We are witnessing history repeating itself. America and our allies have once more been thrust into a conflict inextricably linked to the world’s addiction to fossil fuels. But if we heed the warning and decisively act now, it could be the last such global conflict. U.S. leadership for rapid national and global expansion of clean, sustainable renewable energy will increase our energy security, economic security and environmental security, the key elements that underpin our national security and quality of life.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s power on the international stage derives from Russia’s abundant supply of natural gas. He knows much of Europe still relies on it even as countries accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels. Putin’s brazen attack on Ukraine, funded by petro-dollars, is connected to securing further risky gas exports to Europe. Desperate for new gas customers in a rapidly electrifying world, Putin met with Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan to discuss constructing a joint gas pipeline even as his attack on Ukraine began.
Putin’s actions in Ukraine will have serious repercussions for energy markets across the world. Even before Russia’s attack, volatile oil prices and natural gas prices skyrocketed in response to the threat, and the Biden administration must now balance whether to impose sanctions on Russia’s gas exports while Americans already face higher energy costs driven by inflation and the risky global markets that control oil and gas prices.
This is not a new story — from Iran to Saudi Arabia to Iraq and Venezuela — dictators have derived their strength from the fossil resources within their borders, flexing their powers because of their control of a finite resource made valuable only because of our addiction to it. Much of world history has been determined by the haves and have-nots when it comes to energy. The Ukrainian people are the latest victims of the world’s overreliance on fossil fuels, simply by way of their geography, separating Russia from a convenient gas client in Europe.
Furthermore, while fossil fuels remain tied to U.S. military might and strategy, with military operations relying on the use and transport of oil and gas, that equation is changing rapidly as well. In reflecting on the challenges of Iraq and Afghanistan, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis has testified that the military must be “unleashed from the tether of fuel.”
After decades of the United States being dragged into deadly conflicts over oil supplies, with countless dead, enough is enough. It’s time to turn our strategic mission to securing a clean and secure energy future for ourselves, for our allies, and for the world.
In the 21st century, there is no reason why wars should be fought for and fueled by oil and gas anymore. Thanks to enormous leaps in technology, with the right policies in place, clean, renewable energy can provide most of our energy needs.
No one country owns the sun or the wind, resources that also happen to be infinite. Removing fossil fuels as a tool of power for dictators must be a priority for forward-thinking countries.
For the United States, energy independence must mean clean, renewable, independent energy. The fate of our national security — and position in the world — is linked to how seriously we commit to building a clean energy economy. The geopolitics of the last century have shifted, and the United States must shift with it if we are to take a leading role. The superpowers that recognize this first will be best placed to lead the world. China recognizes this: already the world leader in clean energy capacity, it also aims to corner the market on critical minerals needed for transportation electrification.
Yet, in response to the threat of Russian invasion of Ukraine, many countries are taking the opposite appraoch, looking to increase gas production with a misguided focus on the wrong kind of “energy independence.” These nations will prove to be the laggards.
Passing a bold and far-reaching domestic clean energy policy may be the greatest step we can take right now to ensure both our national and energy security in this time of uncertainty. Rather than a myopic short-term focus on oil and gas, Congress should be thinking about and acting to ramp up renewable energy production as soon as possible and reduce demand by increasing energy efficiency across all sectors of our economy.
The only way to reduce the power of oligarchs and dictators fueled by gas and oil is to stop our reliance upon these sources of energy. When we stop needing to buy their products, we stop allowing them to use their fuel as bullying instruments of power and diplomatic leverage. Rapidly expanding our American and allied renewable energy portfolios protects us from dictators, price swings and a continuing fossil fuel driven threat of geopolitical chaos. That is the 21st century definition of true energy and national security.
Admiral Dennis McGinn served as assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment until January 2017.
McGinn serves on the boards of directors of the Electric Power Research Institute, Willdan Group, HALO Maritime Security Systems, Customer First Renewables and on the board of trustees for RMI. He is a former president of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), and past member of the Steering Committee of the Energy Future Coalition, Bipartisan Center Energy Board, and co-chairman of the CNA Military Advisory Board.
Admiral McGinn holds a BS in Naval Engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy and was a chief of naval operations strategic studies fellow at the U.S. Naval War College.