, primarily. George W. Bush put Vice President Dick Cheney in charge of energy policy, and the result was record oil company profits and high gas prices, but no discernible progress toward weaning the nation off fossil fuels or imported oil, nor in tackling global warming. Congress could be an obstacle to comprehensive energy policy, particularly transformative energy policies that produce short-term economic pain, but the president's role is to lay out a smart path. Framing energy policy as it is critical for long-term economic and national security is a strategy the president can use to galvanize support for hard policy choices. First, he or she must recognize the connection between energy policy, global warming and national security.
Obama's goal is to wean the nation off of Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil within 10 years, invest heavily in renewable energy technologies and improve the energy efficiency of cars and buildings. He has a $150 billion plan to do it. He would enact new rules to make burning coal more expensive and to encourage the use of alternatives. It's a comprehensive energy plan that has been praised by many environmentalists and energy policy experts, which isn't to say anyone should expect it to survive intact during congressional debates.
Both Obama and McCain have discussed energy independence as a national security issue, but the Democratic platform explicitly links climate change to future international political instability.
McCain puts drilling for more oil and building more nuclear power plants at the center of his energy policy. While he would support various strategies to increase the use of renewable and alternative forms of energy, including "clean coal," his most detailed proposals involve offshore oil drilling and more nuclear power. Offshore oil drilling would not decrease the need for imports significantly, and investing in new oil production would mean burning oil for longer, exacerbating global warming. Nuclear power would provide an abundant, though controversial, form of domestic electricity.
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