It appears that General George S. Patton, hero of the Battle of the Bulge, is back. As always, he’s not taking any balogna in Bastogne. But this time, he’s come to open up a can of whoop-ass on energy ideas that would make America open to foreign baddies.
“Patton is the biggest enemy of nuclear power,” according to his amanuensis, former CIA Director James Woolsey, who channeled the ghost of Old Blood and Guts for a group of clean-energy executives at a meeting in Virginia in early September.
The event was not a seance, there was no table tapping, and James van Praagh was not present — at least not in physical form. Instead, it was the launch of a local chapter in Charlottesville of the Clean Economy Network, which Woolsey helps run.
Woolsey, who was chief spook under Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1995, is now reincarnated as an advocate for clean energy, and he was figuratively channeling Patton’s ghost to make a point that nuclear power is bad for America’s security.
Eco-apostates from Gaia-hypothesizer James Lovelock to Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, have called for the world to ramp up nuclear power. Supporters say peaceful atoms provide power that’s greenhouse-gas free and can help keep the lights on as oil and coal run down. Lovelock expresses the urgency of many nuke supporters today:
Even if [critics] were right about its dangers, and they are not, its worldwide use as our main source of energy would pose an insignificant threat compared with the dangers of intolerable and lethal heat waves and sea levels rising to drown every coastal city of the world. We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilization is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear – the one safe, available, energy source – now or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet.
Critics from Bill McKibben to James Hansen to Richard Heinberg counter that nukes still produce GHGs when uranium is mined, when reactors are built, and at other points in the nuclear power cycle. To add insult to injury, many peak oilers also claim that the world is facing peak uranium and that supplies of the mineral will soon begin to tighten.
Woolsey opposes the nuclear option for a more strategic-tactical reason.
If plans for new nuclear power plants get the green light in the US, as President Obama and others now propose, manufacturers of nuclear power equipment will fire up their production lines. And once those assembly lines are moving, Woolsey fears, the industry won’t be satisfied with selling to the domestic market but will also want to find buyers abroad in order to maximize their investment in production capacity.
That’s the part that General Patton wouldn’t like. It turns out that light-water reactors built to generate electricity can also easily be modified to enrich uranium to the level required to make weapons. Woolsey says that once aspiring nuclear powers in the Middle-East and elsewhere obtain civilian nuclear technology, they can’t be trusted to resist the temptation to go full-Ahmadinejad.
Woolsey, a conservative Democrat who endorsed John McCain for president and served as one of his foreign-policy advisors, has become perhaps the best known of what might be called the “green hawks.”
So it’s natural for Woolsey to say that Patton would hate oil as much as he hates nukes.
“Patton grits his teeth when hear hears anything about oil,” Woolsey said. And not only would Patton hate that US consumers send $1 billion a day largely to nations whose leaders are hostile to American interests and in some cases fund Al Qaeda, just as the Saudis fund “90% of Islamic institutions in the world,” as a way to spread the austere teachings of Wahhabi Islam and its fondness for jihad against the infidel, according to Woolsey.
The general would also be worried about the vulnerability of the North American electrical grid and, while he would support solar and wind power, he wouldn’t want large installations built at centralized, utility scale. Instead Patton would command renewable energy equipment to be deployed on rooftops across America to protect against disruptions to the grid.
“In nine seconds in 2003, 50 million people in the northeastern United States and Canada lost power,” Woolsey said of the blackout that for him represented just how vulnerable the electrical grid is not only to accidents, but to hacking by terrorists or hostile foreign powers.
Pick your Pickens
It’s clear that Woolsey would not want America to re-enact the scene in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove where Slim Pickens rodeo-rides a warhead down to Armageddon like the first Bronco of the Apocalypse. But he is ready to saddle up the same energy hobby-horse as T. Boone Pickens— natural gas—which both Woolsey and the Pickens Plan see as a relatively clean transitional fuel to get us to renewables.
Helpfully, Woolsey even suggests that environmentalists get together with the more responsible gas drillers to work out issues with hydrofracking, just as activists and loggers did in the 1990s to create the sustainable lumber industry.
Where Woolsey falls short is on conservation. Though he asserts that saving energy is as important as making it and he himself has driven a Toyota Prius for years, it’s clear that Woolsey and his ghost of Patton would get little thrill from creeping up into the attic and blowing in some Owens-Corning R-40 fiberglass insulation.
Most troubling, Woolsey seems to think that biofuels can support an indefinite future of what James Howard Kunstler has referred to as Happy Motoring.
When asked if it would really be possible to brew enough biofuels to power the world’s growing auto fleet as he claimed, or if instead it would be better to invest in transit, Woolsey replied that while transit was a “lovely Jane Jacobs vision” — this time channeling the ghost of the 1960s urban planner and advocate for compact, walkable development — it wasn’t realistic to put our efforts into such a pipe dream. “What we have today is cars,” Woolsey said.
But for his effort to bring greens and social justice advocates together under a national security umbrella, Woolsey deserves praise. It is by building unlikely coalitions of clean energy hawks and traditional sustainability activists that the world might just get an energy system that reduces global warming and helps us get through peak oil.
Woolsey says that he doesn’t even care that much about peak oil. He believes it will soon come, if it hasn’t already, but he thinks that national security issues alone are reason enough to get off of fossil fuels. Let’s hope that the large segment of the public who cares about security issues much more than they probably ever will about climate change or oil depletion in time to do anything about them will find Woolsey’s argument compelling enough to act and to enlist in Woolsey and Patton’s clean energy army.
This is really the way to be all that you can be.