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Alaska is set to lead in renewable energy

  • Author: Dennis Mcginn
  • Updated: September 29, 2016
  • Published October 3, 2009

One hardly need tell Alaskans about global warming and climate change. Alaska is, in many ways, ground zero for obvious climate change impacts -- reduced pack ice in the Arctic Ocean, loss of permafrost, major shifts in bird and wildlife behavior and plant disease vectors related to climate change. The great efforts going on right now to relocate the village of Newtok are indicative of the challenges to come in a future of global warming.

We know climate change is related to human energy use and carbon proliferation. Like many challenges, the urgent energy problem our country faces today presents great opportunity; in Alaska's case, meeting our nation's energy needs will provide spectacular economic opportunity for America's "Last Frontier."

Recently, I have worked with other three- and four-star generals and admirals studying the impact of climate change on U.S. national security. We have concluded that a warming planet constitutes "a serious national security threat" that will affect Americans at home and U.S. military operations abroad. Unlike other military threats, climate change acts as a "threat multiplier" exacerbating hot spots of the political and social instability around the world -- conditions that terrorists exploit.

The findings made with my military colleagues were reached by experienced, clear-eyed war fighters, all of whom are intimately familiar with Alaska's strategic and tactical importance. Our findings and conclusions have since been corroborated by analyses from the Pentagon, State Department and various U.S. intelligence agencies. The idea that global warming and climate change constitute a potential national security threat with significant consequences has been endorsed by a broad, bipartisan group of political leaders.

America's current energy use and lack of a comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas pollution constitute a serious threat to national security -- militarily, diplomatically and economically. As a nation, America is critically dependent on imported oil and overly reliant on fossil fuels. Our nation's electric grid is fragile and poses a security risk.

We have identified a series of converging risks associated with future energy choices. Diversifying our energy sources to include cleaner and more efficient energy sources where possible is critical to our future energy security.

Preventing global warming's worst impacts will require both national and global action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. America must lead here. Fortunately, that's where our national security and economic interests align perfectly.

Dealing with global warming and climate change is clearly a politically difficult challenge. But beyond the politics there is a golden opportunity for businesses and investors in Alaska. Alaska is extremely well positioned with abundant natural resources, a skilled work force and splendid northern engineering know-how to develop the technologies and renewable energy sources that can lead America toward a low-pollution future and energy independence. While Alaska continues to provide significant fossil fuel energy resources in the near term, this great state can take a leadership role in advancing renewable energy sources.

Over the past decade job growth in the clean-energy sector outpaced that in the economy as a whole. Areas of particular promise to Alaska include wind power, tidal generation and tapping alpine lakes for hydro development. Though wind power and other new forms of clean renewable power generation in the state represent a small fraction of current energy use, dozens of creative Alaskans are already working to make the dream of a sustainable and secure energy future a reality. Alaska has many opportunities and challenges, and we know that providing for renewable energy has enormous growth potential.

Working in harmony with other elected officials, Alaska's congressional delegation can ensure that vast nonrenewable energy sources like natural gas are intelligently used as a bridge to a future primarily fueled by clean, safe, sustainable power. Alaskans have a primary role in showing our nation how to invest in American ingenuity and helping our country become a global leader on clean energy. And make no mistake about energy use -- reducing demand on foreign energy sources will improve our security.

Economic prosperity, our environment and national security are inextricably linked. Reducing greenhouse gas pollution by building a clean-energy economy addresses all three challenges at once: It's a triple win that will be critical to assuring America's security well into the 21st century.

Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn (Ret.) is a member of the Military Advisory Board of CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization based in Alexandria, Va. He served as director of the Air Warfare Division in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations; commander of the U.S. Third Fleet; and deputy chief of Naval Operations, Warfare Requirements and Programs in the Pentagon. He will speak at 7 a.m. Tuesday at Commonwealth North in the Dena'ina Center in Anchorage.