There were several natural security-related news stories this weekend, including this announcement from Germany yesterday that the government will end its nuclear power program by 2022. But there is one story I wanted to point out specifically because it directly relates to a few projects we have been working on here at CNAS, including one on earth monitoring satellite systems and why they’re crucial to understanding the national security implications of climate change and environmental degradation.
Yesterday, The New York Times reported on a set of satellites that scientists have been using to detect and monitor groundwater depletion from space. The program known as GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) “relies on the interplay of two nine-year-old twin satellites that monitor each other while orbiting the Earth, thereby producing some of the most precise data ever on the planet’s gravitational variations,” the Times reported. “The results are redefining the field of hydrology, which itself has grown more critical as climate change and population growth draw down the world’s fresh water supplies.”
There is an interesting thread running through the Times piece that reminds me of the work Jay Gulledge and I did for our 2010 Lost in Translation study. In that yearlong study, we identified that there is a gap between climate scientists and national security practitioners and offered recommendations to bridge that gap. But from the Times report, it is clear that the gap still exists. Take for example the skepticism surrounding GRACE’s findings in northern California:
Yet even as the data signal looming shortages, policy makers have been relatively wary of embracing the findings. California water managers, for example, have been somewhat skeptical of a recent finding by Dr. [Jay] Famiglietti [director of the University of California’s Center for Hydrologic Modeling] that from October 2003 to March 2010, aquifers under the state’s Central Valley were drawn down by 25 million acre-feet — almost enough to fill Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir. Greg Zlotnick, a board member of the Association of California Water Agencies, said that the managers feared that the data could be marshaled to someone else’s advantage in California’s tug of war over scarce water supplies. “There’s a lot of paranoia about policy wonks saying, ‘We’ve got to regulate the heck out of you,’ ” he said.
In our 2010 study we found that often times the political process is a hurdle to fostering relationships between climate scientists and policymakers that, in the long term, could help bridge this gap in meaningful ways: “Indeed, political and ideological divisiveness associated with climate change continues to undermine the development of trusting relationships between the producer and consumer communities,” we wrote.
We are taking today to remember the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces who have sacrificed their lives in service to our nation. And we thank the U.S. military men and women who, every day, continue to put their lives at risk to protect the United States – and their families who endure.
Photo: A U.S. flag and a lei decorate a gravesite during a Memorial Day ceremony at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu on May 31, 2010. Courtesy of Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Hight and the U.S. Navy.
The U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command is experimenting with flexible solar cells that could help the U.S. Army save millions of dollars in fuel costs and bolster mission effectiveness by requiring fewer shipments of fuel to remote locations.
“Solar shade produces two kilowatts of power – that may not seem like a lot, but in a remote area it’s perfect because you don’t have to worry about transporting fuel or replacing parts,” Major Tim Franklin told U.S. Army Africa Public Affairs. “You could place this on a remote mountain site to provide power for a radio retransmission site [since] it requires very little maintenance,” he said.
“Because of the overall benefits, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa wants to keep the equipment and have added it to their property books since they plan to use it in other locations and on other missions in Africa,” U.S. Army Africa Public Affairs reported. “The solar shade produces power and gets about 70 to 80 percent blockage of the sun, so the shade is cooler than many of tents or shades used now and it produces clean energy from the sun,” said Franklin.
Given that the solar cells are still in the experimental phase, there is no mention if the technology will be deployed to combat theatres in Afghanistan. Yet the U.S. Army’s investment in and testing of the technology demonstrates their continued efforts to develop alternative energy sources in order to help the military reduce its dependence on the long and vulnerable logistical tether to the energy it requires to complete its missions.
Photo: The experimental solar cells are shown here in Djibouti, Ethiopia. Courtesy of U.S. Army Africa.
The New York Times reports that Brazil has expressed wariness about China’s interest in its farmland.
The Japan Times acknowledges the impact water scarcity is having on energy production in Asia.
Global food production could be severely impacted by climate change, Bloomberg reports.
A Washington Post opinion piece argues that there are lessons to be gleaned from the Dutch that could help those along the Mississippi adapt to the river.
The atmosphere between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been noticeably tense since President Obama delivered his Middle East speech last Thursday; Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered his reaction to the president’s remarks. And a meeting between the two leaders at the White House last Friday seemed to do little to improve the perception, with The Wall Street Journal noting that the meeting was “viewed by some as a low point in Washington's relations with the Jewish state.”
Perhaps one area that could potentially strengthen the U.S.-Israeli relationship is around energy security. As both leaders have made pronouncements about the challenges and concerns with their nations’ dependence on fossil fuels, energy security may prove to be fertile ground to engage in greater cooperation and improve good will on both sides.
Korea Gas Corp. will continue to develop one of Iraq’s largest gas fields despite losing its foreign partner, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The Wall Street Journal also reports that Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced at the G8 meeting a new energy blueprint that would increase Japan’s consumption of green energy to 20 percent of its total energy by the early 2020s.
ClimateWire reports that the benefits of investing in smart grid technology will eclipse the massive costs associated with deploying the technology.
Also from ClimateWire, island nations vulnerable to rising seas may be able to retain sovereign rights to the minerals, fossil fuel and other resources on and around those territories even if the islands become submerged.
President Obama’s speech before the UK Parliament made only a brief mention of climate change, which may signal some tension between the United States and the European Union over America’s inability to pass comprehensive climate change legislation, suggests The Los Angeles Times Greenspace blog.
Last night, Christine emailed me this story from the China Daily reporting that China has proposed a tsunami warning system that would link vulnerable countries in the South China Sea region, including China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore. Yu Fujiang, deputy director of the National Marine Environmental Forecasting Center with the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), warned an audience at the International Coordination Group for the Pacific Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System in Beijing that seismic activity in the region could have devastating consequences for China and its neighbors. Yu noted that “The March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which wiped out coastal communities in northeast Japan and left more than 25,000 dead, caused alarm in countries with exposed coastlines and highlighted the urgent need for some type of warning system,” according to the China Daily . “The system would help these countries share data to reduce the damage caused by a tsunami,” Yu said. “If the proposal is passed by the group, the system will probably be in operation within five years,” the China Daily reported.
CNAS is currently leading a project on the South China Sea region where CNAS researchers will analyze evidence of conflict and cooperation in an effort to judge, on balance, where trends in the region may be leading. That China is prepared to cooperate with its South China Sea neighbors, at least around natural disaster preparedness, may be a positive sign that the region is tilting more toward cooperation. Yet it is too early to tell. Indeed, it is hard not to see that while the tsunami warning system is a positive development for cooperation in the region, it also helps China buttress its interests in the region, including offshore drilling and other resource extractive operations that could be exposed to potential tsunamis. According to the China Daily, “After the Japan tsunami, the SOA proposed to the State Council, China's Cabinet, that assessments be carried out on the consequences of potential marine disasters to key offshore projects,” the kind of offshore projects that could bring states into competition with each other over access to resources in the region.
The New York Times reports that the risk from spent nuclear reactor fuel is greater in the United States than in Japan.
The deadly tornados in Joplin, Missouri raise difficult questions about recent weather events, according to ClimateWire.
UPI reports that scientists have developed a new process that could turn algae into clean, carbon-free hydrogen fuel from bioengineered microorganisms.
The Wall Street Journal reports that a team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency are investigating claims that slow decision-making exacerbated the crisis at Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power station.
The U.S. government purchased its first fleet of electrical vehicles, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Christine is in Asia this week to conduct research for the South China Sea project the Natural Security team is working on with some of our CNAS colleagues. One place she’ll be visiting during her time abroad is the Lower Mekong River Basin (LMRB), an area shared by Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. The LMRB was recently in the news when Laos’s plan to build a hydropower dam sparked tensions with its neighbors. Having researched this for our South China Sea project, it’s worth discussing some of what we’ve learned.
First, what makes the river so important? The river serves as a lifeline for the region’s 60 million people in two ways: agricultural production (primarily rice) and fisheries. Together these two industries employ 85 percent of the population and feed nearly everyone. While it is well known how important rice is in the daily diets for people from these countries, perhaps less known is how important fish is as well. In Cambodia, for instance, fish accounts for 80 percent of the nation’s total animal protein consumption. It’s therefore no trivial matter that the lower Mekong River, the world’s largest inland fish source, accounts for 20 percent of the world’s freshwater fish.
The river’s importance and the shared threat China’s economic growth may pose to the river have led Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand to, in general, adopt a cooperative approach in developing the region’s water resources. In 1957, these states established the Mekong Committee, which existed until 1995 when it was supplemented and expanded by the Mekong River Commission. These regional organizations have provide a forum to resolve any controversies that arise, the most recent example being Laos’s decision to delay the construction of a new dam project.
ClimateWire reports that most of California’s landmark greenhouse gas emissions law would be unaffected by a recent court ruling that stayed the state’s emissions trading system.
According to The Los Angeles Times, a pact between the newly minted Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement charged with regulating offshore drilling and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will give NOAA greater input in determining where and how oil companies can drill in federal waters of the outer continental shelf.
British scientists are one step closer to developing “bio-batteries” after determining how bacterial cells transfer electrical charge, UPI reports.
Finally, one story from the weekend that’s worth revisiting: The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds performed at Andrews Air Force Base using biofuel made from camelina flower.
If I had to pick one news story that stood out to me this weekend, it would have to be this piece from the Sunday Washington Post reporting on the growing domestic backlash to India’s land grab. The story stood out to me, in part, because land rights, use and seizing are issues we have not analyzed too much on the Natural Security blog. But as this report from yesterday’s Post portends, it is a creeping trend that we are likely to read more about as farmers in developing countries seek to hold onto their land in countries where population growth is shrinking the amount of arable farmland at the same time governments try to industrialize their economies by renting land to domestic or foreign companies.
“All over India, farmers are coming into conflict with the government as it tries to satisfy the country’s insatiable hunger for land for industry, infrastructure and urban housing,” the Post reported. “And the decades-old way of doing business — the government seizing the land under a British colonial law, paying a token compensation to farmers and then bullying people into submission — just isn’t working anymore.”
The report details a number of billion dollar investments being made by South Korean and Indonesian companies, to name just a few. Yet as the government attempts to capitalize on the interest from foreign companies, long-time farmers are rebuffing attempts by the government to seize their land. As a result, “Projects worth tens of billions of dollars have been held up as farmers, backed by local politicians and empowered by India’s vibrant television news channels, have found their voice — and said no,” according to the Post.
This week the Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, General Chen Bingde, visited Washington to hold two days of meetings with some of his U.S. counterparts. This was the first time a Chief of the General Staff visited the United States in seven years. Although the issues that got most of the media coverage were General Chen’s statement that China’s military wasn’t strong enough to challenge the United States, as well as his statement on U.S. arm sales to Taiwan, there were indications that natural security issues emerged as potential areas of cooperation between the United States and China.
For example, in his joint press conference with General Chen on Wednesday, Admiral Michael Mullen described five areas where the Chinese-U.S. militaries had shared concerns, including around “nuclear proliferation, terrorism, climate change, energy security and piracy,” according to the China Daily. In a statement released by General Chen and Admiral Mullen, they listed combined natural disaster relief missions as an area ripe for cooperation, according to CNN. Although little reported, these sentiments seem to have been echoed in General Chen’s speech at the National Defense University. One recap of the speech, for instance, noted that General Chen said cooperation around food security and climate change were potential opportunities for future collaboration.
Photo: Admiral Michael Mullen and General Chen Bingde shake hands outside the Pentagon on Tuesday. Courtesy of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sun L. Vega and the Department of Defense.
A new report finds that water scarcity is most acute in the Middle East and Africa, with Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait the first, second and third countries most affected respectively, according to the Huffington Post.
Reuters reports that European Union Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said that the EU will likely reach a nuclear reactor agreement in the next few days after a series of stress tests concludes.
In a meeting with his Uzbek counterpart, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that his country will consider joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a full member in order to advance energy security, according to United Press International.
Military spouse Lauren Finnegan discusses the environmental improvements being made on military bases across the country on Yahoo! News.
Finally, writing on Asia Times Online, Donald Kirk reports on the tensions between South Korea and the United States over whether to intervene to avert a food crisis in North Korea.
One of the reasons we host the Natural Security blog is to have a venue to quickly share material that’s related to our work. And, of course, the purpose of the Natural Security program is to identify and assess how natural resource trends (e.g., consumption and scarcity), as well as climate change and biodiversity, influence U.S. national security and foreign policy. With that in mind, here is an emerging Natural Security trend that is worth keeping on the radar.
Yesterday, The Telegraph reported that Denmark is preparing to submit evidence to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf by 2014 that would lay claim to the continental shelf extending from Greenland, to include “five areas around the Faeroe Islands and Greenland, including the North Pole itself.” Denmark, of course, is not the first country to lay claim to the North Pole: Russia sent a mini-submarine to plant a flag on the North Pole in 2007, stirring concerns among Arctic nations, including the United States and Canada. But as Denmark prepares to make formal claims over the North Pole, it is a reminder that competition in the Arctic won’t just be with countries like Russia that we have had longstanding trepidations with. In fact, competition in the Arctic will likely be the testing ground for our relationships with long-time allies like Denmark – a NATO ally that has weathered international challenges with the United States for more than half a century – over how well we can cooperate together in a changing international environment as natural resources (including minerals, energy resources and fisheries) become more accessible in the High North as production in other parts of the world plateaus (or declines).
The Wall Street Journal reports that Taiwan and China are discussing a possible rare earths deal.
Images from Earth Observation Satellites have found that Brazil’s deforestation increased from 103 sq km in March and April 2010, to 593 sq km (229 sq miles) in March and April 2011, the BBC reports. In response, the Brazilian government created a crisis center to combat the trend, according to the Associated Press.
AP also reports that the Chinese government has released a statement acknowledging that pollution and lax regulations are causing problems for its Three Dams Gorge, the largest hydroelectric project in the world.
United Press International reports that Egypt is running out of food and money as food prices increased 10.7 percent in April compared to prices in April 2010.
A 17 percent increase in the price of wheat over the past week is putting additional public pressure on Middle East governments, many of which import their wheat supplies, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Later this morning, John Nagl and I are going up on the Hill where John will join a panel of experts to discuss military fuel convoys, energy for our bases in Iraq and Afghanistan and DOD’s need for a long-term energy strategy that moves the U.S. military away from petroleum over the next 30 years (very much in line with the report John and Christine wrote in September 2010, Fueling the Future Force).
In the spirit of the day, I wanted to draw attention to this very thoughtful report published last week by ClimateWire assessing the challenges the U.S. Army is facing with its renewable energy goals in Afghanistan. The report is very good and is worth reading in full if you haven’t already. It reports on the environmental challenges that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is attempting to adapt to in order to build wind turbines and other renewable energy projects that are difficult to build in the easiest conditions, let alone in a war-torn country. To cite just one example, a 1 megawatt wind turbine the U.S. Army hoped to build to provide power to a new facility for Afghan security forces can’t be built because the facility is remote, and the roads won’t support a crane large enough to construct the turbine. Instead they have opted for smaller 10-kilowatt wind turbines. The challenges of turning the blueprints into reality are not surprising, and this is a theme that runs through the report.
Tomorrow, join us on the Hill for a briefing on fuel convoys and DOD energy policy writ large. Our faithful leader Dr. John Nagl will join a panel of experts to discuss the near-term challenges of managing energy in theatre, as well as the long-term challenges the department will need to confront in adapting to a post-petroleum era.
Briefing: The Human, Economic and Tactical Costs of Fuel
Fuel insecurity and energy efficiency initiatives on military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq
Wednesday, May 18, 2011 10:00 - 11:00 a.m.
Cannon House Office Building 210
To learn more about DOD energy, see our September 2010 report, Fueling the Future Force: Preparing the Department of Defense for a Post-Petroleum Era.
Over the last several years, the United States has elevated the Arctic region as a U.S. national security prerogative. Just days before leaving office in January 2009, President Bush issued National Security Presidential Directive 66, stating that “the United States has broad and fundamental national security interests in the Arctic region and is prepared to operate either independently or in conjunction with other states to safeguard these interests.” In April 2011, President Obama signed a revised Unified Command Plan (UCP), designating U.S. Northern Command as the lead command for Arctic issues in the Department of Defense. (Previously, authority over the Arctic region had been split among U.S. European, Northern and Pacific Commands, complicating unity of effort within the Department of Defense.) The UCP change arguably signaled a shift in the Arctic’s strategic priority, giving the military greater latitude in determining current and future capabilities for Arctic missions.
Last week, Secretary of State Clinton attended the Seventh Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council, the first U.S. Secretary of State to attend the meeting of Arctic nations, reiterating America’s concerns in the Arctic, while emphasizing the need for international cooperation. The meeting concluded with the Arctic Council’s first binding agreement for council members –Russia, Canada, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and the United States – to coordinate search-and-rescue operations. Needless to say, the U.S. government – between the Departments of Defense and State and others in the interagency – has been better positioning itself to adapt to the challenges of a melting Arctic that scientists say could be ice free for one month out of the year by 2030 as a result of global climate change. Yet in order to fully prepare for the challenges of an open Arctic, especially around competing claims for minerals and energy resources, the United States needs to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Monsters & Critics reports that Vietnam plans on defying China’s fishing ban in the waters surrounding the Parcel Islands in the South China Sea.
Bloomberg reports that India has approved the largest increase in gas prices in over three years.
Over at Agence-France Presse, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has temporarily assumed control over the country’s oil ministry a month before the biannual meeting of OPEC, which Iran currently heads.
A severe drought in Central China has left 315,000 people and 97,300 head of livestock without adequate drinking water while also affecting 2 million acres of farm land, according to The New York Times.
Finally, United Press International reports that the gas pipelines in Egypt that were damaged in April have been fully repaired.
Since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that crippled several nuclear reactors at Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power station, policymakers and nuclear watchdog groups – among others – have been scrutinizing the U.S. nuclear industry, including regulatory procedures and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) charged with overseeing nuclear power operations in the United States in an effort to assess vulnerabilities and stave off a similar disaster.
Over the weekend The Washington Post ran two reports assessing potential vulnerabilities at U.S. nuclear facilities. According to a report from the Post on Saturday, U.S. nuclear facilities could be vulnerable to power failures that take the facilities’ cooling systems offline. Testifying before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on Friday, David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists told lawmakers that the backup batteries that are designed to keep a facility’s cooling system online in the event of a power failure may be inadequate as many plants keep only four hours worth of battery, forcing engineers to literally race against the clock to restore power. “Lochbaum recommended that plants extend battery capacity to 16 hours, giving workers more time to restore cooling power,” the Post reported. But according to a representative from the NRC, “regulations require U.S. nuclear plants to maintain two backup diesel generators for each reactor. Last month, such generators worked as designed when severe storms knocked out primary power at the Brown’s Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama.” But, as the Post pointed out, diesel generators are also susceptible to damage or failure. “At Fukushima, a powerful earthquake knocked out primary power, and a subsequent tsunami wiped out backup diesel generators. On-site batteries depleted within eight hours, leaving workers with no power to cool the cores of three nuclear reactors.”
China and the United States held their third annual bilateral dialogue in Washington, DC this week. In addition to economic issues that have always been part of the conversation, the two countries also placed security issues on the agenda for the first time. Although some saw the talks as successful, while others remained skeptical, one fact remains indisputable: the issues we discuss on this blog featured prominently in the dialogue. Indeed, of the 47 outcomes the United States and China listed in their final statement on the dialogue, nearly half directly pertained to natural security. These included 17 on clean energy and climate issues, 3 on other energy security initiatives and 3 on food security. Other topics like maritime security and the Law of the Sea, both of which are central to the South China Sea project we are working on, were also addressed this week.
One topic that was noticeably absent from the talks, at least publically, was rare earth elements. Perhaps they decided that between the blog posts, bibliography, op-eds and the new CNAS report Christine authored, we had that subject covered this week.
Photo: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner with their Chinese counterparts at the end of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue on May 10, 2011. Courtesy of the U.S. State Department.
Today we officially release CNAS's long-in-the-works minerals report. If you saw our website or my guest-authored piece in Danger Room yesterday, you may have seen that it is already live. But today is our official release of "Elements of Security: Mitigating the Risks of U.S.