Almost two years ago I wrote about the potential effect on telecommuting of reduced oil prices. The point was that cheap oil might spur more private auto use for commuting, thereby reducing demand for telecommuting — a new telecommuting oil crisis. Let’s see how things have turned out so far.
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.
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.)
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.
As the “unseasonal” cold snaps and blizzards continue in parts of the US—and as other parts experience unseasonal warmth—the evidence keeps coming in that global warming is real. And largely a result of our burning fossil fuels.
To celebrate this clear trend the European Union, once a leader in the struggle to reduce greenhouse emissions, is having second thoughts. It seems that the fight against global warming is bad for business; Europe may be losing its competitiveness, according to the Financial Times. Continue reading What global warming? Part 2
The favorite retort by many of us in the midwest or eastern US in the past few weeks has been: “What global warming? I’m surrounded by icicles!” Others of us, such as in the southwest (and much of Russia), have been sweltering in temperatures dozens of degrees above normal. The key to understanding all of this is to remember that weather is not climate. The polar vortex is not all there is, even when it’s errant. For some explanation see this from the Weather Channel.
Yet all this recent weird weather does allow us to crow: “Telecommuters do it at home! They don’t need to go out in all that snow, ice and slush. When disaster strikes we can deal with it (unless the power goes out too).”
This week President Obama announced his plans for outflanking Congress with regard to global warming by implementing a series of executive orders that don’t need congressional approval. Foremost among these orders is one that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to require caps on the carbon emissions of power plants. Coal burning power plants produce roughly 40% of the global-warming CO2 produced by the United States (and possibly a larger proportion of the CO2 produced by China, a country outside the jurisdiction of the EPA).
The reaction by the coal industry? Shock if not awe. The immediate responses of that industry tended to be focused on the jillions of jobs that would be lost by coal miners, operators of the forecast-to-be-shut-down coal-fired power plants, small businesses that would be adversely affected by the higher costs of plants using alternative energy sources and so on down the impact-chain of dominoes. Free-market war is about to be declared: the carbon requirers versus the carbon eschewers.
In mid-May the atmospheric carbon dioxide measurement at Mauna Loa in Hawaii hit 400 parts per million (ppm). The scientists of the world (at least 95% of them) have declared that 450 ppm is the point where it may cause the atmosphere to warm to at least 2° Celsius, to the point where it was 3 million years ago (when sea levels were 75 feet higher). That, according to many forecasts, could produce many serious climate change events such as extra strength hurricanes and tornadoes—like the one that leveled parts of Moore, Oklahoma last week—not to mention inundation of all low-lying coastal areas.
Yet, apart from the immediate victims of these catastrophic events, most of us are blithely unconcerned about the omens such disruptions represent. It reminds me of the old fable about the frog in a pan of water. Continue reading Passing 400 on the way to the frog test
I have commented in the past about the ability of telework to mitigate the effects of disasters but hurricane Sandy gives a new twist to the issues. Most of the disasters that occur in places like California tend to be of the earthquake variety. The central effect of earthquakes is that ruptures in land surface break roads, bridges, and highways, with the disruptions lasting sometimes for months or even years at a time. Yet the information infrastructure—the telephone network, Internet and electrical power networks—tends to survive the earthquake or is quickly repairable. In these cases organizations that telework can continue operations with no or few interruptions. This is generally the case in non-earthquake related disasters as well, including blizzards, floods and fires where the roads may be blocked but the information infrastructure is intact.
However, in the case of disasters like major hurricanes and floods the situation can get a little more complicated. Continue reading Telework, disasters, and how to overcome them
I’m writing this as Hurricane Sandy is drenching and/or flooding the East Coast of the United States. It’s an appropriate time to wonder why, just a week before the vote in this very heated and close presidential campaign, neither of the contenders has mentioned climate change in any recent speeches or debates. Well that’s not exactly the case, Pres. Obama did discuss climate change in a recent interview by Sway Calloway, a reporter from MTV.
Still, I should point out that most reference to the problems of climate change by either contender have been indirect at best. Pres. Obama explains that this is simply because no one has asked him about climate change in any of the recent debates. Governor Romney, on the other hand, seems to feel that the human-engendered part of climate change is a hoax perpetrated by liberals meaning to somehow penalize the coal and oil industries. Continue reading Sandy, climate change, politics and telecommuting