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Archive for October, 2008

Tonight, my mind’s shut. My heart too jumpy from the waiting. I feel like Larry David:

I can’t take much more of this. Two weeks six days to go, and I’m at the end of my rope. I can’t work. I can eat, but mostly standing up. I’m anxious all the time and taking it out on my ex-wife, which, ironically, I’m finding enjoyable my dogs, who keep tripping me when  I take them for their nightly walk. This is like waiting for the results of a biopsy. Actually, it’s worse. Biopsies only take a few days, maybe a week at the most, and if the biopsy comes back positive, there’s still a potential cure. With this, there’s no cure. The result is final. Like death.

SIx more days. And I shall come back to my former green obsessed self.

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I can’t quite remember what the ad was about – but I was struck by the images, and mostly what I felt watching. The outdoors, a person reaching out for a fruit, in a tree. My reaction was, sweet! . . . and boredom. It failed to grab me. I stopped to think, and wondered, is that how I feel, genuinely, with nature imbued narrative, usually? And my response was, yes . . . and maybe others are too?

Contrast this with the excitement from my friend, after he had just come from watching the Waste=Food documentary:

When I heard him talk about the Chinese story, and also Nike’s revolutionary process for making eco-friendly shoes, I wanted to learn more.

In the search for a more sustainable world, we humans may be more impressed by stories of  our own ingeniosity, than nature’s goodness. Technology, creativity, and news seem like a potent recipe for effective green communication, worth using over, and over again. Not so, bucolic scenes, and the romanticization of our natural world.

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It’s that time of the month again, and I am due for the Green Moms Blogging Carnival, this time over at Best of Mother Earth. I am supposed to write about gratitude, specifically three green things I am thankful for.

We behave with nature, the same way we might with a faithful lover, when we are forgetting how much we are being given, and how much our lives depends on such constant love. That’s the irony, we take nature for granted, because it’s so good to us, most of the time.

Take a few minutes and . . .

imagine a world without trees, and birds chirping in the trees, imagine the silence, and the scorching sun, and the absence of shade and coolness,

imagine a world without water, as in here:

imagine the air so polluted that you could no longer breathe freely, and would have to wear a mask 24/7, or stay indoors,

imagine . . .

While we may never know such extremes in our lifetime, we may get dangerously close, sooner than we think, if we don’t all change our ways.

Today, I am thankful for the trees, and the water, and the air.

How about you? What do you appreciate the most in nature?

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McKinsey just released a must read for green marketers. ‘Helping Green Products Grow‘ outlines five steps businesses need to take to sell green products successfully. Most of it is common sense. Still there were a few surprises, most notably in the area of consumers’ awareness of most concrete actions to reduce global warming:

These findings present enormous educational opportunities, not just for green marketers, but also for environmental educators, hoping to make a difference in greenhouse gas emissions. Bloggers, journalists, teachers, environmentalists need to turn up the volume on eating less beef, improving home insulation, and driving more fuel-efficient car, less often. These are all concrete actions that citizens can understand, and that also can help them save money, particularly during these hard economic times.  

Here are the five steps, with selected some highlights:

1. Educate consumers:

Because consumers are largely unaware of green products, a business that sells them must see itself first as an educator, not a sales machine. Our study shows that more than one-third of the consumers who want to help mitigate climate change don’t really know how . . .

2. Build better products:  

Consumers will not think better of green products until companies make them equal to, or better than, their conventional alternatives. It’s no surprise: most people value performance, reliability, and durability much more than ecological soundness. . . .

3. Be honest:

To rebuild public trust, companies must come clean about the true environmental impact of their products and their attempts to reduce it, and many will need to address historical concerns about specific products or operations . . .

4. Offer more:

Companies must ensure that consumers understand the financial and environmental returns on their investment in green products, for they are more willing to try new ones-especially those that cost more-when they find it easy to track the savings . . .

5. Bring products to the people:

Having decided to buy green products, many consumers encounter a last hurdle-finding them-either because manufacturers don’t keep up with demand or advertise where they can be bought, or because wholesalers and retailers don’t stock them or display them prominently. Biofuel enthusiasts, for example, must often drive out of their way to fill up . . .

I will end with my usual rant. Buying green stuff is good as long as it translates in net carbon reduction. Otherwise, we are all better off following the old conservation adage of, ‘reduce, re-use, recycle‘. 

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I just got a peak at William Becker‘s new book, ‘The 100 Day Action Plan to Save the Planet -  A Climate Crisis Solution for the 44th President‘.

William Becker is the Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project, a non-partisan initiative, based out of the University of Colorado School of Public Affairs. The Climate Action Project plans to deliver the plan to the next President right after the election. Here are the key parts of the plan:

  • Take early action by using the powers Congress already has delegated to the executive branch
  • Move rapidly away from investments that lock the nation into more long-term carbon emissions
  • Rebuild the federal government’s leadership capacity by restoring respect for science and bringing America’s best experts on energy and climate security into public service
  • Mobilize the marketplace to build a new twenty-first century economy
  • Launch and economy wide “clean energy surge”
  • Ensure that climate action is equitable and fair
  • Create an agenda for natural resource stewardship that responds to climate change
  • Help the nation adapt to the climate changes already underway
  • Redefine national security to include climate and energy security
  • Work with leading governors and mayors to create an intergovernmental action plan
  • Reengage the community of nations to find solutions to the climate and energy crises
  • Work closely with Congress to create additional laws and to fund the programs we need to effectively address energy and climate security

Broad strokes, that get broken down into hundreds of specific steps, in the book. This is serious stuff, and exactly the kind of thinking we need for the next four years. As pointed by William Becker in his introduction, we are running out of time, and action at all levels, starting at the top, is needed now.  In that respect, I find Barack Obama‘s recent answer to Time reporter Joe Klein, quite encouraging:

Finding the new driver of our economy is going to be critical. There is no better potential driver that pervades all aspects of our economy than a new energy economy … That’s going to be my No. 1 priority when I get into office, assuming obviously that we have done enough to just stabilize the immediate economic situation. We’ve got a boat with a lot of leaks, and we need to get it into port. That’s what the financial rescue package is about. But once we get it into port, once the credit markets are functioning effectively, then it’s time for us to go back to the fundamentals of this economy.

The big question of course is, how long before we get ‘it’ into port? Nature has been patient enough, and it cannot wait much longer, for us to take remedial actions.

Last, kudos to Martin’s Press for deciding to publish William Becker‘s book, electronically. That’s what I call walking the writing! You can order the book here.

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By now, I have become accustomed to the sight. Lots of men, and a few lost souls in skirts. I am referring to the various clean tech events I am fond of attending in the Bay Area. Green being a new field, you would think women would have seized the opportunity, quick. Last year, earth2tech had a hard time coming up with a list of The Top 10 Women in Cleantech. Nancy Floyd, founder and managing director of cleantech VC Nth Power, and the woman who made it to the top of the list, knows this firsthand:

Since founding Nth Power in 1993, she has sat on more than 15 boards — and only one of her fellow directors was a woman. When we asked her if she’s ever felt intimidated by the male dominance in the field, she first replied, “No,” and then added, “but I do over prepare.”

In the green blogosphere, the landscape is not that much different. Of the top 15 green blogs, according to Technorati authority rankings, only three are the creation of sisters. Jill Fehrenbacher, at Inhabitat. Rebecca Carter, at Ecorazzi. And Heather Stephenson, with Jennifer Boulden, at Ideal Bite.

I was hoping women would shine in green nonprofits. I am familiar with Frances Beinecke, the head of NRDC, and assumed, wrongly, that she was the norm. Based on a review of executive teams for  Charity Navigator‘s 10 best managed environmental nonprofits, only one, Sustainable Harvest International, is led by a woman, Florence Reed

It appears, that !8 million cracks in the glass ceiling are not enough. Never mind, we shall be like ants, patiently building a different world, one tiny green step at a time. 

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I got a sneak preview of Scientific American‘s Earth 3.0 special issue on ‘Solutions for Sustainable Progress’. Mostly great stuff, with the exception of one article, that prompted me to write this rebuttal.

In ‘Learning from the Internet’, Robert M. Metcalfe, venture capitalist and Internet pioneer,  expands on the dangerous idea that, 

I don’t think for a moment that we’re going to conserve our way out of the energy crisis. Internet history shows that prosperity depends on abundant bandwidth. Prosperity (gross domestic product, per capita) is proportional to energy use. We are not going to lower per capita consumptionof energy in the U.S. We are going to enable the rest of the world to be as prosperous by using not less but more energy. We need to make energy cheap, clean and therefore abundant – really abundant, for a really long time. 

Sounds familiar? This is the same kind of thinking endorsed in an earlier McKinsey study, and also to a lesser extent, by Al Gore in his Moon Shot Challenge speech.

Makes me mad. The average citizen is already confused enough. The last thing we need is more tenors in green tech and green biz to lull us into thinking that technology will get us out of our mess. Besides, I do not see what climate change has to do with the Internet. 

We need to get out of this pervasive either-or thinking. Energy conservation and new energy technologies are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they are meant to work together. One without the other will not work. It’s a matter of simple maths, and of mitigating our risks, in the unlikely event that technology does not deliver on all its promises. 

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I have been thinking, a lot, lately, about the difficulties surrounding green communication. And wondering why it has been so hard to engage citizens persuasively on critical issues such as climate change, or biodiversity loss, or deforestation, or the looming water crisis. It is a no brainer that the happy survival of our species depends on a timely resolution of those issues. Yet, we are taking action at snail pace, collectively. It occurred to me that we may be dealing with a problem of confusion of levels. Let’s take climate change for instance. 

While we are all concerned by climate change, the locus of action for that broad problem, does not lie in the individual citizen’s hands, but rather with executive entities that deal with global issues: international organizations such as the U.N., legislative and policy making agencies such as the Senate, and Congress, and the Presidential Cabinet, and environmental watchdogs such as NRDC, or the Sierra Club. 

As a citizen, I cannot control climate change, hence appeals to my conscience, and admonitions to take action, do little other than make me feel guilty, powerless, and frustrated. Instead, I want to be talked to in terms that I can relate to my normal, everyday life. Exercising my rights as a citizen and voting yes on new laws to mitigate climate change, yes. Participating in a New Deal on climate and energy, and joining the green work force, yes. Buying green products at no extra costs, why not? Reducing my energy consumption, to stretch my shrinking budget, absolutely. 

Of course, there are always exceptions. Individuals with a highly developed conscience, who are willing to take on the challenges of the world, and act as beacons of consciousness for the whole. These are a minority, however.  

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Today is Blog Action Day 2008, and we are all supposed to blog about poverty.

I could join the lament on the appalling world statistics, and flagellate myself for being so rich, and caring so little for all these  poor people in faraway lands. I could. What would it accomplish is the more important question?

Rather, I want to share the experience I had last year with Larissa, a nine year old girl who lives on the other side of the freeway. The other side is an euphemism for poor, crime-ridden, predominantly black and hispanic East Palo Alto, a town without sidewalks, and where I prefer to not venture at night. For a year, I was Larissa’s mentor. I had been warned to not set my hopes up too high. I wasn’t sure what that meant, and started dreaming about becoming Larissa’s second mom. Maybe we could even send her to college?

I did spend most of my Sundays with her. At first, six, seven hours at a time, going for walks, to the museum, the farmer’s market, the beach, shopping for shoes . . . Larissa was hungry for love and attention, and took everything I was willing to give her. She waited eagerly for our visits, and gave me the gift of her love, and her appreciation. I got involved with her school, far away in one of the wealthiest districts in our area, and soon started receiving emails from her teacher, asking me to help her with her homework. The only times I was willing and able to do so was during our Sunday times. I learned that Larissa had not done her homework for the last two years. Getting her to change became an uphill battle. Her mom was unwilling to help, and soon I felt, what’s the point? One day last Spring, Larissa announced that her mom was pregnant with her fifth child. The mom could hardly take care of her four children with three different fathers, all absent, and now she was about to have another one with a fourth father. This didn’t make sense to me. I shared Larissa’s excitement and kept my outrage to myself. With summer coming, I felt Larissa needed some times away from her crowded home, and a chance to play, and be in the outdoors. I signed her up for a one week away camp with the YMCA. She said her mom had plans to send her to another camp, and also to a day camp at the YMCA. I dropped Larissa off at the bus for her camp, and took off for my trip to Europe. When I came back three weeks later, I could not reach her. This had been a consistent problem, with her mom changing phone numbers every few weeks, and also moving from house to house several times in the course of the year. We were able to reconnect later in the summer. Her mom had lost the papers for the other camp, and had not bothered to  walk over to the local YMCA to register her for her day camp. I felt mad at her mom, for not taking these simple steps. Mad at the situation, for creating a culture of helplessness, and of fatherless children. Mad at a society, that’s making it almost impossible for a bright child like Larissa, to succeed. Since we met a year ago, Larissa’s gotten fat, and barely fits in size 8 adult clothes. There are no good grocery stores where she lives. She and her family live on white bread, peanut butter, junky cereals, and noodles. Their only access to food is a neighborhood store that’s overpriced, and poor in fruit and vegetable. Larissa has had her share of funerals. Her eighteen year old uncle got shot, and his body was found in the trunk of a burnt car. Her baby cousin died. That’s life in East Palo Alto.

Most difficult has been to witness my increasing discouragement, as time went on. The agency that matched us congratulated us for making it past the one year mark. Most mentors drop out after a few months. Still, I started with high hopes, and vision of a lifelong friendship. Now, I  keep in touch, but my enthusiasm is gone. I found that it is hard to fight an entire system.

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As I spend more and more time in green-dom, I realize there is not just a few, but many, many ways to become a green citizen. Problems arise when we are being forced into a one green-for-all carcan. These are some of the most common types I have observed so far:

  1. The extreme greenies, the ones that walk their talk, and some more. I talked about them last week in my post on ‘More Extreme Environmentalists Needed’. They are at the forefront of the green movement, have been for years, and will continue to be, as the need for higher green standards becomes more acute. 
  2. The green moms, who cannot get enough of green tips to keep their little ones safe and organic. Last night, some of the green moms in my group were celebrated in a big rahrah event in Washington DC. The green mamas are taking off!  All of a sudden, there are not enough of them to make the rounds of the networks. Who would have thought, even just a year ago?
  3. The green intellectuals, who spend their time thinking about strategic solutions to the big environmental problems facing us. They thrive on biodiversity loss, deforestation, climate change, overpopulation, peak oil, water crisis, . . . The bigger the issues, the better. 
  4. The clean tech crowd, many of them recovering software guys. They can be found at Cafe Coupa in Palo Alto, scheming their next green venture with their engineering friends, and old VC connections. Many of them are members of Cleantech for Obama
  5. The green political activists, who are into making sure the next green bill makes it to the floor, and gets signed. They work behind the scenes, are on a first name basis with their congressman and senator, and hassles their fellow citizens with numerous petitions. 
  6. The green media people, the bloggers like me, who spend a lot of their time, writing in their own blogs, or commenting on others’ blogs. Up in the stratosphere, are some stars, like Tom Friedman whose words carry so much weight, as in Hot, Flat and Crowded. The good news is, anyone can join. All it takes is a few minute to start a blog and write a post. No geekiness required. 
  7. The green scientists, a select bunch who determines what we should really be talking about. They have become the bearers of increasingly more bad news. No wonder, the Bush administration tried to shut them up. The path to green science-dom is a long and arduous one, but not without rewards. The cleantech types are loving them, and salivating over any new bit of research coming out of their labs. 
  8. The green watchdogs, most often found in non profit environmental agencies. Smart, and under-payed, they enjoy the privilege from being able to cause much grief to environmental offenders. Funding is still an issue though, and they are spending too much of their time chasing after dollars to keep their organizations afloat. 
  9. The green marketers, whose claim to green-ness is met with great suspicion on the part of the green watchdogs, and even ordinary citizens. They live in dread of the greenwashing word, and just want to do good while making a handsome profit. It ain’t easy, but they are getting better.
  10. The good green samaritans, who go about their green lives, without great fanfare, and with the satisfaction from knowing that they are just good. They can be found in unlikely places, in poor neighborhoods, where a single mom can surprise you with her green awareness, despite having to worry about so much more. Or a teenager whose green conscience stands out from his or her otherwise clueless family.

To each, his or her green-ness. What is yours?

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