Letters to the Editor: April 2009

Feedback from our members

6 April 2009

Need a Better Sample

The responses to “A Virtual Strip Search?” [Marketplace of Ideas, November 2008] do not surprise me. But more than half of those who replied were male and did not care about security checkers seeing through their clothes. If you want to get useful responses, you’ll have to push the sampling beyond the IEEE population.

Martin Lampe
Hyattsville, Md.


Good Luck on Sustaining

At last, a national organization with some clout is taking on the issue of sustainability [“IEEE Takes the Initiative on Sustainability,” February]. We have been laboring under an economic system that depends on ever-increasing growth for success, clearly something that will not work in the long run. We are currently experiencing evidence of this. I wish IEEE luck, which it will need because many in the United States view our present economic system in near fanatical terms.

David Carson
Long Lake, N.Y.


Mortgaging Future Generations

Are we going to fight for social justice as well? I think it’s a shame IEEE is joining the herd on sustainability. Human ingenuity will solve all problems, as it has always done, and engineers should be the first to recognize this. Does anyone remember Paul Ehrlich’s pronouncements in the 1960s about mass starvation occurring in the 1970s due to finite resources? Do you really think the contemporaries of the Wright brothers ever conceived of what we can achieve nowadays in aviation a mere century later?

Let us not join the ignorant and pessimistic chorus. Earth has finite resources such as fossil fuels, but what is the point of saving them? The free market will determine the genuine scarcity of resources, and prices will rise accordingly. Nothing sharpens the conservationist mind like high prices.

Anthropogenic global warming is a myth. Apart from the bizarre nightmares of a few alarmists who have carried the politicians and media along with them, critics are currently discrediting that notion. Global circulation models cost millions, and not one of them has a cloud formation mechanism. Is this what we will rely on to mortgage the future of our descendants?

Marwan Nusair


Cool Air

Why does IEEE perpetuate the myth of global warming and the hubris that humans are a prime contributor when we are now learning that we are, in actuality, entering a cooling period? Just step outside for empirical corroboration. But the most pressing climatic problem is not temperature; it’s the erosion of our magnetic shield (the South American anomaly).

Warren M. Scheinin
Redondo Beach, Calif.


On the Edge

I see that IEEE has decided to contribute to the unsubstantiated and unwarranted fearmongering of the global warming alarmists. Although IEEE contributions on sustainability are certainly appropriate, it crushes me to support the wildly inappropriate behavior implied by the article. If I continue to see this commentary in IEEE publications, I will terminate my membership by 2010.

Denise M. Zurn


On behalf of the President’s Sustainability Initiative (PSI), I'd like to thank all those who wrote letters and communicated with us regarding the PSI. Such comments help us create an initiative that is helpful not only to our IEEE community, but also to society. They are an encouraging sign of the interest in this area, as well as remind us of the complexities involved.

The writers mentioned a number of viewpoints on sustainability, including human population levels, the world’s carrying capacity for humans, difficult political questions, steady state economics, and economic incentives and structures. They are clearly important topics. Our survey to establish whether there was a role for IEEE in the area of sustainability and, if so, what it should be was done in preparation for a September 2008 workshop. The results indicated that many organizations including universities, nongovernmental organizations, and online communities are actively involved in sustainability. In considering a role for IEEE, we realized that we did not necessarily have any particular competence in sustainability topics but that the general area of technologies, in which IEEE clearly is a world leader, tended to be underrepresented in sustainability discussions. That suggested that focusing on technology would be the most valuable approach for us.

Regardless of where one stands on issues of population, wealth distribution, and economic structure, there are a number of difficult problems. These include carbon management and enabling efficiency through smart-grid technologies, to which IEEE can contribute significantly to meaningful solutions.

With any discussions as free-ranging as those surrounding sustainability, which itself remains an ambiguous term, and the contentious area of climate change, it is undoubtedly true that there will be opinions that are not based on fact and analysis. But that is one reason why we believe IEEE should become involved. If debate and public policy are going to embrace sustainability and climate change as an established reality, it is important to construct a factual basis and technological reality in which IEEE can contribute substantially. If organizations with the skills, knowledge, and competence of IEEE refuse to engage, it doesn’t stop the discussion or resulting political initiatives. But it may well lead to suboptimal and ill-informed results—which is not in our best interests, nor society’s.

As mentioned in the article, the IEEE September workshop resulted in a “White Paper on the IEEE and Sustainability,” which is intended to be a working document that establishes a role for IEEE in the sustainability dialog. For more information or to get a copy of the white paper, send your request to brad.allenby@asu.edu.

Brad Allenby

Chair of the IEEE President’s Sustainability Initiative


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