Monday, February 17, 2014

Hiding the systemic failures of products and processes

This New Yorker piece entitled "A Valuable Reputation" by Rachel Aviv is insightful at many levels. 

"In 2001, seven years after joining the biology faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, Tyrone Hayes stopped talking about his research with people he didn’t trust. He instructed the students in his lab, where he was raising three thousand frogs, to hang up the phone if they heard a click, a signal that a third party might be on the line. Other scientists seemed to remember events differently, he noticed, so he started carrying an audio recorder to meetings. “The secret to a happy, successful life of paranoia,” he liked to say, “is to keep careful track of your persecutors.” 

Three years earlier, Syngenta, one of the largest agribusinesses in the world, had asked Hayes to conduct experiments on the herbicide atrazine, which is applied to more than half the corn in the United States. Hayes was thirty-one, and he had already published twenty papers on the endocrinology of amphibians....." Read on.

My thanks to David W-T for alerting me to this article. It seems classic multinational behaviour - seeking to hide the systemic failure of products and processes.  The systemic failings reported are all avoidable; above all else so is the thinking that creates and sustains these circumstances. I cannot help but feel we are collectively suffering a self-induced myopia, given that this atrazine story is only one of many that creates a pattern that afflicts us.  Consider also these recent examples:

1. Epic California Drought and Groundwater: Where Do We Go From Here?

"The bad news is that we are running out of groundwater.  In particular, this is happening in the places that we need it most — the dry parts of the planet where we love to live, precisely because it does not rain.  Out of necessity, our reliance on groundwater in these parts of the world is much greater than elsewhere."

"One of the key numbers to emerge from the report is that the combined Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basins have already lost 10 cubic kilometers of freshwater each year in 2012 and 2013.

To put that number in perspective, it is roughly the amount of water used by the entire population of California, for household, municipal, and industrial use (that is, for nearly everything else besides agriculture and environment).  It is also the steepest decline in total water availability that our team has witnessed in the 12 years that we have been monitoring California water resources with the GRACE mission."

2. The UK floods - see this article by George Monbiot to begin to appreciate some of the systemic issues.  Talk about a crisis of governance!

3. Nutrient cycle distortions with massive systemic effects

"A new report commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) highlights how humans have massively altered the natural flows of nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients. While this has had huge benefits for world food and energy production, it has caused a web of water and air pollution that is damaging human health, causing toxic algal blooms, killing fish, threatening sensitive ecosystems and contributing to climate change. 

Our Nutrient World is launched at this week's UNEP Governing Council / Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi, Kenya, which runs until 22 February 2013. The study was carried out by almost 50 experts from 14 countries."

On the positive side...but way to late really, a significant member of the Obama administration in the person of John Kerry has had the courage to call climate change

[a]  'weapon of mass destruction'  ....."... that climate change could threaten [our] "entire way of life" as he called for all nations to do more to stop global warming." 

It is time for climate change denier regimes such as those of David Cameron and Tony Abbot, and to be fair, Barack Obama, to take responsibility for the futures of the citizens they seek to govern.  

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