Hearing does not always mean listening

Yesterday I watched/listened to most of a hearing conducted by the Budget Committee of the United States Senate entitled: Bottlenecks and Backlogs: How Climate Change Threatens Supply Chains. The link provides access to a video of the hearing and separate links to the prepared testimony of five expert witnesses. The testimony of Kathy Fulton and Scott Kelly each offer particular attention to supply chain capacity concentrations, a frequent focus of this blog.

In one way or another, explicitly and not, all five witnesses give attention to capacity concentrations, climate change, and supply chain adaptation. There were five different angles on reality. Each angle is worth your time to scan and consider.

I do not recommend watching the video rehash the hearing’s political theater. I did not hear many — perhaps not any — authentic questions. I heard too much posturing and positioning regarding pre-cooked political/ideological angles. I wish the senators would have listened more carefully to the witnesses and given more time to supply chain related questions.

The hearing began shortly after 10AM Eastern Time. I pulled up the hearing a few hours into watching Hurricane Otis explode into Acapulco (more and more and more and see the NASA time-lapse below). Then just as the hearing opened Hurricane Tammy surprised me. A fresh NHC update for this North Atlantic cyclone noted, “sustained winds have increased to near 105 mph (165 km/h) with higher gusts.” This late-stage rapid intensification is an increasing challenge. Just last week a new study reported, “Mean maximum Tropical Cyclone intensification rates are up to 28.7% greater in a modern era (2001–2020) compared to a historical era (1971–1990).” The last two years I have seen a similar threat spin up too close to Tampa. There are plenty of other crucial capacity concentrations that are as vulnerable.

On two screens I watched weird weather swirling with real-time force, while on a third screen I heard a weird debate regarding climate-related epistemology: What can we know? What do we know? How can we appropriately adapt to what we know?

Especially in terms of supply chain risk there can be a range of plausible answers to these questions. It often depends on the particular network, its innate vulnerabilities, and the specific threat (Force-On-Target) involved… an earthquake is different from a cyclone which is different from a cyber-attack which is not the same as a sudden loss of labor regardless of cause…

But we can know, we do know — as Kathy Fulton and Scott Kelly set out (and at least two other witnesses seemed to agree) — that supply chain capacity is increasingly concentrated. This concentration of demand and supply is often happening in places susceptible to extreme weather (climate change or not), seismic activity, and other aspects of punctuated equilibrium (here and here). This increased exposure to risk (and, plausibly, increased risk frequency and intensity) can have catastrophic consequences when, in Kathy Fulton’s words, “these capacity concentrations are disrupted due to extreme weather events, bottlenecks become chokepoints, and the impacts can ripple far beyond the communities in which they exist.”

Too often the human mind is fixated on the urgency (or not) of a perceived external threat rather than the implications of self-created vulnerabilities. External threats are almost always tough to predict and manage. Many of our vulnerabilities are self-created and, as a result, fully susceptible to self-managed mitigation… if we will accept that reality and our related responsibilities.

“The above animation shows Otis in the eastern Pacific Ocean as it’s making its way northward towards the southwest coast of Mexico.  The animation begins with a 24-hour time loop of surface rainfall estimates from NASA’s IMERG precipitation product starting at 7:11 a.m. CDT (12:11 UTC) Oct. 23 when the center was about 400 miles (640 km) south-southeast of Acapulco…” NASA Global Precipitation Measurement