Retired U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, a board member for biofuels group Growth Energy, told a group of hundreds of key players in the Texas Earth Day movement that the country needs to come to terms with climate change as a national security threat.
Clark a keynote address Friday night as part of the three-day event. As part of his speech, Clark plugged the importance of biofuels as part of the innovative energy solutions that will help lead to a lower carbon economy.
Dealing with climate change requires the country to unite behind to themes, Clark said. One, people need to understand the threat, or risks, of "rampant, unpredictable" changes in the climate.
This is not something we can all say 'Don't worry, in ten years it won't be much different.' It might be dramatically different," he said. "So let's come away with the understanding that climate change is a significant national security risk for the United States and it needs to be dealt with."
Secondly, the institutions of "big power, big oil and big utilities" need to be transformed so new technologies can be unlocked to spark entrepreneurship.
"If this happens, we will have a wave of innovations that will sweep the globe," Clark said. "No one will be able to keep up with the United States. Forget about worrying about China, Russia and North Korea. They will come lapping at our doorstep for help on this. The talent is right here."
Clark's speech and emphasis on climate change contrasted comments made earlier at the same venue by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who did not discuss climate change in his forum just minutes before. Clark noted his comments were going to depart from those by the EPA chief and the stance of President Donald Trump's administration thus far.
In a brief interview with DTN, Clark described the growth and expansion of biofuels as "running in sand" because of the "continued resistance from the oil industry." Clark said the oil industry provides "a lot of false data" to the public about biofuels.
"The problem is you are dealing with the most powerful industry on the planet in the oil business and they are trying to protect their market share at the expense of the American consumer and American national security," he said.
In his speech, Clark noted climate change models are always wrong, largely because they are too conservative. "They fall short of the actual dimensions of climate change, year after year after year."
Climate change is an unpredictable issue in terms of its onset and consequences. The rate of collapse of the Greenland icesheet can't be effectively modeled, Clark said. The emergence of methane from permafrost is another modeling challenge, he added.
Looking at greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, Clark said the risks over the next two to three decades goes way beyond anything the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states is safe. That translates into temperatures rising, on average, above the 1.5 centigrade (2.7 F) that the Paris climate agreement sets as a target. The temperature rise could be 3-4 centigrade, or 5.4 F to 7.2 F higher. "That is why you should be very worried," Clark said. "Every 1 degree centigrade (1.8 F) increase change in temperature equals seven feet to sea level rise."
"It is an economic dislocation of massive proportions," Clark said. "Therefore, it is a national security threat with millions of people being forced from their homes on coastal lands."
Clark pointed to the dislocation in Syria, which he cited began as because of drought. "You had 600,000 people forced from their farms. That was the tender that led to the Syrian civil war. It wasn't political. It was a bunch of farmers who couldn't make a living."
Economic location leads to poor governance, which leads to terrorism, Clark explained. This creates increasing national security problems. "If we don't get a grip on this, we won't have a civilization anymore in 30, 40 or 50 years. We will spend all of our efforts trying to hold on to what's left."
That's the bad news, Clark said. "Here's the good news. We have all the technology we ever need to fix this."
Clark cited the growth and benefits of biofuels and added that will improve. "We are right on the cusp now and biofuel space of cellulosic ethanol. Yes, it's been a little slow in coming. I know some of the people in this room probably don't like corn. I know a lot of corn farmers that are great people and I encourage you to meet them. They are just like us. And they are concerned about the environment because all of their profit is that land and they want to protect it."
Clark told the Texas Earth Day crowd that cellulosic ethanol, with the right materials, enzymes and processing that ethanol will be produced at lower costs. "You can design engines that use it and they do just fine. So we can do a lot with liquid fuel."
In other technologies, batteries are improving, as are solar panels and construction materials. Then there are solid wastes being converted into electricity. "There are so many different technologies out there. We can easily solve this problem. All we have to do is apply them."
To do this, though, Clark said society and government have to put a price on carbon emissions, acknowledging, "You don't have to call it a tax. Call it anything you want, but you have to put an escalating charge on the cost of carbon."
Raising the price on carbon through legislation has to be locked in to keep lawmakers and industries to try to weaken the price. "So the existing interest groups can't break it," he said. Doing so will drive more technology innovations, he said. Clark pointed to the Renewable Fuels Standard as an example that locked in growth of production for biofuels.
Clark's talk about driving innovation, however, implied higher and higher costs of fuel that would drive industries to change their energy use to create that innovation, he said. People would convert vehicles, as well. "You would be rebuild and spark the automobile industry."
Making such change also requires understanding how the U.S. government works. Clark said the fundamental drive in the federal government is regulatory capture. Utility companies want to continue relying on central power generation and they protect the regulatory agencies to keep them from changing power to solar, for instance. "This regulatory capture is blocking a wave of innovation," he said.
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN
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