Friday, October 15, 2010

Five Important Things the Government Needs To and Can Do in the Near Future To Help the Environment

The first thing the government should have done with respect to the environment was put a price on carbon through a carbon tax, cap and trade system or some other genuine meaningful methodology, but unfortunately that seems unlikely in the current political environment. However, the following five things are positive steps that can be taken to improve the environment and/or better prepare for scenarios that will more than likely develop in the future. None of these elements should draw legitimate opposition due to political affiliation.

1. Farm subsidies have always been a controversial issue, especially those subsidies which award farmers for leaving their fields barren of crops or ‘encourage’ growth of a certain staple crop due to market economics. Millions of dollars are given to owners of thousands of acres, which are inherently unproductive because unregulated growth could easily drive down prices for certain crops making it more difficult for agrobusinesses and independent farmers to turn a profit. It would be very difficult to eliminate the subsidies because of the powerful agricultural lobby in Congress, but the operational condition of the subsidy could still be changed. For example instead of growing nothing or some forced specific crop, the owners of land receiving these subsidies should be compelled to grow switchgrass in order to continue receiving the subsidy.

After growing to maturity, the switchgrass can then be harvested and burned in a slow pyrolytic process to create bio-char. This bio-char can then be recycled back into the original field to aid future switchgrass growth. Once the given field has attained bio-char saturation, additional bio-char can be transported to other fields and the process can continue. Not only will the application of bio-char in fields increase the overall yields and potentially increase soil quality, but it will also take a bite out of the total amount of carbon dioxide that human release into the atmosphere, the major element that drives global warming. This cultivation of switchgrass does not require the use artificial fertilizers (natural is fine) or pesticides nor does it interfere with the original purpose of the subsidy which is to stabilize a certain market price range for a given crop.

2. One of the lesser talked about, but more important elements of the American Energy and Security Act (ACES) passed by the House of Representatives in 2009 was the new proposed building regulations with regards to energy use. At least 40% of U.S. energy use involves buildings and while not all of the energy use is waste, a significant amount is wasted where most of this waste is derived directly through how buildings are constructed. The steadily increasing efficiency scale for energy use proposed in the ACES is well-designed and should go a long way to increasing overall national energy efficiency as well as reducing carbon emissions. In fact without a new national building code, any real movement on the energy efficiency front is severely handicapped because it is not in the financial interest of electricity companies to rein in electricity use regardless of how many smart meter pilot programs they advertise. Defining a long-term set of building codes will also benefit the construction industry because it will demonstrate a clear price signal which will allow for intelligent and confident investment and planning for the future of the home building and planning sector of the construction industry.

However, there are two issues that need to be addressed regarding new building codes. First, an objective and transparent measure of efficiency needs to be made with a standard model of operation. Basically the measurement of efficiency improvement requires a universal application of how people would interact with and in the building to confirm the legitimacy of the design. If the interaction differs then one building may receive an unfair advantage over another when meeting these efficiency standards unless compensated. Second, the government needs to have some authority to regulate cost of any items that are deemed ‘high-value’ in the design and construction of new more efficient buildings in effort to avoid any price gouging from suppliers taking advantage of the new requirements. Finally there may be some resistance to the development of these new codes, but such resistance is fruitless unless it cites meaningful rationalities and/or flaws in the code. To address these issues all state agencies should have the ability to create a report regarding any potential flaws in the current proposed code and a reasonable counterproposal containing appropriate solutions.

3. As previously mentioned in this post, it is time for the government to pick winners and losers in the electricity sector of the energy industry because with continually decreasing resource availability with regards to construction materials deriving success from piecemeal solutions will become more and more difficult. Remember while normally selecting winners/losers is not the government’s role, the free market has been corrupted and is unable to effectively select the most viable choice(s).

4. Although it is debatable when the era of cheap oil will end, the fact that it will end soon is not. Therefore, it is important for the government to develop or at least aid in the development of new operational infrastructure and transportation for the agricultural sector. Clearly hybrid and 100% electrical passenger vehicles have been developed, but little work has been done on heavy machinery for agricultural use. While there are a small number of options, clearly more planning and work need to be done. With profit margins for independent farmers already quite thin, a steady increase in gasoline price due to increases in oil prices and a possible increase in fertilizer price due to rising natural gas demand will more than likely remove food from the marketplace. Agrobusinesses, which devoutly care about profits, will raise their prices in lockstep with any long-term increase in operational costs due to increasing oil prices, effectively removing food from the marketplace for poorer Americans. With that in mind it is up to the government to drive the development of heavy machines that can perform agricultural tasks which are not impacted by future rising oil prices.

5. Work to develop a national water conservation strategy. For far too long water conservation has been viewed as a luxury instead of a necessity. With drought conditions perpetually affecting the Southwest and the Southeast portions of the United States and the increasingly warming climate soon to exacerbate conditions it is about time a cohesive and thorough national water conservation strategy is developed to effectively deal with future shortages. While some individuals break out in hives whenever the government proposes anything, administration of intelligent and reasonable water conservation for 300+ million people is something only a centralized government has the ability to effectively manage. The ongoing droughts have unfortunately demonstrated that states have been unable to rein in water usage and private enterprise is not appropriate or equipped to do so in an ethical and reasonable way. Therefore, it is important for the government to begin action on not only an appropriate conservation strategy, but also future water generation technology, deployment of greater waste treatment technology and water storage facilities to ensure an adequate and fluid (no pun intended) water supply.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Re-energizing the Environmental Movement

On October 10, 2010 the environment movement, largely driven by the group, held a global coordinated effort comprised of over 7,000 independent gatherings in an attempt to demonstrate global solidarity behind aggressive and effective action to stem global carbon emissions. Such a large organized global gathering, consisting of individuals actually carrying out positive environmental actions, must have garnered significant and thorough media attention, especially in the main target countries of U.S. and China right? No, environmental gatherings rarely make any dent in the news cycle for either country; in fact for the U.S. the date 10/10/10 was noted more for the increased amount of weddings than anything else. So how has it come to this, how is it that the most important issue in human history, sustaining the strength of a living environment for a single-plant species, receives only substandard media coverage and enthusiasm from the masses?

One of the main problems is that environmentalists have no legitimate attack strategy against those that either deny the legitimacy of human driven global warming or oppose action to combat it due to selfish economic reasons. The general response to these individuals typically involves citing more and more scientific evidence supporting the validity of human driven global warming and its consequences. They have continually expressed the same warning for decades, yet there is little substance for such effort. In essence they have walked a mile to seemingly move a mere inch. Others plead for boycotts against the more powerful adversaries, but such an outcry is futile because the organization and will power to execute such a strategy is limited in the environmental movement. Their opponents have money, organization and a singular message/purpose. What does the environmental movement have… certainly not what amounts to the title of a Meatloaf song. So it is about time for environmentalists to wake up and effectively begin to counter these advantages.

First, forgot the idea of any type of boycott because such a strategy will simply waste time and resources. There are too many individuals in U.S. that depend on oil, coal and natural gas, especially on a socio-economical gradient. One of the problems with some in the environmental movement is that they seem to have a perception that millions of people have tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars of disposable income sitting in the bank and just don’t have the motivation to embrace the environmental movement and a boycott. Approximately 17% of the country is below the poverty line with bi-weekly stories about the vanishing middle class and yet some expect these people to go buy a 15,000 – 30,000 dollar solar panel system or a 30,000 – 40,000 dollar electric vehicle with the explanation that it is good for them because of a rate of return at 5-10 years, what nonsense.

Also look at some of the more successful boycotts in recent history, the ‘Mitsubishi: Don't Buy It’ campaign, the movement against De Beers and the National Mobilization Against Sweatshops vs. Donna Karan, why did all of those boycotts work? Three reasons: 1. a viable alternative was already available in the market; if you didn’t like Mitsubishi’s environmental policy in Mexico buy a vehicle from Ford; if you didn’t like De Beers screwing over the Kalahari Bushmen, then buy from Zales; if you didn’t like Donna Karan using sweatshops and screwing over its employees, then buy from another clothing designer as there are thousands of options; 2. the purchase/use of these products was not daily, weekly or even monthly. Basically the need of these products were not such that switching suppliers or not buying them at all significantly disrupted livelihood in any real way and less frequent purchasing meant that each purchase mattered more to the company; 3. the changes being demanded by the boycotters were rather small from an industry perspective and could be made by the respective companies without putting them out of business.

All three of these success parameters fail when considering a boycott against a company like ExxonMobil. Looking at the failure of the third point first, the point of the boycott is the very destruction of the company as it presently exists. Some may argue that the main focus would be to ‘encourage’ ExxonMobil to convert completely from an oil company to a bio-fuel company, but even this ideal basically destroys what exists as ExxonMobil today. This motivation then filters into the first point as in the De Beers case the goal was not to eliminate the entire diamond mining industry, but to rectify the circumstances surrounding a single mine. The alternatives that were available could be accessed to put pressure on De Beers; however, in the case of an ExxonMobil boycott, clearly purchasing fuel from BP does not support the overall goal of an ExxonMobil boycott and bio-fuel alternatives are not nearly in enough supply to put even a microscopic dent in ExxonMobil’s bottom line. Finally it is much easier for people to boycott consumer goods that do not heavily impact their lives, but can be viewed more as luxury items. Oil, largely in the form of gasoline, is a consumer good that is used far too frequently to induce enough people to make the dramatic switch from gas to another form of transportation medium. Thus any further discussion of a ‘major’ boycott against any oil and/or coal companies is just a waste of breath.

Second, sadly enough it appears that a single focus on the environment and its overall importance is an argument that has yet to spark the masses to action. In addition it does not appear that such an argument has an amplifying effectiveness where if people are just told about the future dangers to the environment and human species enough a light will eventually turn on and these individuals will magically now fight for the environment. Should one really expect someone that has denied global warming with the science at a 95% confidence level to change his/her opinion when a new set of studies upgrades the confidence level to 97%? That is like a person declining to play the lottery with numbers that have a 95% chance of winning instead waiting until given a set of numbers that have a 97% chance of winning, not a realistic psychological scenario.

The line in the sand has already been drawn regarding the role of human involvement in global warming and few people are dancing along that line changing their minds based on the latest news report or scientific paper. For most people ‘present egocentricity’ typically have them caring more about who Taylor Swift or Kim Kardashian might be dating over the prospect of Manhattan being underwater 30 years from now. Unfortunately this mindset also eliminates effective arguing for emission reduction from an ethical standpoint of saving a place like the Maldive Islands. It would take a local catastrophic event, not huge stable for thousands of years ice sheets breaking away from Greenland, to spur enough people to action using a ‘save the environment’ strategy and such an event does not seem in the cards until it is far too late. Therefore, despite their clear legitimacy, environmental dangers cannot be the main linchpin argument for action against global warming, at least not for the general public.

Expanding on the above point, although most of the issues regarding criticism of climate scientists were addressed here, one important point remains. Recently an extremely bias and problematic documentary entitled “Waiting for Superman” was released which purported to address the problems in the U.S. education system. Not surprisingly the film basically takes the position that all of the problems in the education system are a result of bad teachers and the evil teacher’s union and the simple solution to these problems lies within the widespread expansion of charter schools and their quality teachers. Sadly the film does not produce anything that has not already been heard thousands of times before from individuals or groups that are pro-charter school anti-public school/teacher, thus making it a meaningless propaganda tool that does nothing to actually solve the problems in the education system.

A number of individuals within the environmental movement also appear to be falling into this trap of ‘Waiting for Superman’. They believe that if enough climate scientists speak out directly to the public about the dangers of global warming that such action will turn the tide. Unfortunately there is no reason to suspect such an outcome. While any help from climate scientists would be appreciated, one must remember that some have certain internal pressures which may not allow them to behave with the requisite level of freedom and outspokenness these environmentalist expect. In fact the saddest thing about this entire hope is that in the eyes of the general public, regardless of it being wrong, climate scientists are commonly viewed with a level of enthusiasm not akin to Superman, but instead Supergrover.

Third, the appropriate argument needs to develop a personal tone focusing on how environmental policy tangibly helps specific individuals. At one time relating ‘green jobs’ to environmental policy may have been a good idea, but the messaging was carried out so poorly that, similar to the ‘doomsday’ environmental damage 30 years from now scenarios, most of the public seems to tune out such a message. For example suppose you have Stanley a blue-collar construction worker. Now the statement that investing billions of dollars in a new ‘green’ infrastructure over the next 10-20 years will produce millions of new jobs may not mean anything to him, unless Stanley digs deep and really studies the new suggested policy, but Stanley has things to do that he views as more important. However, what if it was clearly specified that of those 3 million new jobs, suppose 1.5 million are construction jobs with an average 3 year commitment, now that is a detail that should make supporting a ‘green’ infrastructure much more important to Stanley. The reason ‘green’ jobs has generally failed as a message is that the argument has been far too general, excluding the ‘what’s in it for me’ aspect. Remember, specificity solves problems generality perpetuates them.

Fourth, the environmental movement is not tapping into one of the most powerful elements in all of human history, nationalism. Joe Klein, a writer for Time Magazine, recently finished a tour of the country and he reports that for every person that carried about terrorism (which can be viewed symbolically as concern for survival), approximately 20 people cared about China and its growing influence in the world relative to the waning influence of the United States. That concern seems like an opening to tap into some good old-fashioned nationalism. Environmentalists have focused on attempting to convince people that investment in ‘green’ infrastructure is important in effort to keep jobs like PV and wind turbine manufacturing in the United States opposed to those jobs being done in South Korea or China. Again while this argument seems solid, a different focus can be applied from a nationalistic perspective. When trying to create a nationalistic fervor it is important to remember history. Recall the national climate when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. Sure there was some fear, but for the most part Sputnik was an insult to U.S. pride. Basically a ‘No way we’re going to let the Soviet Union beat the U.S.’ mindset took over. Why hasn’t the environmental movement transmogrified this concern over China into boisterous competitive adrenaline?

What would be the best way to ‘take it to’ China? Clearly by slowing their economic growth and how is that done … investment in a trace emission energy infrastructure. How would the argument go: not only will creating a new infrastructure increase our economic output, but it would also increase our credibility on the international stage to facilitate an international carbon emission treaty which would force China to abandon its policy of constructing 1 coal plant per 10 days in order to feed the growing energy demands for its economic expansion. Therefore, if China wanted to continue their economic growth, which by all accounts they do, they would have to replace this loss with trace emission energy sources, which by design (due to the tremendous energy demands for manufacturing) they could not supply nearly enough in isolation. Instead they would have to import vast quantities of materials to continue the seamless construction of this new energy infrastructure to continue their current economic growth. Take one guess who should be the country supplying the bulk of this demand? Such a scenario would take a significant bite out of the trade deficit as well as allowing the U.S. to apply real economic pressure on China if any ethical issue arose. Basically this is the scenario that everyone who wants the U.S. to reaffirm its place as a global power should be striving for regardless of whether or not they believe global warming is driven by human activities.

Now the ‘green’ economy will not materialize by the invisible hand of the market at a fast enough speed to foster the ability to either reaffirm U.S. greatness or significantly reduce the probability of detrimental environmental damage. The most effective means of developing the resources to beat China will come from establishing a national price on carbon. The only way to establish a price on carbon is to elect officials that will vote on legislation creating such a carbon price with no offset loopholes. Voting for these individuals is accomplished through the above economic competition strategy, if the U.S. is to restore/retain its greatness then it needs to establish a trace emission energy infrastructure based economy and to do that voters need to elect congressmen and women that will pass legislation to put a price on carbon. So if that appears to be the most effective argument for creating a ‘green’ economy why is the domain name: “” or “” still available?

Another bonus is that the “Reaffirm U.S. Greatness” campaign also neutralizes the sphere of influence created by those that argue against the legitimacy of human driven global warming because the focus of the issue is no longer ‘develop/deploy cleaner energy to save the planet’, but instead ‘develop/deploy cleaner energy to beat China’. Therefore, all nonsense like ‘climategate’ and potential Congressional investigations into global warming become moot. Using such a direct campaign slogan can create an attempted sidestep of the ability of global warming opponents to attack the environmental movement because doing so can be turned back in their faces that these individuals are against American prosperity and want China to take over the world. In fact one of the most useful elements of the “Reaffirm U.S. Greatness” campaign is it limits the scientific issue of global warming on an individual level. For example the following is a theoretical conversation between an individual that does not believe in human driven global warming (Person A) and an individual that does (Person B):

Person A: “Global warming is a complete hoax. The world is so big that there is no way humans could influence it in any meaningful way.”

Person B: “Do you think that government should put a price on carbon?”

Person A: “Uhhh, what, oh ummmmm…(Yes/No)”

Person B: (if yes) – “That’s a good point because by putting a price on carbon we can develop and expand new industries, so we can compete with and beat China. We need to make sure that we vote for candidates that will vote for legislation that puts a price on carbon so America can stay great and number one in the world.”

Person B: (if no) – “Why do you hate America? You really want China to win? I don’t see any other way the U.S. beats China other than by putting a price on carbon.

By changing the topic, Person B can direct the conversation to a more meaningful conclusion versus making a purely scientific retort to Person A’s initial claim which is normally countered by Person A saying something to the effect of: “oh yeah, well you can’t prove that!”. No longer having to deal with time-wasting ‘global warming is not real’ nonsense environmentalist will have more time to spread the word about the “Reaffirm U.S. Greatness” campaign, participate in detailed analysis about how the development of trace emission energy infrastructure in the U.S. should proceed or work to expand mitigation and/or remediation strategies. Note that if asked directly with genuine scientific curiosity why global warming is a threat then one can cite all of the scientific evidence about how humans continuing to release carbon into the atmosphere is unbalancing the carbon cycle, aggravating the Greenhouse Effect and leading to climate destabilization. However, overall the principle battle cry needs to be ‘help the U.S. transition to a trace emission energy economy so we can maintain U.S. greatness and beat China’.

Some have argued, most notably the Center for American Progress (CAP), that the U.S. should cooperate with China to hasten the development of new technologies like CCS in order to combat climate change. Unfortunately while in most situations cooperation should be preferred to competition the current situation is not one of them. As discussed above, people are concerned about China overtaking the U.S. in global and economic influence and stripping it of its place in the global community, cooperation with the ‘enemy’ as the see it will not allay that concern. Also China continues, and for all intensive purposes will continue, to hold the belief that the U.S. and other developed countries should have to provide the majority of the anticipated capital to convert China’s economy to a more ‘trace emission’ nature as a consequence of putting most of the carbon in the atmosphere despite currently being the highest emitter. For all of the publicity that China has received for the money they are investing in ‘green’ energy, most of that investment is insignificant relative what they continue to invest in fossil fuel energy and the overall energy demand that China will require in the future relative to its desired level of economic growth.

This is not to say that the U.S. and China should not cooperate on any cleaner energy methodology, especially when it comes to research and development as to allow a fantastic technological achievement to remain theoretical due to inadequate information exchange would be foolish; however, cooperation does not seem to have the ability to light the necessary fire under the American populous that competition with the Chinese would. Regarding potential conflicts with the Memorandum of Understanding, China’s behavior at Copenhagen demonstrates that cooperation may not be as forthcoming as anticipated; in addition a vast majority of the recommendations made by the Memorandum are slanted towards research and development anyways which is the one place cooperation should occur. Finally, the motivation behind such a nationalistic strategy should be upright and passionate competition with China and not fall into the paranoia, fear and hate which plagued the competitive relationship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Of course there are no guarantees that a “Reaffirm U.S. Greatness” campaign will work, but it seems like an important tool for the environmental movement that has been left in the toolbox.

While it is sad and troubling that the most promising piece of legislation, which would have established a carbon price, stalled in Congress some believe that the failure of this bill is less relevant than others because of a belief that the proposed 4% reduction of 1990 emission levels by 2020 was an insufficient goal. Most who harbor that belief also believe that there needs to be an emission reduction of 20-50% by 2020. To those that tout reduction goals of 20-50% by 2020, would you please explain your plan to attain that goal? It is easy to say ‘this is what we need to do’, but where is the methodology to do it? Current technological deployment does not lend itself to accomplishing this ideal without a significant blow to the economy, which would defeat the entire purpose of the action.

Ideally to reach any 20-50% goal almost all to all energy from coal would have to be transferred to another trace emission source (allowing natural gas to pick-up all the slack would not reduce emissions enough (only 12-18% depending on the total efficiency of natural gas plants)). With the total amount of electricity being supplied by coal at just less than 2 billion MW-hr (according to the EIA 2008 data), where is the replacement energy going to come from? Assume about 40% of the loss from coal is picked-up by natural gas and there is a 10% reduction in auto emissions (which makes up about 27% of total U.S. CO2eq emissions for a total reduction of 2.7%), so to meet a goal of 20% reduction by 2020 where is the remaining approx. 1 billion MW-hr going to come from? Some may argue that energy efficiency will carry the day and while such a result would be highly encouraging a number of energy efficiency strategies have existed for a while beyond the snazzy smart meters and most have yet to be implemented on a wide scale. In fact without new national energy consumption standards for buildings any real gains from energy efficiency in a piecemeal way are unlikely to be significant, but just for the sake of argument where is the remaining 900 million MW-hr going to come from?

Also remember that to reach the natural gas goal approximately 800 million MW-hr of new natural gas electricity will need to be generated which will involve huge levels of hydraulic fracking (how much is unclear) which will more than likely contaminate some number of underground aquifers. Also because there is uncertainty regarding how much of the transportation reduction will come from increased fuel economy vs. electrical vehicles there will be additional electricity demands for those electric vehicles. One could venture that these demands will exist because as this post demonstrates most meaningful transportation emission reduction will come from deployment of electrical vehicles.

Off the cuff it seems inherently unrealistic to assume that a significant amount of this 950 million - 1 billion MW-hr need is going to materialize from concentrated or PV solar power being constructed in the Mojave Desert or anywhere else seeing how little is currently in the construction pipeline and how dependent solar power is on government subsidies to bend the cost curve. Recalling, as the anti-nuclear crowd does so well, that power plant construction no matter what the medium almost always finishes over budget and behind schedule, how much more solar will even be in the pipeline before 2020 let alone actually built and operational?

The U.S. has exhausted almost all of its growth potential for hydroelectric and offshore tidal power has no realistic potential to do anything significant for at least 15-20 years. Wind power, while expanding rapidly in the last 5 years, is running into problems as the best locations have already been built upon, limiting its remaining potential for total power generation, effective capacity and cost effectiveness to fill in for a baseload power source like coal. Maybe new offshore locations help, but more than likely not nearly enough. Also the second coming of nuclear power in the U.S. seems to have hit a significant snag with the abandonment of a high-profile reactor in Maryland sponsored in part by Constellation Energy. Finally geothermal plant construction in the last decade does not inspire confidence that any significant gains will be had from geothermal energy. So again where is all of this extra necessary energy going to come from by 2020? Sadly these are only a small number of the real obstacles to achieving a 20-50% decrease in 1990 level emissions by 2020. Realistically there is almost no way, short of a miracle, like fusion magically becoming viable, that such a goal can be achieved without significant economical damage. Therefore to continue to talk about things that ‘need’ to happen in such a context does not appear to be useful.

Once accepting the fact that these short-term high emission reduction scenarios are fantasy, the environmental community then needs to accept the reality that some form of geo-engineering will be required to increase the probability of less detrimental environmental damage until proper mitigation methods can be scaled-up. The simple fact is that the world has two options: 1. carry out effective and widespread remediation and mitigation strategies; 2. face an environment radically different than the one humans have dealt with for a vast majority of their existence, one that is much less hospitable to our comfortable existence; of course when proposing the acceptance of geo-engineering, this does not include the impractical and illogical ideas like space mirrors or tubes to ferry CO2 from the atmosphere to space. However, there is the very real possibility that sulfur stratospheric geo-engineering will occur over a small time window maybe something like 3 – 5 years in effort to reduce global temperatures to ensure adequate growing seasons while mitigation efforts scale-up.

There are other strategies that have generally been more or less have been mischaracterized as ‘geo-engineering’ that focus more on remediation or rebalancing the atmosphere vs. the typical ‘geo-engineering’ strategy of counterbalancing. The most popular methods of remediation are widespread application of Bio-char in agriculture, air capture both at a point source and from ambient air and albedo restoration which commonly involves painting rooftops white and other surface visual lightening. While these methods are extremely important in limiting the overall environmental damage from climate change, a number of individuals in the environmental movement more than likely oversell the total effect of these methods; for example assuming that every house in the U.S. will have a white roof or that Bio-char will be in every agricultural plot everywhere in the world. The problem is not the general unrealistic nature of such a belief, although it would take a Herculean effort, but the fact that there is no plan to achieve such a feat which makes it unrealistic. No planning, just talking and waiting for the government to do it.

One final note regarding geo-engineering is the question of where are the eccentric ideas to tackle various remediation and mitigation problems. This blog has proposed some of these ideas here and here. While skeptics will say these ideas are not plausible (definitely possible), the same can be said for almost all of the technological advances in our history. Someone thought of a ‘wacky’ idea and told another person, who told another person, who told another and eventually the idea was analyzed, tested and the problems were identified and fleshed out and while most ended up failing, a number succeeded. Who cares about how wacky an idea may sound because it could stimulate the evolution of something that could be extremely helpful in warding off future environmental damage. The key is to put each idea through objective, transparent and rigorous analysis to ensure the highest benefit to cost ratio. This issue of invention cannot be stressed enough because it is highly probable that the saving grace game-changer has yet to be developed and such interactive creativity must be encouraged.

As alluded to above if the environmental movement truly wishes to advance their movement and help reduce the probability of detrimental climate change, they also need to go deeper in their recommendations and analysis. Climate scientists have done a remarkable job, especially amid all of the radical and vicious opposition, doing the best they can to describe the intricate details of what type of and to what degree environmental changes will impact the Earth as more carbon is released into the atmosphere. However, that is where the details end as potential responses and strategies to dealing with these outcomes have become generalized and repetitive. Such lack of detail in general public discourse is unacceptable if humans are to have any chance at maintaining a comfortable living environment.

One of the reasons it is important that the environmental movement begins to develop much more cohesive and detailed plans is the ability to pitch those plans to private companies and venture capitalists to create a more efficient and effective transition into a ‘green’ economy. For example if the Mojave Desert is going to be the saving grace for the solar power movement those that believe this need to create a detailed report of exactly every little detail regarding the construction of every solar plant in the Mojave, potential transmission losses, efficiency scales, electricity gaps that need to be covered by other mediums, water use and transport, etc.

Unfortunately instead of carrying out such a strategy a number of environmentalists simply make general statements like ‘All we have to do is build a bunch of concentrated solar power in 0.0x% of the Mojave Desert and that will provide all of our electricity needs forever.’ Such statements are incredibly useless. The environmental community is huge, where are these detailed through reports of analysis? Some of the discussions of the reduction of transportation emissions and possible strategies for remediation that have appeared on this blog try to be open and clear reports with regards to planning future strategy made available for public consumption. One should be saddened after the reading the above statement, not because the reports on this blog are of substandard quality, they are not, but because there is not significantly more information easily available or at least so it appears who knows how many other similar blogs have conducted similar studies and yet remain unknown.

Some may argue that the various reports put out by CAP and other similar think tanks do some of the work suggested, but when actually reading these reports one encounters more generalities and optimistic assumptions then one would like. Generality is fine when an issue is in its infancy, but clearly the danger global warming poses to our environment and the longevity of our species is not in its infancy. What one would like to see is instead of a statement like ‘developing a green economy will create millions of jobs’ is a detailed statement like ‘over the first five years of developing a green economy with investments of 10 billion per year most of the job growth will come from the manufacturing and construction sectors where we estimate the creation of 10 construction jobs lasting an average of 14 months and 5 manufacturing jobs lasting an average of 30 months for every 1 MW of solar power developed…’

Now that latter statement has a lot more significance to all involved over the former statement. Clearly the ideal should be to produce accurate, objective, detailed and transparent information, thus when producing reports of this nature all of the assumptions need to be laid out at the beginning. Transparent declaration of assumptions is critically important for accuracy and validity because as any scientist or engineer knows even a variance of one assumption in only a small way can dramatically change the identity of the best possible solution.

There are only two reasons to not be forthcoming with assumptions: 1. laziness, which would beg the question why create the report at all unless for cheap publicity for your organization; 2. fear, which would imply that the authors of the report realize that their conclusions are generalized and would probably not hold up under scrutiny, thus the assumptions remain hidden so the authors keep a level of deniability. Neither of those two rationalities is appropriate to justify withholding vital information like assumptions, which can be used to further support the superiority of an analysis or lead to the discovery of a critical flaw that makes it unsuitable for application.

Brave New Climate is one group that, despite a possible bias towards nuclear power, actually attempts to better understand which energy medium(s) should be utilized for a future non-fossil fuel infrastructure at a scientific and economic level. However, their analysis only goes so far to address what medium(s) should be pursued; it is a good start, but more needs to be done. It must be stated that not all environmental organizations have the overall mission objective, manpower or member expertise to create reports to the level of detail that is needed, but for those that do not they must at least command a better understanding of the demands behind creating a trace emission infrastructure than ‘all we have to do is build a bunch of solar plants in the Mojave and the Sahara, so let’s do that’. For those that have the ability to create these reports, overall there should be no reason to hide assumptions made or withhold details when conducting an analysis of the economics, necessary deployment time frame or whatever else regarding a new trace energy infrastructure; recall specificity solves problems and generality perpetuates them.

Another possible reason environmentalist are not making as much headway with the public as they should, beyond improper messaging, is that their primary information sources (websites) appear to be stuck in Phase I. For some reason for major environmental organizations like, Environmental Defense Fund, National Resource Defense Counsel, etc. the primary focus seem to be recruiting more members or soliciting monetary support. Initially continuous recruitment of new members should be viewed as intelligent and important, especially in an overall movement where numbers genuinely matter, but while the previous statement is true, it is only true when those numbers are given something to do, which is rarer for these movements. Unless you are in the inner circle, most of the activities that are available to members of these organizations are lacking in importance diminishing the importance of being a member. The biggest problem is a lack of motivational direction.

Suppose John cares about helping the environment, so he joins Environment Organization x (EOX). Inspired by joining EOX John prints out handmade flyers and walks door to door in his neighborhood passing out the flyers and having polite conversations with the people he meets about the danger facing the environment due to human activities and what to do about it. Next John researches for any price rebates available for installing solar panels on his home and makes a purchase appropriate to his situation. Finally John decides to plant a little switchgrass bio-char garden. Wow, go John! Sadly people like John are rare, most of the time unless there is some tangible reward or quid pro quo most people will not go the extra mile to research solar panels, create their own pro-environment flyers or create bio-char gardens. However, if the resources and/or information are provided in an easy to understand and easily accessible format then most people will take advantage of it and apply their time to advance the movement. This is Phase II of a movement, providing the depth of information necessary to allow members to maximize their potential.

More on Phase II in a little while, but there is another important problem within the environmental movement and that is a seeming lack of coordination and joint action. Now this assessment may not be accurate, but to an individual not at a leadership position in any of these major environmental groups, these groups seem a lot like all of the intelligence agencies in Washington. Once in a while they share information and try to coordinate a joint event, but the vast majority of their activities are performed independently. This strategy is the same nonsense that plagues charities. For example there are hundreds to thousands of charities in the United States alone designed to support cancer; how in the world is it more useful to have hundreds of charities over two or three strong cancer collective charities that can increase efficiency, decrease overhead and have a more effective collection, treatment and information network? Short answer, it’s not. So why doesn’t the public see more coordination between environmental movements?

Returning to Phase II execution, one of the principle requirements for these sites should be to act in part as a clearinghouse of information. So with this issue in mind what information can be generated looking at the home page for a day after the big 10/10/10 event?

Well browsing through the above section headers ‘about’, ‘10/10/10’, ‘media’, ‘campaigns’, ‘sign up’ and ‘donate’ the following intent can be identified. The site seems to focus on two elements: 1. providing scientific information at a layman’s level to demonstrate the dangers of climate change and what needs to be done to reduce the probability of detrimental damage on a very general level; 2. information regarding how to promote in your area and before the actual 10/10/10 work party event occurred how to promote and/or organize that event as well; at first glance focusing on this information may be appropriate, but how useful is it really?

For example suppose Susan visits because she heard about it from a friend and want to know what she can do to help? Susan already understands the general science behind global warming and climate change, so all of that information is rendered moot. Unfortunately beyond wearing a t-shirt or some other material object, the promotional material outside of 10/10/10 is rather scant. There appears to be no direct information for Susan if she wants to somehow make a lifestyle change regarding her carbon footprint. Susan is also out-of-luck if she wants to learn about the most recent news about wind power deployment.

Now it can be argued that hosting this information is not the responsibility of, which is a valid point, but certainly it has links to sources for this information, right? Well when visiting the most obvious location for these links, the friends & allies section, the following picture illustrates the first page.

Unfortunately this organizational method leaves much to be desired. Instead of being designed for easy and effective transition from to another site with the desired information, its design more symbolizes a kind of arrogance, almost a visual representation of ‘look at how many allies we have, that means we are important.’ While such a contention may seem harsh it cannot be argued that such a listing does little to aid the movement as a whole. However, Susan is diligent and eventually finds some information to answer her first inquiry about things she can do as an individual tucked away at the organizational wiki, not an easy find.

It stands to reason that a better strategy would use subject headers to direct traffic for those individuals that want to know about other environmental organizations, sites that have strategies for carbon footprint reduction, sites for general up-to-date environmental information, sites which discuss in more detail about a particular environmental topic, organizations which are developing new trace emission energy infrastructure solutions, etc. None of that information appears to be effectively presented on this page or any other page in There are scattered links throughout the site, but most pertain to scientific inquiry about global warming.

Clearly due to the multi-national cooperation origins of, it would be inappropriate for it to sponsor any form of action for putting a price on carbon using competition with China as a motivational tool. On its face needs to organize local, national and global movements and do so more innovatively and frequently than one or two big demonstrations per year. For example there are some general fact-sheets available on, but it appears that no one has ever advocated a ‘Print out a fact-sheet and post it somewhere in your local community’ day. Where are the unique t-shirt designs that do not simply advertise What is going to garner more attention (picture size aside), someone walking around with this on the front:

Or this on the front:

Whether it is viewed as droll, thought provoking or just silly the latter slogan certainly attracts more attention. In fact why hasn’t sponsored a contest to design some new t-shirts which would attract attention? The winners would be placed on the website and split any sales between the designer and In general when looking at the site one sees so much untapped potential, which could fight against the somewhat ‘do-it-yourself’ mentality that tends to permeate within the environmental movement.

As for the other stuff that Susan wants information on the evolution of a site like should follow the course of becoming a logistical information powerhouse. Basically if someone wants to know the most cost-effective way to lower his/her at-home carbon footprint for $500, click this link; if someone wants a step-by-step guide to completely eliminate his/her at-home carbon footprint where cost is not an object, click this link; if someone wants to join a debate about whether or not pursuing PV solar energy is worthwhile, click this link; if someone wants to read the latest report on the viability of IFR nuclear power, click this link, etc.

For example what if the above point was somewhat mistaken in that there is plenty of detailed and thorough information, outside of government reports, regarding objective energy medium analysis, deployment scheduling, specific job growth statistics pertaining to capitalization of specific emission reduction strategies, etc, but it could not be located by this blogger? If so, then is it not the job of at least one of the major environmental websites to catalog these reports so that interested parties do not have to go through UN, EIA, IEA, GAO, CBO and EPA database searches and general search engine queries (which is rather futile for anyone wishing to find accurate and up-to-date detailed information) to extract this information? If such a catalog exists then it is important for major sites to make it known to new environmentalists. It is difficult to expect effective solutions to environmental problems when useful information remains scattered and by extension legitimate debate is fractured.

In addition while it is true that one can search the Internet for information regarding home-based solar panel installation or electrical car purchasing, it is a hassle for individuals, especially those who are not diehards, to sort through all of the information a general web search can provide to get the teeth of what information is actually helpful. Therefore, to improve their effectiveness as tools to help the environment these websites need to have either the necessary information organized in a useful and easy to understand and compare manner or at least easily found links to websites with the information in that format.

Regarding these websites the most interesting thing may be the contrast in style for some environmentalists act like they are waging war against those that oppose human driven global warming, but the principle websites that represent the environment movements are not organized for logistics and information exchange, critical components in any operation. No one single organization should be expected to do it all, but they should as a group and if one person knows about one of these organizations they should be able to easily locate information about all of the other major environmental organizations.

In the end the primary objective of the environmental movement should be to create a Congress that will place a price on carbon in order to foster the new era of a trace emission energy infrastructure in the U.S. Individual action is nice and should be continually encouraged, but overall has a rather minimalist effect on absolute emission reduction both within the U.S. and abroad. Unfortunately most in the movement do not appear to realize that it is highly unlikely that the ‘price on carbon’ objective will be achieved by continuing to express concern about the future dangers of unrelenting emission release at a scientific level. For whatever reason lack of moral authority, lack of believability, lack of immediate occurrence or something else the public is not willing to make the necessary leap to voting to facilitate a change in course on a single issue vote mindset based on that scientific argument.

Therefore, the environmental movement must change its line of thought when encouraging the general populous to focus on establishing a national price for carbon. Some environmentalists like to talk about how the U.S. needs a WWII type mobilization, yet fail to realize that the government didn’t come up with Rosie the Riveter and the mindset of liberty and justice for all did not drive the U.S. to enter the war, but instead nationalism against the Germans and Japanese was a chief motivating factor to get the public onboard. There needs to be more ‘legwork’ for the general populous both locally and online to provide better access to information that should increase the probability that they engage in environmentally positive behaviors like increasing energy efficiency at home, reducing transportation emissions and water conservation. Finally the environmental movement needs to better evaluate future energy development and deployment strategies using far more detail to smooth the transition between current fossil fuel energy infrastructure to a trace emission energy infrastructure while also working to reduce overall environmental damage. Just because the construction workers have not shown up for work yet does not mean that the foreman and lead civil engineer can lounge around without a competed blueprint.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Extend School Year

The Extend School Year (ESY) has always had its peaks and valleys of interest. Recently it has climbed to a peak once again thought to be a meaningful aspect of school reform. This renewed interest is largely driven by the general failures of U.S. teenagers to compare effectively in academic testing vs. their peers; (teens only because recall that 4th graders actually do well against their international peers). Sadly one of the weaker arguments in favor of an ESY is the ‘copy what works’ method in that some believe that just because others are successful that success can be replicated simply by doing the same thing without considering differences in the environment. Not surprisingly this rationality is rather shortsighted and foolish. Another issue plaguing ESY is, like with most ideas in society, ESY proponents rarely delve into how to effectively apply it. For example here are five issues that must be addressed when discussing the application of an extended school year beyond just a small little niche community:

1. Clearly an educational institution will require a greater yearly budget if its time of operation is extended and current results are to at least be maintained; while this issue is actually brought up by most ESY proponents, none seem to suggest how much money will be required and where that money will come from. Also none dare mention any possibility of an increase in taxes to raise the funds, which will more than likely have to happen if one does not want to increase the federal and state deficits.

2. One issue that most individuals brush under the rug when discussing an ESY is student motivation. If students are not motivated to learn, no amount of additional time will be effective when trying to teach them. Few ESY proponents have even considered asking the question of how to address the very real potential of a decreasing motivation to learn from the student perspective when instituting an ESY, especially in teenagers who typically use the summer months to apply for internships and other short-term work.

3. Another motivational element behind the push for an ESY is the belief that students tend to forget a sufficient amount of what they learned in the last year over the course of the summer. While true, a belief that simply teaching for a longer period of time will solve this problem is naïve. The reason U.S. students are not doing well relative to their peers is not primarily derived from time issues.

Suppose for a moment that the questions on a particular international test were organized in order of appearance (basically the first questions addressed the first sub-subject that was taught in the given class, what was taught in late August/early September, and each question set proceeded in the same order with the questions ending in late June/early July). If ESY were a legitimate solution right now that could be implemented on its own, then the results of such an examination would demonstrate a general pattern of performance equality between the international students and the U.S. students up until the end of the test. At the end of the test U.S. student performances should then fall off the proverbial cliff because they did not have enough time in school to learn that portion of the material. Sadly this result would be incredibly surprising because the fact is as a whole international students are getting a higher quality education over their U.S. counterparts regardless of time in school. This element of quality vs. quantity boils down to simple rationality that applying an ESY system before addressing lesson quality is similar to putting the cart before the horse and thus a recipe for wasted time and money.

In fact do people, ESY supporters or detractors, even ask why students forget over the ‘summer doldrums’? The most popular answer is that lack of exposure to various math, science, language, history, etc. problems/questions slowly unravel memory and connections learned during the previous school year. Therefore, an ESY will lessen the dead time between these problems, thereby reducing the total time allotted for these students to forget. However, read over that last sentence and then ask the question, “Why is learning by rote deemed an acceptable response?” If these students were taught how to develop proper solution methodologies for solving problems, then the layoff time would be irrelevant because instead of relying on rote memorization to learn and solve problems, students would have a base methodology for solving problems hastening recovery time as well as lowering the time required to learn new things.

Another option is instead of extending the school year, challenge students by giving bi-weekly assignments over the summer (the assignments can be delivered via email, direct mail or posted on a community/school bulletin board). These assignments will take the place of the ‘general review’ that some teachers believe has to be conducted at the beginning of the new school year due to what is forgotten over the summer. In addition these assignments would help the students develop a ‘do-it-yourself’ independence because when entering the workforce as adults they are not going to be able to run to a teacher to help them with every little assignment. These assignments could even be used to determine part of the grade (5%-10%) to ensure students undertake them. The above solution is probably only one of a number of solutions that can be utilized before resorting to the expensive method of extending the school year for the purposes of reducing the significance of memory loss. Overall the only reason for establishing additional school time is if the instructors in the school specifically report that they don’t have enough time to cover all of the relevant subject material.

4. ESY supporters seem to completely ignore the fact that there are non-charter public schools that graduate extremely well prepared and intelligent students without having to resort to extending the school year. Maybe ESY supporters should ask how these schools accomplish such a feat instead of looking to emulate small scale niche specific charter schools that have teaching methodologies that are more difficult to scale-up than most proponents want to believe.

5. Not surprisingly, because most educational reformers come off as anti-teacher frequently citing the 3-month ‘vacation’ time that teachers receive in their arguments, there is little discussion of teacher fatigue when considering an ESY option. Most of the schools that currently use an ESY are smaller charter schools that have 10-15 students per class, which applies significantly less stress on the teacher versus a class size of 25-35 students; (the difference in class size is of course another issue that most charter school proponents fail to acknowledge). Also individual teachers in the U.S. already teach an average of 1,100 hours a year versus an average of 650 hours a year for other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This difference in teaching time is largely carried out through the application of a teaching rotational system and group teaching, another element that school reformers want to copy, but then fail to actually think about how to effectively administer it. Without such a system in an ESY application, it is rational to conclude that teachers are expected to teach an additional 135-145 hours (12.3 – 13.2% more work).

For those that still wish to attack the total number of work hours a teacher undertakes the above number does not include the hours that go into prepping for a class, studying classroom teaching strategy, researching new teaching strategies and techniques, taking classes to update skills (something most other occupations rarely do), coaching or supervising extracurricular activities and the omnipresent grading assignments/tests. All of these activities add a considerable amount of more time to the workloads of the average teacher destroying the ‘3 months of vacation, so teachers don’t work sufficiently long’ argument.

These simple five points have demonstrated that for those individuals that want to scale-up the application of an ESY system on a national level a lot more work and thought need to go into the execution of the plan over what has currently occurred in popular circles of conversation. The simple, yet ironic, fact is that for an ESY system to be successful it will require other significant reforms to be applied as well, but overall in such a scenario an ESY will prove to be rather ineffective relative to those other reforms.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ending Poverty?

The war on poverty is an interesting and yet perplexing notion, not because the ideas behind eliminating poverty are foolish or ignoble, but because the mechanisms utilized by those attempting to accomplish this goal are inherently flawed. The principle ideal behind eliminating poverty involves opening the doors of capitalism, giving people the resources to develop opportunities in which to make money and pull themselves out of poverty. Those in favor of these methods, one of the most notable is the use of micro-loans in third world countries, cite numerous examples of success and support expansion of similar types of programs. While these successes cannot be debated, the concern is that individuals are missing the limitations of these techniques on a larger scale. The simple fact is that capitalism in its current form is unable to pull entire populations out of poverty despite its ability to positively influence small local environments.

The biggest problem with capitalism is that the rules change with respect to population growth. Using an analogy relative to a classroom grading curve best describes this characteristic. Suppose there is a Math class with 15 students and a relative-comparison grading curve that assigns letter grade quotas based on a certain accepted level of performance. For example there can only be 20 As, 20 Bs, 20 Cs and 20 Ds, but an unlimited number of Fs. The rational behind an unlimited number of Fs is that if an individual demonstrates an inability to understand the material that individual should not be rewarded simply for having a generally superior understanding relative to others in the class. Basically earning a 34% demonstrates an unacceptable understanding regardless of whether the class average is 15% or 81%. There has to be a minimum absolute level of understanding.

Now assume that the current class average is 36% with maybe 1 person actually passing the class. With all but one individual failing the class only 1 of the grade quotas is filled. Then suppose new math books are delivered to the school, new computers with educational software arrive and a new math teacher shows up. The combination of these three elements provide the resources necessary for the students, who now commit themselves to learning math, to raise the class average to 96%. What a turn around, now each student has a high enough grade percentage to warrant an A grade. This detail is why micro-loan programs in third-world countries work. A small number of individuals receive the loans (the additional resources) in an environment where there is vast level for improvement (the class average of 36%). However, what happens if the class population increases to 40?

At 40 students even if the class manages a class average of 96%, which is unlikely due to a lack of resources, the quotas demands that only half of the students receive As and the other half receive Bs. This distribution would be determined through the 20 students with the highest percentages receiving As and the 20 students with the lowest percentages receiving Bs. One may ask the valid question of ‘if everyone demonstrates 92%+ superiority why can’t everyone earn an A in the class?’ While intuitively this question makes perfect sense and the quota limitation doesn’t, one must remember that this analogy is representative of the capitalistic model and in any economic model money is a finite resources just like the number of As in the model. So just because everyone cannot get an A (be a millionaire/billionaire) does not mean everyone cannot pass the class right? Unfortunately this is not true because the class size is expanding faster than the grade quotas there will be individuals that do not receive the appropriate grade relative to their understanding (population and inflation are expanded faster than the ability to create wealth). Thus because the class population exceeds the total quotas and the class population is growing faster than inflation in the grade quotas, the quota system in this class (capitalistic system) has created a zero-sum game with winners and losers. Sadly the losers are those that are impoverished.

While the above analogy is helpful it is also too simplistic to fully describe why capitalism in its current form and practice is unable to end poverty through the true nature of its established zero-sum game. Overall while the grades demonstrate a level of success relative to other members of the class, the element that actually matters is the percentage of understanding that makes up that grade. Clearly all As in a class are not created equal in how they are earned. One student’s A could be described as a 94%, which in the proper circumstances would be an A, whereas another student’s A could be described as a 145%. Think of it this way in real life both individual A, who earns $300,000 a year, and individual B, who earns $20 million a year, can be viewed as successful, but clearly society will view individual B is significantly more successful.

However, in society just having a proper level of understanding is typically not enough to be successful. There are plenty of intelligent people that do not have a lot of wealth and plenty of stupid people that do. However, the perversion of what society views as important to its evolution and infrastructure is an issue for another time. Returning to the classroom example to add this criterion, the final percentage cannot be entirely comprised of how someone performs on homework, quizzes and tests, but now also includes performance on extra projects. Unfortunately the number of extra projects available for all of the students is limited. For example the following outline can be viewed as the weighted recipe comprising a grade for the student:

Homework – 15%
Quizzes – 5%
Tests – 40%
Extra Projects – 40%+

For the rules of the class/society while the total amount of projects are limited, the number of projects any single individual can undertake is not. If so desired a student can perform enough projects to earn a percentage in excess of 100%. This element is important because one of the major drivers for a student to acquire a percentage in excess of 100% is to further separate him/herself from the other students in the class to guarantee being awarded an A. However, in the battle against poverty/bad grades every student above 100% is taking opportunity for grade advancement away from other students. This relates back to the real world because money is a finite resource, this individual’s success comes at a cost to other individuals. For example revisit individual B from above and suppose he only makes $1 million a year. Now $19 million becomes available for distribution to other individuals in society most likely through investment, which will give more individuals an opportunity to raise their ‘grades’.

The above system can also demonstrate why tax cuts for the rich/super-rich (a.k.a. trickle-down economics) fail miserably in the real world. Suppose the teacher identifies a group of very smart and very ambitious students at the beginning of the year and through experience knows that those students would take a large percentage of the extra projects available to the class (100-150% each). So in effort to avoid that behavior the teacher offers each of these students a free 20% bonus in effort to stem this ambition in hopes that more extra projects will be available for the rest of the class (hopes that bonus will spur investment). Unfortunately for the teacher no conditions are applied to this 20% bonus, these particular students receive it whether or not they actually decide to undertake fewer extra projects than they would without the bonus. Knowing that there are no conditions, the students accept the 20% bonus, yet still do the same amount of extra projects they would have done without the 20% bonus. Thus two major catastrophic failures of trickle-down: one there are no conditions for the 20% bonus/tax cut and two the bonus/tax cut is not a large enough of a benefit to change behavior. The sad thing is that the teacher can never offer a large enough bonus to stop these particular students from doing all of the extra projects they already plan on doing, thus it is pointless of offer the bonus in the first place. There is a third reason why trickle-down will never work effectively, but it is irrelevant to this particular issue.

Now this is not to say that the world should all of a sudden become socialists or ‘insert your favorite economic theory here’ ists, but it needs to be understood that any goal striving to end world poverty under a pure or mercantile capitalistic flag is unlikely to succeed. Overall there are only two ways to end poverty. First, devalue the importance of relative superiority comparisons between individuals in favor of absolute superiority comparisons. Person A should not feel any sense of superiority because he got a 156% and person B only got a 100%, but instead a feeling of self-superiority should be derived from the fact that he (Person A) demonstrated mastery of the topic. Basically for person A there should be no psychological difference between getting a 156% or a 100% because both demonstrate full mastery of the topic.

Now one may argue that of course there is a difference because 156% is a bigger number than 100%, but the additional 56% is artificial, it has no meaning at an absolute level. Basically the additional 56% is only important if someone gives it importance, an importance that would, ironically, not be important. Under this mindset the important element in class would not be the letter grade received by individuals, but the grade percentage and since everybody would have a better opportunity to achieve 100% the letter grade evaluation method would eventually cease to be important and grade quotas would cease to exist, thus anyone receiving a 92%+ would receive an A regardless of how many people earned 92%+ in the class. Note that to achieve this outcome the better students need to give the other students more opportunities to undertake the extra projects rather than undertake them themselves as soon as possible. However, this adjustment in strategy should not be overplayed, while other students should get more opportunity, if they do not have the ability to succeed those extra projects must still be completed by those who can otherwise it creates unnecessary waste.

The second way to end poverty is for the teacher/government to put a hard cap on the number of extra projects that a student can undertake. Basically once a student has 100% that student cannot undertake any additional extra projects. In the real world this would simply amount to a 100% tax of all income above whatever value the government assigned to represent 100%. Clearly a significant and angry backlash to such an action could be expected limiting its overall effectiveness. Therefore, it seems like the best strategy for ending poverty is to eliminate relative superiority and continue to provide the necessary resources (in the analogy: math books, educational computers and teachers) to open opportunity for under-performing “students” to achieve a 100% of their own. Currently society tries to implement the second part of the strategy, but completely ignores the first. Such action doesn’t mean that some people can be pulled from grips of poverty, especially in the third-world, but without the first part the ideal of ending poverty is a fruitless and pointless endeavor.