John McCain hires former CIA director Jim Woolsey as green advisor
By Tim Shipman in Washington
Last Updated: 11:47PM BST 21/06/2008
For 30 years Jim Woolsey has been a hawkish guardian of American national security. As director of the CIA under Bill Clinton he lived every day with the terrorist threats to his homeland.
Yet in his view, the greatest danger to the country now is not nuclear and chemical weapons but climate change and the American dependence on oil which is partly blamed for causing it.
Mr Woolsey believes the greatest weapon in America's arsenal is not the stealth bomber, the Abrams tank or the F-16 jet – but the humble plug-in hybrid car that will let most people do their daily drive on electric power.
He is one of a new generation of so-called "Greenocons", campaigners who are making the case for a green American foreign and energy policy not just to save the planet, but to keep America safe too.
Mr Woolsey is now a senior energy adviser to John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate. He has played a key role in developing Mr McCain's support for a "cap and trade" system for carbon emissions, and support for renewable energy.
But the argument which is winning fans even among conservatives is that security hawks and tree huggers should unite in their efforts to combat climate change and the West's vulnerability to oil shocks.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph he said: "I was testifying before a congressional committee about how climate change really was an issue and one of the members of the committee didn't believe it.
"I said, 'Congressman, you realise that seven of the nine things I've suggested would improve our resilience substantially against terrorist attacks' and he said, 'Oh, well if you do them for that reason, it's fine'. People are often willing to cooperate on substance as long as they don't have to lose the argument."
Mr Woolsey has written a chapter for a new book on energy security, in which he warns that global warming could cause sea levels to rise, creating mass migration and bitter competition for resources.
He also fears terrorist attacks on Middle East oil reserves could cripple the West, creating a "widespread and extended blackout", driving cars from the roads and leaving the military without the fuel to fight.
He said: "I think that the problems with oil are almost too many to count. Not only is it responsible for about 40 percent of our CO2 emissions, two thirds of the world's proven reserves are in the Middle East. You have the vulnerability to cut-offs such as the al-Qaeda attempted attack in Saudi Arabia two years ago.
"From the point of view of both strategic instability and climate change there's really almost nothing good about it."
His goal now is to make oil, which accounts for 97 percent of transport fuel in the US, just another commodity without the ability to cripple the West. "At the end of the 19th century it was still true that salt still had a monopoly on preserving meat," he said. "Countries fought wars over salt mines. The coming of the electricity grid destroyed salt's monopoly very quickly. Nobody goes to war any more over salt mines. We need to do the same for oil."
Mr Woolsey has put his money where his mouth is. His Maryland home has solar panels on the roof and batteries in the basement. His air conditioning is powered by a geothermal pump, his boat is lowered into the water using a lift powered by wind turbines. And in the garage is a Toyota Prius hybrid, which he plugs in at night to the solar powered batteries. On the bumper is a sticker which reads "Bin Laden hates this car".
He said: "I can plug it in at night and drive the next day about 20 miles on sunlight. The thing that will make the difference the fastest in moving away from oil is electrification, and particularly via plug-in hybrids."
A normal hybrid features engines that run partly on petrol and partly on electricity generated by the car. A plug-in features another rechargeable battery that can be plugged into the mains to make the car fully electric for a short distance.
Mr Woolsey believes the US government could provide tax breaks for the first million plug-in hybrid cars and lead the way by purchasing them for government business. He also wants to see more mixed biofuels, which contain a percentage of ethanol or other fuels derived from plants, more widely available at American petrol pumps.
"In this country over three quarters of the cars go less than 40 miles a day," he said. "If you can charge your battery overnight you can do a lot of that as an electric vehicle. In my regular Prius I get about 35 miles a gallon, but with the new battery I added on, I get 100 miles a gallon."
Mr Woolsey was a founder member of the pressure group Set America Free, which campaigns for energy independence. "The combination of 9/11, concern about climate change and $4 a gallon gasoline has brought a lot of people together," he said. "I call it the coalition of the tree-huggers, the do-gooders, the cheap hawks, the evangelicals and the mom and pop drivers. All of those groups have good reasons to be interested in moving away from oil dependence."