August 02, 2011

New Natural Security Report: “Blinded”

Do you ever find yourself asking: how is
environmental change affecting stability in the Horn of Africa? Or wondering
just how many billions of dollars in damage sea level rise may cause in
emerging economies like India, China and Brazil? Or looking for good
projections of how many years we have until we see an ice-free summer in the

If you’re like us, you bring these questions of
environment and resources to your job analyzing security, stability and foreign
policy every day. And if you’re like us, you are probably increasingly alarmed
by the ongoing decline in American earth monitoring systems used in supplying
data for the environmental projections and trend analysis we need to do this

Yesterday we released to the world a short policy brief
called Blinded: The Decline of U.S. Earth
Monitoring Capabilities and Its Consequences for National Security
Here’s how we summarize the problem:

Networks of satellites, ground-based sensors and
unmanned aerial vehicles – the assets America uses to monitor and understand
environmental change and its consequences – are going dark. By 2016, only seven
of NASA’s current 13 earth monitoring satellites are expected to be
operational, leaving a crucial information gap that will hinder national
security planning. Meanwhile, efforts to prevent this capability gap have been
plagued by budget cuts, launch failures, technical deficiencies, chronic delays
and poor interagency coordination. Without the information that these assets
provide, core U.S. foreign policy and national security interests will be at

This problem has been reported for years, but we are
increasingly alarmed that the broad security and foreign policy communities do
not sufficiently understand how climate and environmental data from the
satellites that we’re losing affect national security planning. Just when more
and more analysts are moving to include climate and environmental considerations
in their work, we’re risking losing the data to do so with high confidence.
Just as bad, it feels like yet another indicator of America’s decline – made
even worse by preventable rocket failures launching the last 2 attempted
climate-related satellites not into orbit, but into the Pacific Ocean

This should be a quick, summery August read for you.
We’ll blog more about the report tomorrow, and welcome your feedback. For now,
enjoy! And if in the meantime you find yourself hungry for more, check out our body
of work on this topic on the blog under “space.