Yesterday, I caught a webcast of the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight hearing over Rare Earth Minerals and 21st Century Industry. A hearing I might feel more comfortable calling “Surprise! China has all the stuff: a rare earth tale.” Witnesses included: Dr. Stephen Freimann, retired Deputy Director of the Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology; Dr. Steven Duclos, Chief Scientist and Manager, Material Sustainability, GE Global Research; Dr. Karl A. Gschneider, Jr., of the Ames Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy; Mark Smith, Chief Executive Officer, Molycorp Minerals, LLC; and Terence Stewart, Managing Partner in the Law Offices of Stewart and Stewart.
Here are some of the important, though largely depressing, highlights:
*Disclaimer: I'm just highlighting what these panelists claimed; I'm not researching them or fact checking for the purpose of this post. We'll debate these perspectives and try to poke holes in the stats later among ourselves, maybe over St. Patrick's Day drinks.
The 2010 Joint Operating Environment (JOE; PDF), recently released by Joint Forces Command, offers a slightly more robust assessment on the implications of climate change for the Joint Force than its 2008 report (PDF). As Christine pointed out yesterday, while the JOE “in no way constitutes U.S. government policy and must necessarily be speculative in nature, it seeks to provide the Joint Force an intellectual foundation upon which we will construct the concepts to guide our future force development.”
Most of the climate change section reads nearly identical between the two versions, though the 2010 version offers more on the near-term challenges posed by climate change and is telling of what the Joint Force is paying particular attention to when it comes to potential implications for the military.
On Climate Science:
JOE 2008 (p. 22)
The impact of global warming and its potential to cause natural disasters and other harmful phenomena such as rising sea levels has become a prominent—and controversial—national and international concern. Some argue that there will be more and greater storms and natural disasters, others that there will be fewer. In many respects, scientific conclusions about the causes and potential effects of global warming are contradictory.
JOE 2010 (p.32)
The impact of climate change, specifically global warming and its potential to cause natural disasters and other harmful phenomena such as rising sea levels, has become a concern. Scientific conclusions about the potential effects of climate change are contradictory, with some arguing that there will be more and greater storms and natural disasters: others, that there will be fewer.
While the 2010 JOE seems to play down the controversial debate undergirding climate science (literally removing the word “controversial” that was present in the 2008 JOE), the notion that there is an ongoing debate about what climate science is telling us about potential impacts of climate change lingers. Perhaps the next assessment could couch this differently by mentioning the need for climate science that offers the level of detail and fidelity that would be useful to the Joint Force to make decisions about the implications of climate change.
In the great tradition of the natural security bloggers comparing important documents to their previous iterations, we’d like to spend the next few days highlighting how the 2010 Joint Operating Environment (JOE; pdf warning) recently released by Joint Forces Command, compares with the previous, 2008 version (also pdf). I’ll walk through energy today; Blogger Dan will do the food section tomorrow and Will will take on climate change for Thursday. For anyone unfamiliar, according to its own words, the JOE “in no way constitutes U.S. government policy and must necessarily be speculative in nature, it seeks to provide the Joint Force an intellectual foundation upon which we will construct the concepts to guide our future force development.” Noted.
JOE 2008 (p 16):
To meet even the conservative growth rates posited above, global energy production would need to rise by 1.3% per year. By the 2030s, demand would be nearly 50% greater than today. To meet that demand, even assuming more effective conservation measures, the world would need to add roughly the equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s current energy production every seven years…Fossil fuels will still make up 80% of the energy mix in the 2030s, with oil and gas comprising upwards of 60%. The central problem for the coming decade will not be a lack of petroleum reserves, but rather a shortage of drilling platforms, engineers and refining capacity.
JOE 2010 (p. 24):
To meet even the conservative growth rates posited in the economics section, global energy production would need to rise by 1.3% per year. By the 2030s, demand is estimated to be nearly 50% greater than today. To meet that demand, even assuming more effective conservation measures, the world would need to add roughly the equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s current energy production every seven years… Fossil fuels will still make up 80% of the energy mix in the 2030s, with oil and gas comprising upwards of 60%. The central problem for the coming decade will not be a lack of petroleum reserves, but rather a shortage of drilling platforms, engineers and refining capacity.
This weekend’s natural security news seems to have been lighter than it has been in recent weeks. However, one common report appearing in The New York Times and Scientific American on the Interior Department’s recently released study, The State of the Birds: 2010 Report on Climate Change, is worth mentioning.
As Scientific American reports, “climate changes will have ‘an increasingly disruptive effect on bird species in all habitats.’ Oceanic migratory species and birds living in Hawaii will face the greatest threats, according to the report [The State of the Birds].”
Some of you may be wondering how this relates to U.S. national security. I think Kenneth Rosenberg, Director of Conservation Science at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, captures the connection well: “Birds are excellent indicators of the health of our environment, and right now they are telling us an important story about climate change,” he told The New York Times. “Many species of conservation concern will face heightened threats, giving us an increased sense of urgency to protect and conserve vital bird habitat.”
We have reported before on the link between biodiversity and national security in our work here. Indeed, “Biodiversity loss is likely to be highly destabilizing, in that it will constrain access to a full range of natural resources, including food and potable water. Some of the drivers of biodiversity loss, such as poverty and poor governance, can also be drivers of instability, conflict, and insurgencies.” And when it comes to the impacts of climate change on birds, the classic canary in the coal mine comes to mind.
This Week’s Events
On Tuesday, the House Committee on Science & Technology Subcommittee on Investigation and Oversight will be holding a hearing on Rare Earth Minerals and 21st Century Industry at 2:00 p.m. On Wednesday, CATO will be holding an event on how Russia’s energy resources have shaped its social order beginning at 4:00 p.m. Finally, the Wilson Center will be holding an event Thursday on Building a Smarter Grid: Challenges and Opportunities for the United States and Canada starting at 9:00 a.m.
“With more than 140 years of service in the Arctic and 11 statutory responsibilities there, the U.S. Coast Guard is at the center of efforts to adapt to [climate] change in the Arctic,” writes Christine Parthemore in her working paper, Promoting the Dialogue: Climate Change and the Maritime Services. “Its missions in the Arctic include protecting indigenous populations and marine life as well as law enforcement and interdiction. These missions give the Coast Guard unique responsibilities for managing the effects of environmental change on human populations in the Arctic.”
In Promoting the Dialogue, Parthemore explores the impact of climate change on the maritime services (specifically the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard) and synthesizes how these services are integrating climate change into their strategic and operational planning. “With access to the global commons and stability abroad potentially at stake, analyzing and addressing the effects of climate change will remain important to the ability of the Navy and the Coast Guard to successfully fulfill their missions,” Parthemore writes.
Photo: A U.S. Coast Guard cutter prepares to transport a science team to a remote ice floe to analyze Arctic sea ice. Courtesy of Aerographer’s Mate 1st Class Gene Swope and the U.S. Coast Guard.
As another leg of my trip to NREL and NORTHCOM a few weeks ago with colleagues Commander Herb Carmen and Will Rogers, we swung by the Air Force Academy to check out their energy work. My biggest take-away may be that they have the largest, best-equipped S&T labs I’ve ever seen at a university. It definitely plucked my nerd heartstrings.
But to get to the real point, here is the Academy’s energy vision (pdf):
The 2008 United States Air Force Academy Energy Strategic Plan details a vision to improve our stewardship of fiscal and natural resources, by becoming a leader in the world of renewable energy and involving the 8,200 cadets, faculty and employees of USAFA. The vision is to be a “Net-Zero” electricity installation by 2015 and a carbon-neutral installation by 2025. These challenging and lofty goals raise the bar for the Department of the Air Force, the Department of Defense and the nation.
Love the linking of energy and climate goals. Notably, they have several key enablers of success at work here: leadership instruction; some motivated individuals; a good partner in their local utility; and funding from the stimulus package. These ingredients have to date added up to their thorough mapping of their alternative energy potential, lots of ongoing research and a solar installation on its way.
The DOD Energy Blogger, himself an Academy grad, described another important aspect of this location back in December thusly:
…tons of potential for cadet learning and culture change. All of which should impact the AF more broadly as the grads move out into leadership positions in the "Real Air Force."
Cheers to that, and while I don’t undermine its importance, I’m thinking that lessons learned they might share from working with a willing utility partner may be even more important for fellow Air Force and DOD installations better meeting energy requirements – something I studied up on about a year back but haven’t been paying as much attention to as of late. If anyone knows of any good research on how different types (or regions) of utilities are or are not integrating renewable, let us know. In the meantime, thumbs up and thanks to the Air Force Academy.
Photo: A 200-milliJoule pulse laser at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. The laser is used for a variety of experiments, including tests to determine how "pushing" sulfur into a silicon-based solar cell increases the cell's efficiency. Courtesy of Rachel Boettcher and the U.S. Air Force.
A recent article in the February 20, 2010 National Journal, “The Bottled-Water Problem,” (subscription required) explores the logistical challenges that the U.S. military and NATO troops are experiencing with water, food and fuel supplies in Afghanistan. In particular, the author, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., focuses on the military’s reliance on importing supplies of bottled-water due, in part, to concerns that contaminated water from indigenous sources is making military personnel sick.
“When we drink local water – just stuff that a normal Iraqi wouldn’t think twice about or an Afghan wouldn’t think twice about drinking, because their [immune] system is used to dealing with all that bacteria and the germs – our systems aren’t used to that,” the author quotes Lt. Gen. Mitchell Stevenson, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, as saying.
Freedberg explores the question of purifying indigenous sources of water and indeed points out that the U.S. military and NATO are working towards buying local water with potential investments in water purification and bottling plants. But purifying water locally might not be the most cost-effective approach to solving the military’s water supply issue in Afghanistan, at least so suggests a Dutch Air Force officer who coordinates logistics for the International Stability Assistance Force.
The “bottled water we import is cheaper than when we get it here,” the Dutch officer told Freedberg. And that might be true if one were calculating the cost of water using the initial purchase value of water by volume compared to what it would cost to get water locally through investments in water purification and bottling plants. But when it comes to military supplies that are shipped to and within a combat theatre, the value of those supplies is much greater than the price the military originally purchases it for.
The Small Wars Manual (SWM), released in 1940 by the United States Marine Corps, in response to the growing engagements in guerilla style wars in Central America and Caribbean, states:
The ‘big three’ of supply are Ammunition, Food, and Water. Combat troops can operate in the field for a very limited time in actual combat with only AMMUNITION, but their continued existence requires the other two, FOOD and WATER. Therefore, in order to conduct the advance inland, one of the first considerations in such a movement must be the means of supply.
I found it interesting that fuel was not one of the “big three,” or that there is not a “big four” as no items in the supply trinity readily lend themselves to substitution. In fact, in the 492-page document, the term “fuel” is mentioned only nine times (one of those times merely in reference to the “fuel tank” being one of the pieces of a river boat).
One has to assume that the United States understood the vital role that fuel played in war and other engagements based upon its oil sanctions against Japan in July 1940 and its complete embargo of oil exports to Japan in November 1941. Additionally, the U.S. War Department's FM 27-10: Rules of Land Warefare, issued that same year as the Small Wars Manual, hold the concealment of fuel as an act of treason, on par with espionage. Furthermore, the only permissible non-combat destruction of occupied terrirories named is "to furnish fuel if imperitively needed for the army."
Big, big natural security news from The New York Times this weekend. You know how we’ve been sanctioning Iran and discouraging U.S. investment in its energy sector? Well – prepare to be shocked – it turns out that the U.S. government “has awarded more than $107 billion in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade to foreign and multinational American companies while they were doing business in Iran.” Wowzers.
The full article is a must-read. And not just the article – I’d say its supplemental materials are worth a glance as well. The Times provides a list of the companies it identified. In addition to most of the big financial and energy institutions one could think of, it includes many auto makers, airlines, and electronics makers and service providers (cameras, cell phones, etc.). I think looking through the activities companies engaged in since 2000 beyond energy development gives the Iran debate good context. At the bottom of the same link as that list, the Times provides its methodology.
To wrap up the coverage in that paper, see Jad Mouawad’s related piece framing various energy and geopolitical issues that will affect whether or not Iran’s energy resources provide it with an upper hand in the face of sterner sanctions. For a good contrast, then jump to Haaretz, which reported statements Sunday by an official of the National Iranian Oil Products Distribution Company that despite having reduced subsidies, Iran’s oil and gas demand has not dropped. The article implies that this could make sanctions on Iran’s energy sectors more potent, though I’m not so sure given the China factor and the myriad other pieces of the picture involved with that. Meanwhile, Iran continues to work toward its nuclear program, which I hear tell is aimed mainly at increasing the country’s energy security.
The Week Ahead
At noon Monday the Wilson Center hosts "Warning of Global Warming? Politics, Economics and Ecological Change in Siberia's Far East" based on in-country research. Wednesday at 6:00pm, check out CFR’s discussion on "Developing an International Framework for Geoengineering." (I wish I could attend this one – if anyone takes good notes and is in a sharing mood, shoot me an email.) The National Building Council holds “For the Greener Good: Greening the Supply Chain” at 6:30pm on Thursday. At 11:00am Friday AAAS convenes think tank and government experts for "Climate Policy: Public Perception, Science, and the Political Landscape."
A few photos of beautiful wind turbines from my trip this week to Aomori prefecture in Japan – to boot, the energy generated can be stored in sodium-sulfur batteries and sold when electricity prices are high. All part of Japan’s work to meet its energy and climate change goals. Have a good weekend everyone!
In a post-Snowpocalyptic world, climate change scientists have found themselves defending their work against climate change skeptics who are using the historic winter weather that left much of the East Coast blanketed with record-breaking snow fall to denounce the evidence that supports climate change (most notably, a warming planet). Some have wondered how climate change experts can explain how a world experiencing climate change – more often using the inaccurate term “global warming” – could also be experiencing a historic winter snow fall, such as Washington’s Snowtorious B.I.G. But while the debates unfolded, I used the nearly week long closing of the federal government, several feet of snow and the tree that barricaded me and my four roommates in our small basement apartment as an opportunity to read a book I had been given shortly after arriving in Washington, DC in early January; the cleverly titled Global Warring by Cleo Paskal.
Over the last several months, Dr. Jay Gulledge and I have been exploring the gap between climate science and security policy through our Lost in Translation project. The central tenet of our project and forthcoming report is that there are fundamental ways in which the climate science and policy communities operate that make it very difficult to get the right information they need from each other in order for the two communities to work together in a mutually supportive effort. And though the scope of our project focuses more narrowly on climate scientists and the decision makers who are increasingly using climate science to guide policy decisions, what we have come to notice through our exploration of the relationship between science and policy writ large is that, generally speaking, the foundation of our argument rings true for the broader science and policy communities. Indeed, there are specific aspects of climate science that make it unique compared to the broader gap between science and policy, but that scientists and policy makers tend to have difficulty working together is not an unfamiliar claim.
With that said, over the last several weeks we have met with folks who actually confound this paradigm and facilitate collaboration between the two communities. I wrote last week on the blog that we were on travel in Colorado where we visited with officials at U.S. Northern Command and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. During our visit we met with folks who have demonstrated that there are indeed strong relationships between scientists and decision makers at these places, relationships that cross this gap between the science and policy communities, in support of addressing serious national security challenges.
There is a common refrain (maybe more common in D.C. than elsewhere) that there is a chicken and egg problem with some alternative energy varieties and their infrastructure. This is often cited in reference to the slow emergence of hydrogen and electric vehicles and more widespread use of biofuels, along with their requisite fueling stations. If you build it they will come, so the argument goes.
Fueling stations are of course a necessary prerequisite, but progress will also involve confronting logistical challenges beyond the availability of infrastructure. We’re not just talking fueling stations or pumps here, but also various aspects of production and blending, the time it takes to offload fuel from trains when transported by those means, and storage capacity, among other factors. We had the luck to speak with an expert who worked on this (pdf) report, “Status and Issues for Ethanol (E85) in the United States,” at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) last week in Colorado. It offers a good overview of where things are happening, what is not happening, what the technical and policy issues are and why tackling these issues can be challenging.
For example, it turns out that fueling stations offering E85 have more than doubled in about the past three years. But numbers are still low, and the stars must still be aligned for distributing, storing (when possible) and pumping biofuel in order to allow any major increase in biofuel use in this country. The distribution of vehicles also needs to align roughly with availability of the fuel. The report notes that today most E85 fueling stations are in the Midwest, in proximity to production facilities: “E85 station locations tend to be close to ethanol supply areas, instead of being driven by demand (where FFVs [flexible fuel vehicles] are located).”
Last week, the U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu undertook what I would characterize as an energy diplomacy tour of the Middle East, spending the first two days of his four day trip in Saudi Arabia, followed by a visit to Abu Dhabi in the UAE, and finally Qatar. While it was certainly exciting to me the trip as a whole didn't get too much coverage, so to save you the hassle of rifling through the annals of Google, I've provided you with a short recap of each day.
Day One (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia):
Secretary Chu kept a tight schedule, meeting with multiple officials. The day began with a discussion with King Abdullah and Saudi Petroleum and Resource Minister Ali Al Naimi. Topics of their talk included climate change, energy security, and the future role of alternative resources. Chu brought these topics together for the public during a speech at the International Energy Forum Secretariat, which hit on some solid natural security points. Chu also outlined the added stress that climate change could add to the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, by increasing levels of water scarcity – a problem already endemic in areas such as Yemen, whose instability has already been a thorn in the Kingdom's side.