Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jurassic Guam

The U.S. planners running the Guam buildup have something in common with the people who operated InGen, the company that created Jurassic Park. They are so confident in their ability to succeed that they are blind to the weaknesses in their planning. John Hammond (the character played by Richard Attenborough), the CEO of InGen, illustrates the problem. Each time a concern was raised, Hammond had a ready answer.
The full fifty mile of perimeter fence are in place? -- Donald Gennaro, a lawyer who represented the investors backing InGen. (He was played by Martin Ferrero).
And the concrete moats, and the motion sensor tracking systems. Donald, dear boy, do try to relax and enjoy yourself –Hammond.
Hammond saw the problems facing Jurassic Park as a checklist. He believed that by mitigating each problem, he could control his park. But Isla Nublar descended into chaos not because of the failure of any one thing on the checklist, but because of a series of unforeseen and unexpected events across a range of issues. Dr. Malcolm’s warning had been plain: complexity increases unpredictability. What Guam and Jurassic Park Share Guam faces a similar problem with the military buildup. The buildup is reshaping Guam and is creating a system that in total is more complex than the list of mitigation strategies it identifies in the EIS.

The dinosaurs on Jurassic Park started eating people only after a series of things of things went wrong: A tropical storm muddied roads at the same time a disgruntled employee was attempting a theft; a flawed security system; computer systems without backups, and, of course, the ability of the dinosaurs to override genetic controls to limit their reproduction. All these things combined to cripple the park.

The EIS doesn’t, and can’t, consider how all the things it seeks to accomplish will interact and what new risks will emerge for Guam.

The Fictional 'No Action Alternative'

Buildup opponents believe that the sum total of the changes the military will bring to the island’s infrastructure, environment and culture, will be too much for the island to bear. But the government has not responded to their concern because it can’t. The EIS doesn’t look at the buildup as a connected system of enormous complexity. Instead, it addresses one issue at a time. The comment responses make that clear.

In its summary of the 10,000 comments about the buildup, the EIS doesn’t recognize, as a category, those who oppose the buildup, the fictional “no action alternative.” The military's planners are as blind and as arrogant as Hammond.

But even in its piecemeal, checklist approach to Guam's future, the EIS analysis can be horribly lame.

John, the kind of control you're attempting is not possible. If there's one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free. It expands to new territories. It crashes through barriers. Painfully, maybe even .. dangerously, but and ... well, there it is. – Malcolm.
A revealing aspect of the EIS is how it reports the buildup's expected population impact. For instance, it estimates that in 2012 “dependents of off-island workers” will number 11,184. Why didn’t the EIS round-off its estimate and provide, as well, an estimated range? (Vol. 1, page 44).

The EIS Uses False Precision to Disguise its Fictions

The intent of precise population figures may be to give the impression to Guam that the EIS planners really know what they are doing, when all they may be doing is masking their uncertainty about the actual impact.

And does anyone really know, for instance, what impact 18,000 or so foreign laborers will have on Guam – a population increase of 10% alone? No.

The EIS talks about the need for recreational activities for foreign workers, cultural sensitivity training and organized outings, but it can’t imagine how those workers will interact with the local population, the environment, and how they may ultimately impact the island. The massive increase in population, not just from foreign labor, defines unpredictability.

The EIS's Failure

In 2000, Bill Joy, then chief scientist of Sun Microsystems, looked at the problem of complexity in an essay published in Wired, titled, Why the future doesn’t need us. One of the things he examined was the anti-technology argument raised by the so-called Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski.

The cause of many such surprises seems clear: The systems involved are complex, involving interaction among and feedback between many parts. Any changes to such a system will cascade in ways that are difficult to predict; this is especially true when human actions are involved.

The difference between problems Joy described and what the buildup will do for Guam, is not a reach. Guam is an island, a world to itself with limited resources, fragile on many levels, and with an environment that is completely interconnected.

Guam is now about to be rearranged by the U.S. government, which has prepared what is at best a grocery list of changes. But the EIS does not know how the buildup will change Guam and what new risks may emerge out of all the changes it will bring. The EIS does not prepare Guam for what’s ahead.

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