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Patricia, the gathering storm

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — spiral storming in the atmosphere, spiral vertiginous in the mind, inbound ]

Visual and verbal expressions of computational cognition:

SPEC Patricia visual verbal

Which conveys the most, which is most easily grasped, and how much do the models know?


  • Slatest, Patricia, Strongest Hurricane in History, Nears Mexico Landfall
  • Tribune, Forecasters: Patricia is strongest hurricane ever recorded in Western hemisphere
  • **

    Need to know, and why?

    SPEC Patricia need to know

    The zoom in, from need to know to why, exactly?


  • New York Times, Hurricane Patricia: What You Need to Know
  • New Scientist, Did climate change set the scene for hurricanes like Patricia?
  • **

    Cognitive dissonance:

    SPEC Patricia cog diss

    Cognitive dissonance, the human condition — or counterpoint, as understood by Bach and Glenn Gould?


  • NPR, Why Hurricane Patricia Can’t Be Blamed On Climate Change
  • Wired, Thank El Niño and Climate Change for Huge Hurricane Patricia
  • A Sustainable National Security Posture?

    Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — and what about climate change, Mike Mazarr? ]

    Is there even a Cheney-esque one-percent possibility that 97% of climate scientists (NASA’s estimate) are right?



    I just opened up Michael Mazarr‘s NDU Strategy Study Group report, Discriminate Power: A Strategy for a Sustainable National Security Posture. It’s quite far from my usual apocalyptic and more generally religious interests, but he and I once co-led a Y2K scenario role-playing game at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, so I have a friendly interest in what he’s up to.

    What interested me next, though, was the overview to their report that Mazarr and company present in their Introduction. Their purview:

    In the coming decade, the constraints on U.S. foreign and defense policy — fiscal, social, Geopolitical — are likely to intensify. At the same time, the security environment is evolving in ways that pose a more diverse array of risks, threats and opportunities. While foreign threats have dominated national security planning in the past, for example, future wars may more typically involve nontraditional foes and means threatening the homeland. This will change how we perceive and provide for national security, even as we confront new constraints.

    This paper summarizes the work of a study group chartered to assess strategy under austerity for the next ten years. A core conclusion was that the United States is buying systems, forces and capabilities increasingly mismatched to the challenges, threats, and opportunities of the emerging environment. Military power, for example, cannot resolve many of the most complex and pressing challenges we confront — and yet our investments in national security remain vastly over-weighted to military instruments. The most likely threats to the U.S. homeland will come from nontraditional challenges such as biological pathogens, terrorism, cyber, and financial instruments, and yet resources for these issues remain minimal compared to traditional military instruments. At the same time, on our current trajectory, we will end up with a national security establishment dominated by salaries, health care, retirement costs, and a handful of staggeringly expensive major weapons systems. We are spending more and more to get less and less, in terms of relevant tools and influence.

    There’s some ambiguity in here. There’s a segue from “foreign threats” to “future wars” without so much as a hiccup — but the actual threats our National Security strategy will need to address are presented as “nontraditional challenges such as biological pathogens, terrorism, cyber, and financial instruments”.

    That’s a far broader array than “future wars” to be sure — but maybe still within the ambit of “foreign threats”. What I’m interested in, in the present context, however, is climate change. And unless my .pdf search function is deceiving me, I can find no mention of either “climate” or “warming” in the entire report.


    Compare these Remarks by Tom Donilon, National Security Advisor to the President At the Launch of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy from a month ago:

    The national security impacts of climate change stem from the increasingly severe environmental impacts it is having on countries and people around the world. Last year, the lower 48 U.S. states endured the warmest year on record. At one point, two-thirds of the contiguous United States was in a state of drought, and almost 10 million acres of the West were charred from wildfires. And while no single weather event can be directly attributed to climate change, we know that climate change is fueling more frequent extreme weather events. Last year alone, we endured 11 weather-related disasters that inflicted a $1 billion or more in damages – including Hurricane Sandy.

    Internationally, we have seen the same: the first twelve years of this century are all among the fourteen warmest years on record.

    Or the White House’s National Security Strategy of 2010:

    Climate Change: The danger from climate change is real, urgent, and severe. The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources; new suffering from drought and famine; catastrophic natural disasters; and the degradation of land across the globe. The United States will therefore confront climate change based upon clear guidance from the science, and in cooperation with all nations — for there is no effective solution to climate change that does not depend upon all nations taking responsibility for their own actions and for the planet we will leave behind.

    And given what WSJ SWJ calls the Obama administration’s strategic shift to the East — what about Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III?

    America’s top military officer in charge of monitoring hostile actions by North Korea, escalating tensions between China and Japan, and a spike in computer attacks traced to China provides an unexpected answer when asked what is the biggest long-term security threat in the Pacific region: climate change.

    Harvard’s 2012 Climate Extremes: Recent Trends with Implications for National Security report?

    Or the Council for Foreign Relations report, Climate Change and National Security: An Agenda for Action — from 2007?


    I know, the CIA has (quietly) closed its Center on Climate Change and National Security, although as the NYT’s Green blog told us:

    Todd Ebitz, a C.I.A. spokesman, said that the agency would continue to monitor the security and humanitarian challenges posed by climate change as part of its focus on economic security, but not in a stand-alone office.

    But if you’re still interested, take a look at The Center for Climate & Security’s page On the Record: Climate Change as a Security Risk According to U.S. Administration Officials.

    Their list is far more comprehensive than mine.

    Okay. I know Mazarr’s report will have been written to fulfill certain criteria, specified or unspecified, and I’m not the one who set them — but isn’t climate change a part of the context that would need to be addressed, if “how we perceive and provide for national security, even as we confront new constraints” is the topic under discussion?

    Sensitive dependence on initial conditions — & more

    Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — on human impact, with a quick glance at Pundita’s wide-angle thinking ]

    The “butterfly effect” identified by meteorologist Edward Lorenz suggests that when you are dealing with highly complex systems such as weather patterns, what eventually happens may be “sensitively dependent on initial conditions”. Very small differences at one moment in such systems may result in very large differences later on. As Lorenz explains in the upper quote above, however, we’re dealing with a myriad of influences simultaneously, and it’s entirely possible that our own meteorological impact exceeds and outweighs that of the butterfly species…

    I’ve chosen to post this particular pair of quotes, in fact, because both examples point to severely deleterious effects of human impact on our home environment in the larger sense — “the world we live in” — at a level where human individuals may not feel they have much of an individual impact, but where the cumulative effect is much greater: global warming? devastating storms? loss of rain forest? — narcarchy?

    Narcarchy: hereby defined as rule by cartel — see this fascinating news piece, and note in particular the presence of a significant religious thread in the midst of the drug / crime / warfare picture.


    On the question of sensitive dependence on initial conditions, this graphic paints the picture nicely and with nuance, for those who “think in pictures”:

    I found it attached to the Wikipedia entry on Lorenz’s Butterfly Effect which may also help if like me you’re a lay reader, mathematically speaking.


    I also wanted to juxtapose the two quotes above because they give me a chance to talk about “wide angle views” and their virtues, and to point you to a recent Pundita post that set me thinking along those lines. The post is Then and Now: Instructive parallels between 9/11/01-Benghazi and Katrina-Sandy storms, and part of my comment read as follows:

    …you have an amazing breadth of thought going on here – especially in your paragraph:

    It’s as if a new era arrived, with its vast changes in weather patterns and attack patterns, and nobody is yet fully processing the nature of the threats. I guess such an observation is actually old news. But Sandy coming on the heels of Benghazi struck me as a kind of exclamation mark to the fact that civilizations start to fall at the point where they’re no longer able to process the cumulative effects of their past.

    Seeing parallels between Benghazi and 9/11, or between Sandy and Katrina, would be one thing – but managing to see parallel changes in both “weather patterns and attack patterns” is quite another — and even though people may want to question and qualify some of the details, the overall scope and view is breathtaking.

    We need this kind of wide-angle thinking, it seems to me, and I offer my two quotes here in much the same spirit.

    So if “sensitive dependence on initial conditions” is one analytic thought pattern I’m promoting here, “wide-angle thinking” and the capacity to zoom from significant detail to global context is surely another.

    When photoshop is as strange as fiction

    Friday, November 2nd, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — an intriguing resemblance, is all ]


    The upper image is a photoshopped (fake, fictive) image of Hurricane Sandy over New York — an image which apparently went a little viral on the web a day or two ago — while the lower one is from the cover illustration of an edition of Arthur C Clarke‘s science fiction novel, Childhood’s End, in which the aliens arrive to hover (and lord it, somewhat benignly) over us — in this case, over London.

    Simply that: two images, quite different, yet curiously similar.

    Frankenstorm: some rules proposed for prophecy & prediction

    Sunday, October 28th, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — some thoughts on news reports and prophecy, since it is not unheard of for people to bolster their versions of prophecy by quoting current events ]

    AP satellite image - which might as well be titled, in Shelley's words, "look on my works, ye mighty, and despair"


    I want to explore the relation of prophecy and prediction to news, and my inbox in the last couple of days has provided me with a simple way to compare and contrast the two.

    Here, then, are two versions of what might shortly come to pass:

    The upper panel offers a snippet from the Washington Post‘s piece today — in other words, the news. The lower panel offers the headline from an overtly scripture-driven source — in other words, prophecy.

    The Joel Rosenberg piece providing an interpretation of what might be just a day away, under that alarming headline, begins:

    “For thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations.” (Haggai 2:6-7) Just days before one of the most significant and momentous presidential and Congressional elections in American history, God is reminding us that America’s fate lies not in the hands of the politicians, but in His hands. Weather experts are warning Americans on the East Coast to “get ready, be prepared” for Hurricane Sandy, which they say could prove to be one of the most devastating storms in American history. Is that hype, or is it true? Tens of millions Americans are not taking any chances. They are buying water, food, gasoline and other supplies as the storm moves towards land. I can tell you that my family and I in the Washington, D.C. area are doing the same.


    The interesting question from my POV is whether it is legitimate to invoke supernatural causes when natural causes could sufficiently account for what is observed to be happening.

    There is indeed a major storm system in the offing, and it is indeed as yet uncertain whether it will be devastating, a comparatively minor irritant, or somewhere in between. But the Washington Post appears content to attribute the possibilities to natural forces, whereas Rosenberg prefers an explanation in terms of his views on morality.

    Basically, there are two positions here:

  • If we are shaken, it is because we are sinful.
  • If we are shaken, it is because natural forces are interacting in such a way as to cause devastation on the scale of human interest.

  • I would argue for a third view:

  • If we are shaken, it is because we have messed enough with the planet’s intricate homeostases as to drive weather patterns to inhospitable extremes.

  • **

    Here are some rules that the looming Frankenstorm has prompted me to consixder:


    Don’t overstate the case: if you want a worst case scenario for warning and planning purposes, clearly mark it as such, and at least sketch the alternative scenarios and an informed guess as to their respective likelihoods.


    If you associate a presumed cause to an expected effect, and when the time comes the effect does not happen, admit that the cause as presumed was flawed within your own system of explanation. In the case of Rosenberg’s storm, should it prove to be less of a shaker than Rosenberg’s headline suggests, this would mean he would admit that God obviously didn’t intend to shake America all that much — either because America is less sinful and more pleasing to God than Rosenberg gives it credit for, or because the threat of the storm caused a sufficient moral awakening to make its actuality unnecessary, or because God is more long-suffering than Rosenberg initially imagined.


    Keep your explanation internally consistent. The storm is, even in Rosenberg’s sense, a meteorological phenomenon — which is why his post carries the AP satellite image of Hurricane Sandy that I put at the top of this post. It is a stretch — biblically permitted, but a stretch nevertheless — to assert a moral cause (such as tolerance of homosexuality) for a meteorological event, particularly if the known meteorological causes would in themselves be sufficient to account for it.


    And then there’s the most interesting part of all.

    Suppose that prophecy isn’t a matter of specific and accurate prediction, but a sketch of possible outcomes, along the lines of “if you carry on like that, you’ll drink yourself into an early grave.” When someone says something like that, they don’t mean the person concerned will find an empty grave and get so drunk as to fall into it — they mean that excessive imbibing, over the long term, puts the imbiber at risk of a variety of distressing ends, fatal car crashes and kidney failure among them.

    We have the saying, “pride comes before a fall.” Is that prophecy? It is found in scripture, in Proverbs 16.18:

    Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

    Arguably the proud and power-hungry have a tendency to overextend themselves — the Greeks would call it hubris, and see nemesis close on its heels. Is it prophecy, then, or a simple observation of human nature? It certainly seems to fit quite a number of circumstances — to be “fulfilled” on a regular basis.


    My friend and mentor the shaman Wallace Black Elk emphasized to me that in his Lakota tradition, prophecies were understood as visionary warnings of likely outcomes to be avoided — not as inevitabilities.


    What I’m getting at here is that as predictions become specific — Edgar Whisenart‘s prediction that the Rapture would occur between September 11 and 13, 1988, or Jose Arguelles proclamation that the harmonic convergence of August 17, 1987 would be the great moment of shift — or are interpreted in specific ways — I linked to a minister preaching that Oprah Winfrey was the Antichrist only yesterday — we may be mistaking a poetic reading of trends for an act of previsioning in detail a predetermined, preordained and predestined future.

    From my POV, this would mean that prophetic texts should be read as poetic foreshadowings — “put too much strain on the environment and it will bite back at you” — rather than as matrices into which the events of the day should be shoehorned — back in the days of Nero and Domitian, back in the days of Hitler and Stalin, or today, tomorrow and tomorrow…

    In this way, both prophetic and scientific traditions can be appropriately honored.

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