September 23, 2009

Natural Security by Another Definition

Today we wanted to just flag another new report out called “Natural Security,” by Washington, D.C.-based conservation group American Rivers. Obviously the group has a different take on this terminology than we do here at CNAS. The full report, “Natural Security: How Sustainable Water Strategies Prepare Communities for a Changing Climate,” by Will Hewes and Kristen Pitts, never explains exactly what it means by “security,” but implies that the authors likely consider it to be something along the lines of tolerance of extreme stress without destruction (whereas we focus on U.S. national security). “Natural” means not artificial, as human solutions such as dams and pipes often address only single water challenges. Natural systems – trees, roots, etc. – and efficient water use and reuse are the best strategies for guaranteeing that American communities will have sufficient water supplies and related quality of life in the face of environmental and demographic pressures. Like energy efficiency as a means of cutting emissions, it is often the cheapest alternative in the long run.

As the report describes, climate change has the potential to make life more difficult, “as rising temperatures, increased water demands, extended droughts, and intense storm strain our water supplies, flood our communities, and pollute our waterways.” Global change will force human beings to change their traditional approaches to managing water supplies, and this should involve using “natural infrastructure” to help ensure clean water supplies and control flooding and other water-related problems.

The report outlines a good case for this approach, which I won’t expound on here. But it’s great to read a report on ecosystem improvement that incorporates some concepts familiar to the homeland security community. First, the report’s main theme is resiliency, defined by the authors as “The ability of a community to absorb disturbances or stresses caused by climate change without experiencing catastrophic losses or losing essential functions.” This is a great definition, very compatible with the way the Obama White House uses the term in describing its approach to some national security issues. Second, the report emphasizes local involvement, profiling several cities across the country that have been combining traditional (human engineered) and natural water improvement methods.

Even while countries around the world spoke this week of increasing greenhouse gas mitigation efforts, this report is a good map of one route to improving the country’s planning to adapt to what climatic changes we are already likely to see regardless of future mitigation. It is definitely therefore a useful component of the CNAS formulation of "natural security," and it is a quick, easy read to boot.