A few days back I returned from a great research trip to Vietnam as part of our South China Sea project here at CNAS. My interviews and conversations were fabulous and extremely helpful for determining how to frame that region’s natural resource issues in terms of their U.S. security relevance.
It is clear to anyone who reads the news that resources are serving as a driver (or an excuse, depending on your views) for conflict in the South China Sea, but they equally provide options for new areas of cooperation. What all this means in detail, though, is far less straightforward than just tallying up the maritime resources at stake or drawing exclusive economic zone lines on maps. There is much great work out there on human security issues in this region, directly environmental research (sans security considerations), and Stimson in particular has done great work on transboundary water issues and related topics. This is all informing our work, but we’re also now working to place this piece properly in the context of the broad maritime security questions, hanging military balance and other hard security topics facing the United States for this increasingly tense region.
In this endeavor, part of the research Will and I are doing involves comparing regional, national and local dynamics that will combine to help determine the paths chosen by the countries bordering the South China Sea with their resource issues. As a kind of case study, my research pointed me toward doing just that for Vietnam, with a heavy focus on the effects of climate change on its existing natural resource strains and goals.
I put this in the category of “things that really surprised me that should not have surprised me in the least.” A major theme at the gathering I attended in Jordan was the wide gulf between policy makers and the academic/science community on all things natural security.
While most of you were enjoying Thanksgiving cheers with friends and family this year, I was in Jordan taking part in extraordinarily informative discussions on resource issues and climate change. The words were all spoken off the record, but this week I hope to give you a general sense of some of what I learned.
This weekend, thanks to our Senior Military Fellow Commander Herb Carmen, we were privileged to visit the Nimitz-class USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier that houses more than 5,000 servicemen and –women with an embarked air wing, along with several CNAS colleagues. We came aboard the Truman during carrier qualifications, and watching many hours of catapult launches and arrested landings was important in our considerations of Navy energy use.
The Truman herself is a remarkable model for energy independence, with two nuclear reactors powering most functions. However, the aircraft for the carrier (tactical aircraft include F/A-18 Hornets, EA-6B Prowlers, E-2C Hawkeyes, SH-60 Seahawks, and C-2A Greyhounds) still require millions of gallons of JP-5 in order for the HST to complete its missions. This year, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has announced plans for a carrier strike group that uses only alternative fuels, to be ready to deploy by 2016. The Navy has already started to test biofuel in the F/A-18, dubbing it the "Green Hornet." According to the Federation of American Scientists, the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet has already had significant structural changes in its three drop tanks from the F/A-18 C Hornet, increasing the internal fuel capacity by approximately 33 percent (from 330 gallons per tank to 480 gallons per tank). This improvement extended the Super Hornet's mission radius by 40 percent (from 369 nautical miles, to 520 nautical miles). Now the Navy is aiming to improve the Hornet's fuel efficiency by 3 percent, potentially saving up to 127,000 barrels of fuel per year across the Hornet fleet. (Note: this final statistic has been updated.)
When we travel, we like to compare what we learn about the effects of climate change to a great report on regional effects that the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) issued earlier this year. Two weeks ago, Sharon and I traveled to Hawaii to conduct interviews and meet with representatives of PACOM and the military services in support of two of our ongoing projects, so I checked out the projected regional effects for Hawaii in preparation for a blog post on just that.
For the record, the report indicates that the Pacific Islands have already witnessed increases in average temperatures and sea levels for decades, and likely future changes in store for Hawaii include rising ocean surface temperatures, more heavy downpours and alterations in the timing of its rainiest seasons. But I didn’t speak much to people about their thoughts on these or other climate projections; the concerns of many of those I spoke with were a bit different.
Beyond just climate change, many who work on environmental issues or are charged with certain environment-related work for the U.S. military seem far more focused on sustainability broadly – for all natural resources and in the face of a changing world climate. Most individuals I spoke with about energy also spoke of water concerns. Almost everyone we met with knew the story of how Hawaii became highly petroleum dependent (it used to use biofuels for electricity before its sugarcane industry faded) and how that story related to land use and agricultural production. This holistic view stems from Hawaii’s status of being so, well, islanded. Its vulnerabilities run deep and are comprehensive, and this seems to have had the effect of promoting an equally comprehensive view of how susceptible their environment is.
Day five in Colorado with my family brought us to what is surely one of the most beautiful places on Earth - Rocky Mountain National Park. But there's trouble in paradise.
I took this photo in the park - this is actually the Colorado River. Hard to believe that this gorgeous mountain stream will go on to be the primary water source for 27 million people in 7 U.S. states and 2 countries, irrigating 3 million acres of cropland along the way. Or will it?
A recent National Academies of Science study noted that given even conservative climate change projections, "currently scheduled future water deliveries from the Colorado River are not sustainable." The good news, however, is that it might not have to be that way if the consumers of the water manage the resources better, according to the study.
But there's a potentially even more devastating story in this bucolic photo. If you look carefully, you might notice that the forest in the backdrop is changing color. If you're scratching your head about how the Rockies could be experiencing Fall in July, consider that those are "evergreens."