Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 7, 2015

“As idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.”

Filed under: Climate Change,Infrastructure Protection — by Dan OConnor on April 7, 2015

In the Rime of the Ancyent Marinere,  the longest major poem written by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one famous stanza has always stood out to me.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.

With California having approximately an 840 mile long coastline and the Pacific Ocean covering approximately one-third of the Earth’s surface, decisions, infrastructure improvements, and investment are immediately needed to  maintain California as we know it.

Water, water everywhere…

california-drought-before-after 2

In mid-March an op-ed published by Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, painted a dire picture of the state’s water crisis.   Famiglietti wrote that every year since 2011, California has lost around 12 million acre-feet of stored water. In the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins, the combined water sources of snow, rivers, reservoirs, soil water and groundwater amounted to a volume that was 34 million acre-feet below normal levels in 2014. And there is no relief in sight. In a nutshell; California has approximately one year of stored water left.

The 25 percent cut in water consumption recently ordered by Gov. Jerry Brown raises critical, economical, and fundamental questions about what life in and the future of California will be like.  It is no great surprise that California is suffering through an unprecedented drought with no end in sight.  I say unprecedented because while we have a limited context of the region historically, geographically we have inhabited it for a short period of time.  But let us be clear: California has been artificially hydrated.  That artificiality changed the landscape and also appears to be unsustainable.

“Mother Nature didn’t intend for 40 million people to live here,” said Kevin Starr, a historian at the University of Southern California who has written extensively about this state. “This is literally a culture that since the 1880s has progressively invented, invented and reinvented itself. At what point does this invention begin to hit limits?”  Has our innovation and creativity simply delayed Malthus’ postulation?

This artificial environment has yielded tremendous prosperity though. California has built a $2.2 trillion economy.  It is the seventh largest economy in the world, more than four times what it was in 1963, when adjusted for inflation.  California also feeds much of America.  California agriculture is responsible for providing a third of the nation’s vegetables and nearly two-thirds of its fruits and nuts.  The cattle industry has and continues to be impacted as well.  Cattle, its economy, and productivity will continue to experience a significant geographic shift.

And in a just-in-time, tightly coupled, highly complex food system, micro or meta interruptions can have significant unintended and cascading consequences.

With all this agriculture, cattle, revenue, and international impact when does the emergent crisis in California become a homeland security issue?

This to me is more than a meta issue.  If one were to remove themselves from the climate change/global warming diatribe we would see an emergent crisis with little means of self-correction.  One school of thought says to let nature take its course, allowing the region’s homeostasis to seek its ecological/environmental equilibrium and return to the semi-arid geography it once was.  Another school of thought wants to introduce more technology to maintain the artificial environment and to hydrate the region.

To allow the region to naturally return to its previous state on its face is folly.  The geoengineering that California has exploited for decades cannot be easily or readily undone.   Where do those industries go?  How do we replace that agricultural and protein output?  Where do we relocate tens of millions of people?  All critical difficult leadership questions in my view.

All of these decision points are homeland security issues.  Anthropocenic activities can no longer be ignored and must be recognized as homeland security issues.

The Anthropocene era is a chronological and geologic term used to describe the period when human activities determined active, furtive, and secondary consequences on Earth’s ecosystems.  The combination of the Anthropocene era, the artificial hydration of and the earth’s cyclical climate issues have combined to create a situation that leaves California and that region in significantly dire straits.

So there are really only two courses of action.

The first option is to do what we are already doing: lots of talking, attempts to conserve, policy narratives, and legislation; pretty much everything that got us here. It is slow, bureaucratic, and highly politicized.

The other course of action it to embrace the fact that we must engineer, innovate, and refocus our homeland security dollars away from ineffective surveillance and overpriced drone programs, and towards radical infrastructure enhancement.  Private/public partnerships, investments, and active engineering must be exercised to rehydrate the region with emerging technologies, desalinization, and a host of lesser improvements.

Resilience and mitigation may have an initial sticker shock.  However, if we do not have the funding to do it right the first time, how much more will it cost to repair it?

We have exercised great fear manipulation and amplified the threat to justify programs and spending that does not diminish the threat to any great degree.  Lots of drone strikes, 78 fusion centers, trillions spent, diminution of trust, and not a great deal to show for it.  We need water, food, and economies that build resilience and capability.

painted ship upon a painted ocean


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Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 7, 2015 @ 5:37 am


Thanks very much. For four weeks I have made failed attempts to post on the drought. Yours is much better than anything I would have pitched.

If homeland security is to effectively achieve the policy pivot you have outlined it will, I suggest, require calibration of three key assets:

1. A multidisciplinary source of intellectual capital (and related professional development), which we might conceive as our essential supply lines.

2. A very collaborative set of operational assets: emergency management, urban and regional planning, public health, infrastructure engineers, financial, property development, other private sector players and more. We might think of this as “combined arms”, custom organized around the risk you have outlined… but organized like Alexander strategically deployed, not as Darius passively gathered.

3. A shared strategic vision or, better yet, commitment. Probably emerging from the intellectual capital and collaborative engagement around the problems: the homeland security participants will need to buy-into the priority of the problem-set you have identified… and even more difficult, replace legacy sources of professional identity (and funding) with a new focus on engaging the problems you have outlined.

Sadly, this reconfiguration of priorities is unlikely to happen until the crisis is even more advanced than today. But the first and second essential components can be advanced as the conditions continue to unfold that will compel emergence of the third.

Comment by John Comiskey

April 7, 2015 @ 7:20 am


Thank you for a most thoughtful post that resonated with me greatly:

We have exercised great fear manipulation and amplified the threat to justify programs and spending that does not diminish the threat to any great degree. Lots of drone strikes, 78 fusion centers, trillions spent, diminution of trust, and not a great deal to show for it. We need water, food, and economies that build resilience and capability.

Some questions and thoughts regarding the above and please know that my questions and thoughts are heartfelt.

First, who is we? Government? Society?

Second, which threat did we not diminish? Terrorism? Did we displace 9/11-grade terrorism? (ability to hijack and weaponize four airplanes simultaneously?

Third, I do see great value in the fusion center enterprise. Currently, nationwide and regional information sharing initiatives are developing. The enterprise (my term and hope for the nation’s fusion centers) must be connected to regional/state emergency operation centers.

Fourth, trillions spent. Okay, but wouldn’t we have spent the money on something more worthwhile? Education???

Fifth, diminution of trust. This is not limited to CT or HLS. Trust in government and authority is epidemic.

On a related note, I sense with profound sorrow the loss of trust in policing in America.

I say this as a retired police official, and father, brother, brother-in law, and friend to actively serving police officials, we are not wholly trusted.

Policing in the 21st century needs to be more:
1. Professional (education, training, professional comportment)

1a. Police leaders must categorically reject:
illegal policies:
Example: misuse of stop, question, and frisk

2. Transparent

Society in the 21st century must be educated as to the role of the police and the citizen in democratic society (Civic Education)

Comment by Dan O'Connor

April 7, 2015 @ 8:19 am


Kind of on the fly this morning but wanted to briefly address some of your questions;

1. We, the people. The institution & relationship the governors and the governed.

2. There are reasonable arguments and evidence to support we are no safer today and that the threats have not diminished.

3. The fusion centers have some utility but also have a secondary appearance as needing justification to exist and waypoints to simply collect on citizens. From one point of view very ominous…from another requires constant justification to exist. Perhaps a chicken and egg argument.

4. Maybe not spent at all. we spend more on education that any other nation and have limited evidence to say its successful. Stewardship is important when there is debt that hampers growth and investment. cannot grow and owe at the same time.

WRT to trust…trust is a derivative of mutual respect. trust is undermined by those wanting it and those who give it. Society has been divided by any number of situations. Policing has become more bellicose and furtive in force projection. People are scared of cops. Police are jammed with enforcing various codes and laws that they’ve had no hand in crafting. They’ve been pitted against the populace not part of the populace.

You cannot get what you cannot give…and vice versa.

We ask LE to do near impossible tasks all the while second guessing and removing their judgment. And then there’s the complete lack of judgment and exercise of abuse of authority that hides behind the thin blue line. Society is separating into factions because it has been shown to be an effective way to isolate and exploit. Just some thoughts!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 7, 2015 @ 8:41 am

Dan and John: Vis-a-vis the fusion centers — and perhaps more broadly — to what extent has the investment been (can the investment be) threat-oriented, risk-oriented, or opportunity-oriented? Weirdly, at least to me, it seems easier to justify funding for “stuff” and “processes” that are threat-oriented. But it is my experience that either of the two other orientations are more likely to return sustainable results.

Comment by Quin

April 8, 2015 @ 7:17 am


You make a great point of moving dollars from irrational, but nonetheless real fear based priorities, to rational, much more pressing and important priorities. However the waters woes in the West work out, and long term it’s not just California that is in trouble, I hope it happens gradually and not in one big crash. And it’s going to be a long and difficult road to educate Americans that water isn’t just a free, limitless resource. Just ask Jay Z.


Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Signals: soft, hard, misleading and inspired

April 9, 2015 @ 12:11 am

[…] Tuesday Dan O’Connor quoted Coleridge.  Not many can craft romantic poetry on Kantian themes.  Coleridge did quite successfully.  Kant gave Coleridge his architecture.  Coleridge gave Emerson courage.  Emerson gave many of us some considerable part of our sense-of-self.  Talk about unlikely connections. Approaching death the poet spoke of diverse realities resolved. “I say realities; for reality is a thing of degrees, from the Iliad to a dream.”  Where are you — where are we — on that continuum? […]

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 10, 2015 @ 7:50 am

Thanks for this post and comments. DROUGHT anywhere is a terrifying hazard to me whatever the cause but terrifying because it has historically been such a CIVILIZATION BUSTER in the ANTHROPOCENE.

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 10, 2015 @ 8:01 am

Wiki extract:

The Anthropocene is a proposed geologic chronological term for an epoch that begins when human activities have had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems. The term – which appears to have been used by Russian scientists at least as early as the 1960s to refer to the Quaternary, the most recent geological Period – was coined with a different sense in the 1980s by ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer and has been widely popularized by the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, Paul Crutzen, who regards the influence of human behavior on the Earth’s atmosphere in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch for its lithosphere. To date, the term has not been adopted as part of the official nomenclature of the geological field of study.

In 2008 a proposal was presented to the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London to make the Anthropocene a formal unit of geological epoch divisions. A large majority of that Stratigraphy Commission decided the proposal had merit and should therefore be examined further. Steps are being taken by independent working groups of scientists from various geological societies to determine whether the Anthropocene will be formally accepted into the Geological Time Scale.

Many scientists are now using the term and the Geological Society of America entitled its 2011 annual meeting: Archean to Anthropocene: The past is the key to the future. The Anthropocene has no precise start date, but based on atmospheric evidence may be considered to start with the Industrial Revolution (late eighteenth century). Other scientists link the new term to earlier events, such as the rise of agriculture and the Neolithic Revolution (around 12,000 years BP). Evidence of relative human impact such as the growing human influence on land use, ecosystems, biodiversity, and species extinction is controversial; some scientists believe the human impact has significantly changed (or halted) the growth of biodiversity. Those arguing for earlier dates posit that the proposed Anthropocene may have begun as early as 14,000 to 15,000 years before present, based on lithospheric evidence; this has led other scientists to suggest that “the onset of the Anthropocene should be extended back many thousand years”; this would be closely synchronous with the current term, Holocene.

In January 2015, 26 of the 38 members of the International Anthropocene Working Group published a paper suggesting that July 16, 1945 was the starting point of the proposed new epoch. However a significant minority supports one of several alternative dates. In March 2015, another paper suggested either 1610 or 1964 could be the beginning of Anthropocene. The Anthropocene Working Group plans to meet in 2016 to submit evidence and decide whether the Anthropocene is a true geologic epoch.

Contents [hide]
1 Etymology
2 Nature of human effects
2.1 Biodiversity
2.2 Climate
2.3 Trace elements
3 Anthropocene temporal limit
3.1 “Early anthropocene” theory
3.2 Industrial Revolution
3.3 Antiquity
3.4 Anthropocene marker
4 The Anthropocene in culture
5 See also
6 References
7 Further reading
8 External links

Comment by William R. Cumming

April 10, 2015 @ 8:11 am

I believe JARED DIAMOND is now self-described as an EVOLUTIONARY ECOLOGISTS. Whatever his books starting with GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL are an important contribution to many disciplines and issues, including HS.

IMO election to office of a climate change denier anywhere world wide, and at any level of government, is a suicidal act by those electing him/her.


CHRISTINE LAGARDE, head of the IMF, recently stated that disruption anywhere on earth placed all at risk. She also stated that the IMF ROLE was limited to helping stabilize the finances of the GLOBAL ECONOMY.

A good argument could be mounted IMO that current events in MENA simply relect you can’t drink petroleum products.

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