The Power of Positive Smog

The Virginian Pilot picked up a story from the Washington Post written by Juliet Eilperin.  In this article, it discusses a theory published in Science that particles in the air have an effect on the earth’s temperature.  While the article tends to lean toward the effect of volcanic ash, it also discusses soot from fossil fuels.  The particles in the atmosphere block sunlight, thereby potentially reducing global warming.  This is not a new idea since one of the fears of nuclear war was the “Nuclear Winter” that would follow as the sun’s energy would be blocked by clouds of dust generated by the explosions.  The nuclear winter was feared because it could drastically reduce crop and vegetation growth with resulting starvation on the planet.

Global warming and things that influence it is a complex issue.  Various causes and associated remedies have been proposed, however this article causes me to think that other factors may be at play.  A pet peeve of mine is when people come up with easy answers for complex problems.  A danger sign is when someone prefaces their suggestion with, “All you have to do is just…”  That’s right up there with “This won’t hurt a bit.”

When analyzing a situation and proposing a solution, some people fail to do two things.  The first is that they fail to create some type of feedback mechanism.  Now that I’m trying my proposed solution, am I getting closer to the goal I set?  Part of this is due to the fact that it can be very tempting to move away from a problem rather than toward a solution.  If a problem were a point in space, there would be an infinite number of directions away from that problem.  Only a finite number of these move toward a viable solution.  This tells me that it is important to define a solution toward which you can move and then check your progress.  Of course, this also means that if your solution is not working, you need the ability to admit that fact and to try something different.  When trying to solve a problem the goal is the solution, not stroking someone’s ego.

The second problem is that people tend to ignore the rule of unintended consequences.  By addressing one problem other problems that did not exist before come to be.  I know of a man who lived near a national forest and the raccoons were able to find bits of food outside his home.  When he left on vacation, the raccoons came looking for food and did not find any, so they managed to break into the house.  They opened every box in the cupboards and pantry.  They managed to get the refrigerator open.  When he returned his house was a wreck and he had to pay to have the raccoons live trapped and relocated.  The trapper ended up catching 28 raccoons within the house.  (The mess was bad enough, but can you imagine the smell?)

There’s one other issue that often impacts problem resolution.  If the problem does not affect me, I may believe that I don’t need to worry about it.  Or if it affects me differently than others then my priority is strictly to be concerned about myself. 

I worked for a company that sold diagnostic medical equipment such as CTs, MRIs and X-Ray machines.  The X-Ray machines did not produce much profit because it hasn’t changed much in decades and is almost a commodity; one company’s machine is pretty much like all the others.  Frequently hospitals would be interested in a package deal such as 2 X-Ray machines and an MRI scanner in order to negotiate a better price.  The Vice President of MR was unwilling to lower his margin after the X-Ray equipment had been heavily discounted.  As such, he maintained a high margin on a sale of zero dollars as opposed to a smaller margin on a sale of several million dollars.

In the Navy we know that even if all the damage is at the other end of the ship, when that end sinks the whole ship will be lost.

After reading the article I had to ask myself if our efforts to reduce air pollution over the past 50 years has had both positive and negative results.  We’ve reduced smog and are able to breathe better which is good.  However, have there been unintended consequences as well?  I’m sure there are.

Any good navigator would tell us it’s time to compare our current location against where we think we should be.  We may find we are exactly where we expected to be.  If so we can ask if we are headed toward the correct destination – if so then we should continue.  However if either our current location or our intended destination is incorrect we need to make some changes.

Weather is complex; environment even more so.  However, if we can learn about these and become better at coming up with better problem solving skills, it will be a great advance in two significant areas.

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