"If you're in a bad situation, don't worry, it'll change. If you're in a good situation, don't worry, it'll change."
-- John A. Simone Jr.
Recently there is a lot of debate and derision around the science of climate change. As an example, a recent article in the Times Online lists numerous studies criticizing the validity of data gathered by weather stations around the world. The point: many of the readings of these stations have been compromised by changes in context. A taste:
Some are next to air- conditioning units or are on waste treatment plants. One of the most infamous shows a weather station next to a waste incinerator…the weather station at Rome airport…catches the hot exhaust fumes emitted by taxiing jets.
For a summary of other recent controversy read “How Wrong is the IPCC?” in Mother Jones. On the other side of the debate, I regularly receive urgent email from Repower America trying to enlist me in the fight against big oil and the fight for clean energy.
Fight, fight, fight, fight, FIGHT! We are at war with…our selves. The enemy is us and we are losing.
Are we affecting the climates that have supported and sustained civilization for the last few thousand years? Absolutely. How bad is it? I don’t know and, really, neither does anyone else. Why? We are dealing with complex, open, living systems influencing and interacting with other equally complex, open, living systems. In these relationships cause becomes effect, effect turns to cause. Nothing is fixed, change is utterly non-linear and notoriously unpredictable. We might as well walk outside and try punching air. It certainly feels good…
We are simply not designed for this struggle. In trying to comprehend climate change our senses fail us. We deal in immediacy. The building of our capacity to sense the long term is a work in progress desperately in need of more funding. Logic unravels. How do we build a useful proof when “A” and “B” are both and neither? Mathematic modeling is hopelessly inadequate. How do we construct a model for life?
So, what should we do? Stick with what we’re good at, agree on what we agree on, sprinkle in a liberal dose of common sense and top it all with a big ‘ol dollop of compassion.
What are we good at? Building stuff. Constructing civilizations. Creating profoundly moving art. Telling stories. Learning and adapting.
What do we agree on? I’m betting that we all want to live somewhere beautiful. We all want stimulating, inspiring work and lives. We all want good neighbors. We all want lives of prosperity and abundance.
What is common sense? Let’s listen to our senses. Let’s keep it simple. How would a house full of auto exhaust look, smell and feel? How would a plastic fish sandwich taste? Anyone for eau de landfill? How about a chocolate pesticide milkshake? Now, how about basking in the sun on a cool day? What is the feel of a cool breeze on a warm summer day? The feel and smell of cool, moist soil? The taste of a clear mountain stream? Listen to your senses, they’ve done a pretty dang good job of keeping us alive so far…
Compassion. C’mon people, like it or not we are in this–suffering and succeeding–together. Just because we disagree does not mean we have to dismiss, disengage and disintegrate. If we are going to fight, let’s stop beating the shit out of each other and find the common passion to design and implement ways of working and living together that create and sustain life, that create and sustain that which sustains us.
Let’s get really good at it.
Just to keep the record straight this is not a feel good appeal for a world of ponies and rainbows. This is hard work, a life’s work. And, yes, the devil is definitely in the details. And, yes, we are going to disagree, lose our tempers, maybe even throw some shoes. But, let’s keep our eyes on the prize. Climate change is not the enemy. It is a symptom and a growing cause of our collective dis-ease.
Let’s use a little more common sense and let’s stick with what we’re good at and let’s generate a lot more compassion. Resistance is futile.
Check out this article at the Wall Street Journal. I’ve been hearing this a lot lately. Company heads are waiting for governments to give them clear signals on where they should be placing their R&D, development and marketing bets. In essence, they’re asking for regulators and policy makers to tell them the future. It’s a tall order
Still, that is exactly what regulators and policy makers need to be doing. Yet, signals remain mixed. The reason seems to be that our government leaders are looking for signs as well.
Regarding greenhouse gas emissions, the Japanese government, facing a seemingly intractable showdown between business interests (cap GHG emissions at +4% above 1990 levels) and environmentalists (reduce GHG emissions to -25% of 1990 levels) asked the public to help decide. The Japanese public, not surprisingly, chose the middle path option they were offered (-7% from 1990 levels). Let’s remember that under the Kyoto Protocol Japanese GHG emissions rose roughly 6%. Things are not what they seem. Ah, where is the Oracle at Delphi when you need her?
We are at a time where our conventional decision-making capacities are failing. Too many choices, mounting and multiple risks, way too much uncertainty. Business leaders want to move but are looking for direction. Governments wants to act but, they too, are looking for direction. Public opinion is all over the place.
So, what to do? Let’s begin with another question: What sustains? We need to take a look at what holds us together. What supports us? What do we need? What sustains?
We need to look at the Value Web and begin boldly designing from and for abundance. Big business, small business, venture capital, entrepreneurs, NPO’s & NGO’s, school principals, teachers & professors, doctors & nurses, housewives & househusbands, village councils, state, provincial & prefectural assemblies, mayors, city directors, governors, presidents & prime ministers–all of us need to be doing this together. NOW.
Otherwise, we will end up like the three middle school girls’ I remember from my English teaching days in Japan. They were members of the softball team and I was watching their team practice. The coach would line a ball to the shortstop and she would deftly field it and sling it over to first in accordance with her teammates shouts. The girl minding third base did the same. When the coach hit the ball deep to left field, the left fielder chased it down and relayed the ball to the shortstop who then, at the behest of her teammates spun and slung the ball home, to the catcher.
Then, there was this pop fly. A little Texas leaguer that either the girl at third, the shortstop or the left fielder could have called and caught. Instead they all tracked the ball on it’s upward arc and, as it descended, they formed a neat triangle into the middle of which dropped the ball. There was no tried and true response for this situation. The three girls looked at each other. Their teammates stood in confused silence. And, in that moment, nothing happened.
Sound familiar? Who wants the ball?
Here’s a couple of perspectives from Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart taken from Cradle to Cradle:
If we were to have intentionally designed the industrial revolution here are some of the specs we would have needed to follow:
- put billions of pounds of toxic material into the air, water and soil every year
- produce some materials so dangerous they will require constant vigilance by future generations
- create gigantic amounts of waste
- put valuable materials in holes all over the planet, where they can never be retrieved
- require thousands of complex regulations-not to keep people and natural systems safe, but rather to keep them from being poisoned too quickly
- measure productivity by how few people are working
- create prosperity by digging up or cutting down natural resources and then burying them or burning them
- erode the diversity of species and cultural practices
Now, if we were to do a redesign around eco-efficiency and other current definitions of doing less harm the specs would look like this:
- release fewer pounds of toxic wastes into the air, soil and water every year
- measure prosperity by less activity
- meet the stipulations of thousands of complex regulations to keep people and natural systems from being poisoned too quickly
- produce fewer materials that are so dangerous that they will require future generations to maintain constant vigilance while living in terror
- create smaller amounts of useless waste
- put smaller amounts of valuable materials in holes all over the planet, where they can never be retrieved
A couple of key points here. No one designed the industrial revolution and, really, we aren’t doing a very good job of designing for a sustainable, much less an abundant future. No one intended to flood their communities with toxic compounds, create large whorls of plastic trash in our oceans, collapse the banking system and kick off a worldwide recession or alter the climate of the planet on which we depend for existence.
We, all of us, just drove on oblivious to the signs warning that a pretty precipitous cliff lay dead ahead. Now we are flailing around with a lot of our energy being expended on figuring out how to drive toward (and off) the cliff more slowly. Not good.
It’s hard. Just ask Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, the rest of the House of Representatives and legislators, policy makers and leaders all over the world as they wrestle with climate change legislation and regulations. Let’s face it, most of us, in some way, depend on the current state of things to get by.
Yet, the question I think we should be asking is not “How to we keep what we’ve got?” but “How do we give up what we’ve got in order to get more for all of us in the future?” In aikido (thanks to the late Terry Dobson) we call this “giving in to get your way”
So, what to do? We’ve got to get everyone involved. Less bad is still bad. Less bad is unsustainable. As we continue to meet the needs of the present we’ve got to come together and design for a future that is not less bad but more good. While meeting the needs of the present we need to collectively imagine, design and implement a future that gives us, our children and grandchildren our best shot at living lives of sustainable abundance.
This goes beyond ideology, industry and ego. It is at the heart of community and living and working together well. This is a game we all can play. The rules? Design, develop and implement for a sustainable present and abundant future. Do it together. Do it well. Be present, build resilience. Be disciplined. Do it ASAP. Have fun!
Tags: aikido, banking system, Bill McDonough, climate change, climate change legislation, collapse, Cradle to cradle, design, eco-efficiency, Ed Markey, Henry Waxman, Michael Braungart, recession, resilience, Terry Dobson, toxic material, waste
P&G and Microsoft have both recently strongly committed themselves to “sustainability.” P&G’s Lafley saying:
P&G’s commitment to sustainability is strategic. It is how our company conducts business. [Specifically]
- Develop and market at least $50 billion in innovative and sustainable products, up from a goal of $20 billion.
- Reduce carbon dioxide emissions, energy consumption, water usage and disposed waste by 20 percent, leading to a 50 percent reduction over the last 10 years.
- Increase use of rail transportation from 10 percent now to 30 percent by 2015.
- Increase the number of children benefiting from P&G’s Safe Drinking Water Program to 300 million, up from the original goal of 250 million.
and Microsoft’s saying:
Recently our CEO, Steve Ballmer, sent out an e-mail to all 90,000 Microsoft employees. He made clear that environmental sustainability is a core value for the company that is embedded in all we do,” Robert Bernard said in an interview with CNET News. He added that Ballmer talked about the topic as a corporate belief, “as opposed to a green campaign or a marketing campaign or a marketing issue.
P&G’s commitment is wide ranging and touches on a number of nodes of the value web, including resources and trade, atmosphere, energy, water, transportation, and family and community. They seem to be systematically working sustainability into their value chain.
Microsoft’s statement, though bold, is a little more confused, referring to “environmental sustainability.” Not quite sure how Microsoft is sustaining the environment. Rather than “environmental sustainability” I would recommend something like “environmental awareness is a core value”.
Sustainability is bigger than you, me, the environment, climate change and renewable energy. It’s what links all of the essential nodes of the value web together.
I applaud both companies for their concern and commitment. However, I believe both have a way to go before they fully embrace and embed sustainability in their organizations. They need to take the lead by leaping from focussing on discrete parts to developing strategies that link these parts holistically to what they do.
Sustainability is about relationships and connections and not disconnected metrics. The sooner we see this the sooner we can start doing to get sustainable results.
Tags: A. J. Lafley, carbon dioxide emissions, climate change, core value, Microsoft, P&G, renewable energy, safe drinking water, Steve Balmer, sustainability, sustainable products, value web, waste reduction
I have started collecting stories of sustainable practice. There are many of us doing so many things at so many levels, yet, when I talk with people in organizations or even in private I often hear a response sounding like, “I just don’t know where to begin.”
Often, when people tell me they don’t know where to start, it is in reference to “fighting” the malevolent specter of global warming. I’ve got news for you. We can’t “fight” global warming. It’s not an enemy. It’s an outgrowth of who we are, who we’ve been and what we’re becoming.
They only way we will make a significant impact on lowering the level of greenhouse gases we’re pumping into the atmosphere is to radically shift our energy generation and consumption practices as quickly and decisively as possible. We can’t “fight” global warming. We have to give in, give up and move on.
What is fueling global warming? Nearly everything we do. As I type away I’m also sucking up energy from the PGE power grid here in Portland which is, still to a great extent, coal fired. If we want to stop greenhouse gases from accumulating in the atmosphere we have to stop generating them. And, more importantly, we have to help other people stop as well.
This doesn’t mean villifying coal. Coal is not an enemy, it’s compressed carbon. We need to take our collective dis-ease with our current lifestyles and channel that energy into realizing fundamentally different ways of using and generating energy. I know, I know, renewable forms of energy are inefficient, expensive and not practical. The engine in an Oldsmobile wasn’t going to get us to the moon either.
What’s holding us back? We are. Change is hard, scary and uncomfortable, especially when you are a comfortably consuming American, Japanese or newly middle-classed Chinese. Give it up people. The dream of the last one hundred years is choking us with CO2. Let’s figure out and realize a better way.
Revolution is coming one way or another. Either we keep “fighting” global warming with ineffective protocols, accords and reductions (until the glaciers melt, sea levels rise and all hell breaks loose) or we leap forward to something that just might sustain ALL of us. We’ve done it before. We can do it again.
Let’s stop fighting and start being the change we need to see in the world. Rant over. Let’s get on with it.
As noted in previous posts, Alex Evans and others spoke on inter-related elements of the implications and science surrounding global warming and climate change. Present only for the first half, my impressions are recorded below:
Alex Evans ended his presentation with the pronouncement that he doesn’t believe that the G8 leaders can fully grasp, develop and relate the climate change story in a meaningful way. This begs the question, “OK, well then, who does get it?
Actually, it’s not so much “getting it” as it is the storytelling aspect that is eluding our leaders. Al Gore, certainly has no trouble getting his point across in An Inconvenient Truth. Yet his story is one that falls well short of relating the inter-related complexities of food production & distribution, food availability, energy availability, climate change.
I think the problem is choosing what story to tell. Where do you begin? Where do you end? What do you leave out? What do you include? Evans pointed out that without shared awareness acting as an attractor for attention it’s very difficult to craft a moving national or global narrative. Also, with little causal fuel for creating a sense of urgency, getting the public or a leader’s constituency to support sustained action (and sacrifice) regarding climate change is also quite a challenge.
What Evans said we needed was a “shared OS” and “shared platforms” that would allow multilateral functionalism and cooperation on climate change issues. I would add that the OS and platforms should be “open source” to allow development of shared applications that can be localized and run “glocally.”
With the above architecture in place Evans implied that it then becomes more plausible to
- create systems level measurement and detection tools
- implement strategically targeted and transparent financial interventions
- refocus trade policy along systemically apparent needs and dynamics
- develop useful risk management and assistance programs
As noted in previous posts, Dr. Scott and others spoke on inter-related elements of the implications and science surrounding global warming and climate change. Present only for the first half, my impressions are recorded below:
David Sanborn Scott presented an elegantly systemic overview of the patterns which underlie energy consumption (reproduced below). The overview identifies “roles” as opposed to the “things” that fill those roles during different eras of energy use.
One of the points he made is that policy makers don’t understand the “energy architecture”, the structures and patterns that undergird energy issues. They tend to focus on “things” and outputs without understanding the relationships between those things and outputs. This creates debacles like the Kyoto Protocol and the emissions trading ridiculousness that arose with it.
Instead, what policy makers and energy producers should be looking is something like Dr. Scott’s model:
(services) – (service technologies) – (currencies) – (transformer technologies) – (sources)
This model begins not with the source of the energy (coal fields, gas deposits, crude oil) but with the service that source enables (for example, heating). To provide heat there must be heat providing technologies as well as “currencies” that power the service technologies. These currencies are what we generally call “fuel” such as coal, natural gas, and gasoline. The transformer technologies are things like coal mines and mining tools and oil refining technology.
Dr. Scott went on to explain why hydrogen is a compelling choice for a “new” major currency. It can be transformed using a number of currencies as sources including sunlight, wind, natural gas and uranium. In terms of sustainability, then, Dr. Scott argued that renewable resources are neither wholly necessary or sufficient. For example trees are renewable but if we switched to wood as a primary currency we would still have emissions problems. destroy a key CO2 absorbing mechanism and run out of wood in pretty short order.
What is necessary, he claimed, is a diversity of sources that yield currencies (like hydrogen) that do not destabilize the atmosphere and climatic conditions. In broader terms, the currency when transformed to a service needs to have a minimal intrusion on eco-systemic flows.
Dr. Scott concluded with how hydrogen could assume a greater role including powering vehicles like cars, submarines and planes as well as generating power for other electrically powered services.
What was really compelling about Dr. Scott’s presentation was the way in which he re-framed the energy consumption process and how, when we begin to see it as a system, we can begin to see where we can apply leverage to generate meaningful change and what is required to enable that change.
Also, he convinced me that hydrogen may very well have an important role to play in reducing emissions and stabilizing supply and demand issues.
Dr. Scott left us with this message concerning the role hydrogen can play in affecting climate change:
The needs are critical.
• The fundamental ideas, simple.
• The lack of understanding, stupefying.
• The dithering, scary.
• The promise, brilliant.
As noted in the previous post, Dr. Prins and others spoke on inter-related elements of the implications and science surrounding global warming and climate change. Present only for the first half, my impressions are recorded below:
Dr. Prins took us on a romp through the folly of emissions targets and trading in a presentation starting at Kyoto and ending at the collective feet of policy makers at the G8 summit in Hokkaido. He compared the challenge of creating climate policy to understanding a double helix intertwining the physical and socially constructed worlds of humanity.
Really more than a double helix, Dr. Prins described climate change issues as “wicked problems” that arise from the interaction of the complex open systems in which we live. Wicked problems are not “solved”. In an oversimplification they only improve or worsen. Remember that a gain in one place, though, is often a loss somewhere else.
Dr. Prins stated clearly that Kyoto brought no real decrease in emissions and, in fact, could not even decrease the rate of increase. He stated (and I agree) that we need to stop trying to control outputs and focus on affecting and changing the inputs. His proposed solution was to target the industries responsible for ~60% of carbon emissions and work with them to set limits, targets for reduction and development of alternative non-carbon producing processes.
Another significant aspect of Dr. Prins’ presentation was on why the public is having such a hard time engaging with climate change issues. Using the Issue Attention Cycle he described how (we) the public has heard the media and governments sound the alarm twice now yet little is accomplished, there are very few tangible, clearly causally related events and seemingly little people can do help. Thus, there is a very real risk that, yet again, climate change and the behaviors that create and feed CO2 into the atmosphere will, yet again, subside in importance and urgency in the public eye.
In my opinion, the only way out of this cycle is to move as individuals, communities and organizations toward Coherence. At that stage of engagement we begin to re-design, re-organize and re-create from eco-centric, sustainable ways. We need to become sustainable from the inside-out as opposed to having “green” ideologies imposed upon us from the outside-in.
Actually, there is another way. We can do nothing and wait for all hell to break loose-which it will. Then, we’ll have a whole new set of problems to “fight.” And fight we will.
The above video is from the United Nations University symposium entitled: “Innovation & Entrepreneurism in the Time of Climate Change.”
As noted in the previous post, Hansen and others spoke on inter-related elements of the implications and science surrounding global warming and climate change. Present only for the first half, my impressions are recorded below:
In general, what I found most interesting and disturbing is the panelists agreement that there is no shared understanding of the problem much less any coherence on what needs to be done.
Central to Hansen’s presentation is that there is an absence of strategy addressing climate change and how to engage it. His approach is, first, to set a limit of 350 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere. He bases this calculation on paleo-historical evidence that indicate this has been the relatively stable level of CO2 in the atmosphere during times in which the Earth’s climate has most resembled the climate we, as humans, have been enjoying for the last few thousand years. In order to realize the above limit, Hansen recommends
- Post fossil fuel thinking + behavior: Phase out emissions from coal plants and stop building more. Institute carbon taxes which are returned to people in the form benefits for reducing carbon emissions and using and developing alternatives to carbon producing technologies (a “cap-dividend” model). Create “low loss” electric grids for the dispersion of energy. His letter to Prime Minister Fukuda that outlines this strategy can be dowloaded here.
- Changes in agricultural practices (not elaborated)
- Reforestation + soil stewardship (not elaborated)
Hansen, I believe, wisely is pushing for action closer to the roots of climate change dynamics. Pushing for an end to emissions from coal burning is a powerful and very challenging goal as both China and India are revving up their infrastructures through-you guessed it-coal burning power plants.
Climate change and the human influenced dynamics responsible for it are a lot like kudzu. Topical spraying and hacking away at the edges of the plant do little to stop it from spreading. We’ve got to find the roots and stop proliferation there. In this case the roots are us. We’ve got to change or change will change us. Guaranteed.
Attended a symposium at the United Nations University in Tokyo as a prelude to the G8 summit in Hokkaido. It focused on a number of differently related topics on climate change. Featured speakers included Jim Hansen, the NASA scientist responsible for sounding the initial alarm around climate change, a thoroughly entertaining and informative Gwyn Prins from the LSE, Bill McKibben, environmentalist author, and a host of other people with different takes on reducing CO2.
Though only present for the first half, my reflections and rationale for missing the second half are below:
I passed on the second half because a large number of the presentations focused on reducing CO2 output. “Fighting” global warming or focussing on carbon emissions reduction and offsets is simply a waste of time, money and energy. Focusing on shrinking our “carbon footprints”, trading emissions and setting disconnected CO2 emissions reduction goals is, to quote the Godfather of Soul “Talkin’ loud…but we ain’t sayin’ nothin’.”
To have any meaningful effect on this issue, we’ve got to look at and change the fundamental behaviors contributing to global warming, rises in oil costs, food shortages and renewed interest in coal and nuclear energy. We also need to understand the meaning of that behavior for the long-term (100+ years) sustainability of human civilization. Less than our survival, a focus on flourishing, I believe, is in order.
The behavior I’m referring to includes individual, family, community, regional and national habits of energy consumption, corporate research, development and production, policy setting and cross-industry, cross-sector co-operation and collaboration. Underlying this behavior is a desire to live well, make money and an unhealthy penchant for short-term “green” action that hurts much more than it helps (oil palm plantation expansion into rain forests is but one example).
The current challenge we are facing is: How can we flourish (live well) while reducing demands for unhealthy energy sources like coal and oil? Linked to this challenge is the, even greater, challenge of integrating our lives with the eco-systemic dynamics that support us and take the Cradle to Cradle approach of creating 0 waste and ongoing, creative recycling.
This does not mean falling backward in some painful Luddite breakfall. It means learning to roll smoothly forward, land on our feet and co-create communities, businesses and economies that are flexible, adaptable and focused on flourishing within the eco-systems from which we emerged and in which we are inextricably embedded.
This means we become eco-centric innovators and entrepreneurs developing technologies, products and services that serve eco-logical and eco-nomic health. This is not an issue of being liberal or conservative, capitalist or socialist, hawkish or dovish, monotheistic, polytheistic or atheistic, Muslim, Wiccan, Christian, Hindi or Buddhist, “dark green”, “bright green”, brown or blue. It is about understanding our fundamental relationships with others and the world around us and intending benefit for all.
The Buddhists call it “right intention.” From right intention springs right action.
What is your intention and, more importantly, what are you doing?