The Next Space Race: Renewable Energy, American Energy Independence, and National Security

“Now it is time to take longer strides—time for a great new American enterprise—time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on Earth…I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. ” – John F. Kennedy, 1961

With a single speech to Congress in May 1961, President John F. Kennedy changed the course of a decade, united a nervous nation behind a single goal, and inspired a generation of dreamers. After an endless string of Soviet achievements in space exploration, which included the 1957 launch of Sputnik, the first satellite placed into orbit, and the 1961 launch of Vostok, during which cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to enter space, Americans believed that the Soviets were not only winning the space race, but were on a path to surpass the United States. Kennedy expounded on his goal of the United States winning the race to the moon in a September 1961 speech at Rice University during which, to drum up support for NASA’s fledgling Apollo program, he described winning the race to the moon as a moral duty for the United States, and one that was essential for economic, military, and technological superiority over the USSR. Kennedy stated, “Yet the vows of this nation can only be fulfilled if we in this nation are first, and, therefore, we intend to be first…in short, our leadership in science and in industry, our hopes for peace and security, our obligations to ourselves as well as others, all require us to make this effort, to solve these mysteries, to solve them for the good of all men, and to become the world’s leading space-faring nation.”

On July 20, 1969, U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to ever set foot on the moon, fulfilling Kennedy’s goal and cementing the United States as the foremost economic, military, and technological power in the world. For the rest of its history, the Soviet Union attempted to catch up to U.S. technological superiority, especially in the space race, but never succeeded in landing a man on the moon. The USSR’s economy was finally brought to its knees in large part by crippling levels of debt incurred by attempting to keep up with U.S. research into the Star Wars nuclear defense shield under President Ronald Reagan, which would have given the U.S. complete first strike capability. In addition to the technological impact of the Space Race, the impact on the American psyche was just as profound. One merely needs to look at popular culture of the 1960s and 1970s, with shows and movies such as The Jetsons, I Dream of Jeannie, and of course Star Wars, epitomizing a boom in space interest, the science fiction genre, and in many ways, the optimism from achieving Kennedy’s goal.

Today, the United States faces another challenge, which if overcome, will again cement America as the economic, military, and technological leader of the world for the next generation. Developing renewable energy resources, with the goal of achieving not only complete energy independence but becoming the world’s largest energy exporter, will spur American technological advancement, drive economic growth, and most importantly, protect the national security of the United States.

Despite liberal consternation over President Donald Trump’s energy policy, stemming from the appointments of “climate change skeptics” Scott Pruitt and Rick Perry to head the EPA and Department of Energy, respectively, and pulling out of global climate treaties, the Trump administration actually presents a breath of fresh air to the green energy movement, which has become a victim of politicization, and a great opportunity renewable energy growth in the United States.

For the past forty years, the green energy movement has been driven by environmental activists. Though they have succeeded in passing some energy regulations, like increased fuel emission standards, and have increased public awareness around recycling and energy conservation initiatives, they ultimately have been unsuccessful in rapidly expanding the use of renewable energy in the United States, despite Gallup polling showing that a strong majority of Americans (73%) favor the expansion of alternative energy, including for the first time in the poll’s history, a majority of Republicans. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that in 2015, only 13% of U.S. energy consumption came from renewable sources, while 67% came from fossil fuels and 20% from nuclear.

The green energy movement has been unable to build on favorable polling numbers because though Americans support alternative energy in theory, it is not yet a cheaper alternative. The movement has been unable to appeal to Main Street America because its platform (at this point) is predicated on the acceptance of a decrease in Americans’ standard of living–through higher energy costs, increased regulations driving employers abroad and causing widespread job loss, and higher taxes–in exchange for an increased protection of the environment. The green energy movement has been unable to convince Main Street America that renewable energy will benefit it outside of a nebulous “reversal in global climate change.” Therefore, the green energy movement has become incredibly politicized, with environmental causes eliciting a great deal of financial support from Hollywood liberals and coastal elites, like Tom Steyer, too wealthy to care about increased energy costs and whose view of government gives them no qualms about an energetic executive using broad powers to enforce environmental regulations never passed by Congress on the American economy, and enter the country into multilateral climate treaties which trade American national sovereignty to foreign bodies while jobs leave for countries who decide not to join.

The green energy movement has always been viewed with suspicion by the American middle/working class, whose livelihoods depend on American manufacturing strength (just look at the reaction of unions vs. environmentalists to the Keystone oil pipeline). However, the Democratic Party was able to successfully hold both environmental and working class voters in an uneasy alliance, due to Republican insistence on free trade, until the ascent of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Trump, with his promise to restore American manufacturing, rebuild American infrastructure, and roll back much of the Obama energy regulations, reenergized the working class and rode their support to victory in the Rust Belt, winning Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin–and falling 44,000 votes short of becoming the first Republican since Richard Nixon in 1972 to win Minnesota. On his first Monday in office, he hosted both CEOs of major corporations and union leaders from around the country, which is a departure from previous Republican administrations.

If you go to GreatAgain.gov, the Trump transition team’s website, the goal of energy independence is prominently called out, with the administration promising to pursue policies that “make full use of our domestic energy sources, including traditional and renewable energy sources. America will unleash an energy revolution that will transform us into a net energy exporter, leading to the creation of millions of new jobs, while protecting the country’s most valuable resources — our clean air, clean water, and natural habitats.” Though the United States has made progress toward energy independence since the effects of the Arab oil embargo in 1973, the U.S. imported 3.4 billion barrels of crude oil and petroleum products in 2015, which is roughly equivalent to 1996 levels and almost double the amount imported in 1983. Of that amount, though almost 50% of oil imports come from Canada and Mexico, the U.S. still imported over 1 billion barrels of petroleum from OPEC countries, and the U.S. had a total petroleum trade deficit of 1.7 billion barrels. Of note, the U.S. imported 386 million barrels of oil from Saudi Arabia and 302 million barrels from Venezuela, the second and third largest sources of imported oil, respectively.

Top sources and amounts of U.S. petroleum imports (percent share of total), respective exports, and net imports, 2015
million barrels per day
Import  sources Gross imports Exports Net imports
Total, all countries 9.45 4.74 4.71
OPEC countries 2.89 (31%) 0.24 2.65
Persian Gulf countries 1.51 (16%) 0.02 1.49
Top five countries1
Canada 3.76 (40%) 0.96 2.81
Saudi Arabia 1.06 (11%) 0.00 1.06
Venezuela 0.83   (9%) 0.07 0.75
Mexico 0.76   (8%) 0.69 0.07
Colombia 0.40   (4%) 0.17 0.22

However, the goal of the United States should not just be energy independence–the goal should be for the United States to become the world’s largest energy exporter. Over half of energy consumed in the European Union (which is far ahead of the USA when it comes to renewable energy usage) comes from imported sources, with Russia being the leading supplier of solid fuels (coal), crude oil, and natural gas to EU member states, exporting 29% of the solid fuels, 30.4% of the crude oil, and 37.5% of the natural gas consumed in the EU. The impact of Russian domination on the European energy market threatens the sovereignty of Eastern Europe, as evidenced by the Russian seizure of the Crimean Peninsula. Putin judged (correctly) that the European Union would not respond militarily to the invasion and annexation of Crimea, due in large part to its dependence on Russia for its energy needs. Should the United States achieve energy independence, the threat of American energy exports hitting the European market, combined with more pressing geopolitical threats from China and radical Islamic terrorism, could push Russia to cultivate closer ties with the West, the price of which would be guaranteed security for Eastern Europe, cooperation in the Middle East, and greater protection for human rights in Russia, as this blog has previously argued.

The foreign policy of the United States should be based on the goal that no ally should be forced to depend on any country that does not share the Western ideals of human rights and protection of individual liberty to fulfill its energy needs.

The impact would be swift and sudden. Since World War II, and especially in the last two decades, the United States has spent trillions of dollars and fought three wars which claimed thousands of American lives to ensure access to oil reserves around the world, most notably in the Middle East. American influence in the Middle East has bred resentment, due in large part to America’s financial and military support of dictators who employed brutal means to suppress their populations, such as the Shah in Iran, Saddam Hussein in Iraq (in the Iran-Iraq War), Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia–all of who were overthrown, either by the U.S. military or popular uprisings, which in the case of Iran, Egypt, and Tunisia, brought extremist factions to power who pose an even greater threat to Middle Eastern security and American interests in the Middle East.

In addition to extremist elements coming to power in government, extra-state terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and ISIS have capitalized on the resentment toward American (and Western) involvement in the Middle East to fill their ranks with jihadists to take terror to the West. The remaining Gulf monarchies, most notably Saudi Arabia, have stayed in power by using oil revenues and American aid to bribe their populations into tolerating a status quo where women cannot vote or drive, homosexuality is punished by death, and Christianity is illegal–in addition to brutally suppressing the Arab Spring movement within their borders. The Saud family has used oil revenues (along with continued U.S. Foreign Aid) to provide financial support to the teaching and spread of Wahhabism, a interpretation of Islam that (conveniently for the royal family) holds that Muslims can be deemed infidels should they refuse to cede to the authority of the absolute sovereign, which in Saudi Arabia’s case is the king. Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism, believed that should a single Muslim leader emerge, the Caliph, all Muslims must submit to his authority. Those that refused would be executed. Alastair Crooke, a former MI-6 agent claims in a brilliant article in The Huffington Post of all places, that it is impossible to understand the rise of ISIS without understanding the support for and spread of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia. ISIS has taken an even more literal view of the hardline Wahhabism sect of Islam and is trying to establish the Caliphate in the Middle East by forcing the West into submission through a prolonged terror campaign.

Therefore, despite years of conflict, thousands of lives lost, and trillions of dollars spent, the current geopolitical landscape of the Middle East poses a severe threat to American national security, and continuous revenues from energy exports serve only to entrench an anti-American and anti-Western status quo where governments remain in power through using energy revenue to suppress popular movements. The effect of American energy independence on the national security of the United States is undeniable, because only through energy independence can the United States extricate itself from the Middle Eastern morass. Should America not only become energy independent, but also an energy exporter, European allies can be afforded the same security protections, not just from no longer needing to rely on the Middle East, but also from decreased dependence on Russia.

The most pressing question, though, is how to actually achieve energy independence. Given current U.S. energy infrastructure, the journey toward American energy independence requires both short-term and long-term solutions.

In the short-term, the only conceivable way the United States can move toward eventual energy independence is to increase domestic fossil fuel production and rely on Canadian and Mexican energy imports to fill remaining needs. The first step to U.S. energy independence is achieving North American energy independence. Any movement toward energy independence that does not include a short-term increase in fossil fuel production is one doomed to fail for the same reason that the environmental movement has only achieved limited success in American politics–though they overwhelmingly support green energy, Americans are unwilling to accept a decrease in their standard of living due to rising energy costs. Also, in addition to not having the infrastructure to support current U.S. energy needs, green energy is more expensive in most areas of the country. The outcome of the Obama administration’s drilling bans was not a decrease in worldwide fossil fuel production or a significant spike in green energy usage in the United States–rather, it was an increased dependence on foreign sources of energy to fulfill American energy needs, which evidence shows threatens American national security.

This is why the Trump administration should see American energy independence as the next space race, and like Kennedy challenged the America to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, Trump should challenge American entrepreneurs, such as Elon Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO who despite harsh pushback from the Left, accepted a seat on Trump’s business council, to find a way to make renewable energy cheaper, more widespread, and more reliable than fossil fuels. Though America was blessed with abundant fossil fuel resources, they are still limited, meaning any long-term solution that guarantees American energy independence must be centered on renewable energy.

Though president, Trump remains a businessman at his core, and therefore is uniquely positioned to lead a green energy breakthrough in the United States. His election was largely based on the American middle class leaving the Democratic Party, most notably in the Rust Belt. Given the political capital he has already built with the middle/working class in the first two weeks of his presidency, by putting the border wall in motion and pulling the U.S. from the TPP, they will trust that this push toward American energy independence centered on renewable sources will be undertaken with the goal of benefiting the American taxpayer, not the environmental Left. The Democrats should also jump at the chance to reach across the aisle to achieve their environmental goals. Just as Kennedy asked Congress to appropriate $7-9 billion to jumpstart the space program, bipartisan support for renewable energy  (which already exists) will spur Congress to appropriate funding. It’s worth stating again, that up to this point, the environmental movement has wasted the widespread support that renewable energy has in both parties by pushing for too much too soon. The United States does not have the infrastructure to abandon fossil fuel usage and drastically increase the use of renewables overnight. Trump, as a businessman who wants the best deal for the American people, can refocus the renewable energy movement on a goal to deliver Americans the much more tangible benefits of lower energy costs and increased national security. That this will come with environmental benefits should be icing on the cake, not the entire basis of the argument. Even climate change skeptics will fully support renewable energy if it offers them economic benefits.

Trump is also uniquely positioned to break through the powerful fossil fuel lobbying interests in Washington, who have historically thrown their support against renewable energy legislation. Trump, who largely financed his own campaign, is not beholden to special interests in the way that Bush was beholden to Big Oil and Obama to the environmental Left. In his first two weeks, Trump has already signed an executive order banning ex-White House staff from working as lobbyists for five years after leaving the administration, and ever lobbying on behalf of a foreign government. Additionally, Trump the businessman, unlike the environmental Left, will realize that like NASA worked with private companies and defense contractors to put a man on the moon, American energy independence cannot occur without public-private partnerships, and that large oil companies and auto manufacturers will be the leaders in developing renewable energy and green transportation on a national scale. Given their size and market share, it is much more likely that Exxon Mobil becomes the largest producer of solar panels and Ford becomes the largest producer of electric cars than these companies being overtaken by a startup. Rather than attacking these companies, which the some elements of the environmental Left has done for decades, a Trump administration can offer them economic incentives to take the lead on developing a renewable energy infrastructure in America. As CEO of Exxon Mobil before becoming Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson told shareholders at the annual analyst meeting in 2009 that though he was open to investments in renewable energy, it did not make economic sense for Exxon Mobil at the time given the fact they would likely be excluded from any government subsidies, and should they actually receive subsidies, would be under intense scrutiny to prove those subsidies did not help “dirtier” parts of the business. A more business-friendly Trump administration could work with Congress to devise legislation where large corporations are given economic incentives to invest in renewable energy, making them partners in the process so that they do not see renewable energy as a threat to their business.

To reach the goal of making America energy independent and the world’s largest energy exporter in order to protect U.S. national security, the only long-term solution is one based on renewable energy, given the limited fossil fuel resources in the United States. For this to be successful, the Trump administration must challenge the American business, military, and scientific communities to achieve the following aims in this new space race:

  • Renewable energy must be cheaper than fossil fuels to protect the American taxpayer from any decrease in the standard of living.
  • The renewable power grid must account for regional differences, with solar power being more effective in the South and West, wind power being more effective in the Midwest and coastal regions, and hydropower and geothermal power being used to supplement.
  • The new American power grid must be secure against foreign hacking and attacks.
  • Auto manufacturers must develop other methods of green transportation to utilize the current fuel infrastructure, which is based on a liquid fuel source. The entire population driving electric cars would lead to a significant increase in power demanded from the grid, so manufacturers should be challenged to find a renewable, liquid fuel source for cars.
  • The United States must have a way to export its renewable energy output to allies. Just as the United States was the first country to have large scale liquefied natural gas production, the Trump administration should challenge American scientists and entrepreneurs to find a way to export renewable energy.

Should the United States be successful in achieving long-term energy independence and becoming the world’s largest energy exporter, the country will again have cemented itself as the most powerful economic, military, and technological world power for the next generation. Again, we can look to the America’s victory in the Space Race as an example. A Rutgers University study quotes the Midwest Research Institute’s (MRI) analysis of the relationship between R&D expenditures and technologically-induced increases in the GNP, which found that “each dollar spent on R&D returned an average of slightly over seven dollars in GNP over an eighteen-year period following the expenditure.” Applying the same logic, if “NASA’s R&D expenditures produced the same economic payoff as the average R&D expenditure, MRI concluded that the $25 billion (1958) spent on civilian space R&D during the 1959-69 period returned $52 billion through 1970 and will continue to stimulate benefits through 1987, for a total gain of $181 billion.”

With undeniable economic and national security benefits to the American taxpayer, along with broad, bipartisan support that could rally a divided country behind a singular goal, the uniquely positioned Trump administration should pursue a goal of American energy independence based on a renewable power grid, with the aim of becoming the world’s largest energy exporter. Winning this next space race will ensure continued American dominance and prosperity.

Photo: viavasterbotten.se

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