GFB Update 3:1/2, Jan-Feb 2013  

A monthly newsletter on the vast and underappreciated world of current affairs books


Prepared by Michael Marien

In This Issue: Climate Change/Global Trends
NIC, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds
Daniel Moran (ed), Climate Change and National Security: Country-Level Analysis
Anders Wijkman and Johan Rockstrom, Bankrupting Nature: Denying Our Planetary Boundaries
Supporting Books and Reports to the Review of Global Trends 2030

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February 2013 Book of the Month
Megatrends, Game-Changers, and 

alternative-worlds This GFB newsletter centers around the Dec 2012 report of the National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds (BOM, Feb 2013), which discusses four "Megatrends," six "Game-Changers," potential "Black Swans," and four alternative world scenarios.  The report covers considerable ground and has much to commend it, but also misses important considerations and downgrades the all-important role of climate change.  The four "Megatrends" involve Individual Empowerment ("the most important megatrend"), Diffusion of Power (as Asia surpasses North America and Europe), Demographic Trends (aging countries, migration, urbanization, and 1.2 billion more people by 2030), and Growing Food, Water, and Energy Demands (aggravated by climate change).


The six "Game-Changers" are the crisis-prone global economy, governance problems (more players and more fragmentation, zig-zagging democratization, lack of consensus), the potential for increased interstate conflict, the wider scope of regional instability (notably the Middle East and South Asia), the impact of new technologies (infotech, 3-D printing and robotics, resource technologies such as fracking, and new health technologies), and the role of the US.   Potential "Black Swans" that could cause great disruptive impact include a severe pandemic, much more rapid climate change, euro/EU collapse, a democratic China, a reformed Iran, nuclear war, cyber-attack, and collapse or retreat of US power.  The four "Alternative Worlds" scenarios are Stalled Engines (the most plausible worst case where "all boats sink"), Fusion (the most plausible best case where "all boats rise substantially"), Gini Out-of-the-Bottle (far greater inequality as measured by the Gini Coefficient), and Nonstate World (where networks thrive and NGOs, MNCs, individuals, and megacities take the lead in confronting global challenges).  


The listing of "black swans" (more accurately described as wild cards or "not-so-wild" cards in probability) is notably incomplete, the starry-eyed "Fusion" scenario lacks much if any plausibility, the hopeful "Individual Empowerment" megatrend is almost as implausible, and the role of climate change (while mentioned in several instances) is generally downgraded.  Otherwise, this report deserves consideration.

March 2013 Book of the Month


Climate Change in 19 Regions and Nations


climate-change As a companion, complement, and critique of Global Trends 2030, it is useful to consider Climate Change and National Security: A Country-Level Analysis, edited by Daniel Moran of the Naval Postgraduate School (BOM, March 2013).  Remarkably, this extraordinary collection of essays is derived from a 2008 workshop sponsored by the National Intelligence Council, appraising the mid-term security risks that climate change may pose to 19 critical regions and nations by 2030.  The outlook is generally grim for China (climate change expected to "wreak havoc"), Vietnam (one of the most disaster-prone countries already), Philippines (mounting levels of ecological stress), Indonesia (nearly all major cities are in coastal areas and vulnerable to sea-level rise), India (water shortages will likely lead to serious food shortages), Pakistan (climate change will stress its current fragility), Bangladesh ("extraordinarily vulnerable"), Turkey ("serious environmental stress in coming decades"), Egypt (perhaps the third most vulnerable country in the world to climate change), the Maghreb (climate change will affect these four countries in "profound ways"), Nigeria (considerable parts could be seriously affected), Southern Africa (likely to see conflict over food and access to water), and the Northern Andes (glacier retreat is a critical issue).  Climate change problems are not as daunting for Central Asia, the EU, and Brazil.  Water demand in the water-starved Persian Gulf region is expected to double by 2025, but all of the Gulf states are building desalinization plants.  Of all nations and regions surveyed, only Russia may be a net beneficiary of environmental changes.


Moran summarizes his volume by noting that climate change is likely to increase social inequality in all countries, heighten strains between urban and rural populations, draw global attention to the historic US role in climate change (as the largest emitter of GHGs on a per capita basis), and create or aggravate strains that could lead to some state failures.  Compared to the four scenarios in Global Trends 2030, this authoritative analysis reinforces the likelihood of "Stalled Engines" and "Gini Out-of-the-Bottle," makes the "Fusion" scenario seem even more swacked-out utopian, and encourages actors in the "Nonstate World" to try even harder to address the global megacrisis because governments are not up to it.

January 2013 Book of the Month


Climate Change and Much More


As if climate change is not worrisome enough, pressures on key ecosystems have increased exponentially, such that we must pay attention to "planetary boundaries" and the risks of surprises, tipping points, and threshold effects.  Bankrupting Nature: Denying Our Planetary Boundaries (BOM, Jan 2013), a new report to the Club of Rome by Anders Wijkman (CoR co-president) and Johan Rockstrom (Stockholm Resilience Center), argues that climate change must be considered in a broader context, in that the living biosphere and natural resources are prerequisites for prosperity and development.  Based on a seminal 2009 paper in Nature, the authors describe nine biophysical processes deserving attention: climate stability, ozone depletion, ocean acidification, biogeochemical loading of excess nitrogen and phosphorus, biodiversity loss, degradation of land resources, over-exploited freshwater resources, pollution from toxic chemicals, and atmospheric aerosol loading (soot particles, nitrates, sulphates). Major concern is expressed over developments in the Arctic region ("probably the most important climate feedback on Earth"), as concerns ocean acidification, thawing permafrost emitting large volumes of methane, and albedo feedback whereby melting ice will amplify global warming by absorbing 85% of incoming radiation rather than bouncing 85% of it back.


These megatrends are ignored by GT-2030, but they are hardly an improbable "Black Swan" or problematic "Game-Changer" in NIC terminology.  Clearly, they are eminent threats to national security.  If Iran or North Korea could be seen as major causes of these trends, rather than the US itself, the threats of surpassing planetary boundaries would surely be given more attention!

Supporting Books and Reports

In preparing the review of Global Trends 2030, eleven other books and reports were cited either as complementary and somewhat contrary.  Several were recent GFB Book of the Month selections, while the others are recent additions to GFB Recommended Books.  All deserve special notice:


* Global Environment Outlook 5 (UNEP, June 2012, 525p) reinforces the concerns of the Wijkman/Randers report to the Club of Rome (above) about imminent tipping points, as does OECD  Environmental Outlook to 2050: The Consequences of Inaction (March 2012, 350p), which focuses on climate change, declining biodiversity, water shortages, and health impacts.

* America's Climate Choices by the National Research Council (National Academies Press, May 2011, 118p; BOM, Oct 2011), a widely-overlooked synthesis of four NRC panel reports totaling 1,444 pages, warns that climate change "poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems."

Overheated: The Human Cost of Climate Change by Andrew Guzman of the UC-Berkeley Law School (Oxford UP, Feb 2013, 260p) provides a popularized overview of sea level rise, food and water challenges, the many negative impacts on human health, and potential climate-related wars in the Middle East and elsewhere.

* Paying the Price: The Economic Impacts of Climate Change for Canada (National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, Sept 2011, 168p) covers costly impacts on timber supply, coastal areas, health care, and ecosystem stress.

* 2052: A Global Forecast, a report to the Club of Rome by Jorgen Randers (Chelsea Green, 2012; BOM, July 2012) describes how rising climate-related costs will necessarily reduce global consumption (and thus compromisethe NIC megatrend on "individual empowerment").

* Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Security by Lester R. Brown (W.W. Norton, Oct 2012) underscores and amplifies the NIC megatrend of growing food, water, and energy scarcity.

* World Energy Outlook 2012 from the International Energy Agency (IEA/OECD, Nov 2012, 668p; BOM, Nov 2012) warns that even if new policies are taken into account, "the world is still failing to put the global energy system onto a more sustainable path," that "the projected rise in water consumption of 85% over the period to 2035 reflects a move towards more water-intensive power generation and expanding output of biofuels," and that "almost four-fifths of CO2 emissions allowable by 2035 (to limit climate warming to 2 degrees C) are already locked in by existing power plants, factories, buildings, etc."

* Re/Source 2050from the University of Oxford (Jan 2013, 83p; seeks to change the focus of human activities from "Growth" to "Health" so as to create a "circular economy" (certainly a "game-changer" in NIC terms, if widely adopted).  Addressing the global resource challenge through these two "frames" or "alternative lenses" enables a better understanding of the challenges and how to shape responses.

* Lone Wolf Terrorism: Understanding the Growing Threat by Jeffrey D. Simon (Prometheus Books, Feb 2013), although specialized on a single topic, helps to emphasize the dark side of the NIC "individual empowerment" megatrend.

*Israeli Statecraft: National Security Challenges and Responses 

by former RAND analyst Yehezkel Dror (Routledge, July 2011; BOM, Sept 2011), provides a framework quite similar to GT-2030, with a chapter on ten long-term global "mega-trends," and discussion of possible "ruptures" (notably, the necessity for expensive and controversial global action on climate change), a "mega-invariance" (escalation of violence due to new forms of attack and new technologies, resource scarcity, fanaticism, and ethnic hostilities), and a "peace paradigm" for Israel.  Although largely concerned with Israeli issues, this analysis is in many ways the equal of GT-2030 on global issues.



NOTE:  The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change by former Vice President Al Gore (Random House, Feb 2013, 558p, $30) will be reviewed as the April 2013 Book of the Month selection.  The six drivers are Earth Inc. (the global economy), the Global Mind (the Internet and vast global data networks), Dispersion of Global Power, Outgrowth (approaching limits to the supply of key natural resources), Reinvention of Life and Death (new health technologies), and The Edge (the climate crisis and other environmental issues).  Much to consider in this worthy addition to the above titles.   Generally more sanguine than the above, ALSO SEE Megachange: The World in 2050 edited by Daniel Franklin (The Economist/Profile Books, 2012, 304p), with 20 essays by Economist editors on health, women, global warming, the future of war, cultural revolutions, emerging markets, science frontiers, the "far narrower" gap between rich and poor in 2050, the Asian century, science frontiers, the death of distance, etc.

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