Earth – the final frontier


NASA is the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  It was established in 1958 by an act of Congress (literally) with this charter:

“The expansion of human knowledge of phenomena in the atmosphere and space”.

And yes, NASA has explored vast areas of space as well as turning its focus back on this planet (yes, Earth is a planet), to discover things like the hole in the ozone layer, and to observe planetary changes with high-resolution time-lapse photography from satellite imagery.

A recent editorial in 170-year-old magazine Scientific American talks to the fact that there are those – politicians –  who want NASA to avert its eyes of Earth science, possibly denying that it is a science at all.  And they have been able to divert monies for the study of our planet to other space efforts.  In one example, they have given NASA much, much more money than they asked for to study Jupiter’s moons, and much, much less money than they had asked for to study climate change.

We think NASA should be in charge of its mission, clearly chartered in 1958.

Have a look at what they have discovered about OUR planet at this portion of NASA’s web page, called “Images of Change“.  It seems some people are afraid of the facts, so they are just pointing the telescope away…

We at EarthPM encourage you to make up your own mind.   Look at those pictures.  Also experiment with NASA’s interactive application:

Climate Time Machine

You decide.  Should politicians be allowed to deny us this type of space exploration?  Is Earth part of space?  Should NASA continue to do this sort of work? We think so.


(By the way, the picture above, which looks indeed like it came from another planet, is indeed of Lake Mead, Planet Earth, showing how this lake has shrunk in the last 16 years)

What is a Lighthouse?

Photo by Chirs Costello – MassLive

This blog post has everything. It is, quite literally, a cliff-hanger. It has the salty smell of the sea.  Crashing waves.   Churning, swirling sea foam.  Poets. Rolling lighthouses. Millions of dollars. Controversy. Collaboration. History. Did we mention rolling lighthouses? Climate change. Project management. Sustainability.


Read on.

People often get poetic about lighthouses.

Henry Wadwsorth Longfellow wrote a poem called The Lighthouse. In it, he writes:

Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same
Year after year, through all the silent night
Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,
Shines on that inextinguishable light!

But as Longfellow claims, is the lighthouse truly immovable?

Should the lighthouse be immovable?

Turns out – if it is truly immovable, it may fall into the sea, because climate change and sea level rise (or if you deny this – the effects of erosion) have caused one of the most famous lighthouses, the one on Gay Head on Martha’s Vineyard, to be moved.

So – why are we talking about lighthouses in a blog dedicated to project management and sustainability?

Think about it. What is a lighthouse? For sailors, it’s a risk trigger. Remember risk triggers? They’re anything that make you think that a threat (usually a threat, we suppose it could be an opportunity) is about to happen or has already happened. Smoke is a risk trigger for fire. A “heat” indicator on a stove-top is a risk trigger for a burn that you will NOT get because it reminds you that the surface is hot.

Indian cricketer and Member of Parliament, Navjot Singh Sidhu says, “A fallen lighthouse is more dangerous than a reef”.  In this case, the loss of the lighthouse would not only be a danger in terms of the loss of its all-important beacon, but because a lovely piece of history would be forever erased. That was a risk that the stakeholders in this story were not willing to take.

Whether or not the cause for the erosion is climate change is a bit controversial. However, for your consideration we include this extract from a recent post from the Union of Concerned Scientists:

The coast of Martha’s Vineyard, with its exposed bluffs, barrier beaches and ponds has always been in a dynamic relationship with the sea, but the changes that human-driven climate change are bringing have no parallel in the recent past. Global average sea level has risen about 8 inches between 1880 and 2009, while the rate of increase has markedly increased, especially since 1993, and is still accelerating. Due to a variety of local factors, the stretch of the East coast of the United States from Cape Hatteras in North Carolina up to Maine has some of the fastest rates of sea level rise in the world.
In addition to sea level rise, the Northeast has experienced a greater increase in extreme precipitation since 1958 than any other region of the country, with more than a 70% increase in rainfall during the heaviest events. The National Climate Assessment also recently concluded that there is a growing risk of stronger storms in the Northeast. All of these changes are contributing to the rate at which the Gay Head Cliffs are eroding. The combination of sea level rise and storms can be particularly lethal, bringing higher waves and more wave energy crashing against the shore.

The post makes convincing arguments. But whatever the cause, there is still an intersection here of sustainability and project management; the idea is to sustain the lighthouse and the way to do it is with a unique, time-and-resource-limited endeavor with a well-defined outcome. Certainly, without any controversy, we can agree that this is a project. It’s a project that involved the collaboration of many stakeholders, and it’s an interesting one. Using an odd combination of ancient techniques going back to the Egyptians as well as new technology, the team was able to lift and roll the 400-ton Gay Head Light 135 feet inland from where it stood for 150 years and safely away from the threat of eroding cliffs.  We suggest you read through the front-page story of the Cape Cod Times and have a look at their “On The Brink” graphic (below), and a video clip we also include which shows how the move was accomplished.


Take the lighthouse metaphor here to heart. There is an intersection of project management and sustainability. At a minimum, the area of risk management and understanding threats (and opportunities) is loaded with triggers from climate change and sea-level rise. We ask that as you sail through your projects, that you be ever vigilant for the risk triggers of ‘sustainabilty risk’ by calling forth the words of Longfellow:

Not one alone; from each projecting cape
And perilous reef along the ocean’s verge,
Starts into life a dim, gigantic shape,
Holding its lantern o’er the restless surge.

Here’s a whole list of poems just about lighthouses!

Snoring? Boring? Ignoring? Or…should you be exploring?


“Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours. People are seeing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies, the plant varieties that thrive in their gardens, and the kinds of birds they see in any particular month in their neighborhoods.”

Who says?

This is from the National Climate Assessment, an 1,100 page report from the US Federal Government.

Yawn.  Can you think of anything more boring?  This screams (well, drones in a monotone) all of the hallmarks of boredom.

Report.  1,100 pages.  Federal Government.   Phew!  Almost didn’t get through even typing that line.   Must…stay…awake….

But wait!  This report is different in two ways.

1. It’s got strikingly real, current, findings about what is happening, to us, right now.

2. It’s available in the form of a highly-interactive, well-designed, attractive and sleek website.

Here’s a little more from the report:

Other changes are even more dramatic. Residents of some coastal cities see their streets flood more regularly during storms and high tides. Inland cities near large rivers also experience more flooding, especially in the Midwest and Northeast. Insurance rates are rising in some vulnerable locations, and insurance is no longer available in others. Hotter and drier weather and earlier snow melt mean that wildfires in the West start earlier in the spring, last later into the fall, and burn more acreage. In Arctic Alaska, the summer sea ice that once protected the coasts has receded, and autumn storms now cause more erosion, threatening many communities with relocation.

Scientists who study climate change confirm that these observations are consistent with significant changes in Earth’s climatic trends. Long-term, independent records from weather stations, satellites, ocean buoys, tide gauges, and many other data sources all confirm that our nation, like the rest of the world, is warming. Precipitation patterns are changing, sea level is rising, the oceans are becoming more acidic, and the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events are increasing. Many lines of independent evidence demonstrate that the rapid warming of the past half-century is due primarily to human activities.

We recently blogged on our other site (People, Planet, Profit, and Projects) about the need for you to “get your head outta the sand“.  Well, here’s a great way to do it.  Explore this knowledge in a fun and easy way, taking advantage of the obvious work that went into taking what could have been a dreadfully unreadable glob of information and making it accessible and meaningful.

Here’s an example:


On the site, there are many charts like this in which you can interact directly with the graphic, in this case by looking at year-by-year observations of temperature change, and at your option, adding or subtracting the natural factors so that you can see the added contribution of humans starting in the 1960s.

The project management angle here?  It’s multifaceted.  One we already mentioned; the need to be conversant on this topic, regardless of your opinions on it.  The other related aspect – the responses to climate change in the US will end up needing projects, and of course, project managers.

From the report:

As the impacts of climate change are becoming more prevalent, Americans face choices. Especially because of past emissions of long-lived heat-trapping gases, some additional climate change and related impacts are now unavoidable. This is due to the long-lived nature of many of these gases, as well as the amount of heat absorbed and retained by the oceans and other responses within the climate system. The amount of future climate change, however, will still largely be determined by choices society makes about emissions. Lower emissions of heat-trapping gases and particles mean less future warming and less-severe impacts; higher emissions mean more warming and more severe impacts. Efforts to limit emissions or increase carbon uptake fall into a category of response options known as “mitigation,” which refers to reducing the amount and speed of future climate change by reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases or removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.13

The other major category of response options is known as “adaptation,” and refers to actions to prepare for and adjust to new conditions, thereby reducing harm or taking advantage of new opportunities. Mitigation and adaptation actions are linked in multiple ways, including that effective mitigation reduces the need for adaptation in the future. Both are essential parts of a comprehensive climate change response strategy. The threat of irreversible impacts makes the timing of mitigation efforts particularly critical. This report includes chapters on Mitigation, Adaptation, and Decision Support that offer an overview of the options and activities being planned or implemented around the country as local, state, federal, and tribal governments, as well as businesses, organizations, and individuals begin to respond to climate change. These chapters conclude that while response actions are under development, current implementation efforts are insufficient to avoid increasingly negative social, environmental, and economic consequences.

Example: A coastal ecosystem restoration project in New York City integrates revegetation (a form of green infrastructure) with bulkheads and riprap (gray or built infrastructure). Investments in coastal ecosystem conservation and restoration can protect coastal waterfronts and infrastructure, while providing additional benefits, such as habitat for commercial and recreational fish, birds, and other animal and plant species, that are not offered by built infrastructure.

So there you have it.  You could look at this report as a threat – an 1,100-page yawner… or as an opportunity to learn and maybe even find your next job, or to contribute to something even more…. planetary.

We suggest that you at least give this site a chance.

All the world loves a … deadline


A short op-ed piece in today’s Boston Globe caught our eye as an example – another example, perhaps the ‘biggest’ yet – of the intersection of sustainability and project management.

The PMBOK(R) Guide spends a great deal of its energy differentiating projects from operations.  Projects are unique, and have definitive start and end dates. Projects are initiated to create change.  Operations are ongoing and have no specific end date, and are about keeping the status quo.

If you listen to the message (or at least the perceived message) of the folks pushing for sustainability, it often comes across as “save the whales, save the snails…” (as exemplified by a great standup routine by George Carlin [adult language] which you can see here).

The key is that the efforts to improve sustainability always seem to have vague goals and objectives and no time bounds.  What it’s been lacking is any kind of deadline.

Until now.

This story, which also covers the turn-around of former climate change skeptic Richard Muller, starts off with this doozie:

The world now has a rough deadline for action on climate change.  Nations need to take aggressive action in the next 15 years to cut carbon emissions, in order to forestall the worst effects of global warming, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The report warns that without action in the next 15 years, nations will start to face the most debilitating effects of global warming — rapidly melting arctic ice, significant sea-level rise, flooding and storms — by the end of the century.

So, although the truly disastrous effects are not to occur until (what now seems like) the distant future, the timeline to accomplish the work which must be done is significantly shorter.  And that timeline has a date of April 16, 2029 at 7:04 AM (that’s the 15 year mark from the exact time that I read the story, so I am declaring it the deadline).

As project managers, we know and love the deadline.  We’d like to have the freedom to specify that deadline through our science of critical path analysis and network diagrams, but sometimes -as in this case – it’s imposed on us and we work backwards to accomplish it.

Let’s use this opportunity to reaffirm the fact that there IS an intersection between PM and sustainability.  It’s much deeper and more intertwined than this example, of course.  Our book dives into those details.  Still, the article is worth a read and if you haven’t considered the relationship between PM and sustainability before – here’s your opportunity.


Don’t be a sap!

maple1We recently posted one of our more popular items, part of the PM Flash Blog – about Project Management in New England.  We’re proud New Englanders and although most people associate the flashy autumn colors with our region, let’s not forget how nice Spring can be, and let’s not forget to include the tapping of maple trees to make that amazing concoction – maple syrup, made from the sap of the maple tree.

Side story: When your author lived in Holland for two years, he adapted to stroop, and found things to be meer lekker met stroop (more tasty with stroop), the closest thing the Dutch had to maple syrup.  And although stroop has its own merits, especially on certain pannekoeken, our whole family really missed maple syrup.  It was one of the items we smuggled TO Holland when we had the chance.


Today’s cover story of the Boston Globe lifestyle section, however, is about how that industry is in jeopardy.  And the challenge – one that had it importing their syrup from (shudder) Quebec last year and probably this year – is related to climate change.

“The long, cold winter oddly recalls the record warmth of 2012 as both may be caused by climate change, which threatens the region’s iconic sugaring industry. This year sugarmakers all over the region are frustrated, and so were the people who wanted to visit the sugarhouses and buy the new syrup.”

Now some of you who may be cynical of the issue of global warming will point to the fact that it was much colder this year in New England than usual.  Don’t be a sap!  The reason that climate change is used as a term to describe the disruptions that we are seeing is that some areas will become warmer, some colder.  The article actually goes on to describe this scientifically:

Research suggests that over the past half-century the maple production season has been shortened by about 10 percent due to climate change, and growers generally agree that freeze-thaw cycles have become much more unpredictable.

As for the winter of 2014, the frigid temperatures reportedly could also be driven by a changing climate. According to some reports, warm air moving in the stratosphere sinks into the Arctic, destabilizes masses of cold air, and pushes them to the south.

“While the physics behind sudden stratospheric warming events are complicated, their implications are not: Such events are often harbingers of colder weather in North America and Eurasia,” wrote Andrew Freedman on the Climate Central website in January. “During the ongoing stratospheric warming event, the polar vortex split in two, allowing polar air to spill out from the Arctic, as if a refrigerator door were suddenly opened.”

So again – don’t be a sap.  It’s referred to as climate change for a reason.

And whether you are a tree-hugger or a tree-tapper, a process manager or a project manager, you can tell from stories like the one from Bascoms (read the article!) are becoming more and more common and of more and more concern.

So learn about it – gather facts.  Let the only thing around here that’s thick… be the maple syrup.