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FEATURE

Vision Power, Part 2





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We are on the edge of a carbon revolution. Everything is going to change. This will matter to you…There is no high-carbon future.
Peter Mandelson, Secretary of State for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Great Britain

When we give voice to our visions, we identify the destinations we want to move towards. And by describing the steps we can take, we prepare ourselves for action.
- Rob Hopkins, The Transition Handbook

In many ways, the future is an intensely personal thing. Every person, family, neighborhood, community and region is unique. A one-size-fits all plan for progress would be profoundly unsatisfying. It would impoverish us culturally by stifling invention and ignoring the richness of our diversity.

But what if the many communities engaged in envisioning America’s future, and the many organizations helping them, rallied around a common set of criteria for the society we must build for the 21st century? Not a common blueprint, mind you, but common goals that must be met society-wide if we are to successfully survive the economic, climate and energy crises?

Individuals and communities would invent their own ways to achieve the goals, but common goals would help us achieve necessary national and global objectives. They would guide local investments, including the new infusions of stimulus money going to states and communities for work on energy and climate. In the bargain, each participating community would become a laboratory and demonstration project for all the others.

What would that common set of goals look like? One list is being considered by the U.S. Green Building Council..
.   Continued...


FEATURE

The Age of Tradeoffs





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Are green energy industries about to ruin the environment and undermine national security? Are they engaged in the ecological equivalent of mountaintop removal? Are they the new Big Oil, making us dangerously dependent on imported strategic resources?

Those questions are implied in “
Clean Energy’s Dirty Little Secret”, a provocative article in the current issue of The Atlantic. Author Lisa Margonelli points out that wind turbines, hybrid cars and some other green technologies carry “their own hefty environmental price tag”, including the use of rare-earth minerals extracted from open-pit mines or imported from places like China.

I’ve encountered similar concerns among members of the U.S. intelligence community: In the pursuit of green energy, will we trade our dependence on one imported strategic resource – oil – for dependence on other imported strategic resources?

Margonelli’s piece offers some solutions. Our research on renewable energy resources should include substitutes for rare-earth minerals, particularly those that are imported or require harmful extraction techniques. We should require that strategic minerals be recycled.

But a larger question lurks between the lines: Should green technologies and products be held to the same environmental standards as other industries? Is a company that mines neodymium for Prius motors any less responsible than Peabody Coal for good environmental stewardship?  Continued...

Swine 'Flu: U.S. Industrial Farm Connection?





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Sources are pointing to U.S. factory hog farming in Mexico (a subsidary of Smithfield Foods was mentioned as having a possible connection), with their huge open ponds of waste that allow birds to mingled swine and bird 'flu, which then brings biting insects who pick up the mixture and infect to people carrying the human 'flu -- a perfect storm of disease if it turns out to be the cause:
Officials from the CDC and USDA will likely arrive in Mexico soon to help investigate the deadly new influenza virus that managed to jump from pigs to people in a previously unseen mutated form that can readily spread among humans.

One of the first things they will want to look at are the hundreds of industrial-scale hog facilities that have sprung up around Mexico in recent years, and the thousands of people employed inside the crowded, pathogen-filled confinement buildings and processing plants.

Continued...

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FEATURE

Major Economies Meet on Global Warming – What should they decide?





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Ministers from 17 developed and developing countries will be coming to Washington, DC next week (April 27-28) for the Major Economies Forum (MEF). This will be the first of three reported meetings of this “forum” through June of this year -- the next one is scheduled for Mexico -- culminating in a “Leaders meeting” around the G8 meeting in July (or maybe later). Coming out of the recent climate negotiations in Bonn, this forum has become even more important in helping “move from rhetoric to agreement” in Copenhagen later this year.

This forum will bring together countries representing:

  • Over 80% of the world’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion;
  • 94% of the greenhouse gas emissions from all developed countries;
  • Over 60% of developing country greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • Almost 60% of the world’s economic output (all values from the World Resources Climate Analysis Indicator Tool).

So to say that these countries are crucial to solving global warming is a huge understatement.  Continued...

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FEATURE

Vision Power, Part 1





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Where there is no vision, the people perish.
- Proverbs 29:18

The best way to predict the future is to design it. 
-Buckminster Fuller
 

For some time now I have been proposing a national vision project – a conversation among the American people about the positive future we can create if we put our minds to it. That idea may have gained some momentum last week in a converted barn on the Rockefeller estate outside New York City. 

With the help of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Rockefeller Foundation, we convened 30 people – a yeasty mix of communications wizards, sustainable development experts and philanthropists -- to determine if they are interested in working together to launch that national discussion. 

They are. 

I don’t yet know what shape this initiative will take, but I know why it’s necessary. As Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson put it in their book, The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World: 

Today as we are besieged by planetary problems, the risk is that we will deal with them in a pessimistic and unproductive style…Transfixed by an image of our own future decline, we could actually bring it about. 

Have we reached the point that Ray and Anderson warn us about, helpless and depressed, immobilized like deer in the headlights by the frequent damage reports from climate scientists and apocalyptic images of civilization’s collapse? You be the judge.  Continued...

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FEATURE

The Plight of the Bumblebee





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by Janet Ritz

Editor's note: There is news that the cause of colony collapse disorder for honeybees may have been discovered (a fungal infection). This has not, however, solved the plight of the bumblebee, which is responsible for crop pollination for many aspects of agriculture:

With all the focus on the disappearance of the honeybee, there has been little discussion about the plight of the bumblebee, one of the hardest workers in the wild world of agriculture, despite this warning issued by the National Academy of Sciences October 2006:
Long-term trends for several wild bee species -- especially bumblebees -- as well as some butterflies, bats, and hummingbirds... show population drops.
That focus may now change as word comes from scientists that at least one bumblebee species from the Northwestern region of the United States, Franklin's Bumblebee, may have gone extinct.

This is a serious development. Not only because the loss of any species due to human activity is, in this writer's opinion, unconscionable, but because we depend on this species more than we've taken the time to understand.

According to this newly released National Academy of Sciences report, the bumblebee is one of many pollinators losing their battle to survive because of 'habitat lost to housing developments and intensive agriculture, pesticides, pollution and diseases spilling out of greenhouses using commercial bumblebee hives.'

Like the honeybee, the bumblebee has been hurt by the introduction of a non-native parasite. Many pollinator declines are associated with habitat loss...

It turns out that our native American bumblebee (the honeybee was imported) does more than provide a pleasant bass note to the summer hum we hear outside our window amidst the lawn mowers, sprinklers and children's laughter. The reality is that our humble bumblebee is one of the hardest workers in the wild, accounting for the pollination that provides food for bears and birds -- and for us -- by pollinating ~fifteen percent of U.S. crops. And that percentage has been growing as farmers turn to the lowly bumblebee to replace the disappearing honeybees. Continued...

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FEATURE

AMERICAN IDOL AFTER IRAQ: Competing for Hearts and Minds in the Global Media Age





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Legendary Hollywood producer, Mike Medavoy, has teamed with Nathan Gardels, editor of New Perspective Quarterly (NPQ), to produce a timely book about the use of soft power by America: "AMERICAN IDOL AFTER IRAQ: Competing for Hearts and Minds in the Global Media Age."

Gardel’s and Medavoy’s readable and yet comprehensive book explores the need to understand the effective use of power in an increasingly globalized world; the understanding of which has never been more pressing or pertinent, following, as it has, the increasingly negative perceptions of America’s policies abroad.

AMERICAN IDOL AFTER IRAQ also details the impact of American culture on foreign public opinion toward the United States. The authors do this by showing how American film, music and television, exported to all parts of the globe, penetrates global perception; often more than diplomatic efforts or military might.

They show, as only insiders can, how the media industry works; its motivations, the percentage of foreign to domestic consumption, and what must be done in the future to insure the proper use of the soft power that the access by their programs grant to them. Continued...


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FEATURE

Unsung Heroes of Sustainability: The Melty Awards





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What would happen if the same six people won the Oscars every year? Three things: 1) The Oscars would get so boring that no one would pay attention; 2) the awards would lose credibility; and 3) a lot of very talented people would go unrecognized.

That what’s happening in regard to our national and international heroes of sustainability – the many people who day in and day out demonstrate uncommon persistence in the face of virtual anonymity.

I received a call the other day from someone who wanted me to attend a conference. Her selling point was that her organization was giving an award to one of sustainability’s superstars – someone who already has received considerable honors and attention for his good work.

On one hand, I’m delighted that work on sustainability is rewarded. On the other hand, I suspect that some awards are based not on merit alone, but on the star power of the awardee –- his or her ability to attract people to a conference or a fund-raising banquet. The result is that the same sustainability superstars tend to be recognized over and over again, while many lesser luminaries are not.

I’d like to offer this suggestion to the many organizations that organize gala dinners and national conferences on sustainable development, and who wish to recognize somebody in the movement: How about honoring the unsung heroes? The list of nominees is very, very long. Continued...


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FEATURE

Who are the Kurds?





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A friend who'd heard that I'd spent time with the Kurds once asked me, 'who are they?' That query led to this post.

With President Obama's focus on Turkey, the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq and the threat of increased instability in the region, the question has again become pertinent. Who are the Kurds? Who are these Middle Eastern people that have both men and women in their army? These mountain warriors that many refer to as the best fighters in the Middle East; these ancient people whom claim descent from the Biblical Medes and count among their number: Saladin, the Muslim leader who defeated Richard the Lionheart and, more recently (through her mother), the late Benazir Bhutto.

Kurdish Chieftain c. 1885

Kurds were once a mostly nomadic people living around the mountainous regions of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Mostly Sunni (there are Kurdish Shi'a, Alevi, Yazidi, Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians, etc), they are known to hold their Islam with a light touch. Promised an autonomous Kurdistan under the terms of the 1920 Treaty of Sevres, they saw it rescinded under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.

The resultant division of their historical homeland between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria left somewhere between 25 and 40 million Kurds as the world's largest stateless minority. This has led to an an alphabet soup of alliances as the Kurds struggle to survive in a world of shifting allegiances... Continued...

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FEATURE

Best of Times, Worst of Times





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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way… Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

After two-and-a-half years of work and $2.5 million of investment in research and writing, the Presidential Climate Action Project (PCAP) will shut down on April 30. We will end the project in a political and social climate much like that described by Charles Dickens.

Of all the important changes that have occurred since we began PCAP in January 2007, the biggest of course was the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President. We now have a leader who understands the threat of global climate change; who believes that the path out of economic crisis is green; and who has begun to rally and prod the Congress and the American people to action.

That type of leadership was PCAP’s fondest aspiration. We’ve tried to help by producing hundreds of proposals for how the President could jump start federal climate leadership in 100 days and, longer term, reinvent the federal policies and programs that were created by and for the industrial era. At risk of overwhelming the new Administration with ideas, we set out to demonstrate that climate action can and must involve much more than a cap-and-trade bill in Congress, as important as that bill is.

To create the action plan, we contracted or corresponded with more than 400 people in the energy, climate and environmental fields, including some in Obama’s election campaign and some who now are part of the Administration.

In the process, I’ve discovered a few principles that I believe should guide national policy. I’ve summarized them for political leaders, policy wonks and posterity in a two-part presentation on the web, titled “The Fierce Urgency of Now”. Continued...

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