A quick review of the summer, now quickly closing:
So far the wildfires have been less destructive than I anticipated. But worse is likely still ahead. The exceptional drought in California and extreme drought in Nevada and Southern Oregon set-the-stage for a dangerous autumn. Precisely when or where?
The hurricane season was predicted to be “below-normal” and results to-date track the projections. But tomorrow we remember the ninth anniversary of Katrina’s landfall in Louisiana. We know it will happen again in New Orleans or Houston or Miami or Hampton Roads or following the path of Sandy.
A powerful mid-August low pressure cell brought flooding from Detroit to Baltimore and into New England. The long-standing record in Islip, New York for rainfall in a 24 hour period was seven inches. On August 13 the city received nearly 13 inches. Detroit was hit again this week. More extreme weather has been statistically confirmed.
The 6.0 earthquake in sparsely populated Napa is another proverbial wake-up call for the eventual hit on dense urban areas. The 1906 San Francisco quake is estimated to have been a 6.8. The Richter scale is a base-10 logarithmic, so the 6.8 earthquake is almost 16 times stronger than the 6.0. The 2011 Tohoku earthquake was 9.0 or over 31,000 times stronger than a 6.0 (That’s not a typo. You can do the calculations here.) San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Memphis, Anchorage know it is just a matter of time.
Ebola is not casually transmitted. It has usually been possible to contain it. But the increasing number of Ebola cases since March highlights the challenges emerging from increased density and mobility. While the Ebola threat to the US is scant, implications for other novel viruses are worth keen attention. In May several of us exercised a pandemic’s impact on the US supply chain. As one grocery executive said, “There’s no real solution to this one. It’s mostly a choice between very bad and awful.”
The March disappearance of MH370 and the shooting down of MH17 in July are each surreal in their own way. In the last half of July three passenger planes crashed in an eight day period. Aviation remains comparatively very safe and has consistently become safer over-time. But with more people flying in more planes more accidents will occur even if the proportion of accidents declines compared to overall use. Similar can be anticipated for transporting oil and hazardous materials by railway, pipeline, or truck.
Back in February I predicted Syrian-sourced terrorist attacks on Europe. There has been one. A few more have been preempted. Given what has happened this summer in Gaza and Northern Iraq, I am surprised we have not seen more attempts. We will and in the US too.
The Nigerian girls continue to be held captive. More have been captured. More boys and girls have been killed. Boko Haram has also declared creation of an Islamic State (whether related or not to the one in Eastern Syria and Northern Iraq is not yet clear). Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other Salafists control large swaths of Libya. Al-Shabaab has lost ground in Somalia but is increasing its activities in Kenya, Djibouti, and Uganda. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula continues to operate in Yemen and plot operations far-afield. Religious differences amplify tribal conflicts across the Sahel. The summer months have not been encouraging in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Central Asia. Political divisions have deepened. Communal conflict has increased. The same might be said for places and people closer-at-hand.
North American demand for drugs and Latin American suppliers (some with connections to Central Asia and terrorist-related distributors) continue to develop a thriving market for their dangerous products and associated violence. As with any complex adaptive system the consequences are manifold and often unintended. But we have seen across the United States and throughout Central America that children are frequently the innocent victims.
For any child of the enlightenment and every Type-A personality there is in this quick review strong motivation to identify causation. Is there an epidemiology of evil? Is there a target-zero? Some sort of pump-handle to remove and thereby mitigate or prevent unnecessary death, injury and destruction?
Perhaps. Certainly our retrospective forensic skills are often strong enough to recognize what we missed. But prospectively? There are many more of us interacting in many more ways and our connections are increasingly interdependent. The potentialities are as logarithmic as the Richter. Reality is robustly random. Extremes are not anomalies, they ought to be expected. But they cannot be precisely predicted.
Plenty of opportunities for October surprises.
We are left with what we can apply in the fleeting present: preexisting resources and relationships, a commitment to accurately observing unfolding reality, and a predisposition to positive — and if we can, collaborative — action.