Archive for the 'General' Category

Report on the “Good Jobs, Green Jobs” Conference

February 7th, 2009

Here are my thoughts on the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference I just attended in Washington, DC. (February 4-6, 2009 –

The good news is – the movement is hot and getting hotter; the bad news is, it’s running into plenty of opposition already, and even in its headiest moments it is up against some pretty challenging realities on the ground.

Let me begin with the good news.

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The (Un)Sustainability of Nations

February 1st, 2009

There is no doubt that the world faces a daunting prospect in the 21st century, which is to make a transition from an unsustainable to a sustainable way of life. Whether we humans can manage such a transition for our species, and for the web of life on which we depend, is very much an open question.

Let us be very clear about this. The “planet” is not in danger. The natural environment can tolerate an enormous amount of what we are calling “greenhouse gases,” temperatures can soar, oceans can rise, and the weather can become vastly more unstable. This has in fact occurred during the planet’s history. It’s simply that human existence may not be possible under such circumstances, and indeed many of the species that currently exist may become extinct – while others flourish. The age of the dinosaurs was much different from ours, and the ages that preceded it even more so. There was a time when oxygen was merely a trace element in the atmosphere. But what we call – presumptively, it now seems – “intelligent” life, simply did not exist under these circumstances. So the issue is not “saving the planet.” It’s saving ourselves.

The planet, frankly, does not need us. If we prove to be too bellicose to survive, and launch nuclear missiles at each other, we may in fact make the planet “uninhabitable,” but that just means “uninhabitable for us.” If we prove to be indifferent to the welfare of the whole, we will eradicate ourselves by destroying the foundation on which we depend. This may seem extreme, but it is not. The conditions necessary for human existence occur within a very narrow range. Exceeding that range is not just something we might do – as was the case during the era of nuclear confrontation – it is something that is inevitable if we do not change course.

There is almost total scientific consensus around this, and the “global warming skeptics” have now become an increasingly irrelevant fringe. But we hardly need science to prove that human development is on course to exceed the planet’s carrying capacity; it is simply a matter of recognizing that our way of life cannot be continued indefinitely, and indeed parts of it must change now if human development is to continue and to come into balance with nature. This seems so obvious that it almost goes without saying. But it needs to be our starting point in every serious conversation going forward: virtually everything in our economy and our society needs to be reexamined in the light of whether it contributes to a sustainable (and indeed restorative) way of life – or not.

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Paying for Reform

November 13th, 2008

If we think about the challenges facing the new Obama Administration, at the top of the list has to be prioritizing the actions that are desperately needed, in so many different areas, and integrating them into a coherent strategy that will put the country back on track, that will get the economy going again, and will once again inspire both sacrifice and greatness.

Should the administration move first on health care, or on the environment, or on housing, or on the economy? Clearly the answer is that it has to do all of these. The question most often asked in the media, though, is how to pay for it.

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Toward a More Sustainable New Jersey

August 31st, 2008

Weaving together the state’s policies on energy, the environment, land use, and the economy, especially in the context of the state’s ongoing budget problems, is no easy task.

Over the past several weeks I have attended a half-dozen conferences on these topics, including sessions on the Energy Master Plan, the New Jersey Utilities Association Conference (where I moderated a panel), and PlanSmart NJ’s spring conference, as well as hosting my own event at Fairleigh Dickinson University on “growing the next generation of green ventures.” I’m left with the sense that we need a new dialogue, that connects the dots and provides an effective pathway to sustainability.

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Notes and Aphorisms

September 18th, 2007

Here’s where to begin:

My head is filled with the words of other people, but the words on this page are entirely my own. My life is unique, though not always honorable or even uncommon. It is simply is unique, more or less by accident – if you believe in accidents. It did not happen to anyone else. Yet it is also in some respects universal (though what those respects are is sometimes not easy to discern). As a human being there is nothing about me that is not human, nothing that can truly be foreign to anyone; yet at times it seems to me that I literally share nothing with anyone else in the world.How far back does this go? My parents were unique, and their parents before them (though, to be honest, I know nothing about my father’s). My sister was (and remains) a unique, complex, unclassifiable character; and her children and grandchildren are strangers to me. My childhood friends, long abandoned, remain individual stories of mine, and have in reality taken on very different existences. I do not belong to a single country, or ethnic group, or profession. I have not grown up, or settled down. I have been and remain an “entrepreneur,” which is to say a sort of mountebank and intellectual adventurer who chooses to cloak his completely arbitrary preferences in the language of business.

But on the other hand everything that I am belongs not only to me but also to the world. It is one aspect of what it means to be a human being. It is a fact. Even if it is only a feeling, or a fleeting thought, or a false belief: it is a fact that humans have and are all these things, and my experience is simply a more or less representative sampling of this. Less, no doubt, but a sampling nonetheless. Each new individual reveals another layer of what it means to be human.

For the most part, everyone we meet is a hustler. If they’d already made it, they wouldn’t be where you are, since you’re only there because you haven’t made it.

In the end, no matter what we do, things will turn out.

Of course, they may turn out well or poorly. But there will be an outcome that will clearly be the result of our actions. (Some religious folks may want to dispute that, if they feel God is controlling everything anyway; but in most religions God also grants us free will, and merely manifests on earth how well we exercise that free will. So we are back to the idea that it will turn out as a result of how we act.)

If things turn out well, the planet will dial back its temperature, and we humans will reach a new equilibrium with nature. We will live in peace and harmony with each other, recognizing our differences and our past violent natures, and basking in the abundance of a limitless universe. We will learn to create energy from the sun, from the movement of the planet, and from the heat of its inner core. We will stop putting greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, stop burying our wastes in landfills, and make every community, every company, and every individual “sustainable.”

But if they do not turn out well, there may be some pretty dismal days ahead for the planet. Things will get warmer, everywhere but most noticeably the further north or south you are… the ice will melt, the seas will rise, and hundreds of millions of people will be displaced. As the seas rise, the overall land mass of the earth will shrink, and coastal residents will be forced to higher ground. The vegetation around us will change, adapting rapidly to the new environmental conditions; but life will become much more uncomfortable for all of us.

As Kenny Ausubel (founder of Bioneers) says, it’s not about saving “the” environment, it’s about whether it will continue to support us. The planet has undergone many changes before we got here, and will continue to undergo changes with or without us – in part because of what we as an increasingly numerous species are putting into the water, into the earth, and into the air.

Green Blog

September 7th, 2007

Right now I’m working on what seems like a half-dozen “sustainability” initiatives – and finding an overwhelming amount of new information and initiatives that relate to these in some way. At times, this level of activity is almost overwhelming – there is already way more happening all over the world than any single human being can keep track of – and yet when you venture outside into any ordinary American neighborhood, you can’t yet see much of difference being made.

So although I’m already running a half-dozen web sites to support these initiatives (not to mention 30 or 40 others, for clients, political groups, my neighborhood – and for many of my other innovative ideas, some of which are necessarily “on the shelf”), it seems to me that there is still room for a way of keeping a record of some of the more interesting and useful ideas, sites, and opportunities I am finding along the way.

Here are some of the things I’m already working on:

Here are some interesting discoveries along the way:

Shaklee has reinvented itself as a completely green company. It is still using all the old MLM techniques, and signing up distributors to promote it both as a product company and as a business opportunity, but the pitch has some unique angles, and the company seems to be serious about being “the first certified climate neutral company in the world” (in 2002).

I don’t know if it’s kosher to link to the video that is at the heart of its current promo campaign, but I’m going to do so anyway – until someone tells me not to – and if you’re interested in getting connected to the operation I’ll refer you to someone else, until and unless we decide to use and promote these products ourselves. We’ve had such bad experiences with MLM lately, however, that even this pitch may not be enough to get us to buy into another one – even though we like the products, we find they’re costly and the business opportunity is, if not entirely illusory, so onerous and time-consuming as to be uneconomic…. (- enter code 15725282 in the left or center boxes)

It’s the message in the video – past the segment from Oprah – that, much more than the marketing hype, is what’s interesting.

The 11th Hour; or is already it much later than that?

August 23rd, 2007

The 11th Hour is clearly a movie that needed to be made – and needs to be widely seen – and Leonardo DiCaprio has done a creditable job in lending his talents and star presence to the effort. Yet in some ways, and perhaps not least in the marketing of it, it still pulls its punches; and leaves the audience reassured that we have the time, the will, and the know-how to make the change. The reality is that we probably have less time and political will than we think, and we certainly have not figured out yet all of the solutions.

DiCaprio also missed an opportunity to tell a dramatic, personal story – the way Laurie David did about Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth – relying instead on the purely didactic elements, dramatic music, and some spectacular footage, to get the adrenalin pumping, leading some reviewers to write it off as a lecture and weakening its long-term emotional resonance.

But DiCaprio makes the first and most fundamental case, that we need profound change, and on many levels. First, we need to realize that we are all in this together, and that if we do nothing to alter the global economic system we will most likely become extinct along with the thousands of species we are already extinguishing. This case needs to be stated again and again until humans are mobilized to action, for nothing else will be sufficient to ensure our collective survival.

Considering that we Americans are responsible for much of the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing (or at any rate exacerbating) global warming, it is important that we hear the message and take action here – as the Europeans and even the Chinese have already started to do, to a much greater extent than our own current Administration.

DiCaprio has assembled an enormous number of experts from a variety of fields. Consider the following list, all of whom not only appear in the movie but are also profiled on the movie’s two web sites, and

Ideas & Experts

Air Pollution
* Tim Carmichael

Civil Society and Collapse of Civilization
* Joseph Tainter
* Nathan Gardels
* Oren Lyons

Climate Change
* Andy Revkin
* Bill McKibben
* Peter DeMenocal
* Sheila Watt-Cloutier
* Stephen Schneider

Consumerism and Media
* Betsy Taylor
* Jerry Mander

Economy and Corporations
* Herman Daly
* Leo Gerard
* Lester Brown
* Michel Gelobter
* Pierre Andre Senizergues
* Ray Anderson
* Tom Linzey

Environment and Ecoliteracy
* David Orr
* David Suzuki
* Homero Aridjis
* Kenny Ausubel
* Mikhail Gorbachev
* Paul Hawken
* Stephen Hawking

Environmental Justice
* Bill Gallegos
* Omar Freilla

Forests and Land
* Andy Lipkis
* Gloria Flora
* Jerry Franklin
* Tzeporah Berman
* U’wa Tribal Leader Berito Kuwaru’wa
* Wangari Maathai
* Wes Jackson

Fresh Water
* Brock Dolman
* Sandra Postel

Human Health
* Dr. Andrew Weil
* Theo Colborn

Human Thinking / Human Capacity
* Byron Katie
* Carolyn Raffenberger
* James Hillman
* Jeremy Narby
* Paolo Soleri
* Wade Davis

Individual Action
* Andy Lipkis
* Diane Wilson
* Matthew Petersen
* Nancy Jack Todd
* Tezozomoc

* Diane Wilson
* Jeremy Jackson
* Sylvia Earle
* Wallace J. Nichols

* Matthew Simmons
* Richard Heinberg
* Thom Hartmann

Religious Perspectives
* Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf
* Rabbi Michael Lerner
* Rev. James Parks Morton
* Steve McAusland

Renewable Energy
* Greg Watson
* James Woolsey
* Steven Strong
* Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran

Solutions from Nature
* Janine Benyus
* John Todd
* Paul Stamets

Species and Biodiversity
* Peter Warshall
* Stuart Pimm

Sustainable Desig
* Bruce Mau
* Rick Fedrizzi
* William McDonough

DiCaprio himself gives an effortlessly outstanding and yet low-key performance. Squinting as though into a blinding sun, he states what is both obvious and yet largely disregarded in the mainstream media: that the evidence is now clear, and yet our political leaders continue to disregard it; that the problem is us – too many of us, doing too many of the wrong things – and that the solution is also us, both individually and collectively, by taking action to achieve greater harmony with nature, or at the very least to merely avoid utter environmental catastrophe.

What is not clearly enough stated is what is most likely to occur under even the most rosy scenario. There will be significant global climatic changes; they are already occurring, and they will expand within our own lifetime. While we could apply technologies that would reduce our footprint by 90% on the planet, we are not likely to. What is most likely to occur is something better than we have now, but still falling far short of what is truly needed – leaving millions to die and millions more to be displaced as refugees, and the planet struggling for hundreds if not thousands of years to regain its equilibrium.

As James Lovelock, author of The Gaia Hypothesis – that the Earth behaves as a singular living organism – has recently stated:

Our planet has kept itself healthy and fit for life, just like an animal does, for most of the more than three billion years of its existence. It was ill luck that we started polluting at a time when the sun is too hot for comfort. We have given Gaia a fever and soon her condition will worsen to a state like a coma. She has been there before and recovered, but it took more than 100,000 years. We are responsible and will suffer the consequences: as the century progresses, the temperature will rise 8 degrees centigrade in temperate regions and 5 degrees in the tropics.

Much of the tropical land mass will become scrub and desert, and will no longer serve for regulation; this adds to the 40 per cent of the Earth’s surface we have depleted to feed ourselves.

Curiously, aerosol pollution of the northern hemisphere reduces global warming by reflecting sunlight back to space. This “global dimming” is transient and could disappear in a few days like the smoke that it is, leaving us fully exposed to the heat of the global greenhouse. We are in a fool’s climate, accidentally kept cool by smoke, and before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable. (

“Her condition will worsen to a state like a coma”: to avoid this will take concerted human action on an almost unimaginable scale – much the same scale as the action we have taken to build cities, and superhighways, and power plants, and vast mining and drilling operations. If we are now to make these sustainable, we must “do them over” in really remarkable ways. If we are to imitate nature, as Janine Benyus describes in her book Biomimicry, we must

“seek sustainable solutions by emulating nature’s designs and processes (e.g., solar cells that mimic leaves, agriculture that models a prairie, businesses that run like redwood forests).” (

It’s not clear that any significant number of us even understand this, let alone know how to implement it, or will have the will to do so before a very large proportion of the human race and the entirety of many other species have been extinguished. This will be a world that is not only not the one we aspire to but is indeed greatly diminished. This is the most likely outcome, and this may be the one we need to keep in front of us in order to maintain our sense of urgency, of complexity, and of scale.

My concern with the movie is that even though it sees itself as (and in many ways is) a sequel to An Inconvenient Truth, it will not get seen widely enough to have the kind of impact that Al Gore had. From New Jersey, we had to drive in to Manhattan to see it – albeit sporting our new “Drive 55” bumper sticker – and it seems to be playing in no more than a dozen theaters around the country. I doubt if there were 30 people in the audience, though admittedly this was the late afternoon showing, and no doubt more showed up in the evening. But if this is being treated as an “art-house film” (as suggested by the FWD:Labs Collaborative) it will never get the audience it needs or deserves. We need to create a movement to get people to see this film, because it’s the next step in awakening people to the need for global action, and beginning to ask more meaningful questions about when, how, and to what extent we need to act in order to survive.

(Cross-posted at

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