Tags
Recent Comments
Receive "The World According to Tom Barnett" Brief
Where I Work
Where I write
Buy Tom's Books
  • Great Powers: America and the World After Bush
    Great Powers: America and the World After Bush
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating
    Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • Romanian and East German Policies in the Third World: Comparing the Strategies of Ceausescu and Honecker
    Romanian and East German Policies in the Third World: Comparing the Strategies of Ceausescu and Honecker
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 1): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 1): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 2): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 2): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 3): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 3): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 4): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 4): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 5): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 5): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett, Emily V. Barnett
Search the Site
Subscribe to Blog
Monthly Archives
Powered by Squarespace

Entries in environment (16)

8:50AM

The pollution trigger in China

I love that building.  Locals in Beijing have dubbed it the "squatting man" or some such (you get the idea), indicating that the Chinese sense of humor is as fine as anybody else's.

But patience wears thin on the subject of pollution, which is stunning to behold in China - as in, take my allergy issues in Indiana and times it by 10 in terms of the resulting agony.

Here we see the same fundamental failure of authoritarian rule that we saw in the Soviet Union:  when the state has unbridled power, it trashes the environment.  The Soviets took that sin to amazing depths, but the Chinese are rapidly closing in on those horrific standards.

And yes, democracy is the answer - the only answer.  We bitch about the BANANAs and NIMBYs (look 'em up) in the US, but frankly, these cranks do God's work day-in and day-out - along with our legal system.  Give me one Erin Brockovitch over a million Maos (or even a hundred Dengs) and we will all live in a much better world.

The strongest grass-roots democratization dynamics inside China involve the environment.  Some of the best progressive elements within the US during our similar out-of-control developmental age (late 19th century) were likewise focused (and again, TR leads the way politically).  It's the easiest and most direct trigger to the whole "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" dynamic that fuels democratization.  You simply push people too far with your incompetence and indifference.

Yes, the new generation of CCP leaders seems far more aware of the issue - Li  Keqiang especially.  But as the NYT front-pager today points out, that lofty talk doesn't surmount the bureaucratic infighting within the single-party state.  Here is where the lack of an out-of-power party is crucial.  No one can sweep in with an electoral mandate to clean things up - hence, nothing significant gets accomplished.  

The great dynamic of America's Progressive Era was that parties won big and ruled big, whether they were Dems or Republicans.  That's how stuff (new rules) got done and things improved dramatically.

That's also what we lack today with the evenly-and-deeply-divided Boomer-centric electorate - hence our deep need for reforms as well.  But at least we have the system in place for when the electorate gets fed-up enought to force action.

China lacks this, and it's getting to be a huge hindrance to its further progress as a nation.

10:58AM

WAPO WonkBlog: "What will we smuggle in the future? Drones, coal, and honeybees."

Psst, got any HCFC-22?Everybody’s making predictions for 2013 right now, but why not aim farther? Recently, the consultancy group Wikistrat ran a large crowd-sourced simulation to try to figure out what sorts of items would be smuggled in 2050.

That’s right, smuggled. The idea is that you can tell a lot about a society by what’s available on its black markets. And over the next four decades the combination of new technologies, environmental pressures and shifting consumer preferences is likely to lead to a whole slew of products and behaviors being banned or restricted.

So here’s what Wikistrat expects will thrive on the black market by 2050. Note that the group mainly focused on identifying new types of contraband — no doubt old crowd favorites like drugs and guns will still be trafficked for decades to come:

Read the entire post at WAPO's WonkBlog.

The pic and caption are apt.  I got the idea for designing the sim from reading a newspaper account of how freon is now a smuggle-able item. Of course, we used it for decades in air conditioning units, but then, about 20 years ago, it was ordered phased out by an international treaty.  So voila!  Two decades later it's perfectly illegal - in some parts of the world, thus the smugglers' market.

Well, that got me thinking:  If we project ahead to 2050, which of today's legal items would become illegal? (And no, I disagree with the blog author noting that we "omitted" foreign arable land sales and leasing as "unconventional" smuggling, because that's an abuse of the term when the item in question cannot be moved across sovereign borders.  Although the concept makes me laugh to remember Woody Allen's "Love and Death" where his Russian father carries around a chunk of sod, pulling it out for friends and declaring, "Someday, I hope to build on it!")

Several dozen analysts cranked a few dozen ideas.  I then grouped them and wrote up the report.  It was a pretty good sim, and it generated (as I suspected it might) the right kind of material that a MSM outlet might like to publicize.

Access the full Wikistrat report (PDF) here and the executive summary too.

12:01AM

Getting Arctic hydrocarbons will be a lot harder than anticipated

FT special report on Canadian energy that highlights the difficulties of accessing Arctic oil and gas and bringing it economically to market.

First is the sheer remoteness.  Then there's the extremely hostile environment.  Even with the ice-clearing in the summer, the genuine window for exploitation is still measured in weeks.  Everything you use must be special built, platforms with extreme reliability.

And the fields in question need to be big - really big - to cover the high costs.  

In short, only the majors and supermajors should apply, because only they will have the "financial firepower."

This is all before governments issue ever stringent safety requirements to protect the environment, a bar that rises with each Deepwater Horizon.

Finally, there's how you get it to market, with the big choice being between fixed pipelines and ice-class shuttle tankers.  Neither is cheap.

Just a bit of cold water thrown on the anticipated "bonanza."

I note it with interest as I write the final report (while traveling most of the week) for Wikistrat's recent "How the Arctic Was Won" simulation.

12:01AM

Fracking confronts the reality of limited water resources

WSJ piece noting that all this hydralic fracturing (fracking) is coming up against local water limits.  Already, US fracking uses water on par with the city of Chicago or Houston.

So the industry jumps into figuring out how to reuse the water multiple times by cleaning it up (not enough for drinking but enough to reuse).  Already in PA the percentage use of recycled water is up to 17% this year, jumping from 13% last year.

This is a huge issue, because we're looking at 1 million more fracking wells globally by 2035, according to Schlumberger (oilfield services co.).  The issue is expressed both in unwanted externalities (enviro risks/damage) and cost within the industry (acquiring and disposing).

Something to keep an eye on, as the industry competes with Mother Nature (climate change), agriculture and urbanization globally.

10:53AM

The Chinese Communist Party comes up with new "test" for industrial projects

Thanks to growing grass-roots protests by Chinese citizens over big industrial projects, the NYT reports that the government there now says all such plans must pass a "social risk assessment" prior to final approval.  

Interesting choice of terms, yes?  The environmental impact is what the people worry about, but it's the "social risk" that gets the government interested.  Apparently this has been done in some local governments for a while now (the experiment, per the Chinese way) and now it's being adopted on national scale.

China already has environmental impact studies, and now the government says (as of 1 Sept) that they must be posted on the internet (also interesting).

Environmental minister says, "By doing so, I hope we can reduce the number of mass incidents in the future."

The tipping point?

Enviro protests used to attract only the old and retired.  Then the young started showing up in numbers, and that's when the Party got scared.

China is, as I argue, on the verge of a huge and prolonged progressive era.  All sorts of things to clean up. Each time such steps are taken, just a bit more power to the people - always defensively offered by the government.

9:09AM

China not-so-bad sign: no longer growth-at-all-costs

Nice NYT story on growth of (primarily) middle class resistance to unlimited growth ambitions WRT environmental damage.  Most experts who track the grass-root democracy arising in China have noted its strong concentration in the environmental realm.  

It's a natural development that we've seen everywhere else a middle class historically arises:  once you get to a certain level of GDP ($4-7,000) you start caring about the environment a whole lot more.

Chart shows all the places where projects have been delayed/cancelled in response to popular demands.

Point being:  all part of the natural slowdown in growth that comes with modernization.  Things get more complex.  The public puts up with less crap.  China is not different in this regard whatsoever.

As I've noted for years now, Asian countries that modernize and open up to globalization typically do so as single-party states (either explicit or de facto) for about 5 decades.  Then things change.

That logic says China goes democratic in the 2020s - or faster.

12:02AM

Where is the world is Wikistrat?

A graphic listing most - but not all - of the sims conducted by Wikistrat this year.  The point is to display the breadth and the volume.  Be impressed, because you should be.

Wikistrat's sims aren't a year in the planning.  Client names the subject and we're off and running in days.  Why? All Wikistrat needs is a framework and then we turn the analysts loose on the scenarios.  The company don't spend countless man-hours narrowing down the range of possibilities so that 95% of the uncertainty and surprise is drained from the exercise by the time we actually start it.  Wikistrat can customize the structure to your concerns and then it brings the masses in to run with that structure and take it places you - the client - hadn't considered.

That approach allows for a huge mapping of possibilities.  You want to find the needle in the haystack?  Well, Wikistrat can run through that hay awfully damn quick.

Spend a minute and see if you can guess the four sims that were my ideas . . .

{music}

First one was China as Africa's de facto World Bank.  I'm pretty sure that was based on a WSJ headline noting that tipping point.  It ended up positing a lot of interesting intersection points between the US and China on the continent. Sim ended up generating both a report and a briefing by me.

Second one was the North American Energy Export Boom.  There was a time when Wikistrat asked me what I'd most like to explore in terms of near-term uncertainty in the system, and the whole fracking thing just jumped out at me:  Which way does it go?  Does it work out big-time for the US and - ultimately - the world?  Or does it get aborted like nuclear power for enviro reasons?  That was a very strong sim in terms of output, and all that material (final report and my brief) still tracks incredibly well with headlines.  All we did is simply systematize all those possibilities, organizing them into four major trajectories (usual X-Y approach). But the upshot was, anybody who goes through that stuff now has the capacity to process all the headlines to come.

Third one was the China slowdown sim.  That one's been in my mind since I wrote the piece for Esquire back in the fall of 2010 (it came out in the Jan '11 issue).  The idea came to me in the summer of 2010 and it took a while to sell it to the magazine, but it looks fairly prescient today, doesn't it?  Anyway, a very solid sim that ran down all manner of possibilities, and I really loved the quartet of scenarios we came up with (which drew comparisons to historical risers).  Great report and probably the strongest brief I've yet done for WS.

Fourth one was "when China's carrier entered the Gulf."  Wikistrat asked me to generate a host of possible sims way back when, and that was one of them. Just a simple logical progression argument, with the trick being imagining all the possibilities when that inevitability unfolds.  Hence the sim, which turned out great, along with a solid report.  And this one was only a "mini-sim" by WS standards:  just a brainstorming drill on scenarios with a quick follow-up on policy options.  Mostly junior analysts, but the output was as good as anything I've seen from the National Intelligence Council - seriously.

Two on the list I didn't really have anything to do with: NATO and Pakistan.  First one was driven by a client's curiousity.  Second one is just a natural "what if?"  Both turned out quite nicely.

The Democratic Peace Theory Challenged sim is another one I did not design, and I will admit that, at first blush, I didn't much care for the subject.  I was brought in to work the design and shaped it somewhat, but I truly had low expectations.  In truth, those were exceeded by a long shot.  The material needed more shaping than usual, because the sim had a theoretical bent, but what I ended up with at the end in the final report was . . . to my surprise . . . quite strong - I mean, present at a poli sci/IR conference strong (or walk into any command and brief strong).  It easily could have veered into all sorts of panic mongering, but instead it organized a universe of possibilities very neatly.  I was really proud of the overall effort, and it reminded me not to get too judgmental going into sims.

The Syria sim I didn't design, nor did I oversee its operation.  That Wikistrat left to junior versions of myself.  I was brought in at the end to shape the first draft of the report, and, while I moved things around plenty, the material held up very nicely to my critical eye, which is encouraging.  If Wikistrat is going to handle all the volume coming down the pike (contractual relationships are piling up at a daunting rate), then the Chief Analyst position needs to be like that of any traditional RAND-like player:  that person needs to be able to shape things a bit at the start and then at the end, but mid-range staff need to be able to herd all those cats and the resulting material. So that one felt like a nice maturation of the process, because, like with any successful start-up, the real challenge isn't marketing but execution.

This graphic, for some sad reason, skips the headlining sim of the year to date:  When Israel Strikes Iran.  That one I had a lot of fun with, giving it my years-in-the-testing phased approach (initial conditions, trigger, unfolding, peak, glide path, exit, new normal).  That approach goes back to my Y2K work and later after-action on the Station Nightclub fire disaster in Rhode Island (done for the local United Way to provide lessons learned on how well the organization responded). That was the most structurally ambitious Wikistrat sim to date and it - unsurprisingly - produced the best material by far. I'd put that final report and brief up against anything the best elements of the US national security establishment could produce . . . naturally at about 20 times the cost and five times the duration of effort.

The graphic also doesn't include the most recent sims.  I just finished a final report on The Globally Crystalizing Climate Change Event (one of mine), and, despite the great time projection, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the material holds up in the report.  I thought the analysts did a great job there.

Based on that fine crowd performance, Wikistrat pushes the community even harder in the just-wrapping-up sim entitled When World Population Peaks.  This one was truly challenging, but my point in designing the sim was almost to purposefully "test out" analysts in the manner of a language-skills oral exam, meaning I wanted something almost too hard for most analysts so as to press both them and the supervising analysts on how they handled it.  Think of it like a NASA sim where Control is trying to crash the lunar module.  That was a bit stressful, I think, for a lot of the community who participated, but - to me - it was like a nasty cross-country workout (I am assistant coaching my kid's team again for the 8th year in a row and I'm on my third kid) early in the season:  bit of a bitch mentally and physically, but it'll pay off down the road.

Yes, Wikistrat does take all its sims - even the training ones - very seriously.  If you're not growing then you're dying - simple as that.  Start-ups have to have that survival-of-the-fittest mentality and we're talking about a small firm that's come out of nowhere (okay, Israel) in just three years.

So, a nice overview of the year, and it's an impressive body of work.  Would you believe me if I told you that all of it was accomplished within a timeframe and with a far smaller budget that one of those bloated wargames that Booz Allen runs for the Pentagon?

Well, if you did, then you'd know why Wikistrat is going to succeed in this cutthroat business.

12:03AM

Don't export US natural gas!

Also per the recent Wikistrat simulation, a weird alliance of environmentalists and the US chemical industry getting together to try and put a halt to ambitious plans to export natural gas as LNG (liquid natural gas), something that big buyers like Japan are lobbying to see happen.  The enviros don't want all the greenhouse gases released by fracking (mostly methane), and the chemical companies want all that cheap gas to be hoarded by the US economy to keep its feedstock flow as cost-advantageous as possible (ultimately allowing that export profit to be somewhat hoarded by the chemical industry).

If all the planned LNG export facilities were built, as much as 1/4 of US nat gas production could go abroad.

We are now 7 years past when Fed Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned Congress that America needed to build more import terminals.

Peak this!

12:33PM

How you pressure the Chinese into reforms

What Beijingers refer to (roughly) as "the man taking a dump" building, because it looks like somebody squatting over a toilet.US officials trying to get China to go public with genuinely accurate smog/pollution data, but Beijing refuses, despite the obvious nature of the extreme air pollution in the city and elsewhere.

So instead of a frontal assault, the US Embassy just starts posting its own readings on the web via Twitter.

Beijing now becomes the first Chinese city to publish hourly readings based on the preffered tight measurement standard of (PM2.5, which measures the tinier particles that go deep into the lungs). The presumptive new premier, Li Keqiang, gearing up for his own "Grandpa Wen" model, made a public plea for this three weeks ago.

Nicely done, US Embassy.

9:30AM

Chart of the Day: Isn't a coincidence that the two biggest energy consumers . . .

 . . . happen to own the world's two largest reserves of shale gas?

Nice timing, huh?

The trick, of course, is the environmental impact.  American companies don't want to reveal their techniques, but the public needs to know so we can judge the impact and enforce the necessary precautions.

How that works and what volumes that ultimately allows us to extract is a big variable going forward.

With China, one assumes the niceties are not observed - until the riots start.

12:02AM

The environmental cost of natural gas fraccing

Solid NYT piece that shows we're just beginning the Erin Brockovitch-style fights over the environmental impact of natural gas fracturing methods.  

I expect the news will get worse before it gets better, but that it'll be a good process of discovery that forces more careful extraction techniques and technologies.

So, bring on the lawyers, say I.

12:03AM

Chart of the Day: the much hyped Chinese lead on green technology investment

Bloomberg Businessweek story about America "sitting out the race" on green technology, noting that a lot of American venture capitalists are putting there money into China, where the market seems more "secure."

This is why:

If America had air like that, we'd have a bigger market.  If we had China's skyrocketing oil and electricity demand, things would be different too, but, frankly, I wouldn't want either.

China's combination of cheap labor and extreme need will make it hard for America to match, especially with a Congress that seems incapable of moving on such issues.  Will China get all these investments right?  Not by a long shot, but I expect a lot of pundits on our side to look at China's mad dash with a lot of envy.  China is expected to spent close to a trillion dollars over the next decade, which I would consider to be a pretty good use for its money.

No question we want to reduce our trade imbalance with China and boost our exports in general, but again, it gets awfully hard to compete with the sort of necessity China is facing, and all that cash, and all that cheap labor.

12:01AM

Chart of the Day: More acidic oceans


From The Economist. 

Basic chemistry:

As carbon dioxide levels go up, pH levels come down.  Acidity depends on the presence of hydrogen ions (the H in pH) and more hydrogen ions mean, counterintuitively, a lower pH.  Expose the surface of the ocean to an atmosphere with ever more carbon dioxide, and the gas and waters will produce carbonic acid, lowering pH on a planetary scale.  The declining pH does not actually make the waters acidic (they started off mildly alkaline).  But it makes them more acidic, just as turning up the light makes a dark room brighter.

Additionally, more hydrogen ions mean more bicarbonate ions and fewer carbonate ions, the latter of which is used by corals and shellfish.  So fewer carbonate ions means slower coral growth and thinner shells.

The increasing acidification of the world’s oceans is referred to as global warming’s evil twin, because the rapid change is expected to wreak all sort of havoc with sea life.

12:06AM

Globalization’s most important politicians will be mayors—not presidents

pic here

Increasingly, I view the globalized world as a network of interconnected coastal megacities.  Get that network right in all its complexity and security, and you’ve covered much of the flows that define globalization (energy, people, money, security, food, etc.).  Doing that in a sustainable environmental fashion and you’ve conquered so much more of the enduring challenges associated with globalization’s continued—and rapid—ramp up.

Here’s a Bloomberg BusinessWeek piece (and yes, the mag is a lot better with Bloomberg attached, I will say) that says major metros increasingly lead the way in the global fights against carbon emissions.  As Toronto’s mayor puts it, “We’re not going to wait for national politicians.”

I think this is true the world over—and a good sign.  Cities share new ideas more easily and faster than nation-states.  Mayors, as a rule, are far more pragmatic than national pols.

Why this especially makes sense on the environment:  major cities, over the past century, have already experienced temperature rises equivalent to what’s predicted for this century due to global warming.  This has happened because of the heat-sink effect created by all those buildings, infrastructure, operations, etc.  Cities are just unnaturally warmer than rural areas.

The variations here globally are profound:  70% of Tokyo residents make their way other than by car; in Houston it’s 95% the other way.

Let the experiments begin!

12:10AM

Why BP should go down

For the record, this is not a great photo op realized.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek pair.

In the lead editorial, Paul Barrett goes after Obama with some cause, saying he knows the president can’t do a whole lot about the spill but that he could make something larger out of it instead of bragging on TV that he talks to experts so he knows who’s ass to kick (when Obama talks tough, he summons his inner Mike Dukakis, spicing his language in oh-so-calculated a fashion).

The bit that caught my eye:  the characterization that the USG was basically unprepared for any deep-water blowout, expecting that the private sector would have such assets in the ready.  BP’s true guilt (as accidents and operational stupidity will happen) is not having those assets in its toolkit—CEO Tony Heyward’s explicit admission. 

That to me is enough for BP to be demolished—not by the government but by shareholders.  This is basic insurance thinking:  low-probability all right but stunning high impact, so you HAVE to carry the requisite insurance, especially when we’re talking the money involved, both upside and downside.  For BP to have taken a flyer on this is just inexcusably dumb.

And dumb companies should die.

But even more annoying than that, and here you have to think Obama could be doing more than just holding Oval Office confabs, is the way BP has hogged control of the response effort while exhibiting a “we’ll-get-back-to-you” mindset on all the ideas flooding their way.

The numbers, say BBW, run like this:  35k ideas submitted, with 800 making the first cut, and 4 ideas tried to date.  You’ve got 200 words to describe your approach to the 70 workers fielding call.  Close to four dozen engineers evaluate the incoming.  They come from BP, the US Coast Guard, and various USG agencies. 

The complaint of serious companies with seriously proven technologies for capturing oil in water?  Everybody comes out of the woodwork when disaster strikes, so the kooky drown out the credible.

But again, my point is, BP shouldn’t be fielding ideas for God’s sake.  That stuff should have all been filed over the past years, leading to action—not some sophomoric all-nighter effort (“Oh my God!  Get me ideas for soaking up oil—stat!”).

When you operate on that level of strategic brittleness, you, Mr. Dinosaur, deserve to die when the big meteor hits.

12:04AM

Pollution in China: the recovery trumps the reduction

pic here

WSJ piece by always good Shai Oster.

Despite tougher government measures, pollution in China rebounds right along with the economy. There had been hopes that China turned a corner last year when emissions dropped, but thank the financial crisis for that.

Still, only the first quarterly rise in SOx emissions since 2007, so some props in order.

No surprise here:  reductions took a back seat to recovery.

Remember all the Great-Depression-leading-to-World-War-III nonsense in the BS-osphere?

Well, it was worth it.