Category Archives: Environmental Policy

COP-22 highlights need for American leadership in combating climate change in India

The skyline of Delhi remains hidden on a November morning. Photo Credit: Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The skyline of Delhi remains hidden on a November morning.
Photo Credit: Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

New Delhi, India: My father has struggled to complete his morning run for the past few weeks. Thick and unrelenting smog has settled over New Delhi, forcing residents to wear facemasks and invest in air purifiers. “My whole family has bought facemasks and air purifiers,” says Nikhil Dugal, long-term resident of the city.

Pollution levels are on the rise in developing cities like New Delhi, as president-elect Donald Trump has threatened to cancel the Paris Accord. This frustrating dichotomy and the need for American leadership in the fight against climate change were highlighted at United Nations COP22 summit that took place earlier in November. Continue reading

Biggest Threat to Zika? Mosquito Love.

Photo Credit: James Gathany

Photo Credit: James Gathany

As of November 18th, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) declared that Zika is no longer a global emergency. However, Dr. Peter Salama, executive director of the W.H.O.’s health emergency programs, stated that “we are not downgrading the importance of Zika. We are sending the message that Zika is here to stay, and the W.H.O response is here to stay.”

Though the W.H.O. has downgraded the threat of Zika, combating Zika remains a goal of the global health community. At the end of October 2016, $18 million was put towards a project to release millions of genetically modified Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. These mosquitoes were infected with a bacteria called Wolbachia to mate with Aedes aegypti mosquitos that transmit Zika, as well as Dengue and Chikungunya.

Continue reading

The changing landscape of U.S. electric utilities

econf-squareAt the annual Duke University Energy Conference yesterday, I had the opportunity to hear four women – all holding top management positions in the energy industry – speak about the evolution of electric utilities in the United States. Having worked in the energy sector prior to graduate school, I have been to my fair share of energy conferences. This is the first time I have attended an all female panel on energy that was not featured as a diversity event.

The change in the demographic make-up of the panel itself is analogous to the dramatic changes we’re seeing in the changing landscape of electricity today. While the electricity sector in the U.S. still operates as it has for the last several decades – with investor-owned utilities, municipalities, and rural electric cooperatives running the show – today’s utilities are still facing political, social, and economic environments like we have never seen before.
Continue reading

Climate Change: Action Without National Policy Will Only Get Us So Far

Household panels for solar power and hot water in Kapolei, Hawaii. Photo Credit: Kent Nishimura for The New York Times

Household panels for solar power and hot water in Kapolei, Hawaii. Photo Credit: Kent Nishimura for The New York Times

A “1,000-year” flood in Louisiana. A record-setting drought in California. The creeping northward spread of tropical, mosquito-borne diseases like Zika. People across the U.S. are already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change. Yet Congress remains unmoved and has yet to pass comprehensive legislation addressing either climate change mitigation or adaptation.

Individuals, corporations, and states are stepping into this policy vacuum—all compelled to take action on one of the most pressing challenges currently facing the world.
Continue reading

Why Should California Declare a Drought Emergency? To Convince Californians it’s Real.

While the Midwest and Northeast dug their cars out from under the polar vortex this past week, much of California roasted. Ski resort owners nervously eyed their brown, bare mountains. Catholic Bishops called on parishioners to pray for rain. And Mendocino County, just north of San Francisco, declared a state of emergency, citing an “imminent threat of disaster.”

For the third year in row, California is suffering through drought conditions that are anything but trivial. The state relies on snowmelt for around one third of its public water supply, and snow conditions look increasingly bleak. The first snow survey of the winter showed that in the Sierra Nevada, snowpack levels are dwindling at 20 percent of normal. That’s the same reading scientists got in 2012, making both years the driest ever recorded.

And it’s not just snow. Rain is a huge problem, too. In Los Angeles, where it usually rains only 15 inches per year, a mere 3.6 inches reached the ground throughout all of 2013. To put that number into perspective, New Orleans usually sees 3.5 inches of rainfall in October alone – its driest month of the year.


For California’s 38 million people and 45 billion-dollar agriculture industry, continued drought could spell disaster. So Governor Jerry Brown now faces an important decision. Pressure is mounting—from state lawmakers, farmers, and local water districts—for the governor to declare a state of drought emergency.

But what would an emergency declaration do?

As the Sacramento Bee reports, historically, there haven’t been clear guidelines on when to declare a drought, or what happens afterward. A drought declaration would force federal officials to pay attention to the crisis, potentially accelerating federal relief. But some speculate that a drought declaration would send a message of economic hardship, and Governor Brown has so far sidestepped the question.

Growing up in Southern California, I remember the conservation measures we had to take during the drought of the late 80s and early 90s. “If it’s yellow, let it mellow” became a popular model in our San Diego home. In Los Angeles, the mayor implemented mandatory water rationing, slapping big penalties on anyone who wasted water. And in Santa Barbara, residents applied green paint to their dried out lawns.

But the reality is that even with a tremendous drought every decade or two (and several smaller droughts in between), most Californians hardly ever have to consider the state’s water problems. In San Diego—where our climate is often reminiscent of the Anza Borrego desert—luscious lawns and golf courses are still the norm. We may have low-flow toilets, but rarely can I remember anyone talking about taking shorter showers during non-drought times, or making sure not to waste water while washing the dishes or brushing one’s teeth.

It’s time for all Californians, and residents in other drought-stricken states, to realize that having enough water is a luxury that may not be around for long. After all, climate change is threatening to make our water shortages even worse. A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that, due to climate change, around one third of all U.S. counties will face higher risks of water shortages by 2050.

As Governor Brown considers declaring a drought emergency, perhaps he should look to his own citizens as his audience. A drought declaration would not only draw the attention of federal officials. It would also serve as a wake-up call for Californians, underscoring the crisis at hand. It’s time we get serious about water conservation in the long term. A drought declaration could be the first step to real, sustainable lifestyle changes that keep both our water use and our water crises under control.

Bruce Jentleson on the UAE: Up on Renewable Energy, Down on Political Islam

by BRUCE JENTLESON for ISLAMiCommentary on JANUARY 8, 2013: 

Our Center for American Progress delegation just finished three plus days in the United Arab Emirates; a visit designed to gain a better understanding of key issues in the region that affect and are affected by US policy.

While I’d been to both Abu Dhabi and Dubai before for conferences, those were more self-contained. This trip involved much more direct engagement with political leaders.

The agenda included meetings with cabinet members (the UAE’s Foreign Minister, Minister of Energy, and Minister of State), tours and briefings at the Masdar City renewable energy project and Dubai Ports, a visit to the joint US-UAE Al Dhafra Air Base, dinner discussions with business leaders, and a meeting with the US Ambassador.

Renewable Energy and Economic Growth 

There is much that is impressive about the UAE, and I don’t mean just the glitz of Dubai (I’m not much for indoor skiing in the desert.)

Noteably, Masdar, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Government’s Mubadala Development Company, is building from scratch a planned free-economic-zone “green city.”

And Masdar and MIT, in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi government, have come together on a project that established a leading graduate research university —  Masdar Institute — focusing on alternative energy, sustainability, and advanced technology. These and other projects make the UAE a world leader in renewable energy.

While it may seem paradoxical for a leading OPEC oil producer to be investing in renewables, it has both a near-term economic rationale (free up more oil from domestic consumption for export) and is indicative of longer-term strategic planning. Our meeting with the Minister of Energy provided a fuller sense of the UAE energy policy, including nuclear energy.

The Dubai Ports operation — the Jebel Ali port is the 3rd busiest in the world — is quite sophisticated; getting to actually see it operating was amazing.  Also, Dubai just won the international competition for Expo 2020 , and is planning economic growth around that. (The six-month-long World Expo, held every five years, has never been held in the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia in the history of the event until now.)

Gender Parity and Human Rights 

Particularly impressive was a meeting with Minister of State Reem Al Hashimi. She is one of four women ministers in the UAE Cabinet. Her portfolio is a broad one, including having been the point person for winning the UAE’s Expo 2020 bid. This too was a frank discussion.  For example, the UAE is #1 in the Arab world in gender parity but #123 in the world rankings for the same, so, as she explained, much has been accomplished but there’s much to be done.

Not so impressive — the UAE’s overall record on human rights. Our delegation did not get to meet with civil society groups and didn’t get very far in trying to raise issues such as the ban on some US NGOs from operating in the UAE, or the nine-month detention in Dubai of Shezanne Cassime, an American  charged with defaming the country’s image abroad with his satirical YouTube video on Arab youth culture. (That said there were reports out today that he will soon be released)

Political Islam: Just Say No? 

In terms of foreign policy, the UAE has been a close ally of the United States. Its troops were part of the coalitions in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and also the Libya 2011 intervention against Qaddafi.

While one does get a sense of many shared interests, on two issues our group had some particularly robust discussions with UAE officials.

One was the emergence and strength of political Islam in many parts of the region and particularly in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The UAE has been a staunch supporter of Egypt’s military regime that took over from the Brotherhood this summer – and the UAE together with Saudi Arabia has given $16 billion in aid. The UAE government view of the MB and political Islam generally is essentialist; convinced that it is an unabashed adversary and must be squashed in all forms and all traces.

My own view, as I’ve written here and here, is that such an approach is likely to feed into radicalization, and make the very outcome to be avoided more, not less, likely. Political Islam is here to stay. It will be in the political mix more often than not. No question there are always terrorism risks amid instability and uncertainty about the shape successor regimes take. But while transnational links to Al Qaeda or other similar actors certainly need to be taken into account in shaping our relations, and their significance weighed hard-headedly, this must not automatically trump other factors.  Making further assessments of the goals, strategies, visions and leadership of different Islamist parties and movements in different countries is necessary. Policies need to be tailored to oppose those inimical to our values and threatening our interests, while remaining open to those with which coexistence and cooperation may be possible even though we have differences.

Another issue in our discussions with officials was Iran. While they do stress the threat posed by Iran, and some of their own particular issues such as the disputes over the Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs Islands, they are not as staunch as Saudi Arabia and its Sunni-Shia cold (and not so cold) war.

Still we had some robust (good diplomatic word, so I’ll say it again) discussions around these questions: Is the Rouhani regime just a charm offensive, a gambit to feign change and get the world to let its guard down? Or is this a real opportunity, both on the nuclear proliferation issue and for further possible improvements in US and other countries’ relations with Iran — that could have broader constructive effects for Middle East security?

Duke Blue

And yes I even found some Duke blue presence on the trip. The US Ambassador’s mother was a librarian at Lilly Library. And I was wearing my Duke hat when visiting the US air force base, which prompted one of the officers to say “you guys played great the other night, tough loss” – and he meant the football team!

On to Jordan next …


Bruce W. Jentleson is Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, and affiliated faculty with the Duke Islamic Studies Center. He is also a Distinguished Scholar with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Jan.-June 2014), and Co-Principal Investigator with the Duke-American University-UC Berkeley “Bridging the Gap” initiative. Jentleson’s areas of expertise include Middle East peace and security, international conflict prevention, global governance, international security, and U.S. foreign policy. In 2009-11 he served as a Senior Advisor at the State Department. His publications include “American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century” (W.W. Norton, 5th edition 2013). Current projects include U.S. policy in the new Middle East, genocide and mass atrocities prevention, and a study of leading statesmen/women of the last century. In Fall 2013 he taught the Coursera MOOC (Massive Open Online Course): “21st Century American Foreign Policy.”

– See more at: