Dr. Nate Hagens urged U.S. Homeland Security leaders to prepare for a much different future involving the effects of a finite global energy supply and the impact on economic growth during the Center for Homeland Defense and Security Alumni Hour on April 20.
The Director of the Institute for the Study of Energy and Our Future who holds advanced degrees in finance and natural resources, and previously worked for the investment firms Salomon Brothers and Lehman Brothers, brought his macro-perspective based on deep research to the CHDS Alumni Hour event entitled “Energy, Economics, and the Nation’s Social Contract: What Homeland Security Leaders Need to Know” as the featured guest speaker, with CHDS Master’s and Executive Leaders Program alum Dan O’Connor serving as facilitator.
Hagens previously presented on his research at the CHDS Alumni Professional Exchange (APEX 2023) Continuing Education Workshop in February, and that presentation, The Great Simplification: What HS Leaders Need to Know About the Future of Energy, is available to view, as is the April Alumni event. Hagens’ APEX 2023 presentation amassed more than 10,000 views in just two weeks after it was posted online.
O’Connor, the Director of the Filed Security Division for the Office of the Chief Security Officer at FEMA, introduced Hagens as a “renowned systems thinker” who “connects the dots in ways people can understand” on energy, the economy, and their impact on society and its future, and called the April Alumni Hour a “profound opportunity to learn about what the future holds.”
At some point in the near future, Hagens said his research indicates such an approach will no longer be possible and the economy will be devastated by increasingly expensive energy supplies and an inability to continue increasing the debt. He said he expects there will be continued efforts to “kick the can down the road” until the “road will be full of cans, and we hit a wall.”
That, he said, should result in what he dubs the “Great Simplification,” including the reduction in the use of energy and a move toward living within our true means. And that should be a call to action for homeland security leaders charged with assessing the risk of such a shift to U.S. security, he said.
“My research indicates this would be one of the most momentous occurrences in human history,” Hagens said. “As [homeland security officials] who deal with risk, even if you disagree with my conclusions and believe there’s only a 20 or 30 percent chance this will occur, I believe it behooves you to address the potential impacts of such an event.”
With O’Connor asking a series of questions, including some from the online attendees, Hagens addressed everything from the impact of any progress made on shifting to alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, biofuels, and electricity; the potential for an economic depression as a result of increasing debt; and the likelihood of global cooperation on addressing energy use and the effect on the economy.
Hagens said the U.S. needs to recognize that so-called “renewable” energy sources are not really renewable because they require finite resources such as minerals to manufacture, and called climate change a “symptom” of fossil fuel use that can’t be solved simply by replacing current energy resources with different ones. He predicted that the U.S. would lose about 30 percent of its current gross domestic product during a depression, but argued that Americans can survive such a reduction with specific local actions to cut rampant overconsumption. And, he said while the hope is for global cooperation on a solution, the fact is that there’s an indication in activities by nations such as China, Russia, and Iran that the economic “pie” is getting smaller, and the U.S. needs to focus on a collaborative response at the local level.
As a result, Hagens called for homeland security leaders to engage in “advance actions” and develop “break glass in case of emergency” plans for such a future, including through formation of what he called a Council of Systemic and Interrelated Risks. He said government must take the lead on actions to help mitigate the effects of such a monumental societal change, including development of backup supplies for critical products and reliance on local and regional supply chains.
He noted that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, CHDS, and others already have the capacity and tools to think ahead, and argued there needs to be professional risk analysts and resilience planners engaged in the process.
“The best thing to do is talk to your colleagues about how we can change our approach,” Hagens said. “Even if there are no answers, talking through solutions is really good for us as human beings.”
At the same time, Hagen expressed skepticism about the current U.S. governance system being capable of addressing the underlying issue, but added that authoritarianism also wouldn’t be effective and called for a “hybrid” approach.
“If we just vote on solutions, we’ll likely choose the wrong approach,” he said.
Finally, Hagens recommended people pursue self-care as a “macro-response” to the uncertainty of the future, including spending more time in nature and away from technology.
“The next can to kick is in our heads,” he said. “Do we need everything we have? Unless we’re in the bottom percentile of income and spend everything on living, the answer is no.”