September 30, 2010

Murder-Boarding Our New Energy Report: Day 3

In today’s post, I’m going to highlight a tension in the critiques that we as authors had to deal with. Not surprisingly, it was in regard to how to treat climate change in this predominantly energy-focused report.

Two reviewers suggested that we excise some of the already limited number of mentions of climate change, greenhouse gases and environmental concerns. This was distinctively not out of climate change denialism or a lack of interest in the security challenges that climate change may bring from these reviewers. Rather, the suggestion was geared toward ensuring that we do not lose any report readers in that roughly 33 (and oddly growing) percent of Americans who do not believe the scientific consensus surrounding changing trends in the global climate. The merits of the direction we outline in the report are solid enough just on the energy side – why bring in an additional variable that is unnecessary for effectively arguing your case?

Another reviewer raised a counter-critique: that we should be sure to set boundaries that ensure that DOD meets the standards that the rest of the country will likely embrace for deciding its post-petroleum future. Specifically, if the public is wary of second-order effects of fuel switching on water strains, food prices, greenhouse gas emissions and the employment of arable land, then DOD should embrace the same standards. Yet another early-draft reviewer suggested that we teed up that DOD should indeed consider climate effects of its energy choices, but that we didn’t adequately explain why climate change is a security issue.

Of course, climate change is a major security concern for us, and I can’t speak for everyone here at CNAS but I do not believe it wise to ignore the knock-on effects of energy decisions any more than it’s wise to delay switching to a diversified range of fuels. But we can’t explain every challenge in every report we write. I hope the balance we struck is adequate, and does not repel readers more focused on energy security than climate change.

Finally, we received comments from many CNAS and non-CNAS reviewers on our suggestion that DOD use scenarios for thinking through what new fueling needs will be required (if any) as it moves toward consuming a more diverse range of fuels. One wise scholar suggested that we seriously consider the energy needs in various anti-access/area denial scenarios, which would obviously include a very different fuel footprint from the war in Iraq, for example. We couldn’t in the end accommodate long descriptions of specific scenarios, but many readers did want more detail on what types of scenarios could actually get us thinking about how to fuel military missions without petroleum.

I suggest that the broad U.S. government – not just DOD – should include scenarios for what securing the nation might look like if we are forced to turn hard toward threats in the Americas. Specifically, a new report by our colleagues Bob and Jen outline the slimming divide between organized crime issues and national security issues for the United States. One could imagine endless scenarios for what types of action “crime wars” might require, and DOD and the USG would have dramatically different fueling options on our local and neighboring continent than we’ve had in the current wars.

Our main point, though, was that whatever scenarios are used for planning, it will be critical during DOD’s long-term energy transition that they represent very, very diverse fuel requirements. That’s the only way to ensure that DOD gets adequate alternative fuel supplies when and where it needs. And really, that’s the only want to ensure that DOD can adequately operate. And that’s exactly what the report is about.