There was plenty of news this weekend after BP announced that the cap that was put in place on Thursday to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf appeared to be holding steady. One report from The New York Times offered a rather sobering outlook on the long-term implications of the oil spill, highlighting scientific findings from other oil spills, including from the Exxon Valdez, another off of France, and another in the Gulf off of southern Mexico several decades before the Deep Horizon oil spill. The assessment: hidden damage can last for years, affecting everything from the ocean food chain to the mangrove forests that protect otherwise vulnerable coastline. (Also worth checking out is this piece in The Washington Post’s Sunday Outlook section on why Louisiana is America’s petro-state.)
Moving in a different direction, however, there were several reports that were buried beneath the BP oil spill headlines that I think are worth noting as they highlight some important natural security trends.
Reuters reported over the weekend that a record-breaking heatwave that has plagued Russia since June is responsible for nearly a billion dollars in agricultural losses. With devastating wild fires that have burned four times more peat this year than last and severe, ongoing drought, the Russian government has declared a state of emergency in 17 regions, with two other regions on alert. According to Reuters, “As of Thursday crops on a combined area of 9.6 million hectares have been destroyed. This comprises some 12 percent of all lands sown to crops in Russia, or a territory roughly the size of Hungary.”
The impact on the agricultural sector may also affect Russia’s inflation rate: “Analysts have said that after months of low inflation Russia may again miss its 2010 target as food prices are set to rise toward the end of the year, but Deputy Economy Minister Andrei Klepach said it was too early to review the inflation forecast.” The heatwave is expected to continue through at least next week. And for me, the larger, long-term question is could climate change make these types of heatwaves more frequent and potentially more severe for Russia and other countries where these heatwaves occur?
When water is mentioned in several articles throughout the week, it is noticeable. It played major and minor roles in two different New York Times pieces yesterday, with a Boston Globe piece last week leading the charge.
On July 7, 2010, the Globe ran an article about Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, commenting on the effects of climate change on the maritime environment. “Roughead joked that lots of water is great for a Navy guy, but he otherwise was quite serious,” the reporter scribed. This piece fits nicely with the next two in that it is a stark reminder that the world’s waters are changing – what resources are found where, the physical conditions, and what people are doing to adjust. We cannot safely plan around the oceans as though they are a static resource.
And yet, there is a growing trend toward reliance on desalination around the world, including in China, the United States, and especially Australia, the subject of said Times article yesterday. This piece is great in presenting the downsides of investing in this energy-intense technology, however it could have noted that many researchers are at work on cheaper, less energy-intense mechanisms than the giant plants Australia is now investing in – a few were highlighted in the recent National Geographic special water issue. The Times piece notes:
Australia’s five largest cities are spending $13.2 billion on desalination plants capable of sucking millions of gallons of seawater from the surrounding oceans every day, removing the salt and yielding potable water. In two years, when the last plant is scheduled to be up and running, Australia’s major cities will draw up to 30 percent of their water from the sea.
You can do the conversions of population and water demand, but price tags in that range will likely make this an expensive means of obtaining sufficient water supplies beyond the reach of, for example, Yemen, the subject of other said Times article, from yesterday’s magazine. While the article is not focused on Yemen’s resource issues, this is vital background reading for any natural security types for our understanding of how resource factors are comingling with other factors to destabilize some spots of the Earth. It states ominously that Yemen is “running out of oil and may soon be the first country in the world to run out of water.”
There have been a lot of developments around reconstruction and foreign investments in Afghanistan and Iraq recently, including several reports from The Washington Post and The New York Times over the weekend.
After a 3.5 billion dollar contract in 2007 to develop copper mines at Aynak, China is now the largest foreign investor in Afghanistan, according to a Washington Post report on Saturday. The 2007 contract is just one of the largest examples of the benefits China is reaping from its expanded economic footprint in Afghanistan, which includes investments to develop Afghanistan’s natural resource wealth and a viable market filled with Chinese goods, all while fostering an amicable, long-term political relationship with Kabul.
It’s no secret that China is interested in Afghanistan’s raw materials given its growing appetite for natural resources. As the Post’s Tini Tran noted, “China drew worldwide attention with the $3.5 billion winning bid by the state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corp. tap one of the world's largest unexploited copper reserves.”
Beyond the coverage and commentary on General McCrystal’s dismissal, this weekend’s news had a heavy focus on the ocean’s seafood stocks. Yep, that’s right. Both the Times and the Post prominently featured stories of seafood in their Sunday editions. Both tell of manmade present or looming disasters. Before you click away, thinking there’s no security hook (no pun intended) here, note that some great defense analysts are beginning to pay attention to the role of fish stocks in global trends. As Will and I wrote in our most recent working paper, Sustaining Security:
In 2009, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead specifically pointed to dwindling fish stocks as one of the resource concerns the U.S. Navy is taking into consideration in the future international security environment, including how scarcity will impact the livelihoods of the nearly three billion people worldwide who rely on fish as a primary protein source. Likewise, the 2010 Joint Operating Environment (JOE) indicated that: “Competition for access to these resources has often resulted in naval conflict…Over-fishing and depletion of fisheries and competition over those that remain have the potential for causing serious confrontations in the future."
With that in mind, The New York Times magazine’s cover story, “Tuna’s End,” provides one of the reasons why we are all paying so much attention to the Atlantic bluefin tuna these days: “For bluefin tuna and all species of tuna are the living representation of the very limits of the ocean. Their global decline also serves as a warning that we just might destroy our last wild food.” The tuna issue is becoming contentious on the international scene, with worries arising among developing countries that industrial countries will turn to (further) exploiting their resources as they ban the production of their own resources, or as those resources critically decline.
Much has been said of last week’s big minerals-in-Afghanistan news. Most critiques of the timing of the news and of the many difficulties in producing these potential reserves were raised in the media and by commentators through last week and this weekend (though if you missed it somehow, just read this from New Security Beat), so I won’t repeat it all.
Instead, I thought it would be fun to apply the concepts that Will (from whom you will not hear this week while he presents a paper in Tokyo) and I laid out in our recently released natural security report to the case of minerals in Afghanistan. In Sustaining Security, we outline two categories of approaches that we think could be useful concepts as security types increasingly consider natural resources issues in their security analysis (while the report focuses much on renewable resources, it works for nonrenewable resources as well if you alter the terminology appropriately for preservation, extraction, etc.). The minerals assessment by the Pentagon is a clear case of this type of work in action – a positive step forward, however the federal government doesn’t really have a solid framework yet for going about asking what does this mean in these circumstances. We described our recommended approaches thusly:
A targeted approach would consider the role that natural [resources play] in specific geographic areas, particularly in current or potential zones of conflict. When taking this approach, analysts should assess how natural resource conservation could ameliorate drivers of conflict and assist the national security community in addressing current or potential instability in the near term…a systemic approach would consider the interconnection of natural resources and their broad strategic consequences. For instance, food and land use, hydrological and forest systems, energy and climate change are all tightly interrelated, and to address any one of them carries implications for the others, as well as for economic development, politics and national security. Analysts taking a systemic approach must look regionally or globally and consider the potential impact of conservation and environmental restoration in bolstering traditional security strategy.
We would label our handling of the current case of vast mineral deposits in Afghanistan an example of the targeted approach to integrating resources into security analysis. The United States did not seek to consider minerals as part of its Afghanistan strategy; it is an opportunity that U.S. and Afghan officials stumbled upon, and an opportunity that policy makers are now targeted. The immediate task should be to game out (hopefully with the help of trusted Afghans) the various ways in which minerals extraction and management may affect stability and internal dynamics in Afghanistan, work with central government and local leaders to choose a preferred development roadmap for these minerals that ensures that profits contribute to the country’s economic growth, and leverage related U.S. government and ISAF efforts toward that path. Though much of the necessary decision making on these minerals will not be in U.S. or ISAF hands, the coalition does have the opportunity to be deliberate in gaming out how these resources could fit into the current strategy; the alternative, which most often happens with natural resources issues, is not ideal: conducting work related to these potential deposits without considering broader U.S. goals, its broader strategy and military operations, or planned timelines. (My impression is that DOD is doing the former, not the later, in some form.)
A systemic approach would mean us, U.S. government folks, you, your drinking buddies, and any interested security types pondering and debating the interconnections among natural resources and the broad strategic environment, including analysis of the important regional and global trends that these newly discovered deposits could affect depending on how Afghanistan’s government manages them. What does an Afghan economy centered on extractive industries mean for its long-term bilateral relationships? How might Afghanistan’s new mineral supplies affect feelings of cooperation or competition between the United States and China, depending on the structure of future contracts? If new-found resource wealth destabilizes Afghanistan, how is the full range of U.S. interests in the region affected? How would this destabilization affect Pakistan and India? Does Afghanistan’s natural security base provide many economic options that could provide more stable development paths? And where is Russia in all of this?
See, doesn’t natural security make for fun parlor games? Though not as much fun as Colbert's assessment in The Word last week, flagged for us by recently departed intern Dan.
Also see these two quality political cartoons on this minerals news: Ed Gamble and Chip Bok (disclaimer: I’m not saying General Petraeus passing out was funny, as it was not, but just that it is a good political cartoon).
And also in the news, police in Basra killed one Iraqi in protests over insufficient electricity supplies. We’ll be keeping an eye out for more on this through the week.
The Week Ahead
Up on the Hill Monday at 2:00pm, Rear Admiral Cullom, et al. will discuss Biofuels: The Future of Aviation? Implications for Climate Change and National Security, sponsored by the Center for National Policy. Wednesday at 9:00am, Resources for the Future is holding an event marking the release of its new report, Toward a New National Energy Policy: Assessing the Options (I am really looking forward to reading this report, and recommend this highly; you can also webstream the event). At 10:00 the House Committee on Science & Technology also holds Deepwater Drilling Technology, Research, and Development. At 4pm Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will have an event on Prospects and Challenges for U.S.–India Technology Cooperation that promises to look at clean energy in that bilateral relationship. Thursday at 9:00am you can hop over to the Wilson Center for Electricity With Chinese Characteristics: The Complexities of Decarbonizing China's Power Sector. Have a great week everyone!
I am attending an all-day workshop tomorrow on how economic power, technology and innovation play into national security. The advance prep for the group includes about 125 pages of readings on these subjects, which may indicate why I gravitated to a few stories of clean energy advances while catching up on the news this weekend.
Last week EADS test-flew a small plane on 100 percent algae-based fuel at the Berlin Air Show – a departure from previous tests to date by the Navy, Air Force and private companies of biofuel/petroleum blends. According to recent tests in certain aircraft, this fuel appears to be 5-10 percent more energy efficient in some circumstances.
The state of Hawaii is moving forward with environmental impact studies of the proposed undersea cables linking new wind power generation on less-populated islands with Oahu – a project much-discussed at PACOM when we last visited. The study will cost $2.9 million, the cable would cost an estimated $1 billion, and by displacing 12 percent of Oahu’s currently coal- and oil-fired electricity, would make a dent in the $6 billion per year Hawaii spends on imported oil.
CNET and other outlets also covered the Shanghai Expo 2010’s exhibition of the YeZ, a carbon-eating concept car. Developed by the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, GM and Volkswagen, this two-seater is powered by solar and wind, sucks CO2 out of the air and releases oxygen, and uses lithium ion batteries to store the energy it produces. It is worth a glance at this vehicle, as you can’t help thinking: would I drive this? I don’t drive most days, and most of the miles I log are trips to the grocery store (there is no trunk or storage area visible here), and driving through the mountains of Pennsylvania on trips to visit my fellow Parthemores in Ohio (this vehicle is open-air, and doesn’t appear to have a windshield). I know my auto uses are atypical, but I do wonder what this kind of car design would work well for that could not also be accommodated by biking or public transit. But then again, that may be beside the point. Normally the best things to come away from these kinds of projects are discreet innovations that can be widely adopted. Perhaps the wind turbine wheels or solar technology in the roof can be geared for use in the existing vehicle fleet – and before the 2030 date of production the YeZ carries?
These are positive developments. Innovation (particularly in energy) is often treated nowadays as simply a means of producing economic growth. But it is of course more than that; it is the route to maintaining technical military advantages and to global leadership, and an important area of international cooperation. As the National Security Strategy states: “Reaffirming America’s role as the global engine of scientific discovery and technological innovation has never been more critical…the nation that leads the world in building a clean energy economy will enjoy a substantial economic and security advantage.”
The direct costs of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico have been outlined clearly for weeks now in the news. Last week and through the weekend, the opportunity costs for the country’s foreign policy and security became more apparent than ever.
The first missed/postponed opportunity came in the form of the president’s cancelled trip to Australia and Indonesia. This was probably the right thing to do in the big picture, but it is far from being without consequences. Tending to issues in our relations with Asia is always important, but it seems to be more important every week (witness Japan’s government once again turning over in no small part due to its U.S. relations). Indonesia will be a key player in climate change negotiations at the end of the year as well, and, worse, the cancellation had the Jakarta Post speculating that security concerns played a role in the president’s delaying the visit again.
Yesterday The Washington Post also reported on the federal resources being dedicated to efforts to stop the leak and contain the damage. It’s clear that the Coast Guard and a few other agencies have dedicated enormous effort this, but the Post article intimated that other priorities are likely being bumped from the schedule of cabinet members, their deputies and White House staff on a daily basis:
The new normal at the Obama White House has required that a whole new schedule be laid on top of the old one. There is a daily oil-spill conference call for Cabinet officers, one for their deputies, yet another with the governors of affected states, and sometimes as many as three briefings a day that include the president himself.
…It might also help that the administration is sending as its emissaries officials who have ties to the region, including EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, a New Orleans native, and Tom Strickland, the Louisiana State University-educated chief of staff to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. At the request of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), the White House has also assigned each parish president in Louisiana a personal Coast Guard liaison.
What else is getting the short end of the attention stick?
The latest development over the weekend that BP’s “top kill” maneuver failed to plug the oil leak stripped away the modicum of hope I had that this crisis would be contained soon. It has been 43 days. While BP continues to try other methods, including capping the leak with a containment dome, the sobering front page stories from the New York Times and the Washington Post on Monday reported that it may not be until August before we see an improvement. According to the New York Times, “[Obama] administration officials acknowledged the possibility that tens of thousands of barrels of oil might continue pouring out until August, when two relief wells are scheduled to be completed.” The Washington Post added that “the company [BP] warned that the crude could continue flowing until August, compounding threats to coastal wetlands, fisheries and beaches.”
The President’s Special Assistant for Energy and Climate Change, Carol Browner, told CBS’s “Face The Nation” on Sunday that “This is probably the biggest environmental disaster we have ever faced in this country." And if you have been following the coverage of the environmental catastrophe that has been unleashed on the Gulf, you have no doubt.
But rather than lament the environmental nightmare that is likely to plague the Gulf coast for weeks and months (maybe even years) to come, I thought I would use this as an opportunity to instead highlight the tragic, human toll that the Gulf oil spill is having on the region – on the fishermen, the tourism industry – on people’s livelihoods.
One of the links we highlight in the Natural Security program is how natural resources affect national security – or, more to the point in this case, economic development and sustainable livelihoods (which are linked to national security). We often point to developing countries as examples of where this is most obvious. And it is true that developing countries – their economies and stability – may hinge more on natural resources than developed countries. But the Gulf oil spill reminds us that there are still many communities here in America that depend directly on the natural environment for their lives.
I don’t know about you, but my weekend RSS catch-up took me through approximately 9,000 pieces on the Gulf oil disaster. While that’s still obviously the biggest natural security story of the weekend, I’ll avoid pontificating on it yet again, as I assume it’s something you’re all caught up on.
I suggest instead that we take a moment to ponder the role of agriculture in Afghanistan given current operations. This is something we’ve covered regularly, and will a bit more heavily in an upcoming report on resources and security. Our colleague Nate Fick also highlighted agriculture as a “key business sector” in his recent CNAS policy brief with Clare Lockhart:
Promoting the growth of legitimate agriculture would have positive effects including providing jobs, encouraging economic growth, and slowing the drug trade as a major source of funding for the Taliban. Success in this sector may be achieved best through a National Agriculture Program that would focus on creating the value chain to form the right market linkages, appropriate marketing tools, access to credit, processing facilities, cold storage, irrigation and transportation. Such a program could be supported by a consortium of international investors and a network of Afghan land-grant colleges with specialized agricultural knowledge.
The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is still the dominant and more important story on energy nearly every day. This weekend, coverage of the massive oil spill included some useful infographics and photo spreads that I think provide as much insight into the oil spill and its recovery as many of the written pieces that appeared over the past few days. In no particular order:
Anyone else think we need to expedite transitioning to a more diversified energy economy? At this blog we normally focus on the geopolitical reasons for moving away from near-complete reliance on oil for our transportation sector, but the ecological and resulting economic reasons are seeming increasingly heavy these days.