AMERICA, IT’S TIME FOR A NEW MANHATTAN PROJECT!
By Policy Director Jim DiPeso
AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: Originally published in the fall 2001 issue of REP’s The Green Elephant newsletter.
A CALL TO ARMS
Republicans for Environmental Protection believes that this country’s dependence on oil for fuel is a threat to our national security. As long as oil is our dominant transportation fuel, our nation will be vulnerable to security threats from unstable regions like the Middle East, which will control an increasing share of world oil reserves in the years ahead.
The United States of America must marshal its political will and economic resources to develop efficient, clean energy technologies that are less vulnerable to terrorist threats and outside the control of unsavory regimes. An orderly but swift transition to renewable, domestically-based energy resources is essential for our national security.
To this end, Republicans for Environmental Protection proposes the creation of a New Manhattan Project … to honor the great city that suffered unspeakable horror on September 11, and to give America lasting security and a brighter future.
THE HARD FACTS ON OIL
Last year, one of every eight barrels of crude oil and petroleum products that we consumed came from the Persian Gulf. Relying on the Middle East for a vital energy resource is a dangerous habit. Middle Eastern oil keeps American soldiers and sailors in harm’s way, defending supplies from an area in constant turmoil. Middle Eastern oil is the tie that binds America to shaky, autocratic regimes that share none of America’s traditional values. Middle Eastern oil is a cash register for terrorists who are surely hatching new plots to bloody our homeland.
Boosting domestic oil production, unfortunately, will not get us out of our security bind. There is just not enough oil under America’s soil to meet all of today’s needs, let alone future growth in energy demand. We only have three percent of world oil reserves, yet we consume 25 percent of world production. United States oil production peaked in 1970 and has generally fallen ever since.
Opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling would be especially foolish. Oil from the refuge would increase and prolong our dependence on an aging, remote pipeline that is impossible to defend against determined, meticulous attackers.
Opening the Arctic refuge would do little to stop increasing dependence on oil imports. Today, fifty-six percent of the oil we consume is imported. In the next ten years, imports are projected to rise past sixty percent—even if persistently high prices stimulate more domestic production.
The broader issue is that our dependence on oil for fuel—regardless of its source—weakens America’s security. Oil prices are set in a global market. The most influential players in the market are the countries with the big oil reserves —Middle Eastern and other nations that make up the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Nearly sixty percent of world oil reserves are held by the OPEC cartel.
A PERMANENT SOLUTION
Looking further out, the U.S. must begin planning for the end of the oil era. A recent Department of Energy report says growth in world fuel demand will outstrip oil production capability in the next half-century. Our security cannot afford a leisurely shift to new fuels.
The permanent solution is two-pronged: greater efficiency and renewable energy technologies based here at home. Through efficiency, we can extract more work out of each barrel of oil, reducing dependence on imports while fuel cells and other technologies are expanding their beach head in the energy market. Greater efficiency will lay an economic and technological foundation for the energy technologies we will use in the post-petroleum era.
Efficiency has a proven track record. Last year, America used forty-nine percent less oil per dollar of GDP than we did in 1975, saving twelve times our current Persian Gulf imports. Imagine how dependent the United States would be on foreign petroleum without these efficiency gains.
WHAT WE CAN DO TODAY
Today, Americans can act to reduce our reliance on Middle Eastern oil and keep money out of terrorists’ pockets. Save gas. Cut back consumption by at least one gallon per week. Stop buying gas-guzzling vehicles. Learn from the conservation example of our parents and grandparents, who pitched in for the greater good during World War II.
As columnist Mark Shields wrote recently, “We act as a nation when, as a people, we share the obligations and perils of our common defense— when each of us can contribute.”
Voluntary conservation must be followed by strong measures to hard-wire greater efficiency into our economy. Updating of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for automobiles is long overdue. CAFE standards have not been updated since the mid-1980s. Since then, average vehicle fuel economy in the U.S. has fallen by eight percent. Had America continued conserving oil at the same rate we conserved it from 1976 to 1985, we could have eliminated all oil imports from the Persian Gulf years ago.
Even a modest measure increasing mileage standards by less than two mpg would produce as much oil as the Arctic refuge. Unlike the Arctic refuge, however, the “efficiency oil field” will never run out.
Efficiency also would reduce the power of the OPEC cartel. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, greater vehicle fuel economy and other efficiencies wiped away one-eighth of OPEC’s market and pushed down prices. The last thing the cartel potentates want is for Americans to improve their energy efficiency.
EFFICIENCY = NATIONAL SECURITY
From a national security standpoint, efficiency is the perfect energy resource because it is dispersed, decentralized, and domestic.
Efficiency does not put dollars in terrorists’ pockets. Efficiency cannot be bombed. Efficiency does not rely on chokepoint infrastructure such as tankers, pipelines, or refineries. Efficiency does not bind America into alliances with dictatorial regimes in an unstable region. Efficiency does not risk the lives of American soldiers defending energy resources far from home. Efficiency does not expose our national security to coups and cartels.
In the New Manhattan Project, we can develop decentralized energy technologies less reliant on vulnerable choke points. Solar and fuel cells, for example, produce power at the point of use. Dispersed energy sources will complicate terrorist target planning.
Renewable technologies will produce energy from sources on American soil. Hydrogen to power fuel cells in buildings and cars could be produced from water or natural gas. Heat beneath Southwestern deserts, California’s sunshine, and the Great Plains winds can be harnessed to generate electricity.
Cogeneration in factories produces both heat and power far more efficiently than America’s conventional power plants, which on average throw away enough waste heat to power all of Japan.
Electricity can even be “grown” by using farm and forestry wastes. Sweden, for example, obtains nineteen percent of its electrical energy from bark, straw and wood chips. Farm and forestry materials also can serve as feedstocks for liquid fuels, including hydrogen.
THE CRITICS ARE WRONG
Critics clinging to outdated notions have brushed off new technologies as “boutique” resources that only Luddite hippies could love. The critics haven’t been keeping up with the news.
Wind is cost-effective today. A Florida utility is building the world’s largest wind power facility in the farm fields of eastern Washington and Oregon. The Stateline Wind Generating Project will produce enough electricity for 70,000 homes, plus it will pay royalties that will help farmers get more value from their land.
The price of installing solar panels has fallen more than ninety percent since 1975. Since 1990, annual production of photovoltaic cells has tripled. Solar has drawn the interest of Shell and British Petroleum (BP), oil companies looking ahead to the post-petroleum era. BP is now the largest producer of solar cells in the world. Prices will continue falling as production volume increases.
Fuel cells are likely to end the century-long reign of the internal combustion engine, says Bill Ford, chairman of the automaker founded by his great- grandfather. Every major automaker in the world is pouring significant R&D into fuel cells, and showroom models will begin rolling off assembly lines in the next five years. DaimlerChrysler, for example, plans to invest $1 billion to develop affordable fuel cell cars and transit buses.
Fuel cells work on a simple principle discovered in 1839—interestingly, the same year that the photovoltaic principle behind solar cells was first described. Fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, pure water, and nothing else. No sooty particles. No toxic emissions. No dependence on a fuel subject to foreign manipulation.
TIME TO MAKE THE SHIFT
While the prospects for new energy technologies are high, national security demands an orderly but accelerated shift toward domestically-based renewable energy. Many technical issues must be solved before fuel cells and solar can break out in the marketplace. A host of economic and institutional barriers must be cleared away. Strong federal leadership is needed to catalyze a swift transition.
The New Manhattan Project can be a national effort that will make every American proud. The New Manhattan Project will strengthen our security and our economy by creating new and lasting American industries, while also protecting our environment for the next generation. Let us pursue the New Manhattan Project with all the grit, determination, and spirit of Manhattan and its brave people.
We encourage you to read Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage by former Shell Oil geologist Kenneth S. Deffeyes (Princeton University Press, 2001; ISBN 0-6910-9086-6). As Jim DiPeso wrote in recommending this book: “It’s meticulously researched by a man who knows the oil business inside and out. The conclusion is inescapable — we have to start preparing now for the post-petroleum era. There can be no delay.”
Energy security, patriotism, and Roosevelt 101 Five essays by Jim DiPeso, originally published online by Grist, October 2001
Conservatives should conserve, shouldn’t they? Plenary speech by Martha Marks at the annual convention of the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP), held in Arlington, Virginia on June 25-27, 2001
Energy and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Letter to all Republican senators and representatives, written by REP Policy Director Jim DiPeso and signed by President Martha Marks, March 2001
Global Climate Change: The time for leadership is now Letter to President George W. Bush, written by REP Policy Director Jim DiPeso and signed by President Martha Marks, March 2001