The admirals and generals who made the national security case for clean energy last Monday put two other important messages in their report.
First, the U.S. military must do its part to help us shift away from fossil fuels. The uncertainty of fossil energy supplies and costs, the difficulties of providing fuel to the battlefront and the destabilizing influence of global warming are threats to military effectiveness.
The retired officers recommend that the Department of Defense become a “technological innovator, early adopter and test bed” for the clean energy future. They conclude the military must pay attention to its “carbon bootprint”, and energy consumption at military installations must be transformed with “aggressive pursuit” of efficiency, smart grids and electric vehicles.
Those goals have big consequences for the entire energy marketplace. The Department of Defense is the biggest energy consumer in the U.S. government, which is the biggest single energy consumer in the world.
The second message was an unusual personal message to the American people to get directly involved in protecting the nation from harm. The report opens with “A Direct Appeal” that reads in part:
National security is not solely the responsibility of our military. American civilians know this, and have always shown the capacity and willingness to participate in meaningful efforts to help our country in times of need.
In World War II, a concerted effort helped civilians understand their role. Recycling rubber and metal scraps preserved key materials for an industrial buildup. Growing food locally in Victory Gardens meant industrial food production facilities could focus on food shipments to soldiers overseas; it also saved the fuel used for domestic transport of canned fruits and vegetables. Conserving fuel at home left more of it for our troops. These steps could be described as sacrifices, frugality, lifestyle changes— the wording depends on the era and one’s perspective. Whatever the terminology, these actions made the totality of America’s war effort more successful. They shortened the war and saved lives.
Today, all Americans can help us meet our emerging security challenges. Each of us can help make our country more energy efficient. Using less electricity in our homes and offices reduces stress on a fragile electrical grid; it also reduces carbon emissions. Supporting efforts to rebuild our electrical grid can make us less vulnerable to domestic attacks, and can allow us to develop a rich diversity of non-carbon energy sources. Each of us can help end America’s addiction to oil. Using less fuel in our cars and trucks reduces overall demand, and helps us meet the President’s goal of eliminating foreign oil imports; it also reduces carbon emissions. We can support efforts to electrify personal transport, with liquid fuels used primarily for aircraft and the military.
These steps, taken individually, may seem small. Collectively, they can make us more secure. Americans made clear sacrifices during World War II for reasons that are obvious in hindsight: they understood the stakes, and they were asked. With this report, we have tried to make known the current stakes by clearly articulating the need to establish energy security and plan for the effects of climate change. This will require a commitment to conservation and a willingness to reconsider old ways. It will require discipline and the broadest participation possible. All of us have a role to play in making our nation more secure.
Given this message, it was something of a synchronicity that in the days just before the flag officers issued this appeal, Al Gore called his army to Nashville to issue new marching orders. Last week, Gore hosted a “North American Summit” to launch a grassroots mobilization campaign in support of bold congressional and local action on climate change and clean energy.
Attending the Summit were more than 500 of the 2,600 volunteers Gore has trained in recent years to educate the public about climate change. (Gore has held trainings in the United States, Australia, Canada, India, Spain and the United Kingdom. According to The Climate Project, the organization formed to administer the network of trainers, the volunteers have presented “The Inconvenient Truth” slide show to more than 4 million people.)
In Nashville, Jenny Clad of The Climate Project and Maggie Fox – the new leader of the Alliance for Climate Protection, another Gore organization – urged TCP’s volunteers to join the Alliance’s “Repower America” campaign, an outgrowth of Gore’s proposal that 100 percent of America’s power come from renewable resources in 10 years.
They encouraged the volunteers to spread out in their communities and organize local people to write to their representatives in Congress, to write letters to the editor and to each recruit five of their friends for political action in support of sound climate and energy policy.
The Alliance for Climate Protection is best known for its recent series of television ads – a campaign hard-pressed to match the unlimited funding available to the coal and oil industries. But as one of its leaders told the crowd, “TV ads show you have money. A grassroots movement shows you have passion.”
Passion was evident at Gore’s summit. He announced to whoops and hollers that an agreement apparently had been reached in the House Energy and Climate Committee on the Waxman-Markey climate bill. A succession of speakers that included IPCC chair and Gore’s fellow Nobel Prize laureate Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, received more standing ovations than a President during the State of the Union address.
The juxtaposition of Gore’s summit and the CNA report brings to mind the Victory Speakers of World War II. In August 1942, the U.S. Office of Civilian Defense began recruiting hundreds of thousands of local speakers to rally their neighbors to action with short presentations about the war effort. Because I was still several years away from being conceived, I was unable attend any of these presentations. But as I understand it, Victory Speakers were everyday Americans who were respected in their neighborhoods and who volunteered to give talks at local events ranging from intermissions at the movies to meetings of women’s clubs and local farm bureaus.
There are two ways whereby the mass of citizenry can churn and digest ideas: Private conversation and public speaking. Democracy needs especially to develop public speaking before small audiences of a dozen to a hundred people. In such groups questions from the floor come easily. Discussion can be frank and spontaneous.
The humblest citizen of any democracy, if he is armed with the facts, and if he has earnestly tried to solve a public problem, has a place on the platform. He may become a most effective agent of good government. He may not have a reputation for oratory, but if he has a reputation for honorable living his influence on his neighbors will often be greater than that of any printed word or radio speech. We are ourselves convinced when we see that our neighbors are profoundly stirred. No one can remain cold in the visible presence of sincere emotion.
Al Gore’s mobilization of thousands of volunteers to speak on global climate change is this generation’s Victory Speakers campaign. Now it has been joined by the “visible presence of sincere emotion” in the appeal of the 12 retired military leaders who dedicated their careers to their country and who urge all Americans join a movement comparable to the war effort more than a half-century ago. As they say in their new report:
There is room for differences and for debate. We know this, because we’ve had these arguments ourselves. But there are moments in a nation’s history when the confluence of events suggests that the time is ripe for action. Even as the debates rage, as important differences in opinion are surfaced, there is a quiet consensus that the time has come. The American people—all of us —through our energy choices, can contribute directly to the security of our nation.
Author’s Note: Anyone interested in joining the new Repower America campaign can start by visiting the organization’s web site here.
William S. Becker is the Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Plan (PCAP), a project of the University of Colorado, Wirth Chair, charged with producing a 100 day action plan on climate change for the next President of the United States, and the author of THE 100 DAY ACTION PLAN TO SAVE THE PLANET, available in eBook format from St. Martins Griffin.