01/04/2012 - There are few challenges more important—or opportunities as great—as the transition to a clean energy future. The economic opportunity to grow jobs and businesses in this rapidly expanding sector, the national security concerns stemming from our current energy use and the need to protect our environment and avert catastrophic climate change are entwined.
Americans agree. A November survey by the Washington Post and Pew’s independently operated subsidiary, the Pew Research Center, found that despite some erosion in support in the wake of the bankruptcy of the solar energy company Solyndra, 68 percent of the public favors increasing federal funding for research on wind, solar and hydrogen-energy technology.
Pew has been uniting diverse partners around clean energy policies for more than two decades. We have supported policy reforms at the state level that have helped spur energy efficiency and established renewable portfolio standards in more than half of the states, as well as the first federally mandated increase in fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks in more than 30 years.
Now the Pew Environment Group and its partners are advancing policies that increase fuel economy, encourage adoption of electric vehicles, ensure that the electric and industrial sectors are cleaner and more efficient, and foster innovation through expanded research and development. These challenges are significant, and engaging partners willing to collaborate and pool resources and expertise will be critical to meeting them.
It was in the spirit of such collaboration that Pew hosted an October event at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, “Accelerating Clean Energy: A Forum on the Intersection of Innovations and National Security.” Attended by philanthropists, foundation and business leaders, investors and the public, the forum featured clean energy entrepreneurs and technologists who work with the Department of Defense, a U.S. Marine major general and senior statesmen. The gathering addressed two specific goals: accelerating the clean energy economy and enhancing national security.
The forum was one of more than 100 events held across the country by the Pew Project on National Security, Energy & Climate to raise public awareness of the security risks associated with the country’s reliance on fossil fuels. By working with veterans, national security experts, military contractors and others, the coalition is recasting the conversation on energy and working to garner bipartisan support for policies that promote the clean energy economy.
“I really appreciate Pew bringing the academics, industry and the military together so we solve the strategic problems that our nation needs to solve now,” said keynote speaker Major Gen. Anthony L. Jackson, who commands seven Marine Corps bases and stations.
For Jackson and others in the U.S. military, advancing clean technologies is critical to protecting troops. More than 3,000 members of the military and contractors were injured or killed while protecting fuel convoys in Iraq between 2003 and 2007. In 2010 alone, there were 1,100 attacks on fuel convoys.
Mindful of the costs in lives and taxpayers’ dollars, the Defense Department increased investments in renewable resources from $400 million to $1.2 billion between 2006 and 2009, according to a recent Pew report, From Barracks to the Battlefield: Clean Energy Innovation and America’s Armed Services.
“If you have never seen the mixture of blood and sand, it’s a harsh purple on the desert floor,” said Jackson. “For every 50 trucks we put on the road, we know that someone is going to be killed or lose a limb.”
Former secretary of state George Shultz, now a distinguished fellow at the Hoover Institution, echoed Jackson’s concerns during the forum discussion with former U.S. senator John Warner (R-VA), who also served as Navy secretary and is now a senior Pew adviser.
“President Eisenhower worried in the 1950s that America was asking for trouble if we imported more than 20 percent of our oil,” Shultz noted. “And when the oil embargo hit us in 1973, I remember thinking that President Eisenhower had been on to something. I’ve been concerned about this issue ever since.”
By investing in Pew’s work, partners can play a pivotal role in advancing policies that will save military lives and help keep the country safe while also advancing the clean energy economy.
“Collaboration allows Pew and its partners to make a greater impact in clean energy solutions, benefiting the U.S. economy, our national security and the environment,” said Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew’s Clean Energy Program. “The U.S. can lead the clean energy revolution and we need to. It’s an exciting emerging economic opportunity.”
Entrepreneur Tom Steyer and other guests at the event agreed on the urgent need for broad cooperation. Founder of Stanford’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, he led the 2010 campaign that defeated Proposition 23, a legislative measure that threatened California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Steyer said coalitions are key to unlocking the potential that clean energy holds.
“We need to bring new and diverse voices into the fold, so we can continue to move toward an advanced energy economy that creates jobs and increases economic growth,” he said.
Sally O’Brien, managing director of Pew’s Philanthropic Partnership Group, noted that the experience and expertise in Silicon Valley would be essential to further progress. Energy trailblazer K.R. Sridhar, for example, has pioneered research in fuel cell technology for NASA’s Mars program and recently established Bloom Energy, which creates parking-space-size boxes that convert renewable or traditional fuels into electricity to power buildings.
“The problem of America’s dependence on fossil fuels is too vast for any one organization to solve alone,” said O’Brien. “We can be stronger and more effective when we bring our collective resources and expertise to bear on such issues, and Pew is committed to fostering collaboration to promote a significant and lasting impact in the clean energy sector.”
Janica Lockhart is a writer for the Philanthropic Partnership Group.