The Navy is creating hybrid boats where, as long as you can go slow enough, you can propel your ship by electric power, which is more economical to create on the ship than liquid fuels, meaning you don't have to go into port and refuel as much.
They look on this as something that improves their war-fighting capability. When a ship is in port refueling, it's not able to fight a war. The longer you can keep it on station, the more useful it is in its basic role. So all these things fit together.
You've had a distinguished career in government. Have we missed chances along the way to improve our national, economic and environmental security?
I remember distinctly 1973. I was Secretary of the Treasury, and in that year’s Arab-Israeli war, we resupplied the Israelis. The British and French denied us access to their airports, so oil flowed to them and it was cut off from us: The Arab oil embargo.
At that time, a lot of our electric power was produced by oil, so it had a huge impact here on our economy. At Christmas-time, lights were out and so on. It was a cultural impact as well as a national security impact.
There was no Energy Department then, so the Treasury Department inherited the problem. I was, in effect, the de facto Secretary of Energy. And people would come in to me and say: "Look, here are these ideas for alternatives." They sounded reasonable, so they got some support.
Then the crisis passed. The price [of oil] goes down and everything stops. We've been through that cycle, and this time, in my opinion, we just have to see to it that that doesn’t happen again. We have to keep the funding going for energy [research and development] because that's where the long-run future is. That's where people are going to create things that we probably don't even know about now that are going to make us more secure energy, more economically useful energy and energy that is more benign as far as our environment is concerned.
So the pull back in energy R&D funding was a mistake?
Absolutely. They were bad mistakes.
I feel like every president since I've been alive has talked about energy independence. Is that the right goal?
The ability to generate the energy we use is of vital importance, just in security terms. And we are on the cusp of being able to do that because of fracking technology, which incidentally is a classic outcome of government [research and development] combined with entrepreneurial people.
So already the natural gas picture in this country has been revolutionized. Already, our emissions are coming down because gas is substituting for coal.
When you look back at your own career, are there any achievements or episodes that give you hope that this country might address climate change in a more coherent way?
We had a version of the climate change issue in a little different way when I was Secretary of State in the 1980s. There were a lot of scientists who thought that the ozone layer was depleting. There were some who doubted it. They all agreed that, if it happened, it would be a catastrophe.
I had two private meetings a week with President Reagan, and we talked about it. We decided that we should take out an insurance policy. Rather than go and confront the people who were doubting it and have a big argument with them, we'd say to them: Look, there must be, in the back of your mind, at least a little doubt. You might be wrong, so let's all get together on an insurance policy.
It wound up as a treaty called the Montreal Protocol.