Members of the Louisiana National Guard’s 256th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team conducted search and rescue operations near Carville, Louisiana after Hurricane Isaac made landfall earlier this week. The National Guard units used high-water vehicles to evacuate residents stranded in floodwaters.
Photo: Courtesy of the Louisiana National Guard.
From food production to electricity generation, the recent spate of extreme weather is taking a toll on U.S. infrastructure, affecting communities on the home front and countries abroad.
The United States is in the midst of the worst drought since 1956, according to the National Climatic Data Center. According to the center, 55 percent of the United States is experiencing some form of moderate to extreme drought, which is expected to continue for much of the year and is already affecting corn, soybean and other agricultural harvests. On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that U.S. consumers could expect to pay 3 to 4 percent more for groceries next year as a result of agricultural decline.
The U.S. agricultural forecast could be particularly damming for global food prices and countries that rely heavily on agricultural imports. America is still considered the world’s breadbasket, and agricultural decline in the United States may lead to price spikes in countries abroad, particularly in developing countries that rely increasingly on agricultural imports, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. This could worsen food trends (e.g. famine and malnutrition) in these countries as families are forced to spend a higher percentage of their income on groceries, and may, in some places, exacerbate existing social grievances and provoke violence.
According to a new study released Sunday by the journal Nature Climate Change, sea level rise is expected to affect the U.S. East Coast at a faster rate than the rest of the world. “U.S. Geological Survey scientists call the 600-mile swath [between Cape Hatteras, NC and Boston] a ‘hot spot’ for climbing sea levels caused by global warming,” The Washington Post reported on Sunday. “Along the region, the Atlantic Ocean is rising at an annual rate three times to four times faster than the global average since 1990.”
“Computer models long have projected higher levels along parts of the East Coast because of changes in ocean currents from global warming, but this is the first study to show that’s already happened,” The Washington Post added. “By 2100, scientists and computer models estimate that sea levels globally could rise as much as 3.3 feet. The accelerated rate along the East Coast could add about 8 inches to 11 inches more.”
The new study confirms findings that are well known to some East Coast communities, particularly Norfolk, Virginia, home to the world’s largest naval base. According to a report by The Washington Post last Sunday, Norfolk has spent the last several years battling storm surge made worse by sea level rise. Some have proposed buying up property in flood prone areas of the city to move people back away from the encroaching sea, while spending hundreds of millions of dollars in other parts of the city to build flood walls, tide gates, raised roads and flood pumps to protect critical infrastructure, including the Norfolk naval station.
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.
On Monday, CNAS Commander-in-Chief John Nagl and my officemate Travis “Charlie” Sharp released their thought-provoking report on the state of the National Guard and Reserves, An Indispensable Force: Investing in America’s National Guard and Reserves. The biggest takeaway for me (and the report is worth reading in full), is that the Department of Defense has not adequately defined the future roles and missions of the Guard and Reserves, which it was legally required to assess in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) but failed to do.
But what do the National Guard and Reserves have to do with Natural Security? Well, considering that the future security environment is likely to be complex and shaped by nontraditional security challenges, such as from failing or failed states, humanitarian and natural disasters, resource competition and climate change, it is very important to understand what role the National Guard and Reserves, which constitute 43 percent of the total U.S. military manpower, will play in the future security environment. According to Sharp and Nagl:
Because the QDR establishes DOD’s future strategic and budgetary priorities, the omission minimized the relevance of the Guard and Reserves beyond the current conflicts and perpetuated DOD’s historical reluctance to think presciently about their role in U.S. national security strategy.
On day one of his visit to Washington, Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who reaffirmed America’s commitment to Afghanistan long after the last American soldier is brought home. “We will not abandon the Afghan People,” Clinton reassured the president. “Our civilian commitment will remain long into the future.”
As the United States begins to explore in greater detail the near- and long-term challenges that are likely to shape our longer-term civilian commitment to Afghanistan, climate change should top the list of concerns being factored into the decision-making calculus. Afghanistan’s agricultural sector – accounting for nearly a third of its gross domestic product (GDP) – is inextricably linked to long-term stability and security in the state, and the U.S. government, as a whole, is committed to diversifying and improving agricultural production. In his surprise visit to Afghanistan on March 28, 2010, President Obama told U.S. troops that investing in civilian areas such as agricultural production will increase Afghanistan’s prosperity, security and independence from extremists in the region. And as the United States begins to sculpt what its civilian commitment to Afghanistan looks like, agricultural development is likely to be a cornerstone of that effort.
As we note in our recent report, Broadening Horizons: Climate Change and the U.S. Armed Forces, “While it is not yet clear how climate change will directly affect Afghanistan, observations suggest that climate change could potentially disrupt agricultural development by exacerbating drought (i.e., a decline in surface or subsurface water resources, such as rivers, lakes, reservoirs and ground water) and increasing the severity and frequency of heat waves.” The near-term challenge for the U.S. government will be in developing a research effort to better understand the effects of climate change on Afghanistan broadly, and its agricultural productivity in particular, in order to bolster our civilian efforts moving forward so that the United States provides, beyond aid, a toolkit that the Afghan people can themselves use to adapt to climate change (shifting more from a “give a man a fish” to a “teach a man how to fish” model). While aid today will help stabilize many parts of Afghanistan, a broader strategy that shores up government institutions, capability and capacity needs to be developed to help ensure that Afghanistan can hold itself up without an overwhelming external commitment.
Hey all. Not too much of a blog today, as we're a little preoccupied setting up for just about the most epic event to hit D.C. since Lady Gaga was last here in September.
The Willard's sure to be packed with the 450+ who have already confirmed their attendance for the event, hope you're one of them. You're not? We can make an exception for our blog reader faithfuls. Just RSVP here and we'll make sure you get a chance to check out the event that's been a topic of discussion all around town.
Taking part in the dialogue over issues of natural security (as featured in one of our latest publications, Broadening Horizons) will be the likes of Rear Admiral Philip H. Cullom, Director of Fleet Readiness Division on the Navy Staff, David Kilcullen, President and CEO of Caerus, and CNAS' own Bob Kaplan and Christine Parthemore.
Want to know the big news? The event is going to feature a keynote address from the Honorable Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change.
Check out some live tweeting action on the CNAS twitter page. Hope to see you there!
Yesterday we released the third installment of our Promoting the Dialogue series on how climate change may affect DOD missions, equipment and capabilities. We’ve focused the resulting writings on ground, air and maritime forces, COCOMs, and the QDR and strategic planning processes. The most recent piece covers the ground forces, which for the purpose of this paper (and regardless of precision) includes the Army, Marine Corps and National Guard.
I will admit that one of the driving themes in my mind as I wrote this paper was the increasing frequency with which commentators are putting forth this answer to the question of how climate change will affect the U.S. ground forces: it will drive an increase in terrorism.
Now, I’m no terrorism expert, but you can’t hang out at CNAS and not at least understand the basics, even if it’s just by osmosis. I think that the leap to stating that it will directly drive an increase in terrorism is a bit of a distraction (and note that this suggestion often specifies Islamic extremism-based terrorism, not the Midwestern kind that seems to have been taking place in my hometown lately). I’m not saying that I fully understand the dynamics of what this linkage could be, but I do know enough to know that it would be complex and take a great deal of study to determine. Meanwhile, there may be more direct linkages between climate change and security challenges that are more important to focus our research efforts toward.