The Economic Model of Higher Education Was Already Broken. Here’s Why the Pandemic May Destroy It for Good

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Logan Armstrong, a Cincinnati junior, works while sitting inside a painted circle on the lawn of the Oval during the first day of fall classes on at Ohio State University on Aug. 25, 2020.

Karabell is an author, investor, and commentator. He is the president of River Twice Research. His forthcoming book is Inside Money: Brown Brothers Harriman and the American Way of Power.

With the fall semester upon us, colleges and universities unveiled their plans for students—and many are just as quickly upending those plans. The University of North Carolina and Notre Dame recently announced they were changing their on campus plans as COVID-19 cases spiked. Many other universities are sure to follow. Already, universities ranging from Syracuse to Ohio State are suspending hundreds of students for violating social distancing rules, while COVID-19 outbreaks are on the rise on campuses such as the University of Alabama. While there is considerable variety in the actual plans, ranging from mostly in-person to all virtual, they all share one imperative: to maintain an economic model that is as imperiled by the pandemic as the hardest hit service industries.

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The world’s growing concrete coasts

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The world’s coastlines are turning to concrete, at a huge cost to wildlife and the climate. But new technologies may offer a way to shore up coasts while benefiting biodiversity.

It’s one of the most impressive feats in modern engineering, and crossing the world’s longest sea bridge – the 55km (34 miles) Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, which opened in October 2018 at a cost of $20bn (£15.9bn) – certainly has its benefits. But impressive as it appears, this mammoth construction project, like so many others, has come at a cost.

No less than one million tonnes of concrete were used in the eight years it took to build the bridge. It was this concrete that invaded the habitat of the critically endangered pink dolphin, and is thought to be the reason that dead dolphins washed up on nearby shores while the population near the bridge plummeted by 60%. Of course, dolphins weren’t the only victims – habitats are destroyed and countless other marine species are affected when large amounts of concrete are poured into the ocean.

Destruction of this kind is often the cost of using concrete – the most widely used manmade material on Earth. With three tonnes per year used for every person in the world, there are few parts of the planet that concrete hasn’t reached. The production of concrete is also a huge emitter of CO2. At least 8% of humanity’s carbon footprint comes from the concrete industry, mostly from the production of cement – one of concrete’s principal components. The cement industry generates around 2.8 billion tonnes of CO2 per year – more than any country other than China or the US.

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Reimagining industrial supply chains

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For organizations that understand the vulnerabilities in industrial supply chains, there is an opportunity to prepare for future shocks and build resilience without hurting efficiency.

In recent months, structural supply-chain fragility has been catapulted to the top of the news cycle as the ongoing repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic echo around the world. Government-imposed orders to stay at home, international and domestic travel restrictions, and the need for physical distancing have stretched supply chains and laid bare the key bottlenecks in products’ value chains. Shortages have occurred in areas ranging from basic grocery items to electronic components.

The current pandemic is the type of event that is only likely to occur once in a lifetime. In recent years, however, supply-chain risk management has become more of a pressing issue for CEOs across industries. Vulnerabilities have been exposed by trade tensions, natural disasters, and other geo-economic disruptions.

The complexity of global industrial supply chains exponentially increases their risk. On average, an auto manufacturer has around 250 tier-one suppliers, but the number proliferates to 18,000 across the full value chain. Aerospace manufacturers have an average of 200 tier-one suppliers and 12,000 across all tiers. Finally, technology companies have an average of 125 suppliers in their tier-one group and more than 7,000 across all tiers.

Companies that cannot successfully manage those complex and, at times, opaque supply chains are at high risk, especially if they cannot mitigate the risk of increasing disruptions. Even a short disruption of 30 days or fewer can put 3 to 5 percent of EBITDA margin at stake. Recent research from the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) has found that as much as 45 percent of one year’s EBITDA1 can be lost each decade because of disruptions.

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This is now the world’s greatest threat – and it’s not coronavirus

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An environmental worker stands near an excavator amid waste at Tianziling landfill in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China August 7, 2019.

Affluence is the biggest threat to our world, according to a new scientific report.

True sustainability will only be achieved through drastic lifestyle changes, it argues.

The World Economic Forum has called for a great reset of capitalism in the wake of the pandemic.

A detailed analysis of environmental research has revealed the greatest threat to the world: affluence.

That’s one of the main conclusions of a team of scientists from Australia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, who have warned that tackling overconsumption has to become a priority. Their report, titled Scientists’ Warning on Affluence, explains that true sustainability calls for significant lifestyle changes, rather than hoping that more efficient use of resources will be enough.

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Coronavirus: our study suggests more people have had it than previously estimated

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Many people suspect they’ve been infected with COVID-19 by now, despite the fact that only 0.5% of the UK’s population has actually been diagnosed with it. Similar numbers have been reported in other countries. Exactly how many people have actually had it, however, is unclear. There is also uncertainty around what proportion of people who get COVID-19 die as a result, though many models assume it is around 1%.

We believe there has been over-confidence in the reporting of infection prevalence and fatality rate statistics when it comes to COVID-19. Such statistics fail to take account of uncertainties in the data and explanations for these. In our new paper, published in the in the Journal of Risk Research, we developed a computer model that took these uncertainties into account when estimating COVID-19 fatality rates. And we see a very different picture.

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How green sand could capture billions of tons of carbon dioxide

The green sand beach Papakolea, Hawaii

The green sand Papakōlea Beach in Hawaii.

Scientists are taking a harder look at using carbon-capturing rocks to counteract climate change, but lots of uncertainties remain.

PROJECT VESTA

A pair of palm-tree-fringed coves form two narrow notches, about a quarter of a mile apart, along the shoreline of an undisclosed island somewhere in the Caribbean.

After a site visit in early March, researchers with the San Francisco nonprofit Project Vesta determined that the twin inlets provided an ideal location to study an obscure method of capturing the carbon dioxide driving climate change.

Later this year, Project Vesta plans to spread a green volcanic mineral known as olivine, ground down to the size of sand particles, across one of the beaches. The waves will further break down the highly reactive material, accelerating a series of chemical reactions that pull the greenhouse gas out of the air and lock it up in the shells and skeletons of mollusks and corals.

This process, along with other forms of what’s known as enhanced mineral weathering, could potentially store hundreds of trillions of tons of carbon dioxide, according to a National Academies report last year. That’s far more carbon dioxide than humans have pumped out since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Unlike methods of carbon removal that rely on soil, plants, and trees, it would be effectively permanent. And Project Vesta at least believes it could be cheap, on the order of $10 per ton of stored carbon dioxide once it’s done on a large scale.

But there are huge questions around this concept as well. How do you mine, grind, ship, and spread the vast quantities of minerals necessary without producing more emissions than the material removes? And who’s going to pay for it?

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Coronavirus responses highlight how humans have evolved to dismiss facts that don’t fit their worldview

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Science denialism is not just a simple matter of logic or ignorance

Bemoaning uneven individual and state compliance with public health recommendations, top U.S. COVID-19 adviser Anthony Fauci recently blamed the country’s ineffective pandemic response on an American “anti-science bias.” He called this bias “inconceivable,” because “science is truth.” Fauci compared those discounting the importance of masks and social distancing to “anti-vaxxers” in their “amazing” refusal to listen to science.

It is Fauci’s profession of amazement that amazes me. As well-versed as he is in the science of the coronavirus, he’s overlooking the well-established science of “anti-science bias,” or science denial.

Americans increasingly exist in highly polarized, informationally insulated ideological communities occupying their own information universes.

Within segments of the political blogosphere, global warming is dismissed as either a hoax or so uncertain as to be unworthy of response. Within other geographic or online communities, the science of vaccine safety, fluoridated drinking water and genetically modified foods is distorted or ignored. There is a marked gap in expressed concern over the coronavirus depending on political party affiliation, apparently based in part on partisan disagreements over factual issues like the effectiveness of social distancing or the actual COVID-19 death rate.

In theory, resolving factual disputes should be relatively easy: Just present strong evidence, or evidence of a strong expert consensus. This approach succeeds most of the time, when the issue is, say, the atomic weight of hydrogen.

But things don’t work that way when scientific advice presents a picture that threatens someone’s perceived interests or ideological worldview. In practice, it turns out that one’s political, religious or ethnic identity quite effectively predicts one’s willingness to accept expertise on any given politicized issue.

“Motivated reasoning” is what social scientists call the process of deciding what evidence to accept based on the conclusion one prefers. As I explain in my book, “The Truth About Denial,” this very human tendency applies to all kinds of facts about the physical world, economic history and current events.

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Data fog: Why some countries’ coronavirus numbers do not add up

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Reported numbers of confirmed cases have become fodder for the political gristmill. Here is what non-politicians think.

 Have you heard the axiom “In war, truth is the first casualty”?

As healthcare providers around the world wage war against the COVID-19 pandemic, national governments have taken to brawling with researchers, the media and each other over the veracity of the data used to monitor and track the disease’s march across the globe.

Allegations of deliberate data tampering carry profound public health implications. If a country knowingly misleads the World Health Organization (WHO) about the emergence of an epidemic or conceals the severity of an outbreak within its borders, precious time is lost. Time that could be spent mobilising resources around the globe to contain the spread of the disease. Time to prepare health systems for a coming tsunami of infections. Time to save more lives.

No one country has claimed that their science or data is perfect: French and US authorities confirmed they had their first coronavirus cases weeks earlier than previously thought.

Still, coronavirus – and the data used to benchmark it – has become grist for the political mill. But if we tune out the voices of politicians and pundits, and listen to those of good governance experts, data scientists and epidemiological specialists, what does the most basic but consequential data – the number of confirmed cases per country – tell us about how various governments around the globe are crunching coronavirus numbers and spinning corona-narratives?

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Which jobs are coming back first? Which may never return?

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Job postings in the beauty and wellness category rebounded at the job-listing behemoth Indeed.

 A snapshot of who’s hiring now, plus a warning about employment predictions in an unknown COVID-19 recovery.

America’s job market added 2.5 million new jobs in May, as the economy began to wake up from what one economist called a “medically induced coma.” The new jobs are clustered in people-facing companies that have started to hire back workers they’d furloughed, so in reality many aren’t so new. We’re talking about places like bars and restaurants, hair salons, medical offices and car dealerships.

Spot a trend? Yep, it’s the service sector, the heart of the modern American economy and the epicenter of the recent jobs earthquake. A record 20.5 million jobs evaporated in April, some losses coming in surprising areas like nursing. We’re in a unique recession, prompted not by a housing bust or a market crash, but a virus with an unpredictable course. Sure, we have data from the 1918 flu pandemic, but it’s of limited utility for projecting jobs in e-sports or Starbucks. To be sure, jobs are growing right now in key spots we highlight below, but beware of forecasting too far out. As one economic expert warns us, don’t rely on economic experts. “The leading economic indicator is the virus,” energy scholar Sarah Ladislaw told us weeks ago.

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As eviction bans across the country start to lift, the US could face an eviction ‘apocalypse’

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Many Americans are now at risk of being evicted from their homes.

At least 44 million Americans have filed for unemployment in the past three months as the coronavirus pandemic devastated industries such as retail and hospitality.

Many who lost jobs were unable to pay their rent or utilities, prompting state and federal governments to issue a temporary ban on evictions.

But those bans are set to expire this summer, leaving many people at risk of losing their homes.

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Neighborhoods where stores were destroyed become food deserts overnight

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A burned Walgreens in Minneapolis on May 30

In many neighborhoods that have seen looting and vandalism over the past week, residents are now left with few — if any — grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential businesses. Which is made even harder by the fact that lots of stores are also closed because of the pandemic.

There’s a 6-mile long commercial corridor in South Minneapolis called Lake Street, and it has been destroyed.

“We no longer have pharmacies in our community,” said ZoeAna Martinez, who works for the Lake Street Council, a business association. “We no longer have gas stations as well. Our largest grocery stores are also gone,” Martinez said. “Right now, our community, we live in a food desert, which happened overnight.”

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Will the Coronavirus make us rethink mass incarceration?

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Arrested during the crisis, Roslyn Crouch feared she wouldn’t leave jail alive.

 

Community groups have pointed out the social costs of the prison system for decades. Now the pandemic has exposed its public-health risks.

On March 14th, Roslyn Crouch, a mother of twelve, left her house in New Orleans to stock up on toilet paper and canned goods, and didn’t return. Crouch, who is forty-two, with slender braids down to her knees, had been feeling anxious about the spread of the coronavirus. At home, she cared for her elderly mother, and for a half-dozen children, including a son with sickle-cell anemia, a blood disorder. She herself had chronic bronchitis, and worried that it put her at risk. Many people in her neighborhood lacked access to high-quality medical care. (Black residents of Louisiana have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic; they make up about thirty per cent of the state’s population, but account for almost sixty per cent of documented deaths from the virus.) She thought, This is some serious stuff. After scrolling through a few too many coronavirus stories on her phone that Saturday morning, she got dressed, spritzed herself with her favorite perfume, A Thousand Wishes, and drove to a dollar store with her two-year-old son, Kyi, to buy shelter-in-place supplies.

On the way, Crouch failed to stop at a stop sign in Jefferson Parish and was pulled over by the police. She was then arrested for a string of petty crimes, including driving without proper registration and with a stolen license plate that police valued at twenty-five dollars. The most serious charge resulted from a nine-year-old warrant for possession of marijuana. As Crouch was put in the back of a police car, with Kyi, she pleaded with the arresting officers to call her daughter Tae, who worked as a security guard. Tae sped across the Mississippi River, arriving just in time to pry her sobbing little brother from the police car and prevent him from being turned over to child-protective services. “I call him Hip Baby, because he’s attached to my mom’s hip,” Tae told me. She took Kyi home, but it was “hell on earth trying to tame him without her.” The cops drove Crouch to the Jefferson Parish jail.

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