Foresters vs. Academics

Judith Curry has an interesting discussion on her web site, Climate, Etc.: “Academics and the grid Part I: I don’t think that study means what you think it means,” by Planning Engineer (Russell Schussler). In this paragraph, substitute foresters (natural resource managers of a variety of disciplines, including those who use Rx fire) for practicing engineers:

There’s been a lot of discussion about the differences between scientists and engineers. The boundaries can get blurry and often are non-existent. In the energy power system arena, perhaps to my past professor’s chagrin, I’m afraid the more important boundary might be between academics and practicing engineers. Academics can approach the grid with some detachment while practicing engineers must keep it running 24/7/365. Practicing engineers have skin in the game and typically face consequences for errors and shortcomings, while academics and unfortunately many policy makers are more insulated. This brings to mind Thomas Sowell’s guidance, “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”


Academics and interest groups can approach forest management with some detachment while foresters must keep forests healthy and protect a range of values 24/7/365. Foresters have skin in the game and typically face consequences for errors and shortcomings, while academics, interest groups, and unfortunately many policy makers are more insulated.

Also from the essay:

The path for innovation for the grid is most likely to follow the model of power electronics. Academics propose and refine an approach for the enhancement of the grid and/or power supply. Detailed serious evaluations of the approach take place and maybe additional research is warranted. Engineers determine specific areas where the new approaches might be most successful and the approach can be employed or tested. Project successes will be followed by further improvements and refinements and led to greater expansion as warranted.

That model seems preferable to this one: Academics propose and refine an approach for the enhancement of the grid and/or power supply (or a complete transition of the grid). The media and policy makers determine it is worthwhile. Policy makers and the public push for sweeping changes that are mandated. Everyone struggles to implement the new approach broadly in a sweeping near universal manner.

This second model is often employed in forest management…. Just food for thought and discussion.


2 thoughts on “Foresters vs. Academics”

  1. It almost sounds like the energy equivalent of adaptive management, versus some kind of top-down ideal thinking divorced from the reality of people and things. Or not divorced, so much as privileging their own worldview over that of others.

    Everyone knew that people might not like wind and solar farms everywhere. (Some) academics blew that off. (Some) decry “NIMBYism” as the reason. But just calling people names doesn’t change their opinion.

    “Achieving Biden’s goal will require aggressively building more wind and solar farms, in many cases combined with giant batteries. To fulfill his vision of an emission-free grid by 2035, the U.S. needs to increase its carbon-free capacity by at least 150%. Expanding wind and solar by 10% annually until 2030 would require a chunk of land equal to the state of South Dakota, according to Princeton University estimates and an analysis by Bloomberg News. By 2050, when Biden wants the entire economy to be carbon free, the U.S. would need up to four additional South Dakotas to develop enough clean power to run all the electric vehicles, factories and more.”

    We can all look at this.. look at permitting, and say “this ain’t gonna happen so what other paths should we pursue?”
    Or we could have a Commission of Power Engineers to develop options for a decarbonization transition..
    I think that’s why people are called “climate deniers” simply because they don’t trust that the powers that be are rational and involving the key people to make the best kind of transition. It’s easier to call names than to listen.

    • Kind of like “election deniers?”

      Actually, I fully agree with the point that those making the decisions for society need to be rational and consider the best available science. (Which by the way doesn’t mean they have a private profit incentive, which many with “skin in the game” tend to have.) I’ll even share a related objective perspective that “energy experts predicted that wind, sun and other alternative energy sources aren’t up to the job?:”

      It’s unfortunate that nobody likes to sacrifice, but that is why it is important to employ a public planning process that seeks to maximize the societal gain:pain ratio (greatest good for the greatest number in the long run?).


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