Happy Veterans Day from the Natural Security blog.
We're taking the day to honor all those who have served, and are giving thanks to those who continue to serve the country.
Photo: President Eisenhower signing HR7786, changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day. Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The decline of Arctic summer sea ice and the opening of passage to commercial travel for at least one month of the year have been pointed to as the silver lining of a dark cloud that has cast a shadow over a world experiencing global climate change. And while it may be true that Arctic ice melt could be a boon to the commercial shippers plying the High North, climate change is likely to pose challenges to the same industry elsewhere.
Experts caution that climate change could disrupt global trade by impacting sea ports in key cities around the world. In September, The New York Times reported that port operators have done little to prepare for such potential climate effects. “Though the impacts of climate change have been extensively studied in other areas, especially in agriculture and for flood zones, up to now there has been little comprehensive investigation into how shipping ports will be affected,” The New York Times reported.
But the slow call to action is worrying given the cities likely to be disrupted by climate change, specifically by sea level rise. A new report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the majority of cities most vulnerable to economic disruption from climate change lie in developed countries, with American cities like Miami, the greater New York area (New York and Newark), New Orleans and other bustling international hubs like Tokyo ranking among the top 15 most vulnerable. Developing countries are also exposed, with quickly emerging economic hubs like Mumbai, Calcutta, Bangkok and Guangzhou, China extremely vulnerable to sea level rise.
These trends are quite unsettling when one considers that nearly 80 percent of global trade is done by sea. “With hundreds of ports tied to one another in often intricate and complex trade links, even a temporary disruption to one far-flung port facility can have wide-ranging implications on all global trade if there are no suitable alternative ports nearby,” according to The New York Times. With global climate mitigation efforts potentially stalled in the near term (we’ll find out for sure in Durban), port operators and the authorities governing them will likely need to invest in climate adaptation programs to hedge against these kinds of potential disruptions.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development held a meeting September 29-30 with experts to discuss the potential impacts of climate change on existing ports and port development in some of these key cities, and how to adapt to the changing environment. (A number of presentations made at the meeting are available online.)
Despite the vast amount of water on Earth, demands for human consumption are reaching constraints with regard to accessibility, quality and use. This concept of “peak ecological water” – limitations to the regional availability of water – has been developed by MacArthur Genius Fellow Peter Gleick in his biennial report The World’s Water, which was launched this past Tuesday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Now in its seventh volume, The World’s Water continues to build on a diverse set of issues centering on water and its implications for energy security, including the necessity of reforming U.S. water policy and the implications of water contamination as a result of producing alternative energy sources.
The U.S. government’s lack of vision is in part to blame for America’s current inability to revamp aging laws and infrastructure for a 21st century environment. In The World’s Water, Volume 7, Gleick and his colleagues devote a chapter to the need to reform outdated water laws and policies. Policymakers working on water issues across the U.S. government have not sufficiently worked together to develop coherent legislation, in part because most of over 30 federal agencies and programs with water-related responsibilities do not view water as their central mission. For example, Gleick recommends improved collaboration, especially between the Farm Service Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency and State Revolving Loans, in prioritizing projects that better manage the country’s river basins. Concerns over internationally shared water systems with Mexico and Canada will also require increased planning and diplomacy in order to reduce tensions among neighboring countries. According to Gleick, as demands for water increase alongside the growing population, a more integrated water policy that includes all relevant stakeholders in the U.S. government is needed in order to sculpt a more sustainable approach to federal water management.
On Monday, I attended an event sponsored by the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. Dr. Gary Machlis, the Science Advisor to the Director of the National Park Service, spoke on his experience as the lead scientist for the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Strategic Sciences Working Group during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. This was an experimental working group designed to aid in the natural resource damage assessment process. Because it was experimental, it was conducted outside the standard response structure mandated for oil spills by the National Contingency Plan, the Incident Command System (ICS). The ICS is also the standard command structure under the National Response Framework and National Incident Management System for all domestic incidents and offers the benefit of a known cadre of key positions and structure that is easily recognizable across first responders from the federal, state and local governments. It does not, however, currently call for a strategic science working group either within the command staff or within the general staff. Having this group outside the formal ICS did not prohibit them from briefing key leaders within the organization on their findings, but they were not staffed or funded by the formal ICS process.
One of Dr. Machlis’ most interesting points was the concept of incorporating strategic science within crisis response. From his presentation I took strategic science to mean a methodology by which an environmental system can be evaluated based on the best available interdisciplinary science being used to assign a likelihood of occurrence to cascading events under desired scenarios. It is not the tactical science used to develop the capping stack, or monitor the flow of oil. His group modeled the impacted human ecosystem, including biophysical resources, socioeconomic resources and cultural resources, and examined the expected impacts across three scenarios: oil flow containment until recovery began; short term and long term recovery and restoration; and recovery and restoration where stress on the human ecological system was declining. Each scenario was based upon the best available scientific information and included variables such as flow rate from the well, time to contain the oil flow, length of time for recovery and others. Each potential event was assigned a probability of occurrence. The likelihood of occurrence drove subsequent events until the scenario had been played out.
The Natural Security bloggers are on holiday today, so there won't be a new post this morning. Have a great Monday everyone!
Tomorrow, CNAS will formally launch Hard Choices: Responsible Defense in an Age of Austerity, at an event at the Newseum beginning at 8:30 AM. If you’re in downtown Washington, I strongly recommend stopping by. Along with the authors LTG David Barno, USA (Ret.), Dr. Nora Bensahel and Travis Sharp, Thomas Donnelly (of AEI) and Gordon Adams (of the Stimson Center) will discuss the critical question facing policymakers on Capitol Hill today: How can the United States responsibly and effectively maximize its security in this era of growing fiscal austerity?
Hard Choices does yeoman’s work in highlighting the implications of tough budget cuts on America's military capabilities and is a must-read for anyone who truly wants to understand the debate that is playing out on the Hill and across the river at the Pentagon. The report outlines four scenarios for defense budget reductions, with each scenario reflecting more defense cuts, and analyzes the strategic implications for the U.S. military under each example.
For me, one of the hallmarks of the report is the emphasis on the need to rethink U.S. defense strategy as it currently stands and the careful articulation of where U.S. priorities should be. “The United States has pursued a remarkably consistent military strategy over the past 65 years, although different American leaders have adopted varying approaches to national security,” the report states.
What a long, strange trip it’s been. I first began speaking with Kurt Campbell and Michele Flournoy about going to work for them before this thing called “The Center for a New American Security” officially existed. I’ve been lucky to be here at CNAS since its very first day, through its start-up phase, through its transition from the leadership of the co-founders to the current executive team, and into the start of its current path. It’s been amazing to take part in years of conversations assessing and reassessing and reassessing what’s most important for American security, and what unique role a hip young think tank can play in informing policy. It’s been fun, but I’m also happy to report that it’s now coming to a close. Tomorrow is my last day here at CNAS at the helm of the natural security program, and beginning next week I’ll be moving into the oddly-shaped building across the river.
This sub-field of examining how resources and environmental trends affect U.S. national security interests has changed dramatically in my time here. When CNAS first started up the dominant conversation in Washington was whether or not energy policy needed to account for its climate change impacts in considering the security implications of the country’s policy choices. Today DOD is making historically large alternative fuel purchases to diversify and strengthen its ability to operate globally, the Hill is calling hearings on how minerals are entangling our foreign relations in Asia, and the NIC is assessing the nexus of water, stability and conflict. This is great news, as the issues we cover are largely solvable (before they result in major conflict) with this kind of dedicated attention. And though it still happens on occasion, it is far less frequent that I hear people call resource and environmental issues “soft” security. As if we don’t write reports focusing on military operations and logistics, defense supply chains, and tensions among the world’s remaining and emerging powers.
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.
Yesterday, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) released two reports based on the findings from the joint investigation team tasked with determining the causes of the BP oil spill last year.
The first report from the USCG builds off the agency’s findings reported earlier this year on the overall response to the crisis in the Gulf of Mexico - it is worth a read. But for those with time constraints, the more interesting findings about the causes of the BP oil spill are in the BOEMRE report. Here are just a couple of the initial findings from this lengthy report that pertain specifically to BP:
In the days leading up to April 20, BP made a series of decisions that complicated cementing operations, added incremental risk, and may have contributed to the ultimate failure of the cement job. These decisions included:
- The use of only one cement barrier. BP did not set any additional cement or mechanical barriers in the well, even though various well conditions created difficulties for the production casing cement job.
- The location of the production casing. BP decided to set production casing in a location in the well that created additional risk of hydrocarbon influx.
Happy Labor Day everyone! We are taking a brief holiday from the blog today, but we wanted to note the Navy’s milestone this weekend. The Navy’s F/A-18 Blue Angels squadron successfully tested a 50/50 blend of biofuel and jet fuel at the Patuxent River Air Expo on September 3, 2011. As Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus noted last week, this is the first time an entire squadron tested the biofuel blend during aerial demonstrations.
Photo: Courtesy of Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kiona Miller and the U.S. Navy.