Sustainability apparently means different things to different people. Fundamentally, sustainability refers to the ability of the human race to survive into the indefinite future. The crux of the sustainability dilemma is the tension between what we want to do and what Mother Nature allows us to do while remaining on Earth. I would like to summarize and expand upon an article that appeared recently in Nature Sustainability. The article’s title is “A good life for all within planetary boundaries”. It was produced by a team from the Sustainability Research Institute of the University of Leeds, UK and the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change, Berlin, Germany.
The fundamental constraint on sustainability derives from the fact that we’re stuck here on Mother Earth, therefore we must take pretty good care of her if we are to be around very long. What Mother provides us is breathable air, potable water, arable soil, sources of energy and a variety of raw materials that we can make into useful products. The fundamental constraint on “the good life” is our ability to realize at least a minimum level of health and other human needs. The researchers for the paper quoted above described this as the ability of humanity to stay within a doughnut; the inner boundary of the doughnut comprises the human needs requirements while the outer boundary comprises the constraints imposed by nature.
Continue reading The sustainability dilemma: will we make it?
In June I posted a piece about global warming. The focus was on the role that methane could play in accelerating the warming process. On 23 August 2017 the New York Times published an article about the disappearance of permafrost in Alaska. The article, by Henry Fountain, begins with this:
The Arctic is warming about twice as fast as other parts of the planet, and even here in sub-Arctic Alaska the rate of warming is high. Sea ice and wildlife habitat are disappearing; higher sea levels threaten coastal native villages.
Continue reading Global Warming, Part 2
The media have frequent stories about one aspect or other regarding global warming. What they often don’t do is discuss the tradeoffs; the rocks and the hard places on the path to a livable and sustainable climate. The problem with all these bits and pieces of information is that, while we are discussing them, the climate is changing — mostly for the worse — while we continue to be locked in unproductive discussion. The climate clock is ticking whether or not we’re paying attention. I’ve written about this before, here and here, but now it’s time to expand on those ideas.
An article by Andreas Goldthau in the 8 June 2017 issue of (paywall) Nature covers many of the main rocks and hard places. Its emphasis is on the role of the G20 nations plus China in approaching the solution. Here’s a summary of it with my own comments.
Continue reading Global Warming: The rocks and the hard places
Way back in the distant past, the early 1970s, as I was trying to focus my thoughts on telecommuting, telemedicine kept appearing as one of the options. Assessing the future of telemedicine by testing it was one of my research team’s initial set of possibilities. But the complexities of dealing with the medical establishment — and the fact that we had a very limited research budget — led us to focus on more accessible business operations; the insurance company we used as our first test site.
The basic concept for both telework and telemedicine is the same: Where and how is it possible to use information technology to couple expensive/scarce resources with human needs? In the case of telemedicine the resources — physicians and some health care personnel together with their support equipment and facilities — can be both scarce and expensive. Those in need of the sort of care they provide must often travel great distances to get from home to the facilities, face fees beyond their capacity, or go without. The prospect is daunting!
Continue reading Telemedicine: Its Future Beckons
A little more than a decade ago I wrote an article in jala.com on the potential impact of the declining oil supply on promoting telework. The piece focused on the so-called Hubbert Curve that shows the history of increasing — and potential future of declining — global oil production: the Peak Oil problem. The 2005 version of that discussion pointed out one possible future, as shown here. That was Peak Oil 1.0.
Continue reading Peak Oil 2.0, the new look
When my research team first started working on telecommuting in the mid-1970s there was no such term as “millennials”. Now it seems that millennials may have a large part in the “rescue” of telecommuting. Let me explain.
Continue reading Millennials to the rescue?
Over the years I have often said that telecommuting is like a tide, not a tidal wave, when asked why telecommuting is not an overnight sensation. Imperceptible, perhaps, but sure. Yes, the telecommuting tide is rising steadily, as it has been for years. Witness an opinion column by Robin Rauzi in the 2 March 2016 edition of the Los Angeles Times in which she writes:
Labor statistics show telecommuting on the rise. In 2010 9.5% of employees worked from home at least once a week, and high-speed Internet connectivity has made that easier since then. (Ever wonder why traffic is the worst on Thursdays? That’s the day people are least likely to work from home.)
Continue reading The tide is rising
In the January 27, 2016 issue of the Los Angeles Times, the front page headline was: Billions spent, but fewer people are using public transportation in Southern California This reminded me of the growing transit troubles dilemma: despite government spending billions (by now trillions) of dollars on mass transit projects in the United States there’s little to show for it. But first a little history.
Continue reading Transit Troubles — again
The recent Paris accords on global warming marked a milestone: the end of the beginning. Finally most nations agreed that global warming is real, is man-made, and that they are responsible for doing something about it.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that the pledges made to reduce greenhouse gases go only about half-way to solving the problem. Worse, their pledges are only to try to make things better. That is, fingers crossed behind their respective backs. Still, they did undertake to provide an annual, transparent assessment of their individual progress toward reducing greenhouse gases. This way the slackers can allegedly suffer the disapprobation of the high achievers.
Continue reading Global warming: the end of the beginning
Over the past few months the global energy situation has made some significant shifts. One of the potentially most far reaching of these is the drop in oil prices. Last Thursday, after Opec decided to continue pumping its oil at the same rate as it had been doing, oil prices hit a four-year low of just over $71 per barrel. The reason is that the availability of oil exceeds the demand for it; Economics 101. America’s greatly increased oil production, largely from shale, is clearly distorting the market by adding to that surplus availability. Our previous forecasts of hitting the absolute peak of oil production have to be modified.
For some stakeholders in energy this situation is an oil bonanza; for others it is an oil crisis. For commuters worldwide the lower price at the gas pump is a gift, an incentive to buy a new gas guzzler rather than a hybrid or an electric car, to increase the rate of global warming. For those of us trying to persuade people to telecommute this situation feels like a new oil crisis. High oil prices supposedly help encourage individuals to telecommute. Will low oil prices act to discourage telecommuting? Here is some history.
Continue reading Is telecommuting facing a new oil crisis?