April 23, 2008


James Woolsey, Green Neocon: The former CIA director turned clean-energy enthusiast is part geek, part zealot—and all iconoclast (Laura Rozen, May/June 2008, Mother Jones)

Like many clean-energy enthusiasts, Woolsey is part geek, part zealot. He's happy to spend a Saturday morning showing off the three rows of photovoltaic panels on his roof, the meter in his basement that displays when his house is feeding electricity back to the grid, and his white hybrid with a "Bin Laden Hates This Car" bumper sticker. "In two weeks," he boasts of his next oil-saving upgrade, "my Prius is going to become a plug-in." He wrote the foreword to 50 Simple Steps to Save the Earth From Global Warming, appeared in Who Killed the Electric Car? and Leonardo DiCaprio's The 11th Hour, and cofounded a group to wean Americans from foreign oil.

As Woolsey explains it, there is a seamless connection between his strategic worldview and energy-independence convictions. In an op-ed he coauthored for National Review last September, he wrote of ending our reliance "on the whims of opec's despots, the substantial instabilities of the Middle East, and the indignity of paying for both sides in the War on Terror." He still thinks the United States should continue its global military role even as it untangles itself from the Middle East, standing by the decision to depose Saddam Hussein. "I'd support his ouster again if there weren't a drop of oil in Iraq," he explains. "If all that had been at issue was the oil, the simple thing to do would have been to just buy it."

Woolsey recalls the moment he started thinking seriously about energy as both an environmental and strategic issue. "I was sitting in my car in a gas line in Washington in '73, after the Saudis had declared an oil embargo on us and Israel was attacked," he says. "And I got mad." Energy issues have captivated him ever since. In the early '80s, he joined the Jefferson Group, an alternative-fuel salon founded on the Jeffersonian ideal "that the future of America is determined by the independent yeoman farmer."

An independent streak has run throughout Woolsey's 40-plus years in Washington. He has served in four administrations, both Republican and Democratic. In the twilight of the Cold War, he found himself increasingly identifying with Republicans on national security. He spent three years as a member of then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board. When I met with him, he was expecting another career change, leaving the federal contractor Booz Allen Hamilton to join a California firm that invests in alternative-energy technology. He'd also just appeared in an anti-oil print ad for the American Clean Skies Foundation, a PR group started by a natural gas company.

Being a green neoconservative is becoming less lonely, Woolsey says, especially as more hawks come to see energy as a security issue. He tells a story about an argument with a friend who is a global warming skeptic. When Woolsey explained how improvements to the electrical infrastructure could make it safer from terrorists, his friend replied, "Oh, well, that's fine, then—we can do all that as long as it's not because of this fictional global warming."

One of the ways in which the Right resembles the Left -- which is to say behaves in reactionary fashion -- is in the determination to stay dependent on gasoline just to teach environmentalists a lesson.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 23, 2008 8:27 PM

But one needs a faith to think there is an alternative.

Posted by: Perry at April 24, 2008 7:52 AM

Driving a Prius is fine for a retiree. Not so good for a family with multiple kids, though. The fact is that current hybrid vehicles are primarily meant for conspicuous consumption, period.

I have no problem with switching to alternative cheap energy supplies. In fact, we're currently doing so in mostly sensible ways. Let's keep it that way, rather than getting insensible about it.

When someone tells me I should do something radical (fundamentally altering the basis of the economy in a short time-scale by government fiat) for reasons that are obviously ludicrous (catastrophic AGW, "peak oil", cutting off the Saudi money supply, etc.), I get a bit suspicious...

Posted by: b at April 24, 2008 12:25 PM