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OPEN FORUM: CIA director needs broader energy security perspective

2.5.2010

By Allen Doyle

Former CIA Director James Woolsey accomplished a remarkable feat by convincing a room full of thoughtful people that he speaks to ghosts, and that’s OK.

His talk (“Former CIA Boss Warns Against Oil Dependency,” Dateline, Jan. 29) brought together the voices of John Muir on behalf of the environment, World War II General George Patton who strategically bombed petroleum tanks to paralyze opposing forces, and Mahatma Gandhi who spoke for national and personal independence.

These characters review our current state of domestic and foreign affairs and then remarkably prioritize our energy strategies. I will remember his points and perspectives for a long time.

Beyond admiring Woolsey’s remarkable presentation of ideas, we must gauge his comments for their impact on actions by the UC Davis community. While few of us directly influence national policy, some of us study the vehicles and transportation policies he endorses, and all of us can work to influence how energy is used regionally and among our peers and families. All of us can act to elect level-headed decision makers and develop these policies through our letters and advisory roles.

We might expect Woolsey’s channeling the strategic military views of General Patton. Unexpected and all the more compelling, his powerful calls for planning and policy come from a global national security perspective. He pulls together a broad array of obvious as well as overlooked trends, simple arithmetic and everyday observations with remarkable clarity.

In the informative packet of his writings left on each chair, he gives a nod to Hunter and Amory Lovins, who paired energy policy with national security 30 years ago.

Planet, profits and people

What surprises me is the reluctant trio of ghosts finding common goals for the environment, security and social equity. It sends a remarkably non-partisan message to commerce and policy — get your act together, decentralize, and get off of oil. The warnings of these ghosts overlay the sustainability triad — planet, profit and people, except that Patton’s security perspective replaces economic goals. Issues of sabotage or collapse due to complexity plus natural events add urgency to our planning to make our grids of water, electricity, gas, oil, sewer and telecommunications less vulnerable.

‘Rural sprawl, cheap wheels’

In discussing transportation, the ghosts of Muir, Patton and Gandhi forgot to mention a key vulnerability to our living trends — rural sprawl and artificially cheap wheels. The distance we live from our work and stores and soccer games forces us into cars and paves over our farms and woodlands.

Cheap transportation now only prolongs that trend, making us more vulnerable in the future. His emphasis on locally powered plug-in hybrids is strategic for the next 10 to 20 years. For the next 50 to 100 years we need population density, and let land do what it does best — grow either crops or wildlife.

Another topic the ghosts left for another day was limiting population size, and that is probably just as well. In the arithmetic of exponential population growth, this is implied as a distasteful yet humane alternative to population control by catastrophe. This will be the century of level population, one way or another.

While Muir, Patton and Gandhi speak for decentralization, Woolsey’s perspective was definitely top down, and that perhaps was its greatest gap and ultimately a lesson for higher education. Woolsey overlooks Gandhi’s use of voter engagement vs. corporate power. His dismissal of the Supreme Court’s decision to allow unfettered corporate funding in politics runs counter to good decision-making at the top, and perhaps he needs to consult his ghosts again.

Better citizens needed

We need everyday people to hold our leaders and ourselves accountable and to defuse rising polarity in government and the media. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recently said in an interview with Charlie Rose, “we don’t just need better leaders; we need better citizens.” This may be the message our deans, campus leaders and students need to embody: export great citizens and communicators from this campus in addition to making them experts in their fields.

Allen Doyle is the UC Davis sustainability manager.


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