Add Two More Items to My Growing List of Unintended Consequences

It’s been a recurring theme in my posts – unintended consequences. People make decisions with the best of intentions, but then sometimes, things don’t turn out like they planned. Here are links to the previous stories I’ve written about this:

Well, this past week I read about two more, and they both had to do with the coronavirus. While the impacts below aren’t the direct result of human decision making, they do highlight that while we may focus on the good part of something, like improved air quality, that improved air quality could have negative consequences somewhere else.

The first story deals with the record-setting cyclone that hit India and Bangladesh last week. Some people are suggesting that the pandemic may be partially to blame. Lockdowns around the world have reduced the amount of pollution in the air. The reduced pollutants led to fewer aerosols in the atmosphere, which re known to mitigate somewhat the effects of such storms. However, with fewer pollutants in the air, the storm was able to strengthen into the record setting cyclone it became.

The other story was in today’s Wall Street Journal which also relates to another odd consequence of the lockdown. Carbon dioxide is a byproduct of ethanol, which by federal mandate is mixed into gasoline to help it burn more cleanly. But fewer people are driving because of the Covid-19 lockdowns, and demand for gasoline has plunged, prompting ethanol plants to shut down. That has put pressure on the source for roughly 40% of all industrial carbon dioxide produced nationwide—a key ingredient for soft drinks and beers. The end result:  consumers might end up paying more for their beer and soft drinks because the cost of the bubbles in the drinks is going up.

There have been many stories written over the past several weeks about the environmental benefits of COVID-19, and many places around the world are reporting much-improved air quality levels because of less driving and traveling.

Who would have thought that such improvements could have led to the unintended consequences noted here?

55 thoughts on “Add Two More Items to My Growing List of Unintended Consequences

  1. You have raised some good examples, Jim and yes actions do always have consequences and not always positive ones…Your posts always intrigue and sometimes fascinate me…I like your thought processes…I also wish I could come up with some interesting blog titles like you I am crap when I try to do that…sigh…Good post, Jim..stay safe 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Carol. And thank heaven for the Wall Street Journal, a frequent source for my blog posts. I do enjoy coming up with the titles for my posts – usually much more than actually writing the post! I hope you had a good day…


      1. I think a big part of having a good day is having a good attitude, which you certainly seem to have! I wish I could say I’ve learned a new skill during the lockdown, but I’m not sure standing in front of a computer and talking to a screen full of students would count as one… 🙂


      2. Thank you, Jim… For many teachers, lecturers, business men who normally stand,/sit and lecture or deliver a speech to have to adjust and deliver a virtual lecture/meeting is vastly different especially if learning a new concept like Zoom… I think it is learning new skills and to be commended so take a bow… 🙏

        Liked by 1 person

      3. One thing I have noticed is that you can’t judge their reactions. If I try to tell a joke, at least in a regular classroom I might get a few chuckles or groans. When I tell the same joke online, there’s nothing. I have new respect for the late night talk show guys who are broadcasting from home. I am sure they thrive on the laughter from the studio audience, but that’s gone now.

        Perhaps I’ll take a bow when the class is over…


  2. You know which one of your unintended consequences posts I was most interested in—incentives to reward behaviors. My own experience as a teacher is that rewards used sparingly can be a useful tool. The keyword is “sparingly.” Parents and teachers can fall into the trap of rewarding excessively, which then can have the opposite effect. If people never do anything without an external reward, I think it promotes laziness and a “what’s in it for me type of attitude?” It would be nice if everyone were motivated intrinsically, but I think that quality varies quite a bit.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree, Pete. People need to think carefully about what the behavior will be when they offer various rewards. Some rewards may work well in the short run, but not so well in the long term. And yes, while intrinsic rewards are the way to go, we all need a little bit of extrinsic rewards now and then. Thanks for your thoughts, Pete!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. such is the way of the world and hard to plan for every result. that being said, i’m all in for unexpected positive consequences, such as with the leaning tower of Pisa. –

    Sometimes the consequences are mixed and take a long time to appear, as with the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. From The Nature of Change :

    When the tower was built, it was undoubtedly intended to stand vertical. It took about 200 years to complete, but by the time the third floor was added, the poor foundations and loose subsoil had allowed it to sink on one side. Subsequent builders tried to correct this lean and the foundations have been stabilized by 20th-century engineering, but at the present time, the top of the tower is still about 15 feet (4.5 meters) from the perpendicular. Along with the unexpected failure of the foundations is the unexpected consequence of the Leaning Tower of Pisa becoming a popular tourist attraction, bringing enormous revenue to the town.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is the underlying balance shown in the Taoist Yin and Yang symbol. The recognition that all things good contain a little evil, and all things evil contain a little good. No matter the event or subject, there are extenuating circumstances that are often overlooked in the pursuit of the obvious. Anther great post, Jim!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I could live with higher prices on the soda and beer if it meant we had cleaner air to breathe. The amount of pollution that we produce around the world has essentially gone away. Those are consequences I think I could live with. Let Mother Nature right itself. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would not mind that trade-off either.

      And by the way, thank you for commenting. I thought perhaps you had taken a break from blogging since I was not seeing your posts in my feed. I went back and noticed that your blog had somehow disappeared from my WP reader; I have added it back…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve been steady going. I had to apply for some jobs just in case the state decides we need to do that so I can get unemployment but it looks like they still don’t know what they are doing. A lot of time. Glad we are back in contact. I saw you in my stats and went looking. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It did. I got in within a week of being laid off. But I worked over 12 hours through 5 days persistently and broke down into tears just before I got to the end of my application. It was rough. Hard ass Marine mentality got me through it. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  6. What I get from the long long list of unintended consequences is many times the experts really don’t know what the heck they are doing or talking about. We should still listen to them because they are the best we have.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree we should listen to those who know more than us. I just think it’s part of the scientific process, as you gather more data, you update your model and your predictions. It takes willingness to admit you might have been wrong originally, and a willingness to take the heat from people who don’t believe in the scientific approach to things…


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