15 years after 9/11, The world is still struggling with the role of energy in geopolitics.
Two years ago, I wrote an article for Solar Tribune entitled “Solar Values = American Values“. In that article I recounted the story of being at a renewable energy fair the weekend before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001.
“Just three days before the terrorist attacks that rocked the nation, Richard Perez, the publisher of the independent renewable energy publication Home Power addressed a packed audience at one of the nation’s oldest gatherings of wind and solar power enthusiasts. He inspired the audience with a talk about the importance of freedom. Freedom to make one’s own choices, and accepting the responsibilities that come with that freedom. “
Perez concluded that speech with the following: “…By the way, if you want to have a war over oil, leave me out of it- because I don’t think we need it. All I have to say is, go solar! Go wind! Let a little freedom into your life, and help your neighbors stay free, too.”
Each year, as the anniversary of 9/11 attacks approaches, I remember Perez’s inspiring talk, and I think about the state of our freedom. I think about U.S. intervention in the Middle East, and how in some ways, the U.S. has reaped what it has sown. During the 2007 Republican party presidential debates, Representative Ron Paul described it this way;
“I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about blowback. When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the shah, yes, there was blowback. A reaction to that was the taking of our hostages and that persists. And if we ignore that, we ignore that at our own risk. If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem. They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free. They come and they attack us because we’re over there. I mean, what would we think if we were –if other foreign countries were doing that to us?”
I think back to my boyhood during the OPEC oil embargo of the 1970s, and how profoundly that oil shortage affected our lives. I remember the neighbors installing solar heating systems and talking about declaring freedom from “Saudi tyrants.” In 1979, we watched Ted Koppel’s nightly reports on America Held Hostage: The Iran Crisis, which ran for so long that it later became the permanent nightly newscast, Nightline. How is it that we did not learn the lessons of the 1970’s? How can it be that 25 years after the OPEC oil crisis and the Iranian hostage crisis, Ron Paul could be pilloried in the media for recounting what we had all clearly experienced?
In 1979, at 17 years old, it was clear to me that the practical thing for society to do was to move toward electric vehicles and solar generation. If you had told me then that in 2016 the United States would still be importing 3.5 million barrels of OPEC crude PER DAY, and that some of that oil is actually being sold to us by the very terrorists who are attacking innocent civilians all over the world, I wouldn’t have believed it. Have we learned NOTHING?
Sadly, many people hold unrealistic ideals about the “free market” in the energy sector, and don’t understand the externalities that make a free market in energy impossible under current geopolitical conditions. Other people simply choose to ignore reality, buying gas-guzzling SUVs rather than more efficient models as soon as gas prices drop. It’s the 1970s all over again!
Or is it? Even as it seems like we experiencing geopolitical deja vu, I still see the possibility that we might reach that very common-sense dream that I had as an 17 year old. We have the tools of peace at hand, we just need to pick them up and use them.
Solar energy production is one of those tools of peace. Solar energy can help bring us that freedom that Richard Perez spoke of on that beautiful fall afternoon in 2001.
Five Simple Ways Solar Power Helps Build Peace
- Solar energy is available everywhere: Even cloudy Northern European nations can produce plenty of solar power. No one can “embargo” your solar energy, and no country was ever invaded because it had better solar resources.
- Solar brings electricity to unserved areas. Where there is electricity, there is information. Where there is more information, there is more economic opportunity. Where there is more economic opportunity, recruiting suicide bombers is more difficult.
- Solar works best when it is part of a local energy grid. A network of small, local energy grids using distributed generation is far more resilient, making it virtually impervious to a crippling terrorist attack.
- A resilient, distributed network of solar power generation requires skilled workers to build and maintain, providing local jobs. Meaningful work in your own community brings hope and fosters pride. People who are proud of their community are less likely to want to destroy it.
- Solar energy provide choice. Without choice, there is no freedom. In Detroit or Las Vegas, Aleppo or Karachi, Belgrade or Rabat or Rocinha, people deserve the opportunity to pursue their own happiness and their own freedom. Solar energy can help light the way.
As we pause to remember those 2,996 people that died 15 years ago at the hands of madmen, let’s not forget the lessons we have learned. Let us us remember, then pick up the tools of peace and go back to work.