The real world. No place for wishful thinking. Part 4. Climate (and other) reparations.

Don’t fix the blame. Fix the problem.” – (origin unclear…)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Climate reparations are indeed no place for wishful thinking – but perhaps the topic could stand a bit of thankful thinking. And when better to acknowledge this than over the holiday itself[1]?

Here goes.


Reparations have been part of the global conversation for quite a while – in the context of slavery, wars, genocide, and more. Here’s a working definition: the making of amends for a wrong one has done, by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged.

The special climate case is more recent, but has its own Wikipedia entry. An excerpt: Climate reparations are loss and damage payments for damage and harm caused by climate change, which may include debt cancellation. The term climate reparations differs from simple “loss and damage,” in that it is based on the concept of reparations, that compensation holds countries accountable for historical emissions, and is an ethical and moral obligation.

“The idea behind calls for loss and damage funding is that the countries that have done most to pollute the atmosphere, and grown rich doing so, should compensate…” 

The damage and harm caused by climate change grows more evident with every passing year. It touches every aspect of life on Earth and reaches every corner of the globe. The array of woes includes the effect of rising temperatures on life and health of humans and ecosystems; the growing number of deaths, damage, and disruption caused by floods, drought, and other extreme events; sea-level rise; impacts on agriculture and food security; and more. And the tab is eye-watering – exceeding $150 trillion dollars by some estimates.

At the outset, the issue raises questions. Here are two: who should pay? And why?

In answering the first question, some cast a wide net. Developed nations, the fossil-fuel extraction sector, polluting companies, and even those individual philanthropists whose have fortunes derived in part from historic fossil-fuel use are in the frame. (An aside: the scale of the loss and damage requires special means for moving money in such large amounts, from diverse sources, and to myriad claimants.  Catastrophe bonds, debt for loss-and-damage swaps, dedicated finance facilities and other exotic instruments have all been proposed as fund-transfer mechanisms.)

Answers to the why? stem from a stark mismatch. Generally speaking, those peoples and nations hit hardest by the negative impacts of climate change are not the countries and individuals largely responsible for the problem. It’s this that makes the issue not merely economic, but moral and ethical. For example, the African continent’s historic contributions to carbon emissions have been minimal. But in some cases African countries find themselves poised to spend several times more to cope with climate change than their current budgets provide for other basic needs, such as healthcare. By contrast, it’s the G20 nations who are responsible for more than two-thirds of the historic CO2 emissions. Another, more recent case: Pakistan, responsible for less than 1% of emissions, experienced $30B in damage from 2022 flooding attributed in part to climate change. The numbers of such case examples and claimants are large.

Almost exactly a year ago, the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP-27) concluded with an agreement providing for “loss and damage” funding for countries beset by climate-related disasters. At the time this was hailed as a groundbreaking step in international response to climate change. A year later, two realities are clear. First, the early, tentative funding amounts supplied by donors are falling far short of the need – by an order of magnitude or more. Second, developed nations, including the U.S. in particular, are emphasizing that the fund is a loss and damage fund, not a reparations fund, for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters. John Kerry made this clear in July. The point is U.S. refusal to acknowledge any legal or moral culpability for past damages (the distinction made explicit in the Wikipedia article). On that basis, contributions by the United States and other developed countries to the fund can be decoupled from any actual damages or losses and can be determined by ability or willingness to pay. America would be supporting the fund out of a spirit of generosity instead of obligation.

Two examples of wishful thinking are evident. First, it’s wishful thinking on the part of developing nations to expect the developed world to acknowledge any blame or legal liability without argument, especially given the inter-generational nature separating the historical carbon emissions and the losses incurred. But it’s equally wishful thinking on the part of the developed world to think that the poorer nations are in any position to shoulder the costs of disaster recovery on the scale they’re experiencing. Money in the amount of $150 Trillion can only be collected from the haves-, not the have-nots. (This also accords with game theory: the well-off nations are the ones with the most to lose and will therefore foot the bill; see for example, the insightful book by Scott Barrett entitled Why Cooperate? The Incentive to Supply Global Public Goods.)

But the reality all parties are so reluctant to embrace is also rosier than one might think. To begin, there are several positive motivations for the well-off to pony up. First, the $150 Trillion dollar figure needs to be compared with global GDP, which is already essentially $100 Trillion per year and growing. The loss and damage payout will be spread out over decades, meaning it will amount to, say 5% of GDP over the period. That’s a large figure, but not unimaginably large. Second, the most reasonable priority for such funding is to minimize or forestall future damage (here it’s a bit higher but not inconsistent with the earlier Stern-review estimates of this cost). What’s more, a healthy fraction of that will be spent on labor – and much of that labor will come from the world’s poorer countries – and even in richer countries like the United States, from the poorer subpopulations of those countries.. Wages are lower in these countries. At the same time, putting people, especially young people, to work in these countries will improve their lifetime prospects and pay an enormous peace dividend, greatly reducing the surge of climate-driven mass migrations, terrorism, war, polarization, and unrest worldwide. In short, the investments will achieve many of the purposes of reparations even if lacking the label.

We also have an historic example proving that this can work: the Marshall Plan following World War II. At that time US GDP was about $150B/year. U.S. national debt, after a decade of the Great Depression and World War II, was about $180B. Did the U.S. retrench? No! Instead, our forbearers decided to spend $15B – 10% of that GDP – over the next four years abroad, in Europe, and not just among our allies, but also among our enemies. The result was decades of unity between Europe and North America that saw them through the fraught years of the Cold War.

Imagine asking Americans today to invest $2.3T over the next four years in the U.N. Climate Change Loss and Damage Fund!

Well, that’s exactly what we need to imagine. And this is where the Thanksgiving season comes in. Once a year at this time, Americans sit at a ridiculously abundant dinner and go around the table asking each member present, “what are you thankful for?” And the answer comes back – we’re thankful for each other, and the abundance of the feast before us…etc, etc. But we can and should also give thanks that experience and science have made us aware that our planet is in trouble; and provided us with the technologies to set things aright, while there’s still time. We can be grateful that the first steps are being taken. We can also give thanks that indigenous people with a lot to lose welcomed our ancestors here in 1620 and earlier; that the millions who have emigrated from other countries since and the billions more who have partnered with us in international trade have blessed us. We can be thankful that all this history and generosity have put America in a position where we can give back. We could contribute $2T a year for four years to such a cause without breathing hard.

Okay, maybe we’d be a little out of breath. But only a little. And after all that food, we might need the exercise.

Happy Thanksgiving.

[1]A shout-out/thanks. Had been noodling this post along for a couple of days, when a close colleague reminded me today “you always do a Thanksgiving post.” That gentle nudge has changed my emphasis here quite a bit, and for the better…

Source: AMS – Living in The Real World

The real world. No place for wishful thinking. Part 3. (Water) Pollution.

Earlier LOTRW posts revisited the two of the three simultaneous challenges to living on the real world – building resilience to Earth’s hazards, and accessing Earth’s resources (with a focus on water). Today’s post returns to the third: minimizing the pollution resulting from the first two efforts.

The enemy here is the iron reality imposed by the second law of thermodynamics: the entropy (or disorder) of the universe always increases. Building order in one sector of the universe (Florida, say, or your kitchen or desk – or even closer to home, ordering the thoughts in your mind) always requires energy, and necessarily involves polluting/degrading the environment elsewhere.

Recent studies and associated news reports have shown a spotlight on such problems as they relate to water. Take, for instance, today’s NYT report on water use in Dubai. The article opens this way: For a desert city, Dubai appears like a water wonderland. Visitors can scuba dive in the world’s deepest pool or ski inside a mega mall where penguins play in freshly made snow. A fountain — billed as the world’s largest — sprays more than 22,000 gallons of water into the air, synchronized to music from surrounding speakers.

But to maintain its opulence, the city relies on fresh water it doesn’t have. So it turns to the sea, using energy-intensive desalination technologies to help hydrate a rapidly growing metropolis.

All of this comes at a cost. Experts say Dubai’s reliance on desalination is damaging the Persian Gulf, producing a brackish waste known as brine which, along with chemicals used during desalination processing, increases salinity in the Gulf. It also raises coastal water temperatures and harms biodiversity, fisheries and coastal communities.

The article goes on to note: The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority supplies water to more than 3.6 million residents along with the city’s active daytime population of more than 4.7 million visitors, according to a 2022 sustainability report. By 2040, the utility expects these numbers to grow, increasing the demand for clean water.

The city desalinated approximately 163.6 billion gallons of water last year, according to the sustainability report. For each gallon of desalinated water produced in the Gulf, an average of a gallon and a half of brine is released into the ocean.

In Dubai, the Jebel Ali Power and Desalination Complex — the largest facility of its kind in the world — pipes water from the sea, sending it through a series of treatment phases, then to the city as drinkable water. But Jebel Ali’s 43 desalination plants are powered by fossil fuels. The U.A.E. produced more than 200 million tons of carbon in 2022, among the highest emissions per capita worldwide.

Before we start clucking our tongues stateside, the next paragraph notes: Seawater desalination has been a lifeline in the United Arab Emirates for almost 50 years, but other coastal regions, like Carlsbad, Calif., have recently adopted the technology in the face of severe drought. Florida is a national leader in desalination, and farther inland, Arizona is considering piping desalinated water from Mexico.

The links focus on urban drinking water, but recall that agriculture is by far the biggest water consumer. In this respect, a recent study by a University of Maryland researcher, Sujay Kaushal, and coauthors is causing a bit of a stir. From their abstract: …Anthropogenic activities have accelerated the processes, timescales and magnitudes of salt fluxes and altered their directionality, creating an anthropogenic salt cycle. Global salt production has increased rapidly over the past century for different salts, with approximately 300 Mt of NaCl produced per year. A salt budget for the USA suggests that salt fluxes in rivers can be within similar orders of magnitude as anthropogenic salt fluxes, and there can be substantial accumulation of salt in watersheds. Excess salt propagates along the anthropogenic salt cycle, causing freshwater salinization syndrome to extend beyond freshwater supplies and affect food and energy production, air quality, human health and infrastructure. There is a need to identify environmental limits and thresholds for salt ions and reduce salinization before planetary boundaries are exceeded, causing serious or irreversible damage across Earth systems.

Rather dry prose, but the implication is that human activity is affecting the salinity of agricultural soils globally over an area comparable to that of the United States. Soil salinity resulting from irrigation-based farming is a problem that has been with us for thousands of years (it contributed to the downfall of Mesopotamia) – but when evident on this global scale (even toning down some of the alarmist rhetoric) the problem is sobering.

Space and time limits prevent fuller description here, but entropy is also the root cause of the crumbling water infrastructure currently challenging many US urban water systems.

In all these instances, overcoming the ravages of entropy can only be accomplished locally (entropy decreases always occur at the expense of entropy increases in some larger system) and always involves the input of energy. Use of renewable energy instead of fossil fuels buys time (but only buys time; infrastructure comprising windmills and solar panels need continual maintenance and has a finite life cycle). Ultimately, the solar source of this energy will itself run its course, but that problem is hopefully a billion or so years distant.

Energy of course has its own surrogate – money. A look at that reality in the next post.

Source: AMS – Living in The Real World

Remembering Richard E. Hallgren, 1932-2023.

Remembering Richard E. Hallgren, 1932-2023.

On November 5th, the Nation and the world lost a towering figure. Only a relative handful may have known his name. But all eight billion people worldwide owe Richard Hallgren a debt of thanks every day for his contributions to weather forecasts: predictions and outlooks that provide everyone a measure of health and safety in the face of hazards, that support agricultural production to meet global food needs, that guide water-resource management of rivers and their dams and reservoirs, that optimize solar- and wind-energy capture, and that help detect and predict climate change.

As much as any individual over the last 100 years, Richard Hallgren took weather services in the United States and the world from their rudimentary skill post-World War II to today’s global array of satellite-, radar-, and information technology that meets the increasingly high-stakes, up-to-the minute requirements of the modern world for weather information. Others advanced the vast science and technology making this possible, but Dick’s role was catalytic. He and a handful of others provided the leadership at the highest national and international policy levels needed to put all the bits together and make them work for societal benefit.

He did not build today’s community of practice through top-down command and control. Even in his more senior positions he was never at any point in charge of the whole. Instead he led the hard way – from below. He tirelessly built trust and relationships – not only among his peers but with early-career professionals entering the field. He always started with listening, watching, learning, respect for various viewpoints. From that understanding he developed a great vision, and freely shared it. He understood that weather forecasting for public benefit was an inherently cooperative act, requiring an Enterprise, a sustained collaboration spanning nations, governments, industry, and academia, constantly reinventing itself, comprising not just weather service providers, but also users – and not just in the developed world, but including and benefiting rich and poor alike on every continent. Toward this end he identified and articulated programs and frameworks that made the work of everyone around him more effective, more purposeful, more rewarding, providing them opportunities for personal and career growth even as they served others. He not only oversaw and fostered the creativity and innovation of the period but instilled a set of shared values across the Enterprise – innovation, partnership, unity, service, perseverance, integrity, energy, positivity – that has deepened and should endure for decades to come.

Dick himself took on many roles during his career. He served in the U.S. Air Force. He worked at IBM. He was scientific advisor to the Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary for Science and Technology in 1964, and then worked at the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA; 1966–1970) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) headquarters. In 1979 he was named Director of the National Weather Service. From that latter position his specific contributions included, but were not limited to:

-maintaining U.S. (and international) commitment to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization’s work toward free and open exchange of weather data (the technological and social contracts that together form the lifeblood of global weather forecasts).

-modernization and restructuring of the U.S. National Weather Service from top to bottom during the 1980’s.

-formulation of U.S. policies and frameworks accommodating government-private-sector-academic partnerships in the development and communication of weather forecasts.

In 1988 he retired from government to take on the executive directorship of the American Meteorological Society, completely transforming that group over the decade of his tenure into an NGO with robust disciplinary reach and capacity matching the needs and maturation of the Enterprise. Here he accomplished many things, but he drew his greatest pride and satisfaction from the money he raised through decades of personal cajoling (and the occasional arm-twisting) for undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships – especially for minorities and underrepresented groups.

For these accomplishments and others, he was duly showered with awards and honors. These included: a fistful of the highest recognitions available to U.S. government executives; membership in the U.S. National Academy of Engineering; Honorary Membership in the American Meteorological Society; and the International Meteorological Prize of the World Meteorological Organization (its highest honor).

All this said, such formal recognition mattered less to Dick than his accumulated personal relationships – with individual members of his WMO global family and with his NWS and AMS professional community. He selflessly invested countless hours in face-to-face and phone conversations to keep these current. Years of all this wore well: those who came to know Dick the best and the longest liked him the most.

Within that vast set of relationships, Dick particularly treasured his family. To be around Dick was to hear a stream of vignettes about sons Scott and Doug, and daughter Lynette – Dick was always bursting with pride about their latest accomplishments. Above all, he loved and revered his wife Maxine. He admired her many virtues: her strength, courage, wisdom, and her patience (especially with him).  

Dick, you made such a difference in all our lives. Thanks to you, the outlook for our generously-resourced, hazardous, fragile planet Earth is a bit brighter. We’ll do our best to pay it forward.

Source: AMS – Living in The Real World

The real world. No place for wishful thinking. Part 2. (Water) Resources.

Recent LOTRW posts noted that the real world punishes us if we fail to face hazards realistically. What does realism demand? That we do better than merely redistribute risk; that instead we actually reduce it. We need to go beyond simply saving lives, and take the measures needed to ensure that those saved lives are then worth living. For example, we shouldn’t complacently turn our backs on disaster survivors while they struggle for years to remake their lives. A recent New York Times article vividly describes how disaster survivors, (especially the poor and already-disenfranchised) all too often find themselves in destructive sequel: dealing with America’s disaster recovery system. As individuals and as a nation, we can and should do better.

In the same way, we need be clear-eyed in facing our food, water, energy and other resource challenges. Though the earth holds abundant resources, they are finite. We need to be wise in their extraction and use. We need to recognize that not all uses are equally beneficial, that not all locations can yield resources equally, and not all uses or rates of use are sustainable, whether locally or globally considered. We need to understand how these resource challenges are connected; that is, how efforts to feed ourselves place big demands on our water and energy use, and so on.

These notions might seem obvious, not worthy of mention. Unfortunately, it’s equally obvious that decisionmakers (acting on our behalf and with our tacit approval) are focusing instead on short-term convenience instead of stewardship. Some examples (focusing on just one resource, water):

The Colorado River Compact. U.S. management of its western water is equal parts allocation and allegory (. Wikipedia provides a nice overview. It begins this way:

[The Colorado River Compact is]… a 1922 agreement among seven states in the southwestern United States that fall within the drainage basin of the Colorado River. The pact governs the apportionment of the river’s flow between the upper and lower division states

The Compact did not address a number of issues, including Indian or Mexican water rights, or how evaporation would be shared among the basins. Later studies of flow found that the Compact apportioned more water than would be reliably delivered at the boundary between the two basins [emphasis added]. The Compact allowed use of surplus flows by downstream states, but did not provide clear rules addressing shortages.

The problems have been widely recognized for decades, but never truly faced. The compact made headlines this year as the parties have worked out a notional short-term fix and a proposal for addressing the problem longer-term (that may involve revisiting the aforementioned short-term fix).

Reality:  Water availability over the longer haul doesn’t always match that of a few favorable years. And, remarkably, some 56% of the U.S. Colorado River water is used to grow livestock feed; another 24% goes to other agriculture (a recent New York Times article provides a nice discussion). It’s been well-known for some time that the desert southwest might not have been the best venue for this (see, e.g., Cadillac Desert, by Marc Reisner).

Which leads us to a popular policy choice/technology fix for dealing with water shortages…

Overpumping groundwater. In a series entitled Uncharted Waters, The New York Times recently published findings from an investigative study of U.S. aquifers. An overview lays out the national problem: America is overusing its aquifers from coast to coast in damaging ways that threaten our economy and our food security. Follow-on articles track the skyrocketing amounts of water needed to support fracking; drill deeper into the use of groundwater for agriculture, etc. 

A final article provided these five takeaways[1])

-Aquifer water levels are falling nationwide. The danger is worse and more widespread than many people realize. We know this because we built a database of more than 80,000 wells nationwide.

-Overpumping is a threat to America’s status as a food superpower.

-It’s not just a problem in the West or for farmers. It’s a tap water crisis, too.

-Weak regulations allowed the overuse.

-Now, climate change is leading to even more pumping.

Reality: The problem feels disturbingly similar to the perils of maxing-out a credit card, only on a vastly larger scale. We’re using water for the wrong purposes in the wrong places. Pumping groundwater is losing its efficacy as a policy tool. The time to reduce dependency on groundwater is before it runs dry..

The tap water crisis would seem to pose particular peril. The Times reporting notes that one-third of America’s total volume of drinking water comes from underground wells. Ultimately, desalination of sea water may be the only policy option for replacing US water use at such scale. A 2015 USGS estimate of US use of water at home is some 80 gallons per person per day. The average US household uses about 30kwh of electricity per day. One analysis (Zhou (2005) suggests membrane desalination per se may not be a budget breaker, but the cost of water transportation over large horizontal distances and the lift to the higher elevations to supply water to inland U.S. sites may be substantial.

So, the good news? The reasons for hope? The technological solutions are out there. There are also many policy options available: conservation in all use sectors; use of so-called grey water; redirection of American agricultural efforts, etc. But given the current polarization of American politics and the deep divisions already on display across state and local lines, the country seems ill-positioned to handle looming water crises.

This is no time for America’s policy preference of denial. A key to stiffening our adult spines and taking realistic action versus merely wringing our hands? Why don’t we let our children in on the secret? Make geocivics a K-12 priority. Educate our children on the problem, don’t merely let them hear about it in passing. When our kids start asking us what we’re doing about it, maybe you and I will get moving.  

[1] an apology; I may have broken out the takeaways differently from the authors; there were more than five emboldened bits in the original article.

Source: AMS – Living in The Real World

Operationalize and automate FinOps with Apptio Cloudability and IBM Turbonomic

From traditional enterprises to the most innovative startups, organizations are using the public cloud. In fact, ESG Research found that 91% of all applications will eventually be hosted in the public cloud. That much investment has necessitated the FinOps movement, a cloud financial management discipline designed to bring financial accountability to the variable, consumption-based spend model of cloud.

We have seen that experienced FinOps practitioners are pushing the boundaries of “what’s possible” in cloud cost management, lobbying for advanced support and use cases. They’ve mastered cloud adoption and basic cost management but know that the future is about efficiency, optimization and driving value with every dollar spent. What they need now is support from FinOps platforms to help them advance their practice beyond the basics.

IBM Apptio Cloudability and IBM Turbonomic: advancing your FinOps practice

IBM recently completed its acquisition of Apptio Inc. and today we are announcing the first product integration between IBM Apptio Cloudability, for cloud financial management and, IBM Turbonomic, for hybrid cloud cost optimization.

Through this integration, FinOps practitioners cansurface key optimization metrics from Turbonomic within the Cloudability interface, which can help facilitate deeper cost analysis and partnership between engineering, business and finance teams. Combining Cloudability and Turbonomic can also help FinOps practitioners address their top challenges—empowering engineers to automate actions and improving collaboration between engineers and FinOps teams. This integration delivers a set of FinOps capabilities to optimize value from cloud spend while also providing for elasticity and optimal performance of cloud applications. It’s a first step in bringing these two powerful solutions together.

How the products work

Cloudability provides organizations with data, insights and recommendations to help better understand their cloud spend. Turbonomic generates hybrid cloud optimization decisions that can be automated to unlock true elasticity and eliminate the need to overprovision. Together, these solutions help enable clients to achieve an end-to-end FinOps lifecycle: inform, optimize and operate.

At each phase, organizations have access to data that can help them control cloud spend.

Initial integration: Surface Turbonomic optimization metrics on Cloudability interface.

What’s next?

As IT investments grow, workloads and applications are often spread across public and private clouds, and multiple service providers. This can increase expenses along with the need for simplified, integrated, and automated solutions to optimize that IT spend.

The FinOps solutions landscape is dynamic and constantly evolving. There are point solutions, meaning solutions specialized for only one cloud provider or one area of FinOps, like optimization or container management. Together, Cloudability and Turbonomic, are positioned to offer organizations an end-to-end FinOps solution, no matter how mature their practice is.

Explore the benefits of Apptio Learn more about IBM Turbonomic

The post Operationalize and automate FinOps with Apptio Cloudability and IBM Turbonomic appeared first on IBM Blog.

Source: IBM Blockchain

The path to getting climate change sorted goes through babies and toddlers.

My daughter is fond of reminding me that climate change can’t claim to be the #1 challenge facing the world today, and that it never will be. At the very most it can aspire only to be #2 – taking a back seat to the following worldwide imperative: to ensure that all babies and toddlers have a strong start in life. That’s the mission statement from the organization where she works, Zero to Three, which goes on to envision: a society…Source: AMS – Living in The Real World

The real world – no place for wishful thinking. Part 1. Hazards. An (extended) postscript.

(For starters, I hope that all of you who read the previous LOTRW post on hazards will revisit that post and read John Plodinec’s thoughtful comments).

Here are just a few examples of articles published this past week that shed additional light on what’s involved in extending the NTSB-approach from commercial aviation to natural disasters.

Two come from the New York Times.  The first is entitled Years of Graft Doomed 2 Dams in Libya, Leaving Thousands in Muddy Graves. The article merits a careful read from start to finish. An excerpt:

For years, the two aging dams loomed in the mountains above the Libyan city of Derna, riddled with cracks and fissures, threatening the thousands of people living in the valley below.

A Turkish company, Arsel Construction, was eventually hired by the Libyan government to upgrade the dams and build a new one. The work, Arsel said on its website at the time, was completed in 2012.

By then, the government had paid millions of dollars to the Turkish contractor for preliminary work, according to a government assessment dated 2011. But Arsel left Libya in the turmoil of the 2011 popular revolt against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the country’s longtime dictator. Neither dam was ever repaired, the assessment said, and no third dam ever materialized.

When a lethal storm rolled up the Mediterranean Sea toward Derna two weeks ago, dumping far more rain than usual on the Green Mountains above the city, the dams burst. An avalanche of water boomed down into the valley below, driving much of Derna out to sea and killing at least 4,000 people. More than 8,000 others are still missing.

Why the dams went unfixed despite repeated warnings is key to understanding the muddy disaster that wrecked a storied city and traumatized a country. It also goes to the heart of the dysfunction and corruption that have consumed Libya ever since rebels overthrew Colonel el-Qaddafi.

This tale is not unique to Libya. Shoddy construction has also been blamed for much of the 43,000 lives lost in the recent Turkish earthquake. Nor is the problem confined to dams or to Africa and the Middle East; no nation is immune. Here at home recall the role of electrical power lines in triggering the 2018 Camp Fire resulting in the destruction of Paradise CA. Some have suggested a similar contributor to the more recent Lahaina fire. Recall that shoddy construction is in some sense a root problem, but it is also a symptom – of the high cost of building-in and maintaining resilience, and the long time scales that may be involved before a recurrence of a rare hazard allows a society to reap the return on its investment. As a result, shoddy construction isn’t always a matter of simple greed, but the result of a complex interplay of financial systems, equity, education, and more.

The second NYT article is a guest essay by Sarah Stodola entitled If Hurricane Rebuilding Is Only Affordable for the Wealthy, This Is the Florida You Get. She says this: When Hurricane Ian, the costliest storm in Florida’s history, made landfall nearly a year ago, a storm surge as high as 15 feet left the town of Fort Myers Beach nearly submerged for several hours.

Today, a drive across the island reveals countless properties recently cleared of debris selling for millions and even tens of millions of dollars. The rapid redevelopment of coastal communities like Fort Myers Beach in the face of sea level rise and more intense storms and hurricanes mirrors a phenomenon sweeping beachfronts around the world: upscaling, the practice of replacing old or more modest homes, condos and hotels with more expensive versions, largely thanks to the high cost of building up to new storm resistant codes, and the potentially uninsured risks associated with doing so.

Despite their intent to make coastal communities safer and more resilient, Florida’s building codes can actually complicate resilience efforts in the long term. Buildings constructed with concrete and other stiff materials represent a doubling down on Gulf Coast living as climate change makes Atlantic hurricanes more powerful, and more likely to hit that very coast. And taxpayers, along with the federal, state and local governments, must foot the bill to maintain structures on eroding beaches and flood-prone coasts.

And yet we could be making other plans for these communities. There are policies that would encourage people to move away from the coast, as well as new possibilities for movable and flexible structures.

Ms. Sodola surfaces issues and trends prevalent along the entirety of the US hurricane-prone coast. Engineering fixes are so expensive as to favor massive complexes that provide high economic returns. (It would be as if improving commercial aviation safety could be accomplished only by constructing bigger planes.)

A third article comes from USA Today, entitled Deadly disasters are ravaging school communities in growing numbers. Is there hope ahead? This excerpt frames the problem:

An increase of natural disasters from wildfires to floods to hurricanes to tornadoes – exacerbated by climate change – have ravaged America’s schools since students returned to in-person learning after the COVID-19 pandemic. And manmade disasters from lead in drinking water to asbestos in school buildings are playing a role.

This school year alone, devastating wildfires exacerbated by winds from Hurricane Dora ravaged one school and damaged three others in Maui. And winds from category three Hurricane Idalia destroyed the roof of an elementary school in Hoboken, Georgia. Kids attending schools without air conditioning were sent home at the beginning of the school year in Puerto Rico, Philadelphia and in other areas of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast because of extreme heat.

Last school year, torrential rains and damaging winds from Hurricane Fiona ravaged schools in Puerto Rico, schools closed in pockets of California after a bomb cyclone and Pacific storms caused flooding. A tornado in Whiteland, Indiana, dismantled internet connection for families across the region. Lead in drinking water Jackson schools closed campuses in the past few years more times than one teacher could recall in an interview with USA TODAY.

And old buildings that were found to be lined with asbestos led to closures of at least six campuses across Philadelphia – sending thousands of kids to cram into other occupied schools.

The focus is on schools, but study of disasters quickly reveals that building community-level resilience to hazards, unlike the aircraft case, is much more than a matter of changing a single component’s defective design or manufacture, or training pilots or air traffic controllers to deal with a novel scenario. The problems facing schools are mirrored in the vulnerabilities of hospitals, or electrical or financial infrastructure, or maintaining continuity of food and water delivery, etc. As a rule, disasters reveal vulnerabilities in each of these that the recovering communities must address simultaneously.

The human cost of failing to get this right is staggering. Consider this article from the Washington Post: What one motel tells us about survival in post-disaster America. To spend even the few minutes required to read this article is to experience anguish, sadness, survivor’s guilt – every known negative emotion. Actually living a full year, one minute at a time, under these circumstances has to be soul-crushing, even to the bravest and staunchest. Multiply by the number of El Rancho Motel residents; multiply that by the number of motels similarly filled with Ian survivors alone. Consider that this past year might not even be the halfway point for many if not most of them. Reflect that Lahaina survivors are even now only experiencing the earliest stages of this nightmare. Recognize that a full catalog of people who’ve never recovered normal lives following other US disasters of the past two decades would number in the thousands. Realize that virtually all these survivors are living in close daily contact with and in obvious contrast to others who were largely unaffected by the respective disasters – people who are complacent/oblivious to the survivors’ diminished circumstances and prospects. Recall further that most of the people who find themselves in these dire straits did not choose to live this way; they were constrained in their options by poverty, and their pre-existing poverty has been exacerbated by the hazard. It’s heartbreaking. And, at scale, it’s socially destabilizing.

The reality is that hundreds of millions of people live in hazardous areas – floodplain, seismically active areas, etc., where future risk is hardwired in – disaster is only a matter of time. Disaster prevention options available in the commercial aviation analog (e.g., simply grounding unsafe aircraft until modifications are made) are not available. Governments can’t demand, for example, that all residing in hazardous areas evacuate forthwith. Instead, we humans have to be more cautious and strategic about where we settle in the first place.  This morning’s NYT story, Flood Threats Are Rising. Here’s Where People Are Moving Into Harm’s Way, makes clear that quite the opposite is happening worldwide. As difficult as it is, governments and peoples should implement policies (blending incentives and proscriptive regulations governing land use, building codes, and infrastructure performance) This is the last point at which it is inexpensive and possible to build resilience to hazards and forestall future tragedy.

No place on a planet doing much of its business through extreme events can be entirely safe. But we can and should do better in where and how we choose to live and work.

Source: AMS – Living in The Real World

The real world – no place for wishful thinking. Part 1. Hazards

This week’s print edition of The Economist includes an article entitled Uninsurable America. The subtitle reads, succinctly: Insurance is supposed to signal risk. Policymakers should let it. The article merits study in its entirety, but here are a few key excerpts:

For decades Americans have been moving to beautiful places that are vulnerable to extreme weather. Florida, once a swampy frontier, is now America’s third-most populous state. It is also the state most often hit by hurricanes. By 2015, the Atlantic and Gulf coasts boasted more than $13trn of real estate. Look West and the story is similar. Homes are proliferating in the wildland-urban interface, where nature and development anxiously coexist and wildfire season seems never to end

Those who enjoy the benefits of living in high-risk areas (such as a majestic ocean view) should shoulder the costs. However, both federal and state governments ensure that they do not, by subsidising or suppressing property insurance rates in such places. This has encouraged reckless building

Private insurers burned by huge payouts after disasters are abandoning risky markets such as Florida and California. Homeowners are turning to state-backed insurers of last resort, which offer less coverage for a higher price. When these plans cannot cover claims, taxpayers are often left with the bill.

The article concludes with this ominous forecast:

Eventually, … some Americans will need to move to keep safe from rising seas, roaring floods and fast-encroaching flames. … make no mistake: the longer politicians subsidise building in dangerous places, the worse the pain will be, and the bigger the final bill

The underlying reality here? Insurance per se merely redistributes risk; it doesn’t reduce it. Private insurers aren’t asking high premiums because of greed; they’re asking high premiums because they’ve calculated the true risk. State and federal governments can’t insure at lower rates because they’re more efficient. Instead, they’re merely gambling that their bad bets won’t be exposed any time soon. They’re encouraging their state residents, and others contemplating a move in, to live in a state of denial.

As individuals and as a nation, we can and should face this challenge more dutifully. And the United States can do better. We’ve proved it. Commercial aviation provides a singular success story. In the 1960’s, commercial aviation was already the safest way to travel; only one or two thousand people were dying in accidents each year. But those in the sector realized that aviation was about to take off; that in a few decades, air travel would quadruple, and if airline safety didn’t improve, that growth would imply a fatal commercial accident about once a week. Statistical safety or no, the optics would not look good to the traveling public. Government and the private sector joined forces to establish a National Transportation Safety Board to investigate accidents, discover causes, identify and implement fixes – basically instilling a culture of “this must never happen again.” Half a century later, even in the face of that fourfold travel increase, in most years U.S. carriers experience zero fatalities.  

In the same way, if property insurers can characterize wind, flood, fire, and other risks to individual homes, to communities, and to business sectors, that same information can and should be used to drive the search for prevention strategies – more intelligent land-use, more effective building codes, and more realistic public-policy governance and regulation. Surely, driving down risk, no matter how slowly, offers a much healthier, happier way to spend the next half-century than merely watching in dismay as suffering and losses mount.

When it comes to natural hazards, the emphasis should expand from a focus on saving lives per se. More accurate, timely hazards warnings are already increasingly effective in triggering evacuation and sheltering. But not enough is being done to ensure that those saved lives are worth living. The homelessness and joblessness resulting from many hazards devastates communities and ruins individual and family lives for decades, not just months or years. More than ten years after Katrina (2005), some survivors still experience post-traumatic stress. The 2020 Census shows the New Orleans population still down 100,000 from the 484,000 people who lived there in 2000. One 2023 report found many New Orleans homeowners still trying to put their finances back together following the disaster. Chronic health impacts can persist for decades. Hurricanes Hilary (west coast) and Idalia (east coast) took the headline attention off the Lahaina (Hawaii) fires, but survivors of all three of these events will still be picking up the pieces years from now, even as yet other disasters pile on, whittling away at the available relief funding and attention. More and more Americans will experience nightmarish loss. News- and social media will pour salt on those wounds, providing daily reminders of the contrast between the diminished circumstances and prospects for disaster survivors, versus those of the larger, thus-far unaffected American public.

Politicians get blamed for downplaying and subsidizing risk, and (for the associated inequities that favor the already well-to-do, at the expense of the poorest). Shame on them – maybe. But they’re operating in a democracy, and delivering only what the voting public demands and rewards. Politicians see that we don’t like to face facts and not just those associated with hazard risk. So, some politicians allow campaign rhetoric to degenerate to some form of looking us in the eye and saying “You’re living in a fantasy world… and I can keep the fantasy going four years longer than my opponent.” Any shame is therefore on us. We need to seek something more responsible from ourselves. Only then will our would-be leaders take notice and follow suit.

Living on the real world demands nothing less.


A closing thought. Meteorologists have a special opportunity to foster the needed social change. During the extended periods of calm that separate intermittent hazards and our life-saving warnings, we can be a voice for building societal resilience through land-use, building codes, and critical infrastructure protection – much as our dentists encourage us to floss and brush our teeth between visits.

Source: AMS – Living in The Real World

18-, 19-, 20-years… Time’s up! (sort-of)

18-, 19-, 20-years… Time’s up! (sort-of)

At twenty years on, it’s once again time to revisit J.F. Rischard’s 2003 book, High Noon: Twenty Global Problems, Twenty Years to Solve Them. LOTRW provided an earlier look at the book on November 9, 2013, ten years after its publication.. Here’s that earlier text, reproduced in its entirety:

Speaking of books, in 2003 J. F. Rischard, then Vice President for Europe of the World Bank, and based in Paris, wrote and published High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them.

We’re halfway to his deadline. How are we doing? And how well is Mr. Rischard’s book standing the test of time?

Worth a look.

First some background on the book itself.  This CliffsNotes version won’t do the book justice. It merits a thoughtful, relaxed read in its entirety. But here’s the gist. Mr. Rischard notes two great trends: explosive population growth, especially in countries ill-equipped to handle it, and the globalization of the world’s economies. The first trend produces stresses. The second stresses us as well, but also creates opportunities. Mr. Rischard notes that government attempts worldwide to provide stability in the face of these trends instead of adapting to the changed circumstances have allowed a number of problems to fester and grow more urgent.

Mr. Rischard acknowledges that inventories of these problems are a subjective matter and might vary. Some people might see ten problems; others fifty. He offers a list of twenty, binned in three categories, nicely labeled:

(1) Sharing our planet. Global warming. Biodiversity and ecosystem losses. Fisheries depletion. Deforestation. Water deficits. Maritime safety and pollution.

(2) Sharing our humanity. Poverty. Peacekeeping. Education. Disease. The digital divide. Natural disaster mitigation.

(3) Sharing our rulebook. Consistent rules worldwide for: Taxation. Biotechnology. Financial architecture. Illegal drugs. Trade, investment and competition. Intellectual property rights. E-commerce. International labor and migration.

He next points out that we don’t have all the time in the world to solve these problems (hence the book title’s channeling of the 1952 Gary Cooper western film). Perhaps for some it’s as short as ten years. For others, it might be fifty. So, he says, let’s just say twenty. He argues that in nearly every case, the first five years are the most important and urgent. He then (rhetorically) asks: how many of us think that government, in any of various combinations – individual countries, the United Nations, the G-7, the European Union, etc. – are up to the job? He closes by suggesting the formation of what he calls global issues networks to deal with each. Each network would bring together governments, private enterprise, and academic expertise to tackle a problem. The idea is that experts from all three sectors will supply the best thinking, and that after a year or so of global brainstorming,  governments, whether singly and in combination, could start to take over the task of implementing the more practicable ideas. (This is evocative of something like an IPCC-process for each issue. Mr. Rischard himself , though referring to the IPCC in the global warming section, doesn’t make this connection, and you shouldn’t be put off by any baggage you happen to associate with the IPCC, unless and until you have read his full description, or have a better idea yourself to offer.)

The book wears well with age. Remarkably, it looks to be pretty much as fresh and insightful today as it did when first published. For example, the worldwide financial-sector meltdown of 2008 stemmed from concerns he identified under the section on financial architecture. Subsequent multi-lateral efforts to build in more margin and resilience into the financial sector exemplify the steps he’s suggesting. The same can be said for many if not all of the other nineteen issues. While the world hasn’t fully embraced Mr. Rischard’s prescription, we do see organizations of various stripes taking steps similar to what he’s proposing. I might be alone in this, but I actually see the IPCC process, with all its flaws, as a rousing success story.

What about actual progress? Are there any victories to be claimed? Well, it could be argued we’re making progress with respect to global poverty. But in most instances, we see a pattern of small, isolated victories, as well as a number of battles lost, and the outcome of the twenty “wars” still very much in the balance.

The bottom line for you and me? We could do worse than to read (or re-read) this book, make a connection to that piece of the puzzle where we have something to offer (there will be one or more for each of us), and then pitch in.

Oh, and did I mention that this book is a great read? A real page-turner? Mr. Rischard has a flair for clear exposition, and a magical way of keeping the arguments grounded, accessible, and compelling. Got an e-book or Kindle? Within minutes, you can reading his book over your weekend coffee. It’s crisp, engrossing… a quick read. You can be finished by Monday morning, and hit the workplace with a spring in your step and a renewed sense of purpose and understanding of your role in making the world a better place.

Back to the present day/some impressions.

Twenty years on, the book still feels fresh and relevant. If you’re keeping score, it would be fair to say that none of the twenty global problems has been “solved.” Hardly a surprise there. What’s more, while some progress has been made on most of the problems, the problems themselves have morphed over the two decades. Each today poses a bigger lift: looming larger, extending in scale, growing more complex, intersecting more strongly with the others. We’re falling behind.

Mr. Rischard might wish to tweak his thesis in some small ways. As for noting the role of “population growth, especially in the countries ill-equipped to handle it,” he might want to balance that with a few words on the subject of the aging of populations elsewhere (in Europe; in China, and in other countries seemingly equally “ill-equipped to handle it”). He might today give greater emphasis to “international labor and migration” (as both a problem and an opportunity). And today he might ponder the promise and the threats posed by artificial intelligence to his twenty global challenges.  

Perhaps most sobering at this 20-year mark is Mr. Rischard’s sense, dating from 2003, that the first five years of the twenty were the most critical. But it’s also important to note that Mr. Rischard was careful to say that “twenty years” wasn’t meant as a fundamental physical constant, but rather to denote a range of 10-50 years, say, and convey a sense of urgency.  But again, that’s before factoring in AI.

One area where Mr. Rischard seems most prescient – most insightful – is his choice of the notion of sharing as the organizing principle to cluster his twenty challenges into three bins. Ponder these again: Sharing our planet. Sharing our humanity. Sharing our rulebook. Grand. Visionary. Spot on.

And chilling. Perhaps if we had to name one virtue or trait that has nearly universally eluded us as individuals, as nations, and as a species, for virtually our entire experience spanning many millennia (not just some twenty-year interval), it would be sharing. We don’t share so well with others.

But suppose: if we were more gifted at sharing – if it were an innate part of our nature and culture, rather than something we accomplished only spasmodically, through strenuous effort, and for a special few people in our lives – perhaps each of those challenges that seem so insurmountable would fade away.

On its face, our struggle to share seems somewhat surprising. At a personal level, many if not most of us probably grew up hearing our parents exhorting us to share with our siblings. If we could perhaps hold that childhood thought and at the same time extend its circle of application, the world might quickly become a better place – perhaps even within the next twenty years. What’s the problem? Social scientists tell us that at its root is a scarcity- versus an abundance mindset.

Interested in how to shift from a scarcity to an abundance mindset? The internet has lost of advice to offer. An example, one of many:  a Forbes article from a few years ago lists five steps: (1) focus on what you have. (2) surround yourself with people that have an abundance mindset. (3) create win-win situations. (4) incorporate gratitude into your daily life. (5) train your mind to recognize the possibilities

Hmm. Simple, doable ideas that can be accomplished by each of the eight billion of us almost overnight. Cost-free. And look closely! These actions aren’t sacrificial; they are in our self interest while at the same time working toward the greater good. If even a fraction of us made this mindset change, we could see those twenty mountainous challenges turn into twenty global molehills before our very eyes.

All together now… share!

Source: AMS – Living in The Real World

Meteorologues sans Frontieres

(Forgive this post – the idea came to me during last night’s bout with insomnia. And no shaming, please; we all suffer sleeplessness for our own reasons and cope in our own ways…)

Let’s suppose you unexpectedly find yourself at some Friday happy hour or on a Metro commute or through some other lucky coincidence with that someone-you-think-or-hope-just-might-be THE ONE. Let’s take a further leap and suppose that against the odds you’ve somehow made it past your usual, lame pickup line, or you rose to the occasion, because this might be THE ONE, and you actually wanted to get off to a meaningful start, and so you managed to say something authentic. So the conversation continues and hope still lives and the evening and perhaps your entire future are suddenly full of possibilities.  But it’s all still a bit fragile.

Then he/she/they ask what you do for work.

(I know, I know, you, or this other, are not necessarily supposed to open up this topic on a first date – you’re not supposed to make the conversation feel like just idle work chatter, etc., etc. Google leads you to a plethora of advice on why this topic might be a bad idea. But this isn’t a date; it’s a first encounter. And it’s the 21st century, everybody has to work, it’s Washington DC [or some other city], so there it is.)

Now if you’re a meteorologist, the best, wisest, only thing to say, is “I’m a meteorologist, and I work for (fill in the name of the federal agency, or corporation, or university, or NGO),” and then hold your breath. If this person is THE ONE; he/she/they will have a great follow-up. (Full disclosure, I met and married THE ONE a long time ago, so this work question has been low-stakes for the past half-century. Today I usually answer the question with another question: “You may have noticed that sometimes your weather forecast is wrong?” Just about everybody provides a snarky response – some variation of “sometimes?” And then I tell them my job was to help make weather forecasts better…)

But if you’re a meteorologist, and it’s the middle of the night, and you’ve recently written a blogpost touching on the need for international data sharing, your restless, tossing-turning brain might have a “what-if?” stream of thought like this:

Suppose you ask someone what it is they do, and they say “I’m a doctor.” That’s interesting in a certain way, and brings to mind a whole bunch of follow-up questions. But if they say, I’m a doctor, and I work for Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), that’s INTERESTING – at an entirely different level. You know they practice medicine (with all the expertise and training and experience that implies), but there’s more; they bring medical humanitarian assistance to victims of conflict, natural disasters, epidemics or healthcare exclusion. For them it’s not about the money; it’s about reducing human suffering, making the world a better place, and all the rest. That’s special. You want to know more.

But (continuing the middle-of-the-night line of thought), if you think about it, ALL meteorologists are interesting in that additional, special way. To say “meteorologists-without-borders” is actually to be redundant. There’s no other kind! The atmosphere is no respecter of political boundaries, and its study and prediction require corresponding perspective. And meteorology is not the pathway to great wealth. It’s about making people safer, healthier, more secure. So every meteorologist is a “Meteorologue sans Frontieres.” And here’s the thing. Many non-meteorologists will fail to see that connection. The label will likely conjure up images of broadcasters, or (less-likely), a forecaster in a National Weather Service office, or (less-likely still), a researcher. Those impressions are okay as far as they go. But they don’t really capture the intrinsic humanitarian part. If we don’t convey that, as individuals, and as a community, then we’ve seriously sold ourselves short.

Truth be told, even we meteorologists, of whatever stripe, can struggle ourselves to maintain that fuller, more profound vision. The urgency of the broadcast job, with the constant updates, the struggle to refresh the social media feeds, the concerns with ratings; the government forecast job, with its shift work, public services, and engagement with emergency managers and other partners; the research job, with its publish-or-perish pressures – all these tend to move our higher calling into the background.

Today’s invitation, then, is for each of us to keep that higher calling front and center – and draw inspiration, courage, and satisfaction from it. Thanks to each of you for your humanitarian work.

Source: AMS – Living in The Real World