Tuesday, October 30, 2012

street trees and severe weather.1

Take a look at this picture of a street tree partly uprooted by high winds. Although the caption points to how it rests on power lines, I'm impressed with the way the root system peeled up along the curb, revealing shallow and confined roots.
Roots need air and water in their soil environment.  Asphalt and concrete can shut roots off like a lobotomy or ligature blocking their source needs.
Trees are great for soaking up carbon dioxide and other gases,  but they need space for their roots to flourish. (Odd word, flourish, meaning flower.) Perhaps I should say they need space for their roots to be rootish.

politics and geography.1

 Looking at a post this morning that disaster relief might be cut $900 million,  hard on the heels of Hurricane Sandy's hit to New York City and Mid-Atlantic states.

Just think, if both disaster relief and crop insurance were administered by the same federal agency, both 'red' agricultural states that were hit by drought and 'blue' coastal states hit by hurricane would have a basis to cooperate to support such an agency's funding. 

We have at least one other odd agency/geography split as well. The Army Corps of Engineers manages the Mississippi River basin in mid-continent, while the US Geological Survey interacts with many state-run hydrologic management systems to the east and west. 

That's oversimplifying, but the implications for the splits in Congress over funding is huge. 
The implication for what could make Congress more functional and cooperative is also huge.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

uncertainty versus risk

What's the dif? Uncertainty versus risk

Uncertainty is about what we don't know yet, while risk is about what we could lose.

There's both in climate change.

I gather that politicians and other public figures don't like to admit we face risks so they use 'uncertainty' as a euphemism for risk. And if the public figures admit there are risks, they like to talk about the risks as existing somewhere in the future.
I get it that, "one may have uncertainty without risk but not risk without uncertainty," as we can be uncertain about  something like what our colleagues will wear to work, yet that comes with low to no risk of a negative consequence to ourselves. We can be uncertain about when our children will finish potty-training, although as one wag put it, "They usually figure it out before college."
So an uncertainty can slip into certainty with the passage of time; everyone dies sooner or later. But is death a risk if it is inevitable? Perhaps determining the risk of death is better confined to consideration of loss. If someone dies "before their time,"what ever that is,  it is a loss.
On a lighter note, my daughter's cats will almost certainly jump on the kitchen table, which puts the tablecloth and glassware at risk of damage. The only uncertainties left are when and how much damage. 

Yesterday evening's presidential debate included a comment by Mitt Romney on the future of the U.S. military. He rationalized increased military spending saying, "So we have to make decisions based upon uncertainty. And that means a strong military."

I think the current military keep track of the difference between uncertainty and risk. The decisions they make are based on risk assessment.  They need the intelligence gathering to detect danger, and mobilize, not be stuck with fixed assets in the wrong place.
A good strategy to minimize risk is alert observation and flexible response. In contrast, if risks are already known, then prioritize responses and commit more assets one way or the other.

With climate change, the risks (future negative impacts) are becoming clearer, while the residual uncertainty about when exactly those negative impacts might befall or how moderate or extreme they might be, seems to be the refuge of those who don't want a strategy that admits that the risks and unknowns both exist.   Yet it is just as foolish to think of climate change as a known and limited risk with a single solution. Dave Roberts at Grist points to the example of Ho Chi Minh City that built barriers to keep out the rising sea only to discover that revised estimates of sea level rise mean that the ocean will over-top the barriers.

Monday, October 22, 2012

what a candidate's religious eschatology could do to policy

Romney's LDS  religion has a view that "earth shall be given unto them for an inheritance," so his intent to privatize public lands to redirect resources to a few is completely consistent with the rather supple expectation that it could be a divine outcome.

LDS writings:

This reminds me that Reagan turned out to be someone who really believed we were headed forthwith for Armageddon, so to him the ludicrously expensive Star Wars initiative seemed reasonable.

Because of the separation of Church and State, political campaigns do not develop explicit information on a  candidate's world view, or eschatology, yet it might tell us something useful, such as the hindsight about Reagan.

Putting righteousness onto exploitation is consistent with Romney's religious background as well as pleasing his financial supporters, but don't expect the press to tackle the thorny subject of religious belief.

If someone expects the end times to arrive before too long, there's little reason to conserve resources for as long as a  century, much less for another millennium.

Personally I'd like to think humanity could calm down, act more responsible, and inhabit the planet for at least as long as we've already been conscious of our own identity to date, in the range of 100,000 years. In which case, leave the carbon in the ground, and grow plants.

Planting ahead..