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Monday, November 15, 2010

Avoiding a Climate Science War

By Daniel Goldfarb
Originally published at Americans for Energy Leadership

Everybody loves a good fight, and Andrew Revkin reports that scientists are gearing up for an upcoming slugfest over the validity of climate science in his post “Scientists Join Forces in a Hostile Climate.” On the other side, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) is maneuvering to become Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, saying of the position, "Within the Energy and Commerce committee we are ground-zero in the effort to reestablish conservative principles in the Congress and by extension in the country." So how can we avoid an unproductive back and forth between climate scientists and climate zombies? One idea is to shift the debate from what causes climate change to a discussion of more specific concerns and solutions, starting with how our current energy posture hampers national security.

National security provides the perfect arena in which to discuss energy policy. Unlike politicians, members of the military don't point fingers, they find solutions. Our politicians could learn from the Department of Defense's solution oriented approach to problems, and move past who is causing global warming to how we can best address it. Meg Bostrom of the Washington Post recommends such a solution oriented approach for the upcoming Congress in her piece "A Climate Plan for Climate-Change Deniers":
"There is good reason to think that those who are worried about climate change would make greater progress - especially among Republicans, who profess increasing skepticism about warming - if they focused less on arguing the scientific reality and more on building support for specific solutions that all sides can agree on."
Pitting 700 climate scientists against a well entrenched cohort of climate change denying scientists and politicians, as the American Geophysical Union plans to do, will only further polarize opinions around stale arguments. By narrowing the focus of climate and energy discussions, and changing the casts who advocate for each side, we can potentially find new areas of agreement and not just continue to explore old divisions. Our politicians should start with subjects on which most Americans agree, such as protecting American troops.

To accomplish a breakthrough in public support for energy reform in the next Congress, progressives should call to the hill men and women in uniform rather than lab coats. The military provides and example of a pragmatic approach to climate change that everyone can get behind. Whether you are sure that mankind is contributing to climate change or not, avoiding conflict and ensuring the safety of American soldiers should be a top priority for everyone.

The federal government may still be debating the urgency of our climate and energy crises, but the U.S. military has recognized it and is moving forward. For over four years the military has voacalized not just the strategic impediments global warming will presents for the U.S., but also the imperative for developing alternative fuels and renewable technologies. In 2006 the military established the Energy Security Task Force (ESTF), who's self described mission statement is to “define an actionable investment roadmap for lowering DoD’s fossil fuel requirements and [for] developing alternate fuels for use by the Department.” The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) reaffirmed the military's position on technology innovation,
“The Department will also speed innovative energy and conservation technologies from laboratories to military end users. The Environmental Security and Technology Certification Program uses military installations as a test bed to demonstrate and create a market for innovative energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies coming out of the private sector and DoD and Department of Energy laboratories."
There is an emerging consensus within the military that action has to be taken to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels in the American military and the nation as a whole. When newly emboldened climate zombies want to argue about the realities of climate change and America's energy posture, they should be arguing with the men and women who feel them most acutely, not about who's causing these problems but how to solve them. I understand the discomfort around interjecting service men and women into a political debate, but this is a side of the argument that needs to be heard and has the potential to save lives.

There is no shortage of military personal who have already made strong arguments for political action on energy policy. To the argument that man made climate change is a theory and not proven science, the 2010 QDR provides the perfect response, "climate-related changes are already being observed in every region of the world, including the United States and its coastal waters," which will have "significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and further weakening of fragile governments." The military's position is simple, oceans are rising and weather is becoming more unstable, using what we know we must move to ensure a stable geo-political order. The statement draws no conclusions about who is destabilizing the climate, choosing to focus rather on the need for solutions. In the upcoming House hearings and late night show debates on climate science, energy and climate policy advocates should call in the 33 retired U.S. military generals and admirals, who this past summer announced their support for comprehensive climate and energy legislation in a letter to Senators Reid and McConnell. These are the men and women who understand best the reality of how fossil fuels makes our nation and soldiers more unsafe, regardless of beliefs on climate change.

For those politicians who are willing to accept that climate change is occurring but still believe that it is too costly for the government to foster renewable energy sources, let them again make their case to our men and women in uniform. In 2006, U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer - the top U.S. commander in western Iraq - submitted an urgent request for renewable energy systems, citing the vulnerability of American supply lines as the main reason. The request states that by,
“reducing the military's dependence on fuel for power generation could reduce the number of road-bound convoys...Without this solution [renewable energy systems], personnel loss rates are likely to continue at their current rate. Continued casualty accumulation exhibits potential to jeopardize mission success...”

The military is an area in which the costs of our need for energy reform are acutely felt in the form of deaths. An article in the NY Times last month, "U.S. Military Orders Less Dependence on Fossil Fuels", sites a disturbing figure, “In Iraq and Afghanistan, one Army study found, for every 24 fuel convoys that set out, one soldier or civilian engaged in fuel transport was killed.” When it is inevitably argued that we cannot afford renewable energy RD&D the response should unequivocally be that we can't afford unnecessary military deaths.

On top of comprehensive energy reform being a security imperative, it is good politics to frame it as such. In the current political climate Republicans who are sympathetic with energy and climate policy reform will be hard pressed to work with Democrats on the issues. The midterm elections are being read by some as a referendum on the failed climate bill, leaving the issue a political non-starter. Reframing energy as a security imperative would provide political cover for those Republican and centrist Democratic senators who would like to see America move forward on energy but fear tapping into the toxicity of the climate debate. If our politicians can learn anything from our soldiers on energy, it will be that focusing on solutions leads to solutions, while pointing fingers leads to fighting.

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