Green to go initiative in Durham, NC

Many sports fans know that Durham is the proud home to Duke University or the site of the cult sports and life lesson movie “Bull Durham” with Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon. Some may know that Durham is one of the three cities that surround the Research Triangle Park which houses many global firms’ headquarters, marketing or research departments. But, it is now getting some good press for a grassroots initiative called “Green to Go.”

What is “Green to Go?” In short, it is a building partnership with 25 local restaurants to replace Styrofoam or plastic to-go or leftover containers with a reusable and durable plastic one. The idea is instead of throwing away a one-time product, it can be replaced by one that can be used for a 1,000 times. With islands of plastic in the ocean and spilling out of landfills, this is a much needed innovation.

How does it work? It requires a $25 membership, but let’s you check out a spill-proof container with your first order from one of the 25 participating restaurants. You simply return the cleaned container on your next order to any of the 25 participants and get a newly sanitized one. This is how the food inspectors are kept happy.

On the website link provided below, they have 507 subscribers and 1,522 measured uses of the containers. But, this is a replicable idea that will likely catch on with more notoriety. The website includes the PBS Newshour piece that I first became aware of their efforts. Please let others know about this and check it our for yourself.

https://durhamgreentogo.com/

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What is this 314 Action?

You do not have to be an engineer to know that 314 with a decimal added after the three is Pi. So, it should not be a surprise to learn that 314 Action has something to do with math or science. What it represents is an attempt to get more scientists elected to office. Their mission statement is below.

“314 Action was founded by members of the STEM community, grassroots supporters and political activists who believe in science. We are committed to electing more STEM candidates to office, advocating for evidence-based policy solutions to issues like climate change, and fighting the Trump administration’s attacks on science.

Why ‘314 Action’? Because Pi is everywhere. It’s the most widely known mathematical ratio both inside and out of the scientific community. It is used in virtually everything we encounter in our daily lives — and like Pi, science is all around us. Too often, legislators choose to ignore science in favor of convenient beliefs or intuition. We are committed to electing more leaders who will use their training as STEM professionals to influence policy-making. Evidence-based reasoning should be the foundation of legislation related to issues like climate change, and gun violence.

314 Action is also devoted to aggressively advocating for a pro-science agenda in Washington, D.C. and in local and state legislatures. We will leverage our network of pro-science advocates to organize and effect change in areas where science is being maligned or disputed. As a unified STEM and pro-science community, we can combat the all-too-common attacks on basic scientific understanding.”

It greatly troubles me that our country is in desperate need of more STEM education and professionals. Yet, the current party in power denigrates scientists who are not supportive of their recommendations. That is more than a tad hypocritical. Under Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency has done a great deal to forget the word “Protection” in its name. Several judges have admonished Pruitt’s team efforts for the EPA’s lack of homework and data behind its recommendations. This will likely continue under his successor.

Science matters. Data matters. Scientists endeavor to get it right. They question themselves regarding the veracity of their research and find fault when shortcuts to research were taken. I was listening to NPR earlier this week about the efforts journalists go through to get it right. One said, when you read a source, look how they handle mistakes. Do the admit, correct and make visible the mistakes? If they don’t, find another source. Scientists are like that. I think we could use more than a few in our legislature and other offices.

Below, is a link to their endorsed scientist candidates. This is rather refreshing.

http://www.314action.org/endorsed-candidates-1/

A simple economic question

As the US President seeks to close our borders and retrench from global markets, there is a simple question to ask. Let’s set aside what’s right or wrong from a humanity and safety standpoint. Let’s focus on a simple economic one.

Do we grow our economy more by letting people bring their ideas, work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit to our country and making it easier to do business with us, or do we accomplish more economic growth by closing our borders and forcing other countries and businesses therein to look to other markets for sales and supplies?

This thought struck me Sunday morning as I caught the Women’s Open Championship in the UK. What struck me is there were not any American golfers among the top two pages of the leader board. Thinking back to the World Cup in Russia last month, the American team was not present for this global event.

I recognize these are sporting events, but they are metaphors. If you don’t keep up, the world will move on. But, not keeping up does hit our economy, as well. In the US, unemployment is low, but we are having a hard time filling higher tech manufacturing jobs. US customer service jobs abound in Asia and the Philippines. And, many of our IT jobs are being done by people in India or who have moved here from such locations.

The first book which spoke to this is The World is Flat,” by Thomas Friedman. We live in a global economy with a global workforce. Employers need the best, cheapest talent they can find. The more commoditized the job, the pendulum swings to cheapest. The less commoditized, the pendulum swings to best. If we cannot fill the jobs here, they will be filled elsewhere. And, it should be noted that companies are leasing robots for $18 an hour, if they cannot fill the job.

We must be mindful of a key data point, immigration is accretive to our economy. Since Innovation is portable, new talent coming here brings more innovation. And, jobs are created around the Innovation. So, we need to be welcoming with better governance over immigration.

We also need to be easier to work with than we have become. When an entity makes it more difficult and less profitable to partner with, its trading partners look to other sources of sales and supplies. This has been happening for the last several months. And, as one farmer said, a subsidy won’t help if the customers go away.

Sadly, this issue has now been politicized, with fear and over-emphasis of causes. As I briefly noted above, the key reasons some areas are suffering are due to chasing cheaper labor and technology. The last issue is the larger concern as a CFO noted  in the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us,” by Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, “employers would do without employees if they could.”

So, look back at the simple economic question. What kind of country do we want to be? Then, add in the seasonings of doing the right thing and being safer. Global commerce actually makes the world safer, as you are less likely to go to war with your trading partners.

 

When you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice

If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you will know that I love cleverly worded song lyrics. The above title comes from an unexpected source (if you don’t follow the band) – a song called “Free will” by the rock band “Rush.” I find this lyric, penned by drummer Neil Peart, compelling as it speaks to people who choose to do nothing in the face of obvious problems. Martin Luther King saved some of his criticism for the silent people who did not condemn Jim Crow actions.

People choose not to vote because they do not like the choices. But, “none of the above” is not an option and one candidate tends to be worse or represents worse. If you did not vote because you did not think Brexit or Trump would win, you water down your right to protest. And, I would add there are seven white supremacists running for office, empowered by a US President who won’t condemn racist actions and has made racist statements. So, your vote does matter.

If you witness a daily assault on civil rights, women’s rights, truth, media, science, allies and environment and don’t speak up, then you condone the actions as acceptable.

– It is not OK for leaders to lie multiple times a day.

– It is not OK to have governmental websites delete data that run afoul of unsubstantiated opinions by leaders.

– It is not OK to demean people because they dare criticize a leader’s point of view.

– It is not OK to demonize groups of people or exaggerate causes of problems, as it is hard enough to solve real problems with real data.

– It is not OK to ignore real problems or have faux efforts to address them. Gun deaths, poverty, health care access and costs, infrastructure deterioration, increasing debt, environmental degradation, climate change, etc. are real problems.

Please do not remain silent. Speak up. Call or email your representatives. Attend marches and protests. Share diplomatically your opinion, but listen to theirs. Find a way to get your opinion heard and heeded. Calling someone a name is not the way to be heard.

The other day as I was looking for a new battery for my cordless mower, a store clerk and I chatted about the need to move toward renewable energy. While he supported the eventual move, he said renewable energy is “seven times” the cost of fossil fuel energy. I responded and said that is a ten-year old argument. The costs are now more on par. In fact, there is a city in Texas who chose to be 100% renewable energy powered as its CPA mayor said financially it is a better deal. Did he hear me? I don’t know, but he would not have  if I had not listened to his argument and responded.

Do not follow the words of the song lyric. Choose to decide.

Oyster shells have a beneficial shelf life

Oysters have long been hailed to be an aphrodisiac. That may be the case, but their shells have been quite useful in protecting and recreating shoreline. They have a beneficial effect long after their alleged aphrodisiac influence. How so?

Per a PBS Newshour news report in June, rather than building a sea wall, there are several locations in Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, et al that are using mesh bagged oyster shells to stack in the water near the shores of bays, coves and inlets. They create an organic wall that facilitates the growth of marsh grasses between the land and barrier. Living organisms can be found in the water such as various crabs and fishes. The natural growth of the marsh grasses and collected mud is noticeable even after one year.

From a cost standpoint, one family noted the cost differential is significant. The oyster shells are 1/4 of the cost of the wall ($3,000 vs $12,000) on their property. Plus, the wall needs to be replaced at some point, while the oyster shells do not.The word has gotten out, so now there is a waiting list for the oyster shells in these areas.

Rebuilding the natural marshes and wetlands are tactics to combat the loss of shoreline due to climate change. These marshes provide a needed natural barrier or buffer as hurricanes hit land and offer oxygen to combat carbon build up.

Per a “Scientfic American” article in April, 2017, “Coastal wetlands are among the best marine ecosystems to fight climate change, new research confirms. A study published this week in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment compared the carbon sequestration potential of a handful of marine ecosystems and found that mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass meadows have the greatest impact on climate change.”

This is another reason to order oysters on the half shell. But, ask the restaurant what they are doing with the shells. Make them aware of this terrific use if they are not. It is truly an organically utile idea, aphrodisiac or not.

 

 

Sunday seasoning

Sunday is a good day to simmer something slowly in the crock pot. With judicious seasoning, the aroma permeates the house until dinner time. Now that I made you hungry for pot roast or stew, here are a few seasonings to sample.

It is nice to see Tiger Woods competing for The Open Championship at the northern most venue in the world at Carnoustie in Scotland. For more than a decade, Woods was more successful than any other golfer in history. Unfortunately, injuries and personal issues derailed him from more major victories that would help him overtake the impressive record of Jack Nicklaus. It is good to see him back on the leaderboard.

The unraveling continues with the US President. Not only did he bully his allies, he appeared very weak in the face of Vladimir Putin. What should not be lost is by throwing his intelligence people and country under the bus, he has made even more Americans believe he may be compromised by the Russians. It has been reported that we may see some more departures from his White House, as it is quite apparent, he will throw anyone under the bus to save face.

The best feel good story of the year has been the rescue of the Thai youth soccer team. What should not be understated is the significant amount of cross country collaboration and reliance on people who had expertise to figure out the best path forward. To me, this is an exemplar as the antithesis of Donald Trump’s “go-it-alone and I-know-best” approach. Collaboration is hard work, but when nurtured and seasoned can do wondrous things.

In this same vein, another large ego, Elon Musk, showed his disappointment that the Thai rescue crew did not use Musk’s expensive technology based idea. To his credit, Musk has done wonderful things for the world and wanted to help. Yet, I mention this as the most elegant solution is not always the most sophisticated one. The term “elegant” is used in computer programming to mean the easiest and most effective solution. In this case, the safest solution was arrived at after much debate by people on the ground who were more knowledgeable of the risks.

This reminds me of the story of the child who solved a problem with a delivery truck that was just a tad to tall for an overpass it tried to go under. Everyone was stymied at what to do. After much discussion, a child who had been watching opined that they should let enough air out of the tires to lower the truck and they could drive it out. Now, that is elegant. It also worked.

Infrastructure, India and Intellectual Capital

These are three very powerful “I” words – Infrastructure, India and intellectual capital. They are related in one key fashion. The failure of the US to address each of these issues has hastened its forthcoming demise as the world leading economy. China, of course, plays a key role, but we sometimes lose track of the other fastest growing economy in India, who has been creating a technology proficiency that rivals and may surpass Silicon Valley.

Per Vice News, India is well positioned for two key reasons. They have one billion people and are much more heavily focused on STEM education than the US. Even if the US had the same focus, India is three times larger and has been doing major call center and technology outsourcing for US and other companies for years. Now, they have companies that only focus on the domestic market in India. And, one other key is important. Indians who have traveled to the US to be educated are returning home rather than staying here. Why? Opportunity back home and the fact the welcome mat has been thrown away by the current US President for immigrants of color.

The other two “I” words are crucial. India is investing in their infrastructure and intellectual capital. The US has forgotten what got us to a world dominant economy. In the book “That used to be us: How America fell behind in the world it created and how it can come back,” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, it describes an America that used to invest along with a blend of local government and private funding to do great things. Now, we are more concerned with cutting revenue to dare fund things like our dilapidated infrastructure and intellectual capital.

Both the US Chamber of Commerce and labor unions have been pleading for years to invest more in our infrastructure. While interest rates were low, it was the ideal time to borrow to invest in depleted assets. Infrastructure investing also would create jobs and enhance productivity, the latter through saving of time by reducing the time when roads, canals, locks and bridges have to be shut down for repair. The President rightfully noted this need on the campaign trail and then shelved a report to do anything about it one month into his Presidency. Who says so? The man he asked to do the report.

Like India, we should be investing in new technologies and our infrastructure. Plus, we should be more welcoming of immigrants, especially those who are educated here. Innovation is portable, so if these folks leave the US, the Innovation will occur elsewhere. This coupled with a better and protective patent system will promote growth.

Like America, India is not perfect. But, they are focused on the future moreso than the US leaders are. We tend to be focused more on protecting legacy industries, than greasing the skids for new ones. Fortunately, other Americans are more forward thinking, in spite of our leaders. But, it would be nice if we helped them out more.