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.
A short editorial in this morning’s New York Times caught my attention, particularly because it’s relevant to a project on the South China Sea that we are close to wrapping up here in the next few months. At first glance the editorial, “Climate Change and the Exodus of Species,” may not have any obvious connections to national security policy, but I guarantee you it does.
“To most humans, so far, climate change is still more of an idea than an experience,” the editorial states. “For other species, it is an immediate reality. Many will be left behind as the climate alters, unable to move quickly enough or with nowhere to move to. Others are already adapting. An iconic example of these swift changes is the recent discovery that Atlantic and Pacific populations of bowhead whales — long kept apart by the frozen Arctic — are now overlapping in the open waters of the Northwest Passage.”
When I read this my mind immediately jumped to fisheries. Why, you ask? Because fisheries are a crucial part of some states’ economies, and competition over access to fish stocks is troubling in regions of the world like the South China Sea. Indeed, Vietnam and China in particular have had longstanding grievances over access to fish in the South China Sea. China claims the entire sea as its own territorial water and enforces fishing regulations in the region. Vietnam has historically rejected China’s claim to the entire South China Sea, and Vietnamese fishing trawlers have been interdicted and seized by the Chinese for allegedly violating their territorial waters and illegal fishing. These standoffs between China and Vietnam have precipitated some pretty intense diplomatic exchanges. But what does this have to do with the New York Times editorial?
Our friend and colleague Dr. Jay Gulledge has a terrific piece in the latest issue of Nature arguing that researchers must make a stronger case for funding climate science research against a backdrop of budget cuts and political divisiveness. (You can read the full piece here, but it requires a subscription.)
Jay does a great job emphasizing the important role that science and technology programs play in U.S. national security policy. Reaching back into history, Jay notes that “U.S. federal science spending has long been rooted in the national security agenda,” pointing specifically to the establishment of the National Science Foundation after World War II “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense,” and to the creation of NASA in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in the late 1950s. (As a side note, it is worth pointing out, too, that the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was founded largely as a science and engineering school.) Just as it was during the Cold War, science and technology programs are crucial to U.S. policymakers charged with protecting U.S. national security interests. Jay writes, “Neutralizing today’s threats — terrorism, biological and chemical weapons, nuclear proliferation, and cyberwarfare— is an intensely scientific undertaking.”
As my short time here at CNAS is just about over – having focused primarily on South China Sea research – it seems as though I will be leaving as the oil and gas rich Arctic region revives a conversation about the High North with some of the same strategic questions and concerns that are being raised in the South China Sea.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Navy task force for climate change completed its latest assessment of the Arctic region. (The assessment is part of a five-year plan, released in May 2009, to guide Navy policy, actions and investment regarding the Arctic.) The findings in the report seem to foreshadow a situation in the Arctic much like the one that is continuing to develop in the South China Sea – a region where “nations jockey for control of potentially lucrative resources buried beneath the ocean floor.”
In December 2010, the Obama administration released a bipartisan report from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform that, among other things, recommended the administration to establish a disaster fund to “budget honestly for catastrophes.” “Any given disaster may itself be unpredictable, but the need to pay for some level of disaster relief is not,” the commission found. “Yet federal budgets rarely set aside adequate resources in anticipation of such disasters, and instead rely on emergency supplemental funding requests.”
"The last-minute legislation approved by Congress last week [August 2] to raise the debt ceiling creates a disaster fund that will carry billions of dollars for recovery in hard-hit areas," Evan Lehmann of ClimateWire reported last week. As the government navigates the increasingly constrained fiscal environment, a disaster fund sounds like a practical solution. Lehmann noted that, “The fund could reduce stress on the deficit by preventing the need for emergency supplemental appropriations made in the wake of a crisis. Those unplanned expenses are not included in the budget, so it amounts to new debt.”
The challenge, though, is that the fund may be insufficient for providing relief to Americans reeling from climate-related disasters that today may be consider historical, but tomorrow may be more frequent. “The disaster fund budget authority (BA) will be limited to the rolling average of disaster spending in the most recent 10 years, excluding the highest and lowest year,” according to the commission report. “That rules out mega-outliers like Hurricane Katrina, which required an emergency outlay from Congress amounting to $122 billion,” Lehmann reported.
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.
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.
As we teed up on the blog, yesterday the UN Security Council debated the security implications of climate change. The reactions of friends, folks in my Twitterverse and traditional commentators seem to portray major disappointment that it did not lead to concrete action.
Heck, I'm just glad that climate change is rising to that level of debate, because there is otherwise little evidence that this topic is being taken seriously in the United States and with many of our developed-country allies.
On its permanent mission site, Germany, which currently heads the UNSC, lists climate change as one of its top priorities, ranked alongside Afghanistan, WMD proliferation and children in armed conflict. But if we're honest with ourselves, the resources being put into mitigating the risks involved with an erratically changing climate do not indicate that it's prioritized at this level.
Today the UN Security Council is going to debate climate change. Between the debt crisis and lack of much movement on addressing climate change at home leading many abroad to wonder about U.S. leadership in the world, the U.S. position in the UNSC today takes on a new level of importance.
While we were out last week, a few news items big enough to make the Early Bird focused on U.S. military responses to natural disasters. Both of these issues are continuing to peek into the news this week, and I’m watching to see whether the keep building as the summer rolls along.