What's to blame for the recent uptick in containership accidents?
- At any given time, 6,000 containerships are moving the vast majority of global trade on the world's oceans.
- The average number of annual containership accidents has been on a downtrend for the past decade, but accidents have become more common since the start of the pandemic.
- One factor behind the recent rise in containership accidents could be rising demand for imported goods from U.S. consumers.
In November 2020, the containership ONE Apus was sailing from China to California when a severe storm struck. The 364-meter ship began rolling heavily. Soon, nearly 1,800 of the ship's containers—some of which were carrying dangerous goods like fireworks and liquid ethanol—came loose. Some crashed onto the deck. Others spilled into the ocean, lost forever.
The ONE Apus incident was one of at least six major containership accidents that occurred since November, which altogether have resulted in the loss of 2,980 containers. That's more than double the annual average number of lost containers from 2008 to 2019, according to a recent report from the World Shipping Council.
What's causing the uptick? It's likely a combination of bad weather and heavily loaded ships, some of which are packed to the brim due to increased U.S. imports since the beginning of the pandemic. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that January brought the largest monthly increase in U.S. imports since 2012.
To be sure, the World Shipping Council notes that containership accidents have been on a downtrend over the past decade, writing "containers lost overboard represent less than one thousandth of 1% of the roughly 226 million containers currently shipped each year."
But that fraction of a percent adds up over time. After all, international containerships move more than 80 percent of global trade, representing a roughly $4 trillion industry. And while accidents are relatively rare, they pose significant threats to crew and the environment, not to mention the economic costs.
In its recent report, the World Shipping Council notes several ways the industry has been working to improve safety standards, including increased inspection programs and updated packing practices.
Still, accidents are bound to happen among the 6,000 containerships that are sailing the world's oceans at any given time. One reason is parametric rolling, a phenomenon only experienced by containerships.
The World Shipping Council
In short, parametric rolling is a sudden side-to-side movement of a large ship caused by a specific alignment of waves, usually during a storm. Parametric rolling can send containers, which are sometimes stacked six stories tall, toppling over each other.
Bigger ships tend to be more at risk.
"The new container ships coming to the market have large bow flare and wide beam to decrease the frictional resistance which is generated when the ship fore end passes through the water, making it streamlined with the hull," wrote Marine Insight.
"As the wave crest travels along the hull, it results in flare immersion in the wave crest and the bow comes down. The stability varies as a result of pitching and rolling of the ship. The combination of buoyancy and wave excitation forces push the ship to the other side."
On a broader scale, the cost of shipping goods by any method—train, truck, air, ocean—is rising as supply chains are becoming congested and demand for imports keeps increasing. For the most part, companies are fronting the bill.
As for U.S. consumers? They might start paying a premium for imported goods, or for goods that feature imported parts.
"Most prices along the supply chain have gone in one direction, and that's up, so it has to appear somewhere," Joanna Konings, a senior economist at ING, told CNN Business.
Yes, the robots are coming — but take a breath.
- While automation and robots will displace millions of jobs, they're poised to create millions more.
- Our current round of technological unemployment might just be a transitionary phase.
- The fear of automation has been around for decades.
Automation, and the rise of robots with superior A.I. promises to bring about a new era of industry and civilization. Our wildest sci-fi dreams could be realized within the century. Yet, the clamor and hoopla surrounding the topic has been overwhelmingly pessimistic — bordering on neo-Luddism at times. That is, the fear is that advancements in automation, artificial intelligence, and robotics will destroy millions — if not hundreds of millions — of livelihoods.
Some of these fears have a kernel of truth to them, all great technological epochs brings about an extreme shuffling around of the workforce. In the past, we've met new change and industrial disruption by evolving our skill sets and radically changing the nature of our lives. And for the best at that. The lowest among us live in greater opulence and comfort than the greatest kings of old — i.e. having A/C in the middle of summer.
But as the mass of humanity is often known to do, collectively we'll shun radical change. Which is why it's more common to see the pitfalls of the new robotic age in a deluge of headlines than to see the heralding of this exciting new era.
Currently, there is no singular concrete statistics to point to concerning the supposed oncoming automation job onslaught.MIT Review has an ongoing chart of all the studies which have predicted how many jobs automation will destroy. Their conclusion is that "we have no idea how many jobs will actually be lost to the march of technological progress."
The past two decades has seen its fair share of technological induced unemployment. No one is denying that fact. Over 2 percent of Americans, that is around 7 million people, lost their jobs in mass layoffs from 2004 to 2009. Many of these job losses were due to automation and manufacturing positions being moved overseas. While the larger mass of the populace enjoyed cheaper products, a good deal of American workers, mostly without college degrees, lost their careers.
Erik Brynjolfsson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and coauthor Andrew McAfee have dug into these statistics over the years and come to the conclusion that advances in computer technology are behind the sluggish employment growth rates we've seen since the turn of the century.
Their most recent book covering the topic is: The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. During their earlier investigations they found that employment charts showed an upward trajectory that tracked evenly alongside productivity — starting a few years after World War II. The pattern continued, as an increase in jobs correlated to increases in productivity. That is, until the year 2000 when the lines started to diverge. Productivity was rising with greater economic growth, but there wasn't an equivalency in job creation.
Brynjolfsson and McAfee have termed this phenomenon "The Great Decoupling."
We're at an impasse right now where our culture and employment force can't keep up with this unprecedented technological growth.
"It's the great paradox of our era. Productivity is at record levels, innovation has never been faster, and yet, at the same time, we have a falling median income and we have fewer jobs. People are falling behind because technology is advancing so fast and our skills and organizations aren't keeping up," Brynjolfsson says.
McAfee also stated in an interview with Harvard Business Review:
"There's no economic law ensuring that as technological progress makes the pie bigger, it benefits everyone equally. Digital technologies can replicate valuable ideas, processes, and innovations at very low cost. This creates abundance for society and wealth for innovators, but it diminishes the demand for some kinds of labor."
Same old story of worker obsolescence from past industrial eras, only this time it's clothed in chrome and processors.
Predictions of an automated future
#OnThisDay 1966: Children predicted what life would be like in the year 2000 on Tomorrow's World. https://t.co/ow44Rw4frH— BBC Archive (@BBC Archive)1514466006.0
We've always oscillated between the dour and dark visions of a future turned upside down by automation or a near paradise tended to by our benevolent bots. As evidenced by the BBC video above, even children in the '60s were thinking about the mind-boggling realities of a future dominated by robotics.
While we don't have robot courts yet, or fully-autonomous fleets shuttling us anywhere we'd like, the things that robots may be able to do are staggering. This interactive NPR guide let's you figure out how likely it is your job will be affected in the next 20 years. The usual suspects for disruption are all there — truck drivers, service workers, and so on.
Although, the current statistics paint a different picture. It's nearly 2020 and the unemployment rate in the United States, as of June 2019, is 3.8 percent.
While some jobs are being lost to automation and other technologies, as it stands, we're not seeing a huge percentage of Americans without some kind of work — as feared by many for decades. Perhaps our fears are unfounded and this transitionary period will turn out to be just that.
Future of employment
Alarmed like many others by the University of Oxford study that predicted a 47 percent job loss due to automation, journalist Andrés Oppenheimer traveled around the world to discover the truth for what beheld the future of work. In The Robots Are Coming! The Future of Jobs in the Age of Automation, Oppenheimer comes to the conclusion that we should be able to weather through this change just as we have in the past.
It's going to require a lot of ingenuity coupled with the inevitable loss of countless professions becoming obsolete. We have already seen certain rote manual labor jobs either cease to exist or transition into new roles. This will become increasingly more commonplace within the next few decades.
A 2018 report from the World Economic Forum even suggested that, while we may displace 75 million jobs globally by 2022, we'll create a net positive of 133 million new ones. The organization believes — with the current data in mind — that robots and algorithms will improve the productivity of existing jobs and create a number of new ones in the future.
Power of innovation
Some of the jobs we have today would be unthinkable to those living just 10 to 20 years ago. Technicians working in the cloud, full-stack developers, Instagram influencers, and so many more both technical and creative alike. These examples are just a mere handful of the novel positions being created almost every day.
Everyone needs to get in on this action somehow. We're not all going to become programmers or engineers, but we can all start to think about the dynamics of work and employment in a much freer and future-oriented way.
Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come — Victor Hugo
Universities are already getting in on the action. Recently, I interviewed the new Chief Innovation and Entrepreneurship Officer at UC Berkeley. The university's foresight is helping them stay ahead of the technological disruption curve. They're also focusing on imparting an innovator mindset to the student body at large. Institutions like this are indicative of the things to come.
Perhaps future workers won't get a job — they'll create their own.No amount of angry hand waving or puerile legislation can stop this. We cannot even begin to fathom some of the otherworldly technologies and new career fields that'll one day arise.
Our clean energy needs to be sourced responsibly right from the get-go.
- Clean technologies rely on a wide range of metals sourced from unsustainable mining.
- Mineral extraction damages local communities and environments, destroying cultures and biodiversity in the process.
- Human rights and conservationist efforts are put at risk due to mining.
The many consequences of climate change are innumerable. Most of the civilized world understands that we need to put forth new, alternative solutions of generating energy to curb our greenhouse emissions.
The Paris Agreement, for instance, set an ambitious global goal to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degree Celsius) by transitioning away from fossil fuels into renewables. However, a new extensive research report by the environmental non-profit Earthworks has found that this shift into a fossil fuel-free economy comes with its own set of egregious societal and conservationist problems.
The blind rush to get "100 percent" renewable energy usage will get us nowhere. It's the same industrialist mindset that got us into this pickle. We need to approach this next energy wave with caution and care.
Renewable energy transition
Clean technologies require a wide variety of rare earth metals and other minerals, mostly including cobalt, nickel, lithium, aluminum, and silver. Batteries for electric cars makeup the biggest driver of mineral acquisition.
Study co-author, Elsa Dominish, remarks that, "A rapid increase in demand for metals for renewable energy. . . could lead to mining of marginal or unconventional resources, which are often in more remote or biodiverse places."
Many of these areas rich in minerals are remote wilderness, which have yet to be touched by any commercial endeavor.
"The transition toward a renewable energy and transport system requires a complex mix of metals — such as copper, cobalt, nickel, rare earths, lithium, and silver — many of which have only previously been mined in small amounts," states Earthworks' report, in reference to the supply chains of the 14 most important minerals used in renewable energy production.
Payal Sampat, director of Earthworks' Mining Program, sees this as a crucial time to focus on the core aspects of what an environmental movement should be focusing on.
"We have an opportunity, if we act now, to ensure that our emerging clean energy economy is truly clean–as well as just and equitable–and not dependent on dirty mining. As we scale up clean energy technologies in pursuit of our necessarily ambitious climate goals, we must protect community health, water, human rights, and the environment."
Under the supposition that all of human society would use 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, researchers charted out what other aspects of the environment would be affected as we attempted to reach this goal.
The study explores the impacts that mining has on human society and culture, as well as the potential for even greater losses of biodiversity.
With a world running completely on renewables, the metal requirements would be astronomical. The only way you're going to feed this need is by opening up more mines worldwide. Combined with our unsustainable mining practices, we'll be doing more harm than good.
Large scale commercial strip mining of forests, slave labor, and ecological destruction would all be necessary to feed our current "green dream."
Industrialism is the problem
Mineral extraction levies an incredible cost on the communities and ecological landscape of a place. Material mined for renewable energy fuels the violation of human rights, pollutes local water sources, and often destroys wildlife.
Cobalt, which is the most important component of rechargeable batteries, is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo; often by children in dangerous working conditions. The authors of the report found that cobalt is the "metal of most concern for supply risks," as 60 percent of its production occurs in Congo, a country with an abysmal record of human and environmental catastrophes.
In 2016, Amnesty International found that more than two dozen major electronics and automotive companies were failing to ensure that their supply chains of cobalt didn't include child labor. Amnesty blamed both Congolese officials and Western tech companies for ignoring the problems endemic to their supply chain. Irresponsible and dangerous cobalt mining is a global problem. According to the report, China's Congo Dongfang International Mining (CDM) owns exclusive rights to one quarter of the cobalt ore, of which the mines it flows from all employ child labor.
"The renewable energy transition will only be sustainable if it ensures human rights for the communities where the mining to supply renewable energy and battery technologies takes place," said Dominish.
Sustainability and conservation
At present, write the authors, "Reducing the environmental and social impacts of supply is not a major focus of the renewable energy industry. In order for there to be a potential solution to all of this, there must be a convergence of different industries within the environmentalist movement. The recognition of renewable energy companies with conservationists, in particular, needs to be at the forefront.
"If manufacturers commit to responsible sourcing this will encourage more mines to engage in responsible practices and certification. There is also an urgent need to invest in recycling and reuse schemes to ensure the valuable metals used in these technologies are recovered, so only what is necessary is mined," states the report.
Recycling sources will be one way to mitigate demand, but this won't stop new mining developments from popping up in fragile wildlife areas. This is why responsible sourcing needs to be the next best step if these mines are going to be created, anyhow.
Foundational business books for success.
Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy, by Tim Harford
- Explore the 50 inventions that made the modern world.
- There is rich advice in the literature of start-up development.
- Learn about the interconnectedness of innovation and business development.
Businesses rise and fall. A chance invention transforms an entire industry, sometimes the entire world. Through the many trials and tribulations of trailblazers and entrepreneurs, a few things have been learned over the years. Navigating the complex world of business, start-ups and technology can be intimidating for would-be shakers and makers. Luckily, the wisdom of those before have left us with timeless advice that has eventually become business canon.
Here are 10 of the best books for entrepreneurs and inventors.
The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone
No other product in recent memory has been as acclaimed and well-renowned as the iPhone. A mixture of business acumen, stellar marketing and teams of genius engineers brought this to market under the tutelage of Steve Jobs. Brian Merchant's The One Device is an all-encompassing expose on the iPhone's creation.
Merchant digs into every corner of the literal world to piece together a full narrative, from the mining of minerals to working conditions in Chinese factories, nothing is left out. He also interviewed hundreds of people who worked on the phone's development. This book also dispels the lone genius myth surrounding Steve Jobs. This was a project that was one of a kind, changed our society and continues to do so in many unexpected ways. This book is a great piece of contemporary tech history.
The Innovator's Dilemma
Today, the idea of disruptive technology is almost household knowledge. Clayton Christensen first put forth the idea in a Harvard Business Review article titled 'Disruptive technologies: Catching the wave'. This was followed up by the seminal work we know today as The Innovator's Dilemma.
Christensen set out to understand why such powerful and iconic firms, such as Xerox, General Electric and many others eventually fell and lost their industry-leading status. His answer proved to be a little overlooked factor of innovation – disruptive technology and its unintended consequences for business staying power.
Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy
This book is packed with an incredible amount of facts about the inventions that changed our world. Harford writes about inventions through a number of different angles, including the economics, politics, culture and historical background behind each device.
These different machines and inventions are part of a larger shared history of civilization and humanity. It's also a great book to look at how we take for granted so many minute, but incredibly important things essential for the functioning of the modern world.
The Idea Factory
At the peak of Bell Labs between 1940 and 1970, there was some-thousand-plus PhD researchers working on an incomprehensible amount of research within the communications field and industry. Backed by the powerful AT&T in its prime, the Bell Labs went on to produce technological innovations in a number of industries. Some of these incredible technologies included transistors, fiber optics, UNIX, C and information theory.
The main idea of Bell Labs was to get all of these researchers together into one location with the idea of innovation endemic to the purposes of these labs. This book goes into great detail about the structure and history of this amazing time.
Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras set out to define what they call visionary companies. These are the companies at the top of their game and industries. One of their key points is that a visionary company is also a very successful organization and subsequently an institution. Leaders will come and go, but the system must survive. All products will eventually become obsolete and markets will even disappear.
The authors explain the daunting task and responsibility that come with creating and running an organization of this magnitude. Collin and Porras review a series of companies that have overcome this great challenge and become visionary in the process.
Losing my Virginity
Richard Branson is one of the most well known entrepreneurs of our time. This is a great book to hear his personal story written directly by him. Branson skipped out of college and jumped right into the wild business world.
Business endeavor after endeavor, you see just what made Branson the entrepreneur he is today. Branson's autobiography is an inspirational business tale told in a relatable tone. Another fascinating part of this read is the functionality of the Virgin brand. Each business under the umbrella branding is its own subsidiary with its own realm of control and corporate governing. This book is both parts fun and informative.
The Founder's Dilemma
It's not necessarily that genius or business ideas are lacking, it's that taking the first step in founding a business is not only hard, but takes an enormous amount of courage. Many people don't even know where to start. Noam Wassermans' The Founder's Dilemma is a book that attempts to do the impossible and make a science around the trials early entrepreneurs face when creating a start-up.
Wasserman explores the common pitfalls that founders face and how to deal with them. He delves into equity funding, founders teams and much more. Utilizing data sourced from 10 years worth of quantitative studies, he weaves expert analysis and anecdote into concise advice to form nothing short of a business founder bible.
This book has one central idea and that's how to create a business that can run without you. The E-Myth (Entrepreneurial Myth) argues that businesses created by entrepreneurs often fall short of being profitable, true business entities because they're started by employees who merely create their own jobs working for themselves and miss the business component entirely.
Gerber repeatedly hammers in the point through three made-up personalities titled the Entrepreneur, Manager, and Technician.
In order for your business to succeed, you need to utilize all of these roles seamlessly together before expanding and hiring. These roles entail being a visionary with a goal for the company; a planner and organizer; and a worker that can actually do the work the business provides.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success
Cal Newport has coined a term he calls deep work. That is the ability to focus on a demanding task without any distraction. He believes that this is a skill that will allow you to eventually master complicated information and get better results in whatever you're doing. Part cultural polemic and self-help, Newport wants readers to unlock a forgotten ability in the flurry of distracted and meandering work.
The Lean Startup
The Lean Startup is one of the most highly cited and acclaimed books for new business ventures. It is a foundational business book that has changed the business startup landscape the past decade. Eric Ries wrote a compelling book that distills the core principles in being successful with a new product that gets customers and also makes them stay loyal. Ries focuses more on the software industry, but it's not a stretch to see these same principles being applied throughout many industries.
Methane gases from livestock production is contributing to the acceleration of global warming. Is a plant-based diet a smart way for individuals to curb the effects of climate change?
Make all the jokes you want, says Bill Nye, but methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, and as Earth's population increases so too does the size of the meat industry that caters to it. Demand for meat is growing steeply in developing nations, according to the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and the methane emitted by livestock is undoubtedly contributing atmospheric gases and accelerating global warming. So is a plant-based diet the answer, slashing the demand placed on the meat and dairy industries? Nye finds himself choosing to eat more and more vegetarian dishes, so while he hasn't gone 'full vegan' yet, his awareness of the problem has sparked a reductionist diet. Nye also mentions that agricultural scientists may soon find themselves under public pressure to reduce methane output. One way they might do that? Changing the bacteria in livestock's stomachs so they metabolize food with less methane byproduct. So we could bio-engineer the stomachs of other animals, or we could simply reduce the amount of animal products that go into our own.
Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.