If you work within the natural resources and national security/foreign policy world, you may want to join us on the Hill next Wednesday at noon for a lunch discussion on that exact topic. This will be a great conversation - everything from Yemen's water woes, to Pakistan's water woes, to China's water woes...
Continuing its streak of natural security work this summer, on August 16th the Congressional Research Service issued a report titled “Geoengineering: Governance and Technology Policy(pdf). It highlights the exact disconnect that we’ve been concerned about with geoengineering:
…very few studies have been published that document the cost, environmental effects, sociopolitical impacts, and legal implications of geoengineering. If geoengineering technologies were to be deployed, they are expected to have the potential to cause significant transboundary effects.
Overall, this is a very thorough and well-constructed report, and you should all give it a full read. To start, it gives security types the distinct reason that we should be forward-thinking about this problem: “By the time a technology is widely deployed, it may be impossible to build desirable oversight and risk management provisions without major disruptions to established interests.”
And we can’t get out ahead of this potential security policy problem without beginning to discuss it more frequently. Notably, the CRS authors highlight a major problem that we find applies across the range of resource and earthy-type concerns: very poor communications. It therefore recommends special attention to this:
Public Engagement. The consequences of geoengineering—including both benefits and risks discussed above—could affect people and communities across the world. Public attitudes toward geoengineering, and public engagement in the formation, development, and execution of proposed governance, could have a critical bearing on the future of the technologies. Perceptions of risks, levels of trust, transparency of actions, provisions for liabilities and compensation, and economies of investment could play a significant role in the political feasibility of geoengineering. Public acceptance may require a wider dialogue between scientists, policymakers, and the public.
I hate to be pessimistic, but good luck with that. I honestly think the chances are desperately low that a meaningful dialogue among the policy and science communities and the public is possible. That would require major adjustments in how the media covers science, among many other tall hurdles. This begs an important question: should governments be moving toward types of activities that the public can’t even begin to understand the ramifications of? Does this remind anyone else of the early history of nukes?
Policy options, according to the report, include doing nothing and setting thresholds for minimum activity levels requiring oversight. Importantly, it also suggests that different technologies and different stages in geoengineering innovation should require different levels and types of oversight.
Very important for readers of this blog will be the section on international coordination, which makes this crucial point:
Some fear that, given these obstacles, the only “norm” that countries would be willing to agree to at this early stage in the geoengineering science is a moratorium on research and deployment activities. These individuals suggest that those countries who lack the capacity and political incentive to geoengineer may believe there is little to gain from permitting other countries to experiment.
Customary international law may still preclude moves toward geoengineering in practice by countries under existing frameworks. Notably, it cites passages in UNCLOS (which, btw, why haven’t we ratified??) that geoengineering involving the oceans could defy. I will not repeat this entire here, but this section is a must read for climate policy folks focused on foreign relations.
So to put it mildly, this report is very meaty and very well done. You should give it a read, and consider this the beginning of a long conversation we have with you all about geoengineering.
With about 20 hours of flying time over the last 10 days, hopping between Washington and Europe for a climate change simulation that we ran in Hamburg last week, I managed to get some reading done. The Economist generally makes for good airplane reading, so I read through the last two issues. In both issues, the science and technology sections of the magazine published interesting stories on “Energy conservation” that are worth reading in full.
In the August 21st issue, the story “Watts up” identified an important hurdle to a successful energy revolution, leading with this: “People habitually underestimate their energy consumption.” The Economist was reporting the results of a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that found “that although people do grasp basic energy trends, they are decidedly hazy on the details.” According to the story, in a survey of 505 American volunteers:
Each was asked to estimate the energy consumption of nine household devices (such as stereos and air conditioners) as well as the energy savings incurred by six green activities (like swapping incandescent bulbs for fluorescent ones). The researchers then compared the volunteers’ estimates with the actual energy requirements or savings in question…
On average, participants underestimated both energy use and energy savings by a factor of 2.8—mostly because they undervalued the requirements of large machines like heaters and clothes dryers. As a result, they failed to recognise the huge energy savings that can come from improving the efficiency of such appliances. Miscalculations like these hinder conservation efforts.
This post was originally published yesterday by the Climate Compass blog at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change where Dr. Jay Gulledge is Senior Scientist and Director of the Science and Impacts Program at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. He is also a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
Last fall I posted a blog about the unusual number and severity of extreme weather events that have been striking around the globe for the past several years. That entry focused on the alternating severe drought and heavy flooding in Atlanta in 2007-2009 as an example of the roller coaster ride that climate change is likely to be. As every dutiful scientist does, I stopped short of blaming those individual weather events on global warming, but I am also careful to point out that it is scientifically unsound to claim that the confluence of extreme weather events in recent years is not associated with global warming; I’ll return to this question later.
The weather of 2010 continues the chaos of recent years. In the past six months, the American Red Cross says it “has responded to nearly 30 larger disasters in 21 [U.S.] states and territories. Floods, tornadoes and severe weather have destroyed homes and uprooted lives …” Severe flooding struck New England in March, Nashville in May, and Arkansas and Oklahoma in June.
Nearly the entire northern hemisphere is experiencing a massive heat wave this summer. Back in February, heavy snowfall in D.C. prompted some politicians to decry global warming, but those voices are now silent in the searing heat that has gripped much of the world this summer. The first half of 2010 has been the warmest January-July period in the global temperature record, stretching back to 1880. I would be the first to question the significance of this single-year observation, but it fits perfectly into a multiple-decade pattern in which each year between 2000 and 2009 was warmer than the average temperature of the 1990s, and every year in the 1990s was warmer than the average temperature for the 1980s.
A few months ago Will wrote about climate skepticism and the relationship between scientists and the public, explaining that individual consumers of information often view scientific information about climate change through a lens of personal interests. This raises the question: what does it take to change peoples’ minds – people who have a vested personal or political interest in burying their heads in the sand? Perhaps it takes seeing the effects of climate change with their own eyes.
Yesterday, Joss Garmen wrote on ClimateProgress about a recent article by Michael Hanlon, one of the UK’s most prominent climate skeptics. Writing for The Daily Mail, where he is the Science Editor, Hanlon acknowledged blatantly in the title that, “yes, global warming is real – and deeply worrying.” What prompted Hanlon’s about-face? A week-long trip to the Arctic where Hanlon accompanied a British science team investigating increases in summer ice melt. Of the trip Hanlon said, “I have long been something of a climate-change skeptic, but my views in recent years have shifted. For me, the most convincing evidence that something worrying is going on lies right here in the Arctic.”
In a year-long study that we completed back in April, Broadening Horizons: Climate Change and the U.S. Armed Forces, we noticed similar parallels when it came to the military’s engagement on climate change. In particular, the Navy to date has been the most forward leaning service to take hold of the implications of climate change, standing up its own Take Force Climate Change to study the impacts on U.S. naval forces. But why was the Navy the first and most active service to engage climate change? The Navy noticed measurable changes in its operating environment as a consequence of climate change, including a melting Arctic.
But over to content: our colleagues in the climate/energy/security sphere over at CNA did a great job with another report from its Military Advisory Board (retired flag officers, all) that is sure to be a conversation-setter. Here is what I think is their most interesting/potentially important recommendation:
Recommendation 3: The Department of Defense should partner with private sector innovators and establish an Operational Energy Innovation Center. In pursuing its most urgent energy vulnerabilities, DOD should take steps to ensure that it receives input from all innovators, including those in the smallest companies. However, information and communication barriers, largely related to the size disparity of the organizations, impede such collaboration. One potential avenue to connect DOD to innovators is through technology incubators, which provide the expertise needed to get small innovators firmly established. By cultivating a partnership, DOD could provide the testing data and initial market necessary to commercialize new clean energy technologies. Furthermore, to address its most urgent energy concerns, DOD could combine the innovators from nascent businesses with researchers from larger private firms, universities, and national laboratories in an Operational Energy Innovation Center, modeled on DOE’s Innovation Hubs. The Center could be funded through a competitive Operational Energy Innovation Fund.
Last week, the Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Review Panel released its final report on the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The five-month review of the QDR was an opportunity for a panel of national security and defense experts (including CNAS Commander-in-Chief Dr. John Nagl) to assess the shortcomings of the QDR and its processes, and to analyze U.S. national security priorities and challenges from outside the Department of Defense bureaucracy. According to the report:
The issues raised in the body of this Report are sufficiently serious that we believe an explicit warning is appropriate. The aging of the inventories and equipment used by the services, the decline in the size of the Navy, escalating personnel entitlements, overhead and procurement costs, and the growing stress on the force means that a train wreck is coming in the areas of personnel, acquisition, and force structure. (Emphasis mine)
When I hear train wreck I think Li Lo or Mel Gibson. Despite that distraction, I kept reading.
The panel of experts identified four key national interests that have shaped U.S. national security policy since WWII:
Since 1945, the United States has been the principal architect and remains the principal leader of a durable and desirable international system. American security rests on four principles: the defense of the American homeland; assured access to the sea, air, space, and cyberspace; the preservation of a favorable balance of power across Eurasia that prevents authoritarian domination of that region; and provision for the global “common good” through such actions as humanitarian aid, development assistance, and disaster relief. (P. 25)
This morning you read what drew Will's initial reaction on the DOE-DOD MOU (pdf). I'm starting to worry about his nuclear fetish, but he may be right that that could be one of the more interesting aspects of cooperation given the natural overlap between these departments on nuclear issues.
Right out of the gate, first parapraph: The MOU is to "enhance energy security," yet it specifically covers "water efficiency." No argument here on the overlap, but it's interesting. Bases like Ft. Bliss and many in California and around the Southwest of CONUS are making waves on water efficiency, by necessity. In this case, we've spoken with many of the great Americans working on water conservation tech, and here DOD may be able to disseminate lessons learned from its own experiences.
One other wording choice that I'll flag for you all is in item B: that the departments will maximize collaboration on "emerging energy technologies." This is a big step folks. There are too many federal dollars spent on off-the-shelf energy tech right now, and not enough spent on pulling development along. (See our 2009 report on using DOD installations as testbeds for energy tech, based on a conference full of VCs, energy innovators and security types; and also the brand new CNA report that came online yesterday.)
For those intimate with the DOD energy world (I'm looking at you, aptly named DOD Energy Blog), it's nothing new that the Labs and DOE will continue to collaborate with DOD on many of the specific activities named in this MOU. It's been pretty heartening to watch that cooperation increase over the past few years, especially in California, Hawaii and Colorado, and I'm glad that this long-in-coming MOU finally enshrines this good work.
So then, what do you all think of the MOU?
Yesterday, Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Poneman and Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynn signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to facilitate cooperation between the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense that will “enhance national energy security, and demonstrate Federal Government leadership in transitioning America to a low carbon economy.”
The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) really set the tone for a DOE-DOD partnership by indicating that DOD wanted to “partner with academia, other U.S. agencies, and international partners to research, develop, test, and evaluate new sustainable energy technologies,” and it is encouraging to see progress being made on that front. The MOU specifically acknowledges that the Department of Defense could speed the development and implementation of alternative energy and conservation technologies by using “military installations as a test bed to demonstrate and create a market for innovative energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies coming out of DOE laboratories, among other sources.“ The MOU also charges a senior-level Executive Committee made up of DOE and DOD representative with the responsibility to oversee the interagency partnership.
Not surprisingly, water challenges continue to exacerbate tensions between India and Pakistan. Yesterday, The New York Times reported that India, in an effort to feed the insatiable energy appetite of an economy projected to grow by 9.4 percent this fiscal year, has planned to build several hydroelectric dams over the next decade. One planned project is a hydroelectric dam on the Indian-administered side of Kashmir in an upstream valley where waters from the Himalayan glaciers eventually flow through Indian Kashmir and into Pakistan. According to the Times, “In Pakistan, the project raises fears that India, its archrival and the upriver nation, would have the power to manipulate the water flowing to its agriculture industry — a quarter of its economy and employer of half its population.”
Despite a half-century of cooperation over water in the Indus basin, increasing apprehension between India and Pakistan over those resources has added another layer of complexity to an already complex and disjointed relationship; one mired by longstanding, cultural, social and political grievances and mistrust. As the Times reported, “The fight here is adding a new layer of volatility at a critical moment to one of the most fraught relationships anywhere, one between deeply distrustful, nuclear-armed nations who have already fought three wars.”