“I suggest that this is a good time to think soberly about our responsibilities to our descendants–those who will ring out the Fossil Fuel Age,” said Admiral Hymen Rickover in 1957.
Fast forward to 2010, and US military leadership clearly feels that the time has come again to talk about the Fossil Fuel Age and the national security dangers of its end. But this time, the warnings are less about our descendants than about Americans living today.
“Our reliance on carbon-based fuels forces us to secure supply chains against our enemies,” Rear Admiral Lawrence Rice told the ASPO-USA conference in Washington, DC this October.
“As Admiral [Mike] Mullen has said, the single biggest threat to national security is the national debt. And our annual oil debt is greater than the US trade deficit. Every day, we write a check for $60 million to pay for oil. That amount would buy two Flanker fighter jets.”
Rice, who serves as director of strategy and policy at US Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, VA, helped author the March 2010 report that has been taking the peak oil community by storm. The authors of the Joint Operating Environment 2010 call for peak oil to occur by 2015 and pronounce energy shortages to be a major threat to US national security in the coming years.
“The JOE was published as a speculative document to encourage strategic discussion” among leaders of the armed services, and the report does not reflect the official view of the Department of Defense. But it does show that uniformed military leadership has decided that peak oil is worth planning for along with such future threats as food shortages, cyber-terrorism and weapons in outer space.
As the report notes of peak oil,
petroleum must continue to satisfy most of the demand for energy out to 2030. Assuming the most optimistic scenario for improved petroleum production through enhanced recovery means, the development of non-conventional oils (such as oil shales or tar sands) and new discoveries, petroleum production will be hard pressed to meet the expected future demand of 118 million barrels per day.
Going on to discuss potential future conflict with China over oil in Africa and elsewhere, the report says that “the implications for future conflict are ominous, if energy supplies cannot keep up with demand and should states see the need to militarily secure dwindling energy resources.”
The military has realized, Admiral Rice said, that the cost in national treasure and human lives was too great to remain with the energy status quo. All the US armed services have begun to increase energy efficiency and ramp up clean energy. In two examples cited by Rice, at Guantanamo Bay wind turbines provide 25% of the base’s power, while in Iraq’s Al Anbar province US military solar panels feed energy back into the Iraqi national grid.
Rice’s message is the same that civilian green hawks such as former Secretary of Energy James Schlesinger and former CIA Director James Woolsey have been sending recently, that America must wake up to peak oil as a national security issue.
As Admiral Rickover also said, “in the face of the basic fact that fossil fuel reserves are finite, the exact length of time these reserves will last is important in only one respect: the longer they last, the more time do we have, to invent ways of living off renewable or substitute energy sources and to adjust our economy to the vast changes which we can expect from such a shift.”
Wise advice from a warrior to the nation he was sworn to protect.
Now, let’s look for a currently serving civilian US government official to follow suit. Who will be the first in the Obama Administration to acknowledge the gravity of peak oil?
I nominate a man not afraid to speak his mind: Vice President Joe Biden.