Spain's 4-day workweek, costly oil wells, and shipping container shortages

in March 19th, 2021

Here's what we emailed out the week of March 19, 2021. Sign up for updates directly in your inbox.

Turns out emotional intelligence and spotting fake news go hand in hand. A recent study found that those most susceptible to misinformation are those who had difficulty disregarding emotionally charged content from the factual — especially when it resonated with personal experiences and ideas. Others were able to instead pick up on the emotional language and determine that the information was biased, if not completely inaccurate. Luckily, emotional intelligence is trainable. With that, here’s today’s digest of real news. 


Spain becomes first European country to test the four-day workweek

Mon Mar 15

The four-day workweek has been picking up steam all pandemic long. Now, Spain is experimenting with their own 32-hour schedule that allows employees to spend less time in the office without any loss in pay. Given Spain is known for its workers putting in more hours than the European average, the hope is that the country can start experiencing the benefits other companies have already seen in their own trials, such as: 

  • An increase in productivity. A number of companies reported a 25-40% improvement in productivity, with one recruitment firm also seeing 40% fewer short-term absences as staff felt more well-rested.
  • Lower operational costs. In Japan, Microsoft not only saw a 23% reduction in electricity costs, but found that employees printed 60% fewer pages. 
  • Improved mental health and reduction of stress. Social media company Buffer turned their one-month test into the 2020 working norm after hearing how much happier and less burnt out employees were. 
  • Potential for reducing carbon emissions. It’s not fully proven yet but this is especially attractive in Europe where there’s a strong push to decarbonize the economy. 

But even proponents have concerns, such as the logistics of implementation, how it affects hourly workers, and if it's the right solution for the flexibility employees desire in their schedules. Spain is still ironing out the details for their experiment. 

Some additional resources... 

  • For more on Spain’s experiment, refer to the Washington Post.
  • For more on the benefits companies with a four-day workweek are seeing, refer to Workstars and NPR.
  • To dig into the potential pitfalls of this approach, turn to NBC News
  • And if you’re interested in the ecological impact, turn to the Guardian.


Oil well cleanups to cost taxpayers billions 

Thu Mar 11

Abandoned oil and gas wells have been a growing issue in the U.S. for years, with over 2.15 million left unplugged. Globally, there’s 29 million. These orphaned wells represent massive financial and environmental burdens that continue to be ignored.

What’s the big deal? In Colorado alone, the nearly 60,000 orphaned wells would cost more than $8 billion to plug, courtesy of a number of compounding issues. 

  • First, imagine a giant well. Plugging these giant holes requires an extensive cementing and deconstruction procedure.
  • Problem is, it’s cheaper for companies to just leave them unplugged and walk away. Some states have them pay in bonds or deposits to ensure funds for future cleanup — but those fall far short of the actual amount needed. (Colorado only has 2% of the $8 billion cleanup bill, leaving taxpayers on the hook.) 
  • Companies may not even report idle wells for monitoring — the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Comission estimates undocumented orphan wells in the hundreds of thousands. (On top of that, over 100 oil companies have gone bankrupt due to the pandemic, likely adding their wells to the backlog of orphaned wells.) 
  • And the longer a well has been sitting unplugged and unmonitored, the longer it’s been emitting methane (footprint equivalent to 1.5 million cars annually) among other toxic contaminants into the air and surroundings. 

In fact, the pollution threats have already been playing out. In Ohio and Texas, state regulators have each found an average of two groundwater contamination incidents per year related to orphaned wells. And in 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency was alerted to nearly 50 abandoned wells on Navajo Nation lands with bubbling water at the surface that tests later showed contained dangerous levels of arsenic, sulfate, benzene, and chloride. 

For now, the burden of solving this nation-wide problem has fallen on regulators. In 2017, congressional efforts were stalled. A year later, the Center for American Progress said investing $2 billion into well plugging could create up to 24,000 jobs, though the idea has yet to garner traction. The current pandemic may show promise in finally pushing things forward. 

Some additional resources... 


Turns out our global supply chain is not pandemic-proof

Tue Mar 16

Haven’t been able to get cheese at Costco? Turns out it's a problem out of the retailer’s control for a number of household goods, including cheese, seafood, olive oil, furniture, sports equipment, and gardening supplies.

What is keeping goods from arriving in U.S. storefronts? Currently, 90% of the world’s supply for shipping containers come from China. While China started 2020 with a surplus of these containers, by late 2020, an unexpected demand for goods boomed and Chinese businesses came back online. This meant that, suddenly, there weren’t enough containers to go around. More containers have since been ordered, but with slow processing times and delays in getting current containers dispersed across the ocean back to China, a global shortage continues to impact imports. 

As a result, our desired goods may be out of stock and/or cost more as a number of unexpected losses burden importers:

  • Perishable inventory that isn’t able to be imported on time will be trashed.
  • Seasonal retail goods might not arrive in time to be sold.
  • Port congestion further incurs fees as goods sit around and wait to be unloaded.

That said, regulation might emerge to help get a handle on the situation. The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) has started a probe on container carriers and port terminal operators to enforce and potentially make new rules. Biden’s administration has also issued an executive order to ultimately strengthen American supply chains and avoid relying so heavily on abroad manufacturers when crisis hits.  

Some additional resources...

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