Friday, November 30, 2012

The Mountain School: Our Place

Check out this great promo video for The Mountain School -- and pass it on to any high school sophomores you might know...

Stay going.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Education for the New Normal

NASA Satellite Image (NASA/Getty Images)
If there’s a silver lining to be found on the massive cloud that covered the better part of the eastern US last month, it’s this: people are talking seriously about real risks of climate change. 

From provocative headlines (“It’s Global Warming, Stupid”, Bloomberg Businessweek) to carefully selecting language and asking the right questions (“On Hurricanes…”, Dot Earth) — people are talking about climate change in ways we haven’t seen before.

For whatever reasons, Katrina, Ike, Snowpocalypse, Irene, the wildfires, the droughts, the warmest month on record — and the many other extreme weather events of recent years — failed to get people to really connect the dots between extreme weather and climate change.   

Thoughtful experts are having important conversations about whether climate change caused Sandy, or strengthened Sandy, or made Sandy more likely, or had anything to do with Sandy. But everyone seems to finally agree that we need to be prepared for more extreme events like Sandy. 

I believe the “super storm” — with its implications for presidential politics — will serve to condense the disparate events of recent years into a popular awareness that we are in a “New Normal” regarding the climate. The images of submerged New Jersey neighborhoods, exploding power plants, vehicles floating down Manhattan avenues will change our country’s collective consciousness for good.  Rising oceans will no longer be punch lines.

As we assess the damage to people in our communities, our infrastructure, and our economy, we will have the opportunity to reassess how we prepare for the impacts of climate change.  Whose responsibility is it to make sure we’re ready? Most probably think government, community groups, and maybe business should take this on.

But leadership from another sector — higher education — is also critical.

We know the importance of emergency preparedness: anticipating the risks, alerting people, and evacuating vulnerable areas. We know we need comprehensive and effective response plans. We will need to put up seawalls, restore natural barriers, and simply abandon certain parts of the coast.  This recent TED talk by Vicki Arroyo, Executive Director of the Georgetown Climate Center, provides a good overview of these and other climate adaptation strategies.

We also need to make some more fundamental shifts in how we design our communities, generate energy, produce and transport goods, and generally go about meeting our needs.

Colleges and universities have a unique responsibility in preparing society for this New Normal.  In many ways, they are already fulfilling that role, particularly when it comes to reducing climate change pollution. More than 660 colleges are actively participating in the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). They are publicly reporting progress on climate action plans; providing education, research, and community engagement on climate; and pursuing net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from campus operations. Together they represent over 6 million students, offer 10,000 sustainability-related courses, and have avoided 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (reducing emissions 25% on average) in the past five years. 

With regard to climate adaptation, much of the research that helps us understand climate change impacts, and strategies for dealing with them, comes from our country’s universities.  There are early signs that climate preparedness is making its way into the classroom, and some instances of campus-community collaboration around implementing adaptation strategies.

Last year, I facilitated a group of higher education leaders, scientists, and sustainability experts, in developing Higher Education’s Role in Adapting to a Changing Climate.  The report provides an overview of trends in the sector and some exciting examples of what’s happening individual campuses.  But the group concluded that higher education institutions “as a whole, have not focused on adaptation sufficiently to date.”

In addition to more research, colleges and universities have opportunities to experiment and role-model solutions on their campuses, and partner with local communities to implement successful strategies more broadly.  Perhaps most importantly, they have the opportunity — and responsibility ­— to ensure that all graduates, from all disciplines, understand the climate challenge and are prepared to lead society through it.

Weather they become politicians or office administrators, architects or CEOs, artists or engineers; all citizens need to understand our new climate. And they must be prepared to minimize the drivers of further climate change, while creating safer communities and more resilient economies.

Stay going. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

10 Steps To Transform Capitalism

Check out this quick list from John Elkington and Charmian Love: 10 Steps To Transform Capitalism with some good video clips from the Breakthrough Capitalism Forum.

Thanks to MSLS friend & colleague Molly Doyle for passing this one along with a condensed summary:

"You want change? Time to collapse your easy but misleading dualisms, the stark blacks and whites, and see the world as it is: Complex and dynamic. This is not easy work and there are no silver bullets. System change on your own is an oxymoron- don't isolate yourself. Understanding networks can be your biggest strength. Use maps to identify critical pressure points in the relevant systems. And in mapping, don't let media coverage warp- tomorrow's economic leaders currently operate far from today's spotlight. It's time to be mega-ambitious. Start projects so huge that their results are beyond your lifetime. This is not about an infusion of new thought into an existing system, it’s a fundamental redesign."

Stay going.

Monday, November 19, 2012

What's going on... a quick news round-up

There has been a lot happening related to sustainability recently, particularly around climate. Of course, Sandy's devastation has people talking.

Here are a few highlights of articles and reports from the last couple of weeks that are of particular interest:

1) Investor Jeremy Grantham's opinion piece in Nature urges climate scientists to be more aggressive: "Be Persuasive. Be Brave. Be Arrested (if necessary)"
    • Commodities prices have reversed their downward trend of the 20th century, rising dramatically over the past ten years. 
    • Climate change exacerbates these trends, particularly around food prices, which is particularly dangerous in light of the pending shortages of potassium and phosphorous fertilizers. 
    • "We need oil producers to leave 80% of proven reserves untapped to achieve a stable climate." 
    • "This is not only the crisis of your lives — it is also the crisis of our species’ existence."

2) World Bank Report: "Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4 degree C Warmer World Must be Avoided"
    • Warns the world is on track to a “4°C world” marked by extreme heat-waves and life-threatening sea level rise.
    • Bank eyes increased support for adaptation, mitigation, inclusive green growth and climate-smart development.
From WB president (and former Dartmouth College president) Jim Kim: "Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today. Climate change is one of the single biggest challenges facing development, and we need to assume the moral responsibility to take action on behalf of future generations, especially the poorest."

3) International Energy Agency: World Energy Outlook 2012
    • US could be energy independent by 2035 according to the report's central scenario (I've seen a few analysts question this conclusion). 
    • Global fossil fuel subsidies reached $523 Billion in 2011.
    • A carbon price of $120 is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate disruption. 

4) Obama made waves with comments at his first post-election press conference that could be interpreted as "climate action vs. jobs."
    • President Obama: "I think the American people right now have been so focused and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth that, you know, if the message is somehow we're going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don't think anybody's going to go for that."
    • Bill Becker of the Presidential Climate Action Project wrote a good piece about a report from the Center for Climate Strategies showing that climate action can support economic activity and jobs.

5) 350's "Do The Math" tour has been moving around the country, getting people engaged city by city.
    • The numbers: we need to keep global average temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees. That means we can only release 565 more gigatons (at most) into the atmosphere. there are 2,795 gigatons in reserves - we can't burn it all. (see Grantham's point that we need to leave 80% of reserves in the ground) 
    • On Nov. 18 Protesters went to the White House opposing the Keystone XL Pipeline.
    • Part of the tour is focused on getting university endowments (and other institutional investors) to divest from fossil fuels.  Unity College's Board approved divestment and 72% of Harvard students voted in support of divestment

Stay going.