Can we ever agree on energy policies?


WASHINGTON — Tree-hugging environmentalists and national security hawks may share more common ground than generally acknowledged, said R. James Woolsey, a national security specialist and former CIA director who spoke at the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science Forum on Science and Technology Policy.

After noting that climate change and terrorism are two of what he called the “existential challenges” facing the United States in the 21st century, Woolsey outlined some steps to help combat climate change and also provide the nation more resilience against terrorism.

Ghosts. In making his case, Woolsey did a little role-playing in which he channeled the ghosts of John Muir, an ardent environmentalist, and Gen. George S. Patton, a tough-as-nails military hero.

“What might Patton and Muir be able to come up with together?” Woolsey asked in his May 9 talk.

Speaking as John Muir, he ticked off energy policy proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and also lessen U.S. reliance on foreign oil, particularly from the Middle East.

Middle East

“What can you say about a society that lets the infrastructure for the substance that monopolizes 97 percent of its transportation be located in the Middle East?” he asked. “I don’t think you’d say anything very flattering about such a society.”

He also said Saudi oil revenues are helping support fundamentalist Islamic schools in Pakistan and elsewhere that have proved to be sources of Al-Qaeda recruits.

“We have a whole slew of malevolent problems associated with oil,” said Woolsey, who served in two Republican and two Democratic administrations and is an adviser to Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

“We have a whole slew of malevolent problems associated with oil.”

R. James Woolsey

National security specialist and former CIA director

There are some energy-related issues in the United States as well, Woolsey said, notably the need to modernize and provide better security for the nation’s aging and balkanized electricity distribution grid. But those problems are “not technologically insurmountable,” Woolsey said.

“It’s an organizational and political problem.”


So what solutions might a modern-day John Muir offer for energy-related problems, both foreign and domestic? And how might a George Patton react?

In character as Muir, Woolsey began with a nod toward Wal-Mart, the supermarket giant. He said the company’s program to save energy — including use of skylights, more efficient light bulbs and more efficient food freezers — has been reducing energy costs by 25-30 percent, with projections of even more savings in new stores.

Since buildings account for 70 percent of global electricity use, Woolsey said, such steps are essential.

He also praised California — the home state for both Muir and Patton — for a decision two decades ago by the state’s Public Utility Commission to require that profits by utilities be tied to investment, rather than sales.


The result has been more investment in energy-saving technology, he said, and a flat growth in electricity demand for the last 20 years in California compared to a 60 percent increase in the rest of the country.

Woolsey, speaking as Muir, also praised Denmark for deriving more than one-third of its electricity by using waste heat from factories and buildings to generate power. The result has been a distributed power grid and little need to build large new power plants.

Woolsey also acknowledged that there also will need to be some new power plants, preferably using renewable sources such as wind. But he did not rule out use of nuclear plants, which emit no greenhouse gases.


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