warming chart

Fiddling While Earth Burns

Bill McKibben, a science writer and long-time advocate of drastic action to curtail global warming and overpopulation, lays out in the latest edition of Granta the overwhelming evidence, unrefuted by a single credible scientific study, of the huge and potentially disastrous impact of human activity — mostly the burning of hydrocarbons — on the thermodynamics of Earth. And then he gets to the heart of the problem:

The success of the scientific method underlines the failure of the political method. It is clear what must happenóthe rapid conversion of our energy system from fossil to renewable fuels. And it is clear that it could happenómuch of the necessary technology is no longer quixotic, no longer the province of backyard tinkerers. And it is also clear that it isnít happening. Some parts of Europe have made material progressóDenmark has built great banks of windmills. Some parts of Europe have made promisesóthe United Kingdom thinks it can cut its carbon emissions by sixty per cent by 2050. But China and India are still building power plants and motorways, and the United States has made it utterly clear that nothing will change soon. When Bill Clinton was President he sat by while American civilians traded up from cars to troop-transport vehicles; George Bush has not only rejected the Kyoto treaty, he has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to replace ëglobal warmingí with the less ominous ëclimate changeí, and issued a national energy policy that foresees ever more drilling, refining and burning. Under it, American carbon emissions will grow another forty per cent in the next generation.

As satisfying as it is to blame politicians, however, it will not do. Politicians will follow the path of least resistance. So far there has not been a movement loud or sustained enough to command political attention. Electorates demand economic prosperityómore of itóabove all things. And our awareness that the world will change in every aspect, should we be so aware, is muted by the future tense, even though that future isnít far away, so near in fact that preventing global warming is a lost causeóall we can do now is to try to keep it from getting utterly out of control.

Global warming is the ultimate example of Tragedy of the Commons. It is also the ultimate example of our human culture’s inability to solve problems that creep up on us gradually. When faced with a Hitler or a 9/11 disaster we act. But like the frog in the proverbial pot of water slowly getting hotter and hotter until he boils alive, there will never be enough of a sense of urgency about global warming until it’s too late. Slowly but surely the melting of glaciers and permafrost, the increase in extreme deluges and extreme droughts, the decline of biodiversity and increase in coastal flooding and desertification, will be our world’s undoing. And our descendents will raise their dying fists in anger at our foolishness and inaction.

Innovation Best Practices

Kevin O’Mara of AMR Research, writing for ZDNet, proposes five innovation ‘best practices’:

  1. A formal, coordinated process to capture ideas
  2. A discplined process to assess ideas and separate the good from the bad, including simulation and exit strategy
  3. Speeding time to market, including rapid prototyping and customer focus groups early in the process
  4. Translating customer problems and unmet needs into innovations, instead of relying on internally-developed ideas
  5. Hire a Chief Product/Innovation Officer to identify and reward successful innovations

And in HBS Working Knowledge, Henry Chesbrough of UC Berkeley reminds us that great innovations can also come from failures, and their true value can go unrecognized as ‘false negatives’. Examples — Viagra was a failed angina drug, and the Ethernet and PostScript were successes for 3Com and Adobe after Xerox had rejected them as failures. A program to review, expose to outsiders, ‘shop’ and spin off failed projects and products can prevent such ‘false negatives’.

Projecting into Thin Air

Speaking of innovation, IO2 Technology has invented a projection technique that displays pixels in mid-air. It’s not holography, and it’s fully interactive — the air becomes a virtual touch-screen reacting to your finger. Look ma, no screen.

Paying Americans Third World Wages, and Giving Them Third World Service

Fellow Salon Blogger Janal Kalis relays a suggestion for dealing with ‘offshoring’ jobs from David Gumpert. The solution, pioneered successfully by a company called cMarket, is to offer the jobs to Americans first at 10% above the going rate they would pay in India. With the alternative of no work, or severe underemployment, many Americans jumped at the chance. But at what cost? Read the article and find out, then tell me, and Janal, what you think.

Incidentally, in what I think was an inevitable consequence of ‘offshoring’, Dell Computer is creating a two-tier help desk service model for its customers. Big corporate customers get their service calls routed to the American help desk staff; while the rest of us get our calls routed to the inferior third world help desk. You know, the ones that read the manual out loud to you.

More quickies on Saturday.
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  1. kevin omarah says:

    First time seeing your site. We have common interests

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