Commentary Magazine


It’s Not About Climate Change; It’s About National Security

That this particular climate bill is dead may indeed be good news. But it’s definitely not good news that Congress is doing nothing serious about energy at all — not because of global warming (about which I share my colleagues’ skepticism) but because of national security: the global addiction to fossil fuels finances all of America’s worst enemies.

Republicans shouldn’t need reminding that Iran’s natural-gas wealth funds both its drive for nuclear weapons and numerous terrorist organizations; that Saudi Arabia’s oil riches fund madrassas worldwide that indoctrinate young men in radical Islamism and produce people like the 9/11 bombers; that Hugo Chavez uses Venezuela’s oil wealth to undermine American interests in Latin America; that Russia (Obama’s “reset” notwithstanding) uses its oil and gas wealth to thwart American interests worldwide. This is not a minor problem.

Clearly, that doesn’t mean Republicans have to accept Democrats’ ideas on how to solve it; there was indeed much to dislike in the now-defunct bill. But that doesn’t excuse Republicans’ failure to offer any ideas of their own beyond “drill, baby, drill.” More drilling would help the problem in the short term by lowering oil and gas prices and thus reducing our enemies’ revenues (and also helping the economy). But it’s not a long-term solution.

It’s true that no viable alternatives to fossil fuels currently exist. But that’s no reason not to at least put money into R&D aimed at trying to develop one. America has never hesitated to devote large-scale funding to R&D it deems vital to national security; the Manhattan Project and the moon shot are cases in point. Granted, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy were Democrats. But do Republicans really want to argue that only Democrats are willing to invest in critical national-security R&D?

Moreover, while Republicans are obviously right that raising the price of a vital production input during a deep recession is a terrible idea, Democrats are right that both a carbon tax and (to a lesser extent) cap-and-trade are at least market-based solutions. Neither forces energy consumers to do anything in particular; they let consumers decide for themselves whether to conserve, invest in alternative technology, or live with the higher price. So if creative Republicans can’t devise a better idea, they might want to seriously consider these once the economy recovers.

Democrats have clearly handled the issue stupidly. Rather than vainly trying to persuade Republicans (and the public) to believe in global warming, they should have been trying to paint Republicans into a corner over national security. Instead, the only Democrat I’ve heard consistently making the security argument is Thomas Friedman (here, for instance), and even he treats it as secondary to the “real” issue of global warming.

But Democratic stupidity is no excuse for Republican stupidity. There’s no way to combat any terrorist movement without going after its funding sources, and fossil-fuel revenues are the lifeblood of radical Islamism — and of many other anti-American autocrats, like Chavez and Vladimir Putin. Ignoring the problem of fossil-fuel dependency won’t make it go away; it will only make America weaker.