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Archive for April, 2008

First was this picture in the San Francisco Chronicle, of a ‘Pray-in at San Francisco gas station asks God to lower prices’. I almost choked!

Then came Hillary Clinton and John McCain‘s joint request for a “gas tax holiday“:

Hillary will impose a windfall profits tax on oil companies and use the money to temporarily suspend the 18.4 cent per gallon federal gas tax and the 24.4 cent per gallon diesel tax during the upcoming peak summer driving months.

I understand Hillary is trying really hard to get elected, but still . . .

I have to join Thomas Friedman in his ‘Dumb as we wanna be‘ lament:

The McCain-Clinton proposal is a reminder to me that the biggest energy crisis we have in our country today is the energy to be serious – the energy to do big things in a sustained, focused and intelligent way. We are in the midst of a national political brownout.

At the roots of this environmental policy fiasco is a lack of understanding of some basic economics principles, and malicious efforts on the part of politicians to appeal to the crowds’ dumbness. Maybe someone should take the time to explain, in plain English, why artificially lowering gas prices is not such a good idea. Robert Reich summarized it best:

McCain and HRC are proposing a tax holiday on gas – so this summer you wouldn’t pay the 18 cents a gallon that would otherwise go to Uncle Sam. Talk about dumb ideas. This will only encourage Americans to drive more, thereby increasing demand and causing gas prices to rise even higher. Driving more will also put more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which fuels global warming. And this will cost taxpayers some $10 billion. It’s a cheap political gimmick that does nothing to stem the rising price of oil.

Someone needs to sit down with Americans, and treat them as intelligent people, and explain how things really work. The answer is not in lowering gas prices. The real solution is in conservation, and learning new ways to deal with gas, as in carpooling, driving less, biking, walking, taking public transportation, shopping less, better planning, living more locally, buying more fuel efficient cars, etc.

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The folks at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence think they have a better way to organize the creation and consumption of content around complex topics such as global warming. Their new Collaboratorium project aims to fix what they perceive as wrong with current Web collaboration tools such as forums, blogs, emails, IM, and wikis.

It is one thing to create a tool and to throw it out into cyberspace. It is another to get people to use it. As I listened to the video, I asked myself, is the Collaboratorium a place I would choose, to write, comment, and read about climate change solutions? My response is mixed. While I share some of Dr. Klein’s frustrations with the status quo, I am not sure I agree with his solution.

One of the beauty of blogging is the immediacy and creativity that comes with it. Same with wikis. It is precisely because of their loose and imperfect nature, that these tools are so effective. One understandable reaction to such haphazard creation, is a need to control the process. This brings up an interesting tension, that may be best resolved with the offering of a broader range of tools, including other structured collaborative sites besides Wikipedia. Whether Collaboratorium fills that void, only the future will tell . . .

I am curious to hear your thoughts!

Related story: Climate and the web electronic democracy on steroids

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It is happening finally. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, ‘Dollar’s Fall Forces New Standard of Frugality‘ amidst Americans. I could not be more pleased. ‘Squeezed by food and energy prices, tight credit, stagnant incomes and falling home and stock values, many consumers are throttling back.’

‘Ins and Outs of New Economic Order’

Source: Chronicle research, BudgetSavvyMag.com

What puzzles me however, are the responses from the economists:

We are going back to the good old days of living within our means . . . This is not the end of the world. It’s not Armageddon. It doesn’t mean we’re going to have to live in a cave or a hut or an RV. The areas of retrenchment are in areas we can do without, such as cutting out that extra vacation.’ David Rosenberg chief North American economist for Merrill Lynch

‘We are seeing the first pangs of a new economic structure. The next year or three will be about the transition to a new equilibrium. Consumption by households will grow more slowly than their incomes, which is the exact opposite of the last 25 years when consumption grew faster than incomes.’ Neal Soss, chief economist for Credit Suisse First Boston

‘Standards of consumption have to fall. The burden really falls on households.’ Ronald McKinnon, economist at Stanford University

‘The world has become multipolar. Our dominance will decline.’ Barry Eichengren, international economics expert at UC Berkeley

‘We should not look at today’s rising of credit standards as being bad. We’re returning to a more realistic credit paradigm after a period of excess. What people are comparing it to is something that was outlandishly unrealistic.’ Catherine Mann, professor of international economics and finance at Brandeis Business School

‘I see no reason that we can’t continue to enjoy productivity gains and double the standard of living in the next 30 or 40 years. I still sense that there’s lots of excitement for things like solving our clean echnology problem. I don’t see a country that’s down on its luck and out of ideas.’ Joen Shoven, director of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research

You would think these new behaviors from the American people would be the perfect occasion for a paradigm shift in the economics narrative, but no . . .

Being an optimist, I am choosing to retain the good news. People do respond to limits. And in its own twisted way, the market system does work, including for climate protection.

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Tonight I am feeling impatient, and tired of ‘just’ writing. I want to step into action, and shake things up. This is a recurrent feeling I have. How can I best help bring about some of the changes that we keep discussing and advocating in this blog?

Tonight, I am feeling powerless, and I don’t like it. Earlier today, I drove my daughter to see a ballet at the San Francisco Opera, and I got mad again. My head went spinning as we stayed stuck in traffic on the 101 freeway. Nothing has changed. The traffic is still congested, and every second that passes we are sending out more tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Tonight, I am feeling restless. I want to grab one little piece of the big monster, and start gnawing at it. Then comes the question of where to start? It seems that short of getting involved in policy making, nothing I can do will make much difference. I wonder how many people feel the same way.

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As of late, Gallup has been a great source of important climate related behavioral data. Here is the third survey in the series, this time taking a look at differences between top polluting nations:


These are global numbers. Equally relevant are per capita footprints – latest, 2006 data from Footprint Network:

United States 9.6

China 1.6 (and growing quickly)

Russia 4.4

Japan 4.4

India 0.8 (also growing)

Japan and the US have done a good job at educating the public. China, and even more so India have done a poor job. In both of these countries, one should consider helping with educational efforts, particularly as consumption, and the risk of associated environmental damage, are growing exponentially.

Differences in education, infrastructure, access to resources such as water, and wealth, have a direct impact on citizens’ behavior:

My main take away: people are a product of their environment. Change the environment, and you will get different behaviors. Make it hard for people to access resources as in India with water for instance, and they will use less. Give them the right infrastructure, as in recycling in Japan or the US, and they will follow.

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Want to bike or drive?‘” Prad was testing my green-ness once more. For a moment, I wavered. The easy way with the car tempting me. And the pressure to get to the gym quick, so that I could get back to my day of work. “It won’t take us much more time. And it’s sixty four degrees outside.” Prad was making a convincing argument. Plus the feeling from Robert Redford‘s talk the night before was still fresh. “ok, let’s bike!“.

That was two days ago. Since then, I have noticed I have been using my bike more and more, did not even drive once yesterday. And today, I returned to the gym, alone this time, and on my bike. It felt good . . . I am starting to look at the people in their cars differently. I am joining the bike folks. I am feeling a shift. Not unlike what happened with shopping a few months ago.

One year of sustained attention and conversations with people like you, and a final nudge from Robert Redford, that’s what it took.

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You would think we live in Galileo‘s times again. The Union of Concerned Scientists just released a study exposing widespread manipulation of scientific findings and intimidation of EPA scientists by the Bush administration. Among the UCS report’s top findings:

- 889 scientists (60 percent) said they had personally experienced at least one instance of political interference in their work over the last five years.

- 394 scientists (31 percent) personally experienced frequent or occasional “statements by EPA officials that misrepresent scientists’ findings.”

- 285 scientists (22 percent) said they frequently or occasionally personally experienced “selective or incomplete use of data to justify a specific regulatory outcome.”

- 224 scientists (17 percent) said they had been “directed to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information from an EPA scientific document.”

- Of the 969 agency veterans with more than 10 years of EPA experience, 409 scientists (43 percent) said interference has occurred more often in the past five years than in the previous five-year period. Only 43 scientists (4 percent) said interference occurred less often.

- Hundreds of scientists reported being unable to openly express concerns about the EPA’s work without fear of retaliation; 492 (31 percent) felt they could not speak candidly within the agency and 382 (24 percent) felt they could not do so outside the agency.

For more, click here.

Thanks to Mary Hunt, and Daily Green for bringing this to my attention.

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Another recent Gallup survey completes and confirms what we already know from the other Gallup survey and other research.

  • There is a core group of people, about 30% who are deeply committed to making environmental changes. As Kyle emphasized in one of his earlier comments here, these are the people we need to work with. They can be evangelists for sustainable living.

  • The environment is a significant concern, but one that comes behind more personal and immediate concerns such as the economy, health care, energy, crime, social security, and drug use. One could say that energy concerns are directly related to the environment, and that from a systemic point of view, other issues are connected as well:

  • Recycling comes out on top, again. Probably the only green habit that is supported with widespread infrastructure and easy, no cost solutions. Let us take note and imagine how the same can be done in the other areas.

  • Last, this particular survey gets into demographics, and confirms prior research. Women are leading the way of the green revolution, and so are the people with more democrat leanings. Mary and Diane, the women part should please you!

I don’t know about you, but this leaves me with a sense of increased clarity, and hope for what can and needs to be done next.

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All the Earth Day circus put me in no mood to celebrate. Still, last night I attended an Earth Day event, sponsored by E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), two organizations that I am very proud to support. Robert Redford was the main speaker. He was one of my idols, growing up, and I did not want to miss a chance to meet the man in person. Mr. Redford did not disappoint me. I came out of the evening with a renewed sense of commitment, and wishing that more people could have heard him live. Here is a video of a similar talk that he gave for the Apollo Project:

During his Earth Day speech, Robert Redford emphasized again the power of optimism, and of dwelling on opportunities and solutions. ‘America doesn’t do well with doom and gloom. Let’s get off how bad it is. Let’s get on with what can be done.‘ Robert Redford’s new push is on water and the need for quick solutions to the unfolding worldwide water shortage. For those of you also interested in water, click here.

Robert Redford is the perfect eco-hero, someone with the power to inspire through his example, and who has walked his talk for forty years. I can’t help but compare him with Al Gore. Although I am a big fan of Al, my response to his discourse is very different. Al Gore appeals to my intellect. Robert Redford grabs my heart and inspires my whole being to go further and to act.

The power of example.

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To all of you who are contributing to the La Marguerite blog, you should be proud. La Marguerite was just listed as one of the “Ten Eco Blogs for Earth Day” by the London Times Online:

I am going to add a few of these blogs on my blogroll . . .

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