Gongol.com Archives: August 2021

Brian Gongol

August 17, 2021

Science and Technology A pound of cure still has something going for it

Everyone knows Benjamin Franklin's maxim that "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". It was great advice in 1736, and it still has great advisory power to guide us today. ■ But advice usually rings true only if it directs us away from hazards we already recognize. There may be a pithy way to tell us how to be responsible space co-habitants on Mars, but that isn't a problem any of us encounter...yet. We do, however, recognize the perils of having to apply a pound of cure. ■ That's what makes the BeBot beach-cleaning robot so applause-worthy. It's a beefy electric robot that trawls beaches with a sand-sifting attachment that can clean about half to three-quarters of an acre per hour, picking up debris down to a 10-cm depth -- about as deep as an adult hand can scoop. ■ Yes, prevention certainly is better than cure. But participants in prevention shouldn't have to suffer because others won't, so three cheers for cures, too. Whether it's on a scale as small as a local beach or as large as global carbon emissions, some people are going to be ready, willing, and able to do the right thing -- and others are going to remain unrepentant polluters. ■ "Clean up after yourself" should be an axiomatic principle of good behavior. But for those cases when people -- either as individuals or in groups -- choose not to do so, there's nothing but good to be found in developing technologies that perform cleanup so that those who behave decently can still enjoy the benefits. The case to be made for public investment in those cleanup activities is very strong, especially when performed alongside (and even funded by) measures that place taxes on pollution. (Even better still if some of those funds are used to stimulate innovation on behalf of the "cure".) ■ The company behind the robotic beach-cleaner says that part of the point of the technology is to remind beach-goers that their litter has consequences -- and seeing the amount of debris picked up and concentrated in one place really drives home the consequences of that waste. One of Franklin's many other wise maxims is that "'Tis easier to prevent bad habits than to break them." Cleanup isn't cost-free, but the more we can habituate people to cleaning up after themselves, the better.

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