Security by Design

Environment and Security

  • Actionable intelligence: US military planning for environmental security and national security

The following transcript addresses a core mission of Strategic Demands — the necessity to develop and work toward new definitions of national security.

Security by Design: Environmental Security / Homeland Security

“Three-quarters of our military expenditure is for forces whose primary mission is intervention in the Persian Gulf. If we got off the oil, we wouldn’t need most of the forces we have, it would be a very different world, and I think a much safer as well as a fairer and richer one.”


The concept of national security is moving beyond bullets, bombs, soldiers and warcraft to encompass the country’s internal resilience, health and environmental sustainability. What’s needed, say two leading environmental visionaries, is the equivalent of a wartime mobilization to create a sustainable planet including a far more decentralized infrastructure.

Global energy strategist Amory Lovins and Oberlin College Professor David Orr advocate sustainability as the strategic imperative and foundation for a new national security narrative. The military is starting to agree.


Security by Design: Environmental Security is Homeland Security


We stand at the threshold of a historic opportunity in the human experiment: to re-imagine how to live on Earth in ways that honor the web of life, each other and future generations.

01:32 NARRATION 1 (1:55)

Let us first talk about Andrew Marshall, who for decades directed an elite military think tank that envisions future threats to national security.

After reading a National Academy of Sciences report on global warming, the octogenarian sage agreed that “indeed the sky is falling”.


The study he commissioned was entitled An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for U.S. National Security.” The study laid out scenarios ranging from worse-than-we-ever-imagined to unthinkable – drawing on historical data that climate change can be very sudden.

By 2020 we could face mega-droughts and floods, mass starvation in many regions, hordes of desperate ecological refugees, and war over scarce resources of food, water and energy. Or if climate change is abrupt, the world could melt down in three to five years, then flip the switch into an ice age.

The study demurely suggested this: “Alternative fuels, greenhouse gas emissions controls and conservation efforts are worthy endeavors.”

Consider it actionable intelligence.

In today’s world, a larger vision of national security supersedes bullets and bombs, soldiers and war craft to encompass the internal resilience, health, and environmental sustainability of the nation.

In fact, what’s needed is the national and global equivalent of a wartime mobilization – but this time to create a sustainable, peaceful planet.

Join us for Security by Design: Environmental Security is Homeland Security with two leading environmental innovators who also focus on national security: Amory Lovins and David Orr.

My name is Neil Harvey. I’ll be your host. Welcome to the Bioneers: Revolution From the Heart of Nature.

03:39 Orr 1 wkshp (00:22)

We’ve lived in a world where the model of national security was set back in 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia. It said that the nation state was sovereign, and we’ve lived with that model ever since. The idea was that security starts at shores and borders and works out. And that’s deployment of force, that’s wars and battle groups and aircraft carriers and so forth.

04:03 NARRATION 2 (00:57)

* In 2011, two highly experienced US military strategists published a treatise arguing for a radical revision of American foreign policy and national security strategy. Marine Colonel Mark “Puck” Myckleby and Navy Captain Wayne Porter observed that the nation needs a new grand strategy beyond the military policy of containment that has guided the nation for decades. They identified sustainability as the strategic imperative and the basis for a new national security narrative.

At a meeting in Washington DC, environmental educator and advocate David Orr found himself sitting next to Colonel Myckelby, then the chief strategic advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Orr, who had previously organized the Presidential Climate Action Plan, was there to advance the Oberlin Project in Ohio, a bold sustainability model to design and build the first post-carbon local economy in the United States.

05:00 Orr 2c wkshp (00:30)

And we’re getting to know each other just before the meeting, and you do what and I do what, and he picked up a copy of the description of the Oberlin Project. Its attempt to build full spectrum sustainability, take all the things we associated with the sustainability movement, put them together into a system where the parts reinforce the whole thing, and doing it within a basically an eight-mile radius. So we’re sitting there talking about this and Puck picked up the Oberlin Project description and he says, oh, that’s all about national security. It’s one of those, you know, moments where you slap your forehead…

05:31 NARRATION 3 (00:26)

In other words, the Colonel was saying, homeland security begins with environmental security – inside national borders. In fact, David Orr, whose PhD was in national security affairs, well understood that food and energy systems are integral to national security.

Colonel Puck Myckleby took the Oberlin Project plan back to his Pentagon Joint Chiefs boss, the highest-ranking US military official.

05:57 Orr Cut 2c/d wkshp (00:38)

And what Puck reported back from Chairman Mullen was the admiral looked at the paper and the concept of the network, gave a thumbs up, and said 435, which Puck interpreted. Put one of these in every congressional district in the country. And so, make this a national network.

And what began there was a conversation that’s involved now probably several hundreds of people, maybe a thousand or more, in taking these kind of projects around the country and weaving them together into a network. We’re now calling this a National Coalition of Sustainable Communities.

06:33 NARRATION 4 (00:22)

According to David Orr, “True security is inseparable from issues of education, preservation of soils, forests, waters, and broadly based sustainable prosperity. In this perspective, America is less secure than at any time in its history.”

Now he found himself with unlikely bedfellows – high-ranking members of the defense establishment…

06:56 Orr 3 wkshp (00:40)

Within the Pentagon, there were three concerns raised as we began to talk about this with Pentagon officials. One is that the grid, the electric grid, is likely to go down. And then, I think it’s the 2007 national intelligence estimate, I believe, it says that the grid will go down, it’s not a matter of whether, it’s a matter of when; and it could be malice, accident, big storms. There are a lot of ways the electric grid is vulnerable.

The second issue for Pentagon people was food. Somebody said at a Pentagon meeting, four bridges go out on the Mississippi within 24 to 48 hours, New York City is hungry.

And a third, surprisingly to me, was education, to begin to build a constituency that understands the real nature of security.

07:38 NARRATION 5 (00:23)

But if in fact what’s needed is the national and global equivalent of a wartime mobilization to address climate change and general environmental collapse, the military is not such a strange bedfellow.

Over 30 years ago, the acclaimed physicist and global energy and design strategist Amory Lovins began consulting with the Pentagon about the national security risks of U.S. energy policy.

08:01 Lovins 1 int (01:12)

We have two particularly thoughtful and knowledgeable kinds of risk managers for big risks in our society. One is the insurance and especially re-insurance industry, which ultimately pays the bills when bad things happen. And the other’s the military, because they are very concerned about, for example, the way climate change would exacerbate conflict-caused migration, displaced people, destabilized countries, failed states, and, of course, drought, famine, exactly the forces that are already becoming major sources of conflict and misery in much of the world.

But if you run that forward a bit and think about where tens of millions of Bangladeshis would go when they’re flooded out as sea levels rise, for example, or what happens if the food price spikes that help trigger the Arab Spring become more acute and prolonged as droughts endanger grain crops; that’s the kind of thing that even the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is very concerned about.

09:12 NARRATION 6 (00:31)

Amory Lovins co-founded the Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Institute, a world-renowned resource -efficiency think and do tank. In 1981, Amory and Hunter Lovins authored the seminal study for the Pentagon called Brittle Power: Energy Strategy for National Security.

Even within the traditional national security strategic narrative, the military sees clear organizational and national interests in getting off oil and fossil fuels.

Amory Lovins spoke at a recent Bioneers conference:

09:44 Lovins 2 wkshp (02:17)

In ’95, I was asked to brief something called the resource requirements review committee – it’s a bunch of Naval admirals and Marine generals – about “Negawatts and Hypercars: How the Resource Efficiency Revolution will Transform the Navy.” And my message was going to be, well, we can arrange it not to need the oil, and then you won’t need to fight over the oil.

And the chairman of this committee, Joe Lopez, was at the time the most powerful three-star Admiral in the building. He owned the Navy’s budgets, programs, planning, personnel, and facilities, and the Navy was then a $100 billion a year operation. Joe was one of two people in the history of the U.S. Navy who went from enlisted seaman to four-star admiral.

So I did the first 10 minutes of the brief on buildings, because that’s a simple, intuitive way to understand how you do integrative design so big savings get cheaper than small savings. And as I was switching into vehicles to get to the oil story, the admiral stopped me, turned to his exec, and said, “This is really interesting stuff, what he’s saying about buildings. Find out who are all the architect and engineering schools, or firms, rather, that we hired the last 20 years that never told us any of this, and make sure they never work for us again.” [LAUGHTER]

And I’m thinking, hey, I like this dude. And then he turns to me and says, “Mr. Lovins, I suppose you know who’s good at this sort of integrative design?” “Yes, Sir, we think we know most of them.” Then he says, “You think you could get a suitable group of ’em here in the next two weeks? Because then we’ll put them around a big table with our best designers.

Together, we will redesign this big building over there that we just designed, so we’ll have something to compare it with, then we will build it your way and measure it, and if it does what you say, we have six billion dollars’ worth of construction we’ll do that way next year, and seven billion the year after that, and we want you to indoctrinate our top 250 designers.” [APPLAUSE] “Yes, Sir.” So, we did. And they moved out smartly and they did a bunch of things that were bureaucratically novel and brave to bust the barriers.

And after a year, the admiral calls me back and he says, “We’ve got eight buildings built and measured now; they do what you said they would. Write me a report card. I want to know what to improve next.”

12:02 NARRATION 7 (00:34)

Since World War II, the U.S. military has become a global oil protection force. It’s no coincidence that the map of war zones and terror and the map of oil in the Middle East are almost the same. The US government spends about $140 billion a year just to guard oil traffic in unstable regions. Which would not be necessary if we got off oil.

The military is actively advancing its own operations to run on 50 percent renewable energy by 2020, excepting certain combat operations. One motive is military strategy.

12:37 Lovins 3 wkshp (01:27)

Now, the military is the world’s biggest user both of oil and of renewable energy, and it’s always seemed to me that if military R&D focused on radical efficiency, that could produce the same kinds of innovations transforming the civilian sector that we’ve already had when the military developed the Internet and GPS and jet- engine and microchip industries. And that is now starting to happen because finally, after decades of effort, we and others have got the Pentagon to adopt – and it’s now enshrined in law – a valuation of saved energy based on its fully burdened cost delivered to whatever was going to use it in theater in wartime. So, the value of fuel saved by an airplane is not two bucks a gallon that they pay at a large base for wholesale shipments they receive. It’s probably over $100 a gallon delivered in mid-air, because that’s where they deliver a lot of it.

And, by the way, we have lost over 1,000 service members in attacks on convoys mainly hauling fuel that is mainly wasted. The field commanders are intensely motivated to protect their people, and the best way to avoid an IED or defeat an IED is don’t be there, don’t need the fuel.

14:06 Narration 8 – Lead to Mid Break (00:48)

If we didn’t need the oil, we wouldn’t need to fight over it. And we could shift the whole paradigm and create a booming new energy economy and jobs. The military understands it’s uniquely positioned to apply its science and technology skill to accelerate the civilian clean energy transformation. It’s big leverage toward realizing a new vision of national security.

Yet greening the military is in itself not a change in the national security grand strategy. When we return, what will it mean to transform the culture of national security — from military operations to grassroots sustainability?

This is Security by Design: Environmental Security is Homeland Security…

14:54 MID BREAK (00:22)

15:34 NARRATION 9 (00:22)

While the Department of Defense is preparing to need no oil and be less vulnerable overseas, says Amory Lovins, it’s also very concerned about domestic national security. Take the electric grid.

15:57 Lovins 4 wkshp (01:20)

The other big thing the military’s driving is getting another thing we recommended in a Defense Science Board panel is to get off the civilian power grid because it’s too vulnerable and unreliable to rely on for mission continuity. Well, what does that say about the rest of us that they’re defending? We have the same problem that the grid could do down regionally or nationally, and it may not be recoverable. And somebody in Kandahar could be putting bad code in the grid over the open Internet in a way that actually destroys major components of the grid and puts us all back in the 7th century. And I’m a little surprised when I wake up every morning and the lights are still on. So, this is a big worry, and therefore, they’re going not just to efficiency in facilities but to netted, islandable microgrids, local renewable supply.

If you want an example of how that works, you can look at Denmark, which has a cellular organization increasingly permeating its grid so that local microgrid normally is interconnected, exchanges power all the time, but if it has to, it breaks into fractal zones or cells that can each keep the critical loads going. And they actually stress test them by cutting them off from the grid every year to make sure it still works that way.

17:17 NARRATION 10 (00:40)

Nature favors decentralization for precisely this reason – to avoid large-scale systems collapse. And Nature also abhors waste. As Amory Lovins has long illustrated, we waste half the energy we use — and it’s always cheaper in the long run to invest first in energy efficiency. With climate change rapidly accelerating, more than 1000 water wars are already being waged around the globe. Water is more valuable than oil. Yet our water, energy, food and communications systems are more vulnerable than ever.

It all could have been very different, says David Orr.

17:57 Orr 4 wkshp (1:33)

When the Carter administration left office in 1980, they left a document there called a Global 2000 report. And that was two years, give or take, before Amory and Hunter Lovins published Brittle Power, which is still, in chapter 13, I think, is still the best description of a resilient system that I’ve read. If we had followed what we knew we had to do in 1980 or before, we would not have needed to spend six or seven hundred billion dollars a year on military, however efficient, to go fight for oil because we’re in SUVs. So, the issue here is we missed, at that time, a major opportunity to avoid 9/11. We could have acted. The first oil embargo was 1973 and so forth, so we knew that we were vulnerable. Now, think about this. We had a chance to begin to build resilience at a local level. We had a lot of the tools. We had a good bit of the logic.

So, not having done that, as Amory has said more eloquently than anyone else that I know of, not having the wit to put ourselves in efficient vehicles, we had to put our young people in hyper inefficient Abrams tanks and aircraft carriers [CROSSTALK] that get what—
LOVINS: 0.56 miles a gallon and the aircraft carriers are 17 feet per gallon.

ORR: Boy, thank you for that. I’d forgotten that number.

19:30 Orr 7 wkshp (01:36)

And I’m personally less interested in a hyperefficient military, although that’s a good thing, than I am a smaller military with a much more humble mission in the world.

* We got a military of 737 bases around the world. However efficient they may be, they don’t belong out there. We don’t need 737 military bases. [APPLAUSE] It’s time to begin to shrink the American empire. We can’t survive as a nation state, as a viable nation also operating an empire. That’s the history of empires. So, it’s a matter of beginning to scale our mission appropriate to our true values.

The question is can we begin to build security from the bottom up. Hunter Lovins, I think, coined the phrase a long time ago called “security by design”. And the good news here is the design arts and design skills, we now know how to do this. Can you power the US by efficiency and sunlight? The answer with Amory’s numbers and incredible analysis is, yes, we can. Can you feed this country and the world sustainably without poisoning people and ground water?

The answer is, I think, yes. And the answer’s also we have to. Can you run industry with zero pollution? Ray Anderson and Janine Benyus and lots of people in this room have worked on biomimicry and so forth, the answer there is yes. So, the question is how can we weave this together into a robust network grassroots movement, our version, let’s say, of a Tea Party movement, [CHEERS] powered by science and sunshine.

I don’t think you can go anywhere in the United States without seeing a lot of innovation and creativity at the grassroots level. It’s everywhere. It’s breaking out. It’s happening all over the planet. It is occurring. Now the question is can we take it to scale.

21:07 NARRATION 11 (00:17)

David Orr is walking the talk in his home base in Oberlin, Ohio where he’s a professor at Oberlin College. In an ambitious partnership between the college and the town, he’s advancing the Oberlin Project as a model of full spectrum sustainability and national security.

21:24 Orr 5 wkshp (01:35)

What we’re trying to do in Oberlin is to organize the community around 11 teams—in energy and education, and economic development, and so forth. We got about 150 people in town of about 10,000 people beginning to work together. And then the trick is can you do this on a full spectrum, sustainable basis. And that again is just a real fancy way of saying you’re talking across a lot of boundaries, pulling people together between education and so forth.

Let me give one example of this. If you want to begin to redevelop local agriculture, which we do—we’re developing a 20,000 acre green belt around the city, our goal is 70 percent of the food consumed locally is grown locally; we can’t import food from California given the peak oil extraction, which was according to Science magazine five years ago, climate change is gonna change the—a whole lot about agriculture works. We gotta reinvent agriculture locally.

So, our teams, the teams that we have organized around the Oberlin Project, include one working to identify farmland to get farmers engaged, enrolled in this local agricultural part. Second team is an economic development team. We gotta create a market for that, so someplace to sell produce within that green belt. The third is education, young kids are coming out of schools now with very little understanding of farming.

And then there’s a fourth element. So, we’re working with banks and policy people to enable young people that want to go into farming to have the capital to do it. So, there’s marketing, there’s education, there’s farm identification, and there’s finance, full spectrum sustainability. Now you got four and maybe more teams at the table to do one thing, and so that is nothing more than the application of systems thinking to sustainability.

23:01 NARRATION 12 (00:11)

David Orr cautions, full spectrum sustainability means truly looking at the whole systems picture, including finance and capital.

23:10 Orr 8 wkshp (01:22)

I think there are two things to say that are important for this audience, one is that it’s gonna be pretty hard to get to anything like sustainability, however you define that, where in this country the wealthiest 400 control more wealth than the bottom 150 million people. Let me repeat that number—the top 400 wealthiest control more wealth than the bottom 150 million people. That is interpreted in some places in the media as arguing for class warfare. Well, it’s no such thing. There is a kind of class warfare underway. The bottom 150 million didn’t start it. And so, whatever your cause is it gets a lot more difficult if income distribution is so skewed, especially coming into this particular part of human history, Where we’ve got to move very quickly to do the kinds of things that Amory has outlined so brilliantly in Reinventing Fire and lots of other books before that.

The second thing I think that can be said is that the banking crisis of 2008 resulted from the failure of a theory that foxes can, in fact, guard the hen house. And what we discovered was it wasn’t particularly good for the hens and it wasn’t, at the end of the day, good for the foxes either.

24:34 NARRATION 13 (00:28)

As David Orr sums it up, sustainability is the core of a national development strategy that is designed to enhance our security, build prosperity from the ground up, and reduce ecological damage, risks of climate destabilization and the necessity of fighting endless wars over dwindling resources.”

Amory Lovins agrees, and he says the private sector also sees a huge business opportunity for a new energy revolution.

25:03 Lovins 8/5 wkshp (01:22)

The policies needed to get the country off oil and coal, and for that matter nuclear, are five trillion dollars cheaper. Those policies do not have to be implemented by an act of Congress; they can be done administratively or at a state level, like fee-bates for cars, decoupling and shared savings for utilities. And with five trillion dollars on the table, the private sector is highly motivated to get their piece of it by adopting the new competitive strategies that the book suggests.

The military role is more from applying its science and technology skills, which are extraordinary, to accelerating the civilian energy transformation. The civilian sector uses 50-odd times more oil than the military, so that’s very large leverage.

Three quarters of our military expenditure is for forces whose primary mission is intervention in the Persian Gulf. If we got off the oil, we wouldn’t need most of the forces we have. We wouldn’t have the oil-fed tyrannies and terrorism. We wouldn’t have our own loss of reputation where it looks like everything we do is about oil, because often it is. It would be a very different world, and I think a much safer as well as a fairer and richer one.


Amory Lovins and David Orr.

Security by Design: Environmental Security is Homeland Security

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