Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Doing Stuff Is Hard

And requires a bit of knowledge. Of facts, rather than dogma.

Maybe I'm touchy about this because I had to start out the week in a meeting where the suggestions were in the form of "I think this subject would be good," not followed by any practical ideas on how to execute that. Or "If you [note that you] got a good title and a great speaker, it would be a really good program."

So I snapped at Joshua Foust (@joshuafoust) this morning when he tweeted, "This reminds me of the Aral Sea, or more precisely Lake Baikal" The link is to a piece on the Salton Sea, in California. He and I then had a back-and-forth about this analogy. Part of his argument was that "the Aral is more about the dehydration than the direct chemical poisoning, which is what Baikal has to deal with." Which betrays multiple misunderstandings of the problems and history of the Salton Sea, the Aral Sea, and Lake Baikal. All in 140 characters.

Or we can consider far too many of the organizations advocating the end of nuclear weapons. That's their whole argument: the end of nuclear weapons. Which to them means no more funding, now, for anything to do with nuclear weapons.

Nice ideas, all, from getting a super title and speaker for a program to removing nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. And all just words, no consideration of what steps are needed to get to those worthy goals. Identify and contact speakers; work them all into a single schedule. That's many e-mails and phone calls. Remediation of the environmental problems in those three bodies of water requires understanding their ecology (size, local temperatures and surrounding vegetation, depth and extent) and the natures of the problems; those problems include removal of source waters to irrigation, inflow of agricultural chemicals, and dumping of manufacturing wastes. Or eliminating nuclear weapons requires handing those large physical objects and disassembling them. Or shooting them into the sun, or whatever. But they don't disappear by themselves.

The advocates who don't bother to think about the details are not different from the Republcans who want all problems to be solved by no taxation. Words are simple. But the politics, history, and sheer physicality of the world have to be considered as well if you actually want to do something about it. And who is to do it? Certainly not the silver-tongued advocates. As I was told on Monday, you do it.

I'm not sure that any of these well-meaning people recognize the disconnect betweeen their advocacy and getting something done. Talk and internet bits almost feel like doing something. And if you've never set up a program, never planned and executed an environmental project, never seen a nuclear weapon, it's easier to feel that that talk is something real.

Update: Or we could consider Germany's instant decision that nuclear power is bad and frightening after Japan's monster earthquake. Just take the nuclear plants off line. Easy, huh? Maybe not so much. Those plants were generating electricity because people used it in their homes and factories. If the plants aren't generating electricity, it needs to come from somewhere else. Renewable! What a nice green word, words again. Solar cells and windmills must be manufactured and sited somewhere. They must be knitted into the electrical grid in a way that works to get the power where it is needed. At the very least, all that takes time. And some of it may simply not work as well as it needs to, like solar cells in Germany's cloudy climate.

But it was an easy decision.

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