Israeli-born energy expert Gal Luft is working closely with American senators and presidents in an effort to end
Gal Luft advises American senators and presidents on how America can end its dangerous dance with foreign oil. Growing up in Haifa, Israel where he was born, and later South Africa, Luft became all too aware of how oil is used as a weapon for war.
Newsweek Magazine has called Luft a “tireless and independent advocate of energy security,” while Esquire Magazine bestowed upon him the title of one of America’s Best and Brightest, in 2007.
“When 911 happened, I immediately realized that this was going to be a long war,” says Luft who was doing a PhD at John Hopkins University, when terrorists blew up the Twin Towers, and with it America’s belief that it was far from the violence of Middle East fantatics.
Oil as a weapon
“In my childhood in Israel, I saw how oil can be used as a weapon,” he tells ISRAEL21c, referring to the 1973 Yom Kippur War and how oil producing countries banned oil to Israel, while the rest of the free world kowtowed to these demands: “Only Holland and the US stood by Israel.”
This experience changed his life and started him thinking about the whole notion of energy vulnerability: “It’s close to me on a personal and intellectual level,” he says. “It’s clear to me that part of the war on terror should have an economic dimension.” And oil is a major player since the entire American economy is beholden to oil, explains Luft, now an American citizen.
After finishing a PhD in strategic studies, he sought out Washington DC-based think tanks that deal with energy security and understood at the time, that not one of them were independently funded, or were dealing with the issue expressly.
“I realized that people working on energy, were being funded either by the Saudis or oil companies,” he says, and the obvious conflict of interest struck him. Today, Luft directs the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS), an independent think tank on energy security that doesn’t take a dime from the oil or energy industry; he also co-founded the Set America Free Coalition, an alliance of national security, environmental, labor and religious groups who promote ways America can free itself from the dependence on foreign oil.
“People believe in the cause and fund it. We give Americans the real story – not moulded by industry and interest groups,” says Luft.
While Americans are feeling the pinch of costly oil at the gas tanks, and its effects on global warming, Luft has been devising a way out. Security and energy independence go hand in hand, but it’s not easy to suddenly stop using oil, even though America no longer uses the fuel in power plants, he says.
“Without petroleum there is no American way of life. You can’t buy a loaf of bread or see your doctor without oil. Countries that have oil will forever be in the driver’s seat of the global economy. And these countries will be able to have disproportionate political power,” says Luft.
Fuel choice is the key
He believes that America has got to break from its dependence on oil – run by a dangerous cartel of 13 oil producing governments – and turn it into another commodity.
The United States barely has a drop in the bucket, with only three percent of the world’s oil reserves. Using educational means, and by lobbying in the Senate, Luft is promoting a future where Americans will have a fuel choice: “That means cars and trucks that can run on petroleum or ‘something else’.”
He proposes that every car sold in America be a “flex fuel” car, which can run on both gasoline and alcohol-derived fuel. Decision-makers are listening. His organization was the first to highlight the importanceof plug-in hybrid cars and brought them to Washington in 2006.
Research into new energy sources, he says, is not the burning issue. “What we need to do is focus on deployment. Flex fuel’s been around for 100 years. We have to enable these vehicles to compete, to use the forces of the free market to break the monopoly.”
Responsible for helping pass America’s energy bill in 2007, Luft and his team created a blueprint for energy security instrumental in changing the minds of senators and congressmen, he says. “We worked with presidential candidates, on congress briefings on the Hill. We also work internationally with a variety of countries to work and educate their political leaders to show them this is an international issue.”
Featured in America’s top newspapers such as the Washington Post and the LA Times, it may take an Israeli, who knows the dangers of mixing oil and terror only too well – to keep America’s economy strong, safe and free from dependence on foreign oil.