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The immeasurable: how some actions have unintended benefits and consequences 

Updated: Jun 10

Study after study. Book after endless book. There are multiple platforms for an infinite supply of documentaries to show that our actions have unseen benefits and consequences. Things we don't think about. Hurdles we don't expect. Obstacles that change our way of thinking.

Who knew that there was a correlation between asbestos and lung problems -until we figured it out. Who knew that lead and mercury could cause birth defects and other reproductive harms?

What studies were there to show that burying used oil in your yard was a good or bad idea before we figured out just how bad it was to do that?

We’ve decimated entire populations of animals because we just assumed there were more. Or Infinite. 

Lately we've been learning just how fragile our ocean currents are. We had no concept of power over such things just 40 years ago.

Until we learned how to combat, address, treat, and prevent issues like mesothelioma, and forced it to become common knowledge, we just dealt with it and learned how to navigate the consequences. Over time, and through laws and protections (at least in some countries) we have doubled our average lifespan since even just 200 years ago. Instead of dying of preventable diseases and conditions, we are surviving to much older ages, and eradicating malaria along the way!

Unfortunately there are still naturally nefarious and “potentially hazardous substances” that will always be part of the social equation. Chromium 6, Trichloroethylene, Benzene, etc. However, without these substances, our modern life would be significantly different than it is now. Without gasoline and gas vapor, modern gas engines wouldn't work.

Gas vapor is a friend to engines and an assistant to people in the right circumstances. The same goes for our nuclear capacity. Is it bad or good? What are the unseen consequences and benefits? Is “unlimited power” worth the arms race? How many people lost their lives along the way?

Some of the benefits just need to be drawn out. Some of the consequences are just impossible to anticipate. Like when we discover that cans of food need treatment to prevent rust, these growing pains can be as close to us as the kitchen pantry. 

Did you know that there is a positive correlation between time spent outside and in sunlight with mental health simply because of the natural flow of nature?

It was reported by the University of Michigan that the carbon footprint of some produce grown at home is much greater than some industrialized farms. But not all urban farm produce is the same. There are many deep questions about efficiency and nature that correlate, even if we don’t yet know about it.  

What are the opportunities to maximize space, minimize effort, and reduce the carbon footprint of food in the United States? What about overseas? How can we better distribute food to those who need it? What is the most equitable way to help other countries? To de-escalate conflicts? How can we help those in need by tapping into these unseen benefits?

Considering that the US is notoriously wasteful with food and other consumer goods, it's curious where unseen benefits may lie when considering small changes to common practices.

Answering these questions could point to opportunities to reduce suffering and may help us maximize our environment in socially equitable ways.

For instance, did you know that Data is suddenly more valuable than any natural resource? 

Why do you think user agreements are so easy to sign and forget? Your viewing habits are the product.

It’s because there is more money for companies to be made with your data than the actual product itself in many cases. The ability of one person to gather data on a manual level can often be limited or extremely difficult. When data collection is automated, such as cookie tracking online, or user watching preferences on streaming services, that data can be used to make existing content better or to create content that will fill holes in user knowledge gaps. 

Many government databases with information about land and structures could be combined with land survey data and mapped with extreme accuracy using drone photography. If these data sets were combined, everything from the grandest development projects to home additions could be made much much easier. The downside is a complete loss of privacy on a residential and commercial level.… If every inch is mapped and available to view, anyone can see whatever they want to. 

So although open source of this scale would make all manners of construction significantly easier, and promote faster development of real estate, the push back on accurate mapping and the loss of proprietary data would cause political and social repercussions. Right now, all of those data points are separated by paywalls, accounts with passwords, and restricted access causing a slow inefficient development process and restricting the pace of change. 

Without restrictions, we would have the potential to create high-definition 3D maps of properties accurate to a centimeter or even less in some cases. 

In terms of measuring the value of this type of advancement, it is effectively impossible to account for all of the potential pitfalls. Furthermore, with AI technologies on the verge of breakthroughs, these converging technologies may come to a point where data collection is more about simply asking the right questions than actual efforts to collect data. 

What are the seen and unseen benefits and consequences of AI? I wonder, what will we know in 10 or 15 years that we didn't know today. What are the benefits and consequences? 

Awareness and consideration of the perspectives of others creates pathways to sustainable change.

Action without analysis is folly.

Next time, I’ll be discussing some practices on recycling and technologies that can help us better sort our trash. Because after all, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”

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