2012 witnessed a remarkable number and extremity of environmental conditions, from Hurricane Sandy and the U.S. drought to wildfires in Siberia and drought-driven blackouts in India. Arctic sea ice melted to its furthest extent in recent history. The energy landscape continued to change as well, from the launch of the U.S. Navy’s Great Green Fleet to the first liquefied natural gas shipments across the Arctic. As President Obama clearly stated in his second inaugural address, climate change is heightening both our risks and the need to respond, but tying together all of these issues is a highly complex endeavor.
For the past two years the U.S. Air Force’s Minerva program – part of the broader Pentagon-wide Minerva Initiative to fund research on social, cultural, and political dynamics – took on just that challenge, in assessing energy and environmental security risks and their potential implications for U.S. military strategy and operations. Funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, our team, based at Air University, worked with U.S. combatant commands (primarily Pacific Command), other service components (the U.S. Navy Task Force Climate Change, U.S. Navy Task Force Energy, and U.S. Army Environmental Policy Institute), NATO, university researchers, intelligence communities, and partner countries as diverse as Sweden, Australia, Singapore, and Iraq.
“Phase Zero” Planning
The primary questions the Air Force Minerva team addressed were how do energy and environmental factors affect U.S. strategic plans, force readiness, operational risks, and disaster response? And are there related indirect or cascading risks that will impact security planning?
We took an energy and environmental intelligence approach to these questions, building scenarios of potential combinations of risks and hazards and conducting net assessments on vulnerabilities, impacts, and our ability to respond. In contrast to predictive models, we applied military planning methods to scan potential risks, allowing a wider assessment of critical vulnerabilities.
Like much security planning, the questions centered not around “are we certain this will happen?” but rather “are we prepared in case this does happen?”
'NATO Review’ on energy and environmental scarcity
Advanced planning – sometimes referred to as “phase zero” planning in the military – helps to identify where to prioritize resilience-building and how to plan for disaster response and humanitarian assistance. Working with an array of partners, including University College London, Air University, University of Hawaii, the International Polar Year, NATO, and the International Institute for Strategic Studies, we organized scenario workshops to integrate a range of expert contributions with complex and unexamined risks.
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