Natural Security Under President Obama

How has the U.S. position on key natural security indicators changed over the past eight years?

Photo: The White House/Flickr

With the contest to succeed President Obama entering its final three months, it’s worth taking a look back at the past eight years under President Obama to see how the U.S. has improved or worsened on key natural security indicators.

Food and Water
Statistic 2008 2016
Food Supply/Day 3709 kcal/day 3639 kcal/day (2011)
Dietary Supply Adequacy 145% 147%
Agricultural Trade Balance +$34.3 billion +$19.5 billion
Disposable Income Spent on Food 9.5% 9.7%
Renewable Freshwater Per Capita 9355 m^3/capita 8836 m^3/capita
Energy, Minerals, and Climate
Statistic 2008 2016
Net Oil Imports as % of Consumption 49% 29% (2013)
Net Rare Earth Imports as % of Consumption 100% 76%
GHG Emissions Per Capita 23.7 tCO2e 21.4 tCO2e
GHG Emissions Per $1000 GDP 0.49 tCO2e 0.40 tCO2e

A few things worth noting beyond the raw numbers:

  • Food and water aren’t a problem as a national average, but personal experiences widely vary. The mean food and water supply puts the U.S. in very strong position, well above global averages and OECD averages for both. Similarly, our disposable income spent on food is one of the lowest levels in the world. But in a country as big as the United States, national averages rarely tell the full story. Geographic and socioeconomic inequality create significant disparities in food and water security depending on where you live.
  • Despite the intense focus on net imports of key resources, the more important question is usually which countries the imports are coming from. Increasingly, our oil comes from Canada and Mexico, as opposed to Saudi Arabia and Russia. Similarly, our rare earths don’t just come from China, but now are more diversified across countries like Estonia, France and Japan.
  • America is becoming more efficient. Economic growth has been decarbonized in the sense that growing our economy no longer requires and equal growth in carbon emissions. But we’re still emitting several times more greenhouses gas per person than the global average and we’re even significantly higher than other OECD countries. Our carbon intensity is about ⅔ that of the global average, but still 33% higher than Japan or Europe.
  • These trends say more about the global market than President Obama’s policies. Many of these natural security indicators have improved under President Obama, but that’s not to suggest that they’re only possible because of the president; many of these trends were more likely spurred by larger market forces, including a weak global economy following the 2008 recession. For instance, the reduced reliance on U.S. oil and rare earth imports is more likely a product of the high prices in the mid to late 2000s incentivizing greater market entry and competition, as opposed to a strategic calculus. The one area where the Obama administration does deserve significant credit is on our lower carbon footprint, which likely would not have declined so quickly without the climate-friendly policies and investments made by the administration.

Author:

Ken Sofer was a summer fellow with the Resource Security program at New America where he worked on the intersection between climate change, resource competition, and international security.