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OpEd: Let's Declare Our Energy Independence

September 11, 2001 was America's wake-up call.

By Bill Moore

Last night's speech before the American Congress was President George W. Bush's finest hour. In a stirring, thoughtful address he clearly defined the challenge confronting America and the World. Evil men have perverted the Prophet Mohammed's message of peace and self-control with the justification that "jihad" against the morally-corrupt West is Allah's will. The Taliban government of Afghanistan is the most extreme example of this warped theocratic vision, where music is forbidden and women are cruelly demeaned. These extremists would foist their brutal, totalitarian regimes on others.

They deserve to be brought to justice. They must be brought to justice, or as President Bush put it, justice will find them.

But beyond the rhetoric and the flag waving, America needs a visible symbol of our determination to resist and defeat radical Islamic terrorists. If I were directing the fight, I would start with a declaration of energy independence.

The opening phrases of the United States Constitution says that the very purpose of our Union is to " insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. . ."

It is these very tenets that George W. Bush swore to defend when he took the Oath of Office. What better way to uphold the Constitution than to declare America's energy independence, and mean it this time.

It seems clear to me that the reason we now find ourselves embroiled in this new kind of war has to do, in some large measure, with our national addiction to oil, much of it imported from these troubled parts of the world. It was the US "invasion" of Saudi Arabi in 1991 and its continued "occupation" that set Osama bin Laden on his personal, murderous "jihad." And while bin Laden's subsequent declaration of war stated it would be the West which would burn the oil fields, we cannot assume that he or his kind will continue to let oil flow freely to his sworn enemy.

In that event, the shock would be felt around the world.

Of course, it would be overly simplistic for me to suggest that reducing, much less stopping the importation of oil from the Persian Gulf -- most of which is shipped to China, Japan and the nations of the Pacific Rim -- would prevent further acts of terrorism. In fact, it would probably only further destabilize the region and topple those few governments that remain on good terms with the West.

On the other hand, it would remove a significant economic weapon from the hands of our enemies. More importantly, it would help insure that we are no longer vulnerable to political arm twisting. It would also mean we could dramatically reduce our military presence in the region, thus removing one of the major irritants enflaming radical fundamentalism in the Middle East. An America that doesn't need Middle Eastern oil is a safer, more secure America, in my view. It also places America in a stronger strategic position to deal with those who would use oil as an economic weapon against us. The countries of the Middle East need to sell their oil. They have little else to offer the rest of the World.

Let me hasten to add at this point, that I believe oil is a valuable resource and that the nations blessed to have it are entitled to extract it at a rate they deem prudent for their long-term economic well being and sell it at a fair market price.

I also believe it is simply too valuable a resource to consume at the profligate rate at which we are doing so. While oil income in the Middle East has raised the standard of living for some people in the region, it often has also fostered excesses and corruption far beyond those found in the West. The lavish lifestyles of Arab princes are legendary and can only have helped sow the seeds of militant discontent among a people whose religion exhorts them to practice abstinence and charity.

Taking the long view, as I am sure Islamic clerics must do, they must wonder about the fate of their posterity when the oil fields begin to run dry, as they began to in the United States in the mid-1970s. If I were an Islamic cleric, I would be exhorting the government to begin preserving this precious asset for future generations. This would mean less oil on the market today, but it would also mean there would be oil tomorrow.

In turn, the United States and the rest of the World should go on a "crash diet" to reduce our dependence on this resource. We have the technology to accomplish this, we simply have lacked the will to use it. The terrible events of September 11, 2001 are a wake up call for the West. Up to this point, the energy debate has centered around how to produce more energy with the focus being on drilling for more oil and building more nuclear power plants.

Overnight, however, those offshore rigs have suddenly become vulnerable to small boat attacks similar to the kind that nearly sank the USS Cole. Even worst, the destruction of a nuclear power plant could ultimately result in hundreds of thousands of deaths and the radioactive contamination of tens of thousands of square miles. As the destruction of the World Trade Center demonstrated, a cunning and determined foe can accomplish their objective using very low tech methods. They would have only to destroy the reactor cooling system, the control building or nuclear waste storage pond to wreak havoc of apocalyptic proportions.

Meanwhile, whose who would now argue for the exploitation of the oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ignore the fact that by the time the oil reaches the lower 48 states, the war could be over.

It seems we have few options in terms of conventional, domestic fossil fuels. Granted the US has an abundance of coal, but the environmental consequences of its increased usage could do as much damage to our " general welfare" as that wrought by terrorist activities.

Instead, I firmly believe that America - - and the rest of the civilized world - - needs to launch a "Manhattan-class Project" to develop and deploy renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. There are both strategic and tactical reasons for this.

At its very core, renewable energy is a distributed energy source. The sun shines and the wind blows everywhere. Not all the time, granted, but because it is so widely dispersed, it would be nearly impossible for terrorists to disrupt the energy systems that utilize it. Imagine trying to knock out millions of solar panels on homes and businesses and tens of thousands of wind farms scattered across the countryside. It simply couldn't be done. Yes, transmission towers and wind generators could be blown-up, but they can be repaired or replaced relatively quickly. Not so damaged or destroyed central generation facilities or nuclear power plants.

In addition, if you networked all these separate systems together similar to the way the Internet works, power could be routed around any potential trouble spots. EPRI has been working on just such a concept.

To illustrate the efficacy of this distributed production strategy, consider Germany's war efforts in 1944. Despite massive Allied bombing raids that year, German fighter aircraft production actually increased over 1943. This is because Hitler's architect, Albert Speer decentralized production away from the large urban centers and into the countryside. Heinkel manufactured aircraft engines only a kilometer from my birthplace in a little town that doesn't even show up on most maps of Germany.

A decentralized, renewable energy-based power system could insulate us from terrorist manipulation. It would also create tens of thousands of new jobs at a time when tens of thousands are being laid off. New industries and businesses would spring up to retrain autoworkers, airline personnel and others for the build out of this new energy infrastructure. Just a Kaiser turned out a Victory ship every couple days in World War II, GE could be turning on a wind farm a week!

What better symbol of America's determination to remain free than a giant wind turbine spinning freely in the wind?

As in World War Two, factories that once turned out cars could be converted to turn out mass-produced solar panels, wind turbines and fuel cells. In a massive, war-time effort, America could be transformed from the world's leading producer of greenhouse gases to the leading exporter of renewable energy and energy efficiency technology. We could begin today the transition from a carbon-based to a hydrogen-based economy. Such an effort would eventually lead to scientific and technological breakthroughs that would enable us to export this technology to the poorer nations of the world, lifting their standards of living. This alone would do more to erode support for fundamentalist extremists like Osama bin Laden than any military action.

In addition to launching a war-time effort to turn out renewable energy technologies, Detroit ought to immediately volunteer to begin full-scale production of hybrid electric vehicles, stationary fuel cells, battery electric vehicles and other advanced, fuel efficient automotive drive systems. They've done this before. During World War Two, plants that turned out Packards and Chevrolets, within a matter of months were turning out tanks and planes.

As part of this patriot effort, carmakers would cease all non-essential production of any type of vehicle that does not achieve at least a 30 mpg fuel economy with the goal within 5 years of 40 mpg. To help stimulate interest in this new technology, industry and government should immediately launch a nationwide public education campaign to encourage Americans to shift to more fuel-efficient means of transportation as part of their patriot duty. Imagine a "Stick It To the Terrorists" campaign where patriotic Americans voluntarily park their SUVs and demanded carmakers give them electric commuter cars powered by free wind, water and sunlight.

The key to winning this war begins with the crystal clear realization that this isn't going to be your grandfather's World War nor your father's Vietnam. And it isn't going to be Desert Storm. This time it is "in-our-face" and in our backyards. We have to fight it with the same level of determination, willpower and a sense of mission that motivated our forebears in "The Last Good War."

Mister President, members of Congress, fellow citizens, if we are really serious about this fight, then let's show it by doing more than waving flags. Let's start with a clear and unambiguous declaration of our energy independence!

Next Week... Know Your Enemy, Know Yourself.

Times Article Viewed: 5953
Published: 23-Sep-2001


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