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Making It Hardest For The Most Resilient Among Us

HUMANITY HAS TRANSFORMED THE NATURE OF LIVING OVER THE PAST CENTURY, ROUGHLY DOUBLING LIFE EXPECTANCY AT BIRTH AND THUS SHIFTING THE MEAN AGE RADICALLY UPWARD. This changes the structure of all societies, albeit at uneven paces. Globally, the worker-to-elder-dependent ratio was 12:1 in 1950, dropping only to 9:1 in the year 2000. But with globalization's profound expansion over the last 25 years, we're looking at a ratio of just 4:1 in 2050 (per the UN). That's an amazing burden shift that will be accommodated by people working later in life, technology and productivity advances, and — most crucially — the proper harnessing of youth as future labor. The big problem? Most of those youth are located in the emerging South, where a 10:1 ratio will still exist in 2050, whereas the advanced West will be looking at an untenable 2:1 ratio.

This is why I have advocated, throughout my career, for the West's open borders and active recruitment of immigrants from younger parts of the world. It is the only realistic solution — necessary even as it's insufficient (people will have to work longer and productivity will need to advance). Right now, Westerners seems to be dazzled by the imagery of robots running all and there being no work to be done, but this is a queer illusion that encourages inward-looking perspectives on the future, the classic example being Japan. The zero-sum mindset is also unrealistically greedy — as in, we have ours, so tough on you.

And yes, this generational divide, so well encapsulated in a North-South divide, dovetails quite negatively with the unequal social and environmental burdens generated by climate change, which likewise pits the "old" poles against" young" Middle Earth.

Simply put, we are eating our seed corn.

On this disturbing global trend comes a great editorial in the EconomistSome highlights, with commentary:

Roughly a quarter of the world’s people—some 1.8 billion—have turned 15 but not yet reached 30. In many ways, they are the luckiest group of young adults ever to have existed. They are richer than any previous generation, and live in a world without smallpox or Mao Zedong. They are the best-educated generation ever . . . they are also more intelligent than their elders. If they are female or gay, they enjoy greater freedom in more countries than their predecessors would have thought possible. And they can look forward to improvements in technology that will, say, enable many of them to live well past 100.

Another theme of my work over the years: when America stood up and took on the responsibility of running the world after WWII, it didn't simply replicate the global orders imposed sequentially by Europe's colonial powers over the centuries. Instead, it fundamentally reshaped it to enable global economic integration on an unprecedented scale — and based on our own model of states uniting. This is the primary reason why global standards of living have skyrocketed over the past half century.

But this creates class and generational consciousness on a global scale:

Just as, for the first time in history, the world’s youngsters form a common culture, so they also share the same youthful grievances. Around the world, young people gripe that it is too hard to find a job and a place to live, and that the path to adulthood has grown longer and more complicated.

The primary culprit? "Policies favouring the old over the young."

Last hired, first fired is the most obvious one:

In most regions they are at least twice as likely as their elders to be unemployed. The early years of any career are the worst time to be idle, because these are when the work habits of a lifetime become ingrained. Those unemployed in their 20s typically still feel the “scarring” effects of lower income, as well as unhappiness, in their 50s.

This is very bad news for a planet experiencing rapid demographic aging, the scariest and most self-destructive expression being the tendency of the old to want to "keep out" the foreign or "scary" young. This is a great deal of the emotion behind America's current passion for such slogans as "make our country great again!" It is simply nostalgia for the way things were.

But it denies us sufficient access to the most important resource on the planet — namely, youthful ambition and drive and creativity:

Young people are often footloose. With the whole world to explore and nothing to tie them down, they move around more often than their elders. This makes them more productive, especially if they migrate from a poor country to a rich one. By one estimate, global GDP would double if people could move about freely. That is politically impossible—indeed, the mood in rich countries is turning against immigration. But it is striking that so many governments discourage not only cross-border migration but also the domestic sort … A UN study found that 80% of countries had policies to reduce rural-urban migration, although much of human progress has come from people putting down their hoes and finding better jobs in the big smoke.

The aging of the North is making it brittle, self-centered, and selfish in spirit, and this is being increasingly reflected in government policies, in large part because, on average, 3 out of 5 elders regularly vote while only 1 out of 5 youth do.

The old have always subsidised their juniors. Within families, they still do. But many governments favour the old: an ever greater share of public spending goes on pensions and health care for them. This is partly the natural result of societies ageing, but it is also because the elderly ensure that policies work in their favour. By one calculation, the net flow of resources (public plus private) is now from young to old in at least five countries, including Germany and Hungary. This is unprecedented and unjust—the old are much richer.

This is where the newspaper nails the long-term danger:

That is a cruel waste of talent . . . Rich, ageing societies will find that, unless the youth of today can get a foot on the career ladder, tomorrow’s pensioners will struggle. What is more, oppressing youngsters is dangerous. Countries with lots of jobless, disaffected young men tend to be more violent and unstable . . .

The great challenge of the North's rapid demographic aging is resisting the general political crabbiness that comes with growing old, which eventually turns us all into cranky, get-the-hell-off-my-lawn types.

I don't know about you, but I don't dream of a future of gated communities populated mostly by the elderly who receive "personal care" from robots. That sounds more like the North turning itself into a giant nursing home.

Social resilience is a renewable resource, but it gets renewed generation by generation. We are not promoting that dynamic today in the West/North, and it will come back to haunt us.



How Climate Change Truly Tests Human Resilience Is By Pitting Middle Earth Against the Poles

YES, IT IS COMPLETELY UNFAIR THAT THE INDUSTRIAL NORTH, WHICH IS MOST RESPONSIBLE FOR GLOBAL WARMING, WILL RECEIVE MOST OF ITS BENEFITS, WHILE THE SOUTH, EAGER NOW TO ACHIEVE SIMILAR LEVELS OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, WILL BE MOST HAMPERED BY CLIMATE CHANGE. And yes, this disparity will cause a great deal of political-military tension between that equatorially-centric band and the rest of humanity. We see an early version of this already in the migratory flows from central and north Africa, across the Mediterranean, into Europe. You may think it's all about civil strife in Libya and Syria, and there's plenty of that, but the consistent, long-term pressure of bodies heading north is more about climate-change-fueled desertification than anything else, reflecting the fact that it's growing harder to live in those regions.

A big part of why it's harder for humans to live in those central regions of the globe is that climate change is slowly draining them of resources, something we've noted for years in the poleward and upward (in elevation) movement of plants and animals, a dynamic that has recently been studied in a comprehensive manner (as described in a recent Newsweek posting):

As the planet warms, plants, trees, fish and other natural resources are on the move, shifting toward the poles, in the direction of higher elevations and deeper into the seas, states a paper published February 24 in the journal Nature Climate Change. This natural capital has economic value, especially in developing countries where it accounts for a large share of resources. The team of researchers led by Eli Fenichel, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, say that where the fish migrate, money will follow, but that it’s not as simple as this.

The findings suggest that it’s not enough for policymakers to look for biophysical changes, such as the increase of fish in one place and the decrease in another, to see how wealth is shifting in response to climate change, but that they should also take “inclusive wealth” into consideration. Inclusive wealth is an economic framework that accounts for the sum of traditional, human and natural capital, in an effort to measure a country’s ability to sustain human well-being. Wealth that is stable or which increases over time indicates overall sustainability. The framework can be applied to track the broader impacts of climate change on local and global sustainability: When natural capital shifts due to climate change—either toward the poles or toward the mountains—its value changes in response to new pricing that takes into account these social considerations in addition to the biophysical change alone.

The study, worth reading, employs scenarios to illustrate climate change's winners and losers, positing two fishing communities in the north (winner) and south (loser). The point was to examine the socio-economic changes in human behavior that arise from this pronounced resource shift:

“People are mostly focused on the physical reallocation of these assets, but I don’t think we’ve really started thinking enough about how climate change can reallocate wealth and influence the prices of those assets,” says Fenichel. The study uses fish as an example, but natural capital can include plants, trees, and other assets valuable to humans.

“We don’t know how this will unfold, but we do know there will be price effects. It’s just Economics 101—prices reflect quantity and scarcity and natural capital is hard for people to move,” Fenichel says. “It’s as inevitable as the movement of these fish species.”

“To be clear, the ‘gainers’ here are clearly better off,” he says. “They’re just not more better off than the losers are worse off. The losers are losing much more than the gainers are gaining. And when that happens, it’s not an efficient reallocation of wealth.”

The study's primary author then takes a stab at analogizing the resulting political-military tension:

It’s sort of like taking a piece of birthday cake from one child and giving it to another child who already has cake, according to Fenichel. One child undoubtedly stands to benefit more. “But the kid who got the second piece of cake is going to be a lot less happier than the kid who lost their only piece of cake will be upset.”

That analysis reminds me of the Western academics who examined China's gender imbalance and immediately went to positing Chinese military aggression so as to burn off the excess males. Not only was it bad political-military analysis (modern warfare is no longer ground-troop centric, as it was in the past, so just loading up the military with extra bodies accomplishes nothing), it simply ignored the realities of modern life, which says males seeking spouses don't simply sit put, accepting their fate, but rather tend to do whatever it takes to find mates. With modern travel networks, this includes the "unthinkable" of going abroad and marrying non-Chinese, like we've long seen in other Asian societies suffering over-concentrations of males in various geographic pockets or age cohorts.

And guess what, the same thing will happen (as we're already seeing in Europe) with climate change. The people of Middle Earth won't simply tough it out forever. Instead, they'll head north and south . . . to where there's growing amounts of arable land freed up by climate change.

The good news is, an older North (and developed South) should logically welcome this influx of fertile youth, because that's how we'll keep our own populations from aging too rapidly in coming decades. Yes, there will be politicians who call for "walls." There are plenty of them in North America and Europe now, and frankly, Russia's renewed interest in the Middle East is largely driven by that fear of an influx of radicalized Muslims. But, rest assured, they're coming. Nature will drive them and the rest of us will simply have to accommodate them in one of the greatest political experiments in human history.




Rising Sea Levels, Rising Awareness, Rising Resilience?


IN GENERAL, HISTORY SAYS HUMANS DO BETTER WHEN IT GETS WARMER AND WORSE WHEN IT GETS COLDER. There are a number of reasons for this, but the simplest explanation is energy: (1) it's easier to cool people than to warm them; and (2) it's easier to grow human energy (food) when it's warmer than when it's cooler. But that's a uber-macro take on the subject, when regional variations in climate change will be the real story of this century — namely, the middle regions of the world will get much hotter and drier while the most northern and southern bands will grow more temperate. Humans will adapt to all this, and huge numbers will be put on the move — poleward (just like plants and animals have been for decades now), but there will be a tremendous die-off of species from this rapid change (not rivaling other mass extinction periods in Earth's history in scope [one, for example, encompassed 96% of all species], but apparently surpassing them in speed). None of this is really negotiable at this point; it's a done deal. We can delay some impacts, or take the worst edge of others, but they are coming — with the bulk arriving in the lifetimes of our children.

No, we're not going to roll back human progress, nor will we succeed in demanding that the still undeveloped regions of the world stay that way to atone for the North's sins. And yes, we will engage in Noah's Arc-like activities designed to transplant vulnerable species to new areas where they might survive and hopefully thrive.

In short, we will continue remaking this planet in our image, because that's what humans do.

But it's the oceans where we have so little say in the matter, even as we have had enormous impact. This is where community, regional and national resilience will be tested the world over.

On that score, lots of new studies just out suggesting that rising sea levels and associated flooding will likely be as bad as most of the scariest predictions have indicated — but again with significant regional variations.

First, from a WAPO story on one just-published study:

A group of scientists says it has now reconstructed the history of the planet’s sea levels arcing back over some 3,000 years — leading it to conclude that the rate of increase experienced in the 20th century was “extremely likely” to have been faster than during nearly the entire period.

“We can say with 95 percent probability that the 20th-century rise was faster than any of the previous 27 centuries,” said Bob Kopp, a climate scientist at Rutgers University who led the research with nine colleagues from several U.S. and global universities . . .

The study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Seas rose about 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) from 1900 to 2000, the new study suggests, for a rate of 1.4 millimeters per year. The current rate, according to NASA, is 3.4 millimeters per year, suggesting that sea level rise is still accelerating.

So, rising more than twice as fast this century versus last — achieving the dreaded "hockey stick" graphs displayed above.

Now, for the variation in the US, from another WAPO story on anther study:

Writing in Nature Geoscience, John Krasting and three colleagues from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration find that “Atlantic coastal areas may be particularly vulnerable to near-future sea-level rise from present-day high greenhouse gas emission rates.” The research adds to recent studies that have found strong warming of ocean waters in the U.S. Gulf of Maine, a phenomenon that is not only upending fisheries but could be worsening the risk of extreme weather in storms like Winter Storm Jonas.

“When carbon emission rates are at present day levels and higher, we see greater basin average sea level rise in the Atlantic relative to the Pacific,” says Krasting. “This also means that single global average measures of sea level rise become less representative of the regional scale changes that we show in the study.”

The Atlantic suffers this additional stress because it churns/circulates/ventilates more than the quiet Pacific.

But, getting it back to us humans, these are emerging realities for our local ecosystems, and, by that, we mean the local operating environment of families, businesses, communities, cities and the like. Our local support systems, or the networks upon which we rely for our organizations' smooth functioning, are all going to come under more regular stress and suffer more regular crises. This will arrive in the form of increasingly weird, unpredictable, and severe weather all over America, but with the added danger of storm surge flooding and destruction along the lowest portions of the coastlines (particularly along the Atlantic).

According to NOAA:

In the United States, counties directly on the shoreline constitute less than 10 percent of the total land area (not including Alaska), but account for 39 percent of the total population. From 1970 to 2010, the population of these counties increased by almost 40% and are projected to increase by an additional 10 million people or 8% by 2020. Coastal areas are substantially more crowded than the U.S. as a whole, and population density in coastal areas will continue to increase in the future. In fact, the population density of coastal shoreline counties is over six times greater than the corresponding inland counties.

Globally, it's even more concentrated, with 44% of humanity living within 150 km of coastlines.

How prepared are we for rising sea levels?

If you're the Dutch, you're feeling pretty confident, because (a) you're rich, and (b) you've been doing this for centuries. If you're Bangladeshi, you're a whole lot less confident ...

The good news is, globalization is reducing global poverty dramatically (spreading wealth) while spreading technical know-how. So we can all be more "Dutch" over time (with their help, as the Netherlands' aid agency specializes in transferring such knowledge).

On that score, we have plenty to do, says Time:

The [recently published] research adds to growing evidence that communities around the world are vastly unprepared to defend against the effects of sea level rise in the coming decades. Rising sea levels erode coasts and place coastal cities in danger. Even areas that may seem safe will be vulnerable to floods that could inundate entire cities and contaminate freshwater supplies ...

“We’re just at the beginning of the curve,” says Benjamin Strauss, co-author of the Climate Central central study. “I think in the next two decades things will deteriorate a lot faster than they did over the last two decades.”

But that's how it is for most things in life: it gets slightly worse for a long time and then gets dramatically worse in a short time. Solutions, per the Dutch and others, are well known:

In addition to mitigation, vulnerable communities should adapt to protect themselves from rising sea levels, researchers say. Those protective measures can take the form of levees, pumps and elevated homes. In other places, policymakers have built up natural defenses like mangroves and reefs. These provide the added benefit of sucking up carbon from the atmosphere and they often cost less than their steel and concrete equivalents, according to Jane Carter Ingram of the Nature Conservancy’s Science for Nature and People Partnership.

The problem is local leadership:

But many of the most vulnerable communities have been reluctant to change. Policymakers in Florida, for instance, have been hampered by elected officials who question the science of climate change despite the state being among the country’s most vulnerable.

We can't be resilient if we can't look problems straight in the eye.



Western Hemisphere's Shale Men as Oil Industry's New "World Swing Producers"?


FASCINATING BRIEFING IN A RECENT ECONOMIST (23 JAN 16) ADDS A NEW TWIST TO AN ARGUMENT I'VE BEEN RECENTLY ADVANCING ON HOW NORTH AMERICA'S EMERGING ENERGY INDEPENDENCE DRAMATICALLY REDEFINES ITS OWN SENSE OF ECONOMIC RESILIENCE AND – ULTIMATELY – AMERICA'S GLOBAL SECURITY PERSPECTIVE. Think of the future as mostly about energy and water, with the latter accounting for food production. Any country seeking to ensure its economic resilience going forward wants to be either rich in both, or rich in secure access to both. This is essentially where China is weakest now and in coming decades (hence the aggressive military behavior on display off its coast), because it must import both food and energy in ever increasingly amounts (and overwhelmingly via seaborne trade). This is also where America (and North America in general) is strongest now and in coming decades, relative to just about every great power out there – save perhaps Russia. But even there, America has little reason to unduly worry about the widely-perceived renewal of strategic rivalry with Moscow, which invariably becomes China's economic vassal on that basis:

China, please meet Russia, an energy-business-masquerading-as-a-government, which is incredibly vulnerable on the subject of lower energy prices but stands as the world's largest exporter of energy.

Russia, please meet China, which is the world's largest importer of energy and the stingiest, most aggressively demanding trade partner in the world.

Please go about you co-dependency with all the respect and friendship that you've each bestowed upon the other's culture and civilization over the years.

As I've pointed out, North America is already the world's de facto swing producer on grains, which gives us an enormous strategic advantage – and power – that we scarcely realize.

We are, in effect, the Saudi Arabia of grain. So, if, in our imagination, they have the world over an oil barrel, then we've got the world over a breadbasket.

Guess who cries "uncle" first?

And yes, we'll maintain that status in spite of climate change, because we're that clever and that resilient and that blessed by circumstances.

But here's where the Economist's analysis of the recent slide in oil prices is so intriguing: what if North America were to become the world's swing producer on energy – as well?

From the piece:

Now the fear for producers is of an excess of oil, rather than a shortage. The addition to global supply over the past five years of 4.2m barrels a day (b/d) from America’s shale producers, although only 5% of global production, has had an outsized impact on the market by raising the prospects of recovering vast amounts of resources formerly considered too hard to extract. On January 19th the International Energy Agency (IEA), a prominent energy forecaster, issued a stark warning: “The oil market could drown in oversupply.”

Amazing what the fracking revolution in North America has wrought, and don't – for a minute – discount how that sense of energy independence influenced President Obama's decision to see a Nixon-like detente with Iran, identified in the piece as "the most immediate cause of the bearishness."

[Iran] promises an immediate boost to production of 500,000 b/d, just when other members of OPEC such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq are pumping at record levels. Even if its target is over-optimistic, seething rivalry between the rulers in Tehran and Riyadh make it hard to imagine that the three producers could agree to the sort of production discipline that OPEC has used to attempt to rescue prices in the past.

But it gets even more disruptive – again, because of the fracking revolution in North America:

Even if OPEC tried to reassert its influence, the producers’ cartel would probably fail because the oil industry has changed in several ways. Shale-oil producers, using technology that is both cheaper and quicker to deploy than conventional oil rigs, have made the industry more entrepreneurial. Big depreciations against the dollar have helped beleaguered economies such as Russia, Brazil and Venezuela to maintain output, by increasing local-currency revenues relative to costs. And growing fears about action on climate change, coupled with the emergence of alternative-energy technologies, suggests to some producers that it is best to pump as hard as they can, while they can.

So we witness the Saudis – yet again – trying to shake out the market, not to mention its fierce regional rival, through an extended period of self-destructive over-production relative to market demand. It will definitely hinder Iran's re-entry into the world and its energy market, but in the US?

Yet there is also a reason for keeping the pumps working that is not as suicidal as it sounds. One of the remarkable features of last year’s oil market was the resilience of American shale producers in the face of falling prices. Since mid-2015 shale firms have cut more than 400,000 b/d from output in response to lower prices. Nevertheless, America still increased oil production more than any other country in the year as a whole, producing an additional 900,000 b/d, according to the IEA.

And here's where US technological resilience gets truly interesting:

During the year the number of drilling rigs used in America fell by over 60%. Normally that would be considered a strong indicator of lower output. Yet it is one thing to drill wells, another to conduct the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) that gets the shale oil flowing out. Rystad Energy, a Norwegian consultancy, noted late last year that the “frack-count”, ie, the number of wells fracked, was still rising, explaining the resilience of oil production.

The roughnecks used other innovations to keep the oil gushing, such as injecting more sand into their wells to improve flow, using better data-gathering techniques and employing a skeleton staff to keep costs down. The money is no longer flowing in. America’s once-rowdy oil towns, where three years ago strippers could make hundreds of dollars a night from itinerant oilmen, are now full of abandoned trailer parks and boarded-up businesses. But the oil is still flowing out. Even some of the oldest shale fields, such as the Bakken in North Dakota, were still producing at the same level in November as more than a year before.

No, we don't want to overestimate the economic boost to the US economy from all this. Our economic restructuring challenges are significant – as evidenced by voter anger in this year's presidential race. But others have it far worse:

Unsurprisingly some of the biggest splashes of red ink in the IMF’s latest forecast revisions were reserved for countries where oil exploration and production has played a significant role in the economy: Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Russia (and some of its oil-producing neighbours) and Nigeria. Weaker demand in this group owes much to strains on their public finances.

Russia has said it will cut public spending by a further 10% in response to the latest drop in crude prices (see article).

So where do we go from here? The article discusses "peak demand," something I've long argued would naturally precede the much-feared "peak oil" moment, primarily due to efficiency and environmental concerns.

Then the Economist lays out the crown-jewel argument – from my perspective – of the piece:

More likely, the oil price will eventually find a bottom and, if this cycle is like previous ones, shoot sharply higher because of the level of underinvestment in reserves and natural depletion of existing wells. Yet the consequences will be different. Antoine Halff of Columbia University’s Centre on Global Energy Policy told American senators on January 19th that the shale-oil industry, with its unique cost structure and short business cycle, may undermine longer-term investment in high-cost traditional oilfields. The shalemen, rather than the Saudis, could well become the world’s swing producers, adding to volatility, perhaps, but within a relatively narrow range.


Please keep that in mind when all the politicians and national security experts are trying to scare you to death during our ongoing transition from one president to the next: when it comes to food/water and energy, North America – and America in particular – is sitting pretty.


Because our national resilience on both continues to contradict the pessimists while amazing even the optimists like me!



Climate Change Tests Metropolitan Resilience With Wider Array Of Weather Dynamics

I RECENTLY MET A SAN DIEGAN - A TRANSPLANT FROM WISCONSIN (WHERE I LIVE) - AND SHE WAS FLABBERGASTED TO NOTE A RECENT TORNADO WARNING THERE, COURTESY OF EL NINO.  Having grown up with tornados in southwestern Wisconsin, I was curious to discover how often this happens in sunny southern California, and, according to the Tornado History Project, it's not all that often - roughly once every 6-7 years for the immediate San Diego metro area. Having endured 6-7 such warnings every summer as a kid, that strikes me as pretty rare, so, sure, when they happen in San Diego, it must seem awfully exotic - like an earthquake in Wisconsin.

Well, with humanity having so reshaped the planet's surface and atmosphere these past decades and centuries, what were once outliers in probability are becoming more routine.  Yes, fewer people die in disasters today than in decades past - something like 98% fewer people compared to 1900! But the costs and the dislocations are clearly rising with serious speed.  Per the US Global Change Research Program's recent National Climate Assessment Assessment, we can cite the following extreme-weather trends:

As the world has warmed, that warming has triggered many other changes to the Earth’s climate. Changes in extreme weather and climate events, such as heat waves and droughts, are the primary way that most people experience climate change. Human-induced climate change has already increased the number and strength of some of these extreme events. Over the last 50 years, much of the U.S. has seen increases in prolonged periods of excessively high temperatures, heavy downpours, and in some regions, severe floods and droughts ...

Heat waves are periods of abnormally hot weather lasting days to weeks. The number of heat waves has been increasing in recent years. This trend has continued in 2011 and 2012, with the number of intense heat waves being almost triple the long-term average. The recent heat waves and droughts in Texas (2011) and the Midwest (2012) set records for highest monthly average temperatures. Analyses show that human-induced climate change has generally increased the probability of heat waves., And prolonged (multi-month) extreme heat has been unprecedented since the start of reliable instrumental records in 1895 ...

Heavy downpours are increasing nationally, especially over the last three to five decades. The heaviest rainfall events have become heavier and more frequent, and the amount of rain falling on the heaviest rain days has also increased. Since 1991, the amount of rain falling in very heavy precipitation events has been significantly above average. This increase has been greatest in the Northeast, Midwest, and upper Great Plains – more than 30% above the 1901-1960 average. There has also been an increase in flooding events in the Midwest and Northeast, where the largest increases in heavy rain amounts have occurred.CS_extreme-precip-index_13263_V9

One measure of heavy precipitation events is a two-day precipitation total that is exceeded on average only once in a 5-year period, also known as the once-in-five-year event. As this extreme precipitation index for 1901-2012 shows, the occurrence of such events has become much more common in recent decades ...

The mechanism driving these changes is well understood. Warmer air can contain more water vapor than cooler air. Global analyses show that the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere has in fact increased due to human-caused warming.,,,This extra moisture is available to storm systems, resulting in heavier rainfalls. Climate change also alters characteristics of the atmosphere that affect weather patterns and storms ...

Flooding may intensify in many U.S. regions, even in areas where total precipitation is projected to decline. A flood is defined as any high flow, overflow, or inundation by water that causes or threatens damage. Floods are caused or amplified by both weather- and human-related factors. Major weather factors include heavy or prolonged precipitation, snowmelt, thunderstorms, storm surges from hurricanes, and ice or debris jams. Human factors include structural failures of dams and levees, altered drainage, and land-cover alterations (such as pavement) ...

There has been a substantial increase in most measures of Atlantic hurricane activity since the early 1980s, the period during which high quality satellite data are available.,,These include measures of intensity, frequency, and duration as well as the number of strongest (Category 4 and 5) storms. The recent increases in activity are linked, in part, to higher sea surface temperatures in the region that Atlantic hurricanes form in and move through. Numerous factors have been shown to influence these local sea surface temperatures, including natural variability, human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases, and particulate pollution. Quantifying the relative contributions of natural and human-caused factors is an active focus of research ...

Winter storms have increased in frequency and intensity since the 1950s, and their tracks have shifted northward over the United States., Other trends in severe storms, including the intensity and frequency of tornadoes, hail, and damaging thunderstorm winds, are uncertain and are being studied intensively. There has been a sizable upward trend in the number of storms causing large financial and other losses. However, there are societal contributions to this trend, such as increases in population and wealth.

All this is to say that US metropolitan areas should expect to suffer weather "freak-outs" on a far more consistent basis in coming years and decades - over a far wider array of dynamics. Right now we're witnessing such a freak-out in the Washington DC area, and, I can tell you, having lived there for years myself, it is indeed a freak-out primarily because local, state and federal agencies there simply don't put in the time and effort to work these extreme winter storms (either in advance or during) and because so much of the population living there is un-experienced in navigating their way amidst such conditions.  And yet, it grows ever more obvious that major US metro areas will be forced to deal with such extreme-weather events on a far more regular basis, meaning those skills will need to be developed and honed - by everyone throughout the government, society, and economy.

Per the NOAA chart above, we will measure these events primarily in damages incurred (private insurance, publicly-funded reconstruction) and lost economic activity (business continuity), and yes, that is a huge improvement over the age-old statistic of lives lost. But we are talking about metropolitan governments needing to be "masters" of so many more "domains" over time that it's clear there will need to be a lot more transparency, planning, and preparation efforts jointly pursued by private and public-sector entities.

You know the old joke about a conservative being a former liberal who once got robbed? Well, a resilience-aware executive/political leader is oftentimes simply someone who's had to answer for a weak response to an extreme-weather event.



YouTubes of 2015 Washington DC speech

Video segments of September 2015 briefing to an international military audience in the Washington DC area.



Part 1: Introductions and US grand strategy


 Part 2: America's looming energy self-sufficiency


Part 3: Climate Change and its impact on food & water


Part 4: The aging of great powers


Past 5: Millennials & Latinization of U.S.


Part 6: Evolution of US Military under Obama


Part 7: Dangers of a "splendid little war" with China


Part 8: Middle East without a Leviathan


Part 9: Answers to audience questions


(RESILIENT BLOG) How Climate Change Will Test Our Resilience On A Very Local – Even Intimate – Level

gr1LIVING IN THE NORTHERN UNITED STATES, ONE DOESN'T EXPECT TO CONTRACT ESSENTIALLY TROPICAL DISEASES LIKE MALARIA (see Lancet's chart on left), and yet, would you be surprised that, in the early-to-mid-19th century, Norwegian pioneers settling in Wisconsin - as a rule - feared malaria significantly more than cholera?  Malaria actually remained endemic in much of the United States (more in the South, obviously) through the 1940s, whereas today in a state like Wisconsin, virtually all cases that present themselves (roughly a dozen a year) feature travelers just back from tropical locations.  But that's changing, per a great WAPO in-depth story of a few days back ...



Tracking agriculture's northward shift due to climate change

Fascinating NYT story on a subject I am very interested in tracking:  how ag moves northward with climate change.

This story focuses on ag's canary-in-the-coalmine, wineries.  Nothing is more sensitive, and thus wineries are the first to start shifting:

For more than a decade, wine experts have discussed the impact of climate change on wine grapes, agriculture’s diva, a marquee crop nurtured and pampered around the world.

Now scientists are raising a new question: when grapes are transported to new areas, assuming warming weather and flagging rain make current regions unsuited to such harvests, what will the crop’s arrival do to the animals and plants already in residence?

Will there be a conflict between prosecco and pandas in China? Will the contentious wolf hunts near Yellowstone National Park be complicated by new vineyards that crowd out everything else — wolves, elk and hunters?

“One of the adaptation strategies for grape growers will be to move into areas that have a suitable climate,” said Rebecca Shaw, a scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund and an author of a new paper to be published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “This adaptation has the potential to threaten the survival of wildlife.”

Or, in the words of the new study, “Vineyards have long-lasting effects on habitat quality and may significantly impact freshwater resources.” In addition to introducing sterilizing chemicals and fertilizer, which remake the ecosystem, mature vineyards “have low habitat value” for native species “and are visited more often by nonnative species.”

So the interesting point to consider here: As climate change stresses "Middle Earth" (central band below 35 degrees north and above 35 degrees south), ag will be moving poleward for survival.  All sounds good until you realize that leapfrogging in this manner will be disruptive to what's already there.

So how do you balance the needs of enviro refugees (humans and their activities) with those of native species?

I can see this being a huge political issue going forward.  But, for now, just a glimpse.


Chart of the day: US farm income to be highest in 4 decades

WSJ story.

Despite last year's drought, net farm income in US (128B projected) will be highest since 1973 (adjusted basis).


Higher prices for livestock and poulty and "a continued boom in the farm belt initially fueled by rising global demand for grains" + that idiotic conversion into corn ethanol.

The big danger?  Great Plains enters the season way too dry - still.

So we see here the interplay between two dominant global dynamics in this century: rising global middle class and rising global temperature.


Getting Arctic hydrocarbons will be a lot harder than anticipated

FT special report on Canadian energy that highlights the difficulties of accessing Arctic oil and gas and bringing it economically to market.

First is the sheer remoteness.  Then there's the extremely hostile environment.  Even with the ice-clearing in the summer, the genuine window for exploitation is still measured in weeks.  Everything you use must be special built, platforms with extreme reliability.

And the fields in question need to be big - really big - to cover the high costs.  

In short, only the majors and supermajors should apply, because only they will have the "financial firepower."

This is all before governments issue ever stringent safety requirements to protect the environment, a bar that rises with each Deepwater Horizon.

Finally, there's how you get it to market, with the big choice being between fixed pipelines and ice-class shuttle tankers.  Neither is cheap.

Just a bit of cold water thrown on the anticipated "bonanza."

I note it with interest as I write the final report (while traveling most of the week) for Wikistrat's recent "How the Arctic Was Won" simulation.


Great summarizing FT article on "global food security" risk

Notice the equatorially-centric band? Remind you of another map?

Starts by calling farmers "the canaries in the mine when it comes to climate change."  Brilliant.

What affects farmers affects the global food supply and causes the price rises that hit middle class wallets and increases the risk of hunger for the world's poor.

CC isn't the "only culprit" when it comes to good security.

The primary drivers, the article notes, are population growth and the stunning growth of the global middle class, which, as we know, likes to eat and eat well.

Next is the loss of land to food crops due to urbanization and the diversion of crops to fuels (dumbest idea in human history).

But here's the quote that caught my eye:

If these were the only pressures on the global food supply, feeding the world sustainably could still be achievable, says Jerry Nelson, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).  "If you didn't have climate change, you could tell a story about how it will be challenging and how we need to invest more in productivity, reduce waste and manage international trade," he says.  "But this would be something we could accomplish.

"When you throw climate change into the mix, that makes everything a lot more difficult."

Or better said - with regard to risk - more uncertain.

Great little piece in "FT Special Report: Managing Climate Change."


Growing vegetables in the future

WSJ story about vertical farming vision from Sweden.

Goal is to make food happen while farmland disappears (to urbanization and harsh climate change) and to be able to do so year-round in a northern clime. Then there's the local food angle (less transpo, etc.).

Critics say the economics won't work at this time, especially on the energy, but advocates say this is a long-term solution that will become economical as climate change raises the price of doing business in many parts of the world, triggering global shifts in food production and - presumably - migration.

Interesting stuff.

Interesting idea.  I think the notion may make some sense regarding vegetables, but I don't see either fruits (maintenance of trees too tricky) or grains (just can't get the volume).

On vegetables, they (and fruits) account for only 3% of US farmland use, which is overwhelmingly given over to wheat, corn and soybeans (and a few others).  So, given that reality, vertical farming for major urban areas may make economic sense on a major scale sometime later this century.


Expensive oil as trigger for less exhausting ag land practices

Special WSJ report on agriculture, with interesting article on "fertile land is under strain."

Ag takes up about 1/5th of energy consumption in the US, so higher oil encourages, over the long run, abandoning certain energy-intensive practices, such as tilling:

The most popular fuel-reduction strategy involves a radically new way of planting seeds. Instead of breaking up the ground with a plow to plant seeds, no-till farming leaves the remains of last year's crop on the surface.  Drills punch through this mat of vegetation and insert seeds into the ground.  Ditching the plow can cut fuel consumption by as much as half . . . It also reduces the need for expensive fertilizer.

A major enviro drawback, according to an accompanying article?  No-till requires more herbicides.

Another reason why farmers like to plow: you can dry out a wet spring field and thus plant earlier.  You see that hear in Indiana with its super-wet springs.  But with climate change making for more droughts, ag experts expect more and more farmers to adopt the no-till method (or one of its many variants) over time, thus reducing the ag sector's energy draw.  Fields that aren't plowed typically hold up much better in July and August when rain gets much more rare.  Indiana has suffered super-dry summers, with this year's summer reducing the crop haul by a large amount, as just my eyeballs can attest.

Interesting pair of articles.

The map and chart below came with the first cited piece.  Note all the stable soil in the "New North."

Click the smaller image for a more readable version.



Impact of the drought is multivariable

First, the good news: the "margin squeeze" due to rising corn prices/futures is killing corn ethanol - still the stupidest idea on the planet (outside of Washington-subsidized Iowa).

Then the worse news: Russia/Black Sea region is undergoing another bad drought, raising the specter of another export ban. US is biggest exporter of wheat but the Black Sea trio (Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine) account for one-quarter of global exports and are traditionally key suppliers to north Africa and the Middle East.


Reasons to be optimistic regarding the global economy's response to global warming

US experiencing warmest year on record and 13 hottest years (going back to 1880) for the planet have all occurred since 1998.

David Leonhardt (whom I like a lot and always read) writing in NYT speaks of a non-punitive vector that seems to be emerging among the big players:

Behind the scenes [of the disappearing public debate on global warming], however, a somewhat different story is starting to emerge — one that offers reason for optimism to anyone worried about the planet. The world’s largest economies may now be in the process of creating a climate-change response that does not depend on the politically painful process of raising the price of dirty energy. The response is not guaranteed to work, given the scale of the problem. But the early successes have been notable.

Over the last several years, the governments of the United States, Europe and China have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on clean-energy research and deployment. And despite some high-profile flops, like ethanol and Solyndra, the investments seem to be succeeding more than they are failing.

The price of solar and wind power have both fallen sharply in the last few years. This country’s largest wind farm, sprawling across eastern Oregon, is scheduled to open next month. Already, the world uses vastly more alternative energy than experts predicted only a decade ago.

Even natural gas, a hotly debated topic among climate experts, helps make the point. Thanks in part to earlier government investments, energy companies have been able to extract much more natural gas than once seemed possible. The use of natural gas to generate electricity — far from perfectly clean but less carbon-intensive than coal use — has jumped 25 percent since 2008, while prices have fallen more than 80 percent. Natural gas now generates as much electricity as coal in the United States, which would have been unthinkable not long ago.

The successes make it possible at least to fathom a transition to clean energy that does not involve putting a price on carbon — either through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade program that requires licenses for emissions. It was exactly such a program, supported by both Barack Obama and John McCain in the 2008 campaign, that died in Congress in 2010 and is now opposed by almost all Congressional Republicans and some coal-state and oil-state Democrats.

The real goal, according to one scientist, is the emergence of disruptive technologies that push the planet "down" the hydrocarbon chain (wood-->coal-->oil-->gas-->renewables & hydrogen).

The more we shift from threatening fines to promising record profits, the migration will occur as it should.

Fascinating for me to watch a dozen years after I ran that global warming-focused "economic security exercise" with Cantor Fitzgerald atop World Trade Center One.

NOTE: the falling USG support for renewable energy research is why the influx of China investment is so important.


Getting seriously efficient on water use

USA Today story on San Antonio: exhibit A for those that assume we cannot do better on efficient use of resources.

In mid 1990s, city was slapped with restriction of use of aquifier due to endangered species (rare blind salamander).  Instead of looking for new sources, the city went big on cutting use (recycling, more efficient toilets pushed throughout city, etc.).

City now uses the same amount of water it used in 1984, even though population is two-thirds larger. Citizens average about 2/3rd the national average water use.

All of this is crucial given Texas' long and harsh drought - a harbinger of things to come with climate change.

Mayor: "We practice [conservation] religiously.  It's part and parcel of being a San Antonian."



Wikistrat's "The World According to Tom Barnett" 2011 brief, Part 5 (Flow of Food)

In this section of the brief I explore water and how it connects to grain-production centers of gravity, how climate change will impact the flow of food, how that flow will surpass the flow of energy in global importance in the future, and how the Western Hemisphere evolves as a result of its incredible water advantage.


Time's Battleland: "Does al-Qaeda go the way of AIDS?"

Nice piece in WAPO about Ayman al-Zawahiri taking over al-Qaeda from the recently assassinated Osama bin Laden. Story leads with remembrances from a guy who knew him back in the day:

He was arrogant, angry and extreme in his ideas,” said Azzam, 40, son of a radical Palestinian ideologue who had become bin Laden's mentor. “He fought with everyone, even those who agreed with him.”

Thus, experts are now saying that al-Qaeda will suffer under his leadership:

U.S. intelligence officials, terrorism experts and even the Egyptian's former cohorts say a Zawahiri-led al-Qaeda will be far more discordant, dysfunctional and perhaps disloyal than it was under bin Laden.

Just to cover rear-ends, though, the story's next statement leaves open the question whether or not the group will be more or less effective (terrorism experts must always do this to make sure they can win big when the next strike comes and they told us so!).

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.


Chart of the Day: why everyone loves shale gas


From FT story.  Simply answer:  because of its weirdly even spread.  Unassociated gas, meaning gas not associated with oil, is the future.  We always just found gas alongside oil and assumed its distro geographically was similar.  It's not.  Unassociated gas is everywhere, and this chart doesn't even include methane hydrates (unassociated gas frozen solid in sea beds).

You may think that gas is only so-so exciting compared to oil, but electricity generation is crucial, and avoiding coal is crucial to reduce pollution/CO2.  You go mostly gas on electricity to crowd out coal, and then go modular nukes to supplement that (especially where infrastructure is "hostile" in its enviro layout:  remoteness is big example), and you use the modulars to make water potable and crack it for hydrogen, and that's how you make transpo happen increasingly (hybrid electricals shifting to hydrogen, with ultralights providing a lot of the energy savings along the way).  

Oil has had its time.  Gas is the next big node going down the hydrocarbon chain.

The big hold-up/uncertainty on gas remains the enviro impact of fracking.  This is why I continue to think that methane hydrates will ultimately be more the answer.  But someone please disabuse me of that assumption.


Esquire's Politics Blog: Who Should Worry About the Tunisia Fallout, Really?

Details of the downfall of Tunisia's longtime strong man Zein el-Abidine Ben Ali are familiar enough: The spark that triggers the street-level explosion of social anger (a young man, hassled by the government for his pathetic gray-market activities, decides Plan B is to set himself on fire); the frantic government attempts at crackdown (close school!); only to be followed by the offering of sacrificial lambs (take my minister — please!); and, finally, the embarrassing departure of the big man himself. At this point, the rump government is throwing anything it can into the angry fire, hoping it will burn itself out. And the "unity" government doesn't seem to be doing much better.

With any such revolution (color this one green — as in money, despite all the Iran-esque web chatter), there is the temptation to read into it all sorts of larger meaning. This time around, I think the best route is simply to note which parties — outside of Tunisia — should be made supremely nervous by the unfolding events. With the possible exception of Crazy Qaddafi....

Read the entire post at Esquire's The Politics Blog.