For Whom the Doomsday Clock Ticks

I guess it is a sign of when you grew up.  Ernest Hemingway’s book, For Whom the Bell Tolls, was a novel written as a mixture of firsthand observation and creative writing in the early 1940s about the war in Spain.  Sometimes books get remembered because their title is provocative.  Other times, it is because there is a deeper message captured in the title that takes on meaning because you read the book.

This morning, we read an assessment of the world existential situation each year for the past 75 years, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has published a new Doomsday Clock, suggesting just how close – or far – humanity is from the brink if total destruction.  This latest edition was revealed Tuesday at 10 a.m. EST.  It showed us at the closest in history … surprise surprise! Read the article here.

Historically, the clock has measured the danger of nuclear disaster, but that’s not the only apocalyptic scenario being considered today. Climate change, bioterrorism, artificial intelligence, and the damage done by mis-and disinformation have now been included in the mix of possible cataclysms. For the past two years, the Doomsday Clock has stood at 100 seconds to midnight, closer to destruction than at any point since it was created in 1947.

What should we be thinking?  Here is the conclusion as of Tuesday morning:

Are there any signs of hope?

The scientists and academics behind the Doomsday Clock said there is reason to put faith in humanity’s ability to confront existential threats. The coronavirus pandemic demonstrated that health practitioners and policymakers are “emboldened” to work together in moments of crisis, said Suzet McKinney, principal and director of life sciences for the real estate company Sterling Bay.

Renewable energy technology is also poised to become the world’s largest source of energy within perhaps the next five years, said Sivan Kartha, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute and lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report.

Kartha added he is encouraged by the climate activism of the world’s youngest generations, who will face the consequences of failures to constrain fossil fuel use and slow global warming. “That’s something to definitely put some serious hope in,” Kartha said.

Do I really need to dissect how silly this is?  Can you see how alarmism has replaced reason?  How do you equate climate concerns with global nuclear war?  That of course is a doomsday scenario.  Our planet has adjusted to much greater swings in climate in its history.  We will again.

Plus, renewables have done absolutely nothing to mitigate the increasing carbon dioxide levels, so where is the outrage over that?  Renewables (PV and wind) have, in fact, increased the rate of carbon dioxide is being released into the environment.  Shouldn’t that be a concern?

It is so clear that climate activism in the world’s youngest generations shows how our education system has brainwashed so many.  It has also failed to produce critical thinking individuals.  Plus, all too many who know this is all a farce are sitting on the sidelines hoping it will all pass.

I know a lot of very smart people … very very smart people … and not one of them will tell the emperor he is nude besides me.

It is ironic that today’s youth no longer can read the hands on a clock, so maybe it is not surprising they can’t even understand the picture shown in this blog!

Tolerating Complexity and Mystery

Our postmodern society prizes technology and scientific excellence.  We celebrate this daily in the news as well as with the countless awards offered.  There are hundreds of journals and books written each month that tout the latest and the greatest.  Some of these are clearly fads, but others do become products we learn to rely upon in our daily lives.

Few today live without a cellphone.  Most of them become so essential to our daily lives that we form an addiction to them.  Therapists are needed to “wean” people off them because they are ruining relationships.  Family gatherings now often start with a basket or bowl into which guests put them so they can have a meaningful visit.  But this is often not without a fight.

The constant bombardment of digital information has created another set of problems.  People are thinking less about issues and are trusting others to direct their paths.  Ask your friends how many of them use Ways to guide them while driving.  And watch how some side streets become blocked when Ways directs traffic around a wreck on the major roads.

This does permit us tremendous efficiency in our lives, but it is also bringing about some levels of laziness in our thinking.  Go ahead and watch how service workers “make change” in fast food restaurants.  They don’t know how to do that if the cash register won’t do it for them!  Our son literally can’t sign his name since cursive is no longer taught in schools.

We are increasingly becoming so dependent upon others that the age old do it yourself projects no longer make any sense.  I remember taking the tubes out of the radio when it didn’t work to bring them into the electronics store, testing them, and finding the one needing replacement.  Now, you throw away the device.

All this trust seems to now push us into herd mentalities in ways we never anticipated. We are so trusting of our government or scientific community that we pay for their ideas without asking for proof that it will gain the desired result.

I am watching so many people sign up for “no cost” solar installations and sign 20-25 year agreements to pay much more than they would have paid if they had stayed normal electricity customers.  They didn’t read and/or didn’t understand what they were signing.  PT Barnum was right.

Worse yet, we elect our leaders on superficially appealing notions …

Ugh …

Can Democracy Solve Our Big Problems?

Our country just went through midterm elections with the reminder that we are far from a consensus on solving the big problems facing us and the world at large.  So many of the races were razer thin margins, and neither side is happy about where we are.  So, how do we move forward?

Can consensus be achieved on anything any longer?  Are we doomed to fight for some ideal answer despite the compelling statistics that speak volumes about our silliness?  Defunding the police, open borders, etc. may answer the needs for a certain point of view, but fly in the face of community wellness.  And, just because we stop doing this or that doesn’t compel the rest of the world to do the same … in fact, it gives them opportunity to continue down the wrong paths.

It is a funny conversation point, but many of my professional friends will use the phrase: If I were King or God I would do … to point to knowing the right answer that is simply not popular.  After all, our political process brings forth charismatic people who profess to give us what we want to get elected, and then almost never deliver on those promises.  We even shrug our shoulders in resignation of this fact, yet we continue believing democracy can and will solve big existential questions.

As I think about the attacks of 9 -11, I am reminded about how this “common enemy” brought our nation together with resolve.  We seemed to realize, if only for a time, that we needed to ban together and protect our national interests.  However, we still maintain some pretty silly precautions at our airports.  My wife was bringing me a new tube of toothpaste that we always special order and they confiscated it.

I remember when then President Jimmy Carter declared the energy crisis of 1978 the moral equivalent of war and unilaterally lowered speed limits to 55. Most Americans complied.  I remember when New Zealand shut off the electric hot water in homes for months during a drought to keep the grid up.  New Zealanders complied.  I doubt either of these decisions would have resulted from a democratic vote.

But, the underlying problem is that we do not know with any certainty how to fix the really big problems since, in part, we are so interdependent as a world community.  We put organizations in place like NATO and The United Nations, and the G7/G8/G20 Summit to at least discuss these questions and the fact that the number changes with world politics indicates the challenge.

I formed the Peak Load Management Alliance to facilitate a constructive dialogue on how demand response mechanisms could be worked into electric and natural gas markets.  Membership consists of the industry counterparties (energy suppliers and large users) along with enabling legislative and regulatory market participants.  The organization can only offer ideas and forums for dialogue but has been rather successful transforming the energy industry … in part because everyone wants it to succeed.

Notably absent are those who are not interested in its success … the energy generators whose long term growth has been stymied by this upstart social good.  They know their position is simply in denial of the right long term answers.  They know they are wrong, but they are just not willing to agree with it.  So, they attempt to work behind the scenes at the ISOs to make the rules more and more stringent, hoping this right answer will eventually go away.

We should be learning something about our democratic process through all this … but are we even looking?

Whatever Is Can Be!

I can’t remember the professor who suggested this to me, but I think it is pretty profound.  When it comes to things that you believe are real, it is always a good guideline to think that must be real if it already exists.  So, now that we have been told by our governmental researchers they can produce fusion (the same energy source as the sun), perhaps we shouldn’t be celebrating just yet.

You all know that our sun is not unique.  All of those bright, shiny objects in the sky use the same energy production methods, so we KNOW fusion works and produces an enormous amount of energy, and for a long time.  On so many levels, the research is impressive for sure, but perhaps we are not asking the truly important questions.

Go ahead and ask any science teachers you know or any theoretical physicists.  They will all admit they do not know how these bright objects were created in the first place.  Yes, you read that correctly … go and check it out for yourself.  Even though we have almost countless examples of this in our universe, we simply have no idea how they were formed.  Yes, we have theories. But no one can explain this … and my next statements should give us pause.  You do remember Madame Curie learned the hard way that radioactivity was harmful and exposure will kill you?

Now, read all the press on fusion and tell me whether this idea is safe and practical.  These suns are not contained to provide energy in a controlled way.  Nothing can exist close to them.  Oh, and by the way, why isn’t anyone talking about the size issue here.  Our sun is a relatively small star and is so big that its gravitational force holds our solar system together.  Why isn’t anyone talking about the scale issue?

Here is a nice summary from the New York Times:

Why is this result such a big deal? As a clean source of energy, nuclear fusion could help replace polluting fossil fuels and overcome climate change. And if the remaining challenges — of which there are many — are figured out, nuclear fusion could produce more energy than today’s technologies are capable of.

Serious barriers remain before that potential future, experts caution. Can scientists reliably replicate what they’ve done only once? Can it be done more efficiently and more quickly? Can it be scaled up? All these questions are serious enough that, if not overcome, yesterday’s announcement may ultimately amount to little.

Do you remember when Einstein and others worried that the atomic bomb was a bad idea.  Yes, it was the beginning of a nuclear age with wonderful examples of power plants in our world.  But, it is also the basis of our greatest fears since this same energy source can wipe us out.

What is clear is that we are about to be asked to pay dearly to follow this path … but no one is asking where that path really leads.