Editor’s note: Clark Miller is Associate Director of Faculty and Professor of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, College of Global Futures. Jeremi Suri is a professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is publishing a new book this fall, “Civil War By Other Means: America’s Long and Unfinished Fight for Democracy.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own. Read more reviews on CNN.
Following Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, the world needs a massive international effort to free democracies from their dependence on oil produced by Moscow and other dictatorial regimes.
In short, the world’s democracies need a Manhattan Green Energy Project, modeled on the boundless World War II effort to harness the power of the atom.
Unlike that famous nuclear program of decades ago, a modern effort should focus on the widespread production of green energy, harnessing the technological ingenuity and industrial might of the West to bring region in a future free from the influence of the oil states.
And that’s not just our view: News reports this week said one of America’s top captains of industry, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, is urging President Joe Biden to develop a “Marshall Plan.” to strengthen energy security in the United States and Europe. , referring to the US-led effort to rebuild war-torn Europe after World War II.
Dimon’s urgent plea came during a meeting of business leaders at the White House on Monday, as energy prices in the United States soar almost daily, pushed higher by the reaction of the marketed to the butchery of its little neighbor by Russia.
Earlier this month, Europe made a down payment on one such initiative, pledging to end its dependence on Russian energy by 2030. Now is the time for the United States to end their own dependence on fossil fuels and become a world leader in promoting affordable and accessible resources. clean energy.
For more than a century, the world’s reliance on fossil fuels has undermined international security and embroiled the United States and Europe in damaging relationships with authoritarian regimes, from Saudi Arabia to Iran to Indonesia.
Oil payments from Western countries funded terrorist networks around the world and led to the repression of democratic activists during the Arab Spring. Petrodollars also enabled despots to build aggressive military forces, the tragic consequences of which are now being felt in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
The democracies of the world sought out these relationships because we needed fossil fuels supplied by petrostates. At the time, our leaders felt they had few good alternatives. But now, when we face the very real possibility of a broader conflict in Europe, a new Cold War and perhaps even a nuclear standoff between the great powers, we must end the role of fuels fossil fuels as the main source of energy for world markets.
To achieve this goal, global demand for oil must be drastically reduced: we must aggressively shift to electric vehicles and develop global green hydrogen for use in industry and heavy transport. And that requires the kind of integrated innovation, manufacturing, and deployment efforts pioneered by the Manhattan Project.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine developed a robust assessment of the various costs of accelerating decarbonization in their 2021 Accelerating Decarbonization of the US Energy System (2021) report in which they estimated that moving to green energy would cost 350 billion dollars over 10 years. A Manhattan Project today would involve a rapid expansion in the manufacture of electric cars, solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, electrolyzers, heat pumps and a wide variety of other technologies.
It will also mean building new, sustainable supply chains in critical minerals, steel and other materials that depend on North American and European mining – bypassing Russia and China. A Manhattan Renewable Energy Project also means we should reinvigorate global efforts to address the looming global threat posed by climate change.
There is a good precedent for the kind of intensive investments needed as we embrace a future in which we will depend on these new energy technologies. During the last great war in Europe, the United States made an unprecedented commitment to the Manhattan Project. The legendary scientific endeavor harnessed the destructive power of atomic energy and unleashed its productive possibilities.
In Oakridge, Tennessee, the United States has built the largest industrial facility on the planet to separate uranium isotopes. In Richland, Washington, the US government funded a fleet of nuclear reactors to make plutonium.
During this time, many of the largest American companies of the time put their technological, managerial and logistical capabilities into the project, as did the United States military. Iconic American companies such as DuPont, General Electric and Eastman Kodak have driven industrial innovation in countless areas to meet the project’s unprecedented demands for technological performance. At its peak, the Manhattan Project employed 129,000 people, including hundreds of the nation’s top scientists.
Even an unprecedented global effort to develop renewable energy will not be enough to bring us immediately to energy independence. But we are at a pretty good starting point. Solar and wind energy are already the cheapest forms of new electricity generation on the planet – and they are essential contributors to the world’s energy sources. In 2021, solar and wind provided 13% of electricity in the United States. Combined with nuclear and hydroelectric power, the total carbon-free electricity production was 40%.
Electric vehicles are already being made and purchased by the millions, and Tesla, Volkswagen, General Motors, Ford, Stellantis and other US and European automakers are scrambling to rapidly ramp up production. We already know how to make hydrogen from electrolysis and have the technologies to do it on a large scale; we need to deploy these capabilities for critical industrial and transportation services that cannot be easily or inexpensively electrified.
Given Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas, it’s no surprise that the EU is accelerating renewable energy technologies. The establishment of local manufacturing plants would provide a dramatic economic boost across the continent at a historic economic moment.
But Europe cannot succeed alone. A global manufacturing and supply base will be required to provide materials, equipment, parts and training. The benefits, especially for Eastern Europe, would remind them – and the rest of the world – of the value of their relationship with the United States. Cooperation on the future of renewable energy would provide a solid economic foundation for NATO and other US alliances around the world.
There is a big difference between the Marshall Plan and the Manhattan Project: the Marshall Plan was about rebuilding and rebuilding. What is needed now is innovation and transformation.
Whether you call it a Manhattan Project or a 21st Century Marshall Plan, the effort to bolster our renewable energy infrastructure is a vital opportunity to fundamentally change the geopolitics of oil and gas.
And that would give the world better options than just shifting demand to dirty fossil fuels from places other than Russia. Simply hampering Moscow’s ability to sell oil and gas will thwart its ability to fund its imperial ambitions, removing the knife that this oil-funded regime has held at our throats for far too long.