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Posts Tagged ‘climate crisis’

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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Al Gore did a fabulous job yesterday, of nailing down the three key environmental challenges facing our country.

First, is the interdependence between climate crisis, economy, and national security.

And it just so happens that the climate crisis is intertwined with the other two great challenges facing our nation: reviving our economy and strengthening our national security. The solutions to all three require us to end our dependence on carbon-based fuels.

Second, is the need to use a multi solutions approach, not forgetting to include conservation in the mix -I would love to think that Al read my earlier criticism . . . :)

Instead of letting lobbyists and polluters control our destiny, we need to invest in American innovation. Almost a hundred years ago, Thomas Edison said, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” We already have everything we need to use the sun, the wind, geothermal power, conservation and efficiency to solve the climate crisis—everything, that is, except a president who inspires us to believe, “Yes we can.”

Third, is exposing the hold of the big oil and coal interests on the Republican party, and on the media, and the risk we run if we elect another Republican president.

So how did this no-brainer become a brain-twister? Because the carbon fuels industry—big oil and coal—have a 50-year lease on the Republican Party and they are drilling it for everything it’s worth. And this same industry has spent a half a billion dollars this year alone trying to convince the public they are actually solving the problem, when they are in fact making it worse every single day.

Well said, Al!

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Earlier this week, Erik Hershman, co-founder of Ushahidi, presented his project to our Stanford Peace 2.0 group.

Talk about exciting stuff! Ushahidi is a brilliant example of smart web and mobile technology put to the service of a very worthwhile social cause, in this case violence in Kenya. What enthralled me, was Erik’s announcement of the soon to be released, Ushahidi 2.0, ‘a free, open source version, rebuilt from the ground up that anyone will be able to use around the world’. Ushahidi just won the 2008 NetSquared Challenge

I can very well see having several Ushahidi sites, to cover various aspects of the climate  crisis, from food, to water, to natural disasters, to the witnessing of environmental deterioration. This way, citizens from all over the world can become live witnesses of the negative changes taking place in their environment, and get connected with the solutions to remedy these changes. 

Erik is also the guy behind Afrigadget, another project well worth checking out. 

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Al Gore premiered his brand-new slide show at the TED Conference earlier this year. The video just came out on YouTube. I could not contain my excitement as I listened to the whole 30′ of what I think is Al Gore’s best presentation to date. Passionate, inspiring, and loaded with crucial facts, not just about the global warming emergency, but also the state of the crowds.

Imagine ‘Planet Save Parties‘ all over the world showing this video. What do you think of the idea? I am going to approach the Al Gore people and see if I can get the video.

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I had the privilege to attend the last Stanford University Woods Institute for the Environment Energy Seminar, featuring Dan Reicher, Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives, for Google.org, the philanthropist arm of Google.

The folks at Google have a plan and it makes lots of sense. They have two major initiatives currently at work:

To develop Renewable Energy Cheaper Than Coal (RE<C): Create utility-scale electricity from clean renewable energy sources that is cheaper than electricity produced from coal. For RE<C to work, Google is betting on four arms: R&D, Investment, Policy, and Information Tools.

To accelerate the Commercialization of Plug-In Vehicles (RechargeIT): Seed innovation, demonstrate technology, inform the debate, and stimulate market demand to foster mass commercialization of plug-in vehicles.

Most striking in the Google plan, is its exclusive reliance on technology and policy, not unlike the recent McKinsey recommendations. At the end of his talk, I asked Dan Reicher if Google was considering any people driven initiatives? According to him, Google has just started looking into consumers’ behaviors and their impact on climate change.

In a way, Google‘s emphasis should be of no surprise. Google is a technology company, and they cannot tackle every possible angle of the problem. Instead they are focusing on their core competencies, engineering and technology. Google‘s top-down approach should be considered alongside bottom-up strategies such as David Holmgren‘s Permaculture Project, for instance.

For more on the Google approach to climate change, here is a video of Google.org‘s introductory course for Google employees. The session tackles global development, global health, and climate change, and explores how the three domain areas relate to each other. Well worth sitting for an hour. The bulk of the climate change lecture is towards the end:

Of course, I was particularly interested in the Information Tools aspect of the Google plan. Here is the list of all the Google tools that can be used to further the climate fight, as presented by Dan Reicher during his talk:

If you are not familiar with some of these tools, I urge you to play with them.

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I want to discuss the ‘peak oil‘ video, referred to by Kyle in his comment yesterday. ‘Cassandra Peak Oil’ was released in December 2007 and was viewed 19,814 times. Not bad for ‘peak oil’ . . .

Kyle thinks this is a great example of the smart use of sex to sell green stuff. Is it? While there is no denying that the sex part gets people’s attention, I had my doubts. After all, what is the relevance of sex to peak oil? I put Prad to the test and asked him.

Is she trying to distract me?’ was his first reaction. His overall assessment: ‘Most guys who watch it are hoping she will take it all off, so they keep on watching. It was effective. Guys especially would not turn it off. But it’s a bit gimmicky, and too sensationalist.’

I did a quick analysis of the comments on YouTube. Reactions to the video, were mostly positive, two to one versus negative comments. Most people felt Cassandra did an excellent at calling people’s attention, and that she was a ‘smart, hot chick‘. As one commenter put it, ‘SEVEN DEADLY SINS, right on!’ Now ex-governor Spitzer should know . . .

Green Porno‘ with Isabella Rossellini, then ‘Cassandra Peak Oil‘, what’s next?

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I just watched two short video clips of a recent talk from Al Gore at the American School in London. Very inspiring . . .

The first video explains why it is so difficult for us to sustain our awareness of global warming:

This is where a national advertising campaign with a thousand black balloons could help us remember.

The second video is a call for action from all the young people in the room and everywhere else:

A while back, I shared a drawing of myself exposing the disconnect I felt between my head and my heart. I love how Al Gore flips that problem around and turns it into an opportunity.

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Yesterday, Kyle sent me this mail:

I was youtubing it, enjoying my new broadband, and came across this interview snip with David Holmgren, founder of the “permaculture” project:


He’s talking about the future of suburbia, and is rather more optimistic than that bigot Kunstler. What I got out of it was that he expresses very well something I think, that we can’t be too hopeful about grand top-down plans – though he’s afraid of them, I’m not, I just think they’re not likely to happen – and he thinks positive change will come about from necessity. He presents it all as an “organic” process – by which he means a smooth and natural one, though of course organic processes are not always very neat and pleasant…

If you’re waiting around for government to do something, then things look pretty dark. If you’re looking for ways in which people can do things for themselves, then things look a bit brighter. So this is “green psychology” in that it’s a way of looking at the world which keeps you hopeful and focused. I’ve just seen quite a bit of loss of hope and frustration in the blogosphere lately, and seen it in your posts, too.

Kyle is right, I have been feeling a bit down lately, and frustrated, regarding the apparent lack of action. Nothing depresses more than driving on the freeway at peak hours, and being a part of this seemingly endless flow of CO2 spewing machines. I want someone to step in, and say stop. My fantasy of a conductor is going nowhere however. Not even Obama comes close, when I listen to him speak and propose his timid plan for cooling the planet. Don’t get me wrong, I know the man has to think about politics, and getting elected, and pushing only as far as the crowd will allow.

While watching the David Holmgren‘s video, what struck me most was not so much what he had to say, as how he delivered his message. No rush, no fear, no need to control. Instead, calm assurance that events will lead us back to where we need to be again, and that individuals will naturally organize towards increased energy efficiency strategies. As somebody who is informed about the perils of climate change, I have found it hard to withstand the tension from not having an immediate, quick fix solution. David Holmgren is reminding us that the straight path may not be the way to go here.

I also connected with Homgren‘s emphasis on ‘retrofitting‘. Many proposed solutions to global warming, jump to the creation of new infrastructures, new cars, new cities, new houses, new gadgets. Our throwaway culture has found its way in the climate fight. Less sexy, but a lot more sustainable, is the notion of retrofitting existing environments to enable a carbon neutral lifestyle. Maybe now is the time to make ours the 4R’s:

‘Reduce-Reuse-Recycle-Retrofit‘.

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In one of his articles in the WorldChanging blog, Alex Steffen raises the question: ‘Who Will Tell the People? And How?

There’s enormous pressure here in the U.S. on environmental groups, scientists and public officials; pressure to play ball, to support targets that are politically safe, to be moderate. But this is not a situation where such gamesmanship will help our cause. Incremental and limited gains in this situation are in fact disastrous losses.

At the same time, we need to talk with people where they’re at on the issue, not where we wish they were. Somehow we need, in the next couple years, to guide millions of Americans through the progress of emotions — awareness, horror, despair, resignation, engagement, chosen optimism — that most of the people reading this site have gone through… and we have to do it in the next few years.

People are not really ready for this, but we’re not in a position to let that stop us. I’m not sure it’s too much of an overstatement to say that what’s needed is not just some issue education but a national mind-blowing.

I share Alex Steffen‘s frustration and his sense of urgency also. The media and the powers in charge have been tiptoeing around the reality at hand. I keep reading reports about 20 or 30% reduction goals for greenhouse gases in the next decades. Theses reports lead us to believe that things are not so bad after all, and smart technology alone should be able to get us out of our mess. Whose responsibility is it then to deliver the bitter pill of 90% reduction? And what are the strategies to make sure it has the desired effect on Americans’ behaviors?

To the question of who?, one obvious answer involves the media. Andrew Revkin‘s post on DotEarth yesterday, ‘Do the Media Fail to Give Climate its Due?‘, generated quite a lively discussion with the usual cast of characters: naysayers still, moderates, and radicals also. The reason the media have such an important role to play is as educators, and influencers of the crowds, so that the people will be ready to support the drastic emissions reduction policies that are to become an inevitable part of the political future. The objective is for the Most Inconvenient Truth I brought up earlier, to no longer hold.

Alex Steffen alludes to the time element of the process involved in bringing the public around. From personal experience, I can attest to the time lag, between initial exposure to the facts, and actual conversion. From the time when I attended Al Gore‘s presentation of An Inconvenient Truth, back in December 2005 – the first schock to my oblivious brain -, to the time when I finally became willing to make changes in my lifestyle, a good two years passed. Steven Running‘s Climate Grief model is most useful in that respect.

We then need to look at what is meant by the media. Sure, the New York Times, and other national publications, and TV stations have to play their part, but the advertising media should be considered as well. I have been pushing for a large scale, climate fight awareness advertising campaign. Al Gore, of all people should be the one spearheading such an effort. I hear his new book, ‘The Path to Survival‘ will be released next month. That’s good, and it’s not enough. Any good marketer will tell you that PR and the press can only generate so much awareness and persuasion. At some point, one needs to consider taking out the big guns, in this case, advertising. Ask all the presidential candidates!

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Gary Peters was first introduced to me by Jeff Huggins. Since then, I have had the opportunity to read Gary’s comments on DotEarth, and to appreciate his perspective as a geography expert, and someone with informed views about the complex issues facing our planet, including climate change and an exploding world population. For many years, Gary taught geography in the California State University system, first at Long Beach, and then at Chico. He has authored or co-authored ten books, including textbooks on population geography and the geography of California. I asked Gary to share some of his thoughts with us:

Testifying at a meeting of the U. S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works on March 21, 2007, Vice President Al Gore described global warming as “A true planetary emergency”. Neither I nor a majority of Americans agree with that, though I do not for a minute deny that Earth has been warming up.

I do agree, however, with Richard Heinberg, who wrote recently that “It’s not just climate change that threatens us, but depletion of resources including oil, natural gas, coal, fresh water, fish, topsoil, and minerals (ranging from antimony to zinc, and including, significantly, uranium; as well as destruction of habitat and accelerating biodiversity loss–which is exacerbated by climate change, but is also happening for other anthropogenic reasons. In essence, there are just too many of us using too much too fast.

“I would like to offer some perspective on how we have gotten to this point and what it might mean for our future, though I agree with Nassim Taleb that we are incapable of actually predicting the future. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that modern humans, Homo sapiens, can be traced back to an African origin around 160,000 years ago.

For most of those 160,000 years our ancestors lived in small groups as hunters and gatherers. Life expectancies were short and populations grew only very slowly. About 10,000 years ago humans started to practice rudimentary agriculture, mainly because global warming was already occurring as the most recent Ice Age was ending. As Jack Weatherford noted, “Around the world, humans seem to have switched from foraging to farming because of the whole set of changes produced by global warming.” Agriculture increased Earth’s carrying capacity for humans, and as crops and domesticated animals were improved and diffused around the world, population growth accelerated somewhat, but it was still, by modern standards, slow, and it was also sporadic. Populations grew when times were good, then declined when times were bad. Famines, diseases, and wars would take heavy tolls from time to time.By about one thousand years ago the human population had only grown to around 300 million, give or take perhaps 50 million. That is about the current population of the United States, but it represented the end result of 159,000 years of human population growth. Slow growth continued until the Industrial Revolution, which began in the 18th century, raised Earth’s carrying capacity again and set in motion a period of modern population growth that continues today, though at a rate that has slowed considerably from that in the late 1960s.

Around 1830, after 159,830 years, the human population reached its first billion. Since then, however, our growth has been unprecedented. During the 20th century the world’s population nearly quadrupled, from 1.6 to 6.1 billion, and since 2000 we’ve added another half billion or so to planet Earth, bringing our numbers to around 6.63 billion. Currently, we add close to another 80 million people each year.

We might describe this sudden and vast increase in human numbers as “irrational exuberance.” After tens of thousands of years, we suddenly, in less than two centuries, have increased our numbers more than six-fold. As Russell Hopfenberg (among others) has noted, “Increases in the population of the human species, like increases in all other species, is a function of increases in food availability.” As Descartes could have noted, “I eat, therefore I am.”

This rapid growth in our population could only have occurred with a vast and rapid improvement in productivity in agriculture. In turn those productivity increases have come almost entirely from our use of fossil fuels, primarily petroleum. If you looked at graphs of population growth and crude oil production side by side over the last 200 years, you would see enough similarity to convince you that it is not coincidence.

Our rapidly expanding numbers and use of fossil fuels have brought us to where we are today, and leave us wondering about the future. Even as we’ve substantially increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, including CO2 and CH4, we seem to have reached a broader threshold. Global warming; acidification of the oceans; overfishing; fresh water scarcity; accelerated species extinctions; disappearing wetlands, tropical forests, and other habitats; the growing possibility that we are at or close to a peak in world crude oil production–these may all be signs that humans have now reached or exceeded Earth’s carrying capacity for our species. As eminent ecologist Garrett Hardin warned us, “The universe may or may not be infinite, but prudence demands that we assume that the portion practically available to humankind is finite.” Iconoclastic economist Kenneth Boulding put it this way, “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” It may be time to see that our numbers, combined with our expanding affluence and constant need to consume more of everything, have become Earth’s real problem.

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