Geoff Dabelko

Geoff Dabelko is director of the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. He blogs here and at New Security Beat on environment, population, and security issues.

Price of coal surges!

The price of coal surged this morning as a new buyer entered the market.  A high-volume rush order came in from the North Pole in the last few hours, accounting for the surge.  Shaking his head, one dazed trader said the size of the order was equivalent to the yearly total of a medium-size country with no green energy sector.  When pressed to reveal the source of the demand, traders grudgingly admitted a white-bearded man clad in red had suddenly appeared, agitated and mumbling about those who simply couldn’t be good for goodness’ sake. He had come straight from the …

Water, conflict, and security on the banks of the Hudson

The lecture was only a few hours away. Chuck Norris was pitching his new book on post at the same hour. In desperation, I turned to Facebook. “I’ve got just 50 minutes with the cadets at West Point today to talk water, conflict, and cooperation. What are the most compelling examples you would use to make both hard security and human security points, both threat and opportunity points? I ask in part because it is proving harder to decide what to leave out than what to put in!” Within seconds, experts from the Departments of State and Energy, USAID, and …

More than a pretty slogan

Climate plus security minus hyperbole still scary

The impact of climate change on national security has finally moved above the fold. And as the December Copenhagen climate change negotiations approach, politicians and experts alike are being forced to examine the complex effects of natural and social change on security. They must also walk a linguistic tightrope between hyperbole and uncertainty, working to present the facts without exaggerating their meaning. So how do they maintain balance while climate security arguments are touted as a way to compel a tough climate agreement in Copenhagen? The short answer: It won’t be easy. The long answer is more complex. It’s been …

EP in the FT

Glaciers, cheetahs, and nukes, oh my!

Financial Times South Asia Bureau Chief James Lamont has written a flood of environment-as-political-dialogue stories this week! (Well, only two, but that constitutes a deluge in the world of environmental peacebuilding.) On Monday he wrote about India and China’s agreement to work together to monitor Himalayan glacial melt. The potential decline in water availability from seasonal snow and glacier melt is finally seeping into the consciousness of policymakers outside the climate world, including the diplomatic and security communities. Lamont frames the step as a rare instance of cooperation in a strategically sensitive area at the center of a 1962 territorial …

Lithium: Are “blood batteries” next?

The strategic minerals debate is back-but starring some new rocks. One that has received much recent attention is lithium, which is used in cell phone batteries, as well as those under development for electric cars. Turns out lithium isn’t found in too many places. Around 50 percent of known reserves are in Bolivia, underneath some very dramatic and desolate salt flats. Worldfocus has a terrific news story that gives a glimpse of the place, the politics, and the battle over lithium extraction. Talk of an OPEC-like lithium cartel with China and Chile suggests that the politics at the international level …


Science diplomacy: An expectations game

In “The Limits of Science Diplomacy,” Director David Dickson argues that scientific collaboration can achieve only very limited diplomatic victories. A conference hosted by the Royal Society in London earlier this month, entitled “New Frontiers in Science Diplomacy” (agenda), seems to have arrived at a similar conclusion. But this view of science diplomacy is overly pessimistic. It sets unrealistically high expectations such dialogue could never hope to achieve. Science diplomacy is not meant to solve all aspects of conflicts or distrustful relationships, so setting such a high bar is a bit of a straw man. Science, as well as …

Changing the climate with China’s military

When I heard President Obama call for more regular dialogue between the Chinese and American militaries, my first thought was, “Why not the environment?” Perhaps it is not a front-burner issue for both institutions — but that is exactly the point. If dialogue is to improve understanding, build ties, and lower the prospects for confrontation, starting with issues that aren’t contentious in military terms can be a positive first step. As opposed to what typically happens when I have an idea for an oped (i.e., nothing), I got in touch with Dr. Kent Butts, a friend and colleague at the …

Tall glass of denial

Fallout from Jordan's radioactive water

Last week, I wrote on New Security Beat about startling new research that found very high levels of naturally occurring radioactivity in some of Jordan's fossil groundwater. Measurements up to 2,000 percent higher than the international drinking water safety levels were found in the Disi aquifers in southern Jordan. Duke University's Avner Vengosh and his international team published the results in the highly respected, peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology. Last Friday a Jordan Times story featured government assurances that all of the country's water was safe -- and tried to discredit the messenger. In a transparent attempt to raise doubt about the scientists' motives, the article points out that lead author Vengosh is Israeli-born (he is now a U.S. citizen).

Biofuels fueling conflict

The need for good research

The rush to put biofuels in our gas tanks has given people analyzing natural resources and conflict some work to do. How are European and American policy mandates to dramatically increase the use of biofuels affecting the places that grow biofuel inputs? It seems fair to say that little consideration has been given to the potential conflict and equity impacts of this surge in demand for palm oil, sugarcane, and corn. After President Bush's 2007 State of the Union address, which called for massive increases in biofuels, we heard stories of skyrocketing corn tortilla prices and resulting social disruptions. Now we have stories coming from places like West Kalimantan, a remote region of Indonesia where the rush to plant palm-oil plantations is generating conflict with Indonesians who grow rubber trees and other crops on their small plots of land. The NGO Friends of the Earth Netherlands has a new report calling out the unethical practices of some palm-oil companies that clear existing crops first and make payouts (maybe) to the farmers who own the land later. It strikes me that this particular link between natural resource management and conflict offers an avenue for addressing one of the traditional shortcomings of environment and conflict research.

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