Approaching Retirement

Signpost with the word Retirement

(Source: Piermont Wealh Management)

To the followers of this blog (starting in April 2012) this title will not be a surprise. I am an old guy and I am seriously thinking about retirement, meaning that I am starting to think seriously on what I will do after retiring. All of this, provided of course, that my health allows me to remain productive. Whatever I will have the opportunity to do, I would like to continue posting about my take on reality on this blog. The difficulty is that much of my thinking and writing here has focused on my teaching and my students. The question that I am asking myself is what I will use to replace this anchor.

A quick look at the statistics of this blog since its inception gives the following numbers:

  • 610 blogs since Earth Day 2012
  • 1618 posted comments (and another 965 in my spam queue)
  • 933,416 visitors with 5,808,384 visits

These are impressive numbers that I would hate to lose. In this and future blogs, I will start, with your help, to expand on a new topic. Right now, my thinking is focused on retrofitting. Below is the Wikipedia definition:

Retrofitting is the addition of new technology or features to older systems. Retrofits can happen for a number of reasons, for example with big capital expenditures like naval vessels, military equipment or manufacturing plants, businesses or governments may retrofit in order to reduce the need to replace a system entirely. Other retrofits may be due to changing codes or requirements, such as seismic retrofit which are designed strengthening older buildings in order to make them earthquake resistant.

Retrofitting is also an important part of climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation: because society invested in built infrastructure, housing and other systems before the magnitude of changes anticipated by climate change. Retrofits to increase building efficiency, for example, both help reduce the overall negative impacts of climate change by reducing building emissions and environmental impacts while also allowing the building to be more healthy during extreme weather events. Retrofitting also is part of a circular economy, reducing the amount of newly manufactured goods, thus reducing lifecycle emissions and environmental impacts.

From my perspective, the term retrofitting has come to encompass a much broader range than what is included in the relatively narrow definition of Wikipedia. The world is fast-changing and all of us must adapt. The Wikipedia description provides useful examples of retrofitting; however, it doesn’t emphasize the important distinction between retrofitting and repairing or fixing. The distinction rests in repurposing, which is an essential element of retrofitting. I will elaborate on this issue and on the requirements in both repairing and retrofitting to be cost effective, in future blogs. However, the fast-changing climate, and other environmental impacts, constitute an important element in the Wikipedia definition that will allow me to refocus my anchor and maintain the present flavor of the blog. I will lose the immediate feedback of students but hopefully will be able to replace it with other audiences. Hopefully, focusing on retrofitting will allow me to work to scale, meaning to start (or finish) at the global scale and converge on immediate targets with expectations of some feedback.

Housing is a good starting point for such an effort. Put campus into the search box and you will get about 55 blog entries. Many of these blogs, at the time of posting, were sent to my college administrators, Faculty Council committees that I happened to serve on at the time, and my students in courses related to climate change. If you go over some of these blogs, you might see students’ comments. Changes in energy use in housing to minimize carbon emissions New York were mandated both by NY State and City (see the June 25, 2019 blog).

It is reasonable to expect that university campuses will lead the way in these efforts. One of the main problems that campuses everywhere face is that most of their buildings are old. In a blog this summer (June 6, 2023), I described a small symposium that I organized during last summer’s Faculty Day, which we celebrate every year at the end of the Spring semester. The symposium was focused on the use of Campus as a Lab in our curriculum. A faculty member from the Health and Nutrition Department gave a talk about opportunities to incorporate environmental considerations when we construct new facilities. With declining enrollment, however, new facilities are rare. To have an impact, we have to focus on standing facilities and learn how to retrofit them.

Examples of retrofitted housing emerged after global environmental disasters. These will probably stay with us, removed from environmental considerations, in the face of other disasters that can now be found hitting many cities around the world. One of the broader social consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic directly resulted from one of the widely-used adaptation tools. It was focused on major advances in computer ability to work remotely through peer-to-peer software advancement in videotelephony and chat services. The most famous company in this effort is Zoom, which took its name from the corresponding verb. The company was formed one year before I started this blog and got its name in 2012, around the same time that this blog started. To appreciate the growth of Zoom’s use, one needs superlatives that don’t exist in the English language (see this page of Zoom statistics for some numbers). Not surprisingly, video-telephoning and video-chatting hasn’t stopped with the ebbing of COVID-19. The development and omnipresence of videoconferencing has enabled a massive number of workers to work from home. The Forbes report cited below summarizes the situation in the US:

As of 2023, 12.7% of full-time employees work from home, while 28.2% work a hybrid model

Currently, 12.7% of full-time employees work from home, illustrating the rapid normalization of remote work environments. Simultaneously, a significant 28.2% of employees have adapted to a hybrid work model. This model combines both home and in-office working, offering flexibility and maintaining a level of physical presence at the workplace [1].

Despite the steady rise in remote work, the majority of the workforce (59.1%) still work in-office [1]. This percentage underscores the fact that while remote work is on an upswing, traditional in-office work is far from obsolete.

By 2025, 32.6 million Americans will work remote

Looking ahead, the future of remote work seems promising. According to Upwork, by 2025, an estimated 32.6 million Americans will be working remotely, which equates to about 22% of the workforce [2]. This projection suggests a continuous, yet gradual, shift towards remote work arrangements.

98% of workers want to work remote at least some of the time

Interestingly, workers’ preference for remote work aligns with this trend. A staggering 98% of workers expressed the desire to work remotely, at least part of the time [3]. This overwhelming figure reflects the workforce’s growing affinity towards the flexibility, autonomy and work-life balance that remote work offers.

At the tail-end of the pandemic, as much of the focus has shifted to local wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, the rich world is experiencing other difficulties. We are dealing with instabilities in the supply chain as well as in the energy markets. These have led to a major increase in inflation, together with major shortages and budget difficulties in developing countries. Central banks are fighting inflation with major increases in interest rates. These trends are being accompanied by population decreases in many developed countries and a decline in population growth in the developing world.

Owners of apartments or homes are holding onto existing real estate that they can finance with long-term low mortgages. However, most people who don’t own real estate cannot buy any because of high prices and expensive mortgages that they can ill-afford. A serious economic stress is developing between commercial and residential real estate. We need less of the first and more of the second. We have to start refocusing on retrofitting commercial real estate to make it desirable in the residential market.

To give some idea about just how much extra commercial real estate there is, one article from this month said that:“In Manhattan, 22 percent of office space was vacant last quarter, or about twice the rate of empty space before the pandemic…”

The idea of retrofitting is to make something that is no longer efficiently serving its original purpose work better in a new context. This is a different way of saying that people will benefit more from the retrofitted product than from the original and the effort should be cost-effective, meaning that the cost of the retrofitting should not exceed the benefits or profits from the action. This economic analysis doesn’t have to be restricted to the immediate parties that are involved in the process. Society can mandate the retrofitting to benefit society at large. Most environmental retrofitting falls into this category. In future blogs, I will try to come up with some quantitative examples.

About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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6 Responses to Approaching Retirement

  1. Vanessa Cruz says:

    Retrofitting sounds like a great solution to combat climate change and turn what was old, new again! I think this can also be used for the housing crisis – turning old schools or buildings into newly furnished apartments for the homeless or struggling lower to middle class. Retrofitting reminds me of thrifting, which is like retrofitting but on a lower level. Repurposing old clothing that would normally be thrown out, but is instead being sold to someone else who will appreciate it.

    I think that the housing crisis is because of what you mentioned. Despite it being very difficult to find and KEEP a job, people who use AirBNB to rent are buying properties and renting them out. However, sometimes they hold on to these properties without anyone staying there, so this vacant spot is taking up space, when someone else could be using it.

    Also, I’m glad a lot of people are working from home, because it gives people more options, especially those with children or people who want to travel or can’t afford to live where they want to work.

    I think that if you choose to retire, it was a pleasure to learn from you. You are intelligent, have a lot to teach and are extremely passionate about the subjects you cover. All great qualities.

  2. Zoe P. Davis says:

    Hi Professor,

    I enjoyed learning about Retrofitting. I have never heard of it until reading this blog post. It’s necessary. It’s extremely important. Nothing can stay the same forever. Change is the only constant in life, so when a creator is not willing to adapt to the changes of the society they are trying to serve with their creation, well…it will cease to exist. In order for something to prosper or survive, it needs to be willing to adapt.

    Housing is no different. The structure of our city is broken (a building in the Bronx just collapsed!). Our planet is undergoing a lot of drastic changes. One of the effects of these changes is extreme weather. We have seen a lot of flooding and forest fires around the world. Our homes and buildings need to be safe when extreme weather events happen. This concept doesn’t only apply to housing, as you’ve pointed out. As life changes, small little aspects of our lives will need to change with it. Hell, even humans need to undergo some sort of “retrofitting” process if we want to stay alive for a long time.

    Thank you for this blog post. It’s important.

    I’ll end by saying something a bit off topic. I am happy to hear that you are thinking about next steps in your life. You’ve had a long career, and you deserve to celebrate and enjoy LIFE. I wish for a happy retirement, whenever it is.


  3. Lina Yusuf says:

    Hi professor,
    I liked how the blog covered various examples such as the housing market, remote working, and the pandemic to explain retrofitting and its diverse impacts on different people. It was great to see the data provided to understand the extent of changes that have occurred or will occur. Additionally, I appreciated the blog’s emphasis on the fact that retrofitting doesn’t have to be limited to those directly involved in the process. Society as a whole can mandate retrofitting for the benefit of everyone.

  4. Hello Professor,

    I would love to touch on the fact that working from home may actually be very good for our eco system. With less travel, there will be less use of cars and less carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Although this will bring more problems such as mta workers or people who rely on driving in order to work, this may also allow them to persue a career worth more of their time and prolonging the life of the planet and ecosystem.

    Nikita Bangiyev

  5. Kai Wen Chen says:

    Hi Professor Tomkiewics,

    In the realm of consumer electronics, retrofit isn’t a term that is used often. Frankly, this upsets me a little but I also understand why this term isn’t used often. We’re human and rapid consumerism is something that will always pit corporations against the public. The ‘newest’ technologies may only be marginally better than their counterparts only a year earlier. Yet, we, as consumers feed into the industry by purchasing these new goods. Thankfully, various studies have shown that people are holding onto their technologies for longer periods before upgrading to new ones. This is thanks to some efforts made by companies producing these goods to increase the lifespan of their goods. For example, Apple was found guilty of releasing software that intentionally slowed down their older smartphone models. Recently, in 2019, Apple started a battery replacement program that made it much easier for consumers to bring new life to their old phones with degrading lithium-ion batteries. But still, there remains the question of what happens to old devices that simply outlive their utility? Retrofitting can only work if the retrofitted solution offers a utility that can justify the cost of the retrofit or isn’t so much worse than a newer alternative to justify the large expense of one. In my own life, I’ve repurposed an old 2015 iPad Mini to act as a hub for many of the smart devices in my home. This solution isn’t as much a retrofit as an upgrade. I’ve brought a long-term utility to something I otherwise would’ve thrown away.

    These recent posts are about retrofitting technologies and the IoT really intrigue me. In 2017, I went on a trip to Taiwan and bought a book titled The Fourth Industrial Revolution. I wanted to know what was going on with the world through a lens that wasn’t the news or the latest viral internet post. I ended up learning about a myriad of issues that plagued the contemporary world. Some of them concerned the IoT, AI, and Data analytics. We’re already in the fourth industrial revolution. The question we should ask is to what extent it’ll make sense to retrofit existing things if newer solutions have the potential for even longer life, greater efficiency, and greater utility.

  6. Niamh Zanghi says:

    Hi professor,

    When you mentioned the definition of retrofitting in the beginning of this post, it reminded me of abandonware. Abandonware is software that is no longer being maintained or supported by its manufacturer, therefore leading to the breakdown of the abandonware with no recovery option. This is seen in computer software not being supported once newer, updated computers are released. It becomes a problem when the abandonware is actually useful, and the updated software cannot perform the same function. Retrofitting is not performed on abandonware because the manufacturers do not see the point.

    This reminds me of electronic waste because much of this abandonware- mainly large computers or other machines- cannot be recycled, and end up in landfills. I think retrofitting these older models would be beneficial to the environment because there would be less electronic waste.

    This connects back to your blog post because it shows the importance of retrofitting in many aspects. It is definitely beneficial in reframing how our society functions, like the shift into remote work, but also in the literal sense by changing how we treat our trash.

    Niamh Zangh

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