GRAND RAPIDS — The energy choices made by U.S. consumers and businesses and how they impact U.S. security both here and abroad was the topic of a recent keynote address at Aquinas College’s Donnelly Center.
In a presentation entitled “U.S. Energy Policy and the National Security Strategy: The Need for U.S. Energy Independence,” Sheila Ronis, Ph.D., president of The University Group of Rochester Hills, said with the current situation in Iraq and global terrorism, the United States is facing a multitude of challenges.
The University Group is a consulting firm and think tank that specializes in strategic management, visioning and public policy.
According to Ronis, in a post-Cold War environment, economic security is a critical component of national security and military security.
“The national security community, however, is doing very little about this and part of that relates to the issues of energy dependence and the energy piece of our economic security,” Ronis remarked.
The nation’s energy policy, the price of oil, America’s foreign policy, the auto industry, the global economy and consumer behavior all over the world are all interdependent elements of a large complex social system that has very serious implications for the auto industry and the nation’s security, she said.
What role does energy independence play in maintaining a strong nation?
She explained that national security is the integration of all elements of national power — economic, political, military and diplomatic — to support America’s interests, people and property around the world. National security includes the strength of the country’s infrastructure, strong societal and moral codes, the rules of law and stable government, as well as educational, health-care and political institutions.
National security also requires an economic system that is environmentally sustainable, she said, and that’s especially difficult for Third World nations that use up their natural resources to sustain current populations at the expense of their future.
“As the global population continues to climb, the issues of economic and environmental sustainability are essential to understand. When the world faces its next oil crisis, where are the alternative fuel vehicles and their infrastructures? As a nation we have hardly begun to study this issue, yet it is the ultimate in global systems thinking.”
In Ronis’ estimation, what many people don’t understand is that economic security is also national security. The viability of a nation’s industrial infrastructure is essential in that it provides jobs, which create and distribute wealth and leverage profit.
“Without capital there is no business, without business there are no profits, without profits there are no jobs. And without jobs, there are no taxes and, thus, no military capability.”
If, Ronis contends, America’s entire economy is fundamentally based on inexpensive petroleum, then the nation is especially vulnerable to oil supply structures. She believes that given the political and economic instabilities in foreign oil-producing countries, America must learn how to reduce its dependence on foreign oil.
“The United States sometimes supports non-democratic and secretly corrupt regimes to ensure energy stability in our country,” she maintained. “Oil may not be the only reason we support these countries, but it is a major reason and it does steer foreign policy.”
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the cost of oil dependence for the United States, including wealth transfer to oil-producing countries for the last 30 years, is estimated at $7 trillion, Ronis pointed out.
“Think of what that could have provided if it had been spent on energy alternatives, alternative fuel vehicles and basic research and development for what needs to occur in the days to come.”
The United States needs to do several things, according to Ronis:
- Support increased research and development into alternative energy sources and provide incentives to industry to invest in them.
- Improve the nation’s fuel-efficient vehicles and provide incentives to consumers who purchase such vehicles.
- Conserve natural resources by increasing efficiency standards wherever appropriate.
- Apply an energy security tax on gasoline to pay for all of the above initiatives, as well as fund a partnership between the auto companies and government laboratories to find new energy solutions. Ronis suggests a 5-cents-per-gallon tax.
The auto industry does not support increased gasoline prices under any circumstances, but it should, she said. Gas prices in Europe and Asia, for example, are three times the price in America and that has led the European community to a much more effective use of fossil fuels.
Ronis said a new vision of national security is needed that includes energy independence as a critical component. That would require a holistic approach, including much more cooperation between governments.
“We might as well start now because we don’t have many other options,” she concluded. “The road to sustainability is not easy because it’s paved with partisanship. But our economy will eventually dwindle if we continue to rely on foreign oil.”