Is Business Getting Message on Bottom Lines & Tipping Points?

Is Business Getting Message on Bottom Lines & Tipping Points?

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu says that climate models that don’t include the impact of “tipping points,” aren’t measuring all the risks posed by climate change, while President Obama says companies like UPS, FedEx, AT&T, Verizon are switching to more efficient vehicles. “And through the Clean Fleets Partnership, driven not by government, but by business, more companies are going to be switching to electric and alternative vehicles, too – not out of the goodness of their hearts, but because it’s good for their bottom lines.”

Patrick Thibodeau In Computerworld (1 April 2011):

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu says that climate models that don’t include the impact of “tipping points,” aren’t measuring all the risks posed by climate change.

What is a tipping point? In climate change it is the point that will lead to cascading events, positive feedback loops, such as rising temperatures that result in the melting of the Greenland ice, leading to higher sea levels and who knows what else.

Chu spoke Thursday night at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It was a talk, by this Nobel Prize winner in physics, that had some parallels to the problem of measuring risk in IT.

There will be certain risks and damages that might occur if the world temperature goes up three degrees centigrade, said Chu. “The question you should ask yourself if it goes up six degrees centigrade would it be four times worse, would it be two times worse, or will it be a whole lot worse,” he said.

Most climate scientists don’t want to put these tipping points in their models because of the huge uncertainties, said Chu, but that means the models don’t show the full risk.

“To be sure, if you start to model the tipping points you put in much larger uncertainties, but there is a difference between uncertainty and inaccuracy,” said Chu. 

The “long tail of the damage tail is out there,” said Chu, who urged climate researchers to include tipping points in their models.

If scientists are averse to pushing their models, the reasons are understandable. Creating models for anything that include worse-case scenarios and positive feedback loops are potential targets of ridicule. 

Chu is arguing that if you avoid the larger and more uncertain questions, the model will have problems. But most people, IT managers included, will limit their assessments of risk. How can we know this? A recent survey by the data center association AFCOM found that 15% of the data centers have no plans for backup and recovery and about 30% don’t have backup sites, a situation the group called “shocking.”

Japan may offer a good illustration of just how bad things can get when risks are underestimated, according to Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT, who testified Thursday on climate change before the House Science Committee.

Emanuel cited Japan’s recent 9 magnitude earthquake as an example. Seismologist estimated that the largest equarthquake that one could reasonably expect was about an 8.2 magnitude. “For this reason, the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant was not designed to withstand the magnitude of earthquake and tsunami that disabled it,” he said.

“In our own country, the levees that protect New Orleans were designed for storm surge events somewhat less severe than we now believe are likely there. And, in the climate arena, summertime arctic sea ice has been declining somewhat more rapidly than had been projected,” said Emanuel.

“Far from being alarmist, scientists have historically erred on the side of underestimating risk,” said Emanuel.


By Ben Geman  in The Hill (2 April 2011):

President Obama said Saturday that his blueprint to expand ‘clean’ energy and efficiency will help bring more good news on jobs following Friday’s report on March employment levels.

The comments show that the White House is hoping the better-than-expected jobs report can provide momentum for energy policies that have become a major political focus for the administration of late.

 “This week, we learned that the economy added 230,000 private sector jobs last month. That makes 1.8 million private sector jobs created in the last thirteen months. That’s a good sign,” Obama said in his weekly address.

“But we have to keep up the momentum, and transitioning to a clean energy economy will help us do that. It will ensure that the United States of America is home to the jobs and industries of tomorrow,” he added.

The Labor Department reported Friday that the U.S. economy added 216,000 jobs last month, beating expectations. Private-sector employment rose by 230,000 jobs but that was offset somewhat by the loss of some local government employment.

The Republican weekly address focused on job creation, too, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said growth would come from cuts to federal spending and regulation.

Obama spoke from a UPS plant in Maryland where on Friday he announced a new partnership with large companies – including PepsiCo and FedEx – to reduce their fleets’ oil use with hybrid and electric vehicles, alternative fuels and other steps that trim oil consumption.

The “clean fleets” partnership is part of a broader White House energy plan that has emerged following the collapse of a sweeping climate change and energy bill in Congress last year.

Obama is emphasizing expanded fuel and building efficiency, electric vehicles, increased green energy R&D spending, and domestic oil-and-gas development, especially in areas that have already been leased to oil companies.

His plans also call for a “clean energy standard” under which power companies would be required to expand generation from low-carbon sources including renewables, nuclear power and natural gas.

Obama used a major speech at Georgetown University Wednesday to call for cutting oil imports by one-third by 2025.

“Part of this strategy involves increasing our oil exploration right here in America.  In fact, our oil production last year reached its highest level since 2003, and we want to encourage more safe, responsible drilling where we can,” Obama said in Saturday’s address.

However, he added: “But the truth is, drilling alone is not a real strategy to replace our dependence on foreign oil,” and noted that the U.S. accounts for a fourth of world oil demand but has just two percent of the world’s reserves.

“Even if we used every last drop of all the oil we have, it wouldn’t be enough to meet our long-term energy needs.  So, real energy security can only come if we find ways to use less oil – if we invest in cleaner fuels and greater efficiency,” he said.

He tied his broader strategy on alternative fuels and efficiency to consumer savings by noting that fuel economy rules his administration earlier enacted will mean less spent on gasoline.

The link comes as rising gasoline prices loom as a major political threat.

“We secured an agreement from all the major auto companies to raise the fuel efficiency of their cars and trucks.  So if you buy a new car, the better gas mileage is going to save you about $3,000.  Altogether, this will save us about 1.8 billion barrels of oil as a country,” Obama said.

“We need to build on this progress. As we make our cars and trucks more efficient, we’ve got to harness new technologies to fuel our vehicles with everything from biofuels to natural gas to advanced batteries,” he said.

Major parts of Obama’s agenda face GOP resistance, including his call for a “clean” standard for utilities and efforts to increase federal spending on green energy R&D.

But his weekly address seeks to show that his agenda is business-friendly.

“Companies like UPS, FedEx, AT&T, Verizon, and PepsiCo – firms with some of the largest fleets in the country – are switching to more efficient vehicles. And through our Clean Fleets Partnership, driven not by government, but by business, more companies are going to be switching to electric and alternative vehicles, too – not out of the goodness of their hearts, but because it’s good for their bottom lines,” he said


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