The current recession has caused the price of oil to drop – most think temporarily. James Woolsey was the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency – the CIA – during the Clinton Administration. The Environment Report’s Lester Graham recently talked with him. Woolsey has been arguing that, no matter what the price, dependence on oil is a national security problem that we need to solve:
The current recession has caused the price of oil to drop – most think temporarily. James Woolsey was the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA, during the Clinton Administration. The Environment Report’s Lester Graham recently talked with him. Woolsey has been arguing that no matter what the price, dependence on oil is a national security problem that we need to solve:
James Woolsey: Well, I think moving away from oil dependence, period, is extremely important for our security, and it’s important because of climate change. We are funding both sides of the War on Terror. Oil, when it comes into a hierocracy or into a dictatorship, tends to enhance the power of the state. Tom Friedman summed that up very well in his chapter of his new book ‘Hot, Flat, and Crowded,’ the chapter is called ‘Fill’er Up With Dictators,’ and it’s a pretty accurate statement. We’ve also run the risk of oil cutoffs, of terrorist attacks in the Middle East, oil is just a very big national security problem for us, and it has a 97% monopoly on transportation. So, we’ve got to break that monopoly.
Lester Graham: It seems the only time you can get the general public’s attention on this issue is during periods of gas price spikes. What do you think it will take to get a sustained effort at the personal level to become more energy independent?
Woolsey: Most major automobile companies are coming out with plug-in hybrids here before long. Plug-in hybrids let you drive all electric for 30 or 40 or 50 miles before you then become just a regular hybrid using some liquid fuel. Three-quarters of the days, the average American car goes less than 40 miles. You’re driving on the functional equivalent of 50 to 75 cents a gallon when you’re driving on electricity. And that, I think, is going to get people’s attention and provide a real economic incentive to move toward plug-in hybrids – if the up-front cost of the battery is taken care of, by a tax credit, or by leasing the battery instead of buying it, or by some other financial arrangement. So people can then see they can drive on a lot less than the cost of driving on gasoline, whether it’s driving on $3 a gallon or $4 a gallon.
Graham: Now, you’ve stated your concern on climate change, global warming on several occasions, you consider yourself fairly conservative politically, I’m wondering what you make of the controversy and the debate that you recently heard in the House and what we’re likely to hear in the Senate.
Woolsey: Well, I’m kind of liberal on domestic things, and kind of conservative on defense and foreign policy things – which, to me, is a perfectly reasonable balance, but some people don’t see it that way. I think part, and possibly a very important part, of warming and climate change is likely to be being produced, most climatologists would say, by the fact that we’re pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and trapping heat, that creates a problem. We still need to get the job done of stopping, as much as we can, something that could make the world a very, very unpleasant place – in terms of the height of sea levels and other things – for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Graham: I read an article in The Futurist Magazine from the World Future Society which explained you’re doing a lot in your personal life to become more energy independent – what’s worked for you?
Woolsey: Well, we have photovoltaic cells on the roof of our farmhouse, and lead-acid gel batteries in the basement, and a plug-in hybrid. It’s a little expensive, but you can do a lot these days to make it possible to operate your home, at least the key functions of it, even if the electric grid goes down because of an accident or some kind of hacking attack or something. And you can be, at least, partially independent. It’s not ideal, it’s not perfect, it’s going to get better, it’s going to get cheaper, but you can get started now, if you want to.
Graham: James Woolsey is a former CIA Director, and is now a partner at Vantage Point, a venture capital firm. Thanks for your time.
Woolsey: Thank you.