Those Squishy Security Terms

By Keith Kloor | June 17, 2010 10:33 am

One of the catch-phrases President Obama didn’t use in his much parsed Oval Office speech on Tuesday was energy security. He did, however, make a glancing, split-second reference when discussing the costs associated with a transition from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy (emphasis added):

And there are some who believe that we can’t afford those costs right now. I say we can’t afford not to change how we produce and use energy -““ because the long-term costs to our economy, our national security, and our environment are far greater.

Obama’s reluctance to mention energy security in his speech strikes me as odd, considering how the term has become a central plank in his Administration’s energy policy and also a popular new Democratic talking point, which Michael Levi, an energy expert, notes in this recent Foreign Policy piece:

That two-word phrase — “energy security” — is an idea invoked frequently by everyone from oil company executives to green-energy proponents, and one that has taken center stage in the United States since the Gulf spill. Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar cited energy security in explaining the need to continue drilling in the outer continental shelf. Senators John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman have argued that their new clean energy and climate bill will help the United States achieve energy security. Obama’s new National Security Strategy, published last month, invokes energy security no fewer than four times.

That Obama didn’t talk about energy security in his Oval Office address perhaps owes to the main point of Levi’s FP article, which is reflected in the subhead:

Politicians, oilmen, and green-energy boosters love to invoke the idea of energy security. None of them know what they’re talking about.

Levi includes himself in this clueless category. Earlier this week on his own blog at the Council on Foreign Relations, he wrote:

The phrase “energy security” is on my business card, yet whenever anyone uses it, I scratch my head.

I admire this humble tone from an energy scholar. Levi’s forthright attitude echoes the refreshing openness that a number of leading environmental security experts exhibited on this site during an excellent thread on the equally squishy climate security term.

  • http://twitter.com/IISSHolland @IISSHolland

    We did a workshop on energy security a couple of months ago, and there was some serious discussion about how to define energy security. We agreed on three defining characteristics:

    1. Secure supply
    2. Open access
    3. Protection from supply disruptions

    A fourth was price, but there wasn't the same degree of agreement among experts on that.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/stephenleahy Stephen

    Far more significant is that Obama said nothing about climate change aka global warming. That makes it pretty tough to tackle – and get the public's support if you pretend the problem has gone away. Astonishing lack of LEADERSHIP.

    I've said it here before: The fact that Arctic is melting is beyond refute – some regions have avg annual temps that are 10C warmer than 20-30 years ago. A warmer Arctic affects the entire climate system.

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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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