Wednesday, December 29, 2010

350 eARTh Video

A great re-cap video of the eARTh project organized by last month.  Check out their new year-in-review webpage too.

Stay going.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

I probably won't be making it to church this Christmas, but here are some beautiful words from Reverend Desmond Tutu to reflect on this holiday season:
The evolution of the world is a great manifestation of God.  As scientists understand more and more about the interdependence not only of living things but of rocks, rivers -- the whole of the universe -- I am left in awe that I, too, am a part of this tremendous miracle.  Not only am I a part of this pulsating network, but I am an indispensable part.  It is not only theology that teaches me this, but it is the truth that environmentalists shout from the rooftops.  Every living creature is an essential part of the whole... Our surroundings are awesome.  We see about us majestic mountains, the perfection of a tiny mouse, a newborn baby, a flower, the colors of a seashell.  Each creature is most fully that which it is created to be, an almost incredible reflection of the infinite, the invisible, the indefinable.  All women and men participate in that reflected glory.  We believe that we are in fact the image of our Creator.  Our response must be to live up to that amazing potential -- to give God glory by reflecting his beauty and his love.  That is why we are here and that is the purpose of our lives.  In that response we enter most fully into relationships with God, our fellow men and women, and we are in harmony with all creation.

Merry Christmas and Stay Going!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Million Letter March

The Million Letter March is the kind of thing we need right now.  Talking heads and extremists have been telling us that a carbon tax - or just about any tax for that matter - is politically infeasible for so long that it's easy to start believing it.  But there are millions of Americans who understand why we have taxes and how a representative government can work to promote the best interests of the people by protecting the common good.

When the 112th Congress starts on January 3rd, a flood of letters will help our representatives see that climate disruption - as probably the greatest threat to ever face modern civilization - is worth confronting with a tax.  Extreme sacrifice by all of us would be warranted to avoid this threat - but luckily that's not necessary.  A price on carbon will drive innovation, encourage easy energy savings that will save money, create jobs and improve our national security and quality of life.  For those who think this looks like just more ' big government' - it's not, it's correcting a market failure based on more-perfect information, it's making our free market system more legitimate and efficient.

So please check out the website and watch the video below to learn more, write a simple letter, submit it to the site to be counted and send it to your reps in the new year.

Stay going. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

COP16 Wraps Up in Cancun

Another year of international climate negotiations wraps up as the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP) concludes in Cancun, Mexico.  There was much less hype around this year's meeting than there was about last year's COP 15 in Copenhagen, and while there was no big, binding agreement, most reports indicate that solid progress was made, and importantly, faith in the process was restored.

Kate Sheppard's recap on provides a great, quick review of the highlights and outcomes.

What's discouraging though, is that in the US no one really knows - or cares - that this process is happening and how important it is.  Below is a total bummer of a video showing a "people on the street" view in the country responsible for the vast vast majority of global emissions (particularly when you look at cumulative emissions over time, and the fact that most of China's emissions go to support stuff for us) are completely unaware of what's going on.

Vested interests here in the US (again, the location of the activities and demand for goods responsible for the vast majority of the world's emissions) continue to fight for the status quo and successfully confuse the issue to the point where it's no wonder most people don't get the information or just block it out.

Still, progress continues to be made and there are positive signs - the R20 initiative is mobilizing sub-national government action, the ACUPCC is demonstrating the higher education sector's leadership, is raising awareness and building an international grassroots movement, DeSmogBlog is uncovering the climate cover-up day-in and day-out to help people identify and see past the disinformation campaigns, the newly announced Open Climate Network will bring transparency to measuring nations' progress on climate action, ICLEI is helping local communities reduce emissions, RGGI has put a price on carbon in the Northeast, and much much more.

But it's all just early steps in terms of where we need to be to avoid the worst impacts of climate disruption and to weather the impacts that its already too late to avoid the best we can.  Staying up to speed on the policies and solutions, and continuing to diligently support all of the parts solution - large and small, from calling senators and signing petitions to installing LED lightbulbs and geothermal heat pumps - is critical if we're to be successful.

Stay going.

Monday, November 22, 2010

eARTh 350 kicks off

On Friday I wrote about the launch of eARTh 350.  Well, it's launched.  The AFP article below tells the story, and has been reposted on some 2,420 news sites and blogs, I just wanted to make it 2,421.  And show you some of the early pictures taken from the satellite:

350 Earth - Los Angeles

350 Earth - Santa Fe
350 Earth - Santa Domingo, DR
350 Earth - Mexico City
350 Earth - Delta Del Ebro, Spain

Art on planetary scale shines spotlight on climate change
LOS ANGELES — The first global art show on climate change kicked off this weekend, launching several symbolic performances seen from space that bring people and planet together to highlight the hazards of global warming.
From the US southwest to spots in countries like China, Egypt, India and Spain, thousands of volunteers were coming together for the weeklong photo-performance project that ends November 27, just ahead of UN climate talks in Cancun, Mexico.
Using human bodies as the main media, the show was organized by US environmentalist Bill McKibben and his 350 Earth advocacy group, whose name points to the number of parts per million that most scientists agree is an acceptable upper level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Currently, that level is about 390 parts per million.
The group brought the global project into focus Saturday in the United States and Spain.
In Santa Fe, New Mexico, more than 1,000 Girl Scouts and other residents holding blue posters crammed into a dry riverbed to form a human "flash flood" depicting where the Santa Fe River should be flowing.
"It's hot in here, there's too much carbon in the atmosphere!" the volunteers chanted.
At 10:53 am, participants flipped their cardboard posters to the blue side so a passing satellite could photograph them from orbit.
People also gathered in Delta Del Ebro, Spain to walk through a huge maze conceived by artist Jorge Rodriguez Gerada, while in New York a painting depicting the New York and New Jersey coastline after a seven-meter (23-foot) rise in sea levels was unveiled on a rooftop and photographed from space.
Thom Yorke, lead singer of rock supergroup Radiohead and an advocate of climate action, put a succinct message about the 350 Earth project on his band's website.
"The plan is to make images visible from the skies to remind those in Cancun that we are running out of time. We can't keep putting this off," Yorke wrote.
On Sunday thousands were gathering at a state park outside Los Angeles to form a giant image of an eagle taking flight over a field of solar panels, while on Monday in Mexico City, thousands of children will create a huge hurricane, with the number 350 depicted in the eye of the storm.
Mumbai will see schoolchildren group together in the shape of an elephant to represent the "elephant in the room" that is climate change.
In Australia, a torch display will form the number "350," in a warning about the risk of more wildfires if global warming is not halted.
And in Iceland, artists at the foot of a receding glacier plan to arrange red rescue tents in the shape of a giant polar bear.
McKibben acknowledged before the project that technical terms can be weak when it comes to inspiring people to change, but he was confident the images photographed from space would resonate with those who see them.
"One of the things I hope this achieves is to remind people that we live on a planet. Just like Venus and Mars, we are a hunk of rock out in space and our future depends on, among other things, the gaseous composition of our atmosphere," McKibben said.
The UN forum has made dismal progress toward a global deal to reduce harmful emissions, and McKibben said was he not optimistic about the Cancun talks.
"I think it is going to be a longer process than everyone has hoped."
Stay going. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

350 Earth Art

Climate art visible from space.  That's what's coming up next from the crew.  350 Earth will be the first art exhibit visible from space.

Based on the premise that the earth rise photo created an immediate shift in consciousness for humanity - providing a dramatic, visual reminder that we're indeed on a spaceship, and its the only one we've got.

Even if we didn't articulate it this way, it drove a visceral realization that we've got energy coming in from the sun, but materials don't come in and go out (aside from the odd meteor or satellite) - there is no "away" for poisons we create or pull out of the earth's crust (the basic premise behind Sustainability Principles 1 & 2); and that we can't continually use up or destroy the resources faster than they regenerate naturally (SP 3); and we've got to find basic ways to live together, respect each other and keep the social fabric from falling part (SP 4).

A new report from UC Berkeley shows that dire messages about climate change can backfire if presented too negatively - increasing skepticism and inaction.  It says people generally see the world as just (or want to believe it is) - and reject the idea that we would create an apocalyptic for ourselves and future generations.  We all know we're not 100% rational creatures.

As I write I'm listening to Wake Up - the new album from John Legend and the Roots the revisits classic songs that drove social movements in the '60s and '70s.  It's clear we need powerful art like that now.  It's a good thing we're getting it.

From November 20-28 artists and citizens at over a dozen locations will create massive art installations that satellites will photograph from space.

Bill McKibben, in many ways the voice of said "I think it's going to be very powerful. Art gets to people in ways that science doesn't."

The series of installations are timed to happen before the annual international climate negotiations - COP 16 - happening in Cancun, Mexico in early December.  Most people aren't expecting much to come out of these meetings.  Sometimes that's when things can happen.

Stay going.

Ban the Plastic Bag

Tough to go wrong with this beat:

Thanks to Green Sangha for creating the video.

Stay going...

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The face of climate disruption in 2010

A great video from NRDC gives a quick glimpse of some of the impacts of climate disruption this year, showing that this is not a "maybe" problem that we can deal with in the future:

Stay going.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Rural Hip Hop

Hip hop & organic farming... even if it is viral marketing, I can't resist...

Thanks to Climate Denial Crock of the Week where I found this one...

Stay going.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Prop 23 & Green Jobs

A friend sent me a recent Opinion piece from the Wall St. Journal titled "Prop 23 and the Green Jobs Myth" by T.J. Rodgers - founder and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, which acquired SunPower Corp - one of our country's largest solar companies - in 2003.

Image source: Solar Richmond,
In the piece, Rodgers supports the fossil-fuel industry-backed Prop 23 by essentially trying to tie it to California's economic troubles, and claiming it will hurt job growth.  I can appreciate the position that putting a direct price on pollution can look like an added cost, but I hold that it's correcting a market distortion - we are and will continue to pay the costs of extracting and burning fossil fuels whether we do so directly (by pricing carbon) or indirectly (through healthcare, destruction of personal property & infrastructure, loss of life, undermining ecosystem services, etc.).  

Image source: The 6th Extinction
Attempts to tie a direct line from AB 32 (California's climate change legislation) to the state's current economic woes are disingenuous. First, the law hasn't gone into effect yet.  Second, the initial targets of AB 32 are so easy to meet, that the costs will be more than offset by cost savings from efficiency upgrades and better processes.  I know Econ 101 tells us that business would already have realized all of those cost-savings if the potential was there, but businesses are run by people, and as we know people aren't always perfect - the vast majority of businesses have huge unrealized opportunities for cost-savings with little or no upfront investment.

For example, EDF's Climate Corps program hires MBA students to help big companies identify efficiency opportunities - this year 50 interns generated $350 million in savings for these companies. Starting to send the price signal to the correct source - which AB 32 will do, and which Prop 23 is trying to stop - will accelerate these efforts and further innovations to make our economy more efficient, more effective, and more competitive. 
At Cisco Systems, fellow Emily Reyna developed a plan
for installing energy-saving devices in R&D labs that
could save an estimated $8 million per year (with an
18-month payback) and reduce Cisco’s greenhouse
gas emissions by 3%. Source: EDF

I also disagree with the suggestion that the green jobs that AB 32 (and other policies like it) will promote, are a false promise.  I do think most reports on both sides of this topic require a lot of assumptions and aren't perfect.  Still, here's one that finds that policies that incentivize more efficient energy use -- it looks at the case of California, where energy efficiency policies from 1977-2007 created 1.5 million jobs while eliminating fewer than 25,000:  An overview of some other studies that show the expected job growth impacts of AB 32 is available in this Climate Progress post

In his piece, Rodgers talks about how SunPower moved manufacturing offshore because of the "high cost and red tape" of manufacturing in the US.  This opens up another whole conversation, but I think this rationale eludes the basic point -- labor's inexpensive in places like the Philippines and Malaysia (where their plants are) because wages and the general standard of living is very low.  That's obviously not what we want for California and Californian workers. More to the point, the piece only talks about the jobs manufacturing solar panels -- the real appeal of green jobs is that most of them can't be outsourced - the jobs installing and maintaining the solar panels (as well as financing the solar panels, weatherizing houses, lighting retrofits, installing green roofs, farming local foods, etc. etc.) 

SunPower's Malaysian fab plant.
Image source: EngineerLive
The piece also claims European subsidies that have helped support the market for renewable energy there have had a net-negative impact on jobs. Here is a White Paper from the National Renewable Energy Lab refuting the study cited to support this claim.  Much of the growth in the solar market (and presumably SunPower's revenue) over the past 5 years can be attributed to these policy structures of the major solar markets in Germany and Spain.  In 2003, when Cypress acquired SunPower it was losing money - outsourcing jobs likely had some impact in turning that around, but I'd wager a much stronger driver was the solar market exploding over that time -- due in no small part to these policies and Europe's cap & trade system, as well as the awareness building that hundreds of groups have done on the true costs and impacts of fossil fuels.

Of course, it's surprising to read a piece supporting Prop 23 authored by the Chair of solar company, as it's so clearly bad for the company's growth.  It reminds me of Tony Hayward who said when he took over BP: "We had too many people trying to save the world" ( -- he promptly went to work trying to turn that around, getting super-efficient in a traditional, linear sense, and cutting corners to disastrous effect. 

Here are a few of yesterday's headlines from Point Carbon, that covers the full-fledged carbon market that has been in effect in Europe for 5 years.  The second one makes a very flexible system even more flexible -- the companies impacted by this will likely make a lot more money than they currently are as a result.  The third one removes any legitimacy of trying to tag cap and trade as a "tax".  

  • Market praises California's cap-and-trade design Published: 29 Oct 2010 California's cap-and-trade system will spur investment in clean energy, market sources said.
  • California boosts offset limit in cap-and-trade system Published: 29 Oct 2010California emitters can use offsets to meet 8 per cent of their compliance obligation.
  • California to give away majority of allowances Published: 29 Oct 2010California will hand out most of its allowances at the start of its cap-and-trade programme.

Here's another good take on Proposition 23 from Thomas Friedman:

I respect Mr. Rodger's leadership of SunPower Corp, and hope he will come around and see how policies like AB 32 (or anything that puts a price on carbon) will help his company, and create jobs and improve efficiency and competitiveness.

Finally, the piece states: "While our state government frets over issues like... the habitat of the red-legged frog, our economy—the habitat of homo sapiens—is a disaster."  This brings up the most essential point. We need to really internalize the reality that the economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the biosphere.  The red-legged frog's habitat and our habitat are one and the same.  Without policies like AB 32 we will degrade that habitat to the point where it won't be able to support our civilization - and at that point it won't matter how many jobs we were or weren't able to create in the short-term.  Luckily, these policies will create jobs and create a whole new economy that is sustainable for the long term.

Californians, please vote "no" on Prop 23 on Tuesday.

Stay going. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Global Work Party

It's been a crazy couple of weeks - the 4th Annual Climate Leadership Summit of the ACUPCC was a great success a couple of weeks ago in Denver, and last week we had the opportunity to participate in an exciting milestone of Penn State's strategic sustainability planning process.  In both cases, high-level decision makers from our country's institutions of higher learning were coming together to essentially imagine themselves and their institutions in a sustainable future, and look back to 2010 to see what we had done to get there.

Bill McKibben performs a similar backcasting exercise in his latest piece in the Solutions journal - looking back from 2100 and recounting how the events of 2010 and 2011 started a real concerted push towards 350 ppm.  The Global Work Parties last month were a big help and inspiring - see the video below.

I think it's particularly important to share this video ahead of Tuesdays elections.  Here in the US we get a very slim and distorted slice of the real news - we forget the rest of the world is out there - and the discourse on climate disruption and solutions is very different than what's coming across in our political arena (like this campaign ad for West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin where he literally shoots the cap & trade bill with a rifle (and not because it's a free-market solution based on Republican principles) -

China, India, Europe, and the rest of the world are moving ahead with solutions, and we're risking missing the greatest economic opportunity, certainly since the Industrial Revolution, and possibly ever, by bowing to vested interests.  We've got to wake up and get moving towards a visions of a sustainable future.

Stay going.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Water & Waste

It's Blog Action Day again - and 2010 has a timely theme: water.|Start Petition 

It's a theme that was prominent at the 2010 Climate Leadership Summit of the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which took place this week in Denver.

Keynote speaker James Woolsey, former CIA director, focused his talk on the national security implications of our energy use (as well as the social and environmental implications).  Of course you can't have that conversation without talking about climate disruption and water.

During the business roundtable, moderated by ASU President Michael Crow, water was again a focal point.  Jonathan Lanciani, COO of Organica Water spoke about the need that companies like his have for sustainability-literate graduates.  He also spoke about the serious water challenges our world faces - 2.5 billion people live in "water stressed" areas, global demand continues to grow, and large parts of our energy system (including some clear renewables) are water-intensive.

Organica has an exciting approach - essentially taking the "living machine" concept and creating systems that are small, efficient, and suitable for urban and institutional use.  Waste water goes in the system, and comes out the other end clean, and ready for re-use as grey water (for toilets, irrigation, etc.)

Living organisms do the work - bacteria, microbes, plants, and animals eliminate the need for toxic chemicals and energy-instensive systems.   The systems are aesthetically pleasing, reminiscent of botanical gardens.  And they're odor-free, with upfront costs comparable to traditional systems, and lower operational costs for the life of the system.

Organica's system is just one example of how sustainability constraints can drive innovation - and how we can create economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for everyone by taking a proactive approach to moving towards sustainability.

Stay going.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Breathe Into Us A Spirit

by Emilie Oyen

Many years ago in New York City, I attended

a peculiar Sunday service at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The "largest church in Christendom," St. John the Divine is breathtaking even among New York City's towering skyscrapers. Peacocks wander around the sculptures of its yard; deceased artists and writers are buried in its crypts; famous tightrope walkers pay for residency there by plying their trade to change the high-up lightbulbs. It is a gorgeous, strange, ethereal and spiritual place.

The morning I attended, thousands of people were crammed into the pews. Hundreds of dogs, cats, parrots, iguanas, fish, chickens, snakes, sheep and geese were also crammed into the pews. It was 1994, and the feast of St. Francis of Assisi (celebrated yesterday), a day when animals are blessed in the spirit of this patron saint of animals and ecology.

Incense burned in pagan-esque clouds at the altar as the procession entered; hymns were sung; the lessons were read. And here we were, with God's creations commingling among the ritual of worship. Carl Sagan spoke that day too, though I don't remember his message. Once suspicious of religion due to its historical role in war, Sagan eventually realized that religious communities were allies on the subject of ecology. He is now buried at St James.

Despite the controlled chaos, the smell of the animals and the enormity of the gathering, peace and harmony held the congregation together. And so when the priest asked for quiet and calm, the great cathedral went silent. I held my breath as an elephant was led into the cathedral and swayed down the central aisle for his blessing.

This blew off the boundaries of church as I had experienced it growing up in a small New England town. I could see, for the first time, the true connection between earth and worship and God, and how it is all One.

Years later, I returned to St. John the Divine for An Interfaith Evening for the Climate with Bill McKibben. The speakers made it again clear: When we worship God, we worship creation; and people of all faiths have an obligation to this earth to protect it. The earth is God's creation, and we are God's stewards.

McKibben was concrete in how to act: Legislation is the answer and a campaign of civil disobedience from our religious tranditions is required. High officials of various traditions can use the value of language to have an immediate impact. The can use their sermons as a tool; congregations as a receptive audience.

Religion can also be a source for faith during the darker hours of fear and anger when working to protect the environment----to breathe into us again a spirit. "God's design is being abused," McKibben began. "But we can turn to the deepest part of our traditions to sustain ourselves."

To read more on subjects of Faith and the environment:

Friday, September 17, 2010

Stories of Meaning

When talking about taking a strategic approach to sustainability, among the most powerful tools we have are stories.  That may sound weird for a lot of people "strategic" brings to mind action plans, hard-nosed business decisions, grand plans in theaters of war - but really it just means you've started with the end in mind and you're being smart about moving towards your goal.  In our case, that goal is a sustainable society.

As we know, sustainability can be defined scientifically with four sustainability principles - three ecological principles to ensure we're not systematically undermining the very life-support system of which we are a part, and one social principle to ensure we're not systematically undermining people's capacity to meet their needs.  Right now our society is unsustainable, and with regard to social sustainability, that is evidenced through a deterioration in the social fabric globally.  (This piece talks about Gallup data showing America's declining trust in our institutions, and this graph shows it visually).

Stories of meaning are one of the most effective ways we can rebuild and strengthen the social fabric, and to remind ourselves that we're all in this together.  I often intend to use this blog as a venue for stories of meaning, and I usually fail to - spending more time on SSD theory or news or actions we can take.

Luckily there is Subhankar Banerjee who recently launched I've only read a little bit so far, but the stories and writing are great, and the concept is phenomenal.  I highly recommend checking it out.

Stories of meaning and building the social fabric are so key because at the end of the day sustainability is about people and working to ensure a high quality of life for as many of the people on the planet as possible and for as many future generations as possible.  To do this requires that we respect and live in harmony with all other living systems.  This point was brought home again to me today by a friend who sent me this article in Newsweek by George Will.  It references an piece by Robert Laughlin that has a correct (if obvious) thesis - the earth system has changed dramatically over geological time and will continue to do so, irregardless of if humans cause any big changes or not.

But Will's article interprets Laughlin's piece in an incredibly misleading way - insinuating that as a result of this fact, we shouldn't do anything about correcting our unsustainable path.  It takes advantage of the fact that the human brain has a tough time dealing with time - often one of the trickiest components of systems thinking for most people - and neglects to point out that all of human civilization has happened in the past 10,000 years - a time of relatively stable climate and a unique balance of ecosystem conditions with which humans have co-evolved.  Changing those conditions radically (by continuing to violate the first 3 sustainability principles) will not "hurt" the planet - but it will make the planet unlivable for human civilization.

Will's piece is the opposite of a story of meaning - it's a twisted story that sows doubt, breeds passivity, and encourages people not to think too much, worry to much, or act at all.  (It also includes this ridiculous statement as if it's a fact and a foregone conclusion:  "Someday, all the fossil fuels that used to be in the ground will be burned.") 

So don't spend much time on it - instead, cruise over to and get involved with strengthening the social fabric around the world.

Stay going.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Solar Road Trip

On this Tuesday night (Sept. 7, 2010), the Solar Road Trip will stop in Boston.  Second Nature has teamed up with Unity College,, Students for a Just and Stable Future, and others to help promote this exciting trip. 
Carter solar panels on the cafeteria of Unity College
(image source: huff-po)

Author Bill McKibben and a team of students from Unity College in Maine travel to Washington D.C. to deliver one of the original Carter panels to President Obama, asking him to reinstall solar on the White House, and to follow this symbolic gesture with substantial legislative action.

Second Nature President Tony Cortese will speak, along with Bill McKibben and other leaders, about the importance of taking action on climate and energy.  This should be a major press event, and a strong showing of supporters will go along way to raise the profile of these efforts – please join us on Tuesday night!

Here are the details of the event:

  • Date: Tuesday, September 7
  • Location: Old South Church, Copley Square, Boston
  • Schedule:
    • 5:30pm - Bicycle pedal-powered climate rock band, Melodeego
    • 6:00pm - Guest Speakers, including Bill McKibben (of, Tony Cortese (of, representatives from Students for a Just and Stable Future and Interfaith Power and Light
    • 7:00pm - Screening of "A Road Not Taken," new documentary that tells the story of the original Carter White House solar panel installation.
Please forward to anyone in the Boston area who might be interested.

And if you didn’t catch Bill McKibben on Letterman Tuesday night, watch the clip here.

Stay going.

Monday, August 02, 2010

The Glorious Mess

In this recent piece for Yale e360, Eric Pooley, deputy editor of Bloomberg BusinessWeek and author of The Climate War gives a great analysis of the current status of a national climate bill this year (near dead).

While the disastrous downsides of this failure to act are many, this quote sums up pretty well what we're looking at for next steps, and why it is about as far from a strategic and effective approach as we can get:

Welcome to the “glorious mess” — Michigan Rep. John Dingell’s phrase for the tangle of regulation and litigation that will follow when Congress fails to act. We are about to experience precisely the sort of costly, protracted, plant-by-plant trench warfare the cap was intended to avoid. Since the utilities and the manufacturers weren’t willing to cut a deal, this is what they get. The fragile period of compromise and cooperation between environmentalists and big business may now be coming to an end. Green groups that have invested time and money into the legislative process are now putting on their war paint and returning to the courts, with a renewed focus on stopping new coal-fired power plants and shutting down the oldest and dirtiest ones.

I remain hopeful that good sense will prevail, that we will be able to remove poisonous partisan politics from this issue and realize that this is one we're all in together, and we're way overdue in responding to.  My optimism also leads me to believe (or at least hope) that maybe the glorious mess won't be quite as messy as suggested above - the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, and the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) are getting more and more established, and looking into linking.  These states and provinces account for nearly 40% of US GHG emissions, and are taking important steps in internalizing more of the true costs of carbon emissions and driving the investments in better design, efficiency upgrades, and product innovation that will not only reduce emissions but also spark economic activity and create jobs.

State and regional precedent is important for federal policy, and now I expect NGOs, businesses, and local and state government to refocus energy on effective programs that will set that precedent while reducing emissions and creating jobs at the same time.

Sector-wide approaches continue to lay the ground work.  Hundreds of colleges and universities are demonstrating real leadership, educating students, driving research, eliminating their own emissions, and engaging with communities to create solutions.  Through the ACUPCC hundreds have publicly reported comprehensive climate action plans on how they will do this.  ICLEI continues to help municipalities ramp up progress, and the C40 Cities initiative has the world's most influential cities stepping up and trying to out-do each other in the most productive ways possible.

It's painful to dwell on the missed opportunity the Senate's inaction represents, but it's possible it will open up more unexpected opportunities that will enable us to avoid the worst impacts of climate disruption.

Stay going.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

C-Level Leadership

Leadership for sustainability is critical for maintaining and fostering a decent quality of life on this planet for as many of its inhabitants as possible.  This leadership needs to come from everywhere - citizens, government, business, religion, education, etc. - and from all levels - the boss, the workers, the students, the moms, the kids, etc.

The recently released McKinsey Global Survey on how companies are managing (or not managing) sustainability stresses the importance of active C-Level leadership in avoiding the risks and taking advantage of the opportunities that the sustainability challenge presents for every organization.  They state:
Companies where sustainability is a top item in their CEOs’ agendas are twice as likely as others to integrate sustainability into their companies’ business practices. This suggests that senior executives who want to reap the benefits of incorporating sustainability into their companies’ overall strategies must take an active role in the effort.

This is something we stress all the time in our work with college & university presidents through the ACUPCC - and a central theme of the Leading Profound Change (pdf) resource we developed with presidents and chancellors on how exactly to take an active leadership role in this process on an ongoing basis.

It's also why the lack of such leadership from the other "C-level" - Congress - is so disheartening.  I won't go into details on why, because others have done so more eloquently than I would be able to in recent days, but I would highly recommend taking the time to read the following:

In "We're Gonna Be Sorry" Friedman shares a story that ran in The China Daily the same day news that the Senate would not pursue a bill before the August recess was released, and that clearly shows how this inaction and lack of leadership is ceding power and moral authority to China (and undermining one Massachusetts Senator's rationale for inaction):
“BEIJING — The country is set to begin domestic carbon trading programs during its 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015) to help it meet its 2020 carbon intensity target. The decision was made at a closed-door meeting chaired by Xie Zhenhua, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission ... Putting a price on carbon is a crucial step for the country to employ the market to reduce its carbon emissions and genuinely shift to a low-carbon economy, industry analysts said.”

He also cites a hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham, who wrote:
Conspiracy theorists claim to believe that global warming is a carefully constructed hoax driven by scientists desperate for ... what? Being needled by nonscientific newspaper reports, by blogs and by right-wing politicians and think tanks? I have a much simpler but plausible ‘conspiracy theory’: the fossil energy companies, driven by the need to protect hundreds of billions of dollars of profits, encourage obfuscation of the inconvenient scientific results. I, for one, admire them for their P.R. skills, while wondering, as always: “Have they no grandchildren?”

Finally, in "What 7 Republicans Could Do" Friedman notes:
What if the G.O.P. said: We will support a carbon tax provided one-third of the revenue goes toward cutting corporate taxes, one-third toward cutting payroll taxes for every working American and one-third toward paying down the deficit. The G.O.P. would actually help us get a better energy policy.  Surely there are seven Republican senators who can see this. Aren’t there?

Hopefully there will be - this is the kind of thinking needed to get past partisan politics and implement smart policies that will benefit all of us.  But it is going to take a heavy push from all of us to encourage our Senators to see that and to actually take up a real charge on passing a climate bill this year after the August recess.

Stay going.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

40 Years & Obama's Chance

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) have created a quick video that brings home the point about how long we've been trying to break our addiction to oil and create systems that use much less energy, so our demand can be met by safe, clean, renewable, and sustainable sources of energy.

After 40 years we have what may very well be our last chance to put the policies in place that will make such a shift possible before irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption becomes unavoidable.  This will require great leadership from Obama, but also from each of us - call you Senators today and let them know you support strong climate legislation that helps to internalize the true costs of carbon and correct the artificial market distortion that makes fossil energy seem cheaper than it really is.  And sign EDF's petition calling for strong leadership from Obama to help make this happen.

Stay going.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Clean Energy & a Price on Carbon

Below is a new video from Repower America about boosting wind turbine manufacturing in the US.  With the debate in the Senate on climate legislation about to kick into full gear, now is the time to get to work.

Without strong legislation this year, there's a good chance we won't get it for a while - and we know to have any chance at avoiding really destructive climate disruption, we need global carbon emissions to peak by 2015.

That's not going to happen without leadership from the US in the form of meaningful correction to the price signals.  We can continue to keep the price of fossil fuels artificially low, but as we continue to find out in so many ways, we end up paying the true cost eventually, and it is much much higher, in the forms of oil spills, wars, Katrinas, droughts, floods, crop failures, and so on - all of which have huge real financial costs and unfathomable moral costs.

Here in the Commonwealth we're looking to Scott Brown to step up and take advantage of what amounts to a huge leadership opportunity to champion a bi-partisian bill, rise above the nonsense that this is a economy-destroying conspiracy, and make the case that this is a market-correction that needs to happen to ensure American competitiveness, create jobs, boost national defense, and most importantly give us half a chance at ensuring a livable planet for our children and grandchildren.  Sign Repower America's petition and give your Senators a call today.

Stay going. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Far and Endless Sea

“If you want to build a ship, then don’t drum up men to gather wood, give orders, and divide the work.  Rather, teach them to yearn for the far and endless sea.”
                                                                                                        — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Stay going. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Arising from the rubble

I think that there are good reasons to suggest that the modern age, the industrial era has ended.  Today many things indicate that we are going through a transitional period, when something is on the way out and something else is painfully being born.  It is as if something is crumbling, decaying and exhausting itself while something else still indistinct, is arising from the rubble.

                                                                                                                         - Valclav Havel

Stay going. 

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Power + Love

A couple of weeks ago we went to see Adam Kahane talk about his new book – Power and Love.  The talk and the book both helped shed light on aspects of leadership and social change that to some extent have not been explicit in our work.  I wouldn’t say we weren’t conscious of them already, but his depth of research and experience helped solidify our understanding and articulate the important interplay between power and love.

Kahane uses definitions of power and love from theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich:
Tillich defines power as “the drive of everything living to realize itself, with increasing intensity and extensity.”  So power in this sense is the drive to achieve one’s purpose, to get one’s job done, to grow.  He defines love as “the drive towards the unity of the separated.”  So love in this sense is the drive to reconnect and make whole that which has become or appears fragmented. (Power and Love, p. 2)

Central to the book is the idea that these conceptualizations of power and love both have two sides – a generative side and a degenerative side.  He looks to Martin Luther King, Jr. (whose doctoral studies focused on Tillich’s work): “Power without love is reckless and abusive,” King said, “and love without power is sentimental and anemic.” (Power and Love, p. 8). 

The point is we cannot choose power or love, we must choose both – generative love must come with power and generative power must come with love. 

The implications for sustainability work - for creating positive social change - are many and far-reaching.  Too often elements of the movement are dominated by degenerative power (e.g. obstructive regulation or heavy-handed guilt tactics), and probably more often, by degenerative love (e.g. “save the whales,” “think of the children,” “why can’t we all just get along?!?”).

We’ve always tried to avoid both in our work, and for me, that is at the heart of why Strategic Sustainable Development (SSD) is such a compelling approach.  It recognizes the complex current reality - with entrenched power structures led by dominate corporations and rich nations - and works to evolve it in ways that create a sustainable future as smoothly as possible.  It recognizes the power of our institutions, as well as the love necessary to foster cooperation, alignment and movement towards a sustainable future.  It employs a rigorous, scientific framework for what sustainability means, in conjunction with the tenants of organizational learning necessary to engage the leadership of all types of people needed to create a sustainable society.

The suite of examples from Kahane’s work with Shell, Generon, Reos, and SoL on projects all over the world - Peace and Reconciliation in South Africa, climate change in Canada, political stability in the Philippines, child nutrition in India, national visioning in Israel, and the Sustainable Food Lab across many countries - illustrate how complex challenges cannot be “solved” with any sort of prescription.  The ultimate of these challenges - the sustainability challenge - which embodies each of these and many more, is of course no exception. 

That is why SSD uses a principle-based definition of sustainability.  There is no roadmap or path to sustainability - the system is too complex with too many variables for us to know exactly what a sustainable future will look like. But we do understand enough about our system - humanity living the biosphere - to know what a sustainability society must be in principle; sort of a “true north” towards which we know we need to head before it is too late to avoid wholesale collapse of ecosystems and social systems.  In this sense, we don’t have a map, but we have a compass that can and must guide us in all of our personal and professional decisions.  In doing so, we create a sustainable future step by step.

Kahane credits fellow Reos Partner Jeff Barnum in pointing out that “creating something new in the world… requires us, not to plan it all out from the beginning, but rather to step forward, to act, to reflect on the results of our action, and then to take our next step”  (Power and Love, p. 136).  He also quotes peace activist Ana Teresa Bernal, with whom he worked in Columbia, and who said: “It’s like that poem of Antonio Machado: ‘Walker, there is no path.  The path is made by walking’” (Power and Love, p. 140).

I agree this is the only way to effectively lead in complex systems, and would add that having a compass for the “true north” of sustainability - not prescriptive specifics, but generic principles - is necessary for providing sufficient context and orientation for walking that path in as strategic and effective a way as possible. 

Stay going.