What have you done today to lower your impact?

We are washing away the foundations of our existence on every front. It is high time we move from crashing about on the planet like a bull in china shop and find a way to go forward with intent. We must find systems of living based on sustainability. The systems and tools exist, it is up to each of us to adopt them.

Blog Archive

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Video- Prince Charles' Rainforest SOS appeal

Here's the blurb from the project's Facebook page. Go to the website for more info.

"Even though tropical forests seem a long way away from most of us, they play a vital role in all our lives, every day. In fact, rainforests are essential for the wellbeing of everyone, because they are the world’s natural air-conditioning and thermostat systems. They act as the cooling belt around the centre of our planet. They help provide the oxygen that we breathe and they generate much of the rainfall that is essential around the world for producing food to meet the demands of our growing global population.

Rainforests are also undeniably linked to our ability to prevent catastrophic climate change and that is why His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales established his Rainforests Project.

Widespread destruction of a precious resource:
Tropical forests absorb nearly a sixth of all man-made CO2 emissions around the world. This greatly helps to minimise the effects of climate change. However, these same rainforests are currently being destroyed at the rate of an area the size of a football pitch every four seconds. To make matters worse, when the rainforests are burnt down – to clear land for commercial farming or mining, for example – they release all the CO2 that they have stored back into the atmosphere. The alarming scale of this rapid burning of the rainforests around the world means that the annual level of CO2 emissions created by tropical deforestation is actually greater than that produced by the entire global transport network. It is for this reason that The Prince's Rainforests Project (PRP) has the clear ambition to ‘Make the trees worth more alive than dead’. Encouraging international action: We are working with governments, businesses and non-profit organisations around the world to find solutions to deforestation – and to find them fast. In particular, we have identified the need for an Emergency Package of funding for rainforest nations to help protect the rainforests."

Video - Walkable cities, Enrique Penalosa

"Mathematically, it is totally impossible to solve the transportation problems of a city using cars." Enrique Penalosa

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Hi Density, Less Driving, lower emissions, given enough time

Much modern day urban planning focuses on high density neighborhoods with most of the needs of the residences located within walking distance. A recent study from the National Academy of Sciences concludes that these walkable neighborhoods reduce Co2 emissions, given enough time, as in the case of Portland Oregon. The reduction is not huge but every little bit adds up to significant reductions over time and time is a major factor in urban planning. As reported by Clark Williams-Derry over at WorldChanging;

"Living in a mixed-use neighborhood -- with a mixture of single family homes and multi-family housing, with some stores, transit, and other services nearby -- might cut the average person's driving by perhaps a third to a half, compared with car-dependent sprawl. Living in an even more compact urban neighborhood, with lots of stores and jobs within walking distance, might cut per capita driving by a half to two-thirds, or perhaps more.

At the level of an entire metropolis, the effects of compact design can be signficant. The report found that Portland's metropolitan land use and transportation planning system, in place since the 1970s, has cut city residents' driving by 17 percent. Just so, residents of the comparatively compact Boston metro area drive a quarter less than do folks in sprawling Atlanta."

The layout of a city has effects for many many years and thus can significantly impact that cities greenhouse gas emissions.

There is some pessimism about the value of changes that take so long to make a significant impact. Here is Mr. Williams-Derry's take on that;

"As I see it, there are at least 5 major reasons why we shouldn't settle for the more pessimistic view.

1) We should think on the margins: A metro area's population might grow only a percent or two a year, so the averages don't budge much year-to-year. But on the margins, encouraging new development in denser areas turns out to be a very effective way of reducing the greenhouse gas emissions from new residents. Over the long haul, it's the margins that matter, since they control the direction of change.

2) There's more to emissions than how much we drive: Reductions in driving understate the climate benefits of compact neighborhoods. As this study shows, living in a compact neighborhood doesn't just reduce how many miles you drive, it also seems to increase the odds that you'll choose a more fuel efficient car. And compact neighborhoods can also reduce net emissions for heating, cooling, and powering your home.

3) Creating alternatives to sprawl has multiple benefits. Channeling growth into compact neighborhoods can help protect farmland and open space; reduce wasteful spending on public infrastructure; promote health; reduce impervious surface per capita; and so forth. As important as greenhouse gases are, it's only one reason among many for curbing sprawl.

4) Waiting for the feds is a sucker's game. Cities and towns that want to take action to protect the climate simply can't sit back and wait for federal action on, say, boosting auto fuel efficiency. Waiting for the feds is the lazy way out -- and given the ever-changing nature of politics, it's an incredibly risky strategy, since even the most progressive federal policies can change overnight.

5) Over the long haul, even small things matter--a lot. Global warming is a long-term problem, and it requires long-term solutions. Sure, it could take 50 years or more for changes in urban form to take a major bite out of US emissions. But if the developed world is going to make the massive emissions cuts that are going to be necessary, we're going to have to employ every single tool at our disposal."

I can speak from personal experience having now lived in the very walkable city of Sheffield England and am now living near the city center of Hamilton Bermuda, no car needed in either. It is an absolute joy! My quality of life is so much higher than when I lived in cities with planning centered around the automobile. I used to spend up to an hour or more driving every day, what a waste of time. Now I walk every day, either for my usual errands or intentionally for exercise, and as a result don't need a gym membership or any exercise equipment taking up room in my home, I don't have car payments, don't buy gasoline, pay for auto insurance, maintenance or tires. So for me living in a walkable neighborhood is a quality of life issue and it certainly reduces my personal carbon footprint.

Monday, 28 September 2009

The folly that is Geo Engineering w/ video

First a little primer on geoengineering from Bill Becker over at Climate progress;

"If you are not yet familiar with geo-engineering, I will attempt to define it in non-technical terms before offering a few observations on the new research:

  • Geo-engineering is the practice of messing around with global life-support systems we don’t understand. If we did understand them, we might not be in the pickle we’re in today. Or at least it would be a greener pickle.
  • Geo-engineering is a relatively new field based on the outdated and repeatedly discredited assumption that we humans are smart enough and wise enough to rule over the rest of the biosphere. Rather than applied engineering, we might call it “applied conceit”.
  • Contrariwise and at the same time, geo-engineering is a symptom of our growing skepticism that we are able to stop climate change with rational solutions such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, carbon pricing and behavioral changes. In other words, interest in geo-engineering is rooted in the idea that although we’re too stupid to do the simple things that would slow climate change, we’re smart enough to do the improbable things.
  • Geo-engineering is one outgrowth of our apparent learning disability about the law of unintended consequences. That law would be unleashed full-force once we started manipulating the oceans and atmosphere to create what one environmentalist calls “the Frankenplanet”. Geo-engineering is like a grownup version of whack-a-mole, where hammering down one problem causes others to pop up, to our great surprise."

This geo engineering craze is the same kind of thinking that got us into the problem we are now facing with runaway climate change. Hubris in the extreme. In our arrogance we assume we know how to engineer nature to make into something we want it to be, look around and you can see where that got us. The biosphere is an unbelievably complex system that developed over 4.5 billion years and we think that with the knowledge we have developed in a few hundred years we can design something better? Our "engineering" has nearly brought about the unraveling of the entire planetary ecosystem. That paradigm must be put aside.

Aside from that obvious drawback it is dangerous in that geo engineering encourages us to continue on with our over consumptive ways. THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE TO CUTTING EMISSIONS! If we don't the oceans will acidify beyond the point where they can support life. We are entirely dependent upon the ecosystem services that the oceans provide as living breathing habitats full of diversity.

Geo Engineering also cleverly sidesteps the issues of the limits to growth. We are running up against them in everything we do.

Geo Engineering is being supported by the big oil and coal companies because they see it as a way to continue business as usual. Other major corporations see it as a profit making venture and hope that we will continue to believe that we can pass responsibility for global climate change out of our own hands into theirs. This is folly.

Video - "Local Food" with Rob Hopkins of the Transition Network

As he says in the video;

"You can never change things by fighting the existing reality. Build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

Wanna trade your excess produce from your veggie garden?

How'd your garden grow this season? Did you, like so many backyard veggie growers, end up with way too much of a particular crop? Tomatoes, Zuchini, melons? Here is a site that enables growers to connect and share, trade or sell produce. It's called Veggie Trader. Check it out.

Cut your utility bills with the govt's help

As reported here by Jessica L. Anderson and Pat Mertz Esswein, the government is offering generous incentives to improve efficiency and install renewable energy systems in your home;

"For a limited time only, get federal aid for home improvements that can help you reduce your tax and energy bills! Through 2010 you can cut your tax bill by 30% of the cost of certain projects, up to $1,500! And through 2016 you can get a credit for 30% of the cost -- with no limit -- of geothermal heat pumps, solar panels, solar water heaters, small wind-energy systems and fuel cells!

And that's no hype. Washington is serious about energy efficiency, and will pay up to $1,500 for home improvements, such as windows and doors, certain insulation projects, roofs and high-efficiency water heaters (for more information, visit http://www.energystar.gov).

The government has also slated $300 million for rebates on the purchase of Energy Star-qualified appliances (see http://www.dsireusa.org for details). The money should be available late this year or early next.

With the federal government chipping in 30% of the cost, generating power at home makes economic sense for many Americans. In addition to the federal tax credit, 44 states offer renewable-energy tax incentives, ranging from property- and sales-tax discounts to income-tax credits. Rebates are available in 42 states from a variety of sources, including utility companies (see www.dsireusa.org for incentives in your state)."

So what are saving up for? Will it be as good an investment as this?

Read the whole article here.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Video - Drew Jones is a hopeful guy when it comes to Climate Change

Thanks to Joe Romm over at Climate Progress for the heads up on this:

Like what you see? If you are interested in open source climate modeling check out Drew's site.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Insufficient fuel to stoke the G20 fire

The G20 has decided to further the damaging addiction to unsustainable growth. As reported over at Peak Oil: Planning, Preparation, and Relocation;

"... we can examine the economic growth that the world experienced from 2003 until 2007. In 2003 oil consumption was 77 million barrels per day and in 2007 it was around 85 million barrels per day, i.e. an increase of 10 percent. At the moment consumption is around 84 million barrels per day. If the stimulus package that the G20 group decided on is to generate the same amount of growth as seen in the 2003 to 2007 period then we will need an increase of 8 to 9 million barrels per day during the next 5 years. Such an increase is not possible."

Clearly the energy to fuel the growth the G20 are planning on is out of the question.

As long we measure progress using the outmoded concept of GDP the illusion of perpetual growth will persist. GDP allows the inclusion of environmental cleanup, such occurred after the Exxon Valdez spill, superfund sites, and treatment of the cancers that result. If on one hand we inslude the creation of the devastation that causes the cleanup and call that activity growth and then include the cleanup itself we are at least delusional, and at worst insane. As long as we allow corporations whose only motivation is profit to define "growth" and how and why we should pursue it we are in serious trouble.

It is high time we let our leaders know that a new paradigm is needed. We need a steady state, sustainable economy, one that looks after the needs of all the worlds people through to the seventh generation, rather than one that, as Paul Hawken says, "steals the future, sells it in the present and calls it GDP."

For more details read the full article by Kjell Aleklett, Professor of Physics
Global Energy Systems, Uppsala University, www.fysast.uu.se/ges
President of ASPO International, the International Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas, www.peakoil.net

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Limits to Growth, Half measures, and the consequences

The title of this blog, Sustainable Living, suggests that a sustainable lifestyle is not only possible but is also a worthy goal. We must acknowledge however that living a western consumerist lifestyle is fundamentally not sustainable. At best we have only so much ability to personally close the resource loops attached to our consumption; growing our own food, conserving and recycling water, producing our own energy, reducing if not eliminating automobile transport, and contributing to the development of a local more sustainable economy. These are all necessary steps towards a more sustainable life and when coupled with vigorous involvement in the process of government and a commitment to public education regarding the excesses of the growth paradigm can have a significant impact. But is it enough? Enough to do what exactly?
Is our goal to halt the assault on the natural world? To reduce the threat of human suffering brought on by the consequences of our over consumption?

My earliest stirrings of environmentalism came about when I returned home from several months of summer vacation and found that the woodland where I spent many of my most precious hours growing up had been cleared for a housing development. I was beside my self with anger and grief. I argued with my father that no-one should have the right to do that, I was all of 12 years old. I felt betrayed and robbed by the adult world. It was a mostly selfish response. MY rights had been ignored. But I also felt strongly that the rights of the woodland inhabitants, from the birds and squirrels right down to the bamboo grove and the sycamore tree, one of only 2 on the island, had been been denied. It was my first exposure to the western concept of nature as commodity and it sucked!

Surely, the development of deep ecology and the recognition by so many that all the creatures, all life, has an inherent right to exist is an indicator that many of us are motivated to preserve biodiversity for it's own sake, an altruistic motivation. It is also painfully clear that we are completely dependent upon it for our very lives, a more selfish reason to work for sustainability.

There are other motivators; social justice, climate change as a threat to profit, a degraded quality of life created by the debt based consumerist lifestyle, centralisation of power in the hands of corporations, a realization that we are stealing from our descendants, and for some the desire to preserve God's creation. I ask again, has it been enough? Are we on track to accomplish any of those goals? Or has environmentalism failed?

Research throughout this decade indicate that we are clearly and unequivocally failing to achieve these goals. A report from the Stockholm Resilience Center has gloomy news about the limits of the planet and how close we are to reaching them. As reported over at WorldChanging; (Emphasis is mine)

"Chemicals dispersion
"Emissions of persistent toxic compounds such as metals, various organic compounds and radionuclides, represent some of the key human-driven changes to the planetary environment. [Their] effects are potentially irreversible. Of most concern are the effects of reduced fertility and especially the potential of permanent genetic damage."
(Find more on chemicals dispersion in our archives: Personal Pollution Index.)

Climate Change
"We have reached a point at which the loss of summer polar ice is almost certainly irreversible. From the perspective of the Earth as a complex system, this is one example of the sharp threshold above which large feedback mechanisms could drive the Earth system into a much warmer, greenhouse gas-rich state... Recent evidence suggests that the Earth System, now passing 387 ppmv CO2, has already transgressed this Planetary Boundary."
(Find more on Climate Change in our archives: Zero, Now.)

Ocean acidification
"Around a quarter of the CO2 humanity produces is dissolved in the oceans. Here it forms carbonic acid, altering ocean chemistry and decreasing the pH of the surface water. Increased acidity reduces the amount of available carbonate ions, an essential building block used for shell and skeleton formation in organisms such as corals, and some shellfish and plankton species. ...The ocean acidification boundary is a clear example of a boundary which, if transgressed, will involve very large change in marine ecosystems, with ramifications for the whole planet."
(Find more on ocean acidification in our archives: Oceans Are the New Atmosphere.)

Freshwater consumption and the global hydrological cycle
"The freshwater cycle is both a major prerequisite for staying within the climate boundary, and is strongly affected by climate change. Human pressure is now the dominating driving force determining the function and distribution of global freshwater systems. The effects are dramatic, including both global-scale river flow change and shifts in vapour flows from land use change."
(Find more on freshwater and the hydrological cycle in our archives: World Water Day: Freshwater Roundup.)

Land system change
"Land is converted to human use all over the planet. Forests, wetlands and other vegetation types are converted primarily to agricultural land. This land-use change is one driving force behind reduced biodiversity and has impacts on water flows as well as carbon and other cycles. Land cover change occurs on local and regional scales but when aggregated appears to impact the Earth System on a global scale."
(Find more on land system change in our archives: Protecting the Environment, Protecting Our Health.)

Nitrogen and phosphorus inputs to the biosphere and oceans
"Human modification of the nitrogen cycle has been even greater than our modification of the carbon cycle. Human activities now convert more N2 from the atmosphere into reactive forms than all of the Earth´s terrestrial processes combined. Much of this new reactive nitrogen pollutes waterways and coastal zones, is emitted to the atmosphere in various forms, or accumulates in the terrestrial biosphere. ...[Much ends up in] the sea, and can push marine and aquatic systems across thresholds..."
(Find more on nitrogen and phosphorus in our archives: The Nitrogen Wiki.)

Atmospheric aerosol loading
"This is considered a planetary boundary for two main reasons: (i) the influence of aerosols on the climate system and (ii) their adverse effects on human health at a regional and global scale."

(Find more on atmospheric aerosol loading in our archives: No Continent is an Island.)"

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment completed in 2005 indicates that bio diversity is more at risk than at any time in human history; (Emphasis is mine)

"Four Main Findings
■ Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber, and fuel. This has resulted in a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth.

■ The changes that have been made to ecosystems have contributed to substantial net gains in human well-being and economic development, but these gains have been achieved at growing costs in the form of the degradation of many ecosystem services, increased risks of nonlinear changes, and the exacerbation of poverty for some groups of people. These problems, unless addressed, will substantially diminish the benefits that future generations obtain from ecosystems.

■ The degradation of ecosystem services could grow significantly worse during the first half of this century and is a barrier to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

■ The challenge of reversing the degradation of ecosystems while meeting increasing demands for their services can be partially met under some scenarios that the MA has considered, but these involve significant changes in policies, institutions, and practices that are not currently under way. Many options exist to conserve or enhance specific ecosystem services in ways that reduce negative trade-offs or that provide positive synergies with other ecosystem services.

On top of all this, new research indicates that melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets is accelerating. (Emphasis is mine)

"New satellite information shows that ice sheets in
Greenland and western Antarctica continue to shrink faster than scientists thought and in some places are already in runaway melt mode.

British scientists for the first time calculated changes in the height of the vulnerable but massive ice sheets and found them especially worse at their edges. That's where warmer water eats away from below.

In some parts of Antarctica, ice sheets have been losing 30 feet a year in thickness since 2003, according to a paper published online Thursday in the journal Nature.

Some of those areas are about a mile thick, so they've still got plenty of ice to burn through. But the drop in thickness is speeding up. In parts of Antarctica, the yearly rate of thinning from 2003 to 2007 is 50 percent higher than it was from 1995 to 2003." - Discovery News

The old paradigm of working at the fringes of our lives, a little recycling here, turning off the lights there, is clearly insufficient to our needs. We need a radical redesign of our lifestyles.

We must abandon consumerism, the planet can no longer support it. We must relocalize our economies, both to reduce the impact of the global transportation of commodities and to re-instill a sense of stewardship of the resources we depend on. This will reinvigorate communities ripped apart and degraded by the current system as we come to trade and work with our neighbors to create healthy neighborhoods that produce their own food and energy. We must learn the skills necessary to do this. Everyone will need a practical skill. There are those elders still alive who can teach us.

There are many systems designed that can help to bring this about, the Transition movement is one that is gaining in strength and I urge you to follow the link and check it out. Download and read the Transition Primer.

The important thing is to get started. Household by household, neighborhood by neighborhood, town by town, city by city, country by country these changes will come. All we have to do is to decide how. Climate change and Peak oil will bring the current paradigm to it's knees. Will we be forced, kicking, screaming and suffering to change, or will we plan it in advance, do it right and enjoy the freedom it will bring?

My father advised me when I was surrounded by bad behaviour,

"Set an example don't take one."

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Video - President Nasheed Calls for 350 Action on October 24

Stand with a nation on the brink of extinction.

Here's a message from Bill McKibben at 350.org

Dear Friends,

We've got about a month to go before the big International Day of Climate Action on October 24, and just in case you needed a little motivation we've got a video to show you, from one of the braver world leaders we know.

Watch the President of the Maldives' brave call for emergency action on climate change--and add your voice to his call for 350:


Mohamed Nasheed, the president of the Maldives, isn't just brave because he endured five years as a political prisoner before finally ousting the country's longtime ruler in an election last fall. He's brave, too, because he's confronting head-on the question of the country's survival, instead of simply focusing on easier issues.

The Maldives are like the whole planet in miniature-global warming threatens their very existence, and almost certainly before the century is out. The highest point in the islands is a couple of meters above sea level-and since scientists say sea level may rise a couple of meters this century, that's a dangerous neighborhood to live in.

It's entirely possible that the nation of the Maldives-where people have lived for thousands of years, their lives built around an ecologically sustainable fishery-simply won't be there before long. Take a moment and try to imagine that--your home, your neighborhood, or your city being completely wiped off the map. Imagine your country's flag being lowered at the UN headquarters because your country quite literally does not exist.

President Nasheed faces this reality every day. That's why he's become an outspoken advocate for 350.

Yesterday, Nasheed joined world leaders in New York at a landmark meeting which is supposed to break the climate deadlock that could threaten the crucial UN meetings set for Copenhagen this December. While President Obama was there issuing a fairly tame call for "an agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions...and [an] agreement that will allow all nations to grow and raise living standards without endangering the planet," the Maldivian president was out in front of the curve. In unequivocal terms, President Nasheed said the following:

"If things go business-as-usual, we will not live, we will die. Our country will not exist. We cannot come out from Copenhagen as failures. We cannot make Copenhagen a pact for suicide. We have to succeed and we have to make a deal in Copenhagen."

But President Nasheed is just one man, and his call will be ignored without a movement to support it. Take 90 seconds to watch President Nasheed's call to action and sign the 350 pledge for a safe climate future. Members of the 350.org crew are in New York this week for the UN Climate Meetings, delivering the 350 message in person--and they can use all the support you can muster.

And while you're signing the pledge, listen to the President's words carefully. In case you think he's just talking, note that he's planning to personally put on his scuba gear and lead the world's largest underwater demonstration on Oct. 24, with 350 Maldivians bringing their signs and banners down to the sea floor to make the point that every corner of our planet is threatened. So signing the pledge is the first step--and joining the world on October 24 will really make your commitment count.

350 is gaining more and more momentum every day, and I hope President Nasheed's call will help this movement grow further and faster than it has before. The 350 message needs to come from every part of the globe on Oct. 24-from small countries like the Maldives that haven't caused the problem but will suffer its consequences, and from big countries like the United States that have done so much of the damage.

Please sign on today and join the growing global stand for 350--the world needs you now more than ever.


Bill McKibben

P.S. If there was ever a call to action that warranted sharing to your network, it's this. Please pass it on with a couple of clicks to Facebook and Twitter and everywhere else you can think of.

P.P.S. Last week, we asked you to join the Global Wake-Up Call...it was a fantastic success and you can check out some of our favorite photos here: www.350.org/wake-up

Another greenpeace banner in Pittsburgh for the G20

US Chamber of Commerce way out of touch, PG&E quits

In a previous post, Small but positive steps from business towards Climate Change adaptation,
I related how some 52% of the fortune 500 companies are formulating emissions policies in direct contravention of the US Chamber of Commerce's stance on Climate Change. Now major corporations are quitting the chamber over it's anti-science position. As reported over at Climate Progress, companies are leaving other denier organizations;

PG&E, the major west coast energy supplier has issued this statement,

"We find it dismaying that the Chamber neglects the indisputable fact that a decisive majority of experts have said the data on global warming are compelling and point to a threat that cannot be ignored. In our opinion, an intellectually honest argument over the best policy response to the challenges of climate change is one thing; disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality of these challenges are quite another....

In a letter to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, PG&E Chairman and CEO Peter Darbee cited “fundamental differences” over climate change to explain why the company is pulling out of the organization, despite the Chamber’s “long history as a positive force for America’s businesses and its economy.”

The letter criticized the Chamber for taking an extreme position on climate change, which Darbee said does not represent the range of views among Chamber members. In particular, he took the Chamber to task for its recent demand that there be a “Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century” to challenge the science on climate change….

Darbee also drew a sharp contrast between the Chamber’s approach and the constructive, consensus-driven positions forged by Edison Electric Institute and the U.S. Climate Action Partnership.

Instead, he said, “I fear it has forfeited an incredible chance to play a constructive leadership role on one of the most important issues our country may ever face.”...

This is another in a long line of major companies quitting industry groups that are pushing denial, delay, and disinformation:

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Video - A terrible thing

Who's been getting the subsidies?

Why is it we continue to subsidize corporations that earn the biggest profits in human history, are emitting greenhouse gases sure to bring an end to the ecosystem as we know it, and have taken control of our political process with massive quantities of spending on lobbyists in the halls of government? Next time you hear someone say that renewables aren't worth doing because the are not competitive without subsidies remind them of these figures.

President Obama's speech at the UN Climate Summit

Good morning. I want to thank the Secretary-General for organizing this summit, and all the leaders who are participating. That so many of us are here today is a recognition that the threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing. Our generation’s response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it – boldly, swiftly, and together – we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.

No nation, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the impact of climate change. Rising sea levels threaten every coastline. More powerful storms and floods threaten every continent. More frequent drought and crop failures breed hunger and conflict in places where hunger and conflict already thrive. On shrinking islands, families are already being forced to flee their homes as climate refugees. The security and stability of each nation and all peoples – our prosperity, our health, our safety – are in jeopardy. And the time we have to reverse this tide is running out.

And yet, we can reverse it. John F. Kennedy once observed that “Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man.” It is true that for too many years, mankind has been slow to respond to or even recognize the magnitude of the climate threat. It is true of my own country as well. We recognize that. But this is a new day. It is a new era. And I am proud to say that the United States has done more to promote clean energy and reduce carbon pollution in the last eight months than at any other time in our history.

We’re making our government’s largest ever investment in renewable energy – an investment aimed at doubling the generating capacity from wind and other renewable resources in three years. Across America, entrepreneurs are constructing wind turbines and solar panels and batteries for hybrid cars with the help of loan guarantees and tax credits – projects that are creating new jobs and new industries. We’re investing billions to cut energy waste in our homes, buildings, and appliances – helping American families save money on energy bills in the process. We’ve proposed the very first national policy aimed at both increasing fuel economy and reducing greenhouse gas pollution for all new cars and trucks – a standard that will also save consumers money and our nation oil. We’re moving forward with our nation’s first offshore wind energy projects. We’re investing billions to capture carbon pollution so that we can clean up our coal plants. Just this week, we announced that for the first time ever, we’ll begin tracking how much greenhouse gas pollution is being emitted throughout the country. Later this week, I will work with my colleagues at the G20 to phase out fossil fuel subsidies so that we can better address our climate challenge. And already, we know that the recent drop in overall U.S. emissions is due in part to steps that promote greater efficiency and greater use of renewable energy.

Most importantly, the House of Representatives passed an energy and climate bill in June that would finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy for American businesses and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One committee has already acted on this bill in the Senate and I look forward to engaging with others as we move forward.

Because no one nation can meet this challenge alone, the United States has also engaged more allies and partners in finding a solution than ever before. In April, we convened the first of what have now been six meetings of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate here in the United States. In Trinidad, I proposed an Energy and Climate Partnership for the Americas. We’ve worked through the World Bank to promote renewable energy projects and technologies in the developing world. And we have put climate at the top of our diplomatic agenda when it comes to our relationships with countries from China to Brazil; India to Mexico; Africa to Europe.

Taken together, these steps represent an historic recognition on behalf of the American people and their government. We understand the gravity of the climate threat. We are determined to act. And we will meet our responsibility to future generations.

But though many of our nations have taken bold actions and share in this determination, we did not come here today to celebrate progress. We came because there is so much more progress to be made. We came because there is so much more work to be done.

It is work that will not be easy. As we head towards Copenhagen, there should be no illusions that the hardest part of our journey is in front of us. We seek sweeping but necessary change in the midst of a global recession, where every nation’s most immediate priority is reviving their economy and putting their people back to work. And so all of us will face doubts and difficulties in our own capitals as we try to reach a lasting solution to the climate challenge.

But difficulty is no excuse for complacency. Unease is no excuse for inaction. And we must not allow the perfect to become the enemy of progress. Each of us must do what we can when we can to grow our economies without endangering our planet – and we must all do it together. We must seize the opportunity to make Copenhagen a significant step forward in the global fight against climate change.

We also cannot allow the old divisions that have characterized the climate debate for so many years to block our progress. Yes, the developed nations that caused much of the damage to our climate over the last century still have a responsibility to lead. And we will continue to do so – by investing in renewable energy, promoting greater efficiency, and slashing our emissions to reach the targets we set for 2020 and our long-term goal for 2050.

But those rapidly-growing developing nations that will produce nearly all the growth in global carbon emissions in the decades ahead must do their part as well. Some of these nations have already made great strides with the development and deployment of clean energy. Still, they will need to commit to strong measures at home and agree to stand behind those commitments just as the developed nations must stand behind their own. We cannot meet this challenge unless all the largest emitters of greenhouse gas pollution act together. There is no other way.

We must also energize our efforts to put other developing nations – especially the poorest and most vulnerable – on a path to sustainable growth. These nations do not have the same resources to combat climate change as countries like the United States or China do, but they have the most immediate stake in a solution. For these are the nations that are already living with the unfolding effects of a warming planet – famine and drought; disappearing coastal villages and the conflict that arises from scarce resources. Their future is no longer a choice between a growing economy and a cleaner planet, because their survival depends on both. It will do little good to alleviate poverty if you can no longer harvest your crops or find drinkable water.

That is why we have a responsibility to provide the financial and technical assistance needed to help these nations adapt to the impacts of climate change and pursue low-carbon development.

What we are seeking, after all, is not simply an agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions. We seek an agreement that will allow all nations to grow and raise living standards without endangering the planet. By developing and disseminating clean technology and sharing our know-how, we can help developing nations leap-frog dirty energy technologies and reduce dangerous emissions.

As we meet here today, the good news is that after too many years of inaction and denial, there is finally widespread recognition of the urgency of the challenge before us. We know what needs to be done. We know that our planet’s future depends on a global commitment to permanently reduce greenhouse gas pollution. We know that if we put the right rules and incentives in place, we will unleash the creative power of our best scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to build a better world. And so many nations have already taken the first steps on the journey towards that goal.

But the journey is long. The journey is hard. And we don’t have much time left to make it. It is a journey that will require each of us to persevere through setback, and fight for every inch of progress, even when it comes in fits and starts. So let us begin. For if we are flexible and pragmatic; if we can resolve to work tirelessly in common effort, then we will achieve our common purpose: a world that is safer, cleaner, and healthier than the one we found; and a future that is worthy of our children. Thank you.

Thanks to Joe Romm over at Climate Progress for the text. Follow the link for his links and initial comments on the speech.

Big Media continues to shill for Big Oil

Anyone with half a brain is aware that Fox is the propaganda arm of the republican party with "news" not fit to be called such. CNN seems to be mostly guilty of distraction, more entertainment funded by drug pushers selling their wares than serious news on serious topics. But what about print media? Long the bastion of independent journalism, it is clear that it has slipped into irrelevancy. Take this latest from Newsweek; "Big Oil Goes Green for Real".

Perhaps Newsweek has joined the ranks of psuedo news for comedic purposes, ala the Colbert Report. Perhaps it was meant to be a joke, but April fools day is many months off. Only a fool would believe such dribble. Read more at Climate Progress;
Here is the basis of Newsweek’s nonsensical spin:

In July, ExxonMobil announced big plans to grow green algae to fuel cars. In July, ExxonMobil announced big plans to grow green algae to fuel cars; last week, Chevron unveiled the world’s largest carbon-sequestration project in Australia; and in recent months, Valero, Marathon, and Sunoco carried out a series of acquisitions that resulted in Big Oil controlling 7 percent of the U.S. ethanol business.

The list goes on. And this time it’s the real deal.

[Pause for laughter to die down. Pause longer for subsequent crying jag to end.]

Since when was corn ethanol green?

And ExxonMobil is green … for real? Seriously, Newsweek?

Yes, forget the country’s biggest oil company has funneled millions of dollars to fund the disinformation campaigns of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation, all of which continue to advance unfactual anti-scientific attacks as I have detailed recently (see posts on Heritage and CEI and AEI). Chris Mooney wrote an excellent piece on ExxonMobil’s two-decade anti-scientific campaign. A 2007 Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report looked at ExxonMobil’s tobacco industry-like tactics in pushing global warming denial (see “Today We Have a Planet That’s Smoking!”).

The oil giant said it would stop, but that was just another lie (see “Another ExxonMobil deceit: They are still funding climate science deniers despite public pledge“). Newsweek should read this excellent commentary by award-winning journalist, Eric Pooley, “Exxon Works Up New Recipe for Frying the Planet."

A victory in the courts, but will it stand?

While the big polluters, aka dirty coal, are having success in watering down the climate bill to near irrelevance with their bought and paid for senators, some progress has shown up in the courtroom in New York. As reported over at Climate Progress;

"A federal appeals court ruled Monday that states trying to combat global warming can sue six electric utilities to force them to cut the greenhouse gases emitted by their power plants in 20 states.

You can read the full ruling here. David Hawkins, director of the National Resources Defense Council’s climate programs, told Greenwire (subs. req’d) tonight,

Hawkins added, “The import of this ruling is that failure of Congress or EPA to act on GHG will not immunize emitters from legal action to compel reductions in emissions.”

Take that, delayers!

Again, a federal climate bill would be the best strategy for the country — and the world. But if Congress fails to act — and if fiddlers like Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska block EPA action, then the only place left for recourse will be the courts."

Monday, 21 September 2009

Small but positive steps from business towards Climate Change adaptation

Paul Hawken, in his book The Ecology of Commerce, states that it will be business that brings about the changes in the economy that will address climate change.

"we need a design for business that will ensure that the industrial world as it is presently constituted ceases and is replaced with human-centered enterprises that are sustainable producers."

As reported in the Washington Post by Juliet Eilperin, according to a report due out today from the Carbon Disclosure Project, while the US Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Manufacturers continue to obfuscate and practice diversionary tactics to hinder government progress towards the minimal steps being proposed by the Obama administration, over half of the Fortune 500 companies, 20% more than last year, are making clear statements indicating that they believe climate change will seriously impact their bottom line and are taking steps to address it in their business practices.

"Many of these groups also see global warming as a threat to their bottom lines -- including 84 percent of financial-sector respondents -- citing concerns including a potential shortage of raw materials and supply-chain disruptions because of severe weather. When it comes to climate, corporations "are demonstrating they are willing, ready and able to engage with it," said Carbon Disclosure Project chief executive Paul Dickinson. "We are moving, without any doubt, into a carbon-constrained world," he added...

"It is such a material risk that it needs to be moved from off the balance sheets into the formal disclosure that needs to be made," said Ceres President Mindy Lubber. "To build our economy, we need to be looking at all the risks and opportunities related to climate and water and other limited resources that we use to fuel our economy."...

"We're still growing, but we're getting more efficient at it," said Greg Trimble, Wal-Mart's senior director for global energy development and reporting.

In the meantime, corporate types such as Nike's Figel are trying to convince lawmakers that capping greenhouse gas emissions and providing money so vulnerable countries can adapt to climate change makes sense."

Too little too late? Let's hope not.

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." - Lao Tzu

Sunday, 20 September 2009

QUOTE- Alice Waters on Edible Education

Thanks to Organic Consumers Association for this quote, click on the link to read more about Edible Education;

"It will take money from our state and federal governments, and advocacy by our leaders, to change course on a ship this big. It won't be easy, because it can't happen just by lecturing kids on nutrition, or putting salad bars in cafeterias. Edible Education is...a way of making sure that children grow up feeling the soil with their own fingers, harvesting its bounty in the American sunshine, and watching their own hands make the kind of beautiful, inexpensive food that can nourish the body and the spirit. Only then will the next generations of Americans know that we don't just vote in the ballot box, we vote for the kind of world we want every time we choose what to eat."

- Alice Waters in her 2008 book "Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea"

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Fancy a glass of manure tainted water? Lemon with that?

Not only are we loading our atmosphere with greenhouse gases due to our addiction to factory farmed meat, now these farms are poisoning their neighbors water supply. Read more at Scientific American. Here's an excerpt;

"Runoff from agriculture is the biggest polluter of the country's river and stream water, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and it has been fingered for hypoxic dead zones and toxic red tide algae blooms.

But how much of that runoff makes it into people's drinking water closer to home? In agricultural areas, it can be enough to cause persistent health problems, including diarrhea and other infections, according to a report today in The New York Times.

"Sometimes it smells like a barn coming out of the faucet," Lisa Barnard, a Wisconsin resident told the Times. Barnard's well water tested positive for various contaminants and bacteria, including E. coli—which point not just to any runoff, but that coming from excess manure, according to the Times piece.

Beef and dairy farms often dispose of manure and other waste by shipping it out as fertilizer for crops, but "there just isn't enough land to absorb that much manure," said Bill Hafs, a Wisconsin county official who is angling for more stringent rules and enforcement, in an interview with the Times. When heavy rains or early spring melts come, excess waste can find its way into rivers and streams and also into groundwater—and into wells.

Brown County, where Hafs works, has about a quarter of a million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and about 41,000 dairy cows, which is about six people per cow. And as Hafs noted, "one cow produces as much waste as 18 people." ...

"More than 30 percent of the wells in one town alone violated basic health standards," Hafs told the Times. "It's obvious we've got a problem." But he and others who have raised a stink about the contamination have been met with powerful agricultural lobbies. ... Dairy farms in Brown County create about a million gallons of waste a day, the Times reports. "

Thursday, 17 September 2009

The devastation wrought by dirty coal

There's resource war and then there is resource oppression; when a multinational company is allowed, by corrupt government, to ride roughshod over human rights to extract profits from the ground. Usually perpetrated upon powerless third world populations, now being practiced on the people of the first world as well.

Most of us have heard about the tragic injustices wrought by oil companies Shell, Chevron and Texaco in Ecuador and Nigeria, for profit rape and pillage of the local ecosystem leaving a poisoned dying populace in it's wake. We have learned about the crime that is the tar sands. But how many of us have heard about the same thing happening in the United States?

From West Virginia to Pennsylvania our insatiable hunger for energy has created toxic conditions choking whole valleys, destroying thousands of rivers and streams, and even the local's drinking water. Read more at Care2.com, here's and excerpt; from the post from Jennifer Mueller;

"This past weekend the New York Times covered the story of the Hall-Massey family near Charleston, West Virginia and the toxic chemicals pouring out of the water taps in the family's bathroom and kitchen. The Times reveals a common third-world condition - the lack of safe water for drinking and bathing - facing residents of one of the wealthiest nations in the world. The reporter outlines evidence of a massive failure by state and federal regulators to protect the community of Prenter, lax enforcement of water pollution laws, and yet another consequence of U.S. dependence on fossil fuels for energy.

Because what's polluting this community's water supply? Coal.

Coal Mining Pollution Threatens Drinking Water

Jennifer Hall-Massey and 264 of her neighbors are suing nearby coal mining companies for pumping toxic chemicals into the ground and contaminating their drinking water. "Everything that's in your sludge ponds is in my water, so how can it not be related?" Hall-Massey asks in a video on the Times web site.

Leaking sludge ponds is only one of many ways coal mining can pollute our water. Mountaintop removal mining, blowing the tops off mountains to reveal coal seams and dumping the debris - including numerous toxic heavy metals - into stream beds, is completely legal and common. According to the Sierra Club, more than 1,200 miles of mountain streams have been buried by such waste in Appalachia.

And the effect of underground mining isn't pretty either. Acid drainage from abandon mines pollute streams and groundwater with toxic metals and minerals. Acid drainage has contaminated some 3,000 miles of streams in Pennsylvania alone."

Video-Resource War-from Age of Stupid

War for Resources HD from Age of Stupid on Vimeo.

Arguably one of the best scenes in The Age of Stupid

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Thermodynamics of Local Food

If there is any doubt that our current system of food production is inherently unsustainable then one need only check out this post over at the OilDrum by Jason Bradford. Here is an excerpt;

" The point I will make is that one can say with high confidence bordering on certainty that only a predominantly local food system will ever be sustainable.

What I mean by sustainable is the ability to endure. Quite simply and irrefutably I conclude that the current globalized food system is a flash in the frying pan because it doesn’t respect the first law of thermodynamics. Whatever other argument you might want to make against the global and for the local (and several legitimate ones come to mind) this fatal flaw is insurmountable. No quibbles, qualification or value judgments need to get in the way of this basic fact....

A sustainable system must be primarily local because of energetic and logistical constraints. What is removed from a plot of land needs to be returned. Okay, not the exact atoms, but roughly the same kinds atoms in the original quantities and proportions."


As I listened to the BBC World Service this morning I heard a story about the Chinese economy and efforts to stimulate consumerism to keep the economy growing. Aside from the obvious futility of a continuing to rely on the infinite growth paradigm, a physical impossibility in a finite ecosystem, the commentator was discussing efforts to get the Chinese public to consume more locally produced goods thus double stimulating the economy. As western economies have tried to rebound from their self inflicted wounds which led to the recent recession, there have been repeated warnings about falling back into protectionism and abandoning globalization.

I'm no economist but it seems plain to me that globalisation is driven and dependent on consumerism and the infinite growth paradigm. Why should we continue to remain dependent upon what is clearly a failed paradigm. Remember the admonition of Gaylord Nelson, "The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around." The current economic model is predicated on it being the other way around, this is nonsensical. We are hearing everyday further evidence that the environment is at it's limits to support us and our profligate lifestyles. From peak oil, peak phospate, oceanic dead zones, collapsed fisheries, rising sea levels, worldwide droughts, do we need any more evidence that consumerism is doomed?

Even if we don't accept that the limits of the planet are being reached there is a strong moral argument for the cessation of consumerism. During the height of the famines in
Africa in the 80's while the local populace was starving, the shipment of vegetables to the UK never ceased. Local food production had been abandoned for production of cash crops. As usual the cash went mostly to the bosses while the country starved. Now there is a new report on evidence that consumerism is propped up by slave and child labor.

"According to the International Labor Organization, over 12 million people are enslaved, and about 218 million children work, with the majority subjected to hazardous conditions. Those most vulnerable to slave labor include women, migrants and indigenous peoples.

The Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) found 122 goods produced by slave or child labor in 58 countries.The most common goods include:
-Agriculture: cotton, sugarcane, tobacco, coffee, rice, cocoa
-Manufacturing: bricks, garments, carpet, footwear
-Mining: gold, coal

Slave and child labor stretches the globe, but some of the worst offenders are Bolivia, China, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Pakistan and North Korea. However it should be noted that although these specific countries have high levels of slave and child labor, the entire world is compliant. As long as corporations enable these conditions and consumers purchase goods, slave and child labor will continue. ...

The report notes that the global economic crisis has only exacerbated conditions. Those vulnerable to slave labor are typically the poorest and powerless. With rising food prices, the World Bank estimates that 100 million more people will be pushed into poverty this year." - Natasha G.

Read about it over at Care2.com.

The antidote to the abuses of globalization is relocalisation.

"The process by which a region, county, city, or even neighborhood frees itself from an overdependence on the global economy and invests its resources to produce a significant portion of the goods, services, food and energy it consumes from its local endowment of financial, natural, and human capital."- Talberth J. et. al.

I would extend that definition down to the household scale because that is where is starts. But clearly there is a role for governments and industry to play here. In India, a top fashion designer, Sabyasachi Mukherjee, is urging a return to the Gandhian principle of homespun.

"It's vital to him that the rural poor share India's growing economy - a Gandhian concept and one that puts India right at the centre of being Indian. In 2008 he set up cooperatives of rural craftswomen across India, starting with Rajasthan, Gujarat and Barasat in West Bengal. Inspired by the workers' co-operative models of the Nobel prize-winning Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh, Mukherjee has aimed to cut out the middlemen.

Half of the money that the co-operatives earn they take home, and the other half is ploughed back into the community bank account for development....

He is insisting that to be well-dressed at Delhi and Mumbai's best cocktail parties, you have to be wearing not glittery Western-inspired tube dresses and leggings, but khadi - the simple homespun weave that was championed by Gandhi in the 1930s to boost the rural economy and give India a sense of nationalist pride during the fight for independence.

Apart from the beauty of the fabric, whose history in India goes back well over 5,000 years, Mukherjee's reasoning is simple. He finds it odd that Indian designers tend to steer clear of local hand-woven fabrics. Khadi, he says, is refined, sophisticated, eco-friendly and comfortable, and has too long been regarded as the poor man's fabric. To wear it is a sign of being well-dressed and cultured.

Best of all, in his view, it should help India's rural craftsmen and women to share in the country's growing wealth and economy." - Catriona Luke at the BBC

In the transition towns across the world, relocalisation is taking hold. This is not a shutting off from economy at large. But it is a effort to re-introduce resilience where it has been eroded by globalization. For instance, how many neighborhoods will have the wherewithal to produce their own computers and cell phones? Not many, I suspect, but they can practice re-use, reject planned obsolesence, and develop support networks to help each other troubleshoot older models. What every community can do is to grow food,;

"...food is the most sensible place to begin rebuilding community resilience, but building material, fabrics, timber, energy and currencies follow soon after." - Rob Hopkins, p69 "The Transition Handbook"

This is something we here is the west must begin to practice, the greater our dependence on the goods provided by globalization, and that includes food, the greater the hardship will be when that network begins to fail or is priced out of reach. A point made by Vandana Shiva in a speech to the Soil Association in 2007;

"The imperative here for you is of course to grow more food better, to grow it locally, organically and by doing that you avoid two kinds of harm to the food sovereignty and food independence of the South. The first is you contribute to the security of livelihoods by not adding to dumping. Of course organic farmers are not involved in dumping on the South – it’s too costly. Dumping means selling below the cost of production, technically, and since organic farmers aren’t subsidised they can’t afford to go around putting cotton on someone else’s market and putting corn on someone else’s market....

… By growing food locally you also prevent a second kind of exploitation and when that lettuce is growing in the land of the Masai and it’s diverting the water of the Masai’s you are actually displacing the Masai and exporting drought. You are actually contributing to displacement of local producers, pastoralists, as well as farmers." - Vandana Shiva "The Soil is our Liberator"

Resilience in both worlds is the goal so this is not a call to blanket localisation. We must find a new paradigm for trade, one that increases the well being of the local citizenry and supports their resilience as well.

Remember that peak oil will make relocalisation an imperative. It is up to us to decide when and how to develop it. The longer we wait the more difficult that transition will be.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Video - Greenwashing

Found on EcoTube

Hopeful signs but still missing the low hanging fruit.

While Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) works with other senators from the coal states to get more money allocated to carbon capture and storage, a move that may save the Waxman Markey bill in the senate if all these senators beholden to dirty coal vote for the bill, and research by the New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity shows that the bill will benefit the economy to the tune of $1.5 trillion between 2012 and 2050 while only costing $660 billion to implement, where is the debate surrounding population and it's effect on Climate Change?

A new study produced by the London School of Economics found that family planning is the most cost effective way to address CO2 emissions. As reported over at WorldChanging by Adam Stein,

"Specifically, the report claims that the world can spare 34 gigatons of CO2 emissions — the amount the entire U.S. produces in six years — over the next four decades at a cost of $7 per ton. According to the report, these reductions can be achieved simply by fulfilling the current “unmet need” for family planning, an ungainly phrase that refers to the population of couples who are married or “in union” and want contraception but lack access. Because unmarried people experience unwanted pregnancy as well, presumably demand for contraception is even greater than the study suggests.

If all this unmet need is filled, the projected population in 2050 drops from 9.1 billion to 8.7 billion. 8.7 billion, of course, still represents substantial growth from today’s level. That’s always been the problem with focusing overly much on population as the key driver of climate change: the number of people on the planet seems likely to hit roughly 9 billion no matter what we do, so ultimately clean energy and efficiency are going to be the primary way we solve the resource puzzle.

Nevertheless, 34 gigatons is a lot of gas, and $7 is a nice price, and providing family planning services to people who want them has meaningful humanitarian benefits, so this seems like a fruitful (ha!) area to explore. Of course, family planning is also an insanely fraught topic, so don’t expect much progress on this front anytime soon, at least in the U.S."

Monday, 14 September 2009

Video - Canvas Bags by Tim Minchin

Lest we take ourselves too seriously.
Another thanks to Dave Hampton for the heads up and to Dave Oxford for turning me on to Tim Minchin in the first place. I dedicate this post to my sister who has the most incredible collection of Canvas Bags I've ever seen and she uses them!

Paul Hawken Commencement Address May 2009

Thanks to Dave Hampton for reminding me of this.
In May of this year Paul Hawken delivered this address. It is inspiring and I really hope he doesn't mind me posting it here in it's entirety. I don't usually do that but it would be a shame to leave any of it out. So by way of apology I recommend that you go to his website, read his books, and follow his advice. The emphasis in bold is mine.

"The Commencement Address by Paul Hawken to the Class of 2009, University of
Portland, May 3, 2009

When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was “direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful.” No pressure there.

Let’s begin with the startling part. Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation... but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

This planet came with a set of instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food—but all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. The earth couldn’t afford to send recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, “So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.” There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.

You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are
working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way.

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider. “One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice,” is Mary Oliver’s description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world.

Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots. Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown — Granville Sharp, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood — and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit. And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, non-governmental organizations, and companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history.

The living world is not “out there” somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. We are the only species on the planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time rather than renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. And dreams come true. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe, which is exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a “little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven.”

So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your
body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are
free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. You can feel it. It is called life. This is who you are. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those
molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. Our innate nature is to create the conditions that are conducive to life. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every
thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, stupefying challenge ever bequeathed to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.


Paul Hawken is a renowned entrepreneur, visionary environmental activist, and author of many books, most recently Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. He was presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters by University president Father Bill Beauchamp, C.S.C., in May, when he delivered this superb speech.

Our thanks especially to Erica Linson for her help making that moment possible.

www.paulhawken.com "