Early Friday morning, NASA successfully launched the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project – or NPP – from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The NPP is a stopgap solution to NASA’s ailing Earth monitoring satellite program. Popular Mechanics reported on the launch and what it means for bridging the U.S. climate science gap: “As NASA’s three current polar orbiters—Terra, Aqua, and Aura—near the end of their operational lifetimes, the experimental NPP satellite is thrust into the role of providing data critical to both short-term weather forecasting and long-term climate science.”
The NPP’s successful launch on Friday is a positive step forward in the still long road to developing a more robust satellite-based Earth and climate monitoring program. Christine Parthemore and I wrote about this issue in a policy brief released in August, Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security. In our policy brief, we noted that the NPP’s predecessor program, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS), was symbolic of the challenges compounding this gap in Earth and climate monitoring satellites:
One recent interagency effort to close such gaps has fallen short. The National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) was designed to translate climate and environmental data (including data from extensive existing databases) into products and analysis for DOD, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). However, after long delays, cost overruns and inadequate coordination among the partners in the interagency working group, the project was split into two components (as an alternative to being cancelled completely)…
NPP is NASA’s and NOAA’s component project; DOD is currently working on its own.
On October 17, 2011, a U.S. Marine Corps humanitarian assistance survey team from the III Marine Expeditionary Force deployed to Pathum Thani province, Thailand to assess the extent of flood damage in order to develop a plan for humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations. Thailand has been reeling from devastating rains that have inundated 61 of its 77 provinces with flood waters, impacting approximately 8.2 million people. The floods are also taking a toll on the economy, with auto manufacturing and rice production taking a huge hit.
Photo: Courtesy of Cpl. Robert J. Maurer and the U.S. Marine Corps.
The Washington Post reports that flood waters in Thailand have killed more than 400 people and displaced approximately 110,000.
Meanwhile, Bangkok braces for more heavy flooding, according to The Guardian.
Daniel Yergin comments on CNN.com about the rebirth of renewable energy.
FoxNews.com reports that NASA successfully launched the National Polar-orbiting Observational Environmental Satellite System Preparatory Project on Friday; the satellite will provide crucial environmental and climate data.
There was a large spread in The New York Times yesterday on the coming age of unconventional oil and natural gas – that is, oil and natural gas from deepwater reserves, oil sands, shale rock formations and the Arctic. The article is worth reading at length to understand how technology is changing the landscape of available energy resources and what it could mean for heavy energy consuming states, especially in the near term.
“The United States may now have the means to reduce its half century of dependence on the Middle East. China and India may have the means to fuel the development of their growing middle classes. Japan and much of Europe may have the chance to reduce dependence on nuclear power,” The New York Times reported. “And, at least theoretically, poor African countries might be able to lift themselves out of poverty.”
There are important caveats to the above claims, of course. First, one must remember that relieving U.S. dependence on Middle East oil is in large part symbolic more than anything else. Oil is part of a global market where prices are set, and disruptions to the global oil market will affect the price of oil for everyone, everywhere, including oil produced from reserves in North America. Thus, price volatility will continue to be a concern as long as we are largely dependent on fossil fuels. And while The New York Times reports that “new fuels should moderate future price increases,” one must remember several trends too, including that as the global economy recovers and industrial production rebounds in developed and developing states, consumption will quickly increase and prices could also rise sharply if demand outpaces production. Finally, one must remember that continuing to develop fossil fuel resources will, as The New York Times cautions, “probably [make] solutions to climate change, and the development of renewable energy, even more difficult.” These are important externalities to keep in mind.
The Earth Institute at Columbia University reports that scientists predict a faster retreat for Antarctica’s Thwaites Glacier.
Bangkok continues to reel from devastating floods, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Reuters reports that Exxon Mobile has discovered sizable gas reserves off the coast of Vietnam.
Climate change could be making countries’ water challenges even worse, according to Reuters.
Patch.com reports that California assemblypersons are warning that the state must adapt to climate change.
Speaking to an audience of defense industry representatives, international officers and energy policy leaders from the Pentagon this morning, Dr. Kevin Geiss, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Energy for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Logistics, updated the Air Force’s efforts to promote energy security. Geiss’s office is responsible for providing oversight and direction for Air Force efforts that promote and lead to the effective and efficient use of energy in support of the global Air Force mission to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace. The four tenets of the Air Force’s energy plan are to improve resiliency of Air Force energy supplies, reduce demand for energy, increase supply of energy through local power generation and change the Air Force’s culture to think of energy in all aspects of the Air Force mission.
One of the largest challenges for the Air Force is to reduce the overall demand for energy. The U.S. Air Force is the largest consumer of energy in the Department of Defense (DOD), and almost eighty percent of that energy usage is from aviation operations, liquid fuels in particular. The Air Force’s Air Mobility Command consumes 60 percent of DOD’s aviation fuel – 39 percent of DOD’s total fuel consumption. Air Mobility Command is leading the way to reduce the Air Force burden on DOD’s energy bill by improving energy efficiency in its platforms.
Last month, I wrote a post trying to explain China’s energy strategy in order to make an observation about why China is so invested in protecting potential hydrocarbon resources in the South China Sea. That is, that China’s energy strategy relies in part on developing a broad portfolio of energy sources that does not overly rely on Middle East oil that must transit the Strait of Malacca or overland pipelines from Central Asia that must pass through vulnerable transit states like Burma and Pakistan. Indeed, for Beijing, the South China Sea is one potential input into China’s broader energy strategy that can help the Chinese mitigate their vulnerabilities elsewhere. Thus, China is determined to protect its interests there, which means challenging other states that could potentially exploit the seabed resources for themselves.
Yet, importantly, China’s energy strategy is based not just on those external challenges it faces, but domestic energy challenges as well. In recent years China has been investing heavily in coal development and hydroelectric projects to generate energy from domestic resources in order to reduce its dependence on oil imports. But these domestic energy resources themselves have their own vulnerabilities that only reinforce China’s need to seek energy abroad – and its assertive action to acquire those energy resources.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that China once again faces an energy shortfall this winter in part because of limited energy resources at home. The report said that China’s State Electricity Regulatory Commission cautioned “that falling hydroelectric power output and tight coal supplies could result in a shortfall of at least 26 million kilowatts in the months ahead.”
The New York Times reports that China plans to become a leader in providing the world with access to fresh, desalinated water.
Also, The New York Times reports at length about how new technologies are redrawing the global energy map.
Indonesia’s bureaucracy is a particular sticking point for foreign investments in geothermal energy, according to The Wall Street Journal.
United Press International reports on potential geothermal hotspots here in the United States.
Calcutta tops the list of one of the cities most vulnerable to climate change, according to Environmental News Network.
The decline of Arctic summer sea ice and the opening of passage to commercial travel for at least one month of the year have been pointed to as the silver lining of a dark cloud that has cast a shadow over a world experiencing global climate change. And while it may be true that Arctic ice melt could be a boon to the commercial shippers plying the High North, climate change is likely to pose challenges to the same industry elsewhere.
Experts caution that climate change could disrupt global trade by impacting sea ports in key cities around the world. In September, The New York Times reported that port operators have done little to prepare for such potential climate effects. “Though the impacts of climate change have been extensively studied in other areas, especially in agriculture and for flood zones, up to now there has been little comprehensive investigation into how shipping ports will be affected,” The New York Times reported.
But the slow call to action is worrying given the cities likely to be disrupted by climate change, specifically by sea level rise. A new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the majority of cities most vulnerable to economic disruption from climate change lie in developed countries, with American cities like Miami, the greater New York area (New York and Newark), New Orleans and other bustling international hubs like Tokyo ranking among the top 15 most vulnerable. Developing countries are also exposed, with quickly emerging economic hubs like Mumbai, Calcutta, Bangkok and Guangzhou, China extremely vulnerable to sea level rise.
These trends are quite unsettling when one considers that nearly 80 percent of global trade is done by sea. “With hundreds of ports tied to one another in often intricate and complex trade links, even a temporary disruption to one far-flung port facility can have wide-ranging implications on all global trade if there are no suitable alternative ports nearby,” according to The New York Times. With global climate mitigation efforts potentially stalled in the near term (we’ll find out for sure in Durban), port operators and the authorities governing them will likely need to invest in climate adaptation programs to hedge against these kinds of potential disruptions.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development held a meeting September 29-30 with experts to discuss the potential impacts of climate change on existing ports and port development in some of these key cities, and how to adapt to the changing environment. (A number of presentations made at the meeting are available online.)
Most of the above of the fold headlines this weekend reported on the Obama administration’s planned withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of the year. President Obama made his announcement on Friday following weeks of speculation about how the administration would navigate its relationship with the Maliki government, which would not grant immunity to U.S. troops after 2011. The Washington Post reported that a small contingent of less than 200 Marines would be assigned to protect the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, “along with a small number of other personnel to provide training related to new military sales and other tasks.” Beyond that, “About 16,000 U.S. diplomats and civilian contractors will remain posted in Iraq,” according to The Washington Post, including, The New York Times reported, “4,000 to 5,000 private State Department security contractors, as well as a significant C.I.A. presence.” But it is not what was in the news that drew my attention over the weekend; it is what wasn’t.
Indeed, with reports on the planned withdrawal from Iraq abound, there was little mention about the role that non-security civilian contractors will play as U.S. troops leave, let alone the litany of challenges that they and our U.S. diplomats face. As I wrote in a blog post last August, “With the U.S. military drawing down, our long-term commitment will undoubtedly rely heavily on our civilian assets. Tens of thousands of private contractors, a large civilian corps and embassy staff will play an increasing important role, perhaps helping the Iraqi government build capacity where it hasn’t otherwise been able to.”
But what challenges have the Iraqi government been heretofore unable to adequately respond to that may fall on the shoulders of remaining U.S. personnel in the country?
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus addressed the 20th International Seapower Symposium on Thursday where he stressed the need for international partners to look for opportunities to collaborate around energy security. “Energy and security are increasingly affecting how the world looks at its relationships," Mabus said. Indeed, joint development and testing of alternative fuels is one opportunity for the United States to strengthen its ties with international partners while promoting its energy security goals.
Photo: Courtesy of Logistics Specialist 1st Class John Stone and the U.S Navy.
The Wall Street Journal reports that a nuclear power plant in Pakistan faced a seven-hour emergency after heavy water leaked from a reactor.
China faces potential winter power cuts due to an electricity production shortfall, according to The Wall Street Journal.
United Press International reports that human activity, including land use, affects the spread of viruses.
Despite the vast amount of water on Earth, demands for human consumption are reaching constraints with regard to accessibility, quality and use. This concept of “peak ecological water” – limitations to the regional availability of water – has been developed by MacArthur Genius Fellow Peter Gleick in his biennial report The World’s Water, which was launched this past Tuesday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Now in its seventh volume, The World’s Water continues to build on a diverse set of issues centering on water and its implications for energy security, including the necessity of reforming U.S. water policy and the implications of water contamination as a result of producing alternative energy sources.
The U.S. government’s lack of vision is in part to blame for America’s current inability to revamp aging laws and infrastructure for a 21st century environment. In The World’s Water, Volume 7, Gleick and his colleagues devote a chapter to the need to reform outdated water laws and policies. Policymakers working on water issues across the U.S. government have not sufficiently worked together to develop coherent legislation, in part because most of over 30 federal agencies and programs with water-related responsibilities do not view water as their central mission. For example, Gleick recommends improved collaboration, especially between the Farm Service Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency and State Revolving Loans, in prioritizing projects that better manage the country’s river basins. Concerns over internationally shared water systems with Mexico and Canada will also require increased planning and diplomacy in order to reduce tensions among neighboring countries. According to Gleick, as demands for water increase alongside the growing population, a more integrated water policy that includes all relevant stakeholders in the U.S. government is needed in order to sculpt a more sustainable approach to federal water management.
The New York Times reports that a rush to drill for natural gas is creating conflicts with mortgages.
Environmental trends, including warming water and hydroelectric dam development, are threatening wild salmon populations, according to The New York Times.
United Press International reports on a new study that seeks to understand cities’ role in global climate change.
An Italian energy company has made a huge natural gas find off the coast of Mozambique that could supply Asian states, The Wall Street Journal reports.
According to The Wall Street Journal, private energy companies are expected to invest $100 billion to upgrade Iraqi oil fields.
On Monday, I attended an event sponsored by the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Dr. Gary Machlis, the Science Advisor to the Director of the National Park Service, spoke on his experience as the lead scientist for the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Strategic Sciences Working Group during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. This was an experimental working group designed to aid in the natural resource damage assessment process. Because it was experimental, it was conducted outside the standard response structure mandated for oil spills by the National Contingency Plan, the Incident Command System (ICS). The ICS is also the standard command structure under the National Response Framework and National Incident Management System for all domestic incidents and offers the benefit of a known cadre of key positions and structure that is easily recognizable across first responders from the federal, state and local governments. It does not, however, currently call for a strategic science working group either within the command staff or within the general staff. Having this group outside the formal ICS did not prohibit them from briefing key leaders within the organization on their findings, but they were not staffed or funded by the formal ICS process.
One of Dr. Machlis’ most interesting points was the concept of incorporating strategic science within crisis response. From his presentation I took strategic science to mean a methodology by which an environmental system can be evaluated based on the best available interdisciplinary science being used to assign a likelihood of occurrence to cascading events under desired scenarios. It is not the tactical science used to develop the capping stack, or monitor the flow of oil. His group modeled the impacted human ecosystem, including biophysical resources, socioeconomic resources and cultural resources, and examined the expected impacts across three scenarios: oil flow containment until recovery began; short term and long term recovery and restoration; and recovery and restoration where stress on the human ecological system was declining. Each scenario was based upon the best available scientific information and included variables such as flow rate from the well, time to contain the oil flow, length of time for recovery and others. Each potential event was assigned a probability of occurrence. The likelihood of occurrence drove subsequent events until the scenario had been played out.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the Japanese government will issue guidelines to citizens to help detect radioactive “hot spots.”
Overfishing of Tuna is still a major problem in the Mediterranean, according to United Press International.
Environmental News Network reports on a new study that accurately measures each state’s contribution of carbon dioxide to the Earth’s atmosphere.
The Los Angeles Times explores how an ongoing drought contributed to a massive dust storm that blanketed Houston.
The Wall Street Journal reports on what could be Europe’s next climate debate.
Dr. Charles Ferguson, President of the Federation of American Scientists, has a terrific piece in this current issue of Foreign Policy that explores the future of nuclear energy in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster.
According to Ferguson, the nuclear renaissance is very much still alive. Though several countries have announced their retreat from nuclear energy since the Fukushima meltdown, Ferguson explains that these states “were the exceptions rather than the rule.” As he notes:
The United States is reviewing its safety procedures for nuclear power, but not changing course on it; overall support for the energy source among Americans has hovered around 50 percent since the early 1990s. In France, which gets 78 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, President Nicolas Sarkozy said shutting down reactors was "out of the question." And as for China, India, and South Korea -- countries with a growing appetite for nuclear power that account for the bulk of active plant construction -- only the first has put any of its nuclear plans on pause, and that's just pending a safety review. India and South Korea have vowed to tighten safety standards, but have otherwise forged ahead with plans for nuclear expansion.
According to an August 2011 Congressional Research Service report, the list of states with planned nuclear developments is quite striking (see page 24). The number of planned nuclear facilities in the world – those with approval, funding and that should be operational within the decade – totaled 158. (Note that there are 440 in operation today.) Another 322 nuclear power plants have been proposed, and 61 others are already under construction. Indeed, when experts say that the nuclear renaissance is still alive, they mean it. But how will growth in nuclear energy make nonproliferation more difficult, if at all?
Ferguson takes on the challenge of evaluating the risk of proliferation quite diligently. It is not necessarily true that more nuclear energy production means more nuclear proliferation, he argues. “It's true that the nuclear enrichment and reprocessing facilities used to produce fuel for peaceful reactors can just as easily be used to make fissile material for bombs,” Ferguson acknowledges. “For now, however, this threat starts and ends with Iran. Most of the 30 countries that use nuclear power don't build their own enrichment or reprocessing facilities, instead buying fuel for their nuclear power plants from external suppliers.”
The Boston Globe reports that 3,000 U.S. and Filipino marines have started a two-week exercise near the disputed Spratly islands.
The New York Times reports on the opening of the Arctic for commercial development, including oil, shipping, mining and fishing.
United Continental Holdings – owner and operator of United and Continental Airlines –is making investments in algae- and camelina-based biofuels with the hope of having commercially available biofuels by 2014, according to Chron.com
United Press International reports on a study that says climate models suggest global climate change will cause sea levels to rise for the next 500 years.
On Saturday, The New York Times reported that Japan continues to reel from the radioactive fallout from the March Fukushima nuclear disaster. According to the Times, Japanese citizens groups have started to monitor for radioactive hotspots in Tokyo after they learned that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government had no plans to monitor radioactive fallout in the city. “Like Japan’s central government,” the Times reported, “local officials said there was nothing to fear in the capital, 160 miles from the disaster zone.”
Yet citizens’ testing has uncovered a worrying number of radioactive hotspots around Tokyo, which “were contaminated with potentially harmful levels of radioactive cesium.” As a result, experts have criticized the government’s efforts to understand long-term radioactive fallout from Fukushima. “The government’s failure to act quickly, a growing chorus of scientists say, may be exposing many more people than originally believed to potentially harmful radiation,” according to The New York Times. “It is also part of a pattern: Japan’s leaders have continually insisted that the fallout from Fukushima will not spread far, or pose a health threat to residents, or contaminate the food chain. And officials have repeatedly been proved wrong by independent experts and citizens’ groups that conduct testing on their own.”
Yesterday, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus addressed the 2011 Naval Energy Forum, pushing the message that the Navy’s efforts to develop greener alternative fuel enhances the military’s mission effectiveness. “The reason we’re doing this is to become better war fighters,” Secretary Mabus said. “There’s lots of ancillary things that come from that – more jobs, better environmental stewardship – but those are all side effects.” Indeed, the message that combat effectiveness and greener fuels development are not mutually exclusive was crystal clear.
National Defense Magazine covered the first day of the forum at length here, including remarks from Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the new Chief of Naval Operations. According to the magazine, Secretary Mabus said that “A SEAL team will soon be fielded without the need for resupply. It will produce all the water and energy it uses with mobile purification devices, super-efficient power generators and renewable sources, Mabus said.” I look forward to hearing more about this. Follow the second and final day of the Naval Energy Forum on Twitter by following @NavalEnergy.
Photo: Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus spoke before an audience at the Naval Energy Forum on October 13, 2011. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy’s Task Force Energy.
China is investing billions of dollars over the next decade to avert crippling water shortages, according to Agence France Presse.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Solyndra was in discussions to secure a deal with the Navy.
The Washington Post’s Wonk blog explores which cities are likely be the most impacted by rising sea levels.
United Press International reports that Edwards Air Force Base has broken ground on new solar facilities that are expected to provide 10 percent of the base’s energy.
Yesterday, the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) hosted key members of the National Petroleum Council (NPC) to discuss its recently released report “Prudent Development of North America’s Oil and Gas Resources.” The panel reported that North America still has huge amounts of natural gas and oil remaining to be produced. This is particularly true for the United States and Canada, with the important caveat that technology must continue to develop to allow for the safe, prudent development and production of those resources from deepwater offshore drilling, the Arctic and unconventional sources such as oil sands, shale and tight oil (fossil fuel resources trapped in rock formations, like shale rock).
On the natural gas front, NPC members argued that there were enough natural gas resources available to satisfy even the most robust projected natural gas consumption models for the United States for several decades. After development, the largest variable in projected modeling for natural gas use was related to the amount of natural gas consumed by power plants as a potential replacement for coal. The demand is likely to depend a great deal on the standards the Environmental Protection Agency settles on for greenhouse gas emissions and the impact this has on the viability for power plants to continue to burn coal.
Continued development of these resources provides additional security for access to petroleum should supplies from other regions be interrupted, the panel argued. Even more encouraging was the ability to completely satisfy the need for access to natural gas from assets in the United States and Canada.
Burma will compensate China for suspending construction of the planned Myitsone dam, according to The Irrawaddy.
The New York Times Green blog explores the future of food.
British scientists warn that world demand for consumer electronic products could produce a worldwide shortage of metals, United Press International reports.
Last week we revisited the geoengineering debate in light of the recent Bipartisan Policy Center’s report recommending that the U.S. government be prepared to counter the effects of global climate change through climate remediation – that is, by engineering the climate. In particular, we emphasized the need to understand the foreign policy dilemmas that are likely to arise from engineering the global climate. This week we turn to the technical feasibility of actually doing it.
Later today Dr. Tim Persons, the Government Accountability Office’s Chief Scientist and author of the latest report, Climate Engineering: Technical Status, Future Directions, and Potential Responses, will discuss the future of climate engineering technologies at an event at the Wilson Center. Several of the GAO report’s findings are worth highlighting in advance of that discussion though. According to the report:
Climate engineering technologies are not now an option for addressing global climate change, given our assessment of their maturity, potential effectiveness, cost factors, and potential consequences. Experts told us that gaps in collecting and modeling climate data, identified in government and scientific reports, are likely to limit progress in future climate engineering research.
The report evaluated the most and least advanced options for engineering the climate. “To assess the current state of climate engineering technology, we rated each technology for its maturity on a scale of 1 to 9, using technology readiness levels (TRL)—a standard tool for assessing the readiness of emerging technologies before full-fledged production or incorporation into an existing technology or system,” the report stated. Any technology with a TRL score below 6 is considered immature by technical standards and “may face challenges with respect to potential effectiveness, cost factors, and potential consequences.”
The Christian Science Monitor explores the Pentagon’s efforts to promote energy security in anticipation for a post-oil world.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Japanese researchers have found radioactive “hot spots” in Tokyo.