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Environment

The Energy Security Challenge

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There was a time in the mid-2000s when it seemed that every other Thomas Friedman column was about the connection between U.S. oil consumption and terrorism. Here he is in 2005, in "No Mullah Left Behind":

By adamantly refusing to do anything to improve energy conservation in America, or to phase in a $1-a-gallon gasoline tax on American drivers, or to demand increased mileage from Detroit's automakers, or to develop a crash program for renewable sources of energy, the Bush team is - as others have noted - financing both sides of the war on terrorism. We are financing the U.S. armed forces with our tax dollars, and, through our profligate use of energy, we are generating huge windfall profits for Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan, where the cash is used to insulate the regimes from any pressure to open up their economies, liberate their women or modernize their schools, and where it ends up instead financing madrassas, mosques and militants fundamentally opposed to the progressive, pluralistic agenda America is trying to promote. Now how smart is that?

This argument--especially resonant after 9/11--convinced many national security hawks to embrace the notion of "energy independence." The slogan once revolved around the idea of weaning the U.S. off of foreign oil; it has since broadened to mean the creation of a clean energy economy. Since 2005, "energy independence" has kinda/sorta morphed into "energy security" and a larger portfolio of concerns, which, as the Brookings Institute explains,

cuts across many sectors"”economic, environmental and national security.

More recently, global warming has become the third pillar of the "energy security" edifice, joining green jobs and national security. Notably, President Obama's big energy speech earlier this week contained two tiny, passing references to climate change. Blink and you missed them. (This seems to have been lost in all the uproar over the coastal drilling pronouncement.) What got noticed is that the President brought both the energy independence and energy security themes under one umbrella. This should tell us how the Senate's energy bill, whenver it rears its head, will be promoted. The question I have is, will climate advocates take their cue from the President and also shift strategy? That's going to be tough to do with campaigns such as The Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate, which is

is dedicated to highlighting the critical linkages between national security, energy independence, the economy and climate change.

More importantly, how will the President's emphasis on energy security play in the heartland? For a hint of that, we might look back to the mid-2000s, when the national security/foreign oil linkages were being played up by Friedman et al. The argument didn't gain much traction with the public, and that's when 9/11 was still pretty fresh in people's minds. A few days ago, I mentioned this recent history during an email exchange I had with some policy experts and journalists, which included Roger Pielke Jr. He wrote back:

"Energy security" is not going to ever become a top issue. The top issues have remained fairly consistent over time -- economy, health, jobs, war ... an alternative framing won't change this.

That same day, CNN published a new poll, summarizing the findings thusly:

The recession and concerns about the economy have dampened public enthusiasm for policies to protect the environment.

Obama doesn't need another poll to tell him which way the political winds blow on environmental issues. But maybe he doesn't need energy security to be a top issue with the public in order to successfully sell it to a recalcitrant congress.

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