Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Thai floods - microcosm of global climate change

Three years ago Corinne Kisner wrote ...

Climate Change Case Study: Thailand July 2008

... Climate change threatens all three important sectors of Thailand’s economy: agriculture, tourism, and trade...

... The effects of climate change, including higher surface temperatures, floods, droughts, severe storms and sea level rise, put Thailand’s rice crops at risk and threaten to submerge Bangkok within 20 years.  The damage to agriculture, coastal tourism, and the capital city as consequences of climate change will have enormous economic, cultural and environmental impacts: one degree of warming will destroy the rice crops that are central to the economy, and a few centimeters of sea level rise will submerge the capital city and devastate coastal tourism...

Today Cringely reviews some of the impacts of the 2011 Thailand floods ...

I, Cringely » Blog Archive » Intel is fit to be Thai’d - Cringely on technology

... The industrial park that’s sitting underwater still in Thailand will be out of action for at least four months, I’m told, and possibly as long as 12 months. And what happens then? Why another monsoon, of course!  The flooded industrial park, built in an old rice paddy on a historic flood plain with little added drainage will go under water during the next big storm, too.

The hard disks manufactured in the flooded region are nearly all 3.5-inch drives, so those will be most immediately affected. Since 2.5-inch drives are in ascendancy with 1.8-inch almost out of business and 3.5-inch in decline, the global product mix is likely to change even more, with 3.5-inch drives possibly reaching end-of-life earlier than expected.

But wait, there’s more!  Among the Thai plants currently under water is a Western Digital factory that makes 80 percent of hard drive stepper spindle motors in the world. So while the 3.5-inch drive supply will be most immediately affected, 30-60 days later every other type of drive will be in as short supply...

Are these the floods Kisner predicted? I don't know of course. In 1981 I remember wading through Bangkok's PraduNaam (water/fish market) on the way to the office. The city has flooded before. Thailand will flood again.

Still, this is what we expect -- bigger events happening more often. Most people, however, didn't expect the world supply of computer components to be restricted. Thailand has come a long way since I lived there.

What lessons can we learn? What lessons are technology companies learning?

They're learning that in the "whitewater world" risk has to be distributed. Manufacturing cannot be concentrated in one region, one country, or even one climate zone. We will have to learn redundancy and flexibility. The companies that learn that first will have a large competitive advantage.

Today is a good day to have a functioning disk drive factory.

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