David A. Kay Presents Second Annual Glenn Knoll Lecture: “Challenges and Opportunities of the Changing Energy Geopolitics”
In late September, David A. Kay, senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, presented the second annual Glenn F. Knoll Lecture to a standing-room only audience.
Kay, also a consultant and media commentator on counter terrorism and weapons proliferation issues, served as United Nations Chief Weapons Inspector from 1991 to 1992. Following the first Gulf War, he led inspection missions in Iraq for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
In 2003, Kay returned to Iraq as head of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s Iraq Survey Group to search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD). He concluded there were no stockpiles of WMD, and he resigned from his position. Kay’s pronouncement led to Congressional hearings and the creation of an independent commission to investigate intelligence lapses that led to the second Gulf War.
Kay began his lecture at U-M by recounting his experiences with Professor Knoll. While at the IAEA, Kay had been charged with a new program to assess the impact of technical assistance efforts. Kay wanted “someone distinguished” to accompany him on the first review trip to several nuclear science laboratories in Africa, and he consulted with colleagues about who he should bring. One name came up repeatedly, he recalled: Glenn Knoll.
During the trip to Africa, Kay was impressed by how Professor Knoll connected with people on a human level, in nonjudgmental ways. Other IAEA staff went on subsequent trips with Professor Knoll and “everyone loved him,” Kay said.
In choosing his topic for the lecture, Kay recalled how Professor Knoll was “completely fascinated by everything. In some ways, we shared that experience of not wanting to be stove-piped.” In that spirit, Kay chose to speak about work he conducted in 2014 with fellow members of the U.S. Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board on changing energy geopolitics.
Growing up in Texas, Kay said he has long been attuned to changes in energy markets. In 2013, he became convinced changes were taking place that would have large structural geopolitical impacts. There have been “tremendous surprises” and rapid changes. “It’s fascinating, and we’re still understanding the impact.”
Kay took attendees on a world tour of issues and trends — the changing paradigm of U.S. energy scarcity, which has dominated U.S. policymaking since the 1970s; the abundance of shale gas from fracking and resulting changes in global energy investments; improvements in energy efficiency in industrialized nations and increased use of renewable sources, although energy storage remains a challenge.
In addition, falling oil prices are leading to economic pressures in oil producing and exporting counties, and China and India are where “the energy story of the next couple of decades is going to be written,” Kay said.
He also dispelled the myth of energy independence. “What happens in the rest of the world in the energy [sector] is relevant,” he said. “Political and economic ties limit U.S. isolation from global energy markets.”
Over the next 20 years, Kay sees two wild cards: a “breakthrough in small, modular nuclear reactors that could offer the underserved areas of Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia an attractive, environmentally friendly way to meet their needs” and “a more-rapidly-than-anticipated rate of climate change that would accelerate the move from fossil fuels,” he said via email following the lecture. Climate change is a global problem, and regardless of national boundaries, it will continue to affect crop production, insect-borne and other human disease in the decades ahead.
Kay says he was honored to be asked to present the Glenn Knoll Lecture, since Knoll was a personal friend, whose career in science and education Kay greatly admired. And he hopes nuclear engineering students in the audience gleaned two things from his talk: First, “they are working on really important issues that can have a significant impact well beyond the horizon of their own specific project. Look up and engage across boundaries,” he said. “Second, think about what kind of colleague you are and [how] you can magnify your impact. Glenn certainly did.”
The Glenn F. Knoll Lecture in Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences was established in 2014 by the Knoll family to commemorate Professor Knoll’s life and work.