All posts by Bianca Gartner

DoD and Environment Q&A with NC House Representative John Szoka

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.

DoD and Environment by the Years

Although environmentalism and energy related topics may seem like recent issues, buzz words now, and issues of today and tomorrow, the United States Department of Defense has been tackling these problems for a while.

Here’s a timeline of the development of our U.S. environmental movement, and its relationship with the military.

For the full list and explanation of current DoD polices and directives on energy conservation, click here.


5 Things You Must Know About the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things works as a series of interconnected devices. Everything with a power switch will become a part of the internet. We see communication between cars and appliances, power tools and mp3 players, and alarm clocks and coffee pots – everything becomes connected.

There are plenty of buzzwords in today’s society, but “the internet of things” isn’t one of them. It should be.

The internet of things (IoT) has been a long time coming, it’s here, and it’s growing. It already affects you in ways you might not even know, and it won’t stop. Here is a list of the five things you must know to be an informed member and user of IoT.

1. What is it?                                                                                                             

Kellan Dickens from General Electric says “IoT is a toolkit.”

Brian Dalgetty from IBM says “IoT is just the digitization of the physical world.”

Aleksandar Vukojevic from Duke Energy says “it’s just a bunch of sensors and data.”

If you ask a room of 20 people what IoT is, you’ll get 20 different answers – that’s the unfortunate truth. Plain and simple, IoT is connection between devices.

The devices have sensors in them which allow for a number of tasks. The sensors can measure and provide data about the device. The sensors can also allow for a device to be remotely accessible.

For example, a laundry machine could measure how much water is being used, and at what cost during that time. To conserve resources on a busy night, you could remotely set the machine to wash from work on a smartphone.

Access to the devices’ data coming in from IoT is extremely important too. With this information, individuals can connect to larger circles. In terms of energy, there could be a neighborhood competition to see who uses the least.

Access to the data can also help optimize operations everywhere, increase efficiency, and decrease resource usage. Users will better understand their surroundings, and they can manage their current information more effectively.

2. How does it work?

IoT is enabled by connections between the devices, or machines. The connections between machines are called M2M connections (machine to machine). Information can be sent almost anywhere. If two devices are working together, they may have direct communication between them. Or appliances and electrical systems can send information to a database, or a company’s website.

The information itself may vary in complexity. Some communication could be tiny, like a phone alarm sending a single message to the coffee pot to brew. Other communications could be massive in size and importance, like last month’s fuel efficiency in a vehicle. It’s all about getting devices and data together and facilitating problem solving.

3. Who does it affect?


That is the short answer, and for once the short answer is completely correct. IoT will have its hand in the pocket of every active member of society. From homeowners to college students to entrepreneurs and CEO’s, IoT will change the game.

4. Why is it good?

The executive director of Envision Charlotte, Amy Aussieker, describes the potential for IoT as “a bottomless pit.” There is no doubt about the limitless possibilities in IoT, but the goal is simple. IoT aims to make life easier and enable us to work smarter, not harder.

A weather- and traffic-integrated GPS could allow us more time with the family instead of on the road. IoT can also save us money on our electricity and water bills. We will know our consumption patterns, and be able to change what we want, use less, and be charged less.

Knowledge is power. The physical world becomes digital with IoT. This lets us plug everything into a virtual calculator that, with some working knowledge, can spit out real-life solutions.

5. What are the risks?

With anything so huge and promising, there are comparable risks. IoT involves the creation of lots and lots of data. How to work through all this information and store it and format it usefully will be a challenge in itself.

The quantity of data also poses threats to privacy and security. Individuals and groups may have issues with their data being made public, and see it as an invasion of privacy.

“I don’t care if my neighbor sees how much water my dishwasher uses, but the government probably doesn’t want the world knowing how much money was spent on particular projects here and there,” says Bryan Lampley from Hoffman Building Technologies.

With this privacy threat, it’s easy to worry about the security of data designed to be private from the beginning.

The Internet of Things has come. Know the basics, and you’re ready to go back into the world as an informed member and user of IoT.

Franklin Street’s Sunday Crowd Shares Its Thoughts on the Future of Energy

The global drop in oil prices has been caused by a decrease in demand for oil. Demand has decreased because the world is shifting towards energy efficiency and renewables. In this gallery, a few Franklin Street passersby share their opinions on the future of energy. Will the world revert back to cheap and easy oil? Or will we continue down the uncharted road  towards clean energy?

Excess Oil: What it Really Means

There is a lot of oil in the world now. Brent crude oil serves as a global benchmark price, and it has gotten cheap. Prices have dropped 70% in the last 18 months, a barrel is now under $30. source link

This drop is bad for the global economy. European shares are down and Chinese stocks have dropped 20 percent from their December peak. A Thursday report showed $380 billion worth of global projects has been postponed by the oil industry. source link

Oil production is not showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) decided not to change their oil production goal. The organization is made of the following countries: Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela. source link

Although Venezuela, an OPEC member, has suffered greatly, the organization still won’t budge. Saudi Arabia is determined not to let the price drop of oil affect their country. It plans on cutting country-wide costs by 10% to offset the loss of cheap oil. source link

The Obama Administration’s Climate Change Policy has weakened the coal industry. The United States of America have stopped increasing oil production. The country promises to lessen the effect of closing coal mines. source link

Obama has announced his plan to go about this crucial step towards clean energy. He will help reinvest money in fossil fuel centered places. These investments will spur economic activity and train people to properly engage in it. source link

Congress passed a spending bill last month which included $10 million to support Appalachian economy development programs alone. President Obama requested that the 2017 fiscal year include $1 billion to advance retired coal communities. source link

Despite the impending global surplus of oil, Iran will soon be adding more. Predicted at half-a-million barrels a day, Iran will add to the global surplus. This has been made possible by the Nuclear Deal with Iran, and the lifted sanctions. source link

The timing of this global surplus is far from ideal. As modern global citizens, we are experiencing efforts to decrease energy consumption and environmental impact. Countries are turning more towards renewable energy sources, deeming excess oil useless. source lin

So much oil is being produced and we can’t use it all. Global demand is at an all-time low. Oil is plentiful and useless as it gets warehoused and loaded onto supertankers for storage at sea. source lin

This drop in demand is slightly countered as countries like China and India build reserves. source link

This global oil surplus has already been shown to wage war on the electric car again. Electric and hybrid vehicle sales are down, while SUV and pickup sales are up. People care more about money and cars than the environment. source link

Conspiracy theories are floating about, citing Saudi and American motive to hurt Russia and Iran. These theories lack evidence though. Neither country is in a position to focus on coordinating another country’s slow economic demise. source link