I’m at the Breakthrough Institute’s annual meeting across the bay from San Francisco, and that means its time for a trail run up in the hills above the Golden Gate Bridge. While I had a great run this year, it was bittersweet. Yesterday I learned of the passing of Kate Goldstein, who had just started to consult with us at Applied Minds. Kate died in an accident on a trip to India, where she was working on energy solutions for the local economy.
(I wrote the following note in preparation for a roundtable I’m participating in at the Breakthrough Institute’s annual Dialogue meeting.) The purpose of this note is to share an alternate perspective on the opportunity and role of environmental studies in undergraduate and graduate eduction. It is based on my work in industry, as well as various environmental science and policy activities. I have focused my notes on general environmental studies programs, separate of environmental science programs.
Whenever I see something a wildly create idea like the solar road idea, it renews my faith in the power of innovation and its potential to address our toughest sustainability problems. Given the number of people who sent me links to this project, the idea seems to have captured the imagination of a good number of folks. I’ll be up front: in the case of solar roads, I actually don’t believe that it will make sense to widely deploy them today (more on this at the end of this post).
If you’re an American you probably don’t spend much time thinking about where all of your data is stored. In reality it is probably spread across Gmail or some other email provider, Facebook, staples.com, your cell company, the Department of Motor Vehicles, etc, etc, etc. If someone you do business with got hacked or went out of business, you probably thought some about the impact of that situation. But US attitudes and behaviors towards data privacy suggest that it didn’t stop you from using other services that keep copies of your data wherever they choose to.
In August Mark Mill’s paper “The Cloud Begins with Coal” claimed that that the annual energy use of an iPhone exceeded that of a standard refrigerator. In my response I showed where his calculations were flawed, and that his claim didn’t hold up (a number of others also offered critiques). However, I also said that he made some important points about the energy cost of mobile data. About 10 days ago Mark published a rebuttal defending his original computation, and adding a new calculation that he claims supports his case.
Every so often over the last decade or so I’ve sensed a trend that I call “temporal exceptionalism”, or the view that right now is special, particularly related to weather events. This recurring idea that our storms are “historic” continues, even when data suggests the opposite, such as the recent state of hurricanes, floods, drought and tornadoes in the US. While we have had bad weather events in the US over the last decade, we’ve been fortunate to not have historically bad ones, or historically many at once.
In the last few weeks an idea has been making the rounds that, when you count all of the required networks and cloud services, your iPhone uses more electricity than your refrigerator. This idea was first presented in a publication called “The Cloud Begins with Coal” by Mark Mills, and was quickly followed up in with further analysis (and a different version of the calculation) by the Breakthrough Institute, “Bracing for the Cloud”.
In Concord, Mass, where we live, Patriots Day dawns with Samuel Prescott crossing the Old North Bridge on horseback to announce that the British are coming. Since early in the morning minutemen from neighboring towns, Acton, Bedford, Carlisle, Lincoln, and so on, have been walking towards Concord to join the Concord minutemen and British soldiers in a parade and ceremony. Even today the well-equipped and well-dressed British are in stark contrast to the small bands of minutemen in their 1770’s farm clothes.
In December I hit two milestones: turning 50, and running 1,000 miles in a year for the first time in a decade. These weren’t totally unrelated - a few years earlier I’d seen 50 coming and decided I better pick up the exercise again. I’d been running regularly since I was in junior high, I knew I could do it even with a hard travel schedule, and I like the thinking time that runs provided, so it was a natural sport to re-engage with.
Seth Godin had a great post today, “Eleven Things Companies Can Learn from Airports”, on some of the ways and reasons that airports are a horrible customer experience. I would add number 12: the organizations involved in the airport all have a fundamentally different measure of performance than you do as a customer. They care solely about bandwidth, and you care about latency. Their goal is to get as many people through the airport at lowest cost as possible.