Managing the Incomprehensible
The Troublesome Business of Really Getting Started
The Organizational Challenge
Human endeavors of large scope seem to reveal similar, general qualities as they approach their solutions. Men have accomplished these remarkable undertakings all through history, but as we review their efforts from the comfort of our present moment, we inevitably arrive at certain “suggestions.” Why didn’t the Spanish Armada work a little longer on food preservation before its ambitious attack on England? Why weren’t certain improvements in the technology for moving the huge stones of the pyramids apparent once the work started?
Moving forward in the more recent development of human technology, we can actually see several, more modern cases where organization was far more directed and effective. General Eisenhower’s invasion of Europe was modeled in his headquarters as an almost incomprehensibly large discrete task model, an example of what we would, today, refer to as a “PERT” or a “critical path management network.” President Kennedy’s ambition for a moon landing formalized and materialized itself in much the same way.
The point here is simple. For the invasion or for the moon landing, there were to be two separate models at play. The first was what could be called a “primary” model, that is, a model dealing with real aspects of the material task at hand. The second called, of course, the “secondary” model dealing explicitly with the tasks of communicating the “primary” model to those who would authorize, fund or participate in its execution.
The expenditures for either the invasion or the moon landing were immense. A huge block of material wealth was inescapably necessary for the success of both. The “higher ups” who would finally authorize General Eisenhower’s undertaking needed to be convinced that someone, somewhere had actually thought out every possible part of the plan. Kennedy’s moon landing, naturally, also included many unknowns along with its incredible price tag. If such an undertaking were to finally emerge as a “doable” project, the whole plan would require a very convincing and reassuring map to its final success.
To again emphasize the point here, large undertakings require a plan which can elicit sufficient confidence from those in authority such that they can reasonably assign massive wealth to its execution.
Various forms of such authority exist in our modern world. In our specific case, that is, within the United States, it is an elected authority which carries the constant burden of being reelected. The electors, among many other things, are taxpayers who will ultimately provide the massive wealth to be expended to accomplish such large undertakings. Voters here enjoy the power to judge the effectivity of their leaders as these great projects advance.
For example, our contemporary project in Iraq has been criticized in many aspects by the electorate of the nation, yet the most tangible criticism, that is, the criticism bearing the greatest weight, has slowly migrated toward this war’s cost/value qualities. Significant effort has been directed at this electorate to validate claims both of the durable nature of its necessity and the material progress in its execution.
The apparent “facts on the ground” of the war have gradually eroded its initial appearance as a “good project.” There is a notable suspicion among this electorate that certain deceptions in both progress and necessity have been in play. The important feature of this phenomenon to be considered here does not deal with the material value of the war or its progress, but rather with the continuing commitment of its “wealth providers” to the assignment of their resources for its completion.
The large projects of Eisenhower and Kennedy included all sorts of the inevitable “stumbles” which might mark the executions of their projects as suspicious. Yet, these famous projects survived these embarrassments to reach their completion. History’s treatment of our endeavors in Iraq will provide its own judgment of its effectivity and efficiency. The success of the Eisenhower’s invasion and Kennedy’s moon landing differed in significant ways from the Iraq (or Vietnam) project in three important areas:
- At the time of their initiation a thoughtful, sincere and convincing model of feasibility was presented. Based on this model, the assignment of resources made good sense to those with the responsibility to go ahead and commit, and this assignment could be presented to the wealth providers as one with both a reasonable risk and an acceptable probability of success.
- The stakes, that is, the final value, of the completed project were successfully communicated to the source of the resources involved, the voters. The ownership of the goal of the project was available and accepted by those who would, ultimately, pay the bill. The decision makers enjoyed the confidence of this constituency because they were considered sincere and reliable.
- The decision makers categorized the trust and support of this constituency as one of the tangible resources which would be committed to the project. Of course there would be the consumption of great material resources, but there would also be the investment (and “consumption”) of the essential trust of those who would supply these resources.
Neither Eisenhower’s invasion nor Kennedy’s moon landing were presented as plans relying on any sort of helter-skelter, moment by moment management concept. Of course, there were risks originating from unknown and unforeseen obstacles, but such risks were limited by these rather extensive and reassuring, preliminary planning models. The resources required to plan at this level were, in one sense, an investment by the leadership to harness the greatest possible confidence of the tax paying voters, and hence, their constituent support.
European invasions and moon landings could not be sold to a skeptical taxpayer if there were too much “blue sky” remaining in their respective plans. The serious immensity of the resources to be committed required plans which would enjoy the confidence of the taxpayers. This confidence could not be a one-time affair, either. It would need to be both resilient and durable in times of the inevitable setbacks and generally constant and continual at all other periods.
Now, having considered these past examples of large projects, we are ready to think about our next large project.
The Present Condition of the Global Warming Project
The three considerations noted above provide a reasonable measure for the evaluation of this next large project. Rather than a detailed examination of the technical aspects of this project, that is, the details of its “primary” model, we will direct our attention to the challenges in its “secondary” model.
The actual substance of the project will, inevitably, become a matter for those dedicated to specific solutions, that is, inventors, ecologists, lawmakers, economists and other specialists. These will be the sources for the new ideas and innovations of all sorts which will finally address the problem. All this work will be the focus of solving the “primary” model of Global Warming.
So, where are those leaders comparable to history’s Eisenhower and Kennedy in this picture? Surely, we can’t think that the General was ever perched at the blackboard with a dusty chalk in his hand, jotting down the details of managing an invasion of Europe. Likewise, it is unlikely that President Kennedy ever called Houston with an idea to use a 3/8 inch bolt instead of a 1/4 inch on some connection in the Apollo capsule.
These men were “secondary” model managers. Their remarkable contributions dealt exclusively with risk management, adherence to a projects’ principal objectives and communication with the resource providers. What exactly did they do to shepherd these giant projects to a successful completion? What will be the comparable tasks required to deliver a solution to Global Warming?
Current Possibilities to Educate the Electorate
Every project is designed to provide a feasible solution to a quantifiable problem. When the problem is exceedingly large, its quantification becomes even more important. Failure in this aspect of problem evaluation invites unexpected difficulties which can range from minor irritations to massive project threatening miscalculations.
In the case of our current project to solve Global Warming, this evaluation is checkered with every sort of suspect component. The protection of existing industries, especially when they are economically well armed for such protection, can seriously challenge any design which might require their participation. The cultural inertia of massive habits which might need to be either modified or outrightly sacrificed by the exact constituency whose support is essential, presents an almost inevitably contradictory starting point. The ambitions of those who have an appetite for personal enhancement based on work either not relevant or not constructive will present persuasive, or even compelling, arguments for parts of the assigned resources. Then there will also be what we may consider unabashed, criminal greed.
An effective, empirical solution to an immediate, empirical challenge will not include measures designed to indulge these non-constructive elements. This fact makes the management of the “secondary” model even more complex. Yes, the initial evaluation of the project model may well include the political equivalent of “reaching across the aisle,” but that “reaching” will have to be for something necessary and useful, not for the allocation of project resources in efforts to lubricate elements of resistance or silence problematic voices. In particular, this will mean those elements of resistance or problematic voices which have already prepared themselves with schemes to either benefit at the project’s expense or simply waste project resources without any sort of benefit beyond their “fifteen minutes of fame.”
Forming the Team: Enlisting the Tax Payers
How will such issues be judged in a way that reassures the taxpayer? That reassurance will not be possible in the absence of an understandable and acceptable evaluation of the problem. This initial evaluation business is “growing legs of its own!” Establishing the scope of the Global Warming project is agonizingly similar to the old adage of “herding cats.”
Nonetheless, without the support of the tax paying constituency this project to solve Global Warming will not get off the ground. These taxpayers have learned that very few government projects are executed with an efficiency credible enough to warrant their enthusiastic support. It is no mystery that even the most idealistic projects undertaken by the government must first run the “gauntlet” of special, influential (alleged) capitalists who have no intentions other than the illicit extraction of tax money through every arcane mechanism imaginable.
If this is the case, this process leaves the initial project, and its funding, as an unwanted aside. The goals of the project become no more than a minor irritation which must be endured by these “capitalists” as they go about their real business of harvesting tax money. Outright bribery is actually not very common. On the other hand, cleverly disguised campaign contributions, exquisitely overpriced purchases which elude the bidding process, deeply camouflaged agreements or trade-offs (“You scratch my back…”) And finely seasoned “pork” projects habitually plague every good idea. Yes, we may accomplish these goals, but we will pay for them with dollars which have been reduced by a third or a half in this, more or less, normal accounting attrition.
Huge projects typically fare better than smaller ones as they pass through this phenomenon. By “fare better” is meant that the take represents a smaller percentage, although, of course, not a smaller dollar figure. In fact, with the extraction of a smaller percentage in this redistribution, these large projects often proceed with a greater effectivity, that is, a greater percentage of allocated resources materially applied to the task. In strictly the number of dollars which will be redirected to these “non-project” funds, large projects corrupted at a lower percentage still provide larger dollar amounts to the perpetrators.
All this complaining is nothing new. What is new, and quite central, with respect to the Global Warming project is the monumental size of its shocking cost. Corruption at its usual percentages has, in the past, created very wealthy individuals and families. If those percentages prevail in a project the size of solving Global Warming, it will found literal dynasties where each one holds wealth greater than many nations.
We will discuss this challenge more when we address its solution. In the meantime, we will look at additional challenges. Bear in mind that all these difficulties, although certainly part of the project’s substance, represent inflammatory dangers with respect to its essential public acceptance.
What strategy will attract a willing taxpayer support? Two pictures will be presented. The first will be the picture expressing the reality of the problem. The second will be the picture founding the feasibility of the proposed solution. Both are critically necessary, yet both are incredibly vulnerable to the very skepticism and cynicism which remain so strong after previous projects. The tax base has learned from experience.
We have not only jeopardized the future of our planet, we have also undercut the critically necessary confidence that our government structures can meet the challenge. We begin this great effort with a tool box filled with dull, rusty tools! The “tools” necessary to accomplish this project represent a wide variety of national, cultural features such as our educational effectivity, our media perception, our cultural psychology (hopefulness) and, of course, our political trust. Each one of these tools could be in better shape at the outset of this work.
Perhaps the most striking of these opportunities missed (re: the condition of the “tools”) concerns the current state of our media. Specious excuses that the interests of the viewers determines the treatment of the news offers little comfort. We are preparing to ask an ill-informed, suspicious media consuming population to voluntarily accept great sacrifices, but the trust of those who will answer such a call has been seriously injured by the dishonorable habits of a media which has consistently, at least recently, shown only its worst side. No logical indulgence to these bad habits of news management can exonerate such an irresponsible view of media obligations. The rehabilitation of consumer confidence in the news coverage, at least for this project, will become another task required for its completion, possibly even for its initiation!
In what way can the media be criticized for such an impaired reputation? To begin, we encounter the first ill effects of the anecdotes. These are the interesting but rather deceptively isolated news accounts of starving polar bears, droughts in Africa, unruly hurricanes and calving polar ice fields. Of course, they are not deceptive in the context of the news stories they contain, but their anecdotal qualities lend themselves very well to a lingering attitude of underestimating, or even outrightly discrediting, the larger scope of Global Warming. Once we disabuse ourselves of these interesting little junkets and look for the larger picture, the impact scope of Global Warming will have an opportunity to present itself in a different light.
Once illuminated this way, the new view will be one of terror.
This horrifying feed stock will become the main engine of those in charge of presenting the project’s “secondary” model. Had the media been performing at a better level, this step to actual reality might have been much less disruptive. Now, the gap between the image of the project cultivated with the presentation of these anecdotes and the actuality of the challenge is too great for a single, catastrophic correction. Media management will, once again, become an essential part of the project, only this time that management will be coercing an unreliable media toward greater reliability, an unusual development after decades of pandering to all sorts of framing and other subjective propaganda missions in the service of those with influence.
The media anecdote pattern extends beyond these snippets about the environment. Great efforts have been made on the part of the editors of those cryptic stories we see on the news. Somehow, they have perceived the importance of — anecdotally — presenting all sorts of things in media messages that gradually reinforce other destructive messages in their viewing audience. Many of these will be players in the project to solve Global Warming.
One good example deals with our economy. Recall carefully whether or not anyone in authority ever presented the cash plan for the Iraq war. This would have been a frank evaluation of cost, coupled with a serious plan to pay it. Of course, there were the flippant myths of credulous economy at the very beginning, but those fell apart, credibility-wise, within a few months. These propaganda guesses that it would amount to a mere twenty, or fifty, billion dollars, tastefully ceased before the trillion dollar talk began.
Fortunately for the purveyors of these sinister myths, the economic anecdotes of the media were already in place. In this case the favorite was that, as a simple citizen and tax payer, one could not possibly make sense out of any economic model, no matter how simplified it might be.
Is this too aggressive a stance to take when looking at this? Hardly. The facts of the matter are unavoidably grave now that the, so to speak, “cat has been let out of the bag!” What exactly is described by this anecdote business? How does it work? First, the cost of things can be estimated in any manner expeditious to garnering public opinion. Second, no matter how optimistic or outrageously incorrect these first, persuasive estimates might be, the story can be dropped, comfortably covered by the anecdotally reinforced acceptance of the fact that the tax payers could not really understand the complexities of its actual economy.
As mere citizens, we have been carefully trained to accept the incomprehensibility of other things. We can’t understand the disparity between our preliminary perception and the later, actual reconstruction of New Orleans. We can’t understand why five hundred page bills of legislation, titled one thing, actually turn out to mean almost the opposite. We can’t understand the utterly ineffectual outcomes of highborn, altruistic aid we send to other countries. Darn, it all seemed to make so much sense at the beginning.
Should these and other anecdotal mouse traps of public opinion be responsibly reported, we, of course, could understand them. When they are presented as unrealistic, optimistic flashes, then dropped from sight, we take morbid comfort in not having to hear about actual results. The acceptance of the inevitable outcome of our suspicions is buffered when we are never faced with the facts of such an outcome! This is the media training we have received. It makes it not only possible, but even reasonable, to accept whimsical anecdotes as a full explanation of outcomes, never any comprehensive criticism of the whole picture.
These modern habits will need to be rehabilitated if we aspire to meet the economic and legislative challenge of Global Warming. Can you imagine a report from such an effort, perhaps somewhere around the ten trillion dollar mark, amounting to no more than a short interview with a farmer in Iowa? “By golly, it does seem to be a little cooler than it was back when they started!”
Managing the Impact of Media Sobriety
Deceptive management of media might possibly be acceptable in the case of compelling national security interests, but it is now casually applied to reelection campaigns, public works expenditures, military procurement costs and even shadowy corruption which depletes our resources in far away lands. There is a salient difference between these projects which can bear implications of such improprieties with impunity and the massive scope of the Global Warming initiative. The ones which seem to effortlessly survive the loss of “a little here and a little there” are both small and brief.
Whatever bad taste is generated by these poorly reported indulgences passes with the project in a few months or years. In no time, the electorate has seemingly forgotten and forgiven thanks to news presented as anecdote rather than substance. The next “bright shiny project,” already inescapably contaminated with the same force-weakening corruption, arises and appeals for a new electoral support. And, it is given without a second thought once presented as another shaded media blitz.
As tough as we are, these continuing insults to our economic common sense seem to become the inevitable aspects of the “way we do business.” Can they ever be any better than “inevitable?” The answer had better be “yes.” The Global Warming project will be too large and too expensive for our acceptance of anything even remotely similar to such dark examples of the current norm.
But will something like that ever be possible? As mentioned before, the sudden calamitous presentation of all the facts at play here would hardly benefit the cause of the project. For the existing media to successfully accomplish such a presentation it would have to exaggerate the facts enough that the remnant retaining any credibility would, hopefully, somehow match the actuality. Phony, spectacular media manipulation offers no avenue forward.
Every aspect of Global Warming’s image produced thus far by the current failed industry must be rehabilitated at a rate commensurate with the “change capacity” of the viewing consumers. In its revived condition the media must configure itself to deliver believable details of the Global Warming project in increments which support the needs of the over all project, yet remain within the credibility boundaries of the previously manipulated expectations of a seriously abused electorate.
If an analog model of this process is required to create a robust comparison, we should not look at Eisenhower’s invasion or Kennedy’s moon landing. Those examples are far too finite. For this vision, perhaps we should consider the media requirements after a secret landing of craft from another planet! The necessary scope created by such an occurrence would more reasonably match the likely scope of supporting the Global Warming project through the media to an uncertain and cynical electorate.
Is this estimation too elaborate? No. This part of the project will be pivotal for its success. The tax payers who will finally cause this great mission to be accomplished will expect honest, sincere and complete accountings in its news coverage. We will be asking them to contribute more of their livelihoods than any human project which has preceded this one. Go ahead. Think of pyramids, hanging gardens, the colossus of Rhodes, the trans-Alaska pipeline, WW2 or the moon landing as small.
This will be the biggest one yet.
Engineering Management for the World’s Population
Thankfully, we as humans have continued to get better and better at managing these large projects. Driven by the modern rates of interest on cash service, schedule demands for marketing new products competitively and the essential fact that we no longer rely on unmotivated slaves for such endless labors, we have actually mastered many new tricks for efficient project management, regardless of the scope of the project. If it were otherwise, we would probably be doomed to suffer an unthinkably harsh price to survive what lies ahead.
This states the possibility of doing better through a rational and constructive approach. There is no guarantee that this will be the case. We might, in fact, still respond quite poorly, and in that event, we might still face the abyss. The destruction of humanity as a result of lacking the technology and methods to save our civilization would be tragic enough. To willy-nilly suffer such a fate when we did, in fact, have the technology and methods required to do much better, is unacceptable.
Recall the last time in recent years when you have heard a politician use the word “unacceptable.” It is usually a prelude to war. Get the message?
So, what exactly does engineering management tell us? That discipline is certainly designed for projects in which most variables have already been decided. In this project, there are two styles of dynamic exceptions to this idea. First, there are known aspects with seriously unknown scope. Even though we find it necessary to begin this work now, we have not yet completed the research as to the nature and complexity of these parts of the whole solution. We simply know that they lay ahead.
Second, we can quite rationally expect that additional, presently unknown, elements of the project will be revealed as we progress. The unmeasured, as is the case in the first instance above, is problematic to good engineering management. The unexpected is nightmarish. And, not simply nightmarish with respect to the substance of the project, but potentially even more nightmarish to to task of communicating to the supporting electorate. Somehow, they have learned to “duck” when facing the prospect of paying for the unexpected in expensive projects.
If they are to be rationally prepared to support the project as a whole concept, they will also need to be well and honestly advised that there will be unexpected challenges in its completion. Still, none of the unknown elements of the project prevent it from extensive and effective planning management.
In more conventional industrial projects, the critical path analysis becomes the model with the greatest authority with respect to the conduct of the project. The Global Warning project departs from this standard of normal construction control as a result of the possible, unplanned additional issues of its scope, yet the rational approach remains the best opportunity for its successful prosecution.
And, aside from its obvious benefits in optimizing issues of schedule and budget, this critical model, no matter how rife with unexpected additions, remains the most promising avenue for effectively communicating the plan to the electorate. The critical model, once completed as far as possible, communicates the entire known scope of the project in terms which can be consumed by the public. Further, it is a tangible means to communicate progress through the duration of the effort.
Tax paying voters have an innate desire to understand whether or not the plan is being completed efficiently, and certainly this style of progress reporting makes information which might otherwise be rather shadowy, far more definite and reassuring. The duration of this immense project might well span an entire generation or more. Sustaining the confidence of those who will ultimately pay the bill is equally essential in the first year as in the tenth year.
To complicate this effort even more, the results of the work must be measured and reported with the same frank honesty as its tangible progress. A massive project which demonstrates little or no progress towards its anticipated goals with respect to climate will not be sustained by the continued support of the population, both here and around the planet. This measuring proposition will be discussed later as its solution is described. Nonetheless, public awareness of the rather subtle improvements occurring through the period of the project will be just as necessary as trains full of cement or structural steel.
All this measurement, progress reporting and public communication will represent critically major elements of the management program. Credibility translates, sooner or later, into the sustained flow of resources which will be required.
Hammering Feasibility Out of Anecdotes
The ultimate test of the project’s preparations, perhaps as they are expressed in the critical task network model, will be whether or not a coherent image of the work as a feasible solution to the problem can be demonstrated to this skeptical public. Granted, part of the challenge may well remain indeterminate as its unknown additions are considered. The expectation that a trustworthy management team will continue to do its best, no matter what, is a reasonable demand from this project’s final clients.
A common concept for management of this style is “Project management in a multiple constraint environment.” A tasteless bit of critical path humor is expressed in the following joke. Its lineage, no doubt, can be traced back to Eisenhower’s grand scheme in WW2.
“So, if you intend to conquer Europe, when will you need the door knobs?”
Humor aside, it demonstrates the necessity of “discrete tasking” as an essential stage in the planning of large projects. Even with the most seasoned program managers, oceans of details can become utterly confounding. Mistakes and miscalculations cost extra money (which might have been profit to a better manager). We can imagine what effect an incorrectly planned project of this scope would have on already cynical tax paying voters.
So, what all must be included in these feasibility considerations? The answer is simple: everything presently available and probably much more. A great body of valuable data is already available. If it were not, we wouldn’t be thinking of such a project! Yet, once again, this data is encumbered by its largely anecdotal quality.
It must be correlated methodically by a “host” structure to reach its maximum value. Such an undertaking really does fall too far afield for the project management effort’s embrace. To place the critical task management effort in the lead position would be a mistake. In a general sense, critical path management offers answers and plans. For this project, we will require a source for the right questions! The formulation of yet another entity must be considered at this juncture.
What would that be?
The task of preparing and maintaining a critical task model is straightforward enough. The fundamental requirement for such an analysis includes every item of planning required for the project. The entire plan is divided into more manageable parts, each one integrated with the others. The primary relationship between tasks is called “restraint.” The completion of one task may be necessary before the start (or the finish) of another task. The critical task management (check Google for CPM: “Critical Path Management”) provides a comprehensible network of necessary tasks, in every instance holding them in logical order.
Yet, this tool becomes useful only after the project itself becomes defined. After all, it won’t matter how good the construction management might be if the blue prints are for the wrong project. The Global Warming project needs a definition before substantial work can begin.
What sort of definition? Returning the idea of discrete tasks, let us propose a short list of very large items which might aid in defining the scope of the project.
- It will require a working model of the planet’s actual environment with a much higher resolution than presently available. All the existing research must be incorporated into a comprehensive model. Individual components must be tested in an environment of high credibility before they are included.
- It will require a system of climate measurement mechanisms sufficient to detect changes, whether they reveal further degradation or positive impacts from the project.
- It will devote special attention to the management of “late breaking news.” The guidance of the project must remain adaptable to unanticipated requirements arising after the initial project design. We already know there are missing parts to our current understanding.“To the earthworm, every robin is a surprise!”
- It will go to great lengths to establish and maintain an unquestionably independent labor and material acquisition system. The project staff will include oversight, reflection and investigative teams whose loyalty is beyond question.
- It will dedicate significant resources to the continuing task of communicating project status to the public. As the purchasers, owners and users of the new project’s benefits, they will be the key support behind its success. The goals of specific elements of the program must be successfully communicated to maintain this cooperative environment.
These elements of work will exist in addition to the actual “hammer and nails” project, that is, the project tasks which might entail bull dozers, stack cleaners and desalinators. The question is, will project management be the correct choice to perform this extra work? What about the additional entity?
An Additional Entity: The Environment Institute
If the program management system is to be the physical body of this massive solution plan, what will be the brain? Program management is our best effort to get things done in the real world. It will not necessarily be the optimum choice for figuring out what needs to be done. This is where the additional entity enters the picture.
Have no doubt about it. This idea proposes a significant amount of over head costs here. Still, when we consider the anticipated role of such an academy, its cost must be measured against the incredible cost of the actual project. This Environment Institute will provide the goals of the Global Warming Project.
The actual expenditure to create and sustain the Institute must not be considered all by itself. The money spent on the Environment Institute can, however, be measured quite reasonably against the potential economic damage should some aspect of the actual project be wasted through misdirection.
As mentioned before, our technical ability and our resources are sufficient to solve Global Warming. They may not be equal to the failure of several of the massive projects it will entail. The scope of the program will be tenuous enough with respect to cash outlay. Gigantic expenditures for elements of the project which have a marginal “value added” can only impede its final success.
Further, in the same sense that the resources may be tenuous, the negative impact of a few huge, scandalous mistakes would be disastrous to the continued support of the tax paying voters. The size and cost of the undertaking forces the hand of its management. There will, inevitably, be false starts and mistakes, but they had better be survivable ones! And, explainable ones!
All these factors emphasize the need for a dynamic, yet reliable, management approach. The present state of affairs offers no workable choice for a project with, as of yet, partially undefined goals. The press of the global problem requires the that the research necessary to quantify the many sides of the threat be assessed after the actual work has begun.
This assessment will be the primary responsibility of the Institute. Immediately adjacent to this research will be the development of the mitigation for the problems it reveals. We will need to know much more than we do now if we expect to direct our resources effectively. The management of this direction is complicated by the combination of its urgency and the lack of a complete description of its challenges.
We must form a new research system with credentials of effectiveness, efficiency and imagination so impressive as to be a highly credible, believable and confidence building voice when it comes to the planetary environment. The remainder of this paper is dedicated to describing what we might call The United States Environment Institute.
Let’s Begin By Looking At Every Possible Negative
So far, we have described the absolute, ultimate nightmare for every one of our fellow citizens concerned about growth in government, waste and bureaucracy. Every aspect of the proposed Environment Institute can descend to such an administrative and political state to justify their dread. The concept certainly represents a “turning point” for all sorts of technical ideas, but we must accept the concurrent possibility that it might easily become nothing more than a huge, resource consuming, wasteful government agency, able to protect itself from any effort at reform or rehabilitation until it finally becomes the worst possible enemy of the Global Warming project.
If it is designed at the outset to preempt such “normal” decay, it will be a “turning point” in our ideas of what is possible for government.
Because of its mission, should the Institute decline to such a sorry state, we would once again be left with the austere consequences of a failed project, or worse. We would have accomplished less than what was needed against Global Warming aggravated by the twin curses of having neither resources nor public trust left for a second, less efficient and more desperate attempt.
Smaller projects can usually survive bad management, although the ensuing “corrections” are seldom painless. For large, critical projects such failures can permanently destroy those who attempted them. And this destruction, especially when accompanied by the ire of the resource providers (tax payers), has habitually expanded to encompass all who were associated with the effort.
All these negative caveats make a certain argument. The Environment Institute will be designed from its inception with a variety of very powerful and independent self-monitoring features. It cannot be plagued by the same cronyism and corruption as, say, defense procurement. It cannot rely too much on Congressional oversight, even though it must not deny it. It cannot countenance even small amounts of hubris or greed. Finally, it must never insult its public trust.
We find the problem itself a product of many of these types of mischief. The administration has proved itself quite willing to squash what scientific suggestions have been generated so far. Conglomerates of oil companies have spent literally billions of dollars in media campaigns to promote carbon dioxide as an innocent and acceptable byproduct of our happy existence. Essentially the very worst of the media phenomena have adopted antiscientific positions, somehow transforming them into seemingly legitimate sorts of vacuous ideologies, each dedicated to producing acceptable features of ill informed doubt and traditional fear, both evoking paranoia.
In addition to the more forthright efforts in such (planetary) suicidal ventures, a possibly even more dangerous form of media manipulation has manufactured these doubts about every suggested solution. These voices have threatened voters with the prospect of “being fooled” by these greedy egg heads. They have characterized all attempts to warn the citizens as “lunatic fringe” conspiracies designed to redistribute their tax money.
The Environment Institute must meet and overcome these destructive challenges before any significant work on the actual substance of the problem, that is, solving it, can begin. Even after it succeeds here, it will continue to compete for resource dollars with other, seemingly separate, on going commitments.
For example, we can hardly expect terrorism adversaries to simply “go home” as global climate conditions degrade. The now obvious lack of structure for our global “War on Terror” presents a compelling case for serious thought about new choices in our planning policies. If conditions of the standard of living are a contributor to the recruitment of these troubling malcontents, climate change may well present them with an unexpected wind fall. Their recruitment areas will be among the first to experience the difficulties ahead.
Still, addressing any possible positive side, these same areas may be the first to reach critical failure state. The diminishing possibility for life support there will, sooner or later, disable the population to a point where the luxury of terrorism is no longer competing with the necessities of survival.
A mission to gradually turn this public opinion to a more rational understanding will take precious time. There is, apparently, no approach which will be able to undo all this sabotage very quickly. Each day devoted to this will be a day when the problem grows worse, yet, there can be no solution which does not finally rely on this very same public opinion. In fact, it is a reasonable supposition that during the period when the Institute is being started, the level of this sabotage will very likely increase. To plan for conditions more favorable than this would be folly.
A strategy of honesty to overcome this obstacle may well be the first order of business to the task of starting the Environment Institute and, subsequently, saving the world. Public opinion, as is always the case, can be directed at high born ideals or at the least inspired type of uneducated self-destruction. Also, as is always the case, management is everything with respect to either image or substance.
The Environment Institute: An Outline of Goals and Responsibilities
We have invested enough thought for the time being on the Institute’s image management. The Environment Institute is intended to sit squarely in the center of the voters, the Congress, the media and its program of work. Yet, when considering goals and responsibilities, this image management will be an essential, continuing task. The message communicated to the public cannot be numbing or desperate. Building and sustaining confidence and trust will be a serious full time job.
So, what else will expect from the Institute? Quite a lot, actually.
The activities of the Institute can be divided, generally, into three areas. Each will be discussed in a more complete description. As for now, consider the three following work areas:
- Problem Definition: The current knowledge of the full scope of Global Warming has come from incidental (anecdotal) investigations. The research effort which always accompanies other areas of inquiry has repeatedly exposed one after another aspect of the overall problem, usually as an aside to other specific goals.
An example is the rather spectacular study of glaciers in Greenland. The study cast a compelling view of Global Warming, but it was directed at the study of various phenomena associated with glaciers. The Institute would approach this from the opposite line of inquiry, concentrating on global warming with an inevitable specific interest in Greenland glaciers. This might seem to be an excursion into minutia, but it demonstrates the nature of a full-blown, problem wide research project as compared to one which details (anecdotal) conclusions reached while investigating a related phenomena.
- Mitigation Concepts: Even in its most awkward, preliminary condition, the Global Warming threat has inspired an encouraging number of (anecdotal) responses. These range from “environment friendly” soft drink packages to massive concepts dealing with coal fired power plants. Thanks partially to the media’s formal program to establish doubt, the government’s irrational insistence on protecting existing commercial interests and both the nature and variety of information being generated and reported to the public, the entire population is now understandably confused.
Once there is hard data available and a reasonable media to deliver it, mitigation design can finally assume its correct place. Although the public seems to be showing a promising enthusiasm already, it continues to be inundated with an essentially incomprehensible “big picture.” The anecdotes must be replaced with understandable and credible descriptions of both individual problem areas and their respective mitigation solutions.
This facet of Institute responsibility will provide a growing picture of specific, well documented problem areas presented as a product of research conducted on a scale broad enough to actually model Global Warming. From there, it will take the next step which will be designing actual mitigation programs which can be considered as definite, material steps.
The danger of facing a growing body of incoherent (anecdotal) reports, no matter how convincing, is that the lack of focus engenders a kind of out-of-control, hopeless image in the eyes of the public. The same can be said about the growing body of suggested mitigations. They are presented without a complete treatment as (anecdotal) research describes them in each instance, always as an interesting (threatening) aside to the specific target of the research.
This disorganized approach damages the effort to assist the public in forming a confident model of the challenge and in forming a workable understanding of solutions proposed as mitigation. It certainly sustains the prevailing “doubts” by directing public opinion to extraordinary specifics rather than the necessary model of the numerous, but correlated, aspects of the “big picture.” Again, similar damage is done with public acceptance of large scale, expensive solutions.
- Encyclopedic Technology: Sooner or later, we will accept as fact the many new, major shifts in public culture which will accompany the effort to solve Global Warming. This world is, hopefully, preparing itself for any number of drastic accommodations to its new climate profile. Many of these changes will need to be realized at a pace which will inevitably disturb economies, social habits and government priorities in historic proportions.
We should expect uncomfortable, fundamental social redirection in most areas of our culture. We will be making radical adjustments more rapidly and more profoundly than any example from the past. (i.e. the Mayans responding to sustained drought, the final destruction of Carthage in the Peloponesian War, the United States mobilizing for WW2.)
The Institute’s goal will be to deliver a new, livable, sustainable society. Although its responsibility will include testing, monitoring progress and designing solutions, it must also address the livability of its continuing product. We will respond to fundamentally short sighted planning with equally fundamental long term planning. We arrived at our present dilemma by refusing to think ahead. We will not emerge from it by continuing that practice.
It becomes increasingly clear that we, as earth-based humans, may find the mechanism of surviving Global Warming may actually reinvent itself as a channel for many other areas of change we should have reasonably considered long ago. We haven’t been paying our due diligence to directing our own long term social change responsibly. Hypnotized and distracted by the high speed immediacy of what we have created, we have neglected our interest in defining our world in favor of daily trinkets now being revealed as being as far less valuable than we thought.
Before we begin a more detailed discussion of these Institute aims, perhaps a brief clarification of terms is in order. So far we may have implied that the “construction arm” of our program management model will be entirely directed at building things. Of course, there will be significant building as we actualize our solutions, but when we mention “program management,” we will certainly need to include all sorts of other areas.
Think of persuading automakers toward a new design direction. Although central, perhaps, to our “program,” such an effort does not involve direct construction. Nonetheless, it is part of the program described and documented by Institute research and development and “instituted” by the program management. The legitimacy of all areas of program management is equal whether the specific task involves project construction or not.
Perhaps an even better example is with the conversion of energy generation. The “project” aspect may mean the construction of solar farms or carbon dioxide injection systems. The “program” will involve the charting and execution of a progress path through all sorts of economic, political and cultural difficulties (multiple constraints). Once again, the labor is divided into manageable sections:
Environment Institute: problem definition, solution concepts
Program Management: solution (host) environment
Project Management: solution creation
Although this may seem to be a ponderous kind of organization, consider its alternatives. There is no other available and effective leadership potential for the current model. The EPA is too busy already. The Congress has demonstrated its fractured and capricious interests. The academic world has little experience in serious project work. The military is learning the limits of its nonmilitary expertise. The public has been intentionally misled.
The proposed organization structure presents itself as the most promising avenue forward. It is an innovative combination designed to engage our cultural strength for problem solving (survival). Before we finish, we will inevitably encounter scandalous errors, but our noble ambition will be to encounter far fewer of them. Hopefully, as the new world finally breathes a comfortable sigh of relief, we will be forgiven. We can’t reasonably expect that reconciliation the same morning we complete our undertaking, but decades or, perhaps, centuries later we may be the example for the next great, necessary effort.
Research and Problem Definition
Make no mistake, an immense body of research has already been produced. What is lacking is the serious compilation of all this information into a coherent model. The first obvious feature of such a model will be its incomplete coverage. That will be a clear mission for the Institute in its earliest form.
A comprehensive model of planetary conditions and history will require a substantial increase in monitoring. The initial design of that investigation will be completed by Institute experts, transformed into a plant wide research program by the program management team and implemented as a material project.
Inevitably, during this process the necessity of additional inquiries will emerge. The response to them will follow the same path. They will be “codified” by Institute specialists, analyzed into a “real world” response program by program management and implemented by the project team.
The amount of information required for full problem definition will dwarf what is presently available. The model of the challenge must become finite, sooner or later. In the meantime, specific projects may emerge as priorities even before the complete picture is in hand.
The Institute will be the repository for all the products of this effort. It will attract either literally or by association competent and interested participants from all corners. There will be disputes, but, when correctly formed, the Institute will be the most advantageous and constructive forum for them. This approach will be far better than our current idea of contradicting every facet of any conclusion in the vacuous presumption that “both sides must be expressed.”
Hopefully, that disastrous media logic will gradually be replaced by disputes in which both sides have “peer reviewed merit.” We have wasted enough energy on that prior approach. We now have the goal of creating a sustainable climate, not a sustained cloud of confusion.
An additional side of this research task will be the storage and maintenance of the data it generates. Provisions must be made for access and organizational management. Finally, the tax payers can reap the benefits of paying for scientific data worth owning.
The material project of this monitoring effort will be significant. The project will be required to continue to function for at least several decades. During that time, additional requirements will probably need to be incorporated in its work. Possibly, errors will be detected and corrected.
The point is simply this. The project scope will require access to work sites all over the planet. It will make political agreements necessary, and their necessity will make certain qualities of both the Institute and the work force necessary. There will be no covert CIA spying missions paneled onto legitimate Institute missions. The Institute, itself, will need to be properly equipped to prevent such dangerous distractions to its work. That preparation will need to rise above even the most cynical international reproach.
Our global reputation for honorable project motives is in roughly the same state as our media. The Institute will require sufficient autonomy to be a credible guarantor of this objective position. Even in its onset it may well require a political arm to provide for this research stage. It will almost definitely require one later.
The Institute in International Politics
In one respect Global Warming describes its own scope. It is global. We can hardly expect the impact of climate change to vary as it crosses international borders. Unhappily, its solution might be most straightforward if it rested in the hands of some idealistic dictators. Also unfortunately, it just might. We can add here that rather than idealistic, these dictators might turn out to be desperately pragmatic. History thoroughly documents such periods.
The onset of more and more severe climate conditions wins the race with even the most optimistic rate of the rehabilitation of our national image, especially with respect to those parts which might elicit cooperation based on honesty, integrity or idealism. So, will the Institute be shouldered with the task of promoting constructive mitigation efforts worldwide? Yes and no.
The Environment Institute will exist in an environment providing a very persuasive common threat. Many of the forward thinking dictators mentioned before haven’t been created, yet. However, as climate conditions degrade, political conditions will inevitably follow. Rebellions and revolutions fanned by ideology are one thing, chaos fanned by hunger is quite another. The choices of outcomes from such violence are limited. Whether new, repressive autocracies or simple failed states, few will actually be viable partners to the solution of the common problem.
Allowing this nightmare free reign promises the possibility of military might being employed to destroy targets which continue to cause climatic damages while protected by the autonomy of these states. A feeble bright side suggests that such strikes would not be accompanied by occupation. They would be better categorized as anonymous destruction from above after disagreeable negotiations.
The longer the delay in run-up time made necessary by the public campaign, the worse the situation becomes. Our first thought is about the climate conditions here, but focussing on that betrays our reasonable anticipation of political conditions around the world. The first great climate impact damages will be the political mayhem in our poorest, most fragile global neighbors. Those states have roughly the same survival instinct we have. And, they are armed.
The reluctance of the United States to diplomatically engage several popular climate treaties can be laid on the door step of many varied interests. Perhaps the most chilling is our insistence on the “you first” concept. The United States, after cynically appraising the economic advantage of various periods of delay before instituting the costs of initial mitigation, dared its two least inspired partners, China and India, to begin the resource redistribution first. “Any other agreement,” we claimed, “would simply not be fair.”
The “genius” of this economic strategy, and others equally dangerous, can only promote its argument as rational in the engineered confusion of the public estimate of the threat. If a credible Environment Institute, one which had already begun to enlist public support and trust, were a player in this spectacle, such a style of national irresponsibility would be far less politically attractive. “Low rent” maneuvering such as this might utterly fail when presented as policy to an informed electorate.
In this despicable case, confusion and chaos became the handmaidens for the public acceptance of our national rejection of things such as Kyoto and others. This role of “handmaidens” will be far more progressively managed when the Institute can lend its influential voice to public debate. What we have witnessed so far should become no more than a shocking embarrassment, serving no purpose other than to inspire us to do better than “the bad old days.”
Early on, the leadership of the Environment Institute will encounter the challenge of the Congress. Soon after, an even more intractable entity will become a participant. In terms of intractability, the United Nations General Assembly may be the only more unmanageable, allegedly representative force in the world. Unfortunately for the world in general, but perhaps more fortunate for the execution of the Global Warming project, the United Nations will become “busier and busier” with the onslaught of climate change on international politics.
All types of “representative” bodies present their most destructive influence when they have time on their hands. When consumed with immediate challenges to their survivability, their distraction usually results in a slightly more cooperative quality. During such a period, the Institute must represent itself as an absolutely credible asset with a single, nonpolitical focus. Lingering suspicion as to its motives can precipitate desperate responses, and desperate responses in times of high tensions can be quite violent.
Presuming both an increase in global strife and a decrease in US wealth and imperial military inclinations, we can anticipate that there will be no military sponsor available to protect the Institute’s world wide monitoring stations. Sustaining the essential research in these places will be a question of integrity much more than a question of possible retaliation.
The first decade of the 21st century has seen a promising start for the liberal nations of the European Union. In addition to several examples of well supported, common sense climate change mitigation, they have been open to a growing list of nations attempting the credentials of EU membership. Perhaps most notable among these developments, the EU, along with the UK, has begun to finance humanitarian missions around the world. This development marks a verifiable assent of a group of nations which has come to accept its mature responsibilities and has the surplus wealth to materialize its new position.
This altruism, especially in the area of food relief but also, occasionally, in the realm of objectively sound military commitments, suggests an important mark. The behavior of supporting aid programs aside, the more important and visible trait from these recent moves is a growing psychology of internationalism in the EU population. Missions are selected carefully, but public support for such missions as are undertaken by the European Union is strong.
The growth of a comparable cultural interest in the United States has been carefully and skillfully retarded by sinister but effective media and the interests it serves. The paradox seems to continue unchallenged. For example, although the United States presently is the world’s largest contributor of food aid, the xenophobic stains on the program reveal the bipartisan sabotage which had to be countenanced for its implementation.
Premium prices are paid in the competitive US food market coupled with extremely high costs for transport in US flag ships. The inevitable overhead inflicted by this requirement of the law can amount to 60% of the total allocation for aid. That means that, although US tax payers send an entire dollar of their resources, the net final result amounts to no more than 40 cents worth of food actually delivered to the hungry. This 40 cents figure is, of course, what the same food aid would cost if it had been purchased nearer its need and transported by some competitive means besides the most expensive transport scheme in the world.
The Global Warming project is not to be confused with an enhanced food aid program. The point here concerns the US tax payers’ willingness to accept the rather obviously false (anecdotal) premise that altruism is somehow sweeter when delivered at a profit. Rational capitalism need not rely on catastrophes as moments of opportunity.
This appetite for seizing moments of duress as justification for raising prices under the protection of what, at first, appeared to be well intentioned national commitments, evades and exceeds even the most savage historical concept of capitalism. Successfully defending such arguments with examples from the Boston Tea Party to the overpriced drugs provided to the War on Aids in Africa (or the overpriced drug subsidy here!) becomes increasingly difficult with an informed population.
The solution to Global Warming will be conducted in a world with increasing international moments of duress and a decreasing surplus of altruistic resources. The population of relentless, opportunistic capitalists will probably remain about the same. The integrity of the Institute must rise to meet this seemingly perpetual challenge. There will be no excess of resources for waste or exploitation.
The Institute may well begin as an American endeavor, yet the problem extends to all corners of our world. The solution will occupy the same vast area. At its inception, the Institute must contain at least the seed of what organization will be necessary to reach its ultimate work. An organization trying to function with the current petty nationalism would inevitably encounter some version of the current response to it.
Here we see another case of idealism and necessity overwhelming the reluctance our present policy has incited in those who need to be our future partners. Still, this task adds itself to the complexity of a solution in the state of mistrust, often quite valid, we have created. Two likely situations will drive this quandary to a good solution. The first will be the carefully crafted image of the Institute as an honest player, The second will be the gravity of the deteriorating conditions.
The success of this phase of the Institute’s work will require that the extensive and credible global research be of a quality that can be accepted. The critical importance of developing this highly respected image cannot be denied. Before too long all parties will be more and more enthusiastic about starting the material part of the project and more and more likely to downplay the necessity of this reputation’s maintenance.
It will be just as important to the success of the venture as any trainload of concrete and steel.
The Institute Develops Early Cost Projections
Before the global research phase has reached even half of its required accomplishments, Institute expertise will have begun the development of mitigation plans. Likewise, before the mitigation plans are half completed, the initial estimates of, at least, preliminary cost will be announced. The test of public education and support will commence, ready or not.
These costs will not be limited to the wide range of obvious projects, both new and restorative. Also included will be the economic “damage” resulting from rather rapid changes to existing enterprises, starting with the ones where the greatest advantages with respect to climate change are found. In many cases these necessary transitions will require compensation. The Institute must be prepared to meter the values of such indemnity along with the respective cost of protecting social and cultural values.
Closing industries and creating large unemployed work forces from previously prosperous places may occur, but it need not be overly damaging in cases where such bad effects can be avoided or ameliorated. Management is the key. It is entirely possible that world wide insistence of climate change progress can create unnecessarily harsh economic impact.
Our experience in Iraq has demonstrated that snow ball effect of suddenly discharging hundreds of thousands of, more or less, innocent workers from their jobs with no plan for other opportunities (Saddam’s military). The civilization itself may be producing serious impact on the climate, but the same civilization requires that men and women caught in these changes not be simply cast aside. Who will endeavor to manage such a messy business? Yes. It will be the Institute.
In a similar vein, the production of all sorts of energy will have to change. Although solving the Global Warming problem might suggest that such changes be immediate, or, at least, rapid, we must remember that all the facilities currently filling these needs were the product of years or decades of slow, steady formation. Likewise, all the mechanisms of civilization which consume their products — cars, trucks, trains, power plants, street lights, buildings — are also the product of long term development.
For any who might suggest that the Environment Institute and its program management are exaggerated when compared to the task, let them respond to all of this. None of these difficulties is a questionable part of the solution.
Diagram 1 (above) suggests several possible early tasks associated with starting the Institute. The proposed work elements are entirely conjectural. It is presented here as an example of the sort of planning we should expect. This is the sort of thing we should be seeing often in our media. And, according to the general schedule ideas in the chart, we should start seeing such information rather soon.
As for Institute involvement in the development of mitigation concepts and technology, it should be equipped to verify the benefit (cost/life/value) of projected expenditures. The Institute will require a testing capability (remember the UL label, verifying that a consumer product had been tested by Underwriters Laboratory?). Once the overall commitment to the Global Warming project starts to develop its own inertia, our “capitalist contributors” will be advertising all sorts of worthless or low value items. Each one will arrive with a Congressional backer ready to insist on its purchase.
Further, remedial project plans will arise from all sorts of international quarters, many with tremendous price tags. The Institute must be prepared to evaluate estimates for product utility, impact mitigation value and general integrity. It is likely that, as the program moves forward, certain contractors and manufacturers will gain in reliability. Others will lose. The environment for influence peddling, designed to skew the efforts for large quick profits, will reach a potentially damaging scale. The arena for this waste and deception will be international. Only after earning a very high regard around the world will the Institute possibly be able to exert enough influence to discredit such plans.
Within the United States, where procurement is ostensibly visible by the tax payer or “overseen” by his representatives, being condemned as ineffective by the Institute might be expected to work fairly well soon after its inception. In distant countries where the population has little or no say in the direction of national efforts, there is an historic record of such autocratic governments interest in buying expensive things from their friends (the Aswan Damn) where effectivity is set aside in favor of cronyism, politics or even ideology.
Early in its existence, the Environment Institute will require expertise in everyday dealings with international issues. As time progresses, these same issues will inevitably become central to its mission.
Politics at Its Most Raw: The Institute as National Socialism
The successful Institute, buoyed by the support of the population as it reports tangible progress against Global Warming, may attain a functioning legitimacy exceeding that of the Constitutional government. What if the tax paying electorate, once it has a rational education as to the gravity of the challenge, an experienced confidence of the effectiveness of the programs (and progress) initiated by the Institute and a perspective of the dangerous alternative of continuing, exclusive support of an historically indecisive government, gradually shift its allegiance to the Institute itself?
If global conditions grow extremely dire and threatening, just such an unexpected shift could be realized. It would be an error with repercussions even more severe than Global Warming. At some point a conflict could begin between the “old” authority and the “new.” Given the self-preservation instincts demonstrated by traditional structures of power, such a conflict could prevent any meaningful solution.
To insulate itself, that is, both with respect to unacceptable ambitions within itself and the threatening appearance of its permanently usurping domestic political power, all elements of the Institute must accept and continually emphasize a “sunset policy.” When conditions on the planet reach a measurable state of reconstitution, it must be disbanded entirely.
A side consideration here is about our billionaires. We have expended great resources, not to mention the insults we have allowed to our laws at the behest of their great influence, to cultivate this stock herd of thoroughbreds. The phenomenon is not all bad. The idea that the most competent should be rewarded the most is an American tradition. However, it is clear now that this old tribe of the elite has become rather dog eared. As we pass through the threats of climate change, one necessary and expected result will be a new herd of billionaires. Once again, new innovations will breed new wealth. The aging dynasties backed by carbon wealth will slowly fade into history.
This image of the Environment Institute is indeed socialistic. Both its resource requirements and its desperate mission also dictate that it have a “nationalist” flavor. These two presumptions equal “national socialism.” Anticipating this problem, its design must, at least after time, guarantee its demise.
Cultural Technology: Managed Change
In 2007 the Congress updated CAFE standards. US made automobiles were tasked with gasoline mileage above 30 mpg by 2025. Shadowy threats were made about carbon taxes and possible exchanges for carbon credits. Even futuristic discussion of carbon dioxide re-injection at coal fired power plants were suppressed for political interests.
High oil prices are making unrecoverable reserves recoverable. Innovative process technology offers to extract oil from shale. $40,000 to $60,000 hybrid cars are all over the automotive market. The Vice President’s shadowy secret energy conference has realized its promise of immense profits for oil companies. A stealthy campaign of mistrust has effectively eliminated most domestic nuclear power options, even in the face of successful systems in other countries.
This list could reach a great and depressing length. Under the careful cover of what amounts to a media blackout, public opinion has been groomed to seek every possible new effort to sustain the old carbon systems. Alternatives are pictured as no more than cute news stories, punctuations presented as asides on the way back to the reinforcement of societal norms. These are the same artificial societal norms, by the way, which constantly hold out the hope of continuing all sorts of cultural and economic habits. A few examples will illustrate this point.
Example 1: These habits have a tremendous inertia. Tabulate the value, in our modern dollars, of every car and truck operating in the country. Add the value of the manufacturing technology (plants) that produced them. Don’t neglect the jobs. Top off the total with the shops and labor which perform maintenance on this fleet. If you like, include all the assets and employees of the oil companies, and of course, the stock holders and their banks and their brokers and their traders.
Example 2: Consider the air traveler. Yes, jet travel is slightly more economical than car travel with respect to fuel costs, but only when fuel costs are computed without their climate changing liabilities. How willing is the world to radically reconfigure this modern miracle of traveling convenience? In an assignment similar to the case with the process of burning gasoline, what is the value of all these airplanes and the factories that produced them and the labor force and the stockholders and their banks and, well, the rest of the picture is the same.
Example 3: What is the real estate value of every existing building in the country? If you like, deduct the modern handful which are efficiently heated, cooled, insulated and constructed. Add the economic inertia of the wood industry, the insulation industry, the providers of electric appliances, the “home building” companies and their laborers. Don’t exclude all those firms and people who service and maintain them and, of course, the mortgage lenders who finance them, and their stockholders and their banks. Here, we might pause to reflect on the accumulated personal wealth on individuals who bought them and own them.
Test your present evaluation of the immensity of solving the global problem before it kills us. Have you been thinking that, somehow, all this would be gradually transformed into a more rational picture by market forces? Have you, so far, quietly felt that creating the support of the public would amount to little more than a comfortable advertising campaign of some sort? Have these propositions, so far, suggested an indulgence in overstatement?
The position of this short paper is that we are all in for “one hell of a ride.” If you think this transformation will be possible given enough willingness and sacrifice, you may place your name on the list with those determined to have a future. If you think that the whole affair will be easy and rather automatic, in some way, painless and transparent to the average citizen, you may place your name on the list which accompanies the problem.
All these changes might be less unpleasant if there were sufficient time to buffer the effects of the necessary change. There isn’t. No simple, passive program will accomplish what is needed over a comfortable time scale. For those who can begin to see the immediacy of this compelling threat and all of its ramifications, the Environment Institute begins to assume an increasingly reasonable place as a drastic but essential idea.
Diagram 2 suggests some possible activities beginning as early as 2011. Again, the work elements listed are little more than a “dream” estimate. Still, given that these tasks are extreme “hypotheticals,” ask yourself about schedule. What should we be doing right now? Is there any possible path forward which could usher such a concept through Congress as it is now configured? (For amplification, consider the prospects of terminating the now $10,000,000,000 a month war allocation. If we intend to sacrifice everything “not bolted down” to sustain our oil economy for a few more years, the war makes sense. On the other hand, if we have children, or even if we might have children, and if we have some sense of responsibility for their futures, are we spending wisely?
We have seen the continued insistence of the Congress to pursue the war. Who have we elected? Did we have any better choices? What will we have to do to have better choices? And elect them? Quite a bit.
The First Blush: Program Management Begins
Assuming that our proposal survives it journey through the Congress, what can we expect will be the first tangible results of the Institute’s guidance as it begins to manifest itself in the active arm? Even before the world wide climate research is complete, several clear priorities for action will emerge.
In the larger sense, we can anticipate serious fine tuning on our project plans as the comprehensive model of planetary climate develops. Still, with many project areas, even a modest head-start will produce great benefits. Some of the initial projects can be identified today.
Again, Diagram 3 is an “extremely hypothetical” conceptual sample. The tasks noted make no claim to accuracy because almost no thinking has been directed at this question. It is shown here as an example of what we might be seeing if we had actually engaged our problem to this level of commitment. Simply considering the possible presentation of an actual set of tasks, thoughtfully selected by a functioning Institute and understood and supported by a population, the diagram might contain very different work descriptions. This isn’t an argument that Diagram 3 has any particular prescience. This is an argument that we should now, already, know some of what a “real” Diagram 3 contained.
Will the message or the messenger be our first priority? Neither is worth much without the other, yet, as one waits, anticipating the message, preparing the messenger is a good idea. The Environment Institute will be the messenger. The rational definition of the problem and the well managed proposal for its solution will be the message.
The program management arm, at this point, can prepare the preliminary plan for actual progress, that is, projects. Once again, we face the ill effects of our previous anecdotal thinking. These projects will make sense in the long term. They will represent the same value at the time of their initiation as they will years later, and this will be the case because they will be justified by a much more coherent, comprehensive model.
So far, the energy of our electorate support has been directed at severely limited aspects of what will become our far greater ambitions. For example, we have supported certain changes, say, in the design of specific, local cases of agricultural irrigation. In many cases these same resources could have been more effectively applied to much more sweeping mandates, defined by Institute work, and contributing much greater project/value.
When we are presented with the success of these current endeavors, we experience a sense of relief and accomplishment. Although there is nothing particularly suspect about these projects, the sense of progress being made against the large problem is (attractive, but) deceptive. Again, we are irresponsibly comforted by the “painless” nature of these small victories thanks largely to our lack of education through our media. The news of these miniscule successes becomes quite the “wrong size” in our thoughts and actually works against our willingness to make rational sacrifices for more meaningful progress.
As is the case with most of the solution to Global Warming, communication, education and leadership will have tangible value. Underestimating the importance of these tasks in an invitation to fail in our great mission. The first goal of this “communication, education and leadership” will be to create a thorough knowledge of the “killing power” of climate change.
Another Visit from Malthus
Thomas Robert Malthus, a nineteenth century demographer, evolutionary economist and population commentator, has been roundly criticized almost annually since his death (1766 – 1834). His estimates of general traits in population and class, especially with respect to food production and availability, were based on what we would now consider rather fragile data. Yet, his perception of population matters, although many were based on fairly sketchy information, seems to speak incisively to the present impact of climate change. (Wikepedia: Malthus, T. R. Essay on the Principle of Population.)
Nothing presented here is more than mere speculation. Still, we have this idea of “killing power.” There are presently around seven billion of our fellow humans on the planet. This is widely accepted as too many, although some observers suggest that the earth might support as many as twelve billion at some unpleasant level of living standard.
Malthus’ ideas for possible catastrophic adjustments in population resulting from various calamities were based on local calamities. Extending his concepts to the much more pervasive impact of global climate change suggests that the planetary human population might drop precipitously. Perhaps a reasonable guess is in order. Let us say the reduction would result in a new population of five billion.
Extended over a century or two, such a change might be accomplished in some sort of order. However, when compressed into a period of one half or, even, one quarter of a century, this reduction process could become quite “steamy.” This morbid possibility can be added to the arguments supporting the necessity of the Environment Institute. Still, those of us in industrially advanced western countries would be somewhat insulated from such a misery. Right?
Does this mean no more Chilean grapes at Christmas time? Probably, but we might not even pause to think about such things. We might be very busy with other issues.
Early Suspicions: The Watery Nature of the First Project Goals
Again, our inclination to consider climate change anecdotally suggests all sorts of specific areas for our planning. However, jumping over items such as automobile design, coal gassification and improvements to thermal insulation, we can seek out an even larger picture. Somewhere near the very root of all these impacts lies a single issue.
The civilization of this world has always been based on the water conditions existing at the time. Around 7,000 or 8,000 BC the great water resources of the Tigris and Euphrates formed the resource basis for the beginning of the great Sumerian cities in Mesopotamia. A few thousand miles to the east, the mighty Indus River supported the start of civilizing influences for the culture of the Indus Valley at roughly the same time.
Food is very handy if one wishes to start a great civilization from scratch. In South America we see the historic failures of great cultures resulting from droughts too severe for their survival. Of course, had we been there at those times, this failure of culture might have appeared as the secondary result of such droughts. It is likely to be quite similar in our own future.
However, considering our world on a planetary scale, these droughts are actually not a planetary disruption in water sources so much as they are a redistribution of water, although with cataclysmic results. The world has sustained about the same amount of water for a very long time. It is only when that water is “moved” from one place to another that our civilizations seem to get the “death blow.”
Contemporary calamities seem to manifest themselves as “food” emergencies more often than as “water” emergencies. The distribution of the population of the world has been in response to the distribution of water resources. When these conditions have been stable for many centuries, immense concentrations of human energy have built homes, cities, industries and vast agriculture. Unhappily, those edifices of modern work don’t move about as graciously as the planetary water supply seems to move.
We can further complicate this small model with the “value” of all these constructions. That “real estate” value is very directly founded on the water value to which it enjoys access. A fabulous mansion built where there is neither food nor water is worth much less than a more modest home with the necessities of life nearby.
When we see the “food” crises in, for example, sub-Saharan Africa, we actually see the decline in the value of everything which was previously, that is, in wetter times, founded on the agricultural potential which was founded on the presence of water. Now that we have managed to create “deeds” and “titles” and “leases” for all this land, the idea of simply moving to better conditions is no longer possible.
Our genius for irrational population generation guarantees that someone else will be on that better land already. Those folks already living there may have water and food, but quite likely, they will also have guns and a very strong attitude that they have no food, water or land to spare.
The early impact of climate change will manifest itself as a food crisis. No matter the volume of aid shipments, the solution will concern water. Planetary water redistribution along with its probably violent consequences will be the constant irritant to solving Global Warming. The great suffering of massive populations of our world as they face these changes will create all sorts of other issues, but solving these other issues will not solve the problem that will continue to create more of them.
When the Institute uses the term “Infrastructure” we may be inclined to think of sidewalks, sewer treatment and air ports. In the new world, infrastructure will be defined as what is necessary for the survival of large groups of people. It will mean planetary infrastructure. Its current, rather irrational condition represents a great part of the problem. Its replacement with modern, rational forms will be a large part of the solution. The common thread which will run through most of this new infrastructure will be water.
The new version of this old world will be characterized by a population which has, very sensibly, moved to places where water has become as available as it was when their ancestors moved to the old places. A part of the subliminal defeatism which seems to drain the energy of possible solutions is that, somehow, the new, over heated earth will actually have less water. The compounding threat is that all the whole value of the edifices which have been built near the old water will somehow be preserved.
There will be an inescapable reorganization of just about everything. The choice before us is whether we will attempt to manage the chaos of this transformation or simply steel ourselves in the direction of blind survival. We have the resources to determine some, although certainly not all, of the character of the final product. We will be living in a world which has passed through this. We must decide now if we prefer a planet which includes some rational choices or a planet which has cast its final fate to luck or chance.
Should we ever become comfortable with the inexorability of the water problem, we can move on to an even more fundamental issue. The forces which will drive the changes in global water distribution and define the technology of the new places where water becomes available are all derived from questions of power, that is, physical, mechanical power. The remnants of what we call social power will have long ago become essentially irrelevant. The next large question will be one central to modern civilization.
If we have human business more important than “chipping arrowheads,” we will need new energy sources.
Replacing Two Centuries’ of Energy Development in a Decade
Those with wealth based on carbon have already presented just about every conceivable misconception concerning alternatives. The population, once groomed with these carefully crafted misdirections, now believes that no number of windmills can provide enough electricity, no quantity of biofuels enough gasoline and no amount of conservation a fair sacrifice for any benefit.
We can reasonably assume that these same voices will continue to rise up all through the period of reconstruction and reconfiguration. Brazen, they show no compunction or embarrassment no matter how absurd their current message (“Carbon dioxide is our friend.”) may be. The expense of mounting these misinformation campaigns is always accounted as the cost of changing the minds of those they persuade. If 20% of the target audience ultimately believes that “Carbon dioxide really is our friend.” or that “Climate change is actually not caused by man.” such expenditures become cost effective.
The Institute’s continuing credibility as it discredits these claims will be a critically important part of the solution.
So, what will be these rational choices for our new energy production? The answer, most likely, will be quite diverse. The central issue here, however, will be defining the process that provides the direction for this effort. So far, even the most encouraging state thinking about possible alternatives has been marked by intense “localism” (geographical and demographical anecdotalism?). Some of the most promising efforts in this area have seriously neglected their impact on neighbors or competitors (Israeli irrigation policies).
The Institute will also be required to manage the incredible cost of this transformation. There can be no lingering hope that sacrifices will not be required. Walking away from a billion dollar coal fired electrical generation plant (one with another 30 years of projected life/cycle) involves every kind of management, media communication, political support, economic feasibility and planning and even a bit of mass psychology.
All the “chips” will be on the table in changes of this scope. The replacement systems had better work. People will need to see proposals from a source they can trust, and just now, they have been “trained” to not trust very much. A coordinated, well organized source of such plans, such as the Institute, is necessary. A track record of past successes must be more than the technical (feasibility) part of this argument, it must also be communicated effectively to a receptive, motivated resource paying population.
We have mentioned our new, non-carbon based billionaires. These people will be the ones who invent honest, testable equipment of all sorts which meets these demands. As this project matures, the testing and verifying part of the Institute will grow in importance. The new world will be getting ready to do some serious “shopping.” The first wave will be done for the self-preservation of the wealthy countries. The second wave will be the result of responsible new altruism motivated by the clear message that the first wave was not enough.
Evaluating these new processes and projects will be the greatest test of the Institute’s commitment to remain above the influence of these ambitious new manufacturers. There will be literally rivers of money and other resources, rivers which can be diverted from the final goal by every sort of quiet manipulation. History shows us that we are masters at the quiet diversion of resources. The new history will show that we have mastered the idealism required to accomplish success in areas quite beyond the influence of mere ambition.
Never presume that the “old” powers will accede to their own demise without a struggle. Many of the least desirable of them have guns, ridiculously loyal armies of repression, religious claims to legitimacy and traditions of brutality. The Institute can answer all these forces with little more than a reputation of honesty. Should that be shaken by scandals of misappropriation or influence, it will face this resistance unarmed.
A Few Comments About the United States Environment Institute
Okay. We decide to create a massive, federally funded overhead operation to direct the application of resources to the Global Warming problem. What, exactly, might that be? Something like the Post Office except without the mail? Another Congressional leadership abortion? Since this entire presentation is based on raw conjecture, why not indulge ourselves with a vision?
Our Institute could be a fabulous new affair built in some expensive location near all the regular distractions of power and luxury (the United Nations). It might be established with the purchase of an abandoned state college in the fields of Oklahoma or Nebraska, a site with plenty of room to grow. It might be placed in an area needing the infusion of its economic mass, say Detroit or St. Louis. Perhaps we should consider a site where there are compelling environmental threats close at hand such as the chemical wasteland of some abandoned industrial site in New Jersey.
The influence peddlers in the Congress can handle such a decision without so much as breaking a sweat. Still, we can propose a few site requirements which will remain in any event. Here are some of the most obvious:
- The room to grow question
The Institute is predestined to become a rather large facility. The proper storage of data, the housing of its staff (and their living requirements), the availability of room for contractors, possibly accommodation for manufacturing and the immense testing section are all aspects which require room for efficiency. Nebraska starts looking better.
- The transportation question
Considering only two aspects of the proposition, international research and relations and economic coordination with the engines of commerce and capitalism, we see that access to a global transportation system (we can add it to the room requirements or Part 1, above) will be critical. There is no good reason to make a visit to the Institute as difficult as a visit to the United Nations or the Vatican.
- The resource question
We are creating what will become a planetary center of activities. Frugality at the outset will only add expense later. Although the Institute is defined as a “super management” entity, it must still be managed itself. Although this goal is complicated by the fact that some (or many) details of the Institute’s full mission remain unknown at the time of its initiation, there should be no unrealistic (wishful) thinking about its material scope.
How elaborate might this Institute be? How much will it cost over its decades long function?
Diagram 5, remember, it is no more than an unsubstantiated conjecture, shows a possible cost curve for the Institute’s operation. It will be a very big investment. It is designed to guide an even more immense investment in the Global Warming project it will define. Scrimping on management is always attractive but seldom clever.
There will always be those who say “Why not spend all this money on the actual project?” The Institute can reasonably pay for itself if two or three major project failures can be avoided.
- The staffing question
Here, we arrive again at the “When will you need the door knobs?” joke. When we consider the United Nations we think of maintaining the General Assembly meeting room, storing some rifles and bullets for the peacekeeping teams and couple of helicopters. Hardly. The United Nations, even considering the opinions of its many well justified critics, has continuously offered a host structure for all sorts of large work areas. Its central structure operates on around a $2 billion dollar budget (it is well into the red in any given year), but this figure doesn’t include costs for its military tasks, the rather vast amount of aid that is channeled through it at various times or the cost of large projects which are undertaken with its management.
Since its inception it has gradually accumulated literally hundreds of additional tasks, each one staffed with specialist talent and other resources. The point here is that what we now see as we look at the United Nations is an organization which has grown huge as it responded to the changing conditions arising through its history.
The UN might be much more organized and efficient if its founders had known what all it would attempt and how large it would become. The Environment Institute enjoys some knowledge of both of those development requirements. It can be very well defined early in its growth to optimize resource allocations and general direction.
Still, there will be a lot of people involved in such a massive undertaking. How many? What kind? Again, we can only make a conjecture, yet it is not too soon to at least begin asking questions.
Sure. This many people ought to be able to get everything done, whatever “everything” may turn out to be.
A Final Note About the “Big Potato”
All through this discussion we have employed an immense, yet quite hypothetical, cost estimate to the actual project of solving Global Warming. This estimate represents the driving force which could finally validate such an elaborate management plan. The cost of the Institute and all of its expanding functions only makes sense if it offers a chance to optimize an extremely large actual project.
How large a project is required to make these projected Institute figures legitimate? What scope of resources are anticipated as required to solve Global Warming and deliver a new world capable of sustaining itself? Good questions, but not much available for answers.
Still, if we intend to do some planning, we need to start somewhere. Diagram 6 is a shot gun (hypothetical budget) for the whole project. We can see, as we look at its resource consumption rates, that our Institute, although expensive, might represent a real bargain.
Well, just think it all over. Don’t underestimate, but don’t give up!
A final reference note: All this talk about satisfying public skepticism seems to rest on what we may perceive to be unmeasurable parameters. Not the case! Our modern management technology recognizes the essential nature of such matters. Several, highly empirical, methodologies define very material aspects of public opinion, its measurement, its likely implications and the nature of the factors which determine both the rate and direction of its intrinsic mobility. Sample this suggestion:
Stimson, James A. Public Opinion in America — Moods, Cycles, and Swings. [Second Edition] Westview Press (Perseus Books Group), 1999. ISBN 98-36784.
For an interesting and to the point update [14 Feb 2009: BBC] link to: