BANGOR, Maine — In a world awash with concern about climate change and a country embroiled in a debate about its energy policy, retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn says he and others in his organization bring an important component to the conversation.
“With all due humility, we bring credibility,” said McGinn, vice chairman of the CNA Military Advisory Board, an energy and climate change think tank composed of retired officers from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
The advisory board has written and released two reports for a nonprofit research organization in Alexandria, Va., called CNA. The reports examined the issues of climate change and U.S. energy policy from the perspective of their threats to national security.
McGinn, who visited with the Bangor Daily News Editorial Board on Thursday during a speaking tour through Maine, said the country’s reliance on oil — about 97 percent of which comes from foreign countries — puts it at risk of social and economic disaster on par with some of the world’s worst calamities. Some of those risks have become reality, such as the British Petroleum oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which is spewing millions of gallons of oil into the ocean and onto the shores of the Gulf Coast.
“BP isn’t doing that stuff because no one wants to buy that oil,” said McGinn, whose tour comes amid an intense debate in Congress over a controversial climate and energy bill. “Our addiction to oil is what’s causing them to go ever more deeper and riskier.”
Another Hurricane Katrina-scale storm or a successful attack on oil apparatus in the Middle East could cause an oil price spike that would spurn economic and social disaster across the United States and the world. Even the United States’ ability to defend itself or conduct operations overseas are too dependent on oil, said McGinn, who estimated that at $2.50 gallon of oil for a Humvee in a remote part of Afghanistan costs the Department of Defense approximately $400 by the time it’s transported under heavy guard to troops in the field.
“We are too dependent on convoys and fuel,” said McGinn, who along with many other posts commanded the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet during his 35-year military career. “We are just tethered to our fuel lines and our need to protect the fuel.”
That problem could be exacerbated if climate change causes some of the wide-scale catastrophes that many scientists — or as McGinn puts it, “every credible scientist and engineer” — predict.
“If you want to get a sense of what the future could be like, think about widespread crop failure in Mexico or Central America,” he said. “That would mean a hell of a lot more mission for our military.”
McGinn said the Military Advisory Board’s role is to illustrate the problem, but that it’s Congress’ problem to solve. Asked what changes in energy policy could make a difference, he suggested “putting some sort of price” on carbon emissions.
The issue of carbon pricing and whom it would affect has been at the center of the debate over the congressional energy bill, and a touchstone of controversy in the overall debate about the prevalence of climate change.
McGinn said the country also needs to voice a clear commitment to developing alternative and renewable fuel sources, which he said would spark a multibillion-dollar flow of research-and-development money.
“We’ve got technology that is ready to go,” he said. “What is lacking is policy passed by the United States Congress that creates market certainty.”
McGinn said he recognizes that most people gauge the success or failure of the country’s energy policy by the price they pay for gasoline or heating oil. But he suggested that’s a faulty way to look at the problem because it ignores the other costs of our dependence on oil, such as pollution in the environment and impacts on our health.
“If you factor in the externalities, we are probably paying more like $7 or $8 a gallon,” said McGinn. “We just don’t know it, but those are very real dollars.”