Warning: This post is like a French film, the ending is not a happy one.
When I first moved to Fort Collins I met a Mechanical Engineer that used to work in Oil and Gas Exploration, that was starting an Apple Orchard just north of town, in Northern Colorado. What’s unusual about this encounter is that he’s rather young, yet showed a lot of wisdom and humility. Our conversation touched upon some of the issues surrounding resource extraction, and the challenges of farming. Then there are two other friends, a former Nuclear Engineer and Architect that took a similar fork in the road. That’s what this post is about, it’s about three people that I know that understand complex systems, and have independently decided to change careers, in a major way.
There are not too many people that biked to their jobs at oil and gas companies in Houston. In fact our new friend told me with a smile, that « it’s a very small community ». It’s probably an even smaller community that is honest about their reasons for doing so. Will explained that he was not biking to work in Houston to save the environment, he’s doing it because he’s cheap and doesn’t like spending money on gas. I can relate to that!
Speaking about saving the environment, that’s not what this post is about either. A friend once surprised me by saying « If I really cared about the environment, I’d step in-front of the next 18-wheeler on I-25 » At the time I was surprised, but now I know: we eat, sleep, and work using oil and coal. There’s no way around it that will save the environment, because of economic laws. If one person reduces their demand, it makes the price for resources cheaper for the other. So much for the invisible hand helping in that regard, and give up all hope ye who expect our humble leaders to do « something » other than talk about the walk.
It appeared to me that Will understands this. While we didn’t spend enough time together for me to truly understand why he got out of Oil and Gas Exploration, he did mention that the exploration companies didn’t really have a full grasp of the consequences of the technologies they were utilizing to improve extraction yields. In any event, how many engineers are willing to forgo high paying jobs in exchange for a life on the farm?
I have a friend in Albuquerque, who left a career as a Nuclear Engineer when he was younger too. I was curious about why he got out of the field at a young age. He almost laughed at me when he explained how nuclear energy is inherently unsafe. How safety improvements over time are more than offset by additional power plants, unlike other industries. He explained that it was basic statistics. Because nuclear energy production lacks the ability to operate at a stable state if left unmanaged (think solar flares), safety improvements can’t keep up with growth demands. He said that the safest and most cost effective reactor is the one we currently orbit from a large distance.
Another of the smartest people I’ve ever met was trained as an architect, and started developing apps for the App Store, before it was called an App Store. He appears to have done well with several of his projects. Today he drives a Tesla and his other car is a tractor. A Tesla driving farmer, really. He has a prolific farm in the Rio Grande Valley and while he helps new app developers pro-bono, he refuses to ever publish another app himself.
At least three engineers, architects, and technologists I personally know are quietly seeking out a farming life. They are obviously not doing it for the easy life, the dolce vita, the fame or fortune that that life will bring them. Famous personality Jim Rogers, author of Investment Biker, is famous for telling people « Learn to be a farmer ». Jim, toung-in-cheek tells CNBC show hosts that « In the future it will be farmers that will drive Maseratis, not the investment bankers ».
I’m fairly certain that neither Mike, Will, or Andrew changed careers so that they might purchase a Maserati someday. Their reasons are complex and dynamic. One thing I’m certain of, they are each sleeping better at night knowing that they are working with the Earth, rather than taking very big calculated risks with it for short-term rewards.
But even so I can’t finish on a positive note, as I promised with a French film, the ending isn’t a happy one. Forget the environment. It’s toast for a little while. There’s no worry for the establishment that these three individuals are pioneers of a new movement. There is absolutely no movement to « save the planet », no matter what you read about electric cars and drone deliveries. Mankind will find a way to extract the last pound of coal just as the last tree on Easter Island was cut down nearly a millennia ago. Don’t feel bad as you read this on fossil fuel powered server farms that need banks of air conditioners to cool. We’re not as intelligent as we think. We’re hard wired with an overwhelming tendency to put immediate survival ahead of all other pursuits. It’s just the way it is. The Earth will recover just fine once 97% of us are gone.