George Shultz at Vail Global Energy Forum

93-year-old statesman Shultz wows ‘em at the Vail Global Energy Forum

by Allen Best

AVON, Colo. – The third annual Vail Global Energy Forum was held in early March, and if the conference doesn’t quite live up to the name global, it has a good start.

Stanford University is the key partner in the event and sends plenty of very smart people, and governors and senators have spoken. Yet the star each year somehow seems to be George Shultz, who is now 93. He teeters across the stage and his voice does not carry well. But people listen intently to his every word, because he puts full chapters into each carefully spoken sentence.

Shultz had an illustrious career in public affairs. He is old enough to have been in World War II, serving as an artillery officer in the Marine Corps. Then, after teaching economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he took his first leave of absence in 1955 to serve as the staff economist in the administration of President Dwight Eisenhower. Later, he served in cabinet-level positions as secretaries of labor, treasury and state under presidents Nixon through Reagan.

George Shultz at a pre-conference get-together in 2013. Photo/ ( c ) Zack Mahone

George Shultz at a pre-conference get-together in 2013. Photo/ ( c ) Zack Mahone

If a Republican, Shultz is of the older-school of moderation. Even Mitt Romney, who is clearly smart, felt forced to poo-poo global warming as a fringe theory in order to gain the support of the Republican base. Schultz takes global warming as a sober threat to U.S. security and advocates a hasty path to reducing carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Now honorary chairman of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, Shultz this year offered a celebratory tone. “We can breathe a sigh of relief,” he said while pointing to the now bounteous U.S. sources of hydrocarbons, both natural gas and oil.

Shultz said that energy must be viewed through the three prisms of economy, security and the environment. On at least two of those prisms, the United States is well situated, perhaps better than it ever has been, at least in recent times.

With the United States expected to move ahead of Saudi Arabia in oil production within the next few years, and with energy-rich Canada as a key U.S. ally, the United States needs to reassert leadership in the world.

“It’s a crummy world, and we’re part of it,” he said. “If we say we will do something, we will. We are a big part of the world, whether we like it or not.”

But is it a time to return to big cars, bigger houses, and big power plants? No, that’s not what he was saying.

Shultz worries about centralized power. He pointed to precision disabling of a major power substation near San Jose by sharpshooters last year. The saboteurs were not apprehended, nor was their motive discerned. It does expose the vulnerability of the U.S. energy infrastructure, which, if disrupted, would cause economic havoc.

That alone, he said, should serve as a warning that more energy should be produced close to where it is consumed.

He also talked about climate change. While Joe Sixpack may not buy it, the effects of accumulating greenhouse gases are becoming evident. He cited the rapid deterioration of the Arctic sea ice.

“Global warming is a reality today, and it is going to become more so,” he said. “We need to be paying a lot more attention, because in the end, if we talk about security…global warming is very disruptive.”

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