The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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July 15, 2010

Energy, national security intertwined?

Forum touts benefits of sustainable energy for country’s future

At times, it seems, the ideas of supporting sustainable forms of energy and supporting our country’s national security seem pretty distant from each other.

But now a coalition of players from varying political persuasions are generating support for the idea that the two are undeniably intertwined.

At a semi-public forum Thursday at Minnesota State University — pulled together by the Pew Environment Group — former Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, local activist Leigh Pomeroy, civil rights attorney Ashwin Madia and St. Paul school teacher Alec Timmerman made the case that finding sustainable forms of energy can keep soldiers safer, improve our nation’s economy, and improve the country this generation passes on to the next.

Timmerman related a story from his experience in the Army. The Army struggled with powering a device used to detect bombs. It took a year of trial and error — of sending the device back to the U.S. for repairs and analysis, them sending it back, etc. — to get a solar-powered unit that would work well.

“Why did we have to wait a year to get a reliable solution?” Timmerman asked.

And, speaking of how it took a war to spur the trial-and-error process that led to successful innovation, Timmerman asked “Why did we have to have a crisis to do the right thing? We waited until the enemy changed its tactics before we changed ours.”

The consensus among the panel assembled was that the science is there to support a major overhaul in how this country thinks about energy. And anyone who looks honestly at the nation’s energy situation must conclude, several panelists suggested, that something needs to be done now.

That’s why they’ve targeted national security as a means to bridge the political gap that they say often cripples progress on revamping the nation’s energy policy and views on climate change.

“To oppose things that need to be done,” Pomeroy said, “frankly, is unpatriotic. And anyone who does is doing so for selfish reasons.”

Climate change, Pomeroy said, already has affected parts of the world in big ways.

In India, for example, Pomeroy said they’ve put up a wall to keep people from Bangladesh from coming in. Why are they wanting to come in? Climate change, he said.

Madia ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat against Republican Erik Paulsen to represent Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District. He said he appreciated the Pew group’s approach — framing the debate in terms of national security — to lobbying for sustainable energy and climate change support.

“We know what to do. Many wonder why it’s not being done,” he said. “Politics is at the center of it. It’s undeniable that there’s a group of our population that do not find the science as compelling as we do. We’ve got to address the political problem, and that’s why I like this approach so much.

“Maybe if we talk about the billions of dollars being sent to countries that don’t like us, maybe that might be more compelling,” he said.

Timmerman said national security is also affected by climate change. When the ocean temperature rises a degree or two, the change throws off the sonar used by submarines.

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