Archives For global warming

Despite the societal progress that some measures of sustainability have made over the past decade, to a certain piece of the populace the message still falls on deaf ears–perhaps now more than ever. Not long ago a poll by the Washington Post revealed that a rising group of sympathetic perspectives was countered by the core resistance being even more entrenched. The voice of the advocates, having long since drifted into desperation, has tried the approaches of educating,  illuminating, protesting, pleading, scolding and denouncing. At this point, the tactic is in need of its next stage of evolution. In order to pierce through generations of cultural norms and social constructs, the migration towards sustainability needs to be discussed in a different dialect that focuses less on blame and more on solutions. Continue Reading…

Advocates for pressing new measures on sustainability in order to curb the potential threat of climate change have often claimed that their opposition was mired in a lack of understanding of the science behind global warming. The thought was that a lack of science literacy could explain the steadfast divide in the United States between believers and deniers. According to a recently published study by Yale Research, however, the “You just don’t get it!” argument doesn’t pan out. The research reveals that allegiance to cultural identity carries more weight than the science-based lobby of climatologists, suggesting that progress in sustainability will need a message that resonates with cultural groups in different ways.

politiciansAs Republican presidential candidates have amassed to begin the gauntlet of debate leading up to the bid for the next conservative challenger to the White House, the environment, or specifically global warming, has gotten its fair share of frontage. Almost unanimously, the GOP candidates’ attacks at the authenticity of climate change have been as adamant as they are consistent. However, new polling suggests that the air time they have afforded environmental topics could be working against them, actually increasing the percentage of Americans that believe the earth is warming. How carefully do the candidates have to tread in order to navigate through a populace that feels more comfortable supporting the idea of climate change? Continue Reading…

Lots of PeopleJust as advocates of sustainability and the environment promote the notion of an evolving society, so too must their message be open to evolution. With the amount of connotations–good or bad depending on where your views are–it may be time to question the usefulness of climate change as the weapon of choice used to induce our need for change. Not to say that climate change is not a real phenomenon, but it is certainly not the only phenomenon or the only reason we have to reassess our societal norms. On the contrary, we have no shortage of reasons. Continue Reading…

Dear Mr. Droz,

I recently came across an article on that lead me to your presentation critiquing wind power. The decree that wind power is “an insult to science and mankind” seems a bit alarmist and wrought with exaggeration. I understand that you have labeled wind power as a deficient source of power generation and based this conclusion on seven points of criteria that you claim reasonable power sources should strive to meet. These points include:

  1. Can it provide large amounts of electricity?
  2. Can it provide reliable and predictable electricity?
  3. Can it provide dispatchable energy?
  4. Can it serve as more than one grid element?
  5. Can its facility be compact?
  6. Can it provide economical energy?
  7. Can it make a consequential reduction in carbon dioxide?

According to you, wind energy has failed all but the first point, after which you claim it to be an overly expensive, intermittent and restrictive form of energy production–something the world should stop devoting time and money towards. Instead, we should focus on improving our existing technologies so that they can be improved and better utilized to achieve environmental progress.

Though your individual assessments cannot be labeled as “incorrect”, I think you are unfairly painting a grim picture of wind energy while denying it both its accolades and opportunities for further improvement. Wind energy is a great industry and one of a number of technologies that will eventually allow us to reduce our environmental impact and reach a more balanced, sustainable society. I think a full critique of wind should include not only the shortcomings (which we all know exist) but the possibilities.

Continue Reading…

high tension power linesPerhaps the largest bane of renewable energy is its intermittent nature that fails to provide a predictable, steady flow of “baseload” power to the grid. After all, the sun is not always shining; the wind is not always blowing; waves are not always crashing—but how often are all sources weak at the same time? European countries are embarking on a renewable energy master grid that will pair different technologies in different environments to help mitigate the natural ebb and flow of any one source.

According to an article in the Guardian, nine governments are involved in planning a €30 billion ($43.5 billion) network of high voltage, direct current cable that will connect the renewable power sources indigenous to their respective climates. The players include Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden and Ireland and the UK. Together they can collectively utilize energy from solar, wave generation, tidal, wind, geothermal and hydro-electric.

Continue Reading…

The E.P.A.’s Lisa Jackson released a statement yesterday that announced the formal findings for carbon dioxide being labeled as dangerous to public health in the United States and thereby exercising its ability to regulate it under the Clean Air Act. An E.P.A. move to regulate greenhouse gases could effectively sidestep Congress which has stumbled with its attempts to pass climate legislation. Undoubtedly, this could mark one of the most powerful and proactive stances of any administration towards addressing climate change, but it could also merely be political noise used as a stop gap to try and bolster confidence both nationally and internationally in the Obama administration’s environmental agenda.

Mrs. Jackson’s speech had a distinctive activist tone, continually remarking on the overdue responsibility of the U.S. to be a leader in addressing greenhouse gas emissions.

This long-overdue finding cements 2009’s place in history as the year when the United States Government began seriously addressing the challenge of greenhouse gas pollution and seizing the opportunity of clean-energy reform.

The findings set out a road map of possibility; a series of steps that the E.P.A. could take to directly intervene in how our country deals with carbon emissions. The first step, set to begin in 2011, includes requiring facilities that emit over 25,000 tons of carbon annually to monitor and report those emissions to the E.P.A. Other measures could include a more direct and hands-on role in curbing the emissions from vehicles and requiring emitting facilities, particularly power generation companies, to employ the best available technologies to deal with greenhouse gases. This could mean that companies would no longer be allowed to sit idle on technologies that exist to improve efficiency and cleaner operation.

Opposing stances were quick to arise from parties like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who argue that strict measures could hinder economic growth due to the added costs associated with carbon regulation. Given our recession environment, this is by far the strongest attack on carbon policy and the worries are not completely unfounded. Some degree of added cost will likely find power producers and industrial manufacturers that could, in turn, trickle down to higher prices for the end user, but I am not one that believes this is a reason not to proceed.

As a country now famous for its deficits, our low priced goods and services are a bit of an illusion that we support either at our own delayed, tax-paying expense or at the expense of the environment. We have been running countless environmental deficits for decades and are only now finding out the degree of what they are and how much they truly “cost.” If regulating carbon means that the price of power increases then maybe that means that producing power the right way is simply more expensive than we have allowed ourselves to believe.

However, planning for widespread, overarching regulation by the E.P.A. maybe a bit preemptive at this point because it is possible that this is merely some fancy political footwork to buy the Obama administration some time. The timing of the release in relation to the Copenhagen Climate Summit is far from coincidental and undoubtedly meant to supplement our lack of ability to create proactive climate legislation. At the same time, the announcement lights a fire underneath Senators and lobbyists to get a finalized bill passed to avoid E.P.A. intervention. Business interests know that compromising on climate legislation allows for their input in reaching a bargain. E.P.A. regulation does not need to ask anyone’s opinion when operating under the umbrella of the Clean Air Act. The President has also already stated that he prefers legislative action for managing carbon over unilateral direction by a governmental agency.

Furthermore, even if the E.P.A. was prepared and willing to police carbon for the country, it would likely be years before any real weight of change would be felt. We are still over a year away from merely reporting numbers let alone forcing companies to implement technologies to change them. When the possibilities of lawsuits are added in, it is much more likely that we will see climate legislation passed before the E.P.A. ever has the chance to draw lines in the sand.

As much as I would welcome a chance to move faster and cut through red tape, I fear it is more likely that this a political threat that the administration has little intention of actually exercising. That is not to say that it will not work. These efforts may help us secure a climate bill in the first half of 2010. If not, I only hope the administration has the brass to call the bluff of congress and the business community if no progress is made.

Willie Smits

A colleague pointed me to a lecture on TED given by conservationist Willie Smits who organized an effort to regrow a site of clear cut rain forest and restore a population of orangutans that had been threatened by deforestation. I was left thoroughly impressed with not only the level of task that he had taken on, but his striking process in approaching, analyzing and then attacking a complex problem. There are many activists and organizations trying to stem the damaged caused by deforestation around the world, but far fewer are finding ways to repair the damage that has already been done. Dubbed Samboja Lestari, this testing ground has found staggering results in turning a swath of fire-ridden, Indonesian grasslands  into a new budding forest landscape in under five years. His efforts have renewed levels of biodiversity, increased local rainfall and cloud cover, and provided a new industry base that has given jobs to hundreds of people.

“The real key to doing it, to give a simple answer, is integration.”

He says “integration,” I say “interconnection,” but the minor difference in semantics points to the same result of recognizing the vast number of reactions that comes from any one event and how integral, but sometimes difficult, it is to strike the important level of environmental balance.  Smits’ words and anecdotes highlight many valuable perspectives concerning sustainability and the tackling of large, seemingly insurmountable issues, but Smits’ is not just throwing around theory for the proof of his success in Borneo bears a complexity and resilience that few have been able to achieve. Within, there are a number of lessons that can be extracted and used for addressing our own series of dilemmas on any scale.

“It is the diversity that makes it work.”

Willie walks through the complicated task of creating a base of permaculture by integrating hundreds of species of plants so that each will offer a reflexive benefit to the others planted around it. Some plants are fast-growing to offer shade. Some are fruit-bearing to yield food for animals. Some are small but integral for rejuvenating nutrients in the soil. This kind of integration cannot be achieved without thoroughly analyzing the problem and all the components of each option for a solution.

The current state of our economy and the desire for progress has made the risk of throwing money at problems with the goal of reaching solutions as fast as possible. Healthcare, transportation, education, the environment; all complex issues for which hasty action could lead to short-lived relief. Throwing wind turbines everywhere to combat global warming without developing viable means of power storage is what leads to rolling blackouts in Germany. The real energy answer is a combination of renewables (with storage), coal conversion to biomass, nuclear, natural gas, a smarter grid system and increased efficiency to lower our national consumption.

There are few simple problems and even fewer simple solutions. At all scales we should be taking the time to study the solution as much as the problem to increase the likelihood of meaningful, lasting results.

“At every step of the way the local people were going to be fully involved”

Willie Smits decided early on that any chance on true revitalization of this landscape could not simply be his grand vision imposed on an indigenous society. Even if his test was successful, he alone could not maintain the project indefinitely. The rebuilding of a rainforest had to be inextricably tied to the local people who would share both the costs and rewards of the effort. Those that helped plant and manage the forest found jobs, land for homes and eventually crops as the beginning of a new life seamlessly tied to re-growth. The success of the forest became the success of all participants.

A devastated rainforest is only separated by a few degrees from many of our post-industrial cities around America. These small cities that exploded in the first quarter of the twentieth century had their momentum crash with the evaporation of domestic industrial production. These urban ecosystems failed—leaving streets of vacant homes, deflated populations and depleted tax revenues that left them struggling for survival. New efforts to rehabilitate our ailing cities must include and utilize local citizens, yielding them a stake in both the risk and reward of a new cityscape.

“If I can do this on the worst possible place that I can think of, where there is really nothing left, no one will have an excuse to say, ‘yeah but….’”

It is important to note success stories like this one to recalibrate our own idea of challenges that need to be overcome. If Smits can find progress in a society with 50% unemployment where 22% of the average income is spent on fresh water then we are without room to give the “it cannot be done” rebuttal to any dilemma that we currently face in the U.S..

sustainability cards

In the beginning of the millennium when environmental proponents were deciding how to gain support and spread a message they turned to sustainability and efficiency. We do not have to look far to see their success. The green movement caught on and spread through buildings, company policy and consumer products. Recently the environmental lobby has shifted to focus more on global warming, believing it to be their ace-in-the-hole, but the tactic may be making them more enemies than friends. Those trying to add depth to the ranks of the environmental advocacy and speed up action may want to rethink how they are playing their hand.

Advocates of global warming continue to ramp up their efforts to try and shift cultural and economic norms. Their message comes with increasing levels of severity and apocalyptic predictions culminating to the latest meeting of Climate Scientists in Copenhagen that foretold of a worst-case scenario of carbon dioxide levels that could threaten humanity’s existence by the year 2100. This kind of news is distressing to some of us, but to a large portion of Americans it is simply tiresome. The recent Gallup poll shows that many conservatives have gotten more impatient with global warming claims, ultimately dismissing them as a liberal plot for allocating government funds and more regulation. They stand more than willing to call what they deem is the environmental bluff of a warming planet.

People are listening.

Naturally this only frustrates those who believe they are warning us of our self-perpetuating misfortune. More research only makes the calls for action louder which only makes the non-believers that much more skeptical. Soon it will not matter whether or not global warming is real or if our situation is dire. Opponents will believe they have won and go somewhere else to hash through war, terrorism or trade deficits. By then there will be so many lines drawn that bringing people back to the table will be a feat in and of itself.

In a consumer market a salesman with a product often gets more response than an activist with a cause and when it comes to sales, the pitch can be more important than the product. Selling ‘green’ effectively requires not only knowing all the cards you have in the deck, but knowing the right time to play the right card and still have one or two up your sleeve. We are not short on potential markets: companies, non-profits, homeowners, parents, children and of course the government, but none of them are looking for exactly the same thing. Each group can be linked to ways to accommodate their goals via more sustainable means. Failure to do so can lead to another danger: naysayers can be prone to believing that global-warming, environmentalism and sustainability are all synonyms, potentially souring them to valuable initiatives beyond cap-and-trade or greenhouse gas regulation.

sustainability paths diagram

The trick is that the case for environmental stewardship is not a one-card hand. One of the great things about sustainability is how many different ways that it addresses problems in America. Southern US cities suffering from drought would be attentive audiences for water efficiency. Businesses are eager to learn how using new materials or less packaging can reduce cost as it reduces waste or how greener buildings can increase productivity. Residents of Los Angeles and Phoenix should be avid listeners of air quality solutions. Northeasterners are more excited about high speed rail lines while other smaller cities may be more interested in streetcars. Most Americans are pro energy independence for our country. All of these things can be linked to sustainable goals and progress of our society as a whole. The more people become educated about specific options that directly affect their everyday life, the more opportunity they have to educate others.

The Product (RED) organization is a great example of commercializing a cause as a way to reach a capitalistic audience. “RED” companies like Apple, American Express and Starbucks link product lines sales to donations for combating AIDS in Africa. Although the organization does not release the amount of total donation funds to date, their success has been widely acclaimed. Critics of the program ask why do people have to pay more for a product instead of just donating? With all the advertising that our society fosters, Americans may just not be programmed that way. The marketing pitch helps a person feel like they get something for giving something. The LEED system is another example of taking the concept of building green and fitting it to Americans: making a recognizable and fashionable product.

We find ourselves at a key moment for two reasons: a time when environmental action is crucial and a time when we can decide how we want to emerge from this recession. Emerging with greater support in more arenas of the green lobby could be better than more resistance towards a concentrated call for stemming global warming.The thing we need to remember (and sooner or later conservative opposition will learn) is that in this game there is no giant pot in the middle that we are gambling for. Our goal is to make everyone better players. After all, when it comes to the environment if we are not all eventually on board we all end up as losers.