Category Archives: Disasters

And Yet There Are Faster Ways To Die

Yesterday’s Twitter hissy fit over our use of a GBU-43/B MOAB in Afghanistan combined with the friction with North Korea, as reported in the amazingly well connected @KGSNightWatch, set me to thinking about quicker means for us to end ourselves than the slow roast we’ve already set in motion.

We had already detonated 2,053 nuclear weapons by 1998 but since the 1963 Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty all tests have been underground, including the five North Korean tests that happened after this video ends.

We got plain scared by the results of the 1954 Castle Bravo test, a six megaton test that yielded fifteen, because we didn’t understand there was a fusion path for lithium 7, and only nine short years later the world decided air/space testing was a Really Bad Idea™.

 

Since then, we’ve shifted to constraining ourselves to developing stuff that inhibits others delivering weapons. Basically we have about three dozen Ground Based Interceptors on the west coast and the trend seems to be counting on Aegis Combat Systems and the RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 to knock down uninvited ballistic missiles.

Missile Defense Systems

Missile Defense Systems

This missile defense stuff is all still really theoretical. Tests are few, expensive, and results have been mixed. We don’t really have a plan for submarine launched cruise missiles but the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty eliminated whole classes of weapons.

But North Korea is not a signatory to any of these treaties and they are slowly standing up a nuclear capability. This happened while we were naming them part of the Axis of Evil and blundering into Bush’s adventure in Iraq. Like a Cape buffalo surrounded by lions, we focused on one and the others got up to things we didn’t see coming.

 

North Korea can’t nuke San Francisco. They can’t nuke Honolulu. They can maybe hit 7th Fleet HQ at the mouth of Tokyo Bay. Their current best has a yield equal to the weapons the U.S. produced in 1945.

Yokosuka 20 Kiloton Strike

Yokosuka 20 Kiloton Strike (NUKEMAP)

I have zero confidence that Little Fingers has the right moves given that the DPRK is surely going to test another nuclear weapon tomorrow. China has moved six divisions of troops to its border with North Korea with the announced intent of ensuring that there are not a flood of refugees crossing their border. They also have a credible plan to put an end to North Korea’s test facilities, which is something the U.S. and South Korea lack.

Another grandstanding effort, like the theatrical strike against a forewarned Syrian airfield, or the drop of a MOAB in Afghanistan, seems likely. The most foolish step would be treating this as a chance to employ a B-61 Dial-A-Yield nuke, specifically the B-61 Mod 11 bunker buster.

 

The assessment of the premier geopolitical threat monitor is simple and clear:

NightWatch concurs with the judgment that the North Koreans are not bluffing about retaliating for any kind of attack against them.

The scariest part of all of this? America’s recto-cranial inversion, which predates Little Fingers, keeps us strutting like the only superpower, but ignoring stuff where we don’t have a direct interface. The relationship between India (110 nukes) and Pakistan (130 nukes) is always some flavor of tense, but in recent months there have been reports in Night Watch that indicate they went right up to the red line of a rapidly evolving ground war and strong potential for an exchange.

Now take a look at this China-centric population cartogram.They have four neighbors with nuclear weapons, two are at each other’s throats, the U.S. is showing strong signs of moving against North Korea, and doing so because we have a leader as isolated and strange as Kim thanks to meddling from nuclear armed neighbor number four.

China-centric Population Cartogram

China-centric Population Cartogram

 

There is no such thing as a limited nuclear exchange where India and Pakistan are concerned. If they each show some restraint and only use half of their arsenals we lose half of our ozone layer, a couple years of Canadian and Russia wheat production, and the initial ten million killed directly would be joined by another billion famine victims.

These projections stop where the effects of smoke in the atmosphere end. A billion dead of starvation are the unlucky one seventh when all of us are facing that possibility. We are already precariously balanced when it comes to food, we lose all of the Mideast and North Africa in this scenario, those places teeter on the edge of ungovernability now when there are relatively minor disturbances in wheat supplies.

 

The area south of Africa’s Great Green Wall would be the best place to ride out such a catastrophe, far away from fallout of all sorts, from economic to political to radioactive.

Sobering, isn’t it? We already have the means to create an extinction level event for our species and we are stumbling that direction, led by a man with a psychopath’s regard for cause and effect.

Great Barrier Reef Two Thirds Destroyed

The Great Barrier Reef stretches 1,400 miles starting at the northern tip of Australia and it covers an area the size of the state of Montana. There was serious bleaching due to the 1997 and 2002 El Niño events and now back to back bleaching in 2016 and 2017 has destroyed the northern two thirds.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

I cribbed that map from a dive site. Their offered locations are all in the destroyed areas and this highly public obituary for the reef is an obituary for their business. Tourism will crash immediately and fishing shortly thereafter, as fish species adjust to the massive disruption.

It’s not just the sea that has warmed; Australia’s heat got so bad a couple years ago they had to add a new color to their heat index.

Australia Drought

Australia Heat Index

There’s no relief in sight as the east has experienced record setting heat over the last quarter.

Australia Extreme Heat

Australia Extreme Heat

The reef based tourism is gone, but that is a domestic issue. How is all this heat going to affect the wheat crop? It would appear that things are going to go badly in the area that produces the bulk of the crop, and this can be a component of Global Wheat Threats. The last time we had one of those we got Arab Spring in response.

Australia Wheat

Australia Wheat

 

Part of the reason we got Arab Spring in 2011 was due to not just stress on global wheat supplies due to the year’s Russian fires and attendant wheat embargo. The catastrophic floods in Pakistan ruined summer grain crops.

Pakistan 2010 Flood Rainfall

 

The overheated oceans that killed the Great Barrier Reef in 2016/2017 are also responsible for the record breaking monsoon in 2010 that led to revolution all over North Africa and the Mideast the following year. Visualize the 11,000 miles between Morocco and the Great Barrier Reef on a map. The loss of a reef that most of the world considered an exotic remote destination is a proxy for stuff that can cause trouble on a global scale.

Morocco, Pakistan & Great Barrier Reef

Morocco, Pakistan & Great Barrier Reef

Now consider what the USDA Wheat Outlook has to say:

The Winter Wheat and Canola Seedings report revealed 2017 winter wheat seedings to be the second-lowest on record and the lowest since 1909.

That sounds really bad, but maybe this sounds better to you …

Most notably, 2016/17 ending stocks are raised slightly more than 43 million bushels to 1143.4 million, the highest level since 1987/88, when ending stocks reached 1260.8 million.

 

But what does it mean in geopolitical terms? Stocks are up, global planting is down 9% from last year? Global stocks are up but there are 108 million people facing Food Insecurity in North Africa and the Mideast. There are about 400 million people in North Africa and around 325 million in the Mideast countries highlighted in the linked post. When 15% of the population are short of food that’s a recipe for big changes.

Global Wheat Status January 2017

Global Wheat Status January 2017

 

You guys are going to get tired of the phrase Functional Triage, but I’m going to keep coming back to it. Yemen’s Food & Water Crisis was noted as an issue clear back in 2013 and now it’s boiling over, with half the populace set to starve. Consult the Fragile States Index for 2016 and it looks like the beginnings of another perfect storm.

Cyclone Tamara Strikes Balkans

Bosnia Baby Rescue

Bosnia Baby Rescue

Normally this would be a heartwarming sight – baby boy gets a very exciting helicopter ride, army comes back later by boat for the parents. But this child is in Bosnia, his parents survived the Breakup of Yugoslavia, the ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian War of 1991-1995, and the blood didn’t really stop flowing in the region until the irredentist center of the highly theoretical Greater Serbia was smashed flat by NATO during 77 days of Operation Noble Anvil in 1999.

Nothing is ever simple in the Balkans, and these maps should help you visualize why this is the case:

Christian Europe slowly fought off the Muslim Ottoman Empire …

Austro Hungarian & Ottoman Conflict

Austro Hungarian & Ottoman Conflict

Ottoman Losses 1807-1924

Ottoman Losses 1807-1924

Austro Hungarian Empire Ethnic Groups Of 1911

Austro Hungarian Empire Ethnic Groups Of 1911

The Austro-Hungarian map completely ignores the presence of Muslim Bosniaks in the Balkans, primarily in Bosnia. Here they are in 1992, just as the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia really got going …

Balkans Ethnic Groups 1992

Balkans Ethnic Groups 1992

And here they are in 2000, after consolidation of ethnic groups into their respective regions. I really wish I could find before and after maps from the same source, but it’s hard to find two from different sources that agree on territory at any given point in time, let alone a good sequence.

Balkans Ethnic Groups 2000

Balkans Ethnic Groups 2000

It can be argued that Operational Noble Anvil was the final dying gasp of the Cold War. Their patience exhausted by the 1998-1999 Kosovo War, in which Serbian tried to remove the 90% ethnic Albanian population of Kosovo, all of the NATO countries, with the exception of next door neighbor Greece, gathered a thousand aircraft, and conducted 38,000 sorties against the Serbs. Future war criminal Slobodan Milošević refused to back down until the United Kingdom produced the first 10,000 of 50,000 soldiers they planned to commit to ground operations.

The final score for Yugoslavia was: Slovenia broke away, the Croats quickly taught the Serbs to mind their own business, Bosnia was a grinding, bloody mess treated by the world as an internal dispute, and when the Serbs made a move on Kosovo NATO made sure it was their last adventure in the region.

Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Macedonia are as much a part of Europe as poor countries with a recent civil war behind them can be. Serbia remains a lone outpost for Russian influence in the region … and now you can see where a climate disaster that hits both Bosnia and Serbia might be seen as a contest between NATO countries and Russia. Eleven months ago I noted that the U.S. has some new Balkan Bases. Serbia is there, hidden under the legend.

Balkans U.S. Bases

Balkans U.S. Bases

Per Wikipedia, the initial response to the 2014 Southeast Europe floods have been broad and generous – the U.N., the E.U. and 34 countries have all provided some sort of aid. The overall damage from this Mediterranean cyclone is enormous.