Modern Dietary Laws?

I grew up in a Jewish home where I learned to know that we weren’t supposed to eat ham, shrimp or lobster … but we did … well … not on the holidays of Passover or Chanukah.  Perhaps that is why I thought it was hilarious when I saw the pictured announcement of a Kosher ham in the supermarket.

To that point, a friend at my church asked me whether I was uncomfortable serving bacon to 600 people at a morning breakfast event called “Pastor’s Pancakes?”  I replied, “not half as much as not charging for it!”

The origins of these dietary laws can generally be traced to healthy diets.  Outlaw the stuff that leads to diseases and people will live longer and better.  Some of the Kosher laws were especially prescient for times when refrigeration and other forms of food preservation were not available.

But now that we are living in a world with so many people, we are looking at the very real questions of whether we can meet the needs of a growing population with safe drinking water and food.  Hence, the serious interest in plant based protein substitutes.

However, the average American is in love with their burgers and when President Biden even suggested we cut down by one a month we saw outrage.  How to we move towards a more sustainable diet?  Do we outlaw some foods, ration others, or possibly begin the gradual hard work of reeducating people to turn over the demand curve?  None of these seem realistic.

We do live in a free society where choices about food and drink are left to the markets.  If lobster was $100 a pound fewer people would eat it.  So, you could tax this, much like cigarettes … yet all too many people still choose to smoke.

You could restrict water use so that the free markets do a better job of deciding what and where they grow food … that would help out enormously in the Western US because the water use laws there fail to reflect the value.  But, I don’t think I am surprising anyone by suggesting that attempting to restrict water use out west is likely tilting at windmills, even though it is absolutely the right idea.

How are we going to manage our food and water supplies?  These are really tough questions, and they will impact our society a lot more than worrying so much about our carbon and methane emissions.

So, why are we so proud of passing almost meaningless and costly climate legislation?  Is it perhaps because we do not have the political will to tackle meaningful issues?  Or, is it because those in politics know they have no large or powerful constituencies to just do the right thing any longer?

Least Cost Carbon Accountability

It seems like only yesterday that the electricity industry faced a supply side crisis.  Every time they built a new power plant it was more and more costly.  So, at the prodding of Amory Lovins and others the world considered demand (consumer energy use) side alternatives to the supply side bias that dominated energy company planning.

The mathematical framework was called least cost planning or integrated resource planning and included an expanded portfolio of alternatives which for the first time included energy efficiency.  They were right… it was far less expensive to consider helping and paying some of the cost of customer energy efficiency upgrades than to build power plants.

But, there were other efforts as well included in the plans… like improving the efficiency of things consumers bought.  Through these efforts refrigerators were designed that used only about 25% of the energy and lighting energy was reduced to about 5-10% of the historical energy consumption.

The impacts of all these changes have been a significant positive on our energy use.  And, along the way the early investments in solar and wind have now matured and become cost effective to include in the supply side of the equation. Batteries are coming along and will certainly be an increasing member of the portfolio.

So, here we are after all these years and we now have another metric to include in our math: carbon.

Well then, the first step is to define the accounting of that as a member of the portfolio.  We should consider the carbon emitted by the operation of the device along with the carbon footprint for the production of the device itself along with the carbon footprint for the recycle or disposal.

Really… is that really the right question any longer?  Shouldn’t we ask what the alternative is to even have that at all?

It seems we have to go back to the planning basics for society itself including whether we need to control populations.  China did that for years and has recently changed its policy, but the single child policy was law for decades.  Are we going to consider this option?  After all, we have to plan for the water, food, education, and protection of people in our modern society.

No Joel… we can’t touch that in our free society with life liberty and the pursuit of happiness as our bedrock for decisions.

Well then, we need to define what it means to have a home for people to keep them off the streets and to feed, cloth and keep them healthy.  Are the methods we use today sustainable over time or do we need to rethink how we design communities?  Isn’t that more responsible than just thinking we can build the energy and infrastructure to perpetuate our previous assumptions?

No Joel… we tried asking people to eat one less hamburger and that blew up in our faces.  We know that a vegan diet is healthier but see the previous statements about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  We can’t ask people to change behaviors like this.

Then, we better be prepared to spend a lot more money to solve the problem.


Electrification aka “whatever you do, don’t throw me in the briar patch!”

I grew up with the Uncle Remus story of a rabbit who becomes trapped and faces certain death by a fox to whom he pleads “You can do whatever you want with me.  Just, whatever you do, don’t throw me in the briar patch!”  Of course, this reverse psychology works in many cases and certainly did in this story.

Rabbits are completely comfortable, safe, and secure if they are in a briar patch.  So, Joel, why do you parallel electrification to this story?

Very simply, there is no other way to explain the complacency of so many industry professionals with the push for electrification we see today.  After all, this push for electrification now will increase carbon dioxide emissions in the short run because the next kWh of electricity will be produced in most cases by burning fossil fuels.  Sure, if we had a totally renewable grid electrification would reduce carbon… but only if there were an excess of renewables or storage.  Remember, most renewables outside of hydro are not dispatchable.

It really makes me crazy to see electric water heating being advocated on the morning news programs.  I know this industry and people in it are very smart.  There is no other explanation for their compliance.

I do wonder what is going to happen as we now see carbon dioxide levels rising even faster now that we are going to build more EVs now that embed the equivalent of 8 years of driving in their batteries.

Oh well, the same thing happened years ago when the environmental idiots recommended burning biomass because it somehow reduced the eventual formation of methane.

Beam me up Scotty …

Morality and Mobility

I still remember wishing I could fly as a kid.  I used to think about that as I went to bed… laying there wondering whether I could fly like Superman.  Silly I know… but I would bet many others have had this goal given how persistent the quest is even today.

Technology has made it possible to do that with personal rockets and now drones.  As you have no doubt seen there are a huge number of startup companies looking at the realities of flying from point to point … especially as the gridlock comes back to major cities after the pandemic.

I have a drone and have to admit that you really no longer have to be able fly it.  You can just put in the point to point destinations and the drone will fly there and even avoid obstructions in the way.  It does not surprise me that Amazon and others are looking very seriously at this technology for the last mile of the delivery system.

However, when I hear of this being suggested as a normal means of transportation I have to wonder whether the quest is based upon just proving you can do it or as a viable and sustainable means of transport.  After all, we have seen a huge shift in attitudes toward mobility that are possibly wrong.

For example, I grew up in New York City where almost no one had a car.  You did everything with public transportation plus taxis … that is … until you got to your destination where they picked you up from the train or bus station.  Millions and millions of people walked or took public transportation.  Cars were simply not affordable.  In fact, today, parking your car in New York City costs you more than buying it and insuring it!

We are seeing a backlash in our latest generation entering the workforce.  They want to live where they work or at least have public transportation as an option.  Perhaps they are onto something.  Is it better to live this way than to be stuck in traffic for hours each day?

I am not suggesting we take a socialist’s approach to this problem and decree that it is immoral to have a car and live a life of mobility, but I do believe the question is important, especially before we go down the road of believing that everyone should have an EV and whimsically drive wherever they desire just because they can.  They are clogging the roads which we then have to improve … kind of the same treadmill we got onto when we started offering customers electric appliances for their homes.

We really need to step back from the temptation to just keep making it easier and more affordable for people to do what is ultimately unsustainable and possibly immoral over time.  Maybe it would be worthwhile to take a look at the behavioral opportunities to change consumption of services like this just like we learned to use behavioral methods to reduce energy use.

I wonder who will have the courage to raise this in our political discourse?  After all, when President Biden suggested we might want to eat one less hamburger you would have thought he wanted us to all sacrifice beyond measure.

Bias Bounties

Forester Research recently highlighted their predictions for 2022 and included in it was the concept of bias bounties.  They are modeled after bug bounties, which reward users who detect problems in software. Bias bounties would reward users for identifying bias in AI systems. This year, Twitter launched the first major bias bounty and awarded $3,500 to a student who proved that its image cropping algorithm favors lighter, slimmer, and younger faces.

According to Forester other major tech companies such as Google and Microsoft will implement bias bounties, as will non-technology companies including banks and healthcare companies. They suggest that AI professionals should consider bias bounties as a canary in the coal mine for situations where incomplete data or existing inequity may lead to discriminatory outcomes from AI systems.

While this might sound altruistic and noble to assuage public criticism and to provide transparency and accountability, the idea that it will eliminate or even “dent” the problem of bias is complexly naïve and uninformed.

The problem stems from the very core of the math methods used in AI and deep learning today. The methods have so many variables and the “truth cases” used to train the methods are far from truth.  It would take too much time and most of you simply don’t care about these details… so why do I choose to correct all this and present this as a blog?

It is because the core issue in all of this is not bias in the AI systems but rather bias in the data we collect on people itself.  We may have elements of truth in it such as whether people buy cigarettes and how that translates to their health statistics but what seems like truth may not be so obvious once you go a bit deeper.

You are probably aware that the hiring algorithms used by major corporations use Myers Briggs tests to correlate success in jobs.  That may seem unbiased on the surface but as you dig into the test itself you find that it was never designed nor intended to indicate success in life … it was just to highlight how different people view life situations and respond to them.

We should be alarmed at incentivizing anyone to make subjective judgements that get validated by some statistical measures.  Just because you find a better variable to correlate to an outcome does not mean you have discovered a bias in the prior one.

Remember the core idea … correlation does not imply causation.  The birth rate in England correlates to the stork population.  I hope I am not going too fast … am I?