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What do the BP oil gusher, bad cyber security and bad customer service have in common? May 27, 2010

Posted by Jim Satterfield in bad news, Business & Society, Environment, The Internet, Uncategorized.
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A certain mindset in most of American business, that’s what. Basically what it comes down to is a categorization of people, departments and activities as either contributing directly to the bottom line or not directly contributing. And if you don’t contribute directly then you are second class in the company at best. This leads to a strong drive to cut costs when it comes to second class activities and people. Computer security falls into this class of lesser being, unlike production programmers or the people who keep the network running. People in charge of trying to meet safety regulations are also lesser beings in the socio-economic hierarchy of businesses. Customer service is definitely viewed purely as a cost center that’s pretty worthless when it comes to actually generating income.

Then comes the breach of computer security. Then an oil well or drilling rig blows out, killing people and causing an environmental disaster. Then a well known blogger or someone else in the public eye starts griping about how bad your customer service has become and how angry it makes him. Then his readers chime in and link after link is made to his rant, making it a wide spread PR nightmare that even makes it into the mainstream media.

Let the finger pointing begin and all too rarely does anyone recognize that the core problem is a lack of understanding on the part of many executives that their business, like everything else in our complex world, has an infrastructure that it depends upon and that it isn’t just the stuff on the surface that is meaningful.


They Might Want to Think About Those Olympic Puff Pieces August 11, 2008

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Environment, International News, Technology.
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They were just doing a puff piece during the Olympics coverage that was oohing and ahh-ing over the Three Gorges Dam. But of course they didn’t mention some of the more negative aspects of it. The potential magnitude of the disaster it could cause is frightening.

Yes, AGW has Consequences August 8, 2008

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Climate Change, Environment, Science, Science & Society.
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One of the things you’ll hear repeated all too often by those who deny the existence of AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming), or “man-made” global warming is “Even if it is true, so what? What’s so bad about things being a little warmer?”. Well, here’s yet another bad thing about it. It just isn’t true that if the planet warms up a bit that it’s just going to give us warmer days in winter. Droughts. Floods. Storms. Extreme weather events will be more extreme and possibly more common. You’ll even see more snow in some places. That’s why the interior of Antarctica is seeing more snow and ice. But the coastal regions are another story entirely. It’s not all simple. It’s not all intuitive. But does have the potential to get really ugly in terms of how it will affect the human race.

Aircraft Fuel Efficiency February 17, 2008

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Climate Change, Environment, Technology.
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Snow day today, so to speak. Sipping coffee and reading the February issue of Popular Science. It has lots of stuff about airline fuel consumption and the search for more fuel efficiency and alternative fuels that would work for aircraft, an entirely different proposition than fuel for cars. One thing that struck me is a sidebar about the Boeing X-48B blended wing aircraft design that can be 23% more fuel efficient and why it won’t ever be a commercial passenger liner. Simply put, no one wants to fly in a passenger plane that doesn’t have windows in the passenger compartment and readily available emergency exits. Sort of reasonable. So current plans call for only military versions of the plane. But then I wondered just how many planes UPS, FedEx and other dedicated air freight carriers use. Aren’t there enough of them to form a fairly hefty niche by themselves? And if you’re building the craft for the military you should have the capability in place to build a civilian version even if it’s not going to the passenger carriers, shouldn’t you?

Here He Goes Again (Updated) February 16, 2008

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Climate Change, Environment, Government, The Bush Administration.
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While it’s true that we’re only stuck with the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania for another 11 months or so he hasn’t lost his ability to annoy. The amount of “say one thing and do another” that George W. Bush accomplishes is truly amazing. Here is a section this year’s SOTU.

To build a future of energy security, we must trust in the creative genius of American researchers and entrepreneurs and empower them to pioneer a new generation of clean energy technology. (Applause.) Our security, our prosperity, and our environment all require reducing our dependence on oil. Last year, I asked you to pass legislation to reduce oil consumption over the next decade, and you responded. Together we should take the next steps: Let us fund new technologies that can generate coal power while capturing carbon emissions. (Applause.) Let us increase the use of renewable power and emissions-free nuclear power. (Applause.) Let us continue investing in advanced battery technology and renewable fuels to power the cars and trucks of the future. (Applause.) Let us create a new international clean technology fund, which will help developing nations like India and China make greater use of clean energy sources. And let us complete an international agreement that has the potential to slow, stop, and eventually reverse the growth of greenhouse gases.

OTOH, here’s an analysis of what he actually proposed in the FY 2009 budget for energy. And then of course the funding for FutureGen was pulled with the only replacement being nothing but vague proposals. I’ll be so glad when Dubya’s gone. But the cleanup from the disaster that has been the Bush Administration will be long and difficult.

 Minor update: Just after I wrote this I ran across a Washington Post editorial about the funding cut for FutureGen.

Plan B is the Better Option Sometimes January 5, 2008

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Climate Change, Environment.
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Time Magazine reports on Lester Brown’s Plan B, an ambitious set of actions to be taken to attempt to control global warming. There’s lots to it and it would cost $190 billion a year. That amount is what would be spent globally, not just by the U.S. Sounds like a huge amount of money, doesn’t it? Of course the global annual military budget is $1.2 trillion, just to put some perspective on it. And the $190 billion has the potential to save us a lot more by mitigating effects of global warming that could cost a lot more.

A deal, a deal, they finally made a deal! Big whoop. December 1, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Business & Society, Climate Change, Environment, Government, Politics, Technology.
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Congress finally passed a compromise bill affecting auto mileage standards. Notice the finally part of that. Also notice that it was passed in spite of the automobile companies continued resistance. When you see the ads they run pretending to give a damn about the environment and mileage remember that. Also, when they say that it just isn’t technically feasible keep this guy in mind. It’s true that his full blown rebuilds aren’t economically feasible for anyone but the wealthy and that their cost would never be recovered in fuel savings. But it is also true that it puts the lie to the claims that there is no technology that exists to reduce mileage as drastically as we really need.

 Then there’s the research at MIT that would produce an engine that while more expensive than current ones would be much less expensive than hybrids. What I wondered about when reading this was whether in their savings calculations they accounted for the reduced weight of the smaller engine and reduction in supports needed for it in determining what it would do for gas mileage.

When it comes to innovations that would allow even further divergence from the old gas engine standard there’s the in-wheel motor that has different companies creating their own versions of it including Bridgestone, Mitsubishi and PML.

There’s lots of tech out there to do what Detroit is saying can’t be done. They apparently just don’t want to put forth the effort. There might be what they view as good reasons for doing it given their current financial problems but looking solely at the short term will do nothing to help guarantee their long term existence. Now in my opinion if there was a technology that was proven to produce major fuel efficiency improvements and they just couldn’t feasibly afford to retrofit their factories to produce it I wouldn’t have a problem with the government subsidizing that retrofit so long as the accounting was transparent. It would just do too much good for our country to not do so.

Blades are often double edged October 25, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Climate Change, Environment.
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An article in New Scientist is about a new study that says that the climate change models can just never be good enough to provide a precise prediction of how greenhouse gases will warm the earth. There are many other points of course, but a very cogent one is simply that those who oppose the idea of the existence of AGW and thereby the idea of government or industry putting forth any effort to do something about it will seize upon this study in order to boost their position.

But if you find yourself nodding in agreement with this idea because maybe, just maybe if this study is right it means that the effort could be better used towards other things as Bjorn Lomborg says we should do there are other things to consider. What you’ll never hear from the climate change skeptics, as they call themselves, is that the models could be wrong the other way as well. There is nothing in this study that shows that possible inaccuracies will only go one way. Things could be worse than the models predict. Given that they know it’s on the edge and unpredictable in terms of possible effects models don’t include things like methane releases from the thawing bogs of Siberia. They don’t include what could happen if the methane clathrate frozen in the ocean did thaw and release their potentially huge amounts of methane, that extremely effective greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Look both ways before crossing the street. Check both sides of sharp implements. Don’t be too accepting of arguments that if the climate models aren’t accurate it means that things will be better.

Move Along. Nothing to see here. October 25, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Climate Change, Environment, Science, Science & Society, Science & the Media.
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Global warming brings spring earlier in the year. There are those in the world who say that this must surely be a blessing. Well, maybe not so much. As this article on CNN points out, an earlier spring means a longer fire season in the American west. You know, that place that’s burning right now? Don’t worry, though, folks, Bjorn Lomborg has reassured us that there are worries much more pressing than global warming.

Another Thing to Doubt September 30, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Business & Society, Environment, Government.
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There are questions about whether the EPA is doing its job and if it is even capable of doing so since the agency currently has fewer investigators than the number called for by law. And that number is only 200 investigators for the entire country. The questions come about because of a drastic drop in prosecutions. According to the Washington Post article prosecutions, convictions and new investigations are all down by a third. From to the article:

The number of civil lawsuits filed against defendants who refuse to settle environmental cases was down nearly 70 percent between fiscal years 2002 and 2006, compared with a four-year period in the late 1990s, according to those same statistics.

“You don’t get cleanup, and you don’t get deterrence,” said Eric Schaeffer, who resigned as director of the EPA’s Office of Civil Enforcement in 2002 to protest the administration’s approach to enforcement and now heads the Environmental Integrity Project, a watchdog group. “I don’t think this is a problem with agents in the field. They’re capable of doing the work. They lack the political support they used to be able to count on, especially in the White House.”

Of course the management of the EPA says that everything’s OK. Nothing’s wrong. Move along. But…

The slower pace of enforcement mirrors a decline in resources for pursuing environmental wrongdoing. The EPA now employs 172 investigators in its Criminal Investigation Division, below the minimum of 200 agents required by the 1990 Pollution Prosecution Act, signed by President George H.W. Bush.

The actual number of investigators available at any time is even smaller, agents said, because they sometimes are diverted to other duties, such as service on EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson‘s eight-person security detail.

Johnson, President Bush‘s chief environmental regulator, foreshadowed a less confrontational approach toward enforcement when he served as the EPA’s top deputy in late 2004. “The days of the guns and badges are over,” Johnson told a group of farm producers in Georgia the day before Bush won reelection, according to a news account of the speech.

The counter-argument cites some statistics to prove that current policies are really very effective. But given what this Administration has done in terms of the environment and scientific research in other areas I’d really like to see a serious outside investigation before deciding whether things aren’t as bad as the Post article makes them look or if in fact it might be worse.