With the help of Spencer Ackerman giving a nod to our use of music video to add a small glimmer of personality to the Natural Security Blog on what could have been a rather run-of-the-mill post about lithium (partially in homage to the master of that art form himself), the we saw some traffic from a few new sources last week. We like this. However, I’d like to clarify a few of the interpretations of what we’re saying about minerals and security: first, the description on the blog Manifest Destiny that we provided a “wishy-washy buy-in of the peak lithium frame,” the point that the author then goes on to argue against; and second, Matthew Yglesias’s description of us as advocating “‘war for lithium’ thinking,” and “an example of…the American foreign policy establishment’s ability to gin up ‘threats’ to our national security.” Both bloggers made several good points (and one good correction on batteries, h/t), but both writers read into our original post concepts that represent major departures from what I think on the minerals issue, and from what we’ve written on this blog in the past.
The Natural Security team has been very interested in critical minerals recently, and in the months to come we’re planning to look deeper into how minerals relate to U.S. national security. As part of our exploration, and hopefully because it informs blog readers like yourself, we will periodically take a good hard look at a particular mineral and issues related to its use and extraction. This week’s mineral of choice is lithium.
Recent reports of China’s corner on current production of rare earth minerals have caused quite a stir. In the recent proliferation of authors and institutes looking at U.S. mineral dependencies, it’s no longer just natural security geeks who have taken notice; the coverage has been widespread and mainstream.
With that in mind, today I’m looking at the second article in a three part series published in The New Yorker by Richard J. Barnet. The articles were excerpted from his book, The Lean Years, which examined the worldwide status of natural resources. A few weeks back, my colleague Mike “Ninja” McCarthy did a great review of the first essay, “The World’s Resources I- The Lean Years” that looked at “non-human energy sources.” The second part in the series, published on March 31, 1980, “The World’s Resources II- Minerals, Food, and Water” (subscription required), focused on the three distinct areas mentioned in its title. Although all sections of his essay are important and are clearly interrelated, I have chosen to look mostly at his first section on minerals, which echoes his own analytical focus in the essay.
This week has been full of major speeches—and some action—on natural security. President Obama addressed these issues not once, but twice at the United Nations. Meanwhile, the EPA is taking action on carbon emissions, and Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg discussed climate change in his keynote address at yesterday’s launch of an awesome new CNAS report by some of our colleagues on U.S.-China relations.
President Obama addressed climate change and food security as two top global issues in his speech to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday. This marks a dramatic departure from a long-time focus on threats posed by other states and terrorism as the primary focus of such major presidential addresses. Indeed, the theme of his speech revolved around a “common future” where all countries take their “share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.” An articulated policy on transnational threats that calls for integrated action is a step forward in successfully dealing with climate change, and other natural security issues as well.
“Pacific Gas and Electric considers climate change to be among the most serious issues ever for our company, our country, and the world.”
With those words, Peter Darbee, the Chairman, CEO, and President of Pacific Gas and Electric canceled his company’s membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In no uncertain terms, Darbee rejected the Chamber’s attempt to relitigate the scientific consensus about climate change. And I do mean relitigate – the Chamber has proposed that the EPA submit to a public “trial” on the science of climate change. Seriously.
It’s really encouraging that businesses, such as PG&E, are dispensing with such nonsense. As Darbee put it, the locus of the debate needs to shift to how to deal with climate change – “in our view, an intellectually honest argument over the best policy response to the challenges of climate change is one thing; disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality of these challenges are quite another.”