Shutterstock 1816515458

Control Report from Jim Montague: Green wishing

Feb. 23, 2023
I hope sustainability succeeds, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Young, would-be storytellers are often told to “write what you know.” I can confirm this is good advice, even though my job is conveying what other people know.

The snag in gathering stories from others is that I can begin to tell when we’re on unfamiliar ground because specifics get rare and generalities get common. You’ve likely seen the often-Xeroxed quote, “If you can’t dazzle them with your intellect, baffle them with your B.S.” This is an occupational hazard for many technical topics because we’re usually covering innovations, such as new networking protocols, cloud-based data analytics or artificial intelligence (AI). They’re much discussed, but still mostly speculative because they aren’t widely applied yet, so users don’t have many experiences to share.

Sustainability is one of these topics because it’s huge and gets into so many different process control areas and disciplines. Plus, many aspects of “going green” are unfamiliar to many sources, so they default to what they know. This is why nine of 10 discussions for this month’s cover article, “Seeking net-zero" (p. 22), quickly snapped back to efficiency. Carbon-capture and mixing hydrogen with natural gas seemed to be especially popular because, I think, they allow many end users to stay on the same course they’ve always been on, even if it leads to a dead end.

So, we settle for a gambling on few exciting, short-term pennies, rather than investing in consistent, boring, long-term dollars. Anything to release those dormant fight-or-flight hormones. I guess we’re all driven by gut bacteria.

This is why inflexibility appears to be reflexively preferred by many of us, and keep us from daring to go 90° off course, and really committing to alternative energy. As usual, “the devil we know better than the one we don’t.” The other symptom triggered by the unfamiliar and unknown is willful ignorance and an almost gleeful resistance, which puts a brave, “you’re not the boss of me” face on deep insecurity, despair and disbelief that constructive change is possible. Parents of toddlers know the bottom-line quote here is, “I don’t wanna, and you can’t make me.”

But kids and everyone else has to grow up sometime, and adapt to changing conditions and environments. Just as AI, cloud-computing, Internet everywhere and digitalization are today’s shifts, many experts have reminded me that fieldbuses, PLCs, relays, pneumatics and sharpened sticks were all dubious and unproven technologies at some point, and potential users were suspicious and resisted using them, too.

Now it’s sustainability’s turn, and we have to adopt wind, solar and whatever else will achieve net-zero CO2 emissions, even though the positive effects aren't likely to be realized for dozens or hundreds of years. This is permanent lifestyle change instead of dieting. This is like the move to digital photography that Kodak ignored and attempted too late. I believe it’s closer to the epic shift U.S. automakers made during World War II when many shifted to building airplanes.

We yearn to be a great generation like those of the past. Well, this challenge is bigger than any of them faced, including Europe’s cathedrals, China’s Great Wall, Egypt’s pyramids and all the other pre-industrial projects that took generations to build. I think we’re talking about revising much of the foundation that was built from the Industrial Revolution to now. No wonder it’s hard to contemplate, but hopefully it can be broken into approachable tasks like any big job.

All we need is the will, though I'd only put my $2 on that horse for sentimental reasons.

And we’d better get cracking because the ice is probably going to slide off Greenland in about 20 minutes, and then the U.S. Midwest will finally get some respect when we shelter the refugees from the coasts. This may be hyperbole that will never happen, but we must act just in case because the stakes are so high. We must act no matter if the developed world burned more in the past or the developing world is likely to burn more in the future. And we must act even if it’s too late because it might not be. 

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

Sponsored Recommendations

2024 Industry Trends | Oil & Gas

We sit down with our Industry Marketing Manager, Mark Thomas to find out what is trending in Oil & Gas in 2024. Not only that, but we discuss how Endress+Hau...

Level Measurement in Water and Waste Water Lift Stations

Condensation, build up, obstructions and silt can cause difficulties in making reliable level measurements in lift station wet wells. New trends in low cost radar units solve ...

Temperature Transmitters | The Perfect Fit for Your Measuring Point

Our video introduces you to the three most important selection criteria to help you choose the right temperature transmitter for your application. We also ta...

2024 Industry Trends | Gas & LNG

We sit down with our Industry Marketing Manager, Cesar Martinez, to find out what is trending in Gas & LNG in 2024. Not only that, but we discuss how Endress...