Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 20, 2015

Conflicting or complementary?

Filed under: Biosecurity,Climate Change,Futures,Preparedness and Response,Resilience,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on August 20, 2015

Each month the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration releases a review of weather data.  What the accumulating data demonstrates are increasing departures from historic means, much more extreme weather of every sort.

While some continue to argue the cause for this shift, there is more and more consensus that the data confirms an emerging climate much different than that experienced by recent generations. (Monday I received a briefing on the so-called Kankakee Torrent of 14,000 to 19,000 years ago.  This suggests that even extremes are relative).

So far the impact of the extended California drought on agricultural production — and prices — has been modest.  According to a late-June analysis by the USDA Economic Research Service,

The current outlook for 2015 is for slightly lower than average retail food price inflation, with supermarket prices expected to rise 1.75 to 2.75 percent over 2014 levels. Despite drought conditions in California, the strength of the U.S. dollar and lower oil prices could have a mitigating effect on fresh fruit and vegetable prices in 2015. As of June, ERS predicts fresh fruit prices will rise 2.5 to 3.5 percent and fresh vegetable prices 2.0 to 3.0 percent in 2015, close to the 20-year historical average. 

But if the current drought would extend for another several years, and especially if drought in one agricultural region is combined with destructive extreme weather in other agricultural regions (e.g. the 2010 drought in Ukraine, Russia, China, and Argentina), the combined consequence can be dire.

While an understanding of cause is usually crucial to prevention and many kinds of mitigation, it is possible to disagree as to cause and develop plausible projections of consequence. In most of life there is a “cone of uncertainty” of some sort, but even when we cannot precisely predict, we may be able to reasonably anticipate.

Over the last several months a UK-US team has attempted to anticipate the impact of extreme weather on global agricultural capacity.  They recently released a report, concluding:

... the global food system is vulnerable to production shocks caused by extreme weather, and… this risk is growing. Although much more work needs to be done to reduce uncertainty, preliminary analysis of limited existing data suggests that the risk of a 1-in-100 year production shock is likely to increase to 1-in-30 or more by 2040. Additionally, recent studies suggest that our reliance on increasing volumes of global trade, whilst having many benefits, also creates structural vulnerability via a liability to amplify production shocks in some circumstances. Action is therefore needed to improve the resilience of the global food system to weather-related shocks, to mitigate their impact on people.

I find the binational report especially interesting for reasons that go beyond the explicit factual analysis.  The organization and rhetoric of the report seems a bit bipolar… unable to resolve a persistent tension between two policy/strategy perceptions.  One angle tends toward greater redundancy and centralization.  The other tends toward greater diversity and decentralization.  The authors do not seem self-aware of the tension.  It would be interesting, at least to me, to see a principled strategic process for engaging these two alternatives… or possibly complementary approaches.

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Comment by John Comiskey

August 20, 2015 @ 5:16 am


The UK-US report reminds me of Truman’s critique of his economic advisors:

On the one hand …. on the other hand ….

Truman asked for a one armed (thus one handed) economist.

It seems to me, our current global supply chain is sufficiently redundant to overcome regional shortfalls caused by extreme weather events/other. Of course there will be shortfalls.

An extreme weather event/other that impacts multiple regions and/or multiple extreme weather events/others might drain/overwhelm the global supply chain. In either case, the resiliency of the global supply system and its customers will be challenged.

Your 2010 grand strategy of resilience is informative; society can and must be sufficiently resilient to weather the storm.

Final note, supply chain security would fall into one of Bellavita’s seven possible definitions of homeland security, i.e. metahazards.
See https://www.hsaj.org/articles/118

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 20, 2015 @ 7:40 am

Thanks Phil! And to play on Maslov’s heirarchy of needs it should have been the following ranking:

1. Water and climate;

2. Energy supply and distribution;

3. Forestry and agriculture;

4. Population reduction.

5. Protection of the Commons.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 20, 2015 @ 7:50 am

Wiki Extract:

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review. Maslow subsequently extended the idea to include his observations of humans’ innate curiosity. His theories parallel many other theories of human developmental psychology, some of which focus on describing the stages of growth in humans. Maslow used the terms “physiological”, “safety”, “belongingness” and “love”, “esteem”, “self-actualization”, and “self-transcendence” to describe the pattern that human motivations generally move through.

Maslow studied what he called exemplary people such as Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Frederick Douglass rather than mentally ill or neurotic people, writing that “the study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy.” Maslow studied the healthiest 1% of the college student population.

Maslow’s theory was fully expressed in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality. The hierarchy remains a very popular framework in sociology research, management training and secondary and higher psychology instruction.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 20, 2015 @ 8:04 am


EPA saw its climate group largely devastated by OMB in the 70’s. Also Glaciologists really started studying periods of glaciation on Planet Earth about the same time. EPA focused after its creation on GREENHOUSE GASES warming the earth. It had no glaciologists.

Both studies are important but my personal interviews with a number of EARTH Scientists has informed me of the

1. Ice over water not a problem and its melting not a problem;

2. The largest extant glaciers in the world are in the Antarctic and Greenland. Many of these cover land not water and some are 3000 feet deep.

3. Continuous melting of the Antarctic and Greenland glaciers on those lands has been observed since the 1930’s;

The result if these melt will cause sea level rise of perhaps 400 feet or more. That may or may not take centuries.

So far all Republican candidates and some Democratic candidates have denied this science. Why? The continuing melt is the subject of measurement and observation.

A retired Coast Guard Admiral and recent Commandant chairs the US Arctic Council Chair. He may be the most important person on the science of Climate on earth IMO. Do you know his name?

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 20, 2015 @ 8:05 am

Time for Chris to update his article. Perhaps with Dan Pietro.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 20, 2015 @ 8:27 am

John and Bill:

Thanks. A couple of quick responses. There are profound pools of resilience, even in many of our engineered systems. For example, I entirely agree with John that at least in the United States in case of a multi-state regional catastrophe there is sufficient supply chain resilience to respond with considerable effectiveness… especially if key strategic issues are thought-through prior to the event. Our natural systems are even more resilient. But in each case these systems (Common-Pool-Resources to use an Ostromite term) require attention and a modicum of stewardship. By attention I mean we at least need to recognize what is happening enough to get out of the way. But as the UK-US study suggests, a combination of increasing population, increasing population density, increasing distance of supply sources, and increasing incidence of extreme weather plausibly threatens the resilience of the most diverse and adaptable systems. Stewardship takes on a very different scope and scale in this context.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 20, 2015 @ 8:42 am

Thanks Phil! And here is to established of a new Cabinet agency–DEPARTMENT OF WATER!

Comment by Donald Quixote

August 20, 2015 @ 9:10 am

The one area for agreement may be that we need to better prepare for the future – for the good and the bad times. Unfortunately, that mindset has been timing out with the passing of our parents, grandparents or great grandparents that experienced the Great Depression and dust bowl era. Unless we can find the answer through a new smartphone app or new grant program, I am rather concerned that it will take a larger (and painful) reset button to change our mindset. These problems are not new, many of us are.

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 20, 2015 @ 11:26 am

Retired Admiral Papp! Arctic Council rep!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

August 22, 2015 @ 6:11 am

Don: What I read between your lines: For a whole host of reasons — including poverty, lack of transportation, and prudence emerging from painful experience — our ancestors did not anticipate assured abundance. Accordingly they practically prepared, as best they could, for various sorts of drought and disaster. This included making hay while the sun shines. Today there are tens-of-millions who have never needed to give serious thought to the biological foundations of Maslow’s hierarchy (thank you Bill). A couple generations of comparative abundance has served to separate most of us (alienate us?) from the sources of production. We don’t really understand how we are watered and fed. Accordingly it is difficult to assess risk or opportunity, it is difficult to make wise choices regarding a reality on which we depend but do not know.

Have I read you wrong?

Comment by Donald Quixote

August 24, 2015 @ 9:26 am

No Sir, you are correct.

If we are not required to prepare and have not experienced the ramifications for complacency, our memories are extremely short for our lives are very good. If there is an expectation that someone else is responsible, it can be very difficult when things go badly and the other person/entity cannot adequately perform for us.

Look for the people who plan, prepare and save buttons from old shirts for future use – they have been there. Our current governmental and social policies do not help, but create an environment for even greater failure and dashed expectations. I have never seen a black swan so I know for sure that they do not exist.

At least the stock market is quiet these days……….

Comment by athletes

August 22, 2016 @ 3:07 pm

Woaw, au moins je me dis que j’ai bien fait de tomber sur votre article.
Même si j’en saisie qu’un peu, ce sujet m’aura permi d’être plus renseigné sur un thème
que je ne connaissait pas !

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