We have a lot going on this week, so here is a short post this morning on some suggested reading for the “Back to School” season. Enjoy!
The Quest: Energy,
Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World by Daniel Yergin (2011)
For you energy enthusiasts, Daniel Yergin – acclaimed author of The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power – continues the story in his new book, The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m told Yergin dives into the world of renewable energy, taking on the task of investigating biofuels, wind and solar energy and the implications that these alternative energy technologies may have on the future energy landscape.
Water: Asia’s New
Battleground by Brahma Chellaney (2011)
I’m still reading this book, but Water: Asia’s New Battleground is a must read for security-types. Author and renowned Indian strategist Brahma Chellaney explores the world of water and security across the vast expanse of Asia – from the Middle East to Southeast Asia. So far it’s a compelling read that demonstrates how water is shaping the geopolitical balance in a region of the world that is experiencing critical economic and social inflection points.
Consequences of Climate Change, from the Amazon to the Arctic, from Darfur to
Napa Valley by Stephan Faris (2008)
An oldie but a goodie: Stephan Faris’s Forecast: The Consequences of Climate Change, from the Amazon to the Arctic, from Darfur to Napa Valley still tops my list of must-read climate change and security books. I reviewed the book here on the blog last December. What I particularly enjoy about Forecast is that Faris demonstrates that climate change poses not just challenges for developing countries, but developed countries as well. He points to Napa Valley and the Florida Keys as two areas in particular here in the United States that are already feeling the economic implications of climate change.
Geoengineering – intentionally altering the climate, often discussed as a means of countering the already-in-process warming from greenhouse gases – has long been a favorite topic of mine. In the past few years I’ve been treated to new books out on the topic. One, Hack the Planet: Science's Best Hope - or Worst Nightmare - for Averting Climate Catastrophe, made it onto my summer reading list this year, and I’m glad it did. Published last year by Eli Kintisch, now at MIT and an experienced reporter for Science and many other sources, I have a strong feeling that it will remain a must-read for years into the future as governments are forced to contend with their lack of action to date to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Hack the Planet provides the history behind modern thinking about climate change, including the involvement of world-renowned scientists, the U.S. nuclear labs, the Air Force, and others. It also provides several different angles for the reader to consider in observing where the debate stands today, including in-depth reporting on the status of several major geoengineering-related experiments, different schools of thought in the science and environmental communities, and the political tensions involved. Kintisch even presents the thoughts of a prominent ethicist on the moral considerations of intentional, global-scale climate manipulation.
I did most of my reading of China’s Energy Strategy: The Impact on Beijing's Maritime Policies in airports and on planes to and around Asia earlier this year. I can honestly call this book invaluable in my prep for maritime security roundtables and for speaking to individuals and groups about resources in the evolving South China Sea picture.
China’s Energy Strategy was edited by Gabriel B. Collins, Andrew S. Erickson, Lyle J. Goldstein and William S. Murray from the Naval War College for the Naval Institute Press. It is part of a phenomenal series on China co-edited by Erickson, one of the security community’s great up-and-coming analysts. Published in 2008, it includes 4 sections: on energy’s role in China’s national security strategy; its global approach to accessing energy (including chapters on Iran, Africa and the Indian Ocean); ties between its energy needs and access denial/naval development; and U.S.-China relations with regard to energy. All of the authors in this volume know both the natural resources and area studies games well – a rare combination of individuals who can get the China analysis and energy analysis right.
The glory of this tome isn’t just that it pulls together all the globally-dispersed pieces of China’s energy strategy into a comprehensive picture. The book includes a fair bit of new material and concepts not addressed in the mainstream Western press because a fair bit of material is translated from Chinese-language sources. This adds a new, more nuanced layer to China’s energy thinking than portrayed anywhere else.
The South China Sea chapter in particular is prescient, if pessimistic. Its author, James Garofano, Dean of Academic Affairs at the Naval War College, ends on a section reviewing why this body of water is “Ripe for Renewed Confrontation.” Specifically:
A trio of motivations – in particular, nationalism and territoriality, energy security, and influence over vital SLOC – will naturally drive Beijing to exert greater presence and control…when China is confronted with problems that have no win-win solution and are matters of important national interests – as in dam-building along the Mekong River system – Beijing has shown that it chooses brutal self-interest over cooperation with smaller states.
I’m afraid, based on our months of research, that pressures pushing away from cooperation go beyond “motivations” and countries safeguarding their interests. In China I heard much discussion over fossil fuel-related cooperation with no real acknowledgement of structural impediments, such as financial and legal restrictions by countries and national oil companies on joint development and investment. I hope Garafano’s pessimism turns out to be unwarranted, but I also have yet to see a clear path to ensuring that cooperation most often prevails over confrontation.
If I could make any request from the NWC to improve this volume, it would be to make each chapter available for individual download (which I don’t believe they do now) as the National Bureau of Asian Research does with its wonderful Strategic Asia series. Anyone serious about China or energy or both should invest in the hard copy of this book, but its influence could be multiplied if researchers could more easily access or purchase chapters specifically relevant to their work. The unusually high quality and readability of each chapter warrants a little extra effort to ensure that it is read as widely as possible.
Photo courtesy of andrewerickson.com.
Among the books on my shelf that have sat there for years, awaiting their turn at the head of my queue, was John M. Barry’s 1997 tome Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America. If I remember correctly, a former boss gave this to me more than 5 years back. I’ve long looked forward to reading it, but I just never quite picked it up – until a few months back when the Mississippi River began another cycle of flooding from Illinois down to the Gulf. It was a sign to finally take it off the shelf.
The author does not exaggerate in claiming that this great natural event helped shape the country. The 1927 flood contributed to Herbert Hoover eventually reaching the presidency, New Orleans declining as the country’s top shipping outlet, race relations inflaming, and even national GDP dropping. Rising Tide introduces the earliest engineers to work the Mississippi, their involvement in the Civil War and post-war politics, and their infighting over whether to build spillways and the scale of levee systems for the great river. The wrestling over Mississippi River governance between Washington and the states, and between the War Department and politicians on the Hill, make today’s D.C. intrigue seem tame and respectable by comparison. The author describes one river engineer during the mid-1800s as “a pawn in a war between military and civilian engineers that would continue for a century.” Barry walks the reader through the decision making of a small group of elites in key Mississippi-bordering cities like Greenville and New Orleans who had the power, money and political connections to basically do whatever they wanted. One of the most fateful of their choices was to (unnecessarily, as it turned out) dynamite a hole in the levee north of New Orleans to flood St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes in order to spare the downtown homes of wealthy residents.
Indeed, much of the book provides a solid history of the Army Corps of Engineers, its efforts to tame the Mississippi River and related political wars in Washington. In its pre-Civil War years and immediately after the war, the surveying and studying of options for attempting to tame the river came largely down to the egos of two men, who cultivated bankers, high-level politicians and other powerful types. The author writes of the report that eventually sculpted how the United States chose to govern the river: “…the study of this writhing river began as a scientific enterprise. The resulting policy became a corruption of science.” The results were disastrous, and rippled throughout the United States.
At the end of the book, Barry identifies one of the looming challenges as the Atchafalaya River eventually becoming the primary Mississippi outlet, as New Orleans-area water systems are further altered. This has been a hot topic with 2011’s floods as well, including a great piece on Forbes tellingly titled “Is This The Year The Atchafalaya River ‘Captures’ The Mississippi?” It is a great reminder that the struggles outlined in the book are not isolated.
While the book is ostensibly about the changing American landscape, it details the intertwined, brutal history of race relations in the Mississippi Delta. The author does not hold back from including the most disturbing details. In this way, Rising Tide achieves what many other books I’ve read on environmental conditions do not – intimately outlining how natural phenomena helped drive social stress, demographic change and economic conditions. These are the relationships we need for considering the security effects of environmental change. I’ve not read a better example of this anywhere, and for this reason recommend Rising Tide as solid summer reading for security types.
As CNAS is on vacation this week, we continue our Summer Reading List recommendations. Enjoy!
You’ll never guess who is writing about peak oil these days. Douglas Coupland. Yes, the Generation X author who has profiled pandemic apathy, the rise of internet-focused culture and other monumental social shifts has brought abrupt, catastrophic petroleum shortages into the narrative of one of his most recent novels.
First, what you need to know in terms of summer reading. Player One: What is to Become of Us is a very short, quick read. The oil-related scenario that drives that plot is the primary tie to current events; the book reads as more fictitious than did his previous novels like Generation X and Life After God. There are a few unexpected twists, drama, emotion and interesting characters. Overall, it’s worth the couple of hours it takes to grab the book from your library and give it a read.
In Player One, Coupland brings us to an airport hotel lounge in Canada. The story follows a set of characters of diverse repute. As they find themselves together in this cocktail lounge, they see on the TV news scroll that oil prices have risen above $250. It turns out that one of the characters is quite knowledgable of Hubbert's concept of oil peaking. The price of crude continues to climb and climb as the news hits the financial markets. Massive power failures follow, along with much madness.
Late in the book one of the charachters, Karen, finds herself thinking through how the dramatic spike in oil prices has changed the world. Coupland describes it as "a new world that exists within a state of permanent power failure. A perpetual Lagos, a never-ending Darfur." This is a striking thought, though not the most unexpected or odd twist in the book.
I won’t spoil what becomes of things in the wake of this doomsday-like crash in the global petroleum market. I’ll just say that it doesn’t strike me as too unrealistic. All in all, the book is a quick read and a good merger of potentially realistic events and fiction.
CNAS is closed this week. We bloggers have dispersed far away from Washington. For those who must spend their days at desks, this week we bring you our second Summer Reading List to supplement our last one. Enjoy!
I know, I know. You’re thinking, “Christine, you recommend that we read things from this magazine every single month.” I realize now that this has become a trend. But that’s because there is a trend in Scientific American itself. Every single month it is providing articles that are directly relevant to natural security work. And because they are based on advances in scientific research, it is actually new material, not just someone else’s opinion.
But seriously, this month’s edition has a few good short pieces and two must-read longer articles. The first is “Hacking the Lights Out: The Computer Virus Threat to the Electrical Grid,” a topic of great concern to many of us in the energy security and cyber fields (I’m looking at you, @abochman). This piece is a great overview of the various methods of potential attack available to cyber intruders, and really helps the reader walk through the broad and complicated nature of this challenge.
You’ll notice in one of the graphics that one of the early, major cyber intrusions of U.S. energy infrastructure was at Davis Besse nuclear power plant. This reactor happens to be about 30 miles from beautiful Sandusky, Ohio, where I was born and raised (and yes, also of Tommy Boy fame). The ability to hack into nuclear reactors is serious business, to be sure. The article outlines a broad range of threats of high concern. But even with a major nuclear power cyber attack so close to my hometown, I still believe that too much oversimplification and hype drive the debate over how to handle the grid cyber security challenge. This is something we’ll always have to wrestle with – a security risk we’ll always have to mitigate. But focusing on virtual Maginot lines (as the article discusses) or retaining an unstable and outdated dumb grid are not the answer to reducing these kinds of threats.
The second must-read article points to a new layer to what we know about how the climate is changing. In “The Last Great Global Warming” the author presents research from a team of scientists who have focused their work on the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, one of the great historical periods of change in the global climate.
This line reveals their big results: “The fossil record tells us that the speed of climate change has more impact on how life-forms and ecosystems fare than does the extent of the change” (emphasis mine). This is huge for policies to address the climate change challenge, and seems to point to mitigation (not solely adapting to change) as critical. The vulnerable nations that consistently push for the United States to step up in its leadership on climate change will also surely take note of this newly-identified characteristic of the climate change threat.
I do promise to cease harping on you all to read SciAm every month. From now on, I’ll just Tweet the best articles, and I’ll close here with a final recommendation that you should just subscribe in tree format or on your modern electronic devices or whatever. I’m confident it will continue to be worth it.
More summer reads tomorrow!
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.Originally posted to Flickr by dknisely at http://www.flickr.com/photos/dnk/223140722/.
As promised yesterday, I'm posting here a bibliography for minerals. This includes many articles and books I've read in researching the topic for the minerals report we'll be releasing tomorrow, but it is by no means comprehensive. Still, I hope it's a useful resource for readers interested in this topic. I'm marking it with the "bibliography" tag, which you can hit to find reading lists and book reviews any time.
Ali, Saleem. Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed, and a Sustainable Future (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, September 28, 2010).
When the articles in the new Foreign Policy “Food Issue” first hit my RSS feed about a week back, I snidely Tweeted: "Doesn't look like FP's food issue will stack up to Wired's food issue...from 3 yrs ago http://bit.ly/f7dLvK" That Wired issue was great. But I didn't give FP a fair chance until it arrived on my desk and I read through the entire issue. Now, I say, it's definitely worth making the Summer Reading List
President of the Earth Policy Institute Lester Brown provides the main article, “The New Geopolitics of Food.” At first, this piece reads as a little bit deterministic about trends, and makes some static assumptions based on population growth and other factors. I see this problem often with analysis on natural resource scarcity presuming linear patterns of production and consumption. Yet I get the sense that with this piece, Brown is more so highlighting what challenges our business-as-usual policies will create. Trends will change, but likewise our policies for managing resources must change to prevent shortages in commodities like food from turning into political turmoil and outright security risks. Indeed, this is where Brown ends: by identifying the major components of international food policy that need to change to ensure that the envisioned future of geopolitical tension and even conflict over food scarcity doesn’t manifest.
few months back, we hosted Dr. Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba at CNAS to
discuss her recent book, The
Future Faces of War: Population and National Security. This should be
one of the serious books on your beach reading list this summer. One reason is
that it’s a rather quick and flowing read despite its density of need-to-know
data. It makes easy work of learning a lot. But the main reason is that we are
all already tardy in needing to understand its contents given recent events in
the Middle East and North Africa.
The book goes far beyond focusing on this rapidly transforming region, but I couldn't help wishing that I had read it 6 months ago. We’ve all seen a million mentions of the youth bulges many Middle Eastern/North African countries are dealing with. But page 33 of The Future Faces of War cites a startling statistic from expert Richard Cincotta that I hadn’t seen before:
“A country with a young age structure has half a chance (literally, 50 percent) of being rated a liberal democracy after its young-adult proportion drops to about 0.40. Some of the countries projected to pass the half-a-chance benchmark before 2020 are Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Myanmar, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Colombia, and Venezuela.”
This is cool. Unfortunately the demography field hasn’t eked out exact reasons for this correlation. But it’s still an amazing list and factoid to consider given the tumultuous politics of 2011.
Sciubba’s book is academic in rigor but not at the expense of clear writing. She builds the readers knowledge in the one analytical area that I find is the weakest in natural security-focused scholarship: illumination of causal relationships. The book covers the waterfront from youth bulges to aging populations and everything in between, but most important is that she explains how these types of demographic conditions can contribute to stability or instability, conflict or cooperation. It showcases the connective tissue of how trends may relate to one another, and highlights the mechanisms by which demographic trends become helpful or harmful to U.S. interests. The main vehicle the author provides for doing this is breaking down the effects of demographic shifts in three distinct types of security: military security, regime security and structural security. This is a framework that surely all of us working on natural resource issues can adopt as a way of adding greater explanatory power to our research.
Several sections stick out as particularly important in their impact on natural security concerns. The urbanization section (Chapter 6) may lead this pack. Urban areas are often scenes of the kinds of resource stress and pollution (think dramatic freshwater shortages and food riots) that can build into security concerns. Most environmental security lit I’ve ever read speaks the word urbanization as though it’s an inherent negative, compounding the most undesirable natural resource trends. But Sciubba provides much greater nuance. Urbanization can affect regime and structural security, but urban settings can also facilitate creativity and innovation and enable greater delivery of social services. Where demographic trends like urbanization will really connect with natural security concerns is when natural disasters (pages 123-126) hit highly populated areas, taking out people, infrastructure and economic capacity at large scales.
The other especially must-read part for natural security is Chapter 5, on Migration and Internally Displaced Persons. One of the primary security concerns (especially for our NATO allies) stemming from climate change is that projections indicate that it will drive mass migration, with the potential for instability in both the sending and receiving locations. The author really breaks down the primary causes for potential concern that we should focus on when thinking about the climate migration challenge, and provides historical examples to back up the causal mechanisms she identifies. Importantly, she notes that perceptions surrounding immigrants or IDPs driving economic or political concerns (such as increased competition for good jobs and rising real estate prices) can be as important for envisioning security challenges as any tangible problems migrants create.
We will do another post of Q&A with the author next week to expand this into a bit more detail. In the meantime I endorse buying this book for your summer reading lists. You’ll be glad to have this reference on your bookshelf and in your brain to apply to all of your security and foreign policy thinking.
It’s getting warm outside. Tornadoes have already devastated swaths of the country. Gas prices are climbing. Summer is nearly upon us. And as we care deeply about how you spend your long summer nights and vacations, the natural security team decided that we would provide you all with 2011 summer reading lists. This week we’ll roll out the first three, and in later weeks, as the summer drags along, we’ll recommend additional good reads.
Given that magazines are often the best reads for beachy endeavors, our list will start with the new Scientific American and end with the current issue of Foreign Policy. I’ll throw in a must-read book in between.
This month’s SciAm hosts a cover feature on “7 Radical Energy Solutions.” The focus is breakthroughs. Think DARPA style.
The opening editor’s note introduces it this way: “…big ideas are part of a portfolio of technologies to address national and global energy needs….None is probably the ‘ultimate’ answer – in fact, they all share a high risk of failure. But they could be part of a rational combination of technologies and policies.” Well stated.
Just as the title indicates, the editors pick seven concepts that would bring transformational effects to our energy use – if they are ever produced and commercialized. These seven are: fusion-triggered fission; solar gasoline; quantum photovoltaics; heat engines; shock-wave auto engines; magnetic air conditioners; and clean(er) coal. Each of these concepts is ranked in terms of its likelihood and its potential impact – a handy guide for considering energy choices.
I have to say I was surprised to see the fusion-fission combo listed. Its potential is huge. But this one sticks out. The technical hurdles, cost and safety measures that are part of the National Ignition Facility are National Lab-ish in scale. Regardless of feasibility or impact, the ability to commercialize this technology even if it is developed successfully seems far-fetched as compared to the other six concepts. I was even more surprised to see “clean” coal listed. I guess it would count as a breakthrough, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that pumping billions of dollars into this rather than renewable energy technology is wise.
Most important, I read about these chosen 7 thinking about whether they would have major applications for DOD energy use, given our long work on that topic. The one that really sticks out is the solar fuels concept, which makes synthesis gasoline from sun, water, and some kind of catalyst (rusty metal parts in the design outlined in SciAm). The article highlights research that DOE has funded for the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, a Cal Tech & Lawrence Berkeley National Lab venture. Just think about the possibilities for reducing long and dangerous fuel convoys if DOD was operating in an area with plentiful water and sunshine, and could create fuel on-site. Not a cure-all, as scale would I’m sure remain a challenge, but having options other than trucking or flying in petroleum could build in some flexibility and resilience.
The heat and shock-wave vehicle engines would also be welcome technologies for DOD in leveraging more energy from the fuel burned in the thousands of vehicles the department operates. Finally, the article highlights a concept for magnetic air conditioners that could cut energy requirements by about a third without using chemical coolants. This would be great news especially for the Army, given its wise new goal of making some of its bases energy net-zero. My only caution for this one is that it’s completely reliant on neodymium-iron-boron magnets, which would require the U.S. taking account of the raw materials that would be involved given the degree to which minerals have been affecting American interests as of late.
So, in summary, pick this one up for your beach bag or a long flight. SciAm is always a great read. And with this cover feature, you won’t even feel like you’re slacking from attention to work-related topics.
Photo courtesy of Flickr-Creative Commons.