August 09, 2010

This Weekend’s News: Wow, There Sure Was a Lot of Bad News This Weekend

This is shaping up to be a summer marked by its extensive natural disasters around the world. In addition to the heat waves, projections hinting at a bad hurricane season in this hemisphere, Russia’s massive wildfires, and floods hitting Central Europe, Pakistan’s already-terrible flooding is expected to grow worse. First, according to The New York Times, the Russian wildfires have “forced the military to transfer rockets away from a garrison near the capital” after “they burned through forests toward a nuclear missile warning center outside Moscow.”

Second and even more concerning in its scale, yesterday The Washington Post highlighted concerns of Pakistani officials that the extensive damage from flooding, which has killed about 1,600 to date, could set back gains against insurgents:

Over the past year, Pakistan's army has succeeded in driving Taliban fighters out of key sanctuaries in South Waziristan and the Swat Valley. But the damage from the floods could jeopardize those gains, officials acknowledge, unless infrastructure is quickly rebuilt -- an undertaking that will cost billions of dollars and will likely take years.

In domestic news of bad (but likely politically necessary) investments, the Department of Energy announced last week that we’re putting another billion dollars into a reconfigured plan for the FutureGen project, which has proven about as successful as the attempts to keep Lindsey Lohan out of jail.  Several articles covering this move by DOE pointed out that a simpler option (that’s technically feasible today) could be to use natural gas for power generation rather than continuing reliance on coal, as several other countries are already beginning to do. But they reveal that part of that decision is coming back to price: if you ignore price supports and externalities that we don’t price at all, coal is cheaper than natural gas. And as we’ve seen lately, policies to price in externalities such as greenhouse gas emissions are unfortunately beyond the political will of Congress at the moment. (On that note, The Washington Post’s “On Leadership” section yesterday included commentary on why the country can’t muster the leadership needed to act on climate change.)

Oh, and even better news! Climate change negotiations are reported to be going off the rails after this week’s discussions in Bonn, with some countries actually walking back on commitments they’d made previously. In addition to the possible security consequences of the changing climate concerning us here, this country is just starting to explore what working on climate adaptation and mitigation could mean in terms of U.S. soft power. It would be a terrible thing to relinquish that before we even know its full potential.

On a final note, that is perhaps less concerning than the bulk of this weekend’s news, China incorporated research and development on rare earth minerals into its new 5-year plan.

We hate to start the week off with such a buzzkill. Don’t lose hope, though. If you’re reading this blog, chances are it just means that you have a lot more good work to do.  

The Week Ahead

Sadly, it doesn't seem like there are any natural security-related events scheduled for this week.  Looks like a very slow week in DC.  Take time to enjoy the summer weather instead!