On Thursday, November 13, 2008, Alexis Livanos, Corporate Vice President and President, Northrop Grumman Space Technology sector, addressed the California Roundtable on Improving Environmental Information and Technology to Manage Climate Risk and Opportunity, held in Sausalito, Calif. Below are his prepared remarks.
Global Change and the Golden State
We heard the word “change” often this election year. Both candidates stressed new approaches to solving the great problems facing our nation and our world. The international economy is in turmoil, geopolitical conflicts abound and our planet’s health is in peril. Yes, the challenges we face are great and the financial resources to tackle them are limited.
But in this time of great uncertainty, I’m certain of this: Tackling global change offers a powerful opportunity to help us grow our economy, create jobs, strengthen our national security and burnish the reputation of our nation. Today I’d like to discuss how the aerospace industry and our state can lead, how we can work together to create technology that will help not only California but the country and, ultimately, the whole planet. That technology enables a Global Change Monitoring System.
A GCMS will take the pulse of the planet. It will monitor dozens of variables, collect enormous amounts of data and then process that data into actionable information that will be disseminated to decision makers throughout the state, across the country, and around the world.
Creating such a system will not reverse the effects of global change. But it will give us a much clearer idea of the complex, dynamic forces that are causing changes – and it will enable informed knowledge needed for adaptation and mitigation.
The purpose is to minimize uncertainty. We’ll be able to develop smart strategies for dealing with emerging threats and impacts that are already creating human misery and costing billions of dollars across the world.
Sophocles wrote, “Knowledge must come through action.” But if I could be so bold as to disagree with a more celebrated Greek, I think he’s got that backwards. “Action must come through knowledge.”
Knowledge translated into action is what a GCMS is ultimately about. A GCMS will provide decision makers with the knowledge to plan, adapt and act.
Hard, fast numbers are hard to come by, but The Center for Strategic and International Studies estimated some $3 trillion of the total US GDP of $13.13 trillion – an amount roughly equivalent to the entire 2009 U.S. Federal Budget – is sensitive to climate change.
Let’s look now at how a GCMS would greatly benefit many sectors of our economy, particularly here in California.
Energy: The better we forecast weather, the better we manage and distribute energy. In California, we’ve suffered from having unexpected levels of demand. Better seasonal forecasts will allow state utilities to better manage and distribute energy along the grid with the potential to save billions over time.
California is a leader in the development and deployment of alternative energy. A GCMS will also allow for better strategic planning of alternative energy – where best to build solar installations and wind farms.
Transportation: It’s estimated that last year saw almost $2 billion in weather-related aviation delays. Comprehensive monitoring will allow more accurate forecasting and mitigate the ripple effect of bad weather in the aviation system.
Public Health and Safety: More accurate weather forecasts will allow officials to target and better deploy their resources. That means predicting the occurrence, path and intensity of hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires with great accuracy. That means health officials being better prepared for heat waves, air quality, and climate-influenced outbreaks like West Nile virus.
Agriculture: Everything from wheat, rice, soybeans, citrus – you name it – is fundamentally impacted by climate. What to plant, when to plant, and when to harvest are essential questions for agribusiness.
Let’s look at the California wine industry, which was worth some $18 billion in 2007. Most wine varietals flourish in a very narrow temperature range. Napa Valley at 64 degrees average temperature is perfect for producing some of the most popular and profitable wines. A few degrees difference can force the planting of less profitable varietals or wipe out entire regions and billions of dollars of business.
Another issue is water supply. The Sierra snowpack is threatened by global change. Sustainable agriculture is not possible if we can’t depend on the water.
Insurance and Real Estate: The Real Estate Industry, too, is dependant ultimately on water. You can’t build where you can’t bring water. A GCMS will be invaluable to developers, helping them plan future development. Builders will also better understand what areas will be most be affected by rising sea levels, storms and wildfires.
Insurers will be better able to assess risk into all manner of their coverage. In 2004 and 2005, insurance payments for damages from weather-related catastrophes incurred debts of $24 billion and $18 billion respectively. The insurance industry is already far ahead of other industries in using climate models as a matter of course. Unfortunately, many of these models aren’t that accurate or robust due to lack of data and computing power.
Carbon Cap & Trade: Scientific consensus exists on the relationship between increased greenhouse gasses and global warming. But the full nature of the relationship is not understood. What parts of Earth naturally create greenhouse gasses and which capture them? Which industries are contributing to the problem and to what extent?
Any carbon cap and trade system will depend on accurate monitoring of carbon sequestration to underpin the offsets being traded. According to Richard Sandor, CEO of Chicago Climate Exchange, the carbon market in Europe is around $80 billion, and the U.S. market has potential to be three times that size. But that’s only possible with an accurate monitoring system to verify land use.
Even if global greenhouse gas emissions dropped to zero tomorrow, the effects will continue to be felt for years. That CO2 in the atmosphere isn’t going away anytime soon. It will continue to influence our climate for decades. That’s why we have to engage in a robust and sustained GCMS starting now.
What Would A GCMS look like?
We’re here today to focus on California’s role for improving environmental information and technology. But Climate change is a global problem demanding a global solution. The Group on Earth Observations, GEO, is made up of 73 worldwide members, including the United States. GEO is committed to building a “Global Earth Observation System of Systems” – GEOSS.
GEOSS is a truly global change monitoring system but it’s not yet a reality. There’s a lack of central, coordinated planning between countries. There are operational sensors and satellites out there under the auspices of many countries, but not nearly enough for a comprehensive system. There’s not the integration and continuous, sustained coverage we need. Right now, Europe and Japan are showing a stronger commitment to GEOSS than the United States. That has to change. So, too, does the U.S. system, which is limited and inefficient. Money, data and decision-making are split between too many different agencies.
A GCMS would be a system of sensors stretching from the bottom of the ocean, on land and the surface of the sea, into the air and outer space. The sensors would be mounted on a variety of platforms -- airplanes, balloons and unmanned aerial vehicles and satellites. Data from these sensors need to be integrated by an information system that is interoperable.
Yes, this is a complex system, but so is the Earth. The interplay of many variables affects climate and weather. The scientific community has identified at least 44 essential climate variables (ecv’s), of which 26 must be monitored from space. There are also seven solid Earth variables used to study hazards such as volcanoes and earthquakes.
Sensors and platforms are only part of a GCMS. Regional decision support centers are another key component. Here the collected data are modeled and tailored for specific applications at locations throughout the country. This will require a robust, integrated infrastructure that would include increased computer capability and dedicated decision makers to process information and use the knowledge wisely.
Where do we stand now?
GEOSS is still something to be aspired to. But a truly operational system, one that could be the American foundation of a GCMS, is being built.
Northrop Grumman is currently the prime integrator on the National Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite System: NPOESS. We’re building this system for the Department of Defense, Department of Commerce and NASA. Launches are planned starting in 2010 that include a constellation of satellites. It will deliver more than half of 26 essential climate variables that must be monitored from space. Almost 95 percent of this data will be delivered to the ground within 28 minutes of collection – four times faster than currently available.
This steady stream of data will feed into the NPOESS ground system and enable faster processing and dissemination. The result will be better climate modeling and real actionable knowledge to help decision makers. And it will be available to more than 120 nations for use in their environmental forecasting.
But current plans for NPOESS only take us to 2025. It is important for our state and the nation to have plans for an operational system beyond 2025. At that point, we do not want to fly blind without having essential environmental information, forecasting, and decision support.
Where Do We Go From Here?
We have a long way to go and a lot to do. We need many more Earth observation satellites and we need to move from a research to operational modes on many observation capabilities. Unfortunately, even our research capacity enabled by NASA’s missions is decreasing -- their trend line for the acquisition of satellites is down, not up.
And it’s not just satellites. Yes, you get a truly global picture from space, but we need more platforms from top to bottom of the system – UAV’s, ships -- and we need more sensors.
There are large gaps in the modeling and analysis capabilities of the climate change community. We lack both the data and the experienced scientists to do the job right. Climate modeling is as complex as the climate itself. We need significant investment in computing capability. It is a critical shortcoming that must be addressed.
Yes, a GCMS will require significant investment. But consider this: NASA employs more than 200 sensors to monitor the health of seven Space Shuttle astronauts. Shouldn’t we comprehensively monitor all essential variables for the safety of California’s 36 million people, our country’s 300 million people? Our planet’s seven billion people?
California can and should lead the country in developing a GCMS. We are the nation’s largest economy. Global change will have a significant economic impact on our state.
But the threat is also an opportunity. We have a wealth of talent in our companies and universities. And global change technology will have uses and feed into markets we can’t yet predict. The potential for profits is unlimited.
California has often been in the vanguard on science and technology. We led the charge to control carbon emissions. We pushed for state-funded stem cell research. We created a culture of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that saw Silicon Valley set the standard for the world. There is political will, and the public is sensitive to environmental issues and supports action.
Propositions 7 and 10 both recently went down to defeat for a number of reasons, including the slowing economy. And as the price of oil drops and the sting at the pumps lessens, the public often loses focus on environmental issues. It is crucial that those of us here keep the long-term perspective and understand that action on global change issues is a marathon, not a sprint.
The next steps are planning, political commitment and cooperation between industry, government and academia. Just as important is to set goals for high impact actions we can accomplish in short order. The sooner we start demonstrating measurable success, the greater our momentum will be.
With a plan and proven success, we can present a united front on the federal level and leverage a California solution into a national solution and, ultimately, a global solution.
By 2009, some of those actions could include:
- Establishing the California Climate Decision Support Center as a national model for providing the most timely and accurate climate-related information to serve city, county, state, and regional public and private decision making
- Statewide investment at universities throughout California for developing and sustaining degrees in environmental decision support using global environmental data.
- Statewide program investing in a California carbon monitoring system to underpin California cap & trade.
- Statewide program to link computational capacity at all universities to run advanced climate models and optimize the use of all global environmental data sets.
- Statewide program to create and exploit environmental data for energy, agriculture, transportation, and public health through information portals.
The California naturalist John Muir said, “The power of imagination makes us infinite.” Yes, the problems are complex and the world’s resources are limited. But the human imagination is not.
We can do this. The time to act is now and the place to start is here in California.