Pragmatic Principle 13 Kicking a dead whale on the beach

An article in the Telegraph by Andrew Orlowski describes the United Kingdom’s hydrogen initiatives and the issues surrounding the use of hydrogen as has been proposed there.  The introduction described a principle that I hadn’t heard before, “Kicking a dead whale down the beach”:

Engineers will rarely tell you something is impossible, even when your proposal is a very bad idea. Computer scientists at Stanford and MIT in the 1970s came up with a wonderful expression for this, an assignment that was technically feasible, but highly undesirable. They called it “kicking a dead whale down a beach”. The folklore compendium The Hacker’s Dictionary defines this as a “slow, difficult, and disgusting process”. Yes, you can do it like that. But you really don’t want to.

Pragmatic approaches are all about assessing tradeoffs.  There are risks to environmental “solutions” that must be considered for sound policy.  Some solutions sound appealing at first but when everything is considered turn out to be not such a great idea. 

This principle is one in a set of principles that I believe exemplifies pragmatic environmentalism which I suggest is the necessary balance of environmental impacts and public policy.  This means that evidence-based environmental risks and benefits (both environmental and otherwise) of issues need to be considered.  Unfortunately, public perception is too often driven by scary one-sided stories that have to be rebutted by getting into details. 

Author: rogercaiazza

I am a meteorologist (BS and MS degrees), was certified as a consulting meteorologist and have worked in the air quality industry for over 40 years. I author two blogs. Environmental staff in any industry have to be pragmatic balancing risks and benefits and ( reflects that outlook. The second blog addresses the New York State Reforming the Energy Vision initiative ( Any of my comments on the web or posts on my blogs are my opinion only. In no way do they reflect the position of any of my past employers or any company I was associated with.

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