Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Paying College Athletes

Periodically the question of whether or not college athletes should be paid a stipend or salary flares up in society. With the recent airing of the ‘The Fab Five’ documentary by EPSN this issue has once again arisen with questions that while outside marketing individuals and the university was making millions off of the Michigan Basketball program the players were unable to benefit in the same way. Rather than develop the standard pro/con list, this post will function more as a trial where the burden of proof is on the pay proponents to demonstrate why the NCAA should change its existing policy to allow college athletes to be receive a stipend or salary.

The principle opening statement for those that support athlete pay would highlight the sheer amount of money that college athletic conferences make from football and men’s basketball and how that money is then divided among the member schools. Unfortunately those players who are providing the product, which is imperative to accumulating these revenues, are not entitled to any significant piece of the pie. Some would go so far to claim that such unfair treatment is un-American. In addition to the general ‘unfairness’ of the system as it stands proponents would argue that paying players would also reduce the probability of talent drain by giving players another incentive to not leave early for the professional levels. Finally paying athletes should reduce the incentive for players to violate NCAA eligibility rules because losing eligibility would involve not just the loss of playing time, but also tangible money they are now receiving for playing. Note that for sake of brevity the argument that players should be paid because of the significant revenues that accompany their sport will be referenced as the ‘excess revenue’ argument.

Before beginning it must be acknowledged that the ‘excess revenue’ argument inherently only encompasses football players and male basketball players not other collegiate athletes because their sports do not generate anything close to the revenues football and male basketball generate if they generate positive profit revenues at all (which most do not due to a lack of popularity). The first argument against the ‘excess revenue’ argument is that it is incorrect to argue that collegiate athletes do not receive appropriate compensation. A large percentage of these athletes receive full college scholarships as compensation for their services, which depending on the residency status of the individual typically ranges in value from 5,000 to 35,000 dollars per year. For a vast majority of athletes the purpose of going to college is to develop the skills and knowledge that will be needed for their non-athletic professional careers, thus the scholarship they receive is viewed as adequate ‘payment’ for their athletic performance.

However, because the issue of ‘excess revenue’ is commonly brought up by sports reporters their inherent bias on the issue means that focusing on non-elite athletes may miss the real motivation behind this issue. For example no one addresses the issue of ‘excess revenue’ through lamentation that the 9th man on the Washington State Cougars basketball team drives around in a broken-down 11-year old car. Instead the common lament is that fate has befallen superstar 1st team All-American John Doe from Kentucky. Furthermore this mindset drives some sports reporters to excuse John Doe’s behavior when he takes money from a booster using the reasoning that he took the money solely to fix his car, i.e. he needed it to survive. Therefore, truly debating this issue may need to focus on those that are elite athletes who have a reasonable probability of becoming professionals and thus do not effectively use the academic advantages provided by the scholarship in order to find a resolution.

The problem with focusing on the ‘superstar’ argument is that there are pitfalls which derail any legitimate claim for a salary. First, addressing the fairness argument, sports reporters do not seem to grasp the fact that college sports for these ‘superstar’ players is akin to an internship for a business professional. In an internship the intern is expected to carryout tasks similar to those carried out by those that are officially employed in a full-time job at company x despite being paid an amount disproportional to what they are helping the company earn. If the intern performs well then he/she receives a formal job offer at the company and then makes a salary more ‘deserving’ of the role in the company. This evolution is similar to the college player proving at the college level that he has high potential to be valued asset to a professional team and the high salary reward that potential commands. This being the case why are sports reporters not raising public concern with the unfair treatment of Johnny the Intern at the Fortune 500 company?

Suppose proponents of ‘excess revenue’ argue that perspective in that regard is not their purview, addressing issues outside of sports, but if asked they would disagree with the internship structure used in professional industry similar to how they disagree with the lack of payment for college players. If true, a lingering question for proponents would involve the distribution of these funds. As suggested above, most sports reporters focus entirely on the superstar players with regards to the additional pay; this leads to the natural question: should players receive additional payment based on skill level/performance?

There are two main arguments one could make in favor of the above position. The first argument is that superstars are the principle driver for high-quality teams. Teams that do not have at least one superstar caliber player will more than likely not have a large amount of success and it is success that drives the high revenues that conferences and schools receive from the football and basketball programs. While it is reasonable to suggest that teams have a higher probability to perform better as a whole with a superstar player, the argument that present success drives the high revenue stream potential for a given school is less valid.

The simple fact is that most schools have established a particular reputation based on tradition and their fan bases root for the jersey more than the players wearing the jersey. Therefore, it is difficult to argue that superstar players, who would view collegiate sports as an internship, significantly influence the total revenue potential of their particular sport at a given university over the course of their playing career. Interestingly enough it can be argued that because of the tradition structure certain superstars can establish ‘winning’ traditions for universities that previously did not have such notoriety, but by the time such a turning point can be officially linked to those particular superstars they will have already left the university rendering any payment moot.

The second argument is the old question of offering incentives to influence positive behaviors. It has been established above and through simple logic that a team who exerts more effort and plays at a higher level will have more success and more successful teams will, in very basic terms, have a higher potential of creating larger revenue streams. Therefore, if paying players induces them to perform better, it is a win-win situation for both sides as long as a proper balance can be found for the amount paid. With respects to superstar players there should be a higher payment ceiling because of the inherent higher talent ceiling.

Unfortunately under closer examination the logic of that argument falls apart. There are two different psychological categories for the college player, those that are going to move on to the professional level or think they have an opportunity and those that participate for either the scholarship/free education or simply for enjoyment of the game. Offering more financial incentive should not induce higher quality play from those in the first category because they are motivated to acquire the highest draft spot as possible both for money and prestige, elements that would dwarf what the university could offer as a motivator. Offering more financial incentive for the second group should not increase their quality of play because these individuals should already be playing as hard as they can simply to keep their scholarship or for the love of the game.

The above analysis makes it difficult to support the position that superstars should be paid more money than other individuals on the team. Therefore, if payment were provided it stands to reason that each individual on the team should receive payment. However, how much should each player receive? The two thought processes for the payment value stem from the needs argument vs. the production argument.

The needs argument is developed largely through the number of sports reporters who comment that poor superstar John Doe cannot pay routine bills even though many others make money off of his work and/or name. Under this mindset the issue is necessity over ‘fairness’ due to the time requirement of the sport the individual is unable to take a job to cover these daily/weekly costs. Using this reasoning each player should receive a smaller amount of compensation, like 500 to 1,000 dollars a month. In the production argument the issue is not about any daily/weekly costs, but instead fairness. The players should receive some percentage of the money their work product creates for the university and the athletic conference. Using this reasoning each player receives an amount dictated largely by the amount that can be confirmed as ‘earned’ by the particular sport.

Unfortunately for ‘excess revenue’ proponents both pay styles have problems. The need argument runs into the problem of equality. The time devoted to playing the sport, which under other circumstances could be used for a job to acquire money for routine bills, is not volunteered. That time and performance on the court is exchanged for scholarship money. Non-scholarship students may have time available to take a job to help pay these routine bills, but more often than not that money will be devoted towards paying college tuition, a concern scholarship athletes do not have. It is illogical and unfair to suggest that one group of individuals should receive compensation for certain financial responsibilities when another group does not. Interestingly enough the blind bias of ‘excess revenue’ proponents to this inequality is rather sad in the lament that sport A takes up too much time disallowing the player from taking a job to pay for routine costs, but the non-athlete is able to do so. The challenge to the proponents, identify a job available to a college student that pays 5,000 – 35,000 dollars a semester which requires as much or less opportunity cost and applied work as a college sport.

The production argument runs into the problem of determination. While there are occupations that pay based on performance relative to revenue generated (commission), in these occupations the mechanism for determining how performance directly influences total revenue generated is very simple and has few ‘moving parts’. However, that is not the case in college sports. There are a wide range of factors that go into determining the total size of the revenue stream. Further complicating the issue of determination is the aforementioned ‘jersey’ issue where most fans and media contracts stem from the school reputation itself not from the specific players that are competing at the time. Therefore, it would be very difficult to rationally assign an appropriate percentage from the total revenue to pay players.

Regarding the supposed side benefits to paying players to argue that players should be paid because it would dissuade them from violating NCAA rules is a foolish argument. The core of the argument amounts to – in effort to stem student-athletes from violating NCAA rules through the acquisition of improper financial benefits these individuals should receive payment. Such a position is similar to saying ‘gee there seems to be a lot of embezzlement at our company… I know let’s give everyone raises to hopefully reduce the amount of embezzlement.’ The NCAA is under no obligation to provide additional positive incentive to ensure compliance with its rules and nor should anyone expect such incentive.

The argument that a salary at the college level will have any effect on whether or not an individual enters a professional draft for his perspective sport is rather foolish as well. Suppose the NCAA mandates a 10,000 dollar per year stipend, that 10,000 dollars is suppose to reduce the probability of an individual that has the skills to receive millions of dollars as a professional from leaving college and becoming a professional as early as is allowed? One aspect that may work in favor of the ‘less talent drain’ argument is that high school age players would not seek out income opportunities from foreign basketball clubs instead of going to college. However, since the number of individuals of notoriety that have gone overseas to play basketball in lieu of college can be counted on a single hand and football does not have a similar outlet, this aspect is rather meaningless as an advantage.

Overall the situation regarding payment of players can be summarized as followed: players are clearly made aware of the arrangement between the university and themselves with regard to received compensation. Thus, those who elect to participate in collegiate sports fall into one of two categories, those that view college sports as a mere internship/stepping stone to the professional level and those that view college sports as a means to provide financial sustenance to further their educational goals while focusing on the enjoyment of the sport. The millions of dollars that athletic conferences and universities receive from media deals and merchandizing are frequently funneled back into the university to pay for sports and event activities that do not produce a profit; therefore, these millions are gross revenue not net revenue (profit) and thus are not freely available for distribution as a form of tangible player salary.

The needs argument is the most popular sub-rationalization for payment, beyond ‘excessive revenue’, but the provided scholarship routinely exceeds, by large margin, anything that a player could earn on his own working an independent job. If the player is not interested in using the scholarship for its intended purpose then that is the player’s decision, alternative measures of redress should not be expected or required. Assigning an alternative means of redress would be irrational anyways because the scholarship itself is not part of the revenue stream, but an exchanged cost. The university does not have the resources to provide cash equivalency to the player in exchange for foregoing the scholarship.

The jersey argument eliminates ‘uniqueness in importance’ as a means of justification for player payment as there are a small number of high-quality intramural teams that could draw large audiences if wearing official school colors in lieu of highly recruited athletes. In the end the only argument that proponents have is the fairness argument, which is no argument at all without a moral or logic backing which have been eliminated by the above analysis.

Even if proponents are not willing to accept the above arguments the one immutable obstacle restricting paying players is Title IX. The equality requirements of Title IX, which are tied to public school funding, make any additional payment towards athletes highly improbable in any public institution for any significant amount. With regards to private institutions they have clearly demonstrated that they are not willing to ‘rock’ the proverbial boat and provide additional payment to their players in lieu of public institutions not having the ability to do so. Overall the simple fact is that at this time it seems impractical for proponents to push for a system that provides athletes with additional money beyond scholarships for their athletic performance because beyond a seemingly hollow belief of ‘they deserve it’ there is no reason to support such a system.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Planning the Future of Energy with Rare Earths

Millions of jobs, less dependence on foreign energy suppliers, lower energy prices in the long-term, etc. These are just some of the buzz phrases that environmentalists and ‘Climate Hawks’ use to push for the development of trace emission energy sources over dirtier fossil fuels and even nuclear power. Unfortunately very few of these individuals/groups even consider the material resources that will be required to construct a new trace emission infrastructure of significant size. Until an honest and objective discussion and strategy is conceived for addressing the infrastructure demands it is irresponsible for individuals to push a trace emission environment in a specific direction.

The buzz phrase in the manufacturing industry with respects to the elements that comprise the most important aspects of what most individuals envision in a trace emission environment (wind turbines, solar panels, electrical batteries, etc.) is rare earths. The primary reason rare earths are important in these industries is their strong permanent magnetism. For example neodymium magnets are an alloy of neodymium, iron and boron that forms a tetragonal crystal structure with the molecular formula Nd2Fe14B.1 The chief advantage of these magnets is their energy product of approximately 440 kJ/m3, almost ten times that of ceramic ferrite magnets, which reduces the total size and weight demand on the magnets.2

The two problems surrounding rare earths are first that while the term ‘rare’ is somewhat misleading (most rare earths are more abundant than silver and gold in the Earth’s crust), most deposits are spread so thin that harvesting them is not economically attractive thus their commercial availability is significantly reduced versus their actual availability. Second, the presence of radioactive thorium can spoil some deposits.3 Compounding these problems are that while researchers are working hard to produce viable alternatives, no rare earth alternatives have been discovered which maintain the efficiency and effectiveness of its counterpart. Magnets are especially tricky for no alternatives currently exist which allow for miniaturization with similar energy yields and those energy yields are quite important for maintaining a reasonable size, weight and cost in devices like hybrid/EV engines and wind turbines.

Due to the critical importance of rare earths it is vital to determine consumption patterns with regards to how the new trace emission infrastructure will emerge. One way the importance of these rare earths in the future infrastructure can be seen is in the construction of wind turbines. One rare earth that is important in creating the most reliable and efficient wind generators for a turbine and has caught some attention is neodymium.

First, a source of supply needs to be determined. Based on recent Chinese statements it is unlikely that it will continue to export large quantities of rare earths after 2012, despite this limitation being an incredibly foolish strategy, thus other supplies, especially domestic, must take the bulk of the supply responsibility. Domestic supplies are important because if foreign supplies are tapped, environmentalists need to stop boasting ‘less reliance on foreign suppliers’ as an advantage to the generation of a trace emission energy infrastructure.

Contrary to some popular belief, China does not have 97% of the known economically viable rare earth deposits (only about 37%), but the 97% number relates to production rates. Therefore, in the short-term if China does stop exporting large quantities of rare earths it will take an unknown period of time before the necessary operations are available in other countries including the United States to compensate for those losses. The biggest problems for domestic production are not the mining operations themselves, but processing/purifying operations because almost all quantities of rare earths are not pure and actually permitting the mines themselves; basically the purification and the paperwork both which take copious amounts of time and money.

For example currently there is only one fully established rare earth mine in the United States, the Mountain Pass mine now owned by Molycorp, which closed in the 1990s due to economic concerns. The known reserves in Mountain Pass have been estimated at approximately 20 million tons with about 8.9% of those reserves being rare earths and about 11.1% of those rare earths being bastnaesite and monazite, which yield neodymium.4,5 Assume that 95% of this 11.1% is recoverable neodymium from bastnaesite and 5% is non-recoverable neodymium from thorium containing monazite. Assume that 100% of the neodymium reserves in Mountain Pass still exist and that all of the neodymium in Mountain Pass will be used in generators for wind turbines. Note these assumptions will probably not hold true, but for the sake of a best-case scenario analysis it makes sense. Therefore, of the 20 million tons of reserves in Mountain Pass about 187,701 tons of neodymium should be available.

Most trace infrastructure plans cite a significant dependence on wind power. So for this argument assume that the United States builds an additional 350 GW of wind nameplate capacity over the next 20 years (2011-2031). Note that nameplate capacity is the maximum generation potential for a wind turbine. Thus, a 1 MW wind turbine can generate at most 1 MW of power at any given time if the wind is blowing above a particular speed. Optimization of performance for these wind turbines demands the use of neodymium. The reason neodymium is required for a turbine is the use of a permanent magnet over gearboxes. Replacing gearboxes is preferable to ensure low maintenance and high reliability both in total operation time and during operation. Due to its inherent properties neodymium is the most effective material to use in the construction of these permanent magnets. It is possible to construct wind turbines that do not use neodymium, but it is difficult to have confidence that those turbines will provide a steady stream of power when conditions permit.

Earlier on it had been reported by Jack Lifton, Co-founder and Director of Technology Metals, that 1 ton of neodymium is required per 1 MW of nameplate capacity.6 However, that number has been misinterpreted for the 1 ton is in reference to neodymium-iron-magnet alloy not neodymium alone. The general consensus for the amount of required neodymium ranges between 200 – 300 kg per 1 MW of nameplate capacity or 441 – 661 pounds (0.22 – 0.33 tons).7-9 Therefore, for 350 GW of additional capacity these turbines will require 77,000 –115,500 tons of neodymium. So the largest known supply of neodymium for the United States covers 100% of a hypothesized, yet reasonable capacity of future wind power desired by a number of environmentalists with anywhere from a 62.5% to 143% additional overlap.

While the maximum reserves appear to be available, a secondary issue apart from the total neodymium demand is the yearly demand versus associated production. Assuming a linear average, construction of wind turbines over the 20-year period would result in the addition of 17.5 GW of nameplate capacity per year. This rate of construction demands a neodymium production rate of 3,850 – 5,775 tons per year. Due to the closing of Mountain Pass until just recently and lack of processing facilities, no reasonable person would suggest that the United States will be able to develop this amount of yield for a significant period of time (at least 5 years maybe) without shipping raw materials to a country like China that already had the processing capacity.

Another issue also exists apart from the rare earth issue, the fact that constructing this infrastructure will take enormous amounts of conventional resources. For example returning to the wind turbine discussion above, a 1.5 MW wind turbine typically requires approximately 29 tons of steel.10 Due to a lack of available information and the evolution of wind turbines in nameplate capacity assume only a 40% increase in steel requirement is needed for a 100% increase in nameplate capacity (40.6 tons for 3 MW). Constructing 350 GW of additional capacity would require 116,667 new 3 MW wind turbines, which would require 4,736,680 tons of steel.

On its face it appears that this value is not significant relative to global production values of over 1.35 billion tons of steel per year12 (2007 value is used to account for the loss during the global recession) and a U.S. annual production value of 98.1 million an additional 4.7 million should not be an issue. However, looking at the issue of steel is not as simple as solely comparing anticipated additional production to existing production. Recalling that because this steel requirement is an addition to the steel demand, it is important to ask about how this addition adds stress to the supply chain.

For example there are two possible scenarios that appropriately describe the situation. First, there is a gap between present production and maximum production, i.e. the resources are available to produce more steel, but the economic demand is not present. Second, there is not a significant gap between present production and maximum production; the resources to increase global steel production are not readily available. In the first scenario additional steel demand from new wind turbines can be absorbed in an economic way by the production stream, but in the second scenario it cannot. So it is important to confirm which scenario is valid before coming to the conclusion that the additional required steel will not be a concern.

Furthermore there are three important considerations to make regarding these numbers. First, taking the conservative assumption that U.S. electricity use only increases 10% in the next 20 years to approximately 4.57 billion MW-hr12 (once again 2007 data used to account for the recession) the deployment of an additional 350 GW of wind nameplate capacity will be able to replace, at a maximum, 27.6% of that theorized used electricity. Second, environmentalists are interested in using hybrids and electrical vehicles (EV) to replace transportation emissions. Unfortunately neodymium is a critical component in the operating engine requiring 1-2kg per car.13 Assume that 1 million hybrids/EVs are built per year over the next 20 years (20 million or about 12.5% of the existing vehicle fleet assuming no increase, which is a horrible assumption) would demand an additional 22,000 – 44,000 tons of neodymium total and 1,100 to 2,200 tons per year. Third and most importantly these numbers are for nameplate capacities and not real world wind generation values. Assuming an optimistic 35% operating capacity, an additional 1.085 million tons and 11.6 million tons of neodymium and steel respectively would be required to guarantee attaining an average for the original nameplate values. Clearly the steel value is still workable, but the neodymium requirement is not within domestic boarders or even global supply. These numbers also could include the 8% molybdenum that is typically doped into high-quality steel [total estimated requirement = 324,800 tons (for original estimate) to 928,000 tons (for nameplate average estimate)].

Tie these material requirements with the real potential of reduced wind speeds due to temperature equalization between Northern and Central latitudes along with the significant reduction in high-quality locations to collect wind power and it becomes difficult to envision the legitimacy of the large role that some environmentalists anticipate wind power playing in the future trace emission energy infrastructure. Until wind proponents can overcome these legitimate concerns regarding neodymium absolute resource limitation with regards to average capacity factors and yearly production demands it is difficult to take their arguments about wind power being an important part of a future energy infrastructure seriously.

The point of this post is not to conduct a full analysis of all of the potential limitations of rare earth supplies relative to demand, but instead bring this near-future production shortage and potential long-term optimized production shortage to the attention of those that argue that a future trace emission energy infrastructure should consist largely of wind and solar power. Also understand that cost relative to supply of neodymium is not the chief concern, but accessible supply itself and processing that supply. Recall that rare earth concentrations are not highly concentrated despite their frequent occurrence in the crust, thus when the major deposits run out new mines will have to be constructed for very insignificant concentrations which would highly dissuade many companies from even attempting extraction.

Note that this post did not address the element with the most critical crunch if massive wind scale up proceeds: dysprosium. Estimates range from 3-12% of the permanent magnets in wind turbines (the same which use neodymium) consist of dysprosium.14 Thus using the same example from above, 1 MW of nameplate capacity would require 60 to 240 lb of dysprosium and 350 GW would require 10,500 to 42,000 tons. On its face that range does not seem bad, until it is acknowledged that there may not be that much dysprosium economically available on the face of the Earth. For example less than 1,500 tons of dysprosium is produced globally (99%+ by China); that number is not influenced by a lack of demand and resources are heavily on the decline.

There are some high hopes for potential dysprosium deposits in Ucore’s Bokan Mountain Mine, but no hard numbers have yet to be complied. Even if significant deposits are uncovered, it will take years before production numbers reach what they need to be. Perhaps Paul Emile Lecoq de Boisbaudran saw the future when naming dysprosium after the Greek term for ‘hard to get’. Even if the production issues regarding neodymium are successfully worked out (remember this analysis only looked at estimated wind generation for the U.S. not global or no other elements like EVs), for wind power proponents it very well may come down to choosing either hybrid/electrical vehicles or wind power not both due to a lack of dysprosium.

Although not discussed serious concerns still exist for the construction of large-scale solar power instillations and PV panels especially concerning gallium and indium deposits. However, while wind power has serious questions that its proponents choose to ignore, solar power has some hope to overcome its rare earth problems. Potential viable efficiency increases lie both in exploration of the hot electron and quantum dots. Also preliminary lab tests have demonstrated effective solar cells using more common elements like copper, zinc, tin, sulfur, and selenium.15 However, these cells have not been tested in the field yet, so unforeseen problems could arise.

Overall it is important that those individuals who so feverously demand rapid deployment to a wind and solar energy infrastructure explain in specific detail how the massive required scale-up is going to avoid resource shortfall. In short if one believes that building a bridge over a 100 ft wide chasm is the best solution, that individual better check to confirm that existing resources will allow for the construction of a 100 ft bridge, not merely a 73 ft bridge. Otherwise it may be more beneficial for resources, effort, time and money to be devoted to other trace emission energy technologies over those that will fall short.

1. Drak, M. and Dobrzanski, L. "Corrosion of Nd-Fe-B Permanent Magnets." Journal of Achievements in Materials and Manufacturing Engineering. 2007. 20. 239:

2. Herbst, J. F. "Neodymium-Iron-Boron Permanent Magnets." Journal of Magnetism and Magnetic Materials. 1991. 100. 57:

3. Haxel, G, Hedrick, J, Orris, G. "Rare Earth Elements-Critical Resources for High Technology." U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 087-02. Nov 02. 20.

4. David Jessey Geological Sciences.

5. Mountain Pass rare earth mine. Wikipedia.

6. "Rare Metals Investment News Updates, Today's Edition." Gerson Lehrman Group. May 7, 2009.

7. "The Effect Of Chinese Domestic Growth On Neodymium And Dysprosium Supply." Technology Metals Research. Mar 13, 2011.

8. 2nd Comment

9. "Why rare earth metals matter." Mineweb. May 18, 2009.

10. Pomeroy Wind Farm.

11. List of countries by steel production. Wikipedia.

12. “Electric Power Industry 2007: Year in Review.” Table ES1. Summary Statistics for the United States, 1996 through 2007. Energy Information Administration. May 2008.

13. Luft, Gal, Korin, Anne. Turning Oil Into Salt: Energy Independence Through Fuel Choice. 2009. ISBN: 1-4392-4847-8.

14. "The Fight over Rare Earths." Technology Metals Research. Nov 10, 2010.

15. "IBM Develops Higher-Efficiency Solar Cells Using Non-Rare Materials." Popsci.
Feb 2, 2010.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Environment and Emotion

For years environmentalists have used various arguments in an effort to convince the public of the importance of sound legislation and action to protect the environment. However, despite these strategies the most important modern day issue, a fixed and continuous reduction of carbon emissions in effort to lessen the total severity of global warming consequences, has yet to capture enough importance in the public consciousness. The chief idea to accomplish this goal is to put a price on carbon, but despite various different methodologies to achieving this price, none have succeeded. Possibly pressed by the reluctance of the public to fully support this important issue, environmentalists and ‘climate hawks’ have continued to press rational fact-based scientific arguments and future cost-benefit ratio analysis to persuade holdouts. Unfortunately this strategy has yet to bear fruit and based on the behavior of the opposition there is little reason to assume that it will be successful in the near future. Perhaps it is time for a new strategy.

Few environmentalists have used emotional arguments to support their positions despite emotional and simplistic sound bites being the commonplace strategy among popular media and politics for winning debates. Some environmentalists would argue that the above statement is not accurate, that some arguments have focused on family and loved ones as an emotional tenor addressing the very real future hardships that children and grandchildren will face in the future due to global warming if carbon emissions in the present are not reduced.

Whether it is justified or not, humans tend to favor present day arguments over future arguments, especially for issues they believe are mired in uncertainty like climate science. Most individuals either cannot look far enough into the future to accept/appreciate the complicated macro-economical and social changes that will occur in response to climate change or believe that humans will somehow find a way to eliminate this threat without demanding a meaningful sacrifice. It is in these explanations why most individuals do not accept the validity of the child/grandchild arguments. Therefore, environmentalists need to focus on an emotional argument that exists in the present.

Returning for a moment to the rational behind why individuals reject child/grandchild arguments, another concern may be that these individuals have a more difficult time with non-referenced visualization. Basically these individuals can better accept an argument when a visual representation exists to aid them. This visual component is especially useful if it can exhibit changes over a short period of time supporting the nature of the argument. Therefore, the emotional argument needs to be in the present as well as have a visual component. While not exclusive, one strategy that encompasses these elements involves U.S. National Parks.

Regardless of how modernized society becomes individuals seem to have an inherent awe for nature when confronting it directly. However, due to the perceived demands of modern day society most people rarely get to experience nature in any real and significant way. Exposing individuals to various National Parks could be an effective means to rekindle an emotional and meaningful connection between nature and individuals that reside in the urban jungle or suburbia. Reaffirming this emotional connection would be important for future arguments in favor of human driven global warming and strategies to mitigate its consequences. The means with which environmentalists wish to demonstrate the importance of the environment through National Parks can emerge in multiple ways. For example three different ideas immediately come to mind and are outlined below.

First, when was the last documentary about the National Park system? Ken Burns did a 12 part series back in 2009 for PBS, but how many people even heard of it let alone watched any of it? The idea behind a documentary is useful because it can flow in one of two ways and has the potential to reach a wide audience. One a small group of twenty-something individuals can go on a road trip touring various National Parks and make a film about their trip. This method is more relaxed and indirect, but will more than likely expose the public to various National Parks and their inherent beauty in a real and meaningful way through the eyes of these youths.

Two a more professional attitude, similar to the one taken by Mr. Burns, can be applied similar to a filmed tour guide approach towards various National Parks. Although this method is more formal, it allows the film to express the full impact of the beauty of the featured National Parks through a structured experience. Also this method may provide a clearer opportunity to disseminate information about the park system further enhancing its value and the connection to the public. However, if one elected to take this route it would need to bring something different to the table over the one produced by Mr. Burns.

Second, it was previously stated that one of the drivers behind discussing National Parks is that the emotional connection between humans and nature has been lost. The reason for this loss is that individuals no longer experience nature on a consistent basis; however, one of the reasons for that reduced experience is that individuals do not have the time or the money to experience it. It is not surprising that everyday exposure to nature has fallen for most people as a reduction in opportunities is to be expected with population advancement (the need to construct more residential, commercial and industrial complexes), but lack of economic opportunity also plays a role. Therefore, it is possible for the environmental movement sponsor free trips to various National Parks. However, the concern about this idea is some of the finer details, especially regarding paid leave.

Third, the environmental movement can co-sponsor a special entertainment performance(s) at various National Parks under the supervision of the National Park Service. There are a wide range of celebrities that claim to care about the environment thus these individuals should be more than happy to volunteer their time to perform and/or host these functions. The basic operating premise for one of these functions could be the entertainment performance followed by a tour or some form of interaction with the particular National Park that hosts the performance or visa-versa.

It would be important to ensure a small-randomized population for these performances in order to ensure adequate attention and importance through exclusivity. Also if possible it seems reasonable to focus on entertainers that are currently popular with younger individuals (Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Taylor Swift, etc.) because younger individuals will have more influence in deciding the future of the country. For example suppose Singer x is selected, attendance for this event would involve a raffle requiring an investment of 5 dollars. There would be a limit on the number of tickets an individual could purchase (say 5). Only 100 individuals would be selected to attend the event and all funds acquired for from the raffle would be donated to the National Park Service.

Overall there needs to be a more earnest attempt on behalf of the environmental movement to demonstrate the emotional significance of nature to the general public to augment the logical and future economic benefit arguments to protecting nature through the reduction of carbon emissions. If individuals have a stronger emotional appreciation for nature they should be more willing to sacrifice for it. The above ideas are just some possibilities that could be explored to help rekindle the emotional connection humans once had with nature, certainly others individuals can think of other ideas that would also be useful.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Class Size U-Turn

With austerity measures sweeping the nation most states have elected to cut social services including funds directed towards education. For years school reformers have championed the notion that one of the key elements to increasing student performance is to shrink class sizes. However, these near-future budget cuts will reduce the number of teachers. This reduction will increase the number of students per class in those affected environments. It seems like an important element in the school reformer plan will be placed on hold for the time being… or maybe not. Despite this pattern of singing the praises of small class sizes, like those possessed by the KIPP charter schools, school reformers, including Bill Gates, have all of a sudden changed their tune. The elimination of teachers will be a good thing because now good teachers, not bad teachers, will teach more students. Due to the fact that multiple studies have demonstrated that the quality of the instructor is one of the most important, if not the most important, element in a student’s ability to learn increasing class size is all of a sudden a great thing.

Unfortunately for school reformers that share this belief their epiphany suffers from two critical flaws. The first flaw is that instructor quality will not be taken into consideration when the vast number of teachers dismissed as a result of these cuts in social services. Currently no valid evaluation method has been established to effectively and fairly judge teaching performance; therefore, any targeted dismissal will follow standard procedures with younger teachers taking the brunt of the dismissals regardless of their overall teaching credentials and quality. With this method of ‘teacher filtration’ there is no legitimate way to judge the quality of the remaining teachers in the future environment over the quality of the teachers in the present environment. It is quite possible that the ‘higher quality’ teachers will be fired and more students will end up in front of ‘bad’ teachers.

The second flaw is that most school reformers tend not to understand what makes a quality teacher. The principle element which determines the quality of a teacher is the teaching methodology. It is irrational to believe that there is any significant difference between the way that teacher A writes a lesson on a blackboard or talks about a PowerPoint presentation over teacher B in the context of quality. Therefore, the quality characteristic for in-class performance stems largely from unique nuances in a particular teaching methodology. Most effective teaching methodologies rely on direct teacher-student interaction, especially the most effective methodology: the Socratic Method. However, with more students in a classroom the probability that any given student interacts in such a direct way with the teacher is reduced. Thus, by this probability metric it is more probable that for any methodology that utilizes teacher-student interaction the overall methodology will be less effective relative to the size of the class.

A third issue that ties back to quality teaching is how a larger class size affects teachers off-hours. One of the more misrepresented elements of teaching is the total level of work a teacher performs. Some individuals draw the conclusion that teachers do not work very hard because the official school day in a vast majority of schools is only 6 to 6.5 hours long. However, these individuals do not consider the work required by teachers in preparation for the next school day nor the work required to grade homework, quizzes and tests to determine how effectively students are learning.

Not surprisingly because these individuals do not consider these aspects of teaching they do not realize that prepping for tomorrow’s lesson and grading various items is time-consuming and difficult work, especially for those that are ‘good’ teachers because of the effort applied. Increase that off-hour work load by 1.5 to 2 times and take a wild guess about how long that teacher will remain a quality teacher frayed by a work load no reasonable person should be expected to handle. In fact under such constraints as a 40-60 student classroom, which will be common under some of these teaching termination proposals, most homework, quizzes and tests will more than likely revert to multiple choice format. Unfortunately it is common knowledge that multiple choice format testing does not lend itself well to teaching and refining critical thinking skills which will be the most important skill for citizens and workers in the future.

So larger class sizes have only an even shot at best at putting more student in front of ‘good’ teachers, increase the probability that those ‘good’ teachers will be less effective and increase the probability that these student not receive the skills that are most important for the future, will those that suddenly believe larger class sizes to be advantageous please explain how this viewpoint could possibly be logical and correct?