Intermingling Risks

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Richard Maltzman
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Today, I’m going to go a little bit ‘science-y’ on you, but it has a payoff in terms of understanding risks – and project, program, and portfolio managers must know how to deal with risk.   This post has its roots in a recent article from Nature magazine, “Climate change and overfishing increase neurotoxicant in marine predators” (Schartup et al).

Three billion people rely on seafood for nutrition, and billions of others have it as part of their diet. But this comes with a risk – consumption of methylmercury (MeHg). Mercury from natural and human-produced sources goes into the ocean, to the tune of 80%   Microorganisms convert this mercury (Hg) to MeHg, and in predatory fish such as tuna and swordfish, the MeHg concentrations are amplified a million times or more.  People are thus exposed to MeHg in high concentrations, and that is not good. MeHg causes neurocognitive in children, a problem that can persist into adulthood. This costs society, not only in the suffering of families but also in monetary terms – with the costs estimated to be over $20B.

So here’s the connection to project management.  Although “seafood” is not a project, nor is “fishing”, the increased presence of MeHg is clearly a threat.   Nations have responded to this threat with the Minamata Convention on Mercury, in 2017.

You can learn about the Minimata Convention here from the video below.

 Is your country a signatory?  Colombia just signed a few days ago.  Check that out here:

As project managers, we importantly check risk response to see if it is effective and/or if other actors or effects.  This is a critical process because risk is dynamic, and sometimes risk responses even generate new (secondary) threats.

Here, the scientists studying MeHg looked at the effects of overfishing and climate change on MeHg concentrations in fish.  What they found, using over 30 years of data analytics, showed that overfhishing of Atlantic Cod caused a 23% increase, and rising temperatures caused by climate change have caused a 56% increase in MeHg in Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (ABFT) (see Figure below – source is Nature Magazine, Volume 572, August 2019).

In the chart on the bottom right, you can see that MeHg levels have gone UP, despite the reduction in the amount of mercury in the ecosystem (that lower amount resulting from the Minamata Convention), and that those increases are in alignment with seawater temperature increases.

The bottom line is that ocean warming and fisheries management will be key factors in modulating the threat of MeHg in our diet.   It turns out that the quantity of this neurotoxicant is not limited only to the depositing of mercury in the oceans, it’s about the ocean “as a system” (See figure below) and the way that this system processes mercury, and how other effects – to which we contribute – change the concentrations.

This is only one example of how human activity can complicate and exacerbate other problems, and the takeaway for project managers is to understand how risks intermingle and interact.

Think of the risks in your project(s).  Have you stepped back and considered how they interact?


Posted by Richard Maltzman on: September 22, 2019 03:59 PM | Permalink

Comments (4)

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Very interesting, thanks for sharing

Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

Excellent presentation. Very good & relevant examples. Thank you!

Very interesting post thank you!

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