I’m winding down work on a new minerals report that we’re set to release in a few months. In my frantic dash to meet some writing deadlines and much else on the work front, I’ve neglected to do a full post on the Department of Energy’s “Critical Materials Strategy” released last December.
Saleem Ali’s 2009 book, Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future, arrived at my desk at just the right time last fall. I’ve been working on a new report on minerals that, thankfully, is mostly complete now. We talk a lot about China’s resource consumption and rare earth elements these days. For the past 2 years that I’ve been contemplating why we, in this crazy modern world we live in, should care much about minerals if our jobs are oriented toward security and foreign policy concerns.
For this, I’ve extensively researched the history of the U.S. security community opining and at times acting on minerals concerns since the early 1900s. Ali, a professor at the University of Vermont and director of its Institute for Environmental Diplomacy and Security, takes his book further. He follows the arc of civilizations caring about minerals and raw materials through ancient history, to the role of minerals as commodities and in holding value as currency, up to present-day mining and trade. Just what I needed.
Ali’s book is delightful to read, and presents an incredible wealth of knowledge without the reader feeling overloaded at any point. After reading his work, it did not surprise me in the least to learn the World Economic Forum honored the author as one of its “Young Global Leaders” this year. This is big, global thinking at its best. And on a tough topic: connecting minerals to policy considerations is not always an intuitive exercise.
Will gave you a rundown of the National Military Strategy late yesterday afternoon, so for this morning I’ll be brief: if you’re in a book store or airport scouting for good reads, pick up the current issue of GOOD. This holds especially true if you’re one of our more water- or land-use-focused readers and newer to the energy world.
Good issues to pick up, not just for my love of magazine names that are easy to abbreviate when I don’t have much time to type.
A few weeks back, I had to develop a short reading list for a group I’m speaking to in March. The audience is mostly military officers, with some civilians from DOD, the National Labs, State and elsewhere mixed in as well. There were two important constraints: the readings had to complement what I’d be discussing with the group, not overlap that material; and they had to add up to only about 70 pages. I also did my best to make the readings the most germane possible for a mostly military audience with precious little reading time.
This has been a strange year for natural disasters. On December 19, 2010, The Washington Post published a report that captured the events of the last year, from quakes, floods to blizzards. “The term ‘100-year event’ really lost its meaning this year,” Craig Fugate, administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told the Post. But you don’t need to tell me. I have been spending the holidays in California where experts suggested that we experienced what some say is a 10-year rain storm, others a 100-year storm, that dropped more than fourteen inches of rain and snow in parts of California. With all this strangeness that’s been going on, what better time than to share some thoughts from one of my reads, Forecast: The Consequences of Climate Change, from the Amazon to the Arctic, from Darfur to Napa Valley.
Forecast is not your typical climate change book. Many climate change-related books I read take the reader on a tour of the science and provide detailed scientific analysis on the physical impacts that the world is experiencing as a result of climate change. Forecast is much different. What author Stephan Faris does instead is translate the scientific impacts of climate change into the sociological consequences that people experience in these affected areas. And he does it, quite poignantly, through his on the ground reporting and telling of individual stories of those experiencing climate change already. As Faris explains to the reader, “This book is about these types of impacts, the rolling series of events that reach beyond the environment and the weather to shape the way we live.”
In a post-Snowpocalyptic world, climate change scientists have found themselves defending their work against climate change skeptics who are using the historic winter weather that left much of the East Coast blanketed with record-breaking snow fall to denounce the evidence that supports climate change (most notably, a warming planet). Some have wondered how climate change experts can explain how a world experiencing climate change – more often using the inaccurate term “global warming” – could also be experiencing a historic winter snow fall, such as Washington’s Snowtorious B.I.G. But while the debates unfolded, I used the nearly week long closing of the federal government, several feet of snow and the tree that barricaded me and my four roommates in our small basement apartment as an opportunity to read a book I had been given shortly after arriving in Washington, DC in early January; the cleverly titled Global Warring by Cleo Paskal.
Last month marked the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge’s beginning. This battle proved to be a defining event of the western front of World War II, and about 19,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in action (the British lost about 1,400 and the Germans had about 100,000 killed, wounded, or missing). Since much of the battle focused on threats to Allied supply lines, including operational fuel, I decided to commemorate the battle by reviewing an old article about the key Allied position in the Belgian town of Bastogne.
Collie Small wrote “Bastogne: American Epic” in the February 17, 1945 edition of the Saturday Evening Post, when memories of the battle were still achingly fresh. The battle took place in the Ardennes forest of Belgium, where Germany launched its final major offensive against the Allied front. German armor pressed hard against the thinly-held Allied line in Belgium, creating a bulge in the line that gave the battle its name. Eventually the Allies recovered their ground, but at the beginning the outcome was far from assured. Some of the fiercest fighting took place in and around Bastogne, where the 10th Armored Division and the 101st Airborne engaged with German armor divisions. (The actions of one 101st company are detailed in Band of Brothers; for a visceral experience, be sure to rent the miniseries on DVD).
One of the great things about working in a new program area like Natural Security is that we’re constantly reassessing how to best address our research area. Recently, the implications of agriculture and food security on national security have been gaining prominence. When President Obama outlined his new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, he specifically noted that revitalizing the agricultural economy of that country was a step towards security. Elsewhere, reports on the links between climate change and agriculture and the importance of agriculture at Copenhagen have put our food system in the spotlight.
Several years ago I was coaching a high school debate team in Boston and my students were asked to debate increasing alternative energy incentives in the United States. As one would expect, the debate became one about the effects of climate change. Some students used the tactic of arguing that climate change was a positive phenomenon. They mainly cited an author who wrote that CO2 emissions increase plant growth – in fact this became such a popular point that I heard it argued about five times a tournament, and never well. After digging around a bit more, what I found was that most of the students making this argument were basing their conclusions on one-sided evidence: literature that examined only one aspect of climatic effects on agriculture that negated the net result of increased global emissions (such as melting ice caps and rising sea level that destroy coastal vegetation).
With that in mind, for this week’s Reading Old Magazines I decided to look at a 1994 Nature study by Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior research at NASA’s Goddard Institute, and Martin L. Parry, currently at the Grantham Institute, but previously a co-chair of Working Group II at the IPCC, called “Potential Impact of Climate Change on World Food Supply.” (pdf) Parry and Rosenzweig used the latest climate change models to determine the impacts of increasing CO2 emissions on agriculture, although they only looked at the atmospheric effects and not water acidification. They then applied the results to a trade model that examined how shifts in growing patterns would affect worldwide food distribution models.