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Greatest Achievements of Public Policy

Discussion in 'Energy, Environment, and Policy' started by nwdiver, Dec 28, 2019.

  1. nwdiver

    nwdiver Well-Known Member

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    I thought this would be an interesting thread. So many people take what we have for granted or forget the 'oranges' ;) ... of many of the things we've achieved as a society. Especially now that POTUS is doing his best to tear down any semblance of a professional public service; I think it would be useful to reflect on what we have as a direct result or through the encouragement and funding from government.

    Once we have enough I'll take the top 10 and we can vote on the #1 achievement.

    The Brookings institute came up with their own list;

    I'm open to suggestions... I think a good rough format would be Category; Specific Achievement
     
  2. nwdiver

    nwdiver Well-Known Member

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    Public Heath; Eradication of Small Pox

    While the smallpox vaccine was discovered by Edward Jenner privately and the development and refinement of mass production of the vaccine was also largely private it was the coordination of the World Health Organization (an agency of the UN) that successfully eliminated the virus outside of controlled labs. I was vaccinated in the Navy due to the threat of small pox as a biological weapon... it's not a fun vaccine to get.

    Coincidentally other diseases like Measles and Polio also have no natural reservoirs and could also be wiped out if we could achieve sufficient coordination. Sadly skepticism of expertise also appears to be spreading like a virus with anti-vax beliefs one of the deadlier symptoms....
     
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  3. nwdiver

    nwdiver Well-Known Member

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    Infrastructure; Electrification of Rural America

    Access to affordable and reliable electricity is taken for granted today but there are actually more people living without electricity today than when electricity was described by Ben Franklin in 1746. While start-up electric companies were able to create a viable business around providing electricity to homes in densely populated areas most of the country was left behind. By the 1930s ~90% of urban area had power but ~90% of farms did not. Even today many of these areas are supplied with grid power at a loss.

    The Rural Electrification Act was signed in 1936 as part of 'The New Deal' creating the Rural Electrification Administration. This act provided loans and grants to Electric Co-ops around the country. By 1942 the percentage of farms with electricity had grown from 10% in 1936 to 50%. By the 1950s it was close to 100%.

    The REA still exists today as the Rural Utilities Service. Providing loans, grants and loan guarantees for improvements in infrastructure.
     
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  4. nwdiver

    nwdiver Well-Known Member

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    Public Health; Eradication of Malaria in the US

    Malaria is a terrible disease. Elon Musk nearly died from Malaria he contracted in Brazil. Thanks to the US government we don't have to worry about Malaria in the US.

    I was a little surprised to learn several years ago that the CDC was formed in 1946 specifically to combat Malaria. In 1947 the National Malaria Eradication Program was launched and by 1951 Malaria was no longer endemic in the US. Amazing what government can do when people in government accept that government can accomplish good things :)
     
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  5. iPlug

    iPlug Member

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    Since this is Tesla Motors Club, probably fitting to add this one:

    Motor Vehicle Safety

    The reduction of the rate of death attributable to motor-vehicle crashes in the United States represents the successful public health response to a great technologic advance of the 20th century--the motorization of America. Six times as many people drive today as in 1925, and the number of motor vehicles in the country has increased 11-fold since then to approximately 215 million (1). The number of miles traveled in motor vehicles is 10 times higher than in the mid-1920s. Despite this steep increase in motor-vehicle travel, the annual death rate has declined from 18 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 1925 to 1.7 per 100 million VMT in 1997--a 90% decrease ( Figure 1 ) (1).
    Achievements in Public Health, 1900-1999 Motor-Vehicle Safety: A 20th Century Public Health Achievement
     
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  6. nwdiver

    nwdiver Well-Known Member

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    Here's another one TMC members should appreciate; Though personally I also love not worrying about Malaria :)

    Technology; Solar PV ~$0.50/w down from >$100/w ~40 years ago

    For every doubling of PV manufacturing the cost declined by ~20%. This is known as 'Swansons Law'.

    [​IMG]

    There were some niche applications where paying $100/w for a solar panel made economic sense like Satellites and Off-Shore buoys but these applications were orders of magnitude lower than what was necessary to achieve cost effective solar PV. What got us over the line? Government subsidies. MASSIVE... MASSIVE government subsidies. Along with PURPA. Cheap solar also has a truly favorable 'trickle-down' effect as people that lacked electricity relied on dirty Kerosene for light can now enjoy using Solar PV which is now significantly cheaper than kerosene.
     
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  7. nwdiver

    nwdiver Well-Known Member

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    #7 nwdiver, Dec 29, 2019
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2019
    Technology, Science & Public Health; The Apollo Program

    Cleary no list like this can be complete without mentioning one of man-kinds greatest achievements. Lesser known are some of the ancillary effects which could be argued to be more important.

    The 'Earthrise' photo taken from Apollo 8 has been called 'The most influential environmental photograph ever taken'; It's been the background on my computer for several years.

    [​IMG]


    "We came to explore the moon and what we discovered was the Earth," - William Anders Apollo 8
     
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  8. nwdiver

    nwdiver Well-Known Member

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    Public Health; Phase-out of leaded Gasoline

    It seems insane/bonkers that we once put lead in gasoline... burned it... and spread a toxic metal around in the air. I have little doubt that in the near future people will look back on us in similar disbelief that we burned petrol, coal and gas for energy even after wind and solar had become so cheap.

    It's an interesting story. The moral is that in many... MANY instances we NEED elected officials to step up, take an objective SCIENCE-BASED approach to policy.... and mandate regulations to protect society from the profit motive.

    Why did we use leaded petrol for so long?
     
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  9. S'toon

    S'toon Knows where his towel is

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  10. nwdiver

    nwdiver Well-Known Member

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    Science; Detecting Gravitational Waves

    IMO LIGO is one of the most amazing machines we built in the past decade. When Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves he thought they would be impossible to detect. Very challenging... but not impossible. The sensitivity required to detect even the relatively 'MASSIVE' ripples caused by the collision of two black holes is astounding. Each arm of LIGO is 4km and must be able to detect a variation in length 1:10k the width of a proton. The success of LIGO already has engineers planning the next phase in gravitational astronomy. Placing satellites in orbit able to measure even fainter ripples in space-time.

    Thank you NSF for providing the ~$400M in federal funds that made this discovery possible.
     
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  11. nwdiver

    nwdiver Well-Known Member

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    8) Infrastructure; 'Trans-Continental' Railroad

    One of the most critical pieces of infrastructure especially in the 19th century to enabling the West-ward expansion of the United States was enabling safe and efficient travel between the coasts as well as enabling cost effective trade with the interior. The private sector at the time was not up to the task. Railroads didn't have the funds nor did they want to take the risk and the banks had no desire to wait ~30 years to see a return on their investment. In steps the federal government with the Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and 1866. What I think is the more interesting incentive was the land grants. Railroads were granted ~10mi^2 for every 1 mile of track they laid. The total area they were given was 175M acres (An area larger than Texas). Yes, it could be argued that the US government gave them land they stole... that's a debate for another time. The point is that it worked and the 'golden spike' was driven in 1869 celebrating the completion of the trans-continental railroad.
     
  12. nwdiver

    nwdiver Well-Known Member

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    #12 nwdiver, Dec 30, 2019
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2019
    9) Technology; Isotopic separation of Uranium for commercial use

    Having worked at a Uranium enrichment plant for ~8 years one of the more interesting parts of the Manhattan project to me is the struggle to sufficiently enrich Uranium to weapons grade. U238 is 99.3% of natural Uranium with the remaining 0.7% being U235. You need at least ~20% U235 to make a viable bomb and ~5% for use in a light water reactor. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was enriched to ~80%. After attempting to use both gas diffusion and gas centrifuges the US used an enormous calutron consisting of >$1B worth of silver to achieve the sufficient enrichment using electromagnetic separation.

    In the post-war years USEC (US government), Areva (French government) and URENCO (UK, Dutch & German) continued working on more efficient methods of enrichment. By 1980 the gas centrifuge was becoming the preferred method. Gas Diffusion used ~95% less energy than the calutron (and didn't require $billions$) in silver. Gas centrifuges use ~97% less energy than gas diffusion but capital costs remain a challenge.

    It's been >70 years since Uranium was first enriched at scale and there is still no successful non-government entity to produce enriched Uranium. USEC went public in 1998... they're now bankrupt. Without government there would be no nuclear fuel therefore no nuclear power.
     
  13. Lozza12

    Lozza12 Member

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    Great thread!

    The Welfare State that also heralded the end of the Gilded Age - free public education, unemployment benefits, superannuation, widows benefits, primary healthcare.

    Too many decry all the “welfare queens” as a reason to end welfare or make unemployed folks work for the dole, when in reality these are the annoying fringe abuses and corporate welfare costs FAR more.

    There’s probably a whole raft of regulations you could add alongside seatbelts - 8 hr working day, minimum wage, H&S, free association of workers, fire brigades, building codes...
     
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  14. nwdiver

    nwdiver Well-Known Member

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    Feel free to add some :)... but labor laws are also a great accomplishment.

    10) Public Health; End of Child Labor in the US*

    We've outlawed this...

    [​IMG]

    * Now we just need to outlaw this :(

     
  15. nwdiver

    nwdiver Well-Known Member

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    11) Technology; Hydraulic-Fracturing aka 'Fracking'

    Yep... even the tech that helped us kick coal in exchange for a slightly less terrible fools fuel would not have gotten to where it is as quickly as it did if not for a helping hand from Uncle Sam.
     
  16. nwdiver

    nwdiver Well-Known Member

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  17. nwdiver

    nwdiver Well-Known Member

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    #17 nwdiver, Dec 31, 2019
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2019
    13) Infrastructure & Technology; LORAN

    The predecessor of GPS LORAN was a system of land based radio stations that allowed anyone with a receiver know where they were within ~500'. No where near as accurate as GPS but more than enough for a ship. LORAN was developed by the US and maintained by the Coast Guard for civil and military use.
     
  18. Holo

    Holo Member

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    I love your choices! Thank you for starting this thread. While not as far-reaching and impact-full as many of your choices, I would add the GPS satellite network to the list.
     
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  19. nwdiver

    nwdiver Well-Known Member

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    Darn kids today don't even know how to use a map ;)

    14) Technology & Infrastructure; Global Positioning System

    GPS is a constellation of satellites (or balloons or radio towers or magic if you're a flat Earther...) that cost ~$12B to deploy and ~$2M/day to monitor and maintain.

     
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  20. nwdiver

    nwdiver Well-Known Member

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    15) Public Safety; Finding out what happened so it doesn't happen again....

    How did we find out that a jack screw failure downed flight 261 prompting further inspections? The NTSB
    How did we find out that a flawed rudder design downed flight 585? The NTSB
    Who funds the NTSB? Your tax dollars :)

    Watch a few episodes of 'Air disasters'. It's amazing the skill and dedication they have in solving these puzzles.

    The NTSB also investigates other accidents involving other forms of transportaion. Their findings make travel safer for everyone.
     

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