Renewable Energy and National Security

The transition from a climate and nature destroying fossil fuel based energy system towards a renewable energy system has many security implications. This is recognized by the U.S. military, pursuing a dedicated renewable energy strategy (see, e. g., this thinktank study, also discussed here). A good general introduction is Bengt Johansson 2013. Security aspects of future renewable energy systems – A short overview. However, I have been thinking a slightly different thought about renewable energy and international security relations. This is outside my area of expertise; so even though I have not read about this, I assume it has been studied and published by others already. Nevertheless:

Let us follow the line of thought of nationalistic, “my country first” thinking. We currently feel at national liberty to freely decide whether we live at the expense of future generations or whether we respect ethical and planetary boundaries. Is this assumption correct?

Imagine one country polluting the environment at the expense of neighboring countries. Which level of rogue behavior would lead neighboring countries to resort to military threats? Imagine North Korea exploding dirty atomic bombs every time the wind blows towards South Korea. Would this result in – possibly nuclear – military threats?

Imagine the majority of human societies has finally understood that atmospheric pollution and the resulting drastic climate change is causing a threat to the entire human civilization. Might powerful countries, who nationally have achieved climate neutrality, issue economically or militarily threats to rogue countries? After all, continuing to pollute the atmosphere might, justifiably, be seen as a form of cross-border violence.

(Interestingly, geoengineering might also be seen as violence: Putting aerosols into the stratosphere causes a change in rain patterns, with too little or too much rain for another country.)

Now imagine your own country, with its current pattern of climate destruction and non-sustainable consumption (sadly, I know this, even though I do not know where you live…) is time-ported into such a situation. First perhaps an economic blockade might be enacted on it. How would your country fare? Without access to imported fossil fuels, imported minerals, or imported foods? And if your country tries to resort to national fossil fuel reserves (like the super-polluting lignite coal Germany currently relies on), global powers might issue military threats…

Make no mistake: Your country cannot simply build the renewable energy generation and storage plants on the fly. Building a sustainable society requires a huge investment in energy, money, and labor. It takes decades to complete.

My conclusion is that clean, sustainable national energy production is a national security asset. One that has to be built over decades.

PS: As an afterthought: A rich renewable energy supply might even be a question of financial security. Given that mineral and food resources are relatively obtainable in the future, provided one can afford the ever higher energy investments, one of my wilder believes is that in the future the valuation of a countries financial exchange mechanisms (money, securities) might be tied to the amount of energy a country can generate …

PPS: Some further publications sent to me by Judith Hardt (thanks!):
Hardt, Judith Nora (2018, CLOSED ACCESS): “Security Studies and the Discourse on the Anthropocene: Shortcomings, Challenges and Opportunities”, in Hickmann, Thomas; Partzsch, Lena; Pattberg, Philipp and Weiland, Sabine (eds.) The Anthropocene Debate and Political Sciences, London: Routledge.
Hardt, Judith Nora (2018, CLOSED ACCESS) Environmental Security in the Anthropocene: Assessing Theory and Practice, London: Routledge.
Nixon, Rob (2013, CLOSED ACCESS): Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Harvard University Press.

(© Gregor Hagedorn 2018, CC BY-SA 4.0, first publ. 2018-09-11, last updated 2018-12-14. Top image: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

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