Floods, litigation…and social change?

Wednesday and Thursday, the American Meteorological Society hosted a policy workshop and held a Capitol Hill briefing, focused on the 2017 hurricane season here in the United States and the Caribbean[1], and on the need and opportunity to re-set U.S. hazards policies. We are developing the Workshop Report, which we hope to make available online sometime soon.

Hurricane Harvey’s flooding received a lot of attention at the workshop. Unsurprisingly, with billions of dollars in losses and relief changing hands in the world’s most litigious society, Houstonians are lawyering up. Yesterday Bloomberg News tells us why, in a story entitled The U.S. Flooded One of Houston’s Richest Neighborhoods to Save Everyone Else. Some excerpts (the fuller article merits a careful read):

decisions made by [the U.S. Court of Federal Claims] could, as after Katrina, set important precedents for the federal government’s liability in the wake of disasters.

This situation, though, has two key differences. In New Orleans, economically disadvantaged communities, some of them historically black, bore the brunt of the loss, with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of deaths. The victims in West Houston include white, wealthy, Republican-voting energy executives. They live in neighborhoods where the main employers are BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell Plc, the median income is triple that of the rest of the city, and second homes and weekend-spin sports cars aren’t unusual. Their debris piles include wine fridges, coffee table books about Renoir, and Chinese bar carts from overseas assignments.

The West Houston cases are unlike the Katrina cases in another way, too: Rather than make a legal argument about official neglect, they speak to what happened when the federal government intentionally flooded one of the richest areas of a city to save everyone else [emphasis added]

…[Sunday, August 27th] , the Harris County Flood Control District held a press conference at which it announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would begin controlled releases at the Addicks and Barker dams surrounding West Houston. The two massive reservoirs retain water that gathers in the prairie west of the city, forming Buffalo Bayou, which runs down the Energy Corridor, through downtown, out the Houston Ship Channel and, finally, into the Gulf of Mexico. The water behind the dams was rising more than 6 inches an hour, and the flood control district said residents should be prepared to leave the next morning.

But the water level rose even faster than expected that night—Harvey brought 51 inches of rain, all told. The Army Corps won’t confirm exactly when the releases began, but legal complaints and residents say the floodgates opened at about 1 a.m., sending a rush of water toward Buffalo Bayou while many people were sleeping. Just after 1:30 a.m. the Corps posted a press notice on social media stating that the dam releases would amount to 8,000 cubic feet of water per second. “If we don’t begin releasing now, the volume of uncontrolled water around the dams will be higher,” Colonel Lars Zetterstrom, the Corps’ Galveston district commander, was quoted as saying. “It’s going to be better to release the water through the gates directly into Buffalo Bayou.” The danger was that the water would flow uncontrolled into homes located upstream from the reservoir, crest the reservoir walls downstream, or crack a section of the Barker dam that was under repair. Had either dam failed, the Houston Chronicle later wrote, West Houston would have been left with “a week of corpses by the mile.”

Buffalo Bayou quickly overflowed, washing over the surrounding area. The several dozen West Houstonians I spoke with portray the reservoir water as mixed in with bayou funk, distinct from the rains. “That rainwater ran clear,” one says. “This water stank.” Another resident, who lives a block from Buffalo Bayou, describes a muddy wave blasting open his back French doors.

 By Tuesday, the water was being released at a rate of 13,000 cubic feet per second. With their measuring equipment inundated, people assessed the water filling their homes against their bodies: belt, then chest, then neck. Elderly people reported waking up confused, believing they were in waterbeds. For most, evacuation became the only option. Medians turned into boat launches. Dads hopped in bass-fishing boats or on air mattresses to lead rescues of people, pets, documents. Some residents who’d left in a panic returned, at their peril, to recover what they could. One man died after being electrocuted as he tried to retrieve a cat…

It says something about the fast pace of 21st-century innovation that Katrina, Harvey, and the twelve years in between show some signs of social change, but let’s go back a bit further, 128 years, to the Johnstown flood of 1889. David McCullough’s eponymous book brings the event to life, but the Wikipedia entry captures more than we can incorporate here.

Again, some excerpts:

The Johnstown Flood (locally, the Great Flood of 1889) occurred on May 31, 1889, after the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River 14 miles upstream of the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The dam broke after several days of extremely heavy rainfall, releasing 14.55 million cubic meters of water. With a volumetric flow rate that temporarily equaled the average flow rate of the Mississippi River, 2,209 people, according to one account, lost their lives, and the flood accounted for US$17 million of damage (about $453 million in 2016 dollars).

 The American Red Cross, led by Clara Barton and with 50 volunteers, undertook a major disaster relief effort. Support for victims came from all over the United States and 18 foreign countries. After the flood, survivors suffered a series of legal defeats in their attempts to recover damages from the dam’s owners. Public indignation at that failure prompted the development in American law changing a fault-based regime to strict liability…

 …In the years following the disaster, some people blamed the members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club for their modifications to the dam and failure to maintain it properly. The club had bought and redesigned the dam to turn the area into a vacation retreat in the mountains. They were accused of failing to maintain the dam properly, so that it was unable to contain the additional water of the unusually heavy rainfall…

 …The club was successfully defended by the firm of Knox and Reed (now Reed Smith LLP), whose partners Philander Knox and James Hay Reed were both Club members. The Club was never held legally responsible for the disaster. The court held the dam break to have been an Act of God, and granted the survivors no legal compensation.

Two quite different cases: today’s, featuring deliberate decisions and actions of the federal government, intended to save the lives of the many at the expense of more-well-to-do – and yesterday’s, featuring alleged negligence of the wealthy, resulting in death and suffering to more ordinary folk. Yesterday’s, resolved in favor of those wealthy – and today’s, with the outcomes yet to be decided. Only after the Harvey cases have been adjudicated and resolved will it be possible to tell what’s stayed the same in our American social contract over the period, and what has changed.

We will all watch and learn.

Meanwhile, we can see four constants. (1) Flooding itself – reflecting nature and human decisions. (2) An appetite for litigation. (3) Overwhelming, gut-wrenching pain, loss, and personal upheaval for those who experience disaster. (4) Repetitive loss, resulting from our individual and societal difficulty in learning from such experience.

Not much prospect for changing the first two! The latter two were the focus of the AMS workshop – exploring policy options that might move the needle towards greater resiliency.

________

[1]Shaping up to be named the HIM event, after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

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Integrating Social and Behavioral Sciences within the Weather Enterprise. Part 3. Road Weather

“…I am the master of my fate,  

I am the captain of my soul.” – William Ernest Henley, from his poem Invictus  

In this third piece on Integrating Social and Behavioral Sciences within the Weather Enterprise, we zero in on road weather. To some, the NAS Report chapter focused on this this might superficially seem the result of a special pleading, or an accommodation to funding from the Federal Highway Administration.

But that would be miss-identifying cause and effect. U.S. highway deaths with weather as the cause or contributing effect average some 7000 each year. This is an order of magnitude great than the sum of other weather related deaths combined. Add in some 400,000 weather-related traffic injuries and you have a massive public safety challenge. By themselves, these statistics motivate interest in whether social science, properly applied, might be able to bring losses down.

And the statistics relate well to our individual experience. Ask yourself: when were you ever terrified by the weather? Chances are good your answer would include incidents in an automobile. You drove into a thunderstorm with heavy rain and/or hail, or into a blizzard or snow squall – and suddenly, with little or no warning, found yourself with zero visibility front and rear. In rain or hail, the noise was deafening, so there were no audible cues. And at the same time the car’s traction was compromised. You were in trouble if you stopped, and in trouble if you kept moving.

But an even bigger factor comes into play. At home, when hunkering down in the face of tornado- or hurricane-force winds, or hail and/or lightning, your options are limited, and your personal responsibility limited in like measure. But on the road, especially when driving, you’re responsible, not just for the lives and well-being of family and friends in the car, but also the safety and well-being of those in every vehicle around you, and the health and safety of some number of others behind them. You might argue that commercial airline pilots, who shoulder similar responsibilities for larger numbers of passengers in an even more weather-vulnerable environment, deserve equal focus. But the fact is, their problem has over many years received a great deal of highly-structured attention. Pilots get weather-related training from the get-go, fly through inclement weather repeatedly in simulators, operate under protocols established (on the basis of decades of well-documented experience) by their airlines, the airframe manufacturers, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the  National Transportation Safety Board. By contrast, automobile drivers are winging it. They’re operating on the basis of little more than a couple of questions on a drivers’ exam they last took decades ago, and perhaps their most-recent memory of driving on snow or ice or in rain. Pilots are subjected to competency and fitness tests on a regular basis. They’re always operating in constant communication on weather and air-traffic conditions and within a highly disciplined framework. Drivers represent diverse ages, multiple languages, a spectrum of abilities (and attention) and their communication is rich in distractions like texting and calls to people on every topic but road and weather conditions. Discipline is limited to passive lane markings and traffic signals.

And yet in the spirit of Invictus, we drivers are captains – like captains, we don’t get to duck responsibility when behind the wheel.

Individual driver behavior, and social behavior of the clusters of drivers and vehicles, aggregating all the way up daily urban commutes or, as the case this fall, massive and extensive evacuations in the face of hurricanes Harvey and Irma (Caribbean islands, by contrast, lacked the same kind of evacuation option in facing Irma and then Maria) constitute an important area of research and application for social sciences, and more than a little urgency.

(Getting a bit beyond the realm of the Report), this picture is complicated further by rapid social change and technological advance. Urbanization and coastal development are on a stunning pace, proceeding on time frames short compared to the recurrence of extreme events and therefore allowing little opportunity for automobile drivers to learn empirically and make incremental adjustments to changing circumstances in the face of extreme weather. Meanwhile, battery-operated autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence are coming. The first trend promises to change the vulnerability of vehicles to weather extremes, their utility in the face of bad weather, and the availability of recharging at times of great urgency and peak demand, including evacuations. Speaking of evacuations , if current approaches to car ownership are replaced by ride-sharing of a variety of types to reduce the number of vehicles on the road during fair weather, there may simply not be enough individual vehicles available for evacuation during weather emergencies. Lastly, it’s not hard to imagine that emergency managers will turn to artificial intelligence to supersede and suspend individual control of vehicles during major evacuations, taking over every detail of their management and execution.

A little social science on the implications of all this would seem welcome – with the goal of anticipating and heading off problems in advance versus doing post-event autopsies after things went disastrously wrong.  Please give Chapter Four of the Report a special read.

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Integrating Social and Behavioral Sciences within the Weather Enterprise. Part 2. Findings and Recommendations.

Okay, Bill. The previous LOTRW post introduced us to this NAS report and the motivations behind it. We see the need. But what does it mean to become “as disciplined in our approach to social realities and the social science underlying them as we are with respect to physics of the atmosphere?” And what did the Committee find, recommend?

Doesn’t make sense to repeat in detail all the findings of the fuller Report, but here’s a sampling that gives the flavor:

  • Innovative SBS research activities have already contributed both to the social and behavioral sciences and to meteorology. Exciting opportunities exist for advancing this research to address important societal needs.
  • Existing federal agency data collection activities could, with modest additions and greater interagency coordination, significantly expand our understanding of the social context of hazardous weather.
  • The accumulation of knowledge has been hampered by the relatively small scale, intermittency, and inconsistency of investments. [Emphasis added.]
  • Meteorologists and others in the weather enterprise need a more realistic understanding of:
    • the diverse disciplines, theories, research methodologies used within SBS;
    • the time and resources needed for robust SBS research; and
    • the inherent limitations in providing simple, universally applicable answers to complex social science questions.
  • Organizations across the weather enterprise—federal agencies, private sector weather companies, academic institutions, professional societies—have shared motivations for actively contributing to the integration of SBS within the weather enterprise.
  • Numerous previous reports going back many years have highlighted needs and challenges similar to those noted here—yet many of the same challenges remain today. Overcoming these challenges and making progress is not idea limited, but rather, is resource limited.

To my mind, and this is a personal view – not necessarily the view of the Committee or the NAS (or the AMS for that matter) – the highlighted finding is pivotal. Increasing numbers of early-career scientists from both the meteorological side and the social-science side have been drawn to the interface of weather and social science in recent years. They’re attracted by the room for scientific discovery, and by the huge potential for societal benefit. A wonderfully innovative program – WAS*IS – introduced scores to the opportunity, not just in the United States, but across the world. But funding for work at this interface has amounted to no more than “sales tax” compared with funding for meteorology per se. That by itself wouldn’t be a showstopper (social science doesn’t require expensive platforms such as satellites and radar for its observations). The real barrier has been the intermittency of the funding to date. Young scientists can’t see the stability needed for sustained pursuit of a line of inquiry and/or to launch a career, or the critical mass/framework for such research that would be necessary to tackle the larger, more significant problems facing the field. These scientists have demonstrated the passion and the vision[1], but lack the means. Sooner or later, most are being allowed or forced to drift into different fields or research and application.

The Report’s recommendations – boiled down/synthesized to three, with a connecting logic captured in the diagram below – pick up on this:

(Working backwards through the diagram, and with great over-simplification), the idea is that to build community-level resilience to weather hazards across the Nation and the world, research is needed on a wide range of critical knowledge gaps (spelled-out in detail in the Report). But that work can’t be accomplished in a timely manner without a much more robust capacity and corresponding framework spanning the Weather Enterprise in place to support and then use such SBS research. The needed infrastructure just isn’t there. (Still working backward), this brings us to the starting point; the need for leadership across the Weather Enterprise (and indeed in the larger society) that sees such work as foundational to “the protection of lives and property in the face of weather hazards,” articulates such a vision in full throat, and follows through with sustained allocation of resources and commitment.

Some of this might sound a bit general, so let’s drill down on the middle step – building the needed capacity and infrastructure. How might leaders, if they so desired, make their investments? What are some of their options? Again, synthesized from the Report, these include but are not limited to:

  • Create an interdisciplinary research program supported by NOAA and NSF for support of larger-scale proposals.
  • Establish a NOAA/OAR Laboratory or Cooperative Institute dedicated to SBS-weather research.
  • Develop strong social science programs within one or more existing NOAA Cooperative Institutes.
  • Build more connections between NWS Weather Forecast Offices and SBS-related campus departments.
  • Develop a UCAR-based program, operating in a distributed fashion across some or all of the member campuses.
  • Strengthen SBS research capacity at an existing FFRDC (like UCAR/NCAR), or establish a new FFRDC focused specifically on the application of social sciences.
  • Establish a Center of Excellence as a mechanism to directly link research to operational actors.

Hardly exhaustive, but demonstrating a range of feasible possibilities. Note that we’re not talking about either/or here; each of these options has strengths and shortcomings, especially if taken in isolation.

Okay, Bill, a lot to ponder. But what’s up with that Report chapter on Road Weather?

Good question! Some people might consider that an aside – but they’d be wrong. It adds a pivotal new dimension to the research challenge and to the potential for societal benefit. More on that in a subsequent post.

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[1]WAS*IS is a case in point. After a promising start, it lost its funding. Despite that, the community of practice remains active and engaged.

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Integrating Social and Behavioral Sciences within the Weather Enterprise

For the past year or so (depending on whether you take a scoping phase or the first committee meeting to be the starting point), the National Academy of Sciences has been conducting a study on integrating social and behavioral sciences within the Weather Enterprise. Wednesday, November 1, the NAS released the findings and recommendations in an eponymous Report. It merits a careful read[1]. (Caution: for the definitive findings, conclusions, and the underlying logic, interested readers should consult the full Report itself. What’s here in LOTRW are merely a few personal reflections around the edges, starting with some thoughts about the timeliness and motivation for the study.)

______________

(Taking a step back) Do you self-identify as a member of the Weather Enterprise? Then you’re a major actor in helping seven billion people who aspire to live well on a generous, but dangerous and fragile planet. (Continuing the actor metaphor), you’re also on stage just as the Weather Enterprise itself is rapidly maturing in the process.

The Academy focuses on a big piece (but still only a single piece) of the Weather Enterprise role in the larger world drama. To oversimplify: merely forecasting the weather is all about observations, physics, and computation. Moving beyond that to saving lives and property, to building a Weather-Ready Nation, and to supporting impact-based decisions may superficially sound like a small step, but it’s more of a giant leap. As complicated as the Navier-Stokes equations may be, dealing with them is simple compared with dealing with another human being – or a crowd.

For most of the history of weather services, dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, the utility of those services has been compromised primarily by the poor quality of the physical forecasts: their limited accuracy, time horizon, spatial resolution, etc. The challenge has resided in the realm of physical observation and science, mathematics, and computing technology.

Over the past twenty years, however, as physical forecasts have improved, the limiting factor has increasingly become the social part of the task. To be specific: engaging with individuals and institutions across sectors on all time scales – from urgent warnings themselves even out to years in advance (helping communities, local governments and decision makers balance policy-level reliance on evacuation against improved land use and building codes, siting and construction of critical infrastructure, and more).

You might have noticed this during media coverage of the 2017 fall hurricane season and the California wildfires. Often the headlines didn’t dwell on the quality of the forecasts as such. Instead they focused more on the human dilemma – individuals and families, emergency managers, local governments, and critical infrastructure providers making high-dollar, even life-and-death snap decisions – and doing all this under conditions of uncertainty. Time and again over the past three months, millions of Americans have been forced to reconcile a soup of often-conflicting information against their personal experience and larger concerns.

Throughout this past twenty years, it’s been clear that as individuals and a Nation, when it comes to such decisions and actions, we’ve been winging it, all too often in the process flying in the face of psychological, social, and economic realities as we’ve gone along. The result has been unnecessary loss, suffering, and community disruption. We can and should do better – on both sides of the Weather Enterprise-user interface. This starts with becoming as disciplined in our approach to social realities and the social science underlying them as we are with respect to physics of the atmosphere.

With this background, the NAS study charge makes sense. Here’s a condensed version:

Develop a framework for generating and applying social and behavioral science research within the context of meteorology, weather forecasting, and weather preparedness and response.

  • Assess current SBS activities and applications within the weather enterprise.
  • Describe the value of improved integration and identify barriers to better integration.
  • Develop a research agenda for advancing the application of social and behavioral sciences.
  • Identify infrastructural and institutional arrangements necessary to successfully pursue SBS weather research and the transfer of relevant findings to operational setting.

A bit on the findings and recommendations in a subsequent post. In the meantime, please give the full Report a look. Should also add in closing that the NAS and the committee gratefully acknowledge NOAA and Federal Highway Administration support for this study.

_____________________________________________

[1]Full disclosure; Ann Bostrom and I co-chaired this study. The committee roster:

ANN BOSTROM (co-chair), University of Washington, Seattle

WILLIAM HOOKE (co-chair), American Meteorological Society

RAYMOND BAN, Ban and Associates

ELLEN BASS, Drexel University

DAVID BUDESCU, Fordham University

JULIE DEMUTH, National Center for Atmospheric Research

MICHAEL EILTS, Weather Decision Technologies, Inc.

CHARLES MANSKI, Northwestern University

RICHARD NELSON, AASHTO

YVETTE RICHARDSON, Pennsylvania State University

JACQUELINE SNELLING, FEMA

JOHN TOOHEY-MORALES, WTVJ NBC-6

JOSEPH TRAINOR, University of Delaware

Laurie Geller, a senior program officer at NAS was the study director – our adult supervision. It was a privilege to be in the room with this group!

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Status of the Weather Enterprise? It’s Adulting!

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became [an adult], I put the ways of childhood behind me.” –1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV)

Even Millennials might be forgiven for not seeing it coming – the use of “adult” as a verb[1].

But by whatever label, the Weather Enterprise is adulting – growing up, coming of age, moving from a kind of professional or institutional adolescence to adulthood, a new level of maturity.

This is happening in six major respects.

Adult name. Kids grow up fending off unwelcome nicknames. As adults, with sighs of relief, they shed childhood’s “Minnow”[2] for their given names of Bob or Robert. Analogously, yesterday’s label of weather guy or weather gal has segued into today’s station meteorologist.

In the same way, the term Weather Enterprise[3] is a new mantle for the former community of practice. What happened to the Weather Bureau? Local weather on the evening news? To varying-degrees, these terms are so-yesterday. Today new weather information isn’t just available at a few set times of day, on selected media. It’s available up-to-the-minute on myriad platforms and apps. Society’s need for weather information is provided by the Weather Enterprise – a diffuse but pervasive collection of public agencies, private firms, universities and individuals. They don’t just provide details on the weather – the wind, temperature, etc. In aggregate they observe, predict, communicate and provide decision support information (more on this in a moment) related to weather and associated environmental phenomena – and advance the science along the way.

Adult demands. Time was, not so long ago, when the larger society’s expectations of the Weather Enterprise were limited – rather like the demands made of a precocious adolescent in college. Parents hope for good grades – any accomplishments past that are a pleasant surprise, a bonus.

That has its analog in meteorology. A foot of snow? Back in the day, if that’s what happened, and the weather forecast had called for a-chance-of-snow versus a sunny day, that product was considered better than nothing. But in today’s zero-margin society, the needs are more pointed. Grocery retailers, the airlines, schools, utilities, insurers, emergency managers, government agencies at every level need to know not just that snow is coming – they want to know how many inches are on the way. The need to know it’ll be snow and not ice or rain. They want to know storm onset, duration, location and extent, and more – as accurately as practicable but with remaining uncertainties clearly expressed. In short, they want forecasts couched in terms of impacts: forecasts that are actionable. And they want these on all time scales, ranging from minutes at local scales to years (obviously transitioning to climate outlooks here) for long-term decisions and investments relating to energy policy, water resource management, land use, critical infrastructure, and more.

Adult tools. The adolescent Weather Enterprise had limited tools (think high-school or university lab equipment), which only hinted at the power soon to be available to field. Traditional instrument shelters have now been replaced by automated surface stations. Weather balloons used to require manual launch; that too is being automated today. The weather radars using World-War II technology have been replaced by more modern systems unambiguously detecting tornadoes, hail, and other high-impact weather features. Satellites that once provided only crude, occasional images now offer continuous coverage and unprecedented diagnostic power. And that’s only the observational end. Computing power now demonstrates dazzling capabilities that extend deterministic forecasts out several days further than had ever been dreamed possible (an important step helping maintain an uninterruptible society that increasingly needs greater lead times). Ever more computing power is also being applied to forecast dissemination – data analytics to tease out sector-by-sector weather impacts, or to craft messaging according the best social science, etc.

Adult relationships. When university students graduate, they learn that the relations with professors they’d once considered so onerous have been replaced by a greater challenge: dealing with even more-demanding bosses and institutions populating the adult workplace. Likewise, the laid-back, casual relationships between meteorologists and the rest of society are rapidly being replaced are far more formal structure. The loose cooperation spanning the public-, private-, and academic sectors daily grows more formalized and contractual in nature, with specific expectations and operating within a well-defined framework. Business used to depend on the federal government for observations and numerical weather prediction. Today’s companies want to supply such things.

That’s within the Weather Enterprise. But – and this is an essential point to grasp – the Weather Enterprise doesn’t exist solely to manage how members engage one another. The entire Enterprise exists to serve a number of larger external publics – the Public, with a capital “P,” but also many other smaller publics such as weather-sensitive sectors of the economy. The Weather Enterprise is not a closed system.

And what’s in and outside that system is being redefined. In the past, the Weather Enterprise has largely been confined to the providers of weather information. Increasingly, meteorological professionals are being found at the user side of the interface – embedded within agribusiness, the energy and transportation sectors, and more. The term will almost certainly extend to that arm of the community going forward.

This growth requires that money changes hands among all players in increasing amounts. Estimates put the current amount as some $10-$20B a year – about 0.1% of U.S. GDP. But the Enterprise may be on track to grow tenfold over the next ten years. This is partly aspiration, but probably reflects a true need – what will be required for a desired level of public safety, for an uninterruptible economy, and for national security.

Committing such large dollar sums calls for trust – perhaps the most basic asset in adult relationships. But precisely for this reason, trust is also fragile, and in short supply currently at both ends of the forecast spectrum – global climate outlooks at the one end, and the forecasts triggering evacuation decisions at the small-scale end. Society also has the right to expect that the Weather Enterprise will be focused primarily on service, and that it will avoid temptations to feather its own nest.

Adult identity. All of this change is redefining what it means to be a meteorologist. In the past, meteorological curricula provided two pathways – a purely disciplinary track and a broadcast meteorology option. Today, courses are being added to cover the social science of developing meteorological forecasts and communicating weather risk. Other courses address applications; increasingly these overlap with and look more like MBA’s. The meteorologist’s relationship with tools of the trade, especially computing – not just the numerical weather prediction but the applications of data analytics and cognitive computing – are evolving rapidly.

Continuous change. As recently as fifty years ago, adulting could be considered an event – a relatively brief transition with a defined beginning, middle, and end. In the year 2017, that initial transition is instead a portal into a lifetime marked by continuous change. The Weather Enterprise is not fixed or stable in any respect. Relationships among the several sectors are being continuously reworked. Disruptive science and technology are constantly stirring up the mix. Societal interests and needs are in flux. All these changes interact with one another; they’re simultaneous, not sequential.

The implications of all this? Profound.The stakes for humanity and the planet are high. This confluence of circumstances cries out for accompanying think-tank analysis and a range of national and international conversations to ensure that the Weather Enterprise and the world growing more dependent on it smoothly navigate our the journey into our joint future.

Time to put aside the ways of childhood.

______________________________

[1] To“adult” is to behave like an adult, specifically to do the things—often mundane—that an adult is expected to do. How new is this? Well, let’s just say my laptop keeps trying to change adulting to adulating when my back is turned.

[2] A real example. Don’t ask.

[3] An aside, but an important one: this same adulting process is underway in communities with different labels and scopes: the weather, water, and climate enterprise; Earth observations, science, and services, and so on. Everything said here can be generalized to those communities as well. But all these descriptions are cumbersome, and special actions are underway with the Weather Enterprise at the moment; thus the limited focus here.

 

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Post-hurricane Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Part 3. Reframing

Weeks after the hurricanes have come and gone, Houston (and other parts of Texas), and cities and towns extending across Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, remain a blend of humanitarian crisis and recovery. Trash removal continues but mountains of trash still dominate the landscape. Power is coming back on line, but outages endure. The storms’ combined death toll continues to mount by ones and twos, as workers die from flesh-eating bacteria and other causes in the post-hurricane cleanup here on the mainland. Polluted waters are taking lives in Puerto Rico (the humanitarian crisis there has only just begun). Tuesday the U.S. Congress gave final approval to an aid package forgiving $16B of FEMA National Flood Insurance Program debt and targeting $18B for hurricane and wildfire recovery across the U.S. and its territories. This is the most recent tranche of funding, but by no means the last that will be needed.

Tragedy, growing suffering; daunting losses, of a magnitude (judging by the Congressional debate to date) that intimidates even the leaders of the world’s largest economy, still-larger cleanup bills coming due – a gloomy picture indeed. Easy to get discouraged.

But that would be a mistake. Reframed[1] – viewed differently – these regions and their peoples aren’t just recovery efforts – they’re demonstrator models on America’s showroom floor.

Here’s the idea.

Showrooms? For displaying goods and merchandise? Every shopping mall, every downtown retail district has them. But for me – and perhaps for you as well – two brands stand out: Apple, and Tesla.

Electronics stores and ISP service outlets from Best Buy to Verizon are ubiquitous, and by-and-large share the same look and feel. But Apple’s stores are a breed apart.

Car dealerships along suburban thoroughfares – and for even the priciest makes are a dime a dozen. But Tesla locates its showrooms in high-end shopping plazas, and even in that heady atmosphere of wealth and glitz, Tesla creates buzz.

To walk into such showrooms is to leave behind, at least for the moment, the present world with its problems, dysfunction, and reminders of past and developing failure, and to enter a future world, brimming with possibility. This is not accidental but by design. Every feature, every detail of these showrooms contributes to the effect. And what makes it work is an underlying integrity to the technology and quality behind the product. The special attention to marketing is an extension of the special attention to the basic products and services. To be in this environment is to want a Phone X, or a Tesla Model 3 – and know why.

The U.S. can achieve the same outcome in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Florida, Texas, and the Napa-Sonoma Valley of California. How? Simple. Instead of flinching from the task of cleanup and seeing the goal as minimal recovery – something patched-together and falling short of the pre-existing state – the U.S. can more generously pour in resources to these areas and bring them to far superior condition – more productive, vital, viable, resilient. When people ask why, we would answer, because that’s the way we approach things in here the U.S. We’re not going to condemn our people to repetitive loss – this must never happen again. When people ask how can you afford it? we would answer, we can’t afford not to.

We would say this, because we’d have in mind our social contract that we’re all in this together. We’re not in the business of creating two Americas — an America of affluence and another America of poverty – side-by-side. That’s unsustainable. And we would also know that if nations of the world saw us dealing effectively and positively with our in-country $100B problem, they might connect the dots. They might realize our companies and government agencies have just the expertise, experience, spirit, and ethos needed to help them with their own disaster recoveries. Significantly, these are individually smaller, but aggregate to hundreds of billions of dollars in an average year – several times our own losses. Get the picture? The profit and opportunities for learning to be had from that larger book of business would more than repay our efforts domestically. Our own disasters aren’t catastrophes so much as they’re learning opportunities for doing much better the next time around.

Speaking of Apple, and Tesla, and other high-tech firms, they understand this – even with respect to the opportunities inherent in disaster recovery. Apple, Tesla, and other high-tech firms are responding to the Puerto Rican crisis not just with donations, but with high tech, innovative approaches to rapid-stand-up of cellphone communications, using ballon-borne platforms,

batteries and renewable power sources, and more.

Tesla power installation at a Puerto Rican children’s hospital.

Let’s end on this note. The option is not whether or not to view these vast recovery projects as demonstrators on America’s showroom floor. That’s not the choice we’re given. Seven billion people from 200 nations worldwide are watching us every day, to see what America does, to see how things are going. The only choice we can make is what they find as they enter America’s showroom. What will they see? Unity? Or bickering? Progress? Or its lack? Positive, can-do energy? Or dispirit? And based on what they see, our international potential customers and partners are making their choices.

Seek help from and collaboration with the U.S.? Or look elsewhere… to China, say?

____________________________________

[1] As promised in the October 21 2017 LOTRW post

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Post-hurricane Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico? Bill Read weighs in…

Comments are largely out of sight in the blogosphere and too often are lost or unread as a consequence. They deserve better! That’s certainly the case with Bill Read’s comments on yesterday’s post. He makes three powerful points: (1) the scale of the recent disasters has been so great that America is experiencing sticker shock and looking for not full recovery so much as recovery-lite. (2) In fact, today’s loss figures and recovery-cost estimates are likely to lowball the true sums. (3) We’re going about recovery in a way that will likely lead to repetitive loss in the future.

Worth the read, because of both substance and source; Bill is the former director of NOAA’s National Hurricane Center, and knows whereof he speaks. Have taken the liberty of repeating his comment verbatim, in its entirety:

And then there are the islands in the Caribbean from Barbuda, Dominica, and St Martin westward through the Virgin Islands that were decimated far worse than the Keys, but like the Keys are heavily dependent on tourism for their economy. They seem to have fallen out of sight on the news. What little I can find suggests only slow progress has been made in recovery on most of these islands because the damage was so severe and the amount of support needed to make more rapid improvements does not exist.

Usually I have the sense that initial estimates of cost of disasters run too high. Not this time – I suspect we will find they are too low. I also get the sense from post Harvey meetings I have attended that the consensus is that the loss numbers will be too high for Washington to stomach thus the Federal recovery $$$ response will be less percentage wise than in past disasters for any one of these storms…hence the piece meal funding authorized so far.

I happen to live in the Harvey disaster area, though was very fortunate to have not flooded. A number of friends not so lucky and are in various stages of recovery and rebuilding. From what I see happening here in the Houston area, recovery will mostly be to restore everything to the pre-Harvey condition with only modest mitigation – it just costs so much to fix what we have in harms way down here (and most already heavily developed coastal areas, for that matter). Less than 30% of the flooded properties had flood insurance, so people have to secure loans to rebuild. The added cost of elevating a slab house (minimum $100,000) is out of reach for most home owners. Buyouts have been proposed but only for the homes that have severe repetitive loss, which only number in the low thousands of homes. There is only so much engineering that can be done to increase drainage for neighborhoods and reduce flood levels on the bayous given the geography we have built on, and even that small amount is costly to do. New normal will mean hundreds of thousands of people sweating out every heavy rain event wondering if “oh no, here we go again”. There will likely be a huge increase in purchases of flood insurance, but at what cost? Oh, and by the way, Congress needs to reauthorize the NFIP…

Thanks, Bill!

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Post-hurricane Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico. Part 2. Three weeks later…

LOTRW last offered a look at recovery from hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria on September 29. Time for another quick look! Three weeks further on, selected vignettes hint at where things now stand:

In Houston, analysis suggests Harvey recovery might take longer than Katrina:

BuildFax, an Austin-based data analytics firm for the residential and commercial real estate industry, said it could take three months to clean up all the debris related to Harvey and 20 months recover and remodel damaged properties.

“With recovery from Hurricane Harvey estimated to cost up to $180 billion and Hurricane Irma expected to cost about $100 billion, the primary recovery periods for these two storms could be well above the average for the three costliest storms in recent U.S. history,” the report said.

In Florida, emphasis is on rebuilding the multi-billion-dollar tourist trade as quickly as possible, but the state struggles to restore the housing and infrastructure to support the needed labor force:

Some residents call it the Irmanator:

The roughly 97-mile stretch between Key Largo and Key West that traces the devastating path of Hurricane Irma, as she blasted through the Lower Keys and then seemed to grow bored with destruction further north.

 Get past it and you’ll reach Key West, the tourism heartbeat of the Florida Keys, where damage is minimal, cruise ships are docking and tourists are trickling back in. But the drive down the Overseas Highway is no Key West. It’s a testament to Irma’s wrath, the breadth of her impact and the challenges that lie ahead for an island chain whose livelihood depends on cooperative weather.

At the entrance to Key Largo early this month, a white tarp draped over a Scuba Outlet truck tells Keys visitors the region is “OPEN,” an “Irma Survivor” and “#ConchStrong.” Near Tavernier, hand-less mannequins wearing Starbucks aprons and green hula skirts gesture to visitors that the coffee shop, too, is open. Debris piles, some with parts of boats or a chunk of a jacuzzi, are a roadside fixture. By Big Pine Key, the piles turn into mountains of detritus, looming at least 20 feet high and extending half a mile down the road.

The Keys hasn’t seen anything like Irma in modern memory, said Jim Bernardin, owner of Pines & Palms Islamorada Resort.

 “This one …is a different storm because the economic engine of The Keys is tourism and it’s just like getting knocked out by Muhammad Ali,” Bernardin said. “But we woke up.”

 Now the Keys is facing the mammoth task of regaining its former fitness as a robust tourism attraction. It’s crucial that it does: Tourism is a $2.7 billion industry in Monroe County, responsible for 60 percent of all spending and 54 percent of all jobs, according to the county’s Tourist Development Council.

As for Puerto Rico, as recently as October 18, TIME magazine reported:

 On Sept. 20 Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, leaving at least 48 people dead and decimating the island’s already crumbling power grid.

 Texas and Miami were also ravaged by severe weather, in the two hurricanes that preceded Maria, but relief efforts there quickly restored basic infrastructure. One month on, however, much of the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico still looks the way it did immediately after the hurricane receded northwest towards the Dominican Republic.

Here is a by-the-numbers account of how things on the island currently stand.

 Provisions 

  • More than a third of Puerto Rican households, or about 1 million people, still lack running water according to CNN.
  • FEMA says it has distributed 23.6 million liters (6.2 million gallons) of bottled and bulk water in Puerto Rico. That figure includes water for hospitals and dialysis centers
  • These deliveries equate to only 9% of the island’s drinking water requirement, going by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) assessment that each person needs at least 2.5 liters (2/3 of a gallon) per day. Some residents are so desperate for drinking water they have broken into polluted wells at industrial waste sites.
  • The shortfall is far greater when you consider the WHO also recommends 15 liters per person per day for basic cooking and hygiene needs. Dirty water ups the risk of diseases like cholera and at least one person has died as a result of being unable to get to dialysis treatment on time, CNN reports.
  • Some 86% of grocery stores have re-opened. But they are not necessarily stocked.
  • FEMA says 60,000 homes need roofing help. It has delivered 38,000 tarps.

 Power and Personnel

  • Less than 20% of Puerto Rico’s power grid has been restored and around 3 million people are still without power, says CNN
  • The news broadcaster adds that 75% of antennas are down so even those able to charge phones are unlikely to have cellular service.
  • All of the island’s hospitals are now up and running, with most using back-up systems, but only a quarter are being supplied with power from the grid, says Axios
  • According to CNN, FEMA has deployed 1,700 personnel in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were also ravaged by Hurricane Maria. That’s 900 less that the 2,600 FEMA personnel reportedly still in Texas and Florida, but the agency told CNN that around 20,000 other federal staff and military have been deployed in response to Maria.
  • Thousands of people have donated money or volunteered to help Puerto Rico. Among them, celebrity chef José Andrés says he’s serving 100,000 meals a day on the island.

 Meanwhile, from the Washington Post, Congress and the American public debate the cost and the allocation of recovery funding for the three affected areas:

The divide in [a Houston] household is one playing out across the country, as those who voted for the president debate how much support the federal government should give Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory without a voting member of Congress that is not allowed to vote in presidential elections.

 Some supporters of the president, like [one spouse], agree with Trump that Puerto Rico’s infrastructure was frail before the storm; that the crisis was worsened by a lack of leadership there; and that the federal government should limit its involvement in the rebuilding effort, which will likely cost billions of dollars. But others, like [the other spouse], are appalled by how the president talks about Puerto Rico and say the United States has a moral obligation to take care of its citizens.

 A survey released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a majority of Americans believe that the federal government has been too slow to respond in Puerto Rico and that the island still isn’t getting the help it needs. But the results largely broke along party lines: While nearly three-quarters of Democrats said the federal government isn’t doing enough, almost three-quarters of Republicans said it is.

 There’s more; for example, one House bill contains $5B in loans for Puerto Rico, already mired in $74B of unpayable debt.

But these excerpts provide a flavor. There’s been some progress… but the greatest progress has been this: once upon a time (it seems oh-so-long-ago) we spoke glibly about “recovery,” but now we recognize it for the truly daunting challenge it is. Once we spoke of a “return to normal,” but as time goes by we realize we’re going to be settling for some “new normal.” And today the relevant Congressional and national discussion is going on in the background, moved off the front pages by the Las Vegas shootings, the California vineyard fires, the present state-of-play of Congressional action on budgets and tax policy, #MeToo, presidential calls to bereaved military families, the national anthem at NFL games, and other issues. Some of these latter are truly important, perhaps defining for our generation; others less so. But all are “more current.” Our ADHD culture has moved on.

Fewer headlines, confined to local markets, would be okay if the recoveries were rocketing along. But they’re not. Fact is, we might be able to make faster progress toward better outcomes by framing the three “recoveries” differently.

More on that in Part 3.

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Recovery: A tale of three hurricanes.

“Civilization exists by geologic consent, subject to change without notice.” – Will Durant

“Recovery starts from the darkest moment.” – John Major

“Forget past mistakes. Forget failure. Forget about everything except what you’re going to do now – and do it.” (also) Will Durant

Start with Maria.

Puerto Rican recovery from Maria continues to break new ground – posing major challenges that had been unanticipated by planners (a direct, powerful hit of multiple islands, on the heels of multiple mainland disasters), and prompting unprecedented responses. The latest such response? Bringing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers into the mix of efforts to restore Puerto Rico’s power grid (shown above). E&E News has a nice post on this, but their pieces are subscription-only, so here’s an excerpt or two (their news coverage is worth a look every day, even given today’s information glut):

…Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the Army Corps’ commanding general, has been “given a mission to restore power on Puerto Rico, writ large. Full stop,” Bossert said. The Army Corps’ immediate priorities remain assuring emergency electric power supplies to hospitals and other critical resources, and clearing roads to complete a damage assessment of the grid…

 …The federal takeover of grid restoration departs from long-standing grid recovery operations where the utility industry played a central role in coordinating emergency efforts by line crews coming in from distant utilities. In Puerto Rico’s case, because the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is a public power company, that assignment fell to the American Public Power Association (APPA).

 APPA President and CEO Sue Kelly said she was grateful for the Army Corps’ intervention. “Do we feel like we’re being pushed aside? Hell, no! It’s an all-hands-on-deck exercise, and we feel like they will be able to bring resources that will be extremely helpful,” Kelly said in an interview with E&E News.

 In the industry response to Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida, utility crews from distant states drove to the scene to join in restoration. That was impossible for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and APPA said it could not dispatch help in any case until it was sure line crews would be safe.

“The situation and the conditions are extremely adverse, and we don’t want to send people in until we know they can be housed, they can be fed, they have water, they have tools, they have trucks, they have fuel,” Kelly said…

[Streit]”Some of the reasons that the Army Corps is getting involved is because we know the challenge that PREPA faces,” she said. “It’s one thing to be going through the financial troubles they have; it’s another to have two enormous hurricanes hit you head-on, and it’s additionally problematic when your people are the line workers.

 …”The idea behind the Army Corps is to provide additional assistance and structure to get them back on their feet,” she [Streit] said.

(For historical reasons, dating back to our Nation’s founding, the use of the uniformed services in response to domestic emergencies has always been cautious, requiring much in the way of formal requests from states and territories. That minimizes the risks of military takeover seen elsewhere around the world. However, it also has resulted, as here in the Puerto Rican instance, serious delays in getting help to Americans where needed.)

Irma.

Puerto Rico’s humanitarian crisis captures today’s headlines, because life and death for millions still hang in the balance, and because the devastation is slightly more recent. But mainland remains in the very early stage of recovery, and would be in the national news were it not for Maria. But there is plenty of concern evident in the local headlines. Hotels and other tourist venues across the Florida Keys are struggling to reopen for visitors on October 1. Though three weeks ahead of schedule, this is as much a desperate effort to reboot the economy as a return to business-as-usual.

“We know we have a long way to go before the Keys fully recover,” Monroe County Mayor George Neugent said in a statement. “But because tourism is our top economic engine and many of our residents’ livelihoods depend on it, we also know that we need to begin asking visitors to return.”

October is an important month for their recreation industry, even as 25% of housing for residents has been destroyed. Low-cost housing was a particular casualty. Insurance claims continue to mount. National and state parks are facing a long, slow return to normal. Some resorts/golf courses escaped, but others were hard hit. Florida’s citrus crop (shown above) was devastated. And on and on.

Harvey.

In Texas the big story is the developing differences between the city of Houston and the state of Texas about whether the state should tap into its so-called rainy day fund to accelerate Houston’s recovery. A second story is also building. The state has appointed Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp as a recovery czar. ABC News reports:

The man tasked with overseeing Texas’ Hurricane Harvey rebuilding efforts sees his job as “future-proofing” before the next disaster, but he isn’t empowered on his own to reshape flood-prone Houston or the state’s vulnerable coastline, which has been walloped by three major hurricanes since 2006.

Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp will face the same political and bureaucratic challenges that have long stalled meaningful improvements in storm protections, and some doubt that even Harvey’s record flooding and huge price tag will bring about real change…

  Sharp, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, follows a line of fix-it men charged with picking up the pieces following major storms in recent years, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012. He has won early bipartisan praise as a practical choice to preside over the efforts to recover from Harvey, which killed more than 70 people and damaged or destroyed more than 200,000 homes.

 Sharp is the rare Democrat with sustained relevance in Republican-controlled Texas. He is former lawmaker and state comptroller who was U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s college roommate at Texas A&M, which Sharp has led since 2011 and will continue to lead while overseeing the rebuilding effort. Abbott joked that he’s now getting calls, texts and emails from Sharp “up to and sometimes well after midnight.”

 Sharp hasn’t laid out a long-term rebuilding plan yet and most of his public comments so far have been aimed at reassuring hard-hit communities that he won’t be a bureaucratic cog. But he has indicated that he’s thinking about the next disaster, saying “one of the guiding principles will be to future-proof what is being rebuilt so as to mitigate future risks as much as possible.”

Experience – not just from Houston, but from across the United States, suggests this “future-proofing” won’t be easy.

Meanwhile, our national news media have moved on – to coverage of NFL political football, proposed death of the “death tax,” and other tax code makeovers, charter-flight expenses of top political leaders, Russian tampering with the U.S. political process. Some if not all of this matters. News is, after all, “what is making today different from yesterday?” But behind the national headlines, for millions of Americans, the personal lead story day in and day out for months and in some cases years to come – perhaps even the defining moment in their life narrative – will be their experience with the 2017 hurricanes and their aftermath .

For them, “recovery,” won’t be quite the right word. For them, “recovery” as sometimes glibly tossed about by hazards academics and practitioners alike, as connoting a sense of completed action, has a whiff of “oxymoron.”

We all need to remain mindful of their continuing struggles and honor their continuing courage. As part of that mindfulness, we need to come alongside the Maria, Irma, and Harvey survivors, and remain there. We need to make shelter-in place, not evacuation, our goal, at both the community- and national levels – and refuse to settle for anything less.

With them, we all need to “Forget about everything except what [we’re] going to do now – and do it.”

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The existential human challenge.

from The World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2017 (12th edition)

The existential human challenge?

You might have your own candidate; here’s one to chew on:

Thriving on our generous, dangerous, fragile planet.

Of course, an assertion like that deserves a bit of justification. Again, chances are you can write a better one, or a counter-argument, but here’s a quick defense:

Some people might prefer a challenge that is a bit more centered on the individual, perhaps having dimensions such as self-actualization, the spiritual, peace-of-mind, and so on. There’s a good case for going in that direction, but let’s save that for another time. Here, the word thriving refers to all seven-plus billion of us, capturing the idea that to be human is to be social, part of a society, a collective, to be fully interdependent. Thriving not incidentally tries to capture the idea that if all of us aren’t thriving, then none of us is. In practice, you and I tend to anesthetize ourselves to problems of world hunger, poverty, disease, etc., because they seem so intractable and/or distant, but nonetheless, the goal is a thriving that everyone shares to some degree. And… a thriving that endures. Thriving connotes something ongoing, sustainable – as opposed to fleeting.

The second part of the challenge centers on our host planet. Remarkably, Earth bears all three of these attributes. To start, it’s wholly generous; any overview shows more than enough food, water, and energy to go around. We have distributional problems, but not some gross insufficiency.

Earth also remains intractably dangerous; if we needed any reminders, in the American hemisphere alone we’ve seen threats from wildfire to earthquakes to hurricanes over these past few weeks. No reasons for complacency or to feel secure here (and that’s before we get to man’s-inhumanity-to-man[1]).

Hard to believe, given the dangerous bit, but Earth at the same time is proving worryingly fragile. Each week, each month, each year, we keep seeing evidence that that same seven-plus billion of us, just by treading around, despite meaning no harm, are bit-by-bit degrading landscapes, habitats, waters, and the atmosphere, and compromising ecosystem services on which we depend.

That’s our threefold relationship with the Earth.

Which brings us to the diagram (the link takes you to the original; the version reproduced here is maddeningly difficult to read), which appeared earlier this year in the World Economic Forum publication The Global Risks Report 2017 (12th edition). You recall that the World Economic Forum sponsors that Davos meeting every January. (Think of it as a meeting of the tiny minority of the world’s people with the most to lose. So their assessment of risks ought to mean something.) As you see, the diagram shows impact increasing vertically, and likelihood increasing to the right. That means that the events that are most likely and ought to worry us the most are those in the upper right-hand portion of the diagram. Look closely (the figure is something of an eye chart), and this is what you find: At the uppermost, rightmost, are extreme weather events. Clustered nearby? Natural disasters; large-scale, involuntary mass migrations (many of which stem themselves from weather extremes, such as the Puerto-Rican migration to the U.S. mainland just getting underway); water crises; the failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation, food crises; and manmade environmental disasters. A few other risks are thrown in, but these tend to be less frequent, or lower-impact – so, less worrisome.

Bottom line? The WEF Report reaches the essentially the conclusion stated above: the different facets of our relationship with the planet matter  more and are proving more problematic than any dysfunction in our relationships with each other, shakiness in financial markets, etc. The WEF Report came out earlier this year, before recent events; therefore, to the extent it’s a bit of a forecast as well as a backward-looking assessment, it has verified. Though it’s always tempting to quibble with particular details, the WEF framing looks to be about right.

At this point, you may still feel that thriving on our generous, dangerous, fragile planet doesn’t quite hit the bar of existential. You may think it rises only to the level of, say, important.  Whatever! We all agree such thriving matters. Therefore, if you participate anywhere in the space of Earth observations, science, and services; if you’re in emergency management, or agribusiness, or the energy sector, or water-resource management, or the building and operation of critical infrastructure – please take a moment to reflect on the worth of what you do.

And please keep it up! The rest of us need you.

Existentially.

______________

(with thanks to Dr. Mona Behl for recently passing along a link to the 2017 WEF Report, thus prompting this post)

[1] And please forgive the political incorrectness of this framing.

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