October 2022 marks the 49th anniversary of the coining of the words telework and telecommuting. The occasion was the receipt of a grant from the National Science Foundation to my research team at the University of Southern California. The title of the grant was: “Development of Policy on the Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff”. My fellow researchers included professors Paul Gray from the Graduate School of Business Administration; Rick Carlson from the School of Engineering; and Gerry Hanneman from the Annenberg School of Communication.
Our overall objective was to see, in a real-world setting, whether running a dispersed workforce interconnected by telecommunications and computer technology, could be made practical. Our test laboratory was the west coast division of a major national insurance company. We ran an active test for several months and, on its completion, decided that our objective had been met and the test was a success. We wrote a report of the project to the National Science Foundation in 1974 and, with John Wiley & Sons in New York, published a book on it in 1976 titled “The Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff: Options for Tomorrow”.
Summertime is here. In many places it’s here with a vengeance. Heat waves are roasting Europe and North America. It’s clearly time to consider telework in summertime. Here are some comments.
Britain breaks heat records
In mid-July British authorities published “red” heat warnings for the first time ever. An overheated Summertime. Temperatures reached 100F in London, the Midlands, the south of the UK and Wales. Records were broken in several cities.
Now, for Texans, this doesn’t sound too unusual but consider the infrastructure in the UK. Houses and offices are built to retain heat not get rid of it. Ditto for subways. Neither are adapted to hot summers. Consequently the traditional commute to/from work is enervating as is much time spent in an non-airconditioned office.
Now that Summer has arrived in the Northern hemisphere it’s time to check the changes in global warming since COP26. It seems that the answer is: very little change, most of it negative. The promises I wrote about in April last year are still mostly promises. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere continues to steadily rise. One new factor has altered the future for the worse: the war in Ukraine.
What follows is a sorry summary of recent events, their consequences and some opportunities.
In my blog titled: Climate change: thoughts on the options, almost a year ago, I wrote about the implications of climate change for our future. That blog was based on the 2018 release of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) report. Well, according to the latest IPCC report, the future is coming faster than we thought – at least in the sense that our time to make changes is shrinking.
Today I had an iMessage exchange with my astute grand-niece about climate change, ending up with thoughts about change dynamics. This was triggered by her comment that she was confined to the house because of the miserable air quality in Seattle. Now Seattle is not one of the places that frequently comes up in discussions of air quality. Yet, for the second time this week, Seattle’s air quality was comparable to Beijing’s (112 vs. 151 today; a few days ago Seattle was more polluted than Beijing).
The reason for this? Forest fires in British Columbia and smoke therefrom drifting down to Seattle. Advice to all, but especially to women of childbearing age: Stay indoors!! This is what was annoying my grand-niece. It is also what is annoying many women around the world as global warming aids in the ignition of forest fires. The west coast of North America has had a disastrous fire season so far this year, attributable to climate change.
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.
Despite all our sage advice the world, at least the United States, seems intent on accelerating our race to the climate cliff. It’s well past time to put on the brakes. For example, energy and climate notes that:
In the 1990s, the transportation sector saw the fastest growth in carbon dioxide emissions of any major sector of the U.S. economy. And the transportation sector is projected to generate nearly half of the 40% rise in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions forecast for 2025.3
Congratulations all you movers. Transportation finally is producing more greenhouse gases than coal-fired power plants. As my mother used to say to me when I was a sprout: Stop moving around so much!
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.
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.