The climate problem is a continuity problem. How do you go about that?

Author: Manu Steens

In this article I write my own opinion, not that of any organization.

In the month of July I mainly read in the book “Drawdown – The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming – edited by Paul Hawken”.

This book contains 100 interesting reports of climate-saving measures. In addition, there are innovative ideas in it. One of them caught my attention more than the other, because it seemed so miraculous to me: ‘artificial leaves’. It says that on June 3, 2016, Nocera and Pamela Silver announced that they had succeeded in making high-energy fuel by combining solar energy, water and CO2. By using two catalysts, they have obtained free hydrogen gas from water. By feeding this to the bacterium Ralstonia Eutropha, it turned it into liquid fuel. If the bacteria were fed pure CO2, the process is at times as efficient as photosynthesis. If they extract the CO2 directly from the air, it is three to four times more efficient as photosynthesis.

A few pages later it was about the technical capture of CO2 from the air. (This is called DAC or direct air capture.)

You can already see my idea, the idea of DAC that Bill Gates also proclaimed in his book is useful to feed this ‘trapped’ CO2 in a higher concentration than in the air to this bacterium. If you realize that on a large scale, you organize a potentially closed cycle for the creation of pure air on the one hand and fuels on the other. For the time being, there are economic obstacles. These may be surmountable in the long term. Time that we may not have, so it will be useful should governments intervene.

However, that is not the only issue I would like to refer to. We are already in the process of further heating an overheated planet. It will prove to be an insufficient effort if we try to save the planet by only creating a sustainable cycle in fuel consumption. After all, we are in the midst of the transitional phenomena of rising greenhouse gases. Halting the increase in CO2 does not guarantee a stop to the evolution of the climate. At most, it will slightly adjust the evolution. A CO2 reduction in the atmosphere must be done – quickly.

Fortunately, there are plenty of possibilities described in the book. That’s a plus. However, to call this book a ‘plan’ as the title does is an exaggeration.

We have a number of things: for each solution (except for the innovations that can still be proven and developed), we already have at a deadline of 2020-2050:

  • The potential number of Gigatons of CO2 reduction
  • The net costs (financial investments to be made)
  • The net savings

For a plan we need some extra things. We have some additional questions:

  • Where on earth is each of the proposed solutions most efficient and where is it most effective?  With what deadlines for which carbon storage method?
  • How do we convince local politicians to make the budgets sufficiently free?
  • How and where can some solutions be combined?
  • How do we shape humanity’s behavior into the right behavior in their own environment?
  • How do we convince local politicians to make measures enforceable?
  • How do we convince local governments and the private sectors that there is a lot more money to be made from creating a livable planet than from continuing to parasitize on it? ‘Drawdown’ already gives a start with numbers.

Conclusion:

So the issue I have is that governments  have to work together at an international level. That they write studies to create a globally supported plan and then implement the same plan worldwide. CO2 neutrality is not sufficient. CO2 reduction is needed. If there is no plan with deadlines and control over their implementation, the book ‘Drawdown’ will remain what it is today: a result of a well-thought-out research on a number of small and large noble initiatives that are being disseminated and have potential. It would certainly be a pity if the opportunities to secure the continuity of the planet and earn serious money from it are not taken. That will require sacrifices. Especially from people with a large CO2 footprint. There is a danger that individualism will prove to be the biggest obstacle. Individuals are not going to solve the problem. However, it is the first priority.  Pressure from below will be needed.

Why can camaraderie be a pitfall in crisis management? Is collegiality an answer?

Author: Manu Steens

In this article I give my personal opinion, not that of any organization.

This article is inspired by “Chapter 10 – Fairness, Diversity, Groupthink and Peer Effects: Why Other People Are Important to Our Risky Decisions” from the book ‘The Ten Commandments of Risk Leadership – A Behavioral Guide on Strategic Risk Management’ by Annette Hofmann.  She gives the following law of risk leadership:

“Teams with great diversity with defined rules for communication and collaboration make better decisions.”

Research shows that teams need collaborative assignments/tasks, known rewards, and defined objectives to have a psychological sense of security and to promote productivity. Conflict can be good. If we aim for a good decision-making process, a diverse team with specific communication and cooperation rules is needed.

How does this relate to pure camaraderie? The first question is: what do we understand by camaraderie?

At https://www.vertalen.nu/betekenis/en/camaraderie , the term is defined as:

  • camaraderie among colleagues
  • “the quality of affording easy familiarity and sociability”

In my ideal image of a group of comrades, everyone is equal.  It is seen that when they  want to organize something among comrades, they looks at the natural leader.  And therein lies a hidden dangerous factor in the behavior, namely groupthink.

The original description of groupthink is by Janis (1991):

‘A mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when members’ strivings for unanimity override their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.’

 It occurs when certain antecedent conditions (symptoms of groupthink) and a defective decision-making process are present.

The most important antecedent condition is a ‘cohesive group’. A similar other is isolation of the group. In both cases additional opinions and advice from third parties cannot end up in the group where they need to be. And are therefore not considered.

In addition, the attitude of the group leader is important. Especially when he selectively favors people in their opinion (often his own). Or when the group is homogeneously composed of like-minded people.

A third antecedent condition refers to provocative situational contexts. For example, in case of extreme time pressure, one chooses the leader’s solution, because one sees no other way out or considers nothing else as realistically feasible.

In addition, members with low self-esteem like to seek confirmation within a group and are averse to contradicting others (with group consensus).

Complex and moral conflicts can also affect an individual.

Symptoms of striving for unanimity are:

  • Illusion of being invulnerable.
  • An inflated level of optimism.
  • Increased willingness to take risks.
  • Blindness to warning signs and impending failure.
  • The belief that you are unstoppable.
  • The conviction of moral superiority.
  • Stereotyping of other groups.
  • The conviction of superior intelligence.
  • Considering negotiation with other groups futile because the other group is seen as incompetent and weak.
  • Underestimating the opponents.
  • Collective rationalization of one’s own great right.
  • Direct pressure on dissenters in the group.
  • The oppressive person presents himself as a sentiment guard.

Lesson learned from this could be that a strong cohesion of the group is one of the most important contributions to groupthink.

Groupthink needs strong feelings of solidarity and the individual desire of the group members to have good relationships with each other. This is often seen in comrades in a cohesive group.

The correlation between groupcohesion and groupthink is rather weak. But there is one. ‘Debiasing’ strategies are therefore needed.

A group with a strong leader is vulnerable to groupthink. Or if one is unsure of having a dissenting opinion.

  • Self-leadership is important for risk leadership to build self-confidence. For this, the interpersonal sense of safety is important.
  • Against homogeneity of the group and groupthink, third parties can be involved in the story. Often these are consultants.
  • Letting the group leader express his opinion last is useful to let others express their opinion for themselves. This is important for the impartiality of the leader. Otherwise, there is a danger that in the group
    • less information is used;
    • the leader exerts too much influence;
    • fewer proposals for solutions come on the table
  • In addition to personal safety, constructive conflict is beneficial. This is because differences in team members’ opinions, ideas, values, and ways of thinking are important to learn to work together optimally. This is best done with a high degree of interpersonal safety.

Conclusions:

Leadership is a double-edged sword because:

  • leadership can prevent groupthink by being aware of the antecedent conditions, the symptoms of groupthink, and symptoms of defective decision-making processes;
  • strong leadership can kick-start groupthink.

The camaraderie should not be ‘fictitious’: one must continue to dare to challenge the other. Otherwise, one is too easily impressed by the opinion of ‘peers’. After all, higher  social interaction also  increases this effect.

The culture in the crisis team is important. If in an organization one does not have the habit of expressing one’s own opinion in a crisismeeting, then this groupthink provokes a lower qualitative decision-making process, with higher chance of mistakes.  It can go so far that people expect you to keep your idea to yourself. With all the consequences for the quality of the decisions.

A well-known example of such groupthink was the disaster with the Challenger on January 28, 1986.

Another well-known example is the Chernobyl disaster on Saturday, April 26, 1986.

Consequently, it is best to work from a collegiality based on free expression. This may involve aspects of camaraderie, as a catalyst. Not as the main characteristic of mutual behavior.

Discussing the tragedy of the war

Author: Erik De Soir; photo by Karolien Coenen

For several weeks now, images of war have been a daily presence in our homes and we have been overwhelmed by the news of the fighting in Ukraine. It is not only war journalists and diplomats who are involved, but everyone is now a participant in the war that is taking place in Europe and threatening us all. Up to a few weeks ago, for most of us this was unthinkable! This war has generated a new influx of refugees and many of our fellow citizens are preparing to assist refugees and war victims once again and even take them into their homes. Many questions arise as to how to discuss the war with children.

Set out in the document below are ten practical tips on how to talk to people who have fled the war, left everything behind, and need to be accommodated in a foreign environment.

Corona approach – which factor can become decisive?

Author: Manu Steens

In this blog I write my personal opinion and not that of any organization.

Recently, the VRT (Flemish Radio and Television) stated that the fifth wave has started, with an expected 125,000 infections per day by mid-January.

That is very appealing of course, such numbers. But people want to know what the risk is and what the risk factors are. Classically speaking, one can say that:

Risk = probability x impact

In the case of this pandemic, if we dig deeper into these two factors, we can say in simplified terms that:

–         Probability = exposure x susceptibility x behavior

–         Impact = sensitivity x behavior

In the case of probability, the exposure is a function of the environment (directly proportional to the number of infected people in the environment of the person) in which an individual is located and the susceptibility is an internal factor of the human body: how receptive the body is to the exposure. The behavior here is a factor that implies caution on the part of the individual. This without any degree of pejorative intent: it is regardless of whether the behavior is reckless, such as people hanging too close to each other at the pub, or whether the job is a contact profession that entails this behavior, such as people taking care for patients with Covid19 in the ICU.

At the impact level, the sensitivity is an internal factor of the person’s body, such as someone who naturally has a strong immune system or, unfortunately, just doesn’t have a strong one. The behavior here is best illustrated by people who do or do not have themselves vaccinated. By having themselves vaccinated, if necessary several times, it has been shown that people who get corona suffer a significantly lower impact: they may still get sick, but it is less bad, and therefore there is a good chance that they will not end up in the ICU.

What does that mean, if we put this analysis back into the original formula of risk?

That behavior has an influence of at least squared. Why at least? Because situations are possible where the behavior can have a serious influence on exposure, for example by reducing the number of contacts where possible. But more than that: you can also protect others by adopting good behavior, such as doing a self-test before organizing a party, for example.

So the risk is in higher powers (than the square) dependent on behavior. So far for mathematics from the secondary high school.

That means that not only people should be “good citizens”, the government should direct that behavior as a major factor that can influence this fifth wave (actually any wave).

This applies to citizens as individuals, but also to organizations that depend on their employees. Having an adapted BCP and pandemic plan that is coherent in a flexible way with what the politicians and the legislator prescribe is therefore of enormous importance in the pandemic.

So there is more to it than just infectiologists, virologists and biostatisticians: just as much importance must be attached to what psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists can say about how to deal with this pandemic.

So an identified lesson from this mathematics is

  • More so to work on behavior in any pandemic, endemic or epidemic. The low numbers of flu in 2021 show that it works. So good behavior must be maintained.
  • Without neglecting the medical reality, of course. But as support to healthcare.

And if possible, without fear mongering. One has to work through the trust of the citizens. That which they have with their General Practitioner, their specialist, their caregivers in their own family, their teachers, the caregivers of their relatives, the social workers, community workers…

Covid19 – How “not to waste this crisis”?

Author: Manu Steens

In this article I am writing my own opinion, not that of any organization.

The former Belgian minister Philippe De Backer wrote a book “En nu is het oorlog” (And now it is war).

Let me take this statement literally, and view the future post-covid19 period as a post-war period.

The economic recovery after the wars and crises of 1870, 1918, 1945 happened very quickly: a matter of a few years. Usually five years or less. After that, production growth stagnated. (reference: Alfred Suavy, “Het probleem van overbevolking” (Malthus et les deux Marx)) The limitation of the growth of production after recovery did not exist because there was a shortage of injection of money, nor of machines, but because the population was limited in knowledge and skills. And the factor that one cannot include in accounting is that of people. As one can with money, property, equipment, buildings and debts.

Let’s create two lines of thought. The first: there is a huge war that is destroying all machines and buildings. But the people survive. What happens is that external parties provide them with food, people start making machines, and after a few years there is no longer a backlog. After a rapid return on the actions they take, they evolve towards a plateau of growth which then slows down. Because for more growth, even more knowledge and skills would be needed.

The second line of thought is one in which all medical staff and other highly skilled, such as managers, specialized employees,… would disappear.

Then it will not help in the same way to just bring more money or food to the area: the knowledge and skills needed lack to catch up with the region’s enormous skills shortage, it will take decades to even make any recovery. Let alone keep up with the normal extrapolation of the past.

Fortunately, we are not quite in this situation, although as far as healthcare is concerned, there is serious pressure.

From this short argument, which should actually be supported by figures, one can estimate that knowledge and skills are possibly the most important factors for a recovery after a huge crisis.

Governments have made huge financial sacrifices to allow some sectors to survive. “Golden rules” were also issued in Belgium. Some were very difficult, such as that of wearing a mask in several places, linked to social distancing. But there were also other rules that made us work differently where possible: working from home was sometimes recommended, sometimes (partially) mandatory.

Now I don’t know what other people experienced, some of us certainly miss the social chat with colleagues, which is certainly a loss to be mentioned, but there was also an advantage to mention. I speak for myself when I mention this, however, the days when I was working from home I was much more productive. I want to assume that this may have been the same for many people on such days. I sometimes went to my place of work, to relieve the social need, and those days my productivity was like an ordinary day before. However, I myself am only one ‘case’ and one cannot make a statistic on that, but it still inspired me to the following.

If, thanks to working from home, a number of people can do the “former” work of a week in 3.5 to 4 days, it would be interesting for both the employer and the employee to provide systematic training for these people. In a direct sense, this could include specialist training or employability-broadening training. But it is also possible to think indirectly: even matters that are not directly related to the ‘job’, such as training for many people in languages ​​or ICT applications, can indirectly inspire employees within or outside the job. And that will pay off for society, because during the aftercare phase of a crisis, every skill is super necessary.

Whatever it takes will be to perpetuate such work-and-learn behavior. Future generations will have to grow up with an implementation of lifelong learning, not just as a battle cry.

This is important to “not to let a good crisis go to waste”. Why ? I already wrote it: I read the book by Philippe De Backer, a former Belgian minister, “en nu is het oorlog” (And now it’s war). I took that statement literally. This means that if we can massively invest the time savings that we generate during this crisis in training, the knowledge and skills of the population will increase. The growth of production in the aftercare phase due to the grown creative capacity of more skilled personnel will find an engine in it to support it. As a result, economic growth will continue stronger for longer, and will help absorb some of the government’s financial injections. The flattening of economic growth will therefore slow down when we reach a higher level. And that could help curb potential future inflation.