The Externality Reality

Far Middle episode 95 begins with Nick offering, “everything you wanted to know about daylight saving time but were afraid to ask.” And on the topic of time, Nick dedicates this episode to “The Iron Man,” Cal Riken Jr., who in 1995 broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak by playing in his 2,131st straight game, a streak that spanned 17 years. In total, Ripken’s streak reached 2,632 games, “the equivalent of 16 seasons without missing a game.” Nick says you have time to sleep on this record as the soonest it could be broken by an active player would be in about a dozen years.

Leaving the ballpark, Nick proceeds along this episode’s string of connections, a format that’s the hallmark of The Far Middle and an ongoing tribute to the great Dr. James Burke.

“Cal Ripken is in the history books because of math; math has the ability to clarify the exceptional and to bring truth to a situation,” explains Nick as he delves into the math of externality accounting in the energy sector. Externalities look to capture the true net costs or benefits of an activity to society, quantifying direct and indirect impacts, both positive and negative.

The subject of externalities has always interested Nick. And that interest was recently reawakened following the request by a professor performing a study on externalities, asking Nick to offer his view on competitor natural gas-producing companies that tend to understate their companies’ environmental impact. “I saw this request as an opportunity to take a holistic view of the energy landscape and the context of energy externality accounting,” says Nick as he begins to walk through his response to the professor (explore further in Nick’s commentary, “Crunching the Numbers: Energy Source Externality Accounting”).

As a precursor to the professor’s request, Nick argues that externalities should be first analyzed on an energy source-versus-energy source basis, in other words, domestic natural gas compared to wind or solar energy sources.

Following the discussion of energy externality accounting, Nick springs backward to 1961 and the movie, Judgment at Nuremberg. “The movie deals with heavy, fascinating themes,” says Nick, analogizing the film to “a mental tennis match,” and suggesting it be required viewing for every American high school student.