Permissible Arms

Perfect power

Posted in afghanistan, united states, us defense by Karaka on 29 April 2010

Yesterday I spent my lunch “break,” or perhaps my lunch-identified semi-working time, watching the webcast of CNAS’s panel on Natural Security: Navigating the Future Global Environment. The panel was moderated by David Kilcullen, whose new book I am eager to get my hands on, and covered a wide range of topics relating to energy security, climate change, and the interaction of the two with military emplacement, shifting foreign policy, and economic necessity. Whoever works the CNAS twitter and smart dude Herb Carmen both live-tweeted the event, as did I, to some extent. (I work in the energy industry, and national security is the thing I spend my not-working time engaged in, so it’s the intersection of two things I’m keen on.)

Sadly CNAS hasn’t made the panel, or the introductory remarks by presidential adviser Carol Browner, available online yet, and I’m not sure they will; though I hope they do, because it was a very good panel. RADM Phillip Cullom, Bob Kaplan, and Christine Parthemore all spoke knowledgeably on the subject, and it generated some interesting thoughts for me personally. The event was held in conjunction with a report released last week from CNAS called Broadening Horizons: Climate Change and the U.S. Armed Forces (available as a PDF from that link) which I haven’t had the opportunity to read yet.

Anyway, links aside, there were a couple of points I wanted to note.

1. Energy efficiency. Without a doubt–not a single one, and I don’t mean that figuratively, I mean I have exactly zero doubts about this–energy efficiency is the single greatest tool the United States and other industrialized nations has to combat the economic realities of finite resources. The West is very much a culture of waste–we dispose rather than recycle or reuse, we expect to consume more than we actually do and waste the rest, and we do not take simple measures to counter that waste. It’s possible to implement policies and practices that can counter this without a great deal of upheaval; it’s simply a matter of implementing them.

On a small scale, it’s things like sealing buildings to prevent unnecessary overproduction of interior climates. On a large scale, it’s something like “sending a nugget on a second run before bringing him for tanking,” to paraphrase RADM Cullom. Fundamentally we don’t understand our resources–all of them, not merely petrol–as finite or limited, because you can always purchase another one of whatever it is you have. But if there’s anything the economic recession has taught this generation, it’s that we cannot be a nation solely based on economic consumption.

2. Changes in foreign policy. Bob Kaplan made one of the strongest points on the panel, I think, when he outlined the correlation between China’s sweeping population growth, the subsequent need for expanded economic resources, and the shifts to a more aggressive foreign policy mandate from that nation’s diplomatic corps. I think we tend to underestimate or overshadow the driving economic needs of states as precursors to action in favor of rhetoric about political ambitions or historical ties. A nation can be driven to desperation if it needs to resource its people, and if the world’s balance of power can tip because of salt or oil, it certainly can tip because of overpopulation.

3. Infrastructure. I think it was David Kilcullen, with support from Christine Pathemore, who started talking about establishing infrastructure in Afghanistan (both for FOBs and other military emplacements, and also for local villages and towns). Afghanistan is not an industrialized nation, but there is a very strong point to be made that a nation does not necessarily require state-wide industrialization to make basic energy needs available to its populace and governance. A power grid essentially refers to points in a locale that see the distribution and transmission of electricity; such a grid can operate over vast spaces (like North America) or in small populations (several communities in Coromandel, NZ, where I volunteered at the kiwi sanctuary, operated on small self-sustaining power grids in this fashion; it also happens frequently in rural Alaskan communities). The infrastructure can be relative to the size and needs of the population, and generally speaking it’s possible to provide basic services on small independent grids without getting too far into the weeds of industrial planning and building.

Of course, there was plenty more discussed than just the above points. Unfortunately the webcast went out for a bit and I missed the majority of the q&a period. I wanted to ask a question about the use of renewables (particularly wind and solar) in the generation of power on small independent power grids, but I wasn’t sure if someone else had brought it up in the time that I missed. And also, what do I say? “Question from Karaka, from the Blogosphere. You may have heard of us from the Army.”

Anyway, if I were writing a paper it would be about the use of small-build power grids and renewable energy generators to provide basic electrical services to remote communities in Afghanistan. But I should probably leave that to the experts.


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  1. […] mentioned last week that I’d watched the CNAS webcast of their panel on Natural Security, and they’ve now […]

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