The biggest natural security news of the weekend was actually hardly mentioned in the weekend’s papers. On Friday morning, NASA’s new satellite to collect climate data, Glory, failed to reach orbit and crashed into the ocean. This is a sad repeat of a 2009 incident in which a carbon-monitoring satellite failed to reach orbit as well.
The launch of NASA’s new earth observation satellite, Glory, was delayed today, but rest assured that it will not have to make the long trip into space alone when it does take off. The Taurus XL rocket that will be sending Glory into orbit will also be carrying three secondary payloads – CubeSats, to be specific.
One question has persisted for me with most every reporter I’ve spoken with in the past few weeks: what will the administration do with regard to climate change in the budget? My answer was consistently that I expected it to appear in subtle manners, specifying related areas of research, energy and defense work. Labeling anything “climate change”-related seems likely to create an easy bull’s-eye for those looking to build anti-science cred or further politicize environmental change issues on both sides of the aisle. (This is already happening, though in part due to unrelated motives: a few Republicans have recommended reducing NASA’s earth sciences budget to maintain funding for human space flight; it’s not surprising that Florida and Texas are home states for at least two of these space flight proponents. Climate change just served as a convenient excuse.)
Given the current tone here in Washington, I was therefore surprised to see that the administration is not taking the easy way out and shrinking under pressure to avoid all things climate (as if it’s escapable). The Office of Science and Technology Policy even put out a summary on the U.S. Global Change Research Program (pdf) in the 2012 Budget. As this is an interagency coordinating program, it spells out how much each department is devoting to climate change, compares it to spending since 2000, and describes how this program functions. One notable program it highlights is funding to solidly establish a climate service in NOAA, a concept that’s been debated and in the works for years.
Okay folks, it's time to evaluate how natural resources play a role in this year's Annual Threat Assessment from the intelligence community. I'm a bit slow to read through today's testimony (pdf) from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, as I was at CSIS for a great climate change event with their energy/climate expert Sarah Ladislaw, our pal Jay Gulledge, Dan Chiu from OSD-Policy, and others among our nation's best thinkers. Be prepared: this is going to involve a lot of bullet points because, well, I don't have mad html skills.
My top 5 observations:
As we so love pop analysis, let's take a longer look at word counts from the testimony:
For the sake of comparison:
Last year we thought it was useful to compare the 2010 threat assessment with the 2009 version to map how the consideration of these issues is changing. I've begun doing so, but it appears that this year's assessment is formatted much differently as compared to last year. This year's (public) assessment is 13 pages shorter, for example. Last year cyber security and the economy were leading sections, and this year terrorism comes first. There are so many changes in placement and level of detail that we may have a difficult time coming to any conclusions on what it means in terms of security. I've thought through at least a dozen things the minimization of climate change this year could mean - change in leadership, it's a trend not a "threat" so doesn't fit well in this document, influence of politics on the process, the IC is even more confused about the nature of what the impacts of climate change will be, the IC understands it much better so contextualizes it differently, and on and on. Cyber seems to be much less in-depth this year as well, but does that mean it's less important? Obviously not. Really, I don't know what it means, and anything we all say publicly is only speculation.
Anyways, this is a busy week ahead, so we may or may not have more analysis on this in the coming days depending on whether we find more to say. I'm not sure if I'll continue comparing it with last year's if I continue to find that it's comparing apples to space aliens. In the meantime, let us know your thoughts, and sleep soundly: the U.S. intelligence community is keeping an eye out.
Last Thursday we inaugurated this new feature in which we ponder: if President Obama is considering federal government reorganization, what should he keep or cut with regard to natural security issues? We began by recommending cutting the energy and climate czar position (though retaining its functions in a well-supported organization), so this week I’ll offer one in the “keep it” category. And as a reminder from last week, this is not commentary on people or the work that anyone has conducted. Consider it a Washington-style parlor game focused solely on debating government structure and organization.
Today let’s look at NASA’s Applied Sciences Program. This small office plays a role I consider crucial in helping our government’s investments in science and technology pay off for policy makers and decision makers at all levels. As its website describes:
“Where NASA data and modeling capabilities are evaluated to have potential application, NASA and the partner organizations collaborate to test and integrate the data and modeling capabilities into the decision making and/or products and services. These collaborations involve appropriate academic, business, nonprofit, and other entities to accomplish the project and extend the results.”
I’ll put this office in the category of functions that the federal government needs more of: people who leverage the science and technology work that the government already does by interpreting data into information relevant to policy makers and raising awareness of U.S. government capabilities to do really, really useful things that, sadly, often go unnoticed. Anyone who examines environmental change, climate issues, and even things like migration and demographic stability likely use information derived from satellite systems run by NASA – often without have any idea what capabilities produced that data that produced the text they're relying on for academic or policy research.
In one of our major projects in 2009-2010, our team explored how to improve getting climate change information that actually makes sense to policy wonks like us. This is an age-old problem, but we’d had personal experience with it as we collaborated with Oak Ridge National Lab on a climate-focused future scenario, which was an often trying but enormously fruitful experience.
Bottom line: if the defense community, area specialists, et al. are going to integrate climate and environmental issues into their decision making, having intelligible (to the non-scientists among us) and useful information makes or breaks your ability to do so. And notice how the Quadrennial Defense Review, National Security Strategy (pdf), Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, and other high-level instruction documents indicate the importance to our national security of actually treating these topics like we do other fields, like global finance and demographic trends.
Over the long term, it would be even better if foreign policy and national security types were generally more conversant in science and technology. Name me a China expert, for example, who doesn’t need to understand space technology to properly contextualize that country’s space activities and future possibilities? That is a long battle though, and one that our readers are already ahead of the curve on. Until that happens, we critically need offices like NASA’s Applied Sciences Program to do some of the heavy lifting.
The Department of Defense released the 2011 National Military Strategy (NMS) this morning. For those not familiar, the strategy is largely intended to outline how the U.S. military – and the military leadership – will accomplish the objectives the Department of Defense laid out in the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and advance U.S. interests articulated in the National Security Strategy (NSS). Like the QDR and the NSS, there are some relevant natural security items that are worth mentioning. On first glance, here are some excerpts from the NMS that I found particularly interesting:
Demographics and Natural Resources
I thought it was great that the new strategy gives particular attention to demographics and how those trends could have implications from the strategic environment. And the strategy goes one step farther by brining natural resources and climate change into the mix and shedding light on the possible challenges that could be looming in the future:
Population growth and urbanization in the Middle East, Africa, and South Central Asia will contribute to increased water scarcity and may present governance challenges. The uncertain impact of global climate change combined with increased population centers in or near coastal environments may challenge the ability of weak or developing states to respond to natural disasters. (P. 2)
Last week in his State of the Union address, President Obama announced, "In the coming months, my administration will develop a proposal to merge, consolidate, and reorganize the federal government in a way that best serves the goal of a more competitive America." Sounds good to us: As we in think tanks examine security and foreign policy issues and explore how the U.S. government can address them, there is frequently a structural component: can the government realign itself better to do what we suggest, and if so, how?
Now the president is asking this same question regarding the broad expanse of federal agencies, and we believe that this should be a topic of public debate. We therefore give you a new recurring feature: “Obama’s Reorg: Keep It or Cut It?” We are going to use the blog to help examine how this reorganization might unfold. An important note: this is intended as an exercise in questioning how our government handles natural security issues in structure, not in style. It is distinctly not a commentary on any individuals who have dedicated their work to serving the public, or a critique of anyone's performance. They are simply our observations on where the government might streamline from an organizational perspective. Already topping our list for review are the Department of Energy, the CIA’s Climate Change Center, various State and Defense Department offices, and more. And as we think it would be really cool if the public thought about and debated how to reorganize the government along with our president and Congress, don’t hesitate to shoot us a note or a tweet if you suggest we consider any specific offices or ideas.
That said, on with our first one. President Obama’s lead energy and climate change advisor or “czar,” Carol Browner, recently announced her departure from the White House. Upon her leaving, I think the media has generally underestimated what her office has been able to accomplish given its size. Much of the focus has been on the failure to pass climate legislation last year, however I know I’m not alone in placing a fair bit of the blame for that on Senate leadership. Additionally, no one predicted that the Gulf oil spill would happen, and that dominated much of the White House’s time in 2010.
Still, my gut instinct for this czar position and office is to cut it. Historically, czar positions don't last and rarely work as intended. For a context, here is a short overview of the nation’s previous energy czars, excerpted from a longer research report I did in 2008:
In June 1973 President Nixon created the Energy Policy Office (EPO), fewer than a dozen people within the Executive Office of the President. Preceded by the National Energy Office – which existed for only about three months – and several ad hoc task forces and councils, Nixon tasked the EPO to coordinate (although not absorb) federal energy efforts and formulate policies for the president. A sitting governor, John Love, was appointed assistant to the president and Nixon’s first energy czar.
Several issues plagued the EPO from the start. That summer and autumn, debate sparked over whether the government might impose gasoline rationing. As the head of the president’s energy office, Love took much of the heat in this argument and other administration policies unpopular on the Hill. The oil embargo also hit in October 1973, and while on paper the EPO had the most direct connection to the president on energy issues, the small new office was not equipped for crisis management.
Widely-reported personality clashes eventually overtook the situation; some attributed this to normal bureaucratic infighting, and others to the structural issue of the office being established without enough access and authority to become a decision-making body. Love contended that it was difficult to get presidential-level attention for the office’s efforts.
The EPO lasted only about six months and Love was demoted and quickly (and very publicly) resigned. Nixon rolled it into the more robust Federal Energy Office (FEO) that December by Executive Order, and appointed then-Deputy Treasury Secretary William Simon as the new energy czar. A trusted Nixon aide, Simon and his position were elevated to cabinet rank. By mid-January 1974 the FEO had 740 employees, many pulled together from disparate departments, and was operating temporarily on Department of Interior funds. In May 1974 Congress granted it statutory authority for two years as an independent agency, and it was renamed the Federal Energy Administration (FEA). Nixon intended it to review and create policies (particularly on deregulation), to conduct energy data collection and analysis, and to plan how the country could become energy self-sufficient.
But in quick succession Nixon promoted Simon to Secretary of the Treasury, replaced him with John C. Sawhill as the new energy czar, and resigned the presidency. And within three months, President Ford fired Sawhill for publicly advocating increased gasoline taxes, a position the administration did not take, and for infighting with several cabinet secretaries. The next serious contender for the office asked the White House to withdraw his name from consideration. Several other high-level officials were mired by conflict of interest inquiries, and several more resigned, publicly citing the FEA’s internal problems and lack of policy influence. Frank Zarb, the eventual FEA energy czar for about two years, was made the central figure to Ford’s proposal to decontrol oil prices, a move highly unpopular with Congressional Democrats and much of the public. The FEA never really gelled; former energy czar William Simon even called it a “cancer on the country.”
There is also a personality issue: who can replace Browner in terms of Washington experience, stature, and rolodex? Names like Arnold Schwarzenegger have been floated, for example. The toughness of that question begs us to consider whether another model should be attempted moving forward instead of a top-level czar. I hope that her deputy and other key advisors are planning to remain in the administration working these issues, though I do hope they can find a home in a new location that avoids the “czar” label and structure.
It is critical that the next permutation of an energy/climate office have robust institutional support, and avoid being located in a place where it is susceptible to territorialism by cabinet secretaries and other officials. During the last presidential transition, there was much debate among natural security types (if I can unilaterally classify them as such) that the National Security Council and/or National Economic Council should have more robust missions on these issues. But is that enough? There are difficulties in that model given the tailored mandates of those organizations. Perhaps something along the lines of a split and reconstituted Department of Energy would be ideal? Perhaps, but let’s save that one for a future edition of Keep It or Cut It.
The new class on the Hill has been less vocal on their climate policies than they have about energy. It is clear that the new Members do not view climate change to be a very important issue, if they believe it is an issue at all. In a survey of the incoming class, Think Progress found 50 percent of the new members denied that manmade climate change was real, while an overwhelming 86 percent were opposed to “cap and trade” legislation. This view was also summed up in Clause 2 of the Republican Party’s campaign manifesto “Contract for America.” Appropriately titled “reject cap and trade,” Clause 2 reads: “Stop costly new regulations that would increase unemployment, raise consumer prices, and weaken the nation's global competitiveness with virtually no impact on global temperatures.”
Some have taken this to heart more so than others. For instance, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), who has been assigned to the House Oversight and Government Reform and the Natural Resource Committees, wants not only to do away with many of the EPA’s environmental regulations, but also hopes to overturn ones levied by state and local governments.
On the eve of the State of the Union address, Politico is reporting that Carol Browner, the President's (and the first ever) energy and climate advisor, "plans to leave the White House in coming weeks." I just wanted to quickly acknowledge her for the tall job she took on. Yep, I am biased: she was a panelist at CNAS's first energy and climate change event way back in January 2008.
Faithful readers of the Natural Security blog will know that the U.S. military, and the Navy in particular, is on the forefront of understanding the national security implications of climate change and transitioning to renewable sources of energy. Yet at the UN climate talks, the dominant perception of the United States and its government is of climate deniers and international laggards, unable to muster the political will to act on climate change domestically or abroad. So, in an effort to dispel some of the criticism, the State Department set up the U.S. Center at the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) negotiations in Cancun, Mexico from November 29-December 10, 2010. Part propaganda exercise and part information-sharing hub, the pavilion in the NGO observers building hosted a series of events surrounding the national and global impacts of climate change and U.S. climate change policy.
I had the opportunity to attend the talks in Cancun as part of the Adopt a Negotiator program, and on Thursday, December 9th, I made my way to the U.S. Center for the “National Security Implications of Climate Change,” an event featuring Rear Admiral David Titley, Director of the Task Force on Climate Change, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy Amanda Dory, Dr. Jeffrey Marqusee, Executive Director of Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program and Chief of Staff of U.S. Southern Command General Juan Ayala and moderated by Lieutenant Colonel Paul Schimpf.
Any audience member who may have been skeptical about how seriously the Navy is taking climate change probably had their fears allayed by RADM Titley’s statement that “we in the very top of the Navy believe that climate change is real and is having big impacts on the Navy.” Titley explained that much of the Navy’s concern about climate change is not about climate models theorizing what may happen in the future, but the very real changes that they are seeing in the Earth’s oceans and the Arctic. As global temperatures rise, the Arctic is warming 2 times faster than the rest of the world and Arctic sea extent continues to melt and thin from year to year.