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Is working from home good for the environment?: Today So Far

  • Working from home may not be as good for the environment as we initially thought. That heavily depends on us.
  • Also, why is it taking so long to get body cameras for the King County Sheriff's Office?

This post originally appeared in KUOW's Today So Far newsletter for May 10, 2022.

Working from home may not be as good for the environment as we initially thought. And I say that as a member of the pajamas-optional workforce.

Consider that many major offices already upgraded their buildings to be more efficient. They've purchased carbon credits, or established a commute program, etc. Now, a worker like me is not commuting to work, but I am turning on all the lights at home that would have been otherwise off. And my heat is on, or the AC is turned up.

That's what Reuters reporter Paresh Dave considered when he asked 20 large companies about how they factor work-from-home scenarios into their climate goals. As NPR reports, that list of companies included Northwest brands like REI, Microsoft, and Amazon.

Microsoft believes working from home will cut down on emissions in the long run. Over the past two years, it made calculations based on someone working from home for eight hours with a laptop, two monitors, and three light bulbs. I don't work for Microsoft. But if I did, the company would not be taking into account that I keep Slow TV on the big screen, providing the illusion that I'm working while on a Norwegian train ride. And while I'm not currently that guy who microwaves fish at the office, I am able to cook up a healthier lunch on my electric stove.

REI evolved its company into a work-from-home model, with satellite offices, in 2020. But it is waiting for industry standards to be established to guide how it would calculate its carbon impact. If such industry standards emerge, will they take into account the coffeepot that I consider an essential coworker? Or my vinyl playlist spinning throughout the workday, filling my home office with Tears for Fears and Sam Cooke? Or how I sometimes dictate this newsletter while taking extended, hot bubble baths?

OK, that last one wasn't true. It's just a shiatsu foot spa.

Amazon doesn't calculate for home workers. As KUOW's John Ryan recently reported, Amazon doesn't exactly add up its carbon impact the same say as its competitors.

Working from home, or hybrid models, are certain to be part of our work life moving forward. So taking into account carbon impacts may not just happen at the office anymore. I think I'm going to need to keep a lot more home office plants alive to offset my carbon. Read NPR's full story here.

Let's talk about body cams in King County. The sheriff just did.

Some things seem like pretty obvious, good things that no reasonable person would be against. Winning the lottery. A good education. Mr. Rogers. Clean water. A damn fine cup of coffee. And police body cameras.

But that last one, turns out, is a bit tricky despite so much support for it. New King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall tells Soundside that she's in favor of the cameras, as is Executive Dow Constantine. And 10 deputies who participated in a body cam pilot were quite favorable of them, too. So what's the hold up?

There are a couple significant hurdles, starting with the union.

"Wearing a body cam is considered a working condition," Cole-Tindall said. "So hours, wages, and working conditions are mandatory subjects of bargaining. And we must engage in bargaining, which is happening now with the union. And that matter will have to be resolved along with the budget to actually start the program."

The Sheriff's Office has already included body cams in its proposed 2023-24 budget. The sheriff says they aren't expensive, however, storing all that digital video and the work to redact information afterward would cost a bit. So between union bargaining and budget requests, there is no firm timeline for body cams in King County.

Once it does happen though, it will cover a lot of people. Most folks don't realize just how extensive the King County Sheriff's Office is. It provides law enforcement throughout the county, as well as for 12 cities, the King County Airport, the Muckleshoot Tribe, and Sound Transit and King County Metro.

The body cam dilemma is just one issue that Sheriff Cole-Tindall is tackling as she enters the role. Hear her full conversation with Soundside here.

AS SEEN ON KUOW

caption: Red-headed woodpecker
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Red-headed woodpecker
Credit: Susan Young

What can a woodpecker teach you? Traumatic brain injuries have become big news in sports. Woodpeckers and bighorn sheep, which both bash their heads frequently, have inspired the development of sports equipment that researchers hope will reduce traumatic brain injuries in athletes. Chris Morgan chips away at this story in the latest podcast episode of "The Wild." (Courtesy of Susan Young)

DID YOU KNOW?

I recently wrote a Did You Know factoid about the Space Needle’s debut at the 1962 World’s Fair and mentioned that it had bells which rang out at the start of the event. Turns out, that’s only sort of true. Do you know what an “imitation carillon” is?

It’s exactly what it sounds like — something that imitates and real carillon. But what is a carillon? If you haven’t heard that word, it’s probably because there aren’t too many of them around. A carillon is a giant instrument that uses massive bells to make notes. It’s essentially a piano keyboard, except each key has a string tied to a bell. And these bells can weigh tons. Therefore, it would be quite a feat to install a genuine carillon on the Space Needle. Instead, 44 speakers were installed 200 feet high, under the disc. It was controlled at the base of the Space Needle and imitated 538 bells. It could be heard 10 miles away. Once the World’s Fair was over, the system was removed.

ALSO ON OUR MINDS

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Scientists give Earth a 50-50 chance of hitting key warming mark by 2026

"Regardless of what is predicted here, we are very likely to exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next decade or so, but it doesn't necessarily mean that we are committed to this in the long term — or that working to reduce further change is not worthwhile."

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