North Carolina House Representative John Szoka is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army. He spent 20 years in the military, and continues to serve his country now as a member of the NC General Assembly.
Szoka is a supporter of renewable energy. Check out what he had to say about environmental issues, the Department of Defense, renewable energy and climate change.
What got you to notice and care about the environmental movement?
When I was a kid growing up in Cleveland, steel manufacturing was huge. The Cuyahoga River was by a factory downtown, and a homeless man nearby was standing on a little wooden bridge over it. He dropped his cigarette butt in the river, and the river caught fire. The fire unfortunately killed that gentleman, and then burned for two days.
Also as a kid, my uncle and I would go out to the forest and he would talk about the trees and how the acid rain from all the coal fired plants was killing the forest.
So as a little kid, it makes kind of an impression and it’s like, “What the heck is this all about?! This can’t be good, are we doing this on purpose?”
Then flash forward to when I got out of the Army. Actually I didn’t become an environmentalist through the Army because usually the environmental regulations restricted the areas where we could train, so I didn’t really like that.
But I guess I got into it a little more after I was elected because I thought I knew what renewable energy was. But I didn’t really. I just had these preconceived notions. By self education essentially I realized that it was something I needed to be involved in just because too many of my compatriots were not taking the time to learn the ins and outs of it all. So you know, you can’t be an expert on everything, but this is one of the things that I decided to become more of an expert on.
“You can’t be an expert on everything, but this is one of the things that I decided to become more of an expert on.”
Did the military have anything to do with your passion for renewable energy?
The military tie is definitely there. One time when I was in the Corps on active duty, the rest of the guys were out on a training exercise but I stayed back, there was a general and myself. And there was a hurricane that went through the Saint Thomas Virgin Islands, and everything lost power, and it was a real mess – this was back in ninety-something. So basically all the support that came from the Army flew through Fort Bragg. We were sending so many energy generators and power units, stuff that I didn’t even know existed in the Army let alone anywhere in the world. So we were doing that for a week straight, and so we started having discussions about, like, what would happen if we ran out of power here? What would this do, how would that be? They were just delirious two-in-the-morning conversations until the next plane came in, but even back then it really got me thinking about our over-reliance on the conventional grid.
And then jump to when I get elected and now I’m thinking about those same kinds of conversations. We’re so dependent on the grid and we’re so dependent on all these power generation plants, that, you know, what if someone took them out?
So It’s never one thing that makes someone decide to do something, it’s usually a series of of things where eventually a light bulb in your head turns on and you say “Hey, I need to do whatever.” So for me it was becoming aware that the environment was important as a kid, then – throughout my Army career – being sensitive to the environmental effects it had on training, and then this incident with the hurricane. And you know, just with an over-reliance on the grid and an over-reliance on computers and everything – this just seems like the natural way to go.
What do you think about the relationship between the DoE and DoD?
Do you agree with the proposed ban on their collaboration?
Let’s back up a little bit and take a look at the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense’s relationship over the years. You know, it’s been a very close relationship, and some would argue that the DOE exists primarily because of the military. A large portion of what they do, to my understanding, is in nuclear power and things like that where there’s this very close relationship between nuclear power and nuclear weapons right now, so I think putting in a prohibition from the two talking to one another isn’t really smart.
I don’t really know what the major motivation to keep two major agencies from talking to one-another is. At face value it doesn’t seem like it makes a whole lot of sense to me.
Do you think that the national security argument for renewable energy is the military’s only argument?
No, I don’t think that’s the only argument. I mean, the DoD is the largest consumer of energy in the world. Which means that the biggest part of their budget every year is for energy. So, in terms of saving money, I would do anything I could to save taxpayers money, and reduce that bill. So it’s not just a “hug a tree kiss a unicorn” kind of thing, there’s real dollars and cents savings in this for the military which should translate to savings for the taxpayers. So the energy security part is certainly important, but the money part is definitely there too.
Here’s the question that lawmakers and the public has to answer: right now energy is cheap, but is it always gonna stay like that? If it isn’t, how do we keep total energy costs down in the future if the price of petroleum based products rises? And for me, the answer to that is simple: renewable energy.
“For me, the answer is simple: renewable energy.”
What are your thoughts on global warming?
I don’t dispute that there may be global warming, what I take issue with is that it’s due to humans. And my argument for that is the geological history of the Earth. We’ve been through ice ages; we’ve been through humid periods. There’s a lot of things that affect the atmosphere and the climate, so to pick out a couple-hundred-year period and to say that that shows a trend? With me being a math guy – no it doesn’t. Not when you have a five-billion-year history, or if you’re a fundamental Christian, six thousand years. See my point there? I have not yet been convinced that global warming is man-made.
[Editor’s note: There is a strong scientific consensus that the Earth is warming and that people are extremely likely to be the cause.]
How do you respond to reports of increased carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution?
Personally, I don’t use global warming as any type of argument for my support of renewables. I’m about free markets and just the military aspect as well as common sense.
There’s nobody that’s been able to show me enough statistical evidence that is consistent and goes back more than fifty years that lends credence to the fact that what they’re saying is true. I just haven’t seen it, and if something exists, I’d love to see it.
“I don’t use global warming as any type of argument for my support of renewables.”
What’s one thing that you would change about how this country deals with the discussions about renewable energy?
If I could change one thing, I would just want people to get beyond their own talking points and do some critical thinking…on every issue…instead of just rushing to conclusions based on limited knowledge. There should be more well-rounded and informed conversations instead of just blind arguments.