President Joe Biden took office in 2020 with climate action as a top priority, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and other events have thrown his energy policy into chaos. Yet this crisis also an opportunity: Biden can, and should, reframe the clean-energy transition as an urgent national security priority.
To be sure, creating policy in this atmosphere is politically challenging, yet the administration can do better than its current set of mercurial and mixed messages. Just two years after recommitting the United States to the Paris climate agreement, Biden has ordered the largest-ever release of oil from the strategic petroleum reserve, invoked the Defense Production Act to boost domestic clean-energy technology, accused energy CEOs of price-gouging, and begged them to produce more fossil fuels. This jumble of reactive policies is no strategy.
Instead, Biden must offer a new and compelling narrative: America’s national security demands an urgent acceleration of the move to clean energy. This, he should explain, will help insulate the country from global energy shocks, ease supply-chain problems, undermine the Putin regime, recapture the lead in clean-energy technology from China, and limit dangerous climate change.
A model may be found in Europe, whose larger dependence on Russian fossil fuels makes the connection even starker. The European Union has launched an ambitious 300-billion-euro plan to accelerate its clean-energy transition, even as it take pragmatic steps to get through the immediate crisis—for example, firing up mothballed coal plants to wean itself off Russian natural gas.
The Biden administration should take a similar approach, launching a national campaign to accelerate this transition at home. Many pieces of such a plan have already been announced at the executive level. The invocation of the DPA to accelerate domestic production of technology in solar, electric-grid components, heat pumps, and insulation is a useful initial step—at least to show intent and place the issues firmly in the security realm. The administration should also frame other climate-action steps as national-security needs, from getting tougher on industrial methane leaks to subsidizing the development of carbon-capture technology, promoting nuclear power, and incentivizing conservation and energy efficiency. As the U.S. economy teeters on the brink of recession, the administration should also consider clean-energy tax incentives that speed the transition and help consumers save on energy costs.
The administration, which has made partnerships and allies central to its foreign policy agenda, can also explain how clean energy contributes to those goals. Promoting energy efficiency, boosting energy-system resilience, and fast-tracking the Transatlantic Technology Alliance to improve collaboration on innovation and deployment of related technology will help EU members move away from Russian energy imports.
The effort to turn climate action into a top government priority has long suffered from diffuse or mixed messages, in the United States and elsewhere. The current energy shock—in oil, gas, and electricity all at the same time—offers a chance to focus the U.S. and the world on a clear narrative: energy security is national security.
Morgan Bazilian is a professor at the Colorado School of Mines and directs its Payne Institute for Public Policy. He was previously lead energy specialist at the World Bank.
Emily Holland is an assistant professor at the Russia Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College. The views expressed here are hers alone and do not express those of the Naval War College, the U.S. Navy, or the Department of Defense.