Climate change is inextricably linked to energy use patterns. Carbon emissions are largely a function of industrial activity and transportation. Nonetheless, controlling carbon requires addressing patterns of energy production and consumption.
For the United States, energy is also a more narrow security issue. Reliance on foreign energy is a major U.S. vulnerability. Ensuring access to foreign energy sources is costly, both militarily and politically.
In 1973 and 1979, developments in the Middle East and Persian Gulf caused energy prices to spike. The resultant economic disruptions caused trillions of dollars in cumulative lost economic growth.1 In 1991, the United States went to war in the Persian Gulf to prevent Saddam Hussein from controlling forty percent of proven global oil reserves when he invaded Kuwait. Eighteen years later, the United States — following a second war with Hussein — is still fighting to stabilize Iraq. Annually, the cost of buying foreign oil adds to American trade deficits.
Worse, our dollars help fund many of our adversaries. We buy oil from Russia, a country that has become increasingly authoritarian in the last decade while it has also helped Iran develop nuclear technology that some suspect is really intended to produce nuclear weapons. Our dollars help fund Hugo Chavez in Venezuela who bitterly condemns the United States and is seeking to foment revolutionary politics in the Western hemisphere. And in the Middle East, American dollars have served to fund some of our bitterest enemies. Muammar Qaddafy in Libya, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Islamists regimes in Sudan and Iran, and even Saudi supporters of Osama bin Laden have all benefitted from our reliance on foreign oil.
The global energy infrastructure is tremendously vulnerable to disruptions. Oil transits through a large number of naval choke points, several of which have been disrupted by conflict over the past few decades. The Persian Gulf facilities were targeted during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). The Suez Canal shut between 1967 and 1975 as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In any confrontation with Iran, it is likely that traffic through the Strait of Hormuz would be disrupted. Piracy in and around the Strait of Malacca and off the Somali coast also impacts seaborne transit of oil.2 Most oil refineries are located on coastal sites and many have been damaged by powerful storms — which are predicted to worsen as the climate continues to change.3
Access to oil and natural gas also raises security concerns because of the vulnerability of pipelines to terrorist attack. The reconstruction of Iraq, for instance, has been dramatically affected by hundreds of attacks on Iraq’s pipeline infrastructure.4
Energy, in fact, has two security implications. One, reliance on the harvesting and transportation of fossil fuels creates national vulnerabilities and thus is a direct security challenge. Two, burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change which has its own security implications.
Energy, climate change, and security, as a consequence, create a powerful nexus that must be addressed and resolved together.