Environmental journalist and author Michael Grunwald, writing in Foreign Policy’s special report Oil: the Long Goodbye, takes on the “Seven Myths About Alternative Energy.” Grunwald is less sanguine on the prospects for using alternative energy sources such as biofuels, solar, and nuclear power than using energy efficiency and conservation to reduce fossil fuel reliance and greenhouse gas emissions. Regardless of the efficacy of the seven now-common alternative energy narratives that the author identifies, the Department of Defense, the largest U.S. energy consumer, is moving along with many relevant plans and purchases. Let’s take a look at how DOD activities align with Grunwald’s piece.
Natural security issues are gaining major traction in the media lately, most notably a cover feature on oil in Foreign Policy magazine and climate change taking the spotlight on the cover of the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs. To celebrate, over the next few weeks the Natural Security Blog will review and expand upon the issues raised by these publications, with the goal of identifying the U.S. national security implications of the ideas presented. Please feel free to comment on our posts or email us as we do so, as we sincerely hope that this new spotlight on topics of natural security sparks a new and vigorous debate about them. As today's title indicates, the first installment adds a security angle to an FP piece on national oil companies.
Flying jet-skis, melted icecaps, a mutant sailor, and a cartographic tattoo can mean only one thing: it’s time to review Waterworld, the Oscar-nominated cinematic marvel out of 1995. Following a seafaring Kevin Costner with a penchant for underwater respiration, the film envisages a future Earth beset by catastrophic climate change, where dirt is the world’s most valuable commodity and terra firma exists only in myth. But before moving to assess the natural security lessons in the film, qualifications of the scientific and artistic merit are in order.
Humvees burn through fuel quickly and leave more than tire tracks in their wake. Acknowledging the impact that high energy demand can have on operational effectiveness and broader strategic aims, the United States Marine Corps has recently taken steps to address the service’s challenges with operation fuel use. At the first ever USMC Energy Summit on 13 August, Commandant of the Marine Corps General James T. Conway called for greater battlefield efficiency and continued progress in creating “net-zero” installations, which when finished will produce as much energy as they consume. Following up on initiatives announced at the summit, Marines in Afghanistan began a battlefield energy audit this week to determine areas of improvement in energy efficiency.
Photo: Humvees stand parked at Patrol Base Jaker in the Nawa district of Afghanistan's Helmand province. Courtesy of Staff Sergeant William Greeson and the Department of Defense.
In recent weeks a number of developments have been taking place within the armed services – in particular the Marine Corps and the Navy – to increase energy efficiency and develop alternative fuel technology.
The inaugural United States Marine Corps Energy Summit took place last week where top brass spoke to the necessity of reducing energy consumption. The operational energy demands of the USMC are huge: in one day in Afghanistan, U.S. Marines now burn through more than 800,000 gallons of fuel. In order to reduce threats to convoys that supply Marines’ logistics needs, such as fuel, Commandant of the Marine Corps General James T. Conway suggests greater battlefield energy efficiency. His call is no empty rally cry; this week Marines in Afghanistan began the first ever energy audit in a war zone.
For the past several months the American media has grown increasingly fascinated with Mexico, with widespread coverage of the swine flu outbreak in April and May as a top news item. However, American media and the policy community – including CNAS’ own Col. Robert Killebrew – have been increasingly focused on Mexico’s struggle to contain drug-related violence and the growing power of cartels. Earlier this year, the violence reached such extreme levels that there was increasing talk of Mexico reaching failed state status. While this conversation has abated, a recent resurgence in cartel-related violence may reignite that debate and offer an opportunity to broaden the discussion to include other issues engaging recent events in Mexico.
Last week, Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) shed fresh light on the exploitation of the country’s vast mineral resources which has helped fuel civil conflict and aggravate international tensions for the last decade. Urging reform, Secretary Clinton emphasized the need for all Congolese people to benefit from its vast resource wealth rather than just a few, and called for an end to exploitation from “outside corporations or countries that extract the riches and leave with them without really putting back the commensurate investment in the country.” And for the Department of Defense (DoD), understanding the illegal minerals trade and ensuing conflict will help the military prepare for strategic challenges that lie ahead in this volatile region of Africa.
Turkey has long reaped the benefits as an energy-transit country, connecting Caspian and Central Asian producers of oil and natural gas with European consumers, raising its geopolitical profile as a global energy hub. But Turkey has started to expand its geopolitical role by leveraging other natural resources to its advantage. And as an upstream state with access to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Turkey is starting to see the benefits of using water as a tool to influence Middle East politics, especially in Iraq.
I had an opportunity to speak with David Axe, a military correspondent with Wired Magazine’s Danger Room and a regular contributor to warisboring.com, to discuss a variety of natural security issues and the evolving role of the U.S. military in responding to climate-related disasters and relief. Axe is a contributing editor at World Politics Review, Warships International Fleet Review and Eurasia Critic, and a regular contributor to The Washington Times and C-SPAN. He has traveled extensively throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East, reporting from a number of war zones, including Afghanistan, Chad, East Timor, Gabon, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Nicaragua and Somalia, where his experiences have informed his understanding of how violent conflicts are linked to poor environmental stewardship and natural resource scarcity.
The Sunday New York Times reported – front-page, above the fold – that climate change is a threat to U.S. national security. John Broder, writing for the Times, reported that “the changing global climate will pose profound challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics.” The story elicited numerous responses this week from both proponents and skeptics of the notion that climate change is a threat to U.S. security.
After surfacing through three feet of ice, crew from the USS Annapolis traverse the barren Arctic frost during Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2009. ICEX 2009, which lasted two weeks, served to train submarine capabilities in the changing Arctic environment. As we discussed yesterday in depth, climate change is causing Arctic sea ice to retreat further and further. As sea ice shrinks, the possibility of the high north opening up as a viable sea route is becoming more likely and Arctic nations are beginning to take steps to increase their presence there. As competition between nations increases over resources in the Arctic, militaries are being tasked to evaluate and bolster their operating capabilities in the high north.
Photo: Courtesy of Petty Officer 1st Class Tiffini M. Jones, U.S. Navy and the U.S. Department of Defense.
On Tuesday, CNAS Vice President for Natural Security Sharon Burke spoke with NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook where she discussed, among other issues, the Department of Defense’s (DoD) planning concerning climate change scenarios. One of the issues discussed was the notion that – at least short-term – climate change will not affect all nations equally. Initially there will be some winners and losers, Burke told Ashbrook. The losers are fairly easy to discern. Take for instance those countries that will be swallowed up by a rising sea – à la the Maldives or Tuvalu.
However, as the National Intelligence Council report Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World states, Arctic nations in particular stand to make immediate gains as climate change continues to shrink the area covered by Arctic sea ice. As sea ice retreats, the possibility of the Arctic becoming a viable shipping route will become more likely. If the ice retreats enough to allow for near-year or yearlong transit, the melting Arctic may become a desirable alternative to the gamut of Panamax restrictions and piracy that shipping companies currently face, potentially generating windfall profits for Russian and Canadian ports servicing the route.
We’ve still been figuring out the science and what the science all means. And it’s pretty unequivocal now that this is happening and that human beings are making a contribution. But as to exactly what is going to happen – when, where, how – that is still very complicated. The climate is a very complicated system. So to know exactly what is going to happen is a real challenge.
Click here to listen to the full interview.
When I was a kid in the early 70s, one of my favorite Sesame Street features was a fun little musical game called “One of These Things (Is Not Like the Others).” The objective was to choose from among four objects the one that didn’t fit with the others—like a bottle of Pierre-Jouet Fleur Rosé pictured alongside a Bud Light, a PBR, and a Billy Beer (personally, I would go with the PBR).
During my frequent forays into the national security community, I am often reminded of that little game while discussing the possibility that climate change might have legitimate links with national security. No matter how you slice it, most folks in the community can’t picture climate change as a mainstream security issue alongside nuclear proliferation, international terrorism, and weapons systems. But recently a fascinating change seems to be afoot. More and more, security and foreign policy wonks, practitioners, and commentators are including climate change in their lists of key security issues facing the United States. There are some striking examples coming from people and institutions that factor strongly into the national security discourse.
|One of These Things (IS Like the Others!)|
|U.S. Defense Budget|| Number of Combat Fatalities
|Atmospheric Greenhouse Gas Concentration||Number of Nuclear Weapon Tests|
My Sesame Street analogy was shattered last week when a colleague alerted me to the Brookings Institution’s new publication, “How We're Doing: A Composite Index of Global and National Trends.” The purpose of the “How We’re Doing” index is to gauge the condition of the nation and the world with regard to “the American Constitution’s mandate that the government ‘provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.’” The index tracks various metrics for those three categories at the six-month mark in the last six presidencies, Carter through Obama.
Security scholarship underwent a well-known and tumultuous phase of introspection in the late eighties and early nineties, brought on by a fundamental restructuring of the international order. Out of the post-Cold War period came a discourse on the proper place of the environment in calculations of national security, and from that first wave of environmental security literature comes the conceptual framework behind the Natural Security Program. In due deference, today’s edition of Reading Old Magazines looks back to consider the two sides of that turn-of-the-last-decade debate as represented by Jessica Tuchman Mathews’s “Redefining Security” and Daniel Deudney’s “The Case against Linking Environmental Degradation and National Security.”