Reducing U.S. dependency on foreign oil is vital to our national security

By Saba Long

As we move into the final weeks of the presidential campaign, $1.84 is a figure we’ll likely hear during the debates. This was the price per gallon of gas just days after President Barack Obama’s inauguration. This number has doubled in just under four years with no real expectation for a significant reduction in the price of oil.

Renewable energy sources provide for roughly 10 percent of American consumption, with 35 percent being provided by oil and the remainder coming from natural gas, coal and nuclear energy. Presently, the Department of Defense uses 22 gallons of petroleum daily per soldier in combat. It costs the Department of Defense — and ultimately taxpayers — $1.4 billion annually for each $10 increase in the cost of a barrel of oil, notes Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate.

Not only must our military leaders be concerned with the physical protection of the infrastructure of our energy supply, this new Internet age requires an agile, tactical approach to cyber warfare as it relates to the oil supply chain.

The July 2012 publication of the Joint Force Quarterly states, “As the world’s largest consumer of petroleum, the United States is unable to supply its demand from domestic sources. It should be clear that the energy infrastructure of the United States is its lifeblood, and as such, is one of the most critical of all infrastructures. The assets of the oil and gas industry are thus clear targets for economic jihad.”

Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute and his colleagues are making the national security case for investing in renewables with the unintended benefits including smart design and technology, reduced car dependency and a cleaner planet. In a roundtable hosted by Southface with Atlanta’s leading grant foundations, renewable energy entrepreneurs and national security neophytes Amory et al discussed the true cost of energy and the economic opportunity to the state of Georgia and the nation in investing in renewable energy.

While reducing oil dependency should be a focus of the U.S. Congress, particularly given the volatility in the Middle East, our elected officials in Washington are distracted by the timestamps on tweets and apologies or the perceived lack thereof to Muslims. Meanwhile, American citizens are preoccupied with the likes of Honey Boo Boo, Paul Ryan’s abs and what is currently trending on Twitter as I type this — #GhettoCrayolaColor.

What if the 13 million barrels of oil we consume each day was instantly reduced to seven million due to a cyber-security breach or a government mandate? How would this affect operations at your office building or travel arrangements at home? Lovins and his team of scientists at RMI ask these questions and provide attainable goals and solutions to diversifying our energy sources by year 2050 in their new book, Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions For the New Energy Era.

Lovins’ argument for renewable energy should strike a harmonic chord with conservative policy makers. Not only is there a national security case for reducing our oil dependence, there is also a business case for the same. As the world continues to reach peak oil production, the market has and will continue to demand alternatives and consumer adaptation. In transportation alone, the desire for alternative modes of mobility is notable. While the regional transportation referendum failed in metro Atlanta, time and time again citizens voiced their support for a fix to our notorious transportation woes, particularly in the urban core.

Where government fails to adapt, the private sector must swoop in to capitalize on the expectations of our changing demographics. Auto makers are continually making revolutionary advances in the manufacturing of hybrid and electric cars. This is becoming the new normal for the industry. Companies like Zipcar and Uber are filling in the holes for consumers hoping to reduce their driving burden. Transit oriented and smart development is the baseline of expectations for existing and potential urban dwellers. Achieving LEED certification is no longer newsworthy — it is to be expected. Adaption to the transportation and building expectations of the American consumer is happening before our eyes.

The swiftness and scalability of our shift from being an oil dependent country lies in the willingness of our policy makers to take bold steps to enable entrepreneurs to meet and increase market demands. Political and business self-interests can be aligned by incentivizing certain behaviors. In the book, Lovins makes the case for “freebates”. Want to buy a gas guzzler? Expect to pay an upfront fee. Or if you purchased a fuel-efficient vehicle, you would receive a rebate.

The headquarters of Southface is 10,000 square feet of commercial office space in downtown and uses 84 percent less water and 53 percent less energy than a comparable building. Imagine if this level of environmental detail was encouraged and incentivized for future big box development in metro Atlanta. Our local and regional governments must be as equally concerned about the national security aspects of energy efficiency as our Capitol Hill leaders.

Widespread collaboration and education will usher our cities and our nation into a new energy era. The markets demand it.

Note to readers: Last week, I attended a roundtable and presentation by Amory Lovins and Rocky Mountain Institute hosted by Southface, a Georgia-based non-profit environmental organization. Lovins introduced his book “Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions For the New Energy Era” and was the keynote speaker at the annual Southface Visionary Dinner.

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