It seems inevitable that the soft power side of the natural security world will take a hit in the upcoming round of budget cuts. Foreign operations already took sizable hits earlier this year just based in the FY 2011 and 2012 budgets, and there is a strong sense in our community that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
We’d be remiss (and possibly lose all cred as think-tankers) if we didn’t ponder what the debt crisis and upcoming budget cuts meant for the issues of focus for this blog. To be honest, I’ve thought a lot more about what the dawning era of cuts, cuts, and more cuts means for U.S. security broadly, the domestic economy, and American power and influence than I’ve thought about what it means for resources issues. So, it's time for us to dig in.
In terms of the news, we all have to agree that this was a pretty awful weekend. Dozens of Americans and their local counterparts were killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. S&P downgraded the United States.
On Wednesday, NASA published an article detailing the many tests the NPP - the NPOESS Preparatory Project, NASA’s next generation of Earth-observation satellites - was required to pass before being able to be launched into orbit. Although the NPP satellite “passed every stage on or ahead of schedule,” said Glenn Iona who works at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and oversees environmental testing for NPP, one of the biggest challenges “is taking into account all the different instruments' requirements and restrictions: Will the electromagnetic field generated by one instrument’s electronics interfere with the instrument sitting next to it? Will the jitter caused by the spacecraft or other instruments affect the sensitive Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS)?” With the NPP’s 24 different data products/instruments it “is more of a hybrid that will serve both climate scientists and meteorologists,” as it will monitor daily weather and long-term ozone levels and climate change. NASA hopes that the NPP will act as a bridge between NASA's Earth Observing System and the next generation of satellites called the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS).
NPP’s launch date is set for late October – great news for NASA and the satellite’s environmental-testing team. The system could prove to be a great first step in a still-long road to shoring up America’s declining earth monitoring capability. For more, check out Christine’s and Will’s report released earlier this week, Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security.
Photo: NPP is lowered into the thermal vacuum chamber. Once inside the Iron Maiden (visible in the lower left) is fitted in place. Then air is pumped out of the chamber and temperature extremes are applied to replicate orbit conditions. Courtesy of NASA and Ball Aerospace.
GreenWire reports that the Army will aim to get a handle on its battlefield energy use.
China is warning disaster relief agencies to prepare for a powerful typhoon expected to strike its East Coast, according to The Washington Post.
The New Security Beat gives a good assessment of “how responses to climate change may lead to new conflict.”
Yesterday at the Rayburn House Office Building, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) hosted a discussion, “Biodiversity Conservation in Afghanistan Advances U.S. Security Interests,” focusing on improving livelihoods and governance through natural resource management in Afghanistan – a cornerstone to long-term stability and achieving U.S. security interests in the state. As I learned yesterday, currently the most significant threats to Afghanistan’s natural resources include illegal hunting and trading, as well as an increase in deforestation and desertification. “Almost 80% of Afghanistan’s people depend directly upon the natural resource base for their survival and livelihoods, and three decades of near-continuous conflict has badly degraded this base,” said Afghanistan program director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, Dr. David Lawson. Most of WCS’s work in Afghanistan is community-based conservation, focusing on the local level, mobilizing local communities to institute new policies, laws and regulations and training community members “in natural resource management so they can work together to help build a sustainable future,” Lawson said.
Another part of WCS’s work involves central governmental capacity building, which works to “improve the capacity of the government to take responsibility and manage the country’s critical resources,” according to Lawson. With help from the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock and the National Environmental Protection Agency, WCS has helped the Afghan government to write environmental laws and regulations, as well as build nationally protected area networks, train officials and build government structures. Afghan individuals and communities participating in natural resource management benefit by generating income (some of them for the first time) and, as Lawson noted, “being able to benefit directly from conservation activities, and that actions taken to protect and preserve the environment can directly contribute to poverty reduction and improved community livelihoods.”
Today is part two of our two-day blog launch of our new report, Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security. We framed the problem yesterday, but what is the way ahead?
Christine and I wanted to explore this topic in a bit more depth than we had in the past because we don’t think the solutions on offer are quite right. For one, by our analysis the federal government is relying too heavily on the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) to provide the data we need. We heard in countless conversations with officials around the government that GEOSS may not be on track to deliver all it has promised - especially information relevant for U.S. policymakers.
Joint work on collecting climate change data is a great platform for bilateral and multilateral cooperation – a means of securing U.S. interests that’s in need of more ideas these days. Yet, as we found, not only are our own capabilities declining, but we’re also not playing the international cooperation card as well as we could be with regard to remote sensing. Moving forward, we recommend improving our own capabilities, ensuring consistency in interagency cooperation and U.S. programs, and thinking more creatively about working with partner countries as ways to mitigate the loss from the growing earth monitoring capability gap. Being creative minds, we suggest that United States complement GEOSS with other bilateral initiatives to sustain a steady stream of earth monitoring data. Many of these bilateral mechanisms already exist, so we just need to integrate environmental and climate monitoring into their practices.
The New York Times reports that China warned the Philippines not to build “shelter for troops on one of the disputed Spratly Islands.”
The Financial Times reports on the “renewed unrest in Syria” and its effect on oil traders.
Do you ever find yourself asking: how is environmental change affecting stability in the Horn of Africa? Or wondering just how many billions of dollars in damage sea level rise may cause in emerging economies like India, China and Brazil? Or looking for good projections of how many years we have until we see an ice-free summer in the Arctic?
If you’re like us, you bring these questions of environment and resources to your job analyzing security, stability and foreign policy every day. And if you’re like us, you are probably increasingly alarmed by the ongoing decline in American earth monitoring systems used in supplying data for the environmental projections and trend analysis we need to do this work.
Yesterday we released to the world a short policy brief called Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security. Here’s how we summarize the problem:
Networks of satellites, ground-based sensors and unmanned aerial vehicles – the assets America uses to monitor and understand environmental change and its consequences – are going dark. By 2016, only seven of NASA’s current 13 earth monitoring satellites are expected to be operational, leaving a crucial information gap that will hinder national security planning. Meanwhile, efforts to prevent this capability gap have been plagued by budget cuts, launch failures, technical deficiencies, chronic delays and poor interagency coordination. Without the information that these assets provide, core U.S. foreign policy and national security interests will be at risk.
According to The New York Times, the Islamist insurgent group Shabab is blocking food aid from reaching famished Somalis.
More than four million are without water in China as the high temperatures persist into August, according to The China Daily.
According to The Wall Street Journal, as "higher prices have led to a surge in rare earth smuggling,” China looks to tighten regulations on its rare earth exports.
UPI reports that the International Maritime Organization has announced restrictions against “high density fuels” for ships traveling through the Antarctic region.
Resource challenges continue to play a role in shaping the security environment in Afghanistan. Yesterday, Reuters reported that Afghan warlords could exacerbate violence near the central provinces of Bamiyan, Parwan and Wardak where a 2 billion ton iron deposit worth 350 billion dollars remains vulnerable to exploitation. The iron deposit, known as the Hajigak project, is said to be “Asia’s largest unmined iron deposit,” and “may provide hope for the prosperity of the country,” according to Reuters.
Yet the government’s struggle to combat corruption threatens to undermine efforts to sustainably manage the iron deposit. “Integrity Watch Afghanistan [IWA], a Kabul-based group that aims to spotlight corruption, said while [Mines Minister Wahidullah] Shahrani and Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal were committed to a transparent mining sector, the government lacked the capacity to stamp out ‘reported endemic corruption’,” Reuters reported. “The Afghan government will not be able to ensure that Hajigak is well managed and, ultimately, beneficial for the future of the country,” IWA said in a report cited by Reuters.