On July 15, The American Security Project (ASP) hosted a virtual event highlighting the role of infrastructure in U.S. National Security and climate resiliency. Featured speakers included David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment Alice Hill, Atlantic Council Deputy Director for Climate and Advanced Energy Maggie Jackson and Fusion Industry Association CEO Andrew Holland, with ASP’s Senior Fellow for Climate Security David Haines moderating the discussion. With an increased interest in updating and improving infrastructure under the Biden administration, investments in renewable energy and green technological development, among other opportunities, have the potential to improve American competitiveness abroad while simultaneously preparing the country for a rapidly changing climate.
The Urgency of Building More Resilient Infrastructure
After David Haines introduced the introduced the urgency of climate situation and opened up the floor to the panelists, Alice Hill started off the discussion by emphasizing that a focus on infrastructure is absolutely essential as “virtually all of our infrastructure is highly vulnerable as it was built to withstand a climate that no longer exists.” She underscored the importance of building infrastructure that is resilient and meets building standards that consider performance in an evolving climate. Hill also pointed to the fact that there is a current lack of cost-benefit analysis that has us adjusting in long-lived infrastructure. In regard to security interests, systems that rely on this cost-benefit analysis are failing and water and food insecurity threaten the stability of nations and governments.
Energy Infrastructure and Leadership Opportunities
Maggie Jackson then went on to discuss the importance of energy infrastructure and what that means for climate mitigation. She argued that as leaders around the world are rallying around Biden in support of more ambitious climate objectives, it is important that we are coming from a place of actual substantive action. She goes on to highlight the urgency of making efforts to compete in the renewable energy market with China as a means of maintaining global leadership as “climate is a threat to every country’s national security”.
Andrew Holland followed in the discussion by giving a general overview of the history of American infrastructure improvements which allowed the U.S. to pursue global leadership citing the Erie Canal and transcontinental railroad as examples. He pointed to the value of infrastructure improvement in international competition as it has historically been used as a means of making our economy more competitive against the industrial powers of the time. Holland made this reference to highlight that “we need to think about the technologies that are going to win the future” and the importance of energy infrastructure that is future oriented.
Following Holland, the discussion turned back to Hill who discussed her hopes for the new administration to employ a strategy that that accomplishes the necessary building codes, has a cost-benefit analysis and is overall resilient in the foreseeable future. Holland added to Hill’s comments by arguing that “an ounce of prevention is worth an ounce of cure.” Jackson joined in the discussion by highlighting the importance of good data and good modelling strategies in order to enhance resiliency.
Research Investment and the U.S. China Competition
Later on in the event Holland pointed out the essentialness of investment in research. He discussed the U.S.’s research on fusion energy for the last 60 years and how that basic research has been moving from the lab to the commercial space. Highlighting this fact, he argued that we need more public private partnerships in order to have a rapid technological advancement. Jackson followed by discussing the present U.S. – China renewable energy competition and emphasized how there is huge opportunity in technologies that have not yet been commercialized, however, she also noted that “we need to be realistic in terms of the competition we are up against.” She raised the question of how much we can realistically expect to compete with China, which is currently dominating the renewable energy market, and also prompted the audience to consider how much we will need to rely on them for resources in the near future.
The Future of Resiliency
Andrew Holland, Alice Hill and Maggie Jackson were then asked a series of questions by the audience; the first question focusing on insurance as a forcing function in planning for resilience. Hill spoke first, discussing the challenge primary insurers will face on how they can be profitable in terms of evolving risk. The discussion concluded with a question that raised the potential importance of AI in leading to greater outcomes in resiliency and a question that focused on where the line can be drawn for governmental funding vs private sector funding in which each of the panelists shared their perspectives.
Watch the full recording here: