Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn (ret) visited CSU Monday to discuss the future of national security and our dependence on foreign resources. McGinn served 35 years in the United States Navy as an aviator and commanding officer. At one time, he was the commander of the Third Fleet, controlling nearly 50 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean.
After retiring from his position in 2002, he has since become the vice chair of the Center for Naval Analysis Military Advisory Board and president of the American Center on Renewable Energy (ACORE). He actively works with Congress and federal agencies to ensure the future of the country’s renewable energy, technology and foreign policy for the sake of national security.
Prior to his Monday visit, McGinn sat down for a phone interview with the Collegian from his office in Central California.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but while you were serving, you watched all of these things happen (Oil embargo, federal speed mandates) at a distance. Am I correct in assuming that just kind of set off a spark with you?
It did. You’ve probably read some of the things that every president since Richard Nixon has said. ‘We’ve got to do something about our dependence on foreign oil.’ Yet here we are. We’re looking at gas going north of $3.70 per gallon, on average. People are saying ‘what the heck?’ We have made, especially in the last three years, some good progress in that the corporate average fuel economy standards have been increased. â€¦ this is going to save us one heck of a lot of oil.
Its not the only answer, but it’s a big step.
â€¦ There’s a lot of good things going on. We just need to try to have the kinds of policies at the national â€“ and especially the state level â€“ that encourage investment in these alternatives.
Going off of that, what do you think are some of the biggest pitfalls in terms of policy and maybe leadership regarding this issue?
I think one of the biggest challenges we have as a nation is that energy security has gotten way, way too politicized. It isn’t a political issue. It’s a national security issue in a classic sense. It affects us diplomatically, militarily and economically, so we need to get over partisan fighting and start crafting a national energy strategy that allows us to expand our portfolio of energy choices, both for electricity production and especially for transportation energy.
We need to get beyond these sort of ‘drill baby drill’ ideas. Hey, more drilling, thatâ€™s great. But it isnâ€™t the answer. It’s part of the answer â€“â€“ a small part. It’ll help us in the near term but it’s not gonna go as far as energy efficiency. It’s not gonna go as far as developing additional choices for consumers beyond just petroleum.
I think that really raises an interesting point, especially with all the recent talks of the Keystone pipeline and offshore drilling. How important is it that we utilize the oil that is in this country and just offshore?
We need to recognize that we didn’t get on oil overnight, were not gonna get off oil overnight. Where we can in an environmentally sound and safe way and in an economical way, sure, we need to exploit fossil fuel assets that are available to us. But, we shouldn’t for a minute think that if we do that, it’s going to solve our problem. That’s the thing I worry about. This complacency thing. This idea that folks have in their head that the only thing causing high gas prices or dependence on foreign oil is that the government, EPA or the Department of the Interior is preventing us from accessing the mineral resources we have available.
That is not the case. There are those who want to have no environmental regulation â€“ for some reason â€“ and they advocate this problem of oil dependency can be solved by simply drilling more.
That simply is not the case. It’s misinformation.
What do you think it’s truly going take to ensure a safe and secure transition of resources over the coming years?
I think, first of all, the solution to a problem begins with acknowledging that you have a problem. As consumers and as citizens, we all need to recognize energy security, economic security, environmental security and national security, are all inextricably linked. We need to not just try to solve one aspect of those problems. We need to think about solutions that can help in some way, all of them. Thatâ€™s where energy efficiency and the production of renewable fuels really, really helps address, in some way, all of those things. This awareness that these challenges aren’t gonna go away â€“â€“ that there arenâ€™t any easy answers, there’s no silver bullet for our future energy security â€“â€“ once we realize that, then we can start saying ‘OK, well maybe thereâ€™s an opportunity here to create what has been referred to as the clean energy economy.’
That really, I think, is the positive, good news. It isnâ€™t all about doom and gloom. Weâ€™ve got all these problems with energy security and the economy. Yeah, we have them, but we’ve got tremendous ways that we can bring terrific American assets to the forefront.
We’ve got great universities like Colorado State. We’ve got great infrastructure. Weâ€™ve got great natural resources including the stuff above the ground like wind and solar as well as stuff that’s under the ground like coal, gas and oil. We just need to bring that American ingenuity forward to create industries that will constitute the clean energy economy for the 21st century.
Talk to me a little about your organization, ACORE, and how you address the issues of sustainability moving forward.
The American Council on Renewable Energy has been around for about 10 years. We’re a member-driven organization that has members from all renewable energy areas including energy efficiency and waste energy recovery. We have a terrific group of members in finance, policy and the technology itself.
The mission of ACORE is to help build a more secure and prosperous America with clean, renewable energy. That’s it. That’s as simple as I can say it. It’s not that we’re the only answer â€“â€“ we’re part of an answer â€“â€“ but we’re a big part in addressing those four security challenges of energy, environment,
economic and national security.
That’s something that’s really gonna key in, especially here at CSU. Could you talk more, from your perspective, about the role of CSU is playing into the global issues at hand?
I think, basically, the research and development of cleaner forms of energy and energy efficiency â€“ the stuff that’s coming out of the physical sciences â€“â€“ I think the consortium across various school and disciplines that bring in social science and economic and communications â€“â€“ that synergy that’s created is really, really key. An important thing that Colorado State is one of the leaders of is walking the walk, not just talking the talk but actually adopting sustainable practices, sustainable forms of energy. In the process of actually using it, helping to lead the way and set an example for other parts of our society to do that, whether in the government or in a particular sector of the economy.
A lot of times, students may feel helpless with these types of issues. What would you say to these students?
They absolutely are the agents of change. If they don’t decide they’re part of the solution, then they’re part of the problem. They can change it. We can all change it. We can change it through our choices as citizens and the kinds of policy-makers that we elect at the local, state and federal level. We can affect it as consumers in the choices we make about what kinds of energy we use, what kinds of products we use, how energy efficient they are. Just knowing that these challenges are real and there are some things that we can do to create opportunity.
This isn’t a problem that going to be solved by Washington or in Detroit or on Wallstreet. This is a problem that’s gonna be solved in every town and village and city across the country. Universities are absolutely key thought leaders of America. We need to have students like the great students body at Colorado State to say ‘hey, you know what? This is going to affect me. It’s going to affect my children. It’s going to affect my grandchildren.’
But really, it’s something that going affect our nation and our quality of life and our economy and our job opportunities for students coming out of college. There’s some really, really great opportunity here.
Taking a step back, I know a lot of times people cite irresponsible military spending, even during difficult economic times. I’m curious to see what you would say about federal, military and national security spending and how this ties into the environmental message you’re advocating.
Basically, the Department of Defense and militarily services over the past five years have become leaders in the adoption of energy efficiency and energy technology. Whether it’s at bases like Fort Carson in Colorado or at operating bases in the wilds of Afghanistan, the military has really come forward and said, ‘We want to be as effective and efficient as we possible can. We want to squeeze every bit of capability out of taxpayer dollars in all of our operations and training.’
They recognize they cannot do it in a business-as-usual way. They have to be more efficient. They have to be innovative at adopting renewable energy technologies.
There has to be a good debate about how much is enough for military spending. I think that is very appropriate, but as far as what the military is doing with the money that goes to energy, I’m really encouraged. They’re really leading so many parts of the country in that regard.
Playing off of that, how do you see the energy issues in the Middle East, especially now, becoming more important marching forward?
At the strategic level, there’s a reason that we’re in places like the Middle East. One of the biggest strategic reasons is we want to protect the lifeblood of the world economy called oil. There’s no getting around that. That’s not the only reason we’re there, but it sure is an important reason.
So, for the wonderful men and women in uniform actually servicing there, they understand that there’s a tremendously high cost for our dependency on oil. There are many, many groups of veterans who have come out and said ‘Hey look, we’ve gotta do things for helping our country become more secure and be more economically viable and not just say let’s continue business as usual.’
They understand the cost. They understand the cost not just in dollars but in lives lost protecting fuel convoys. They’ve lost friends in units who have been killed or wounded protecting oil convoys, for example, in Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s very, very real to them.
The other aspect of this is that you see these little magnetic ribbons on cars that say ‘support our troops.’ Hey, that’s a great thought, but if people really want to support our troops, they’ll do something to try to reduce our tremendous addiction to oil.
Imagine a support our troops ribbon on the back of a big, gas guzzling SUV in which one person is driving to or from some place in traffic on I-25.
What is it, specifically now that you’re doing with ACORE on the national level?
We work very closely with the administration, Department of Defense, Dept of Agriculture, Department of Energy and also with Congress in an educational role to tell them in objective, analytical terms â€“ not advocacy â€“â€“ ‘Hey, here are the facts about the jobs that have been created as a result of tax incentive programs, loan guarantee programs and mandates that are real jobs that are helping to make us a more secure and prosperous nation.
Wrapping up, are there any final comments you’d like to add that maybe I didn’t hit that people need to know?
Not really. I think you covered it very, very well. I would encourage people to help teach us because, in my travels around the country, I’ve found that I always learn a lot when I have a conversation. Colorado is right in the intersection of fossil fuel energy, oil, gas and coal and tremendous renewables like wind, solar, geothermal and bio-mass. I think it’s going to be a real leader in helping the nation and other states to decide that, no kidding, there really is great opportunity here.