Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Energy, Climate, Security, and Optics in Obama's Speech

Today, President Obama gave a speech (which you could have watched live here on this blog) that was billed by the White House as a speech on "Energy Security and Independence".  I'm not sure that the actual announcement today that the US will open more of its Outer Continental Shelf to offshore drilling was that important, and I'll leave it to others to argue about how the policy change will do much good or bad for climate legislation.

However, the optics of today's speech are probably the most important part of it. By holding the event at Andrew's Air Force Base, in front of a (clean, green) F/A-18 'Green Hornet' fighter jet the administration is signaling that they are going to treat energy security and climate change policy as the security threat that it is.  The President was speaking directly to a group of servicemen who probably will all spend at least one tour of duty in the oil-rich Middle East as a direct result of our energy dependence.  Hopefully, this is only the beginning of a series of Presidential events that will show how climate change and energy dependence create threats to our national security.    

It is important that this 'securitization' of energy and climate policy is not done cynically.  If the Administration has decided that the only way to pass a comprehensive climate bill is by wrapping it in the flag, then it is not worth doing.  However, we know, through the good work that the CNA corporation has done in preparing it's “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change” and "Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security"  reports that this is an issue that is critically important to our national security.  Since the first report, released in 2007, other important reports from the National Intelligence Council, the DoD, and others have comprehensively linked American national security to our dependence on foreign energy, and the looming instability of climate change.  However, the CNA's reports also show a good way forward.  They suggest that the achieving energy security is possible but it requires strong leadership. The Green Hornet on display behind the President today shows how DoD can be a leader by becoming an early adopter and a test bed for new technologies, especially low-carbon fuels.

President Obama today showed that he gets this linkage:
"For decades we’ve talked about how our dependence on foreign oil threatens our economy -– yet our will to act rises and falls with the price of a barrel of oil. When gas gets expensive at the pump, suddenly everybody is an energy expert. And when it goes back down, everybody is back to their old habits.

For decades we’ve talked about the threat to future generations posed by our current system of energy –- even as we can see the mounting evidence of climate change from the Arctic Circle to the Gulf Coast. And this is particularly relevant to all of you who are serving in uniform: For decades, we’ve talked about the risks to our security created by dependence on foreign oil, but that dependence has actually grown year after year after year after year."
The question now is whether he can sell it to the American people. 

President Obama's Energy Security Speech

Below is a live stream of President Obama's speech on energy security.  Notice how we've gone fully in the securitization of energy policy.  The President is announcing the new energy plan in front of a fighter jet.  I think it looks like a Navy F-18, but this is an Air Force Base, so that can't be right.  Post in the comments, if you think I'm wrong. 

From the preliminary reporting I've read about the speech, I'd say that offshore drilling must be a very important part of our national energy policy.  However, it is just a part, that must include renewable energy, natural gas, and new technology.  We can't solve our energy security problems by simply drilling offshore, but politically I would say that breaking the taboo on offshore drilling is an important signal that the US government is willing to take the difficult steps to really address energy security.

I'll write more after the speech.

UPDATE: it appears that the White House's stream is only audio.  If you want video, CNN has it here:

UPDATE #2: it was a Navy F/A-18.  However, it was a 'Green Hornet' that had been modified to fly on a 50/50 mix of jet fuel with biofuel.

UPDATE #3: Now I've got the White House's Video successfully embedded. 

Friday, March 26, 2010

New Movie: "Climate Refugees"

Last night, I attended a screening of the new movie "Climate Refugees" at the UK Embassy here in Washington.  The film was an impressive travelogue to all of the 'hot spots' that are at the frontlines of climate change.  They visited Bangladesh, Tuvalu, Northern Alaska, New Orleans, inland China, and Darfur.  It provided stark visual evidence of the role that a changing climate is having on these places.  As one person in Tuvalu said, "nature has turned against us".  For those of us involved in climate policy every day, it doesn't present anything new, but it provides stunning visual confirmation of what we're working on.  Also, its clear that the film started out to talk about environmental migration, but as the interviews progressed, they began to look at climate change as a driver of conflict, which we've wrote about many times over the past year. 

Also, the interviews that the filmmaker, Michael Nach, was able to pull together impressive.  He brought together political leaders like John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, and Newt Gingrich to talk about it.  He also was able to gather a litany of leaders from the climate & security field.  Its nice to see people whom I've cited, worked with, emailed with, and admired involved in this work.  These included Koko Warner, Paul Ehrlich, Lester Brown, Stephen Schneider, Rajendra Pachauri, Peter Schwartz, and others.

Though the film does tend towards the more alarmist view on how many climate refugees there will be, I think it does it in a measured way.  As we've said on this blog before, no one is responsible for climate refugees, in the current international system.  There are some proposals on how to bring them into the international system, but there seems to be little global appetite to apply the Geneva Conventions to environmental migrants. 

Films like this play an important role in the political debate -- far greater than think tanks and blogs can -- and I hope that it gets as wide a viewing as possible.  I've embedded the trailer below. 

UPDATE: Appartently, the Natural Security Blog was there last night too. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

New Adelphi Book: "Climate Conflict" by Jeff Mazo

Jeff Mazo, Mangaing Editor here at the IISS, has just come out with his new Adelphi Book, Climate Conflict: How Global Warming Threatens Security and what to Do About It.  I had the pleasure to read earlier drafts of this, and I'm pleased to recommend it. 

Jeff takes a historian's view to climate conflicts, which I think is appropriate.  He looks at how changing local and regional climates have affected human history in the past, using Easter Island the Viking settlements on Greenland as examples of how a changing climate can cause a society to fail.  He then brings the argument into the modern day by persuasively saying that Darfur is the first modern climate-change conflict.  Like any conflict, there is a complex array of causes, but he makes a good case that conflict

The book carefully talks about the tenuous relationship between climate change and conflict.  Though its always tempting for us to hype the link between climate change and conflict, as I've written before, the is a danger to overstating the climate security argument.  A key line in the book is:

"Over the long term, changes in water and food availability will be major drivers of insecurity, but in the medium term the trends will be as much a matter of incremental, quantitative change as of qualitative step change.  Increased variability, especially increased frequency and severity of extreme events, will be the most significant factor..."
I would encourage any readers to buy Jeff's book today for the low, low price of 9.99 pounds. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Congressional Testimony on Energy Security and Climate Change

Yesterday (March 23), the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on pending nominees to senior positions within the Department of Defense.  Sharon Burke was nominated for the position of Director of Operations Energy Plans and Programs.  Sharon is currently the Vice President at the Center for a New American Security, where she works in their 'Natural Security' section .  CNAS' blog, Natural Security, is a must read for those of us working in this area. 

This is a new position at the DoD that I believe was created in the same legislation -- authored by then-Senators Clinton and Warner -- that directed the DoD to include an analysis of the security threats of climate change in the QDR, which I discussed earlier this year when the QDR was released.  

You can watch the webcast of the hearing here.  I've flipped through a good bit of it, and I was impressed by her exchange with Senator Inhofe, who can be a tough questioner of people whome he deems to disagree with him on climate change.  Also impressive is that she was introduced by former Senator Warner, who has been extremely active on energy security and climate security in his post-Senate career.  The Wilson Center's New Security Beat blog and CNAS's Natural Security blog have also written about her hearing. 

On an additional note, Sharon and I are both members of the Senator Hagel alumni association, though we never overlapped in our time there, and I believe her time there was relatively short.  Just another example of the strong alumni group throughout the Washington area.  I hope that she is quickly confirmed, and I wish her well at her new job.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Nord Stream Moves Forward

Below is a guest post from IISS-US intern Jonah Friedman.  I think he lays out the political and economic importance of the Nord Stream pipeline.  It will be interesting to see if this progress will push forward Nabucco as well.  -Andrew 

The Nord Stream natural gas pipeline received a multi-billion dollar funding package from a group of banks this week. These funds will allow the consortium of partner companies (Gazprom, BASF SE/Wintershall Holding GmbH, E.ON Ruhrgas, and Gasunie) to begin the first stage in the pipeline’s construction in April. The controversial project is intended to be complete by 2012 and will eventually supply some 55 billion cubic meters of gas to Europe per year. Natural gas is cleaner than coal or oil, and will constitute a growing share of Europe’s energy consumption as it strives to limit its contribution to climate change. Nord Stream thus plays a role in helping Europe meet its carbon emissions reduction targets.

This is a major step forward for Nord Stream, which in recent years has been hamstrung and delayed by the need to secure the approval of various Baltic countries, as well as by environmental concerns. These latter obstacles were often seen as smokescreens for some states to hide deeper political and military fears. Sweden had been particularly concerned that the pipeline might pose a threat to that country’s security – either by serving as a platform for Russian intelligence-gathering efforts, or because it could be used a pretext for Russian military intervention in the Baltic in order to defend the pipeline from terrorist attacks and the like.

Moreover, Nord Stream is being portrayed as a nightmare for some of the European Union’s newest members. The Baltic states and Poland face the prospect of being completely bypassed – both physically, and in terms of Russia-EU energy relations. These states have a particular interest in preventing the construction of Nord Stream, given than the pipeline is meant to remove transit states such as them from the equation. Suggestions that these states have used environmental objections to mask their true motivations are therefore not surprising.

Although the project may now move forward more smoothly than it had in the past, new difficulties may lie ahead. Exploitation of Russia’s Shtokman gas field, which is meant to be one of Nord Stream’s sources, has been delayed. Gazprom, announced in February that the opening of the field would be further postponed by three years, and some doubt whether it will ever open. This leaves the future of the project – and the composition of Europe’s future energy supply – still somewhat in doubt.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Climate Threat: Icebergs?

NASA has some of the most dramatic pictures of melting in the Antarctic that I've seen.  This series of pictures, reproduced below from NASA’s Aqua satellite, shows the progression over 20 days from February 7 until February 27 of the collision of an iceberg, called B-9B, with the Mertz Glacier Tongue.  Apparently this glacier had been stable and immobile for the last 18 years.  Melting this year, however, has caused it to begin to move.  Below we see the consequences, as the 1400 square mile B-9B runs into the Mertz Glacier and creates an 1150 square mile iceberg.  Put together, at 2550 square miles, these icebergs are about the size of Sri Lanka. 

Here, on February 7, we see B-9B (on the right) colliding with the Mertz glacier.  Note the beginning of a crack on the left side. 

 Here, on February 20, we see that the crack has fully broken the new iceberg away from the Mertz Glacier.

Finally, on February 26, we see that the two glaciers have begun to float freely. 

Joe Romm put a post up on ClimateProgess by Nick Sundt of WWF detailing the iceberg collision.  Sundt focuses on the implications of this for Antarctic wildlife, particularly Emperor Penguins.  This is an important question, but is not really relevant to security practitioners. 

The reason I'm interested in icebergs is for the security of shipping.  Though you can never attribute a single event like this to climate change, we should expect that events like this will become more frequent as the world warms and ice melts.  Therefore, we could have a seemingly paradoxical effect that global warming will cause more glaciers as the ice melts.  As you can see in the image of global sea-lanes below (from Science Magazine), glaciers in the Southern Ocean are not a great threat to shipping.  The Southern Ocean will remain some of the most treacherous waters on the planet, and we shouldn't expect shipping to go here, no matter how warm the world becomes.

However, a glance at the map will show how busy the North Atlantic Route is for shipping.  Greenland is melting much faster than the IPCC predicted only 4 years ago.  Though we may not see glaciers the size of Sri Lanka coming off Greenland, we should expect that some of that rapid melt will cause icebergs to break off Greenland.  Approximately 10-15,000 glacier are created each year off Greenland, but the majority of those melt prior to threatening shipping.  The US and Canada Coast Guard run the International Ice Patrol to monitor these icebergs and prevent them from threatening shipping.  However, should more and larger icebergs become normal, then we could expect them have a tougher job, requiring greater resources, and ultimately increasing the cost of shipping.   I'm not sure how much of a threat this is, but it seems likely to be growing.