A Free-Market Energy Blog

Even the Generals are Worried! Mission Creep, Climate Change, and National Security (Part 2)

By -- September 16, 2009

This is part 2 of my post on a recent Partnership for a Secure America (PSA) briefing on climate change, energy and national security. Yesterday’s post made two main points:

(1) The strange-bedfellow coalition of defense hawks and eco-warriers is based not on sound national security arguments but on a convergence of political interests. For defense hawks, the alleged climate crisis facilitates mission creep by providing an open-ended rationale to expand DOD programs, activities, capabilities, and the appropriations to fund them. For green groups, partnership with defense and intelligence big wigs builds their already formidable lobbying machine and gives them cachet with conservatives who generally oppose government meddling in energy markets and Kyoto-style “global governance.”

(2) The PSA panelists exaggerate the security risks of climate change. The “history” of global warming, recent research on climate sensitivity, and even the Stern Review (properly understood) call into question the claim that climate change is an important “threat multiplier.”

In today’s post, I discuss the national security risks of climate change policy — a topic ignored in the PSA panel’s lop-sided briefing. 

One-Sided Threat Assessment

In testimony (p. 7) before a joint hearing (June 25, 2008) of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, Dr. Thomas Fingar, Chairman of the National Council on Intelligence (NIC), stated that, “Government, business, and public efforts to develop mitigation and adaptation strategies to deal with climate change — from policies to reduce greenhouse gases to plans to reduce exposure to climate change or capitalize on potential impacts — may affect U.S. national security interests even more than the physical impacts of climate change itself.” 

Those words provoked the ire of Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA), who demanded to know who at Bush’s OMB inserted that verbiage into Fingar’s testimony. Finger assured Markey that the entire testimony, including the offending sentence, reflects the consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community, and that OMB offered no comments on that portion of the text. (Incidentally, Fingar’s testimony also said that climate change was “unlikely to trigger state failure in any state out through 2030,” and that “the United States as a whole would enjoy modest economic benefits over the next several decades largely due to increased crop yields.”)

Regrettably, Fingar’s testimony did not explain how climate policies  might affect U.S. national security interests “more than the physical impacts of climate change itself,” nor did he elaborate in the back-and-forth with Chairman Markey. In general, the global warming debate lacks balance, with climate change risks highlighted, exaggerated, or even invented, and climate policy risks denied or ignored.

Let’s then consider some of the ways climate policies might damage U.S. national security interests.

(1) Gas pains. The Romans used to say that an army travels on its stomach. For the past hundred years or so, however, armed forces have traveled on their fuel tanks. In the Afghan and Iraq wars, U.S. strategy plays to our comparative advantage in mobile forces. Today’s U.S. Army is the most fuel-intensive in history.

At the PSA briefing, Admiral McGinn warned that the end of the current recession would usher in a return to a “volatile cycle of rising energy prices.” Oil exceeded $140 a barrel in July 2008, and global demand could push oil prices back up to that level, he opined.

Agreed. But now suppose that on top of that, Congress enacts a cap-and-trade program. Such policies are designed to make carbon-based fuels more costly (see p. 2 of former CBO Director Peter Orszag’s April 24, 2008 congressional testimony). The Heritage Foundation estimates that the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade program would increase motor fuel prices by 58% or $1.38/gallon by 2030.

Next, layer on top of the price effects of cap-and-trade and resurgent global demand the effects of additional supply constraints imposed by other “clean energy” policies, such as:

If Congress enacts this green policy wish-list, including cap-and-trade, while global demand for petroleum products rebounds, we will all long for the days when gasoline cost “only” $4.00/gallon.  

Everybody would feel pain at the pump, including the nation’s largest energy consumer, the Department of Defense. Although Congress would not allow U.S. armed forces to lack fuel in combat situations, soaring energy prices would put pressure on DOD to reprogram funds and cut fuel consumption — perhaps, for example, by reducing the frequency or scope of training exercises. Experts in the field should consider how a policy-induced “energy crunch” might impact DOD budgets for training, procurement, salaries, and benefits. So far, there has been no public discussion of this.

(2)  Money is the Sinew of War. Economic strength is the foundation of military might. A strong industrial base made America the “arsenal of democracy” in two world wars. America won the Cold War in part because the Soviets went broke trying to match the Reagan-era defense buildup.

America cannot remain a great power with a second-rate economy. A dynamic economy not only supports investment in military forces and high-tech weaponry, it also promotes U.S. leadership in the world generally. Conversely, economic stagnation forces painful budgetary choices between guns and butter, and the associated “malaise” can sway public attitudes towards isolationism.

Affordable energy is vital to economic growth. The PSA panelists acknowledge this, sort of, when they blame high oil prices for contributing to our economic woes. But they don’t acknowledge the inescapable implication: Because cap-and-trade policies are designed to make energy more costly, they can chill job creation and growth.

The Heritage Foundation estimates that Waxman-Markey would reduce cumulative GDP by $9.4 trillion from 2012 to 2030 and reduce net employment by 1.9 million in 2012 and 2.5 million in 2035. Similarly, the National Association of Manufacturers/American Council for Capital Formation study estimates that, in 2030, Waxman-Markey would lower annual GDP by $419 billion to $571 billion and reduce net employment by 1.79 million to 2.44 million.

All such studies depend on assumptions and are open to criticism. Nonetheless, the potential for carbon-suppression policies to weaken the economy by inflating energy prices is undeniable. Likewise, the potential for economic weakness to produce military weakness is undeniable. A “perfect storm” created by the convergence of Waxman-Markey, the other anti-oil policies noted above, and resurgent global petroleum demand could produce one heck of an energy crunch, putting the economy into a tailspin. No member of the PSA panel acknowledged these possibilities.

Nor did the panelists consider the national security implications of litigation-driven CO2 regulation under the Clean Air Act (CAA). As discussed in an earlier post, once EPA finalizes its proposed finding, under CAA Sec. 202, that greenhouse gas emissions from new motor vehicles “endanger public health and welfare,” it could be compelled to make a similar endangerment finding under Sec. 108. That, in turn, would require EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for CO2.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the environmental group that successfully litigated to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), has launched a $17 million climate litigation campaign to ensure that the CAA and other environmental statutes are “fully implemented” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In June 2009, CBD published a report arguing that EPA must set NAAQS for CO2 at 350 parts per million (ppm).

Current CO2 levels are roughly 387 ppm. Even if every industrialized nation achieved the Waxman-Markey target (an 83% cut in emissions by 2050), this would only slow the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations, not lower them. Actually reducing CO2 concentrations to 350 ppm may well be beyond human capability in this century. Yet, under the NAAQS program, states have at most 10 years to come into attainment with a primary (health-based) air quality standard. The potential for economic disaster should be evident, especially since, under established legal interpretation, EPA is forbidden to consider economic impact when setting NAAQS.

CBD tries to downplay these risks, arguing that under CAA Sec. 179B, states would not have to achieve the impossible but would only have to do what would be required “to attain and maintain the relevant national ambient air quality standards by the attainment date . . . but for emissions emanating outside the United States.” This doesn’t defuse the NAAQS bomb, for two reasons.

First, even if the whole world joined us in the effort, attaining and maintaining a 350 ppm NAAQS within 10 years would still require nothing less than a national de-industrialization program. Second, even if courts somehow allow EPA to extend the NAAQS deadline from 10 years to, say, 50 years, U.S. emission reduction requirements would still greatly exceed those proposed in Waxman-Markey, which aims to stabilize CO2 concentrations at 450 ppm.

Someone in the defense intelligence community should think through the implications of a scenario in which eco-litigants compel EPA to establish NAAQS for CO2 at 350 ppm. Serious pursuit of this increasingly popular climate stabilization goal via CAA regulation could be highly disruptive to the U.S. economy, domestic tranquility, and the industrial base of the U.S. military. Have the PSA panelists ever even thought about this problem? More than likely, they welcomed the Massachusetts v. EPA decision from which this regulatory threat emanates.

(3) Threat Multiplier. The global warming movement’s top priority is to stop construction of new coal-fired power plants in order to reduce global emissions 50% or more by 2050. Yet, banning new coal plants in developing countries could condemn large segments of humanity — the 1.6 billion people who have never flipped a light switch — to decades of deadly energy poverty (as I discuss here and here).

Approximately 90% of the growth in global emissions in the remainder of this century is projected to occur in developing (“Non-Annex I”) countries.

CO2 emissions, Connaughton

Source: James Connaughton, Chairman, Council on Environmental Quality, Energy and Climate Policy, December 2007 (click on the figure to enlarge)

Thus, absent breakthroughs that dramatically lower the cost of zero-emission energy, there is no way to achieve the 50% global emissions reduction target without suppressing energy consumption and economic growth in the world’s poorest countries. 

Thwarting developing countries’ aspirations for a better life would not promote stability and peace! Global warming policy is potentially a huge threat-multiplier.

(4) Trade war, U.S-China conflict. The EU/UN/Al Gore goal of reducing global emissions at least 50% by 2050 will require developing countries to limit their CO2 emissions to 1.3 tons per capita (see slide #11 of U.S. Chamber of Commerce economist Stephen Eule’s Power Point presentation). That’s roughly equivalent to current per-capita CO2 emissions in Africa, the most energy-starved continent on the planet. Understandably, China, India, and other developing countries reject binding limits on their emissions. The question, then, is what kinds of inducements would be required to make them join the club of the carbon-constrained.

One option is bribery — huge transfers of wealth and technology from North America, Europe, and Japan. But in case anyone hasn’t noticed, the world is in a financial crisis, and unemployment is high in the United States and other industrial countries. U.S. taxpayers would take a dim view of subsidizing Chinese industry in order to send yet more jobs to China. Besides, although China and India would be only too happy to take our money, they have not indicated that they would return the favor by capping their emissions.

So if carrots won’t work, sticks — such as the carbon tariffs recently demanded by 10 U.S. Senators and French President Sarkozy — would appear to be the only option to make developing countries comply. If we go down that path, however, we will continually butt heads with China, India, and other important trade partners. China has already threatened to retaliate against carbon tariffs with trade sanctions of its own. In all likelihood we would get trade war, not compliance. 

Trade wars do not usually lead to shooting wars, but an era of trade conflict with China would not be in the U.S. national interest, and disaster scenarios are easily imagined, as my colleague Iain Murray points out. Example: A Chinese firm refuses to comply with the U.S. “border adjustment mechanism.” U.S. port authorities refuse to allow the goods to be off-loaded, the Chinese sailors get rowdy, the police come, a sailor is shot — bingo, international incident.

More prosaically, China could simply become less amenable (or more obstructionist) in areas where we seek their cooperation, such as sharing intelligence on terrorist activities and restraining North Korea and Iran’s nuclear ambitions

None of the PSA panelists gave any indication that they had considered whether “saving the planet” would require establishing and enforcing trade sanctions, and whether any serious effort to coerce China via carbon tariffs could endanger global trade and world peace.

(5) Nuclear proliferation. At the PSA panel, Ambassador Woolsey argued against sharing nuclear technology with developing countries, even though nuclear power is the world’s leading source of zero-emission electricity. This would create a “huge proliferation problem”; nuclear must take “big steps” before it is a “reasonable competitor to other options,” he said.

However, if developing countries are denied access to coal-fired power plants, where else are they going to get substantial baseload electricity, if not from nuclear power? It is difficult to imagine developing countries consenting to a moratorium on coal power plants unless industrial countries agree to share nuclear technology with them, and pay for it to boot.

Nothing would spread nuclear technology and fissile materials faster than an effectively enforced ban on new coal power plants, especially if the G77 plus China get their wish and Annex I (industrial) countries pay them hundreds of billions of dollars (0.5%-1% of their GDP) annually in “climate assistance.” 

At a minimum, the PSA panelists should acknowledge that increased proliferation risk is a potential consequence of the global warming crusade. Of course, none said a peep about this.

(6) Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. The PSA briefing served up the usual hand-wringing about America’s dependence on oil from unfriendly nations, and about oil bankrolling terror. 

Ambassador Woolsey asked the audience, “Who funds terror?” Answering his own question, he said: “Look in the mirror the next time you fill up at the gas station.” A clever soundbite, if the point is to evoke and manipulate feelings of guilt. You get the same look-in-the-mirror answer if you ask, “Who finances 28 million retirement accounts in 2,650 federal, state, and local public employee pension funds?” The nexus between oil and public employee retirement funds is broader and deeper than that between oil and terror.

Petro-phobes overstate the link between oil and terror, as Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren of the Cato Institute explain:

  • Although some of the  dollars we spend on oil undoubtedly trickle into terrorist coffers, “only 15.5 percent of the oil in world markets is produced in nation-states accused of funding terrorism.” Presumably, those states fork over only a small fraction of their oil revenues to terrorists. “Hence, the vast majority of the dollars we spend do not end up on the purported conveyor belt to terrorist bank accounts.” 
  • “Regardless, terror is a low-cost endeavor and oil revenues are unnecessary for terrorist activity. The fact that a few hundred thousand dollars paid for the 9/11 attacks suggest that the limiting factor for terrorism is expertise and manpower, not money.”
  • Analyzing data on oil prices and terrorist incidents from 1983 to 2005, Taylor and Van Doren found no correlation between Saudi oil profits and fatalities due to Islamic terrorist attacks, and none between Saudi oil profits and the number of Islamic terrorist incidents. 

As to the concern about depending on oil from unfriendly countries, Taylor and Van Doren note that the OPEC “oil weapon” (embargoes, cutoffs) is mostly bluster. Petro states go broke if they don’t sell oil, and, because oil markets are global, an embargoed nation can always import oil via non-embargoed third parties.

An energy extortion strategy is more feasible with natural gas. As Taylor and Van Doren explain, “sellers have leverage in natural gas markets that is not possible in oil markets because oil can be transported easily while gas is shipped through pipelines. Buyers have few near-term alternatives if natural gas sellers reduce shipments.”

Due to the geographically-constrained character of natural gas markets, Europe, which imports about 40% of its natural gas from Russia, is far more vulnerable to energy extortion than we are.

EU imports of Russian natural gas

Surely the PSA panelists recall that nine months ago, in the midst of a very cold winter, Russia halted gas exports to Ukraine, thereby cutting off nearly all gas shipments to Europe.  Although Russia claimed it was simply trying to resolve a longstanding dispute with Ukraine over gas prices and debts, the cutoff may also have been punishment for Ukraine’s pursuit of NATO membership, and a warning to Europe not to admit Ukraine into NATO.

Europe’s dependence on Russian gas partly stems from EU global warming policy. As the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) observes: “Many nations in OECD Europe have made commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, bolstering the incentive for governments to encourage natural gas use in place of other fossil fuels.”

If Europe’s deeds ever match its green rhetoric, and European countries ban new coal plants instead of  building them, they will become even more dependent on Moscow to keep their lights on and their houses warm.

Although Soviet communism is dead, Russia is not a liberal democracy. Whether or not Russia outgrows the anti-liberal legacy of centuries of autocratic (Czarist and Soviet) rule, Moscow aspires to regain Russia’s great power status, and whatever else might be said about Russia’s interests vis-a-vis Europe, they are not identical to U.S. interests. Indeed, last year, a Russian general threated to nuke Poland, if Warsaw participates in a U.S. missile defense system designed to block attacks by rogue nations like Iran.

In short, the Russian Bear is not yet tame, Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas makes Europe vulnerable to energy extortion, and regulatory climate policies increase that vulnerability. Predictably, the PSA panelists said nothing about this issue.

(7) Biofueling Disaster. Increased use of biofuels will help break America’s oil dependence, Ambassador Woolsey asserted. Well,  no, it won’t, unless biofuels actually give consumers more bang for the buck than gasoline does — in which case there will be no need for the biofuel and flex-fuel mandates Woosley advocates.

For all their fretting about how climate change will undermine U.S. security by intensifying world hunger, the PSA panelists uttered not a word about the role of biofuel policies in increasing grain prices and world hunger.

The price of corn tripled during 2007-2008, and wheat and rice prices also more than doubled. I don’t usually quote eco-radical Georges Monbiot, but on this topic nobody said it better: “Even when the price of food was low, 850 million people went hungry because they could not afford to buy it. With every increment in the price of flour or grain, several million more are pushed below the bread line.” In 2008, food riots sparked by soaring grain prices broke out in several countries and toppled the government in Haiti — the very sort of instability we’re supposed to fear from climate change, but climate change had nothing to do with it.

Although several factors contributed to the surge in grain prices including a weak dollar, high oil prices, and increased demand in China and India, biofuel policies were also a factor. According to the World Bank, “Almost all the increase in global maize [corn] production during 2004 to 2007 (the period when grain prices rose sharply) went to bio-fuels production in the United States, while existing stocks were depleted by an increase in global consumption for other uses.” The numbers tell the story: “From 2004 to 2007, global maize production increased by 51 million tons, biofuel use in the United States increased 50 million tons and global consumption for all other uses increased 33 million tons, which caused global stocks to decrease by 30 million tons.”

Biofuel policy bid up the price of corn and, since all grains compete for customers and, to a lesser extent, land, biofuel policy contributed to grain price inflation generally.  The International Food Policy Research Institute estimates that during 2000 to 2007, biofuel demand accounted for 39% of the increase in real corn prices, 22% of the rise in wheat prices, and 21% of the increase in rice prices. A study published by the World Bank (although not representing the Bank’s official position) estimates that 70-75% of the increase in food commodity prices “was due to biofuels and the related consequences of low grain stocks, large land use shifts, speculative activity and export bans.”

Technological breakthroughs may some day make it possible to produce vast quantities of cheap ethanol from switch grass or algae. In the meantime (which could be decades), the potential of biofuel mandates to divert ever-increasing quantities of grain from food to auto fuel, inflate food prices, and increase world hunger cannot reasonably be denied.

As noted in a previous post, the EU/UN/Al Gore goal of reducing CO2 emissions to 50% below current levels by 2050 would require global emissions in 2050 to be 38.3 billion tons below the baseline projection (see slide #9 of Stephen Eule’s presentation).

Achieving just one gigaton or 2.6% of that reduction from biofuels would require biomass plantations occupying an area about 5.4 times the total land area of Iowa — about 200 million acres (see slide #7 of Eule’s presentation).

Our supposed ability to “solve the climate crisis” just by scaling up off-the-shelf technologies is often discussed in terms of “stabilization wedges,” a concept popularized by Princeton researchers Steven Pacala and Robert Socolow. In a widely cited paper, Pacala and Socolow outline 15 policy options (wedges) each of which could lower global emissions by 1 gigaton in 2050 or by 25 gigatons from 2004 to 2054.

One of the options is to produce 34 million barrels of ethanol a day — “about 50 times larger than today’s [2004’s] production rate, almost all of which can be attributed to Brazilian sugar cane and United States corn.”  The ethanol wedge, they estimate, would require 250 million hectares of high-yield plantations by 2054, “an area equal to about one-sixth of the world’s current cropland.” One-sixth of the world’s current crop land!

It doesn’t take military intelligence to see that “saving the planet” with biofuel could significantly reduce the land area available for food crop production. The world is not well fed now, and the food and feed demands on farmlands are expected to more than double by 2050. The potential for disaster is obvious.

One must have a great deal of faith in the wisdom and rectitude of politicians to believe that the biofuel gravy train could be easily stopped or slowed even if credible experts report serious impacts on world hunger. Heck, they already have!

America is not “addicted to oil” any more than our ancestors were addicted to horse fodder. Rather, we depend on petroleum for mobility — until something better comes along.

In stark contrast, the ethanol lobby is addicted to subsidy, and as with any addiction, it is an appetite that grows with feeding. One thing we can count on — the ethanol lobby will always want MORE.   


What the PSA panel presented was not a national security briefing but a one-sided collection of platitudes designed to promote an agenda fraught with national security risks of its own. 

There’s hardly an advertisement on television for any prescription medicine — anti-depressants, asthma inhalers, birth control pills, Viagra, you name it — that does not warn of potentially serious side-effects. Is it too much to ask foreign policy professionals to speak with as much candor as our drug companies do?

Green energy advocates present themselves as physicians of the body politic and healers of the climate.  But only a quack claims his remedies are risk free. Only a huckster claims his big idea is a “sure thing.” If green energy advocates don’t want to be mistaken for quacks and hucksters, they need to address forthrightly the risks of climate change policy. So far they have not done so.


  1. Andrew  

    On oil “funding terrorism”-Um, I seem to recall that Osama’s riches came from the Opium trade, NOT oil production!


  2. Richard W. Fulmer  

    Actually, Andrew, bin Laden’s money came from his father who was a wealthy Saudi business man with ties to the royal family.

    Among other things, Saudi oil money is being used to fund madrassa schools around the world. These schools teach Wahhabism, a fundamentalist form of Islam that is particularly hostile to the West. A number of the Taliban were educated in Pakistani madrassas funded by the Saudis. So the concern about oil money being used to fund terrorism is not as farfetched as you imply.

    In any case, it seems to me that allowing U.S. petroleum companies to produce domestic oil (both on and offshore) is a more practical way to guard against future price spikes than is relying on windmills, photovoltaics, and biofuel.

    Clearly, the people involved in the PSA briefing aren’t stupid and are fully capable of looking at both sides of the issue. The fact that they did not suggests that they face incentives that discourage them from doing so. I suspect that they can read the writing on the wall just as clearly as can the EPA regulators who suppressed Dr. Alan Carlin’s report (http://masterresource.org/?cat=310). That writing clearly suggests that it would be harmful to their careers to stand in the way of the Administration’s support for Waxman-Markey.


  3. Richard W. Fulmer  

    This website has extensively documented the threat that Waxman-Markey poses to Americans’ financial security. Dr. Lewis’ post persuasively demonstrates that the bill’s threat is far more fundamental. While his arguments are unlikely to sway the Administration (much less the apocalyptic wing of the global warming faith), it is very likely to convince voters who may, in turn, be able sway their congressmen and senators.


  4. Andrew  

    Richard-Well, I’ll fully admit that I was recalling something I had heard and not something I knew. Now, where did I hear something about Opium? Oh, maybe that was the Taliban? I know that they grow quite a bit of Poppy in Afghanistan.

    But my memory is, again, fuzzy.


  5. Celebrity Paycut - Encouraging celebrities all over the world to save us from global warming by taking a paycut.  

    […] week, on the free-market energy blog MasterResource.Org, I posted a two-part column on climate change and national security. In a nutshell, I argued that global warming is likely […]


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