Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Externalizing Cost and the keystone pipeline

Keystone is in architecture the piece that hold a structure together. Metaphorically speaking is used to talk about the most important element of a system that maintains it working and holds it together, it could be a person in an organization or a species in an ecological system.
 It is in this way the the Keystone pipeline project between the USA and Canada becomes very important, not only economically, but most important politically.

So the question is why are so many people opposed to this project? And why it is so important for those involved in favor of the project?

Economically it makes sense to move resources to where they can exploited more efficiently. That means that if the raw oil extracted in Canada can be refined more efficiently in the Gulf Coast refineries then transporting it there is the thing to do. From the Gulf refineries these refined and processed petrochemicals can be exported to the rest of the world. They can also be transported to the rest of the USA if necessary.

So what is wrong with this picture? Why are so many people opposed? Aren't already lots of pipelines underground in the USA as we can see in this Wikipedia figure?

For one there is this thing about how are we using fossil fuels, and how are we adding green house gases into the atmosphere. Another is how are we supporting or not alternative technologies that are friendlier to the environment and accelerate economic growth?

It is sad that yesterday March 28, 2017 the US administration through executive orders rolled back provisions that regulated emissions from coal power plants and other environmental regulations. Now China is becoming a leader in power generation and transportation technologies such as electric cars that will conform the structure of future society. This structure is multinational, international, and global in character and there is nothing we can do to stop this trend. China on one hand and Russia in the other will tend to dominate markets based on their technological (China) and energy (Russia) resources. The pacific region dominated until now by the USA will shift its fulcrum to China and the Atlantic to Europe.

In the mean time who will pay for this? One thing is to allow free investment in energy like the Keystone pipeline, and another thing is who is going to pay for all the damage to the environment. It is ironic that the same day that the rollback of the environmental protection regulations was signed an oil spill in North Dakota near the Standing Rock indian reservation was detected. For more read here. This spill gives even more support to the demonstrators at the Standing Rock indian reservation that are afraid of the danger and damage their livelihood is facing.

Who will pay for these devastating incidents? We, of course, pay for them. This is how it has been, when ever there is a cost associated with pollution we tax payers foot the bill. The industries causing the damage get aways, sneaking out through the back door, with all the profits and gains.

This is what externalizing costs means. Internalizing gains and profits for the shareholders but making society (us) pay for all costs associated with the damaged environment. Is there anything we can do as a democratic society to change this?    

Saturday, March 11, 2017


This week I learned that the class "HUM-212 Earthkeeping" that I co-teach with Prof. Heidi Owsley will not continue in the same format next year. It looks like it will change to a course focus more on "Environmental Ethics." This will change how I will be addressing my participation in the environmental movement and how I will be focusing more on the creation of an environmental professional program at Warner Pacific College. This new program will be prioritizing the science, mainly chemistry, as the need for stewardship with an technological foundation increases. So, with that in mind is how I am now focussing on the book that I have been writing.

There are many books on environmental studies that address issues related to the relationship between human activity and the state of the environment. Most are descriptive of the situation with statistics and quantification of natural resources as a function of the needs of the human population. Almost all of these books have a historical description of the changes that our societies have gone through and end with the ideas that are now in vogue for the future. Ideas based on technological and scientific discoveries such as increased efficiency in transportation and housing.

On the other hand many books have been written to describe the "human condition" from the philosophical to the psychological in order to explain behavior and to suggest ways in which human interact. Interactions that have a socio-economical implications and tangentially environmental. So there is a need for a bridging text. There is a need for a book that brings human nature and the natural world together. A text that explains the interconnectedness of human nature as a natural phenomena with the rest of the natural world, the physical world. Metaphorically using the pendulum to articulate the idea of balance, the idea of equilibrium, the idea of interconnectedness while at the same time exploring the notion of how a reality can be constructed based on empirical evidence through the scientific endeavor.

On the other hand, we have to address the issue of what makes us different as humans. What is in our humanity that makes us responsible and accountable for what is happening in nature. Acknowledging that there are natural phenomena like tectonic earthquakes that are not caused by human activity we have to understand how to prevent disasters in the face of a natural events. Even though it seems at times that humans are in control, we have to understand that the level of control generally is minuscule. The negative effects caused by human activities are over long periods of time -long term and require a deep understanding of the physical dynamics involved. There are no short term solutions that will fix the problem.

That will be one message in my new book.

Monday, February 6, 2017

A City In The Cloud

I have just find out that Microsoft is developing a system within its cloud to help city agencies to help their constituents. For an interactive demonstrations click here. These city agencies in general can be about education, health, transportation, utilities, safety, and in general anything that could have an impact on the life and well being of a city.

We are at this moment in our history going through dramatic and critical changes, maybe that is how it has been all along, but what is important is that this is our time, this is the moment that we can do something about it. There is nothing we can do about the past as the past is unchangeable, or the future as it is ahead of us. But we can make a future now based on what we do now, and that is in fact what we do all the time. Regardless of knowing how we are affecting the future, or the fact that we might no be intentional about some of the effects we are having in the future, we are modeling the future with our present actions. These ideas are of course redundant in some way but I wanted to be clear of how regardless of our actions we are affecting the future.

With this in mind let's think about education. We can't continue doing the same things in the same way as we have done for many-many years. But as we think about changes we must also think about what can't and will not change. "Human Nature" will never change, as long as we are humans we will have basic needs, and fundamental values that define us as humans. Values like freedom, justice, and respect for life are inherent in all cultures around the world. Even though the definition of these will in some respect depend on cultural context and connotation. Say freedom, in some cultures women ware costumes that cover them almost from head to toe, even though it appears that they are forced to do it, the cultural value insist that the reason behind that apparel is to free the women from male desire, or something like that.

Anyways, coming back to the idea of changing the way we do things related to education. It is clear that technology has induced a lot of changes, from the use of information that it is available online in many cases for free, to the hardware use in classroom and in online courses. So we have to stop, step back one step and evaluate what we are doing and how we are doing it. It seems to me that in most cases we are using these technologies reactive in response to the technological innovation and not proactively with a particular design, purposely with specific goals in mind, goals that have to be clearly assessed and evaluated.

The question I'm posting now relates to this intentional, proactive design of change in our education system. What are the processes that we need to define content in order to prioritize our goals?