Ross Hunter With Georgetown 350

101010-logo-240In case you’ve wondered where I’ve been, I’ve been helping to organize 350.org’s 10/10/10 Global Work Party right here in my local burg of Georgetown, Texas.

We’ll have a living wall and a sustainability expo, and a PARTY – all at the legendary, iconic Monument Cafe.

It’s all day Sunday, October 10th.

Show up for the party and to schmooze. We’ll have a LOT of high-grade agricultural knowledge there – if you can bring some green building knowledge, bring it, and mix it in. Bring all your sustainability interests.

Bring yourself regardless. I’ll see you there!

Farm Income’s Only Hope Is Clean Energy

cropFrom an analysis by the Center for American Progress on agriculture’s future:

U.S. agriculture is a critical bridge between global warming challenges and solutions. Our agricultural and forest lands sequester 246 million metric tons of carbon annually, absorbing 13 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. And the Congressional Budget Office has suggested that this number could rise to 50 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions with the appropriate incentives.

The analysis shows how clean energy will add income to U.S. farms, through carbon offests, power co-generation, and next-generation bio-fuels. While of course climate change will take income away through all the obvious dynamics such as drought, water shortages, season dysfunction, and unremitting fossil-fuel price increases.

Poisoning the Information Stream

yesnoWe know that the information stream is poisoned – now Greenpeace brings to the surface some of the corporate poisoners who are pouring $millions into the think tanks, legislators, TV networks and talking heads who deny climate change. Nice interactive map of the conspiracies too.

Greenpeace has released the report “Koch Industries: Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine” to expose the connections between these climate denial front groups and the secretive billionaires who are funding their efforts. The Koch brothers, their family members, and their employees direct a web of financing that supports conservative special interest groups and think-tanks, with a strong focus on fighting environmental regulation, opposing clean energy legislation, and easing limits on industrial pollution.

Use the interactive map to trace out the linkages between payments made and assertions published, and see how deliberate the lies are.

Why does the oil industry want to delay climate action? My answer is that possessed by greed and narrow interest the leaders of this family of industries understand that they can make billions in the remaining margins before the global populace finally turns on them and shuts them down. Taking that additional wealth they can enclave in the last remaining temperate zones of Earth, for a time.

I personally don’t see that it will happen that way at all. I believe they’ll carry life into extremis for all species including our own, and merely  generate immense guilt burdens to carry into death. I think they have no idea of the pain they will feel as their crimes sink into their hearts. Any modern psychologist would agree I suspect. As for their wealth, I think they’ll end up with all their profits sequestered by dwindling populations to fight the last battle against the encroach of desert planet earth.

I actually don’t believe they’ll be allowed to carry on this way much longer anyway. The immune response of humanity is surging into activity across the planet to combat our disease of industrial savagery, itself only recently diagnosed. Win or lose, the forces of healing are far swifter and more ruthless than the forces of deterioration I believe. We shall see.

Forget Democrat Loss of Nerve, Message Is Still the Planet

ballotToday is a good day to ask, what would be so bad with voting green? I think the only reason a lot of people placed their climate anxiety on hold was to join the swell that supplied a Democrat majority. Now one has to wonder if this was worth foregoing the green message.

Hearts are heavy across the so-called “progressive” spectrum because the Democratic party and president seem to have walked away from passing health care reform, their nerves shattered by the Republican win of Ted Kennedy’s old seat in Massachusetts.

Ezra Klein asked yesterday, Can Democrats govern? and response from commenters highlighted fears that the base of voting support would fracture, people would not vote, or vote green, as it this were a bad thing.

If the Democrats can’t use the majority that a number of different interests joined together to give them – if they can’t even pass desirable legislation at the national level – then what good are they to the environmental cause?

If partisan politics won’t work, then sustainability candidates are the only answer, regardless of where they come from.

The planet’s comfort zone for human civilization is running out, quickly. This forms its own messaging, no packaging required. This issue won’t go away, it will rise in damage and immediacy month by month, year after year, unremittingly, right up to endgame.

What is needed are people who can get things done. From their recent record it didn’t look as if it would be the Republicans solving our problems. And from the beginning it was always questionable if the Democrats were able to step into this requirement.

For the future of the Democrat label as a political identity, a little more loss of nerve such as we’re seeing at the moment and Democrats will be finished with progressive dialog, because the planet’s fate itself will soon take over that entire conversation.

Oddly, even as the Dems go down, Obama may rise, on this one front, the most important of all. And as Joe Romm shows today, many Republicans seem interested in saving the biosphere. There is indeed much bi-partisan support for climate legislation.

It’s time for those who care about the planet to throw away party affiliation, for those independent voters who joined the Democrats in hopes of getting change to focus instead on sustainability platforms, wherever they may be found. It’s time for sustainability to become the number one vote-getting plank in any representative’s platform.

A New Economy Story

Here’s a simple story told well, about a tiny piece of the new economy. Laid-off steelworkers find good jobs making windwills for renewable energy.

I sometimes wonder what’s so hard to grasp about the trillions of dollars in revenues waiting for the smart entrepreneurs in our new, sustainable economy.

It’s really pretty simple: there is great bounty given to us in our original world. We only need to learn how to spend creatively, contributing back to the bounty, and we can live here forever.

Merry Christmas :)

Humans: Exotic Species Beyond All Balance

earthThe uncaring way we treat the place, do we humans even really belong here, on this Earth?

I recall another good point Ray Anderson made in his book, Mid-Course Correction. He cited the case of the Fraser firs of eastern Tennessee, heritage forests from the last ice age, ravaged and reduced to almost nothing now by a species of insect accidentally introduced from Europe, against which the trees have no defense.

Anderson’s chilling point quotes the Forest Service report that as an exotic species, the parasite has no natural balance developed for its new ecological niche, and thus will kill its own host, and then die.

To me this sounds a lot like us, here.

Maybe those theories are correct: we ARE descended from aliens after all. If so, they were probably fleeing a ruined home planet.

Ray Anderson Sees the Top Of the Mountain

Ray Anderson reflects on the 15 years passed in his effort to transform a billion-dollar carpet manufacturing operation, from a petro-intensive resource “plunderer” into a zero-footprint, eternally sustainable company.

It’s looking good – he’s 60 percent of the way up that mountain he talks about, and he and his people can now see the top. They know they’re going to get there.

I love how he talks about the culture change in his company, and how his products are actually vastly better now, because of the “lens of sustainable design” that the company now looks through.

Most importantly, as Anderson states, the business case for sustainability as a profitmaker has now emerged – and Anderson’s company, Interface, has prominently helped to blaze a trail into this emergence.

I was struck by something Anderson wrote in his book, Mid-Course Correction, published back in 1998, before today’s melting ice had really started to scare us.

Suppose, said Anderson,

that global warming, to cite just one threat, turns out to be so vividly demonstrable and undeniably true that the whole world wakes up one day with a gigantic cry of alarm. Suppose consumer outrage erupts and markets shift overnight. Where will the capacity to respond be found? A lack of capacity for response could be a stupendous stumbling block to Earth’s welfare.

This is a huge dynamic force for sustainability. All it takes is consumer perception to change, and suddenly all the old companies become outlaws, and only the new ones will do business. This was Anderson’s epiphany over 15 years ago.

Anderson’s goal of becoming the first completely sustainable industrial company has taken 15 years to get to the 60 percent mark. Interface is on target for closed-loop, zero-waste, zero-ecologically imbalanced manufacturing by 2020. It will then have almost a three-decade lead on any of its competition.

Where the New Jobs Are

horsesWith “only” 11,000 workers fired last month, the job-loss slide may be easing, or it may be a seasonal stall in shedding employees. The new year will tell.

Floyd Norris at NYT thinks not only that the recession has bottomed in employment losses, but that we’ll add jobs as we recover.  Heather Boushey at CAP questions the strength of the recovery.

Much may depend on fiscal policy. Economists agree that most of the 2.8% growth in the third quarter is a result of the stimulus. As I’ve said before, more stimulus would work wonders right now.

Meanwhile, where is reasonable security of tenure, and strategic job-holding for willing workers? Only in sustainability – that third economy I mentioned the other day.

John Podesta at CAP opines that sustained job creation cannot be solved with short-term solutions, logically enough. Podesta cites CAP’s white paper proposing a wide-ranging set of policies for government to enact in order to create good jobs for the today and the future.

Included in Podesta’s prescription are a nationally chartered Green Bank to ensure investment into sustainable projects, and tax adjustments to support retrofitting.

Today, contractors offer unsecured home improvement loans for energy-efficient and renewable energy products, with a typical energy savings of 20 percent to 40 percent. But this market is small—approximately 5,000 loans per year—because interest rates are 10 percent to 15 percent—too high to be attractive for the typical homeowner. A program to “buy down” these loans would reduce the interest rate on a typical $7,000 loan from 12.99 percent to 6.99 percent at an approximate cost of $1,200 per loan. Loans would be a maximum of $20,000—typical loans are $10,000—with a 12-year term. In the meantime, the Obama administration should direct Fannie Mae—which oversees an existing energy loan program—to reduce its rates, which now range from 11.5 percent to 14.0 percent. This would also lower the cost of a buy-down program.

Retrofitting looms as an enormous growth industry. Our greatest source of local and readily available energy resides in the waste coefficient of our current usage. We waste so much energy (some estimates call it 97.5% waste) in all of our infrastructure and style of living in the U.S that efficiency alone results in immediate dollar gains.

Brad Johnson writing at Grist offers shirtcuff analysis estimating that 1.7 million new clean-energy jobs could be created as permanent careers PER YEAR, commensurate with public and private investment of 150 billion dollars each year. That’s not a lot of money, for the results.

The stronger the carbon cap is in a carbon market, the greater the investment. A $150 billion carbon market would be about double the size of what is being considered by Congress. That investment would be sufficient to construct a nationwide smart grid, retrofit every building in America for energy efficiency, and produce 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources—all by 2020.
- How to make 1.7 million new clean energy jobs permanent

These are some of the astonishing gains buried under our dying economy, lying in wait for the intrepid to set them free.

The Third Economy

3Nouriel Roubini paints a stark picture of our economic prospects and tells a tale of two economies, one rich, one poor. Personally, I’m heading for the third economy, the one being newly created right now all around us as a sustainable economy.

Roubini is one of the few trustworthy economists around, having predicted and long warned about the housing and financial collapses. The idiocy of the media in labeling him the doom side of probability (as if there were another side) belies the fact that all he does is look at the numbers with a clear eye.

Roubini’s Tale of Two American Economies details the state of play in our current depressed economy. We’re losing jobs, credit is unavailable, small businesses and householders are being forced to bankruptcy, and this will continue for some time yet.

Meanwhile, Roubini points out what we had already noticed, that the stock market is up and so are bonuses in the financial sector. As he states,

The story of the U.S. is, indeed, one of two economies. There is a smaller one that is slowly recovering and a larger one that is still in a deep and persistent downturn.

Personally, I’m tired of this. I’ve been watching public policy and economics for over a year here, and I have the picture down now.

Reading my earlier posts there’s plenty of collateral for saying that politics is broken, because business largely owns it. The media are hacks and even if not are controlled by the same business that owns politics. The economic system fuels with exploited money the myth that its underlying dynamic (free market) both actually exists (wrong), and actually creates good (not demonstrable).

All of this can be improved, and Obama is a great force for good, loosening up this national gridlock. But Obama himself struggles still to get the financial industry to extend credit to the productive economy. And Roubini notes that one-fourth of our economy’s jobs can easily (and thus will) be outsourced in coming years. The jobs are never coming back, says Roubini.

I truly wonder how Americans will take this state of affairs as the near future rapidly unfolds. Anyone working in the old economy will become a kind of serf, in a master and servant relationship to holders of capital. And that capital itself has been created in a deeply flawed model of extraction that has never put a true price on its acquisition.

All of our economy is built on externalizing the destructive costs of resource extraction onto future inhabitants of the planet. Almost none of our current system is sustainable, with the exception of enterprises such as Ray Anderson’s.

So there’s an economy for the rich, and one for the poor. If you’re not in the first, you sure don’t want to be in the second, even in the U.S. As we begin to count the true cost of our economic system, provocative examples of the damage it creates start to arise:

Are we yet able to understand that an entire category of deaths not measured above—the category development economists now refer to as “preventable death, particularly from disease and malnutrition”—may indeed come to represent a greater challenge that the sum of likely wars and civil wars combined?
Wall Street’s excesses caused more deaths among children than the tsunami four years ago

On the basis that the old economy was wrongly constructed to begin with, what’s actually to preserve here? The old jobs are never coming back. Time for new jobs.

Here’s a new job: green chef. In a Fortune Magazine article just today, 6 green cooks are profiled, the first one Brittany Baldwin in Portland, who caters personal meals using ingredients straight from her own local half-acre farm. Locavore economy is the new gourmet. And actually local food for everyone may be one basis of the new economy. See my fuller exposition of this in my other site, the Local Food Grid.

Copenhagen is coming in a couple of weeks. I believe I’m about done with following this old economy. Expect to see more on sustainability from here on.

There’s not much I can personally do to reverse climate change, beyond the activities available to any citizen. But on the slim chance we can survive the global climate crisis that is already on the edge of the tipping point, I’m focusing on building the new economy that will replace the old one.

To me the one person who most symbolizes the new economy is Paul Hawken. If you thought Roubini was scary, try an overview of the world situation from Paul in this 50-minute speech given in Seattle in September. Just remember, he’s only using the same clear eyes that Roubini uses. But Hawken has answers.

Well Son, We Sat and Watched the Ice Melt

If your own research persuades you that the Earth truly is warming, then watch a sadly beautiful and terrifying thing: time-lapse photography recording glaciers melting around the world.

This is a film presented at TED by photographer James Balog with the Extreme Ice Survey, a network of time-lapse cameras aimed at vast bodies of ice, all now receding at a fearsome pace.

Scale is a problem in such a whiteout landscape: despite the graphic benchmarks added to the film, the mind can’t quite comprehend how much ice we actually have in this world, and how much we’re losing. But the film does convey a sense of vast drainage, and the grief of massive loss.

At minute 7:10 Balog presents a really useful graph of the planet over 400,000 years, showing the temperature, CO2 and sea-level curves. You can pick us out at the far right end, we’re the huge spike.

Let me warn you that if your reading and reason don’t yet tell you that global warming is ON, then this footage won’t persuade you.

And if you read the viewer comments both at YouTube and at the TED site itself you’ll be bewildered by the debate still raging among non-scientists. Perhaps you’ll be dismayed at the failures of this communication age to disseminate reliable information. Maybe even you’ll despair from the argumentative ignorance of people.

But if you want to learn, read my previous post and click all the links and see for yourself what peer-reviewed science massively concludes.

And then come back and weep.

BBC Says Hot is Cold, Fails on Climate Science

home2BBC News upset a good many people on Friday by claiming that the oceans are cooling and that global warming has stopped happening – this during the hottest decade in recorded history. The story, What happened to global warming?,  was completely discredited yesterday by no less an expert than Joe Romm at Climate Progress.

Meanwhile the damage was done as the erroneous story was picked up by other newspapers as being true, and flashed across the Internet.

Paul Hudson, a weather presenter writing under the byline of climate correspondent for BBC News, claimed that “for the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures.” He cited Britain’s Met Office for this claim.

The problem is that even Met Office data show that the planet has continued to accumulate heat. See their own report: Global temperature slowdown – not an end to climate change.

And a related BBC story linked on the same page (by the environment correspondent) cited a Met Office warning of projected temperature gains even greater than previously forecast. See Four degrees of warming ‘likely’.

Hudson was fooled by the so-called “warming pause,” attributed to a short-term oscillation either side of the trend line. The cool side of the swing has tended in the past to mask the long-term trend line, which has continued unwaveringly upward.

As of Monday, Hudson still didn’t seem to grasp the magnitude of his error, despite numerous comments on his blog. In partial response there, he claimed that “the Met Office are currently conducting research into why temperatures have levelled off/fallen from their peak.”

But as Climate Progress reported at the end of last year, Met Office Hadley Center has concluded:

Comparing observations with the expected response to man-made and natural drivers of climate change it is shown that global temperature is now over 0.7 degrees C warmer than if humans were not altering the climate.

And from the same Climate Progress post, in collaboration with Hadley Center the World Meteorological Organization concluded:

The ten warmest years on record have occurred since 1997. Global temperatures for 2000-2008 now stand almost 0.2 degree C warmer than the average for the decade 1990-1999.

Just 3 days before Hudson’s foray into climate analysis, award-winning climate science website Real Climate published a useful review of the warming pause phenomenon, pointing out among other things that the Met Office Hadley Center model was incomplete – it was missing the Arctic:

The largest warming has occurred over the Arctic in the past decade and is missing in the Hadley data.
[...]
Hence the GISS data are clearly more useful in this respect, and the supposed pause in warming turns out to be just an artifact of the “Arctic hole” in the Hadley data — we don’t even need to refer to natural variability to explain it.
- A warming pause?

And to clear up more mainstream media error, back in April at Capital Climate two then-current stories, from Andy Revkin at the New York Times and George Will at the Washington Post, were both set straight with regard to the warming pause theory. See It Hasn’t Warmed Since 1998

Finally, in case you wondered about the oceans, Joe Romm called Paul Hudson’s description “utterly backwards” and delivered the correct science, which concludes from all the reliable data that the oceans have continued to warm unceasingly.

The only problem is that everything Easterbrook and Hudson just said is bunk.  First, the PDO is a long-term fluctuation of the Pacific Ocean that waxes and wanes between cool and warm phases approximately every 5 to 20 years – it has no net impact on the long-term warming trend.  Moreover, contrary to Easterbrook’s and Hudson’s un-fact-checked assertion, the oceans have continued to warm, as the peer-reviewed literature makes clear [see link]
- The BBC asks “What happened to global warming?” during the hottest decade in recorded history!

We still don’t know how it came to happen that such an error-riddled piece of work could be published by the BBC, which had gained a good reputation for reporting climate science reliably.

It was just the other day in my last post that I said we can’t trust any of the mainstream media, nor even those independent sources we’ve recently come to trust. All assertion is only provisionally acceptable until it passes an array of fact checking, and the tests of reason.

I suppose it’s good we’re being forced to learn how to use our wits again. But it’ll be sad days for those who skip the exercise.

Obama and the Unequal Pain of Climate Change

Obama at Notre Dame on May 17th talked a lot about climate change. Ezra Klein wrote about it, and I’m just copying him verbatim here. You should click through to his post – which is short and to the point – if only to see the maps he included: they show graphically which parts of the world have primarily caused climate change, versus which parts of the world will suffer most from its effects. Very sad. And Obama seems to get this.

Which might explain the shift in Obama’s language. he normally speaks of
climate change in terms of American interests, jobs, and security. Not
yesterday. Climate change was presented not as a domestic issue but as
a global danger. It is not just our nation that’s threatened, but the
planet. That’s actually a more honest approach. But it gets at one of
the real difficulties of addressing climate change. America — the
world’s leading emitter of carbon — must make the most changes even as
it derives the least benefits.

The developed countries that benefit most from fossil fuels will suffer
least. The countries with the maximum incentive to prevent climate
change have no power to do it.
- Your World in Maps: Climate Change Edition

Ezra was hired away from The American Prospect to be a blogger/columnist for The Washington Post, and debuted in fact on the day of this post cited here. So far I’m quite liking the switch. I found his commenters back at the Prospect to be the most useful part of his writing, and there can be a little more noise than signal in some of the Post entries, but he has some very good commenting occurring there too. In all, it’s worth switching the bookmark to Ezra’s new place. Good reporting, and a step up for the Post, actually, I’d say.

Sustainable Economics Ends Political Corruption

The Washington Post reported recently on a new study that finds the return on political corruption – lobbying, to use the airbrushed word – can yield as much as a 22,000 percent rate of return on the investment of companies who are successful. The newspaper makes this crucial point: “The study by researchers at the University of Kansas underscores the central reason that lobbying has become a $3 billion-a-year industry in Washington: It pays.”

The researchers calculated an average rate of return of 22,000 percent for those companies that helped lobby for the tax break. Eli Lilly, for example, reported in disclosure documents that it spent $8.5 million in 2003 and 2004 to lobby for the provision — and eventually gained tax savings of more than $2 billion.

The tax break in question was included as part of the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004, and was billed as a way to create jobs in the United States by requiring companies to use the money for specific purposes.

But the Congressional Research Service and others have since found that many companies cut jobs in the wake of the tax break and that nearly all the money was used for stock buybacks or dividends.

I have long wondered about the economic cost of corruption. I had always guessed the formula would go like this: buy a politician for $3 million, and reap a return of $300 million, by creating an unnecessary process that costs the commonwealth $3 billion. I always thought that it would be much more efficient to pay the politician $5 million, in return for rigorous transparency and scrutiny, and make corruption an offense very close to treason: after all, sovereign money is at stake.

Transforming the current global economy into one that is completely sustainable will involve more than simply replacing today’s capital projects with new green initiatives. We also have to look at politics, and use new policy mechanisms to put an end to the practice known today as “lobbying”, best understood by its old-fashioned name of “corruption.”

A sustainable economy is one in which all business models rigorously internalize all costs into themselves. This is the opposite of the way capitalism and industrialism have developed, where the object is to externalize the greatest number of costs onto others, often unwitting stakeholders. So for example, a fleet of trucks that isn’t taxed enough to repair the roads it wears down illustrates a business model that has externalized part of its true cost.

And the clash with public policy is inevitable, since most business operations depend to some extent on the public infrastructure. Externalizing true costs increasingly requires political assistance – and those unwitting stakeholders tend to be the taxpayers and the politically powerless – as physical resources become less freely available, and because frequently the true costs of business operations involve wear on the public infrastructure, or damage to the planetary ecosystem itself.

Sustainability therefore demands a true accounting of costs, and this has to mean the end of corruption in politics. A turbulent planet suffering from total system collapse throws a high-stakes chip onto the table, against which the old ways of bribery and corruption will have to fight a desperate rearguard action. What will remain after the battle is done, none can say.

Then We’ll Build A New Economy

Nobody in the financial discussion seems to have grasped the urgency of the planet’s message to us. We’re thinking that we just need to get back to the same consumerism we’ve built into our culture as a way of life, and I have the feeling that something will happen to interrupt this thinking. Some event on a planetary scale will occur, and change the game forever, and redirect attention permanently to the key fundamental of our broken economy, which is this: based as it is on the destruction and non-replacement of finite materials, this economy could never last, and always had to end, probably in pain.

Our economy is in the meltdown it is precisely because there are no cheap ways to re-energize it. We are out of resources to take from the planet. The economy of plunder is running into its most obvious limit: there’s nothing left to take for free. See how Ray Anderson explains to us the economy of plunder.

This is the way we need to rebuild our economy. We’ll all be slumdogs, recycling waste – among other things. We’ll also be growing and creating new materials of course. There is plenty of wealth being held above the ground by people who desperately need to invest in new wealth that provides a return in current income. The forty trillion dollars or thereabouts swilling around the world in toxic derivatives can only have a destiny of being written down over time.

And then where will the rich get their money? Wealth always needs income, which is why investment occurs. Rich people and institutions may have plenty of wealth, but they rarely have enough actual cash income. Investor funds have to start coming into green initiatives. The only question is, how to attract that wealth to invest into the new-wealth creation of sustainable business?

This is where I’m going. More soon.