Double standards in Norwegian environmental culture?

Norway: Environmental hero or hypocrite?” was the question the Financial Times asked a year ago. As a resident in Norway for the last decade and with a background of research and innovation, I have long been concerned with the same question.

Norway has implemented a number of measures for a green shift. For example, power generation is mainly based on renewable sources, and the number of electric cars per capita is the largest in the world. Nevertheless, the waste volume in Norway increased by 7% while recycling decreased 1% from 2013 to 2014.

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We can put an end to imperial units

“In metric, one milliliter of water occupies one cubic centimeter, weighs one gram, and requires one calorie1 of energy to heat up by one degree centigrade—which is 1 percent of the difference between its freezing point and its boiling point. An amount of hydrogen weighing the same amount has exactly one mole of atoms in it. Whereas in the American system, the answer to ‘How much energy does it take to boil a room-temperature gallon of water?’ is ‘Go fuck yourself,’ because you can’t directly relate any of those quantities.” Wild Thing by Josh Bazell.

I have not read Wild Thing, and I do not have any idea about who Josh Bazell is, but I love this quote. It brilliantly summarises how superior the International System of Units (i.e., the modern form of the metric system) is to the system of imperial units, as shown in the following illustration:

Visual comparison of metric and imperial units

Yet, nowadays…
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  1. One may argue that calorie is not a unit of the metric system. In the International System of Units, which is an evolution of the metre-kilogram-second (MKS) system of units, which in turn is a variant of the metric system, both mechanical and thermal energies are measured in Joule. However, in the centimetre-gram-second (CGS) system of units, which is another variant of the metric system, the thermal energy is measured in Calories. Therefore, I would still consider Calorie as one of the units of the metric system, although not of the International System of Units. Besides, I do not think Josh Bazell aimed at being scientifically rigorous, so I would excuse him for not clarifying which variant of the metric system he refers to.

We can put an end to month-day-year dates

What is today’s date? If you answered this question with September 26, 2017 (read September the twenty-sixth, two thousand and seventeen), you should go on reading.

The day-month-year date format (e.g., 26 September 2017) is officially adopted by the vast majority of the world’s countries.

The year-month-day date format (e.g., 2017-09-26) is officially adopted by China, Japan, Korea, and Iran, and is also the date format of the ISO 8601 standard.

The month-day-year date format (e.g., September 26, 2017) is officially adopted by the USA only (although contamination of this format can be found in a few other countries). Like most standards adopted in the USA, the month-day-year date format is bizarre at best, as shown in the following illustration:

Visual comparison of date formats

Yet, nowadays…
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La gente fa schifo. Vaffanculo alla speranza.

Il risultato a dir poco tragicomico delle ultime elezioni mi ha riportato alla mente uno dei migliori pezzi di George Carlin. Mi permetto di tradurlo in italiano sostituendo l’aggettivo «americano» con «italiano»:

Tutti si lamentano dei politici. Tutti dicono che fanno schifo. Be’, ma da dove pensano che vengano questi politici? Non cadono dal cielo. Non arrivano attraverso una membrana da un’altra dimensione. Vengono da genitori italiani, da famiglie italiane, da case italiane, da scuole italiane, da chiese italiane, da imprese italiane e da università italiane… E sono eletti da cittadini italiani. Questo è il meglio che possiamo fare gente. Questo è quello che abbiamo da offrire. È ciò che produce il nostro sistema: immondizia in entrata, immondizia in uscita. Se hai cittadini egoisti ed ignoranti, avrai dirigenti egoisti ed ignoranti. E i limiti dei mandati non aiuteranno di certo: finirai semplicemente con una nuova cerchia di italiani egoisti ed ignoranti. Quindi, magari, non sono i politici che fanno schifo. Magari è qualcos’altro che fa schifo qui… Come, la gente. Sí, la gente fa schifo. Per qualcuno sarebbe un buon motto per una campagna: «La gente fa schifo. Vaffanculo alla speranza.»

How to blow 1.6 million EUR

The University of Smallville needs to build a new student centre. The centre will offer services to students such as programme enrollment and exam registration and will provide a new auditorium, library, swimming pool, gym, etc.

On the 14th of September 2006, the University Board decides to initiate a project called MegaCentre for the new student centre, to which it allocates half a million EUR. The University has, among others, a Department of Architecture, a Department of Engineering and a Department of Facility Management. One might expect that the University Board would assign the management of MegaCentre to one of these Departments. On the contrary, however, the University Board assigns the management of MegaCentre to the Student Affairs Centre. The Student Affairs Centre forms a working group composed of a project leader, a project co-leader, a technical leader and two co-workers. Again, one might expect that someone from the Department of Architecture, Engineering or Facility Management would cover one of these roles. On the contrary, however, all members of the working group, except for the technical leader, belong to the Student Affairs Centre. The project leader and co-leader do not have specialist educations in architecture or engineering. The technical leader of the working group has an education in engineering but does not belong to the University. The working group spends more than one year and half a million EUR planning MegaCentre.

On the 13th of September 2007, the working group presents the plans for MegaCentre to the University Board. According to these plans, the construction of the building will be assigned to the external construction company Nonchalant, which guarantees the use of state-of-the-art construction techniques. Moreover, once the building comes into service, the maintenance will be assigned to the Department of Facility Management. The University Board accepts the plans and allocates an additional 0.9 million EUR to the project. Nonchalant spends more than one year on construction of the building, on completion of which it presents a bill of 1.1 million EUR.

On the 4th of February 2009, the building is inaugurated with due ceremony, after which it enters into service. Unfortunately, faults in the building’s design immediately become evident, with problems such as poor insulation, a leaky roof, an unreliable alarm system and poor handicap access, to name but a few. Both employees and students soon become frustrated. Again, one might expect that the working group of MegaCentre would demand Nonchalant to honour its contractual agreement, repair all faults and pay any necessary fines for damage caused. On the contrary, however, the working group simply allows the Department of Facility Management to deal with the faults as they see fit. The Department of Facility Management hires construction workers and assigns them to the repairs and alterations. The construction workers do what they can, but after one year many design issues remain unresolved. The head of the Department of Facility Management, who has an education in engineering, decides to perform a thorough evaluation of the building. On doing so, he discovers that the building is constructed with obsolete rather than state-of-the-art techniques, and that these would not guarantee minimal safety in the event of a natural disaster. Finally, he concludes that it will be necessary to reconstruct the building from scratch using appropriate techniques.

On the 29th of April 2010, the head of the Department of Facility Management presents the evaluation to the University Board. At this point, the University Board finally acknowledges that severe action must be taken and sues Nonchalant for damages, excludes the Student Affairs Centre from the project, hands the management of MegaCentre to the Department of Facility Management and fires the employees responsible for public money wasted hitherto.

Do you find this story unbelievable? Well, now replace the name Smallville with Bergen, MegaCentre with EksternWeb and Nonchalant with Bouvet, and reread it here.

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