Why Cities & CEOs Can’t Relax - Part 1


America’s mayors, governors and CEOs may be feeling a sense of relief now that Congress shows signs of movement on a climate bill. Over the past decade, some of them have stuck their necks and spent their political capital on climate policy. Now, Congress is taking the heat. 

But unfortunately, there is no rest ahead for anyone, not if we’re going to cut our greenhouse gas emissions back to levels we haven’t seen in a generation or more. 

Whatever agreements emerge from Congress this summer and from Copenhagen next December, the fate of the planet will remain largely in the hands of our corporations and cities. That’s a message I will deliver June 3 to corporate and local leaders from Europe and the United States at the World Investment Conference in La Baule, France, where the topic will be trans-Atlantic cooperation on building sustainable cities. We can’t count on Washington or Copenhagen to solve the climate and energy problems. The most important leadership ahead still will come from cities and CEOs.

So far in the United States, there has been good news and bad news on climate leadership... Continued...


Hawaiian Birds in Peril – Immediate Boost in Conservation Spending Needed


By Steve Holmer, American Bird Conservancy

America is blessed with a spectacular abundance and diversity of birds, with more than 800 species inhabiting the mainland, Hawai`i, and surrounding oceans. Unfortunately, the recently released State of the Birds - United States of America report, a collaborative effort from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, American Bird Conservancy, and several other non-profit groups, reveals that hundreds of bird species are in decline, and some are threatened with extinction.  However, this report makes clear that if we apply ourselves by investing in conservation, we can save endangered wildlife, protect habitats, and solve the multiple threats that form the root of these bird declines.

State of the Birds finds that the birds of Hawai`i, the birthplace of President Obama, are in the greatest danger. Before human settlement, Hawai`i was home to 113 endemic bird species. Since then, 71 Hawaiian birds have gone extinct. Of the 42 endemic bird species that may remain, 31 are federally listed; several of these are on the brink of extinction, ten have not been seen in years, and two more, the Akikiki and Akekee are expected to be listed in the coming year. Continued...


The Modern Meaning of Memorial Day


In the United States, since World War I, the last Monday in May, which was once known as “Decoration Day,” has been known as “Memorial Day.”

While many will be setting up their grills, weather-permitting, and fixing barbeque for friends and family alike, or gathering with friends at restaurants, or in whatever location, thankful for a long weekend and looking forward to the summer, numerous journalists will also be making commentary on what this day means. They will be talking about our soldiers, and whether one is for or against the two wars in which we are currently embroiled, they will be reminding us that those who have fought and died for us, our country, and our freedoms, should be foremost in our minds.

I agree with this wholeheartedly, for whether one is for war or against it, no one should take issue with our veterans themselves and only have inherent respect for an experience none could imagine unless in their shoes. My great-grandfather, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, and WWI on the Western Front, is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He is buried with others who have marked our country’s sacrifice in the midst of conflict.

But I would also like to make commentary on something that we should also be thinking about on this day. Let me amend that to say this day, and perhaps on every other, particularly for those of us who live in the West.

Earlier this month, on May 3rd, was World Press Freedom Day. It was a day that came and went to little fanfare. Even in this day when Iran is limiting or ceasing people’s access to Facebook during elections—where they should be able to communicate freely and exchange information about candidates—to the arrest and imprisonment of an Iranian-American journalist, Roxane Sabieri, who was accused of spying against Iran (who sang the American anthem to give herself strength during the ordeal), freedom of speech and freedom of the press have never been such important issues as they are now. Now, in this information age, this age of instant communication via varying means from SMS, email, Facebook and other social networking sites, IM, Skype, mobile phones and video conferencing, freedom of information has never been easier and more immediate. However, in most countries around the world, it is still limited.  Continued...

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President Obama Sets New Fuel Standards


President Obama has announced new auto fuel standards that would require cars and trucks to average 35.5 mpg by 2016 and would set a national standard that would remove the need for state by state regulation. The White House says that the automakers are on board because they want one set of national standards.  The announcement included Governors Arnold Schwartzenegger and Deval Patrick, auto company executives, union leaders and members of congress.  

From President Obama's remarks:
"Think about this.  Consider how much has changed all around us.  Think of how much faster our computers have become.  Think about how much more productive our workers are.  Think about how everything has been transformed by our capacity to see the world as it is, but also to imagine a world as it could be.

That's what's been missing in this debate for too long, and that's why this announcement is so important, for it represents not only a change in policy in Washington but the harbinger of a change in the way business is done in Washington.  No longer will we accept the notion that our politics are too small, our nation too divided, our people too weary of broken promises and lost opportunities to take up a historic calling.  No longer will we accept anything less than a common effort, made in good faith, to solve our toughest problems.

And that is what this agreement seeks to achieve." 

AP uploaded a short video of the announcement online. We will update with the full feed if and when it is available: 


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The Real Patriot Act, Part 2


The admirals and generals who made the national security case for clean energy last Monday put two other important messages in their report.

First, the U.S. military must do its part to help us shift away from fossil fuels. The uncertainty of fossil energy supplies and costs, the difficulties of providing fuel to the battlefront and the destabilizing influence of global warming are threats to military effectiveness.

The retired officers recommend that the Department of Defense become a “technological innovator, early adopter and test bed” for the clean energy future. They conclude the military must pay attention to its “carbon bootprint”, and energy consumption at military installations must be transformed with “aggressive pursuit” of efficiency, smart grids and electric vehicles.

Those goals have big consequences for the entire energy marketplace. The Department of Defense is the biggest energy consumer in the U.S. government, which is the biggest single energy consumer in the world.  Continued...

The Real Patriot Act, Part 1


MONDAY, MAY 18, 2009 -- If members of the U.S. Congress listen closely today, they will hear this sound.

That’s the cavalry (and the Navy, Air Force and Marines) coming to the aid of the green army that is so vastly outnumbered and out-funded by the oil and coal lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

A panel of 12 distinguished retired generals and admirals has just released the latest in a series of reports over the past two years warning that global climate change is not just an environmental issue, or an economic issue, or a public health and welfare issue. It’s an urgent matter of national security.

Put another way, any effort to further delay the world’s transition to a sustainable energy economy or to launch an aggressive response to global climate change is a national security threat.

The new report -- “Powering America’s Defense: Energy and the Risks to National Security” -- is the work of the Military Advisory Board of the 
Center for Naval Analysis (CNA), a federally funded research and development center serving U.S. defense agencies. The Board consists of former admirals and generals who have served at the very top of America’s military structure and who know a security threat when they see one. (See their names and titles at the end of this post).

Among their conclusions:

· Our current energy posture causes military, diplomatic and economic vulnerabilities that are “exploitable by those who wish to do us harm.”

· A business as usual approach to energy security poses a “unacceptably high threat level from a series of converging risks”;

We should not pursue energy options “inconsistent with the national response to climate change” – in other words, fossil fuels, whether they are produced domestically or by other nations.

The 12 retired officers make clear that imported oil is not our only security problem. Coal and gas are liabilities, too, as are other fossil derivatives such as liquids from coal...

Notes from the UN: "From Conflict to Peacebuilding - The Role of Natural Resources and The Environment"


Having been invited to attend a UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) panel titled, "From Conflict to Peacebuilding - The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment" on May 15, 2009, I was interested to see what issues this panel would address, knowing well from past experiences that humanitarian issues--including those during conflict--are in one way or another either essentially tangential to or directly linked with environmental issues.

Most people would consider themselves aware of this connection in theory; it would seem natural that as humanity interacts with the environment, there would be some way in which one affects the other. It might even be reasonable to assume that certain conflicts would result. But specific connections are sometimes less able to be drawn unless one has been amidst situations in which certain populations have been in crisis, and the connection between humanitarian issues and environmental issues becomes more pronounced.

The American public often does not, unless they happen to click on one of these reports on the UN site, or happen to see something buried in the international section of a newspaper or online resource, give the topic vast amounts of thought, at least in terms of conflicts of populations continents away. And, too, such environmental causes of conflict are often not "sexy" enough to get enough coverage, no matter how often the terms of "climate change" or "global warming" are bandied around along with their rather dramatic ramifications. When thinking of environmental issues, people instead immediately perhaps think of the image of a bearded Al Gore talking about climate change, or "do-gooder" environmentalists in Birkenstocks raising hell, or governments giving lip-service to such issues as they continue to dump waste, vote down clean energy, or get pressured by lobbyists to support business interests over proposed truths of basic ecology.

The reason for this is perhaps that these familiar images, stereotypical as they may be, occur among nations of the geo-political North—or what we consider to be "industrialized" nations, including in the West, which are definitely the "haves" of the world. Basic needs, such as access to clean water and reliable sanitation, farmable land, access to natural resources like coal, oil, and other minerals, may be an area of concern, but as much as people may be raising hell about them here in the West, while finite, for us, they’re not at the moment non-existent.  Continued...

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The Alzheimer's Project on HBO: A Caregiver's Response


Not too long ago, I had written an email to someone who had witnessed the love of a caregiver for his wife who had Alzheimer's Disease. It was in response to the awe the writer had for the compassion, patience and tenderness this man had for the woman who long before had succumbed to the last stages of what has come to be known as "the long goodbye." 

For those of us who know this disease intimately, in having watched loved ones go through it, including those whom we have cared for, we know all too well the qualities that are necessary to walk this particular path of emotion which seems an inherent part of the process of watching someone you love slowly slipping away. We know, too, for those of us who have eventually lost that loved one, the aftermath that comes, and unfortunately is rarely addressed in the discussion about Alzheimer's Disease.  Continued...


The Next 100 Days Part 2: Bring on the Sizzle


It is time for President Obama to mobilize us all to help build the new energy economy. He has begun shaping the public policies we need. Now he needs to launch an Apollo project, interstate highway project, war effort and Marshall Plan all rolled into one.

For starters, he should call on us all to pick up our caulking guns and enlist in the war against energy waste – a national clean energy surge.

Efficiency improvements and conservation have been America’s main source of energy since 1973, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. Yet, the potential for more savings is enormous. As Obama noted during the campaign, the United States is only the 22nd most energy-efficiency major economy in the world. With very few exceptions, every vehicle, home, power plant, factory, community and state is hemorrhaging energy, energy dollars and greenhouse gas emissions. Consider just a few examples:

· We lose massive amounts of energy as electricity is generated and distributed. The typical coal plant turns only a third of its fuel into productive energy and more is lost in transmission lines.

· The typical residential or commercial building could cut its energy use, and do it cost-effectively, by 25-30 percent.

· According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, 70 cents of every dollar the typical community spends on energy immediately leaves the local economy. If more energy dollars were retained through energy efficiency and locally generated renewables, the money would circulate longer in the community. The result – not unlike keeping the ball in play in a pinball machine – is a “multiplier effect” that creates more local spending, jobs and businesses.

· The U.S. Department of Energy estimated last year that the direct economic cost of oil dependence in 2008 would be $560 billion, reducing our GDP by 1.5 percent.

· A study issued last year by the
American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimated that a 30 percent gain in national energy efficiency by 2030 would create as many as 1.3 million net new jobs. Continued...

How My Mother Fooled Me


I was one of the lucky ones. I had a great mother. The fact that I did not fully appreciate that until after her death makes me typical -- I fear -- rather than special among sons. She easily forgave my obsession with my work, more than I now forgive myself for not making more of that time we had together.

I'm sure I sent her a card on Mother's Day, and I remembered her birthday -- October 13th -- and I bought her Christmas gifts (here with some help from my wife) but I regarded these as chores rather than pleasures. What do you buy for a woman whose only fashion weakness was earrings? More earrings? No, I did not neglect her. I lived a few blocks from her apartment and saw her once a week when I was in New York, mostly for dinner and to talk about the fortunes and misfortunes of our family. Most of all she expressed such pride in my young sons that she could never get enough of them. Although she was a constant presence in my life, I did not then realize that she was the great foundation on which my life was built.   Continued...


Worshipping the Temple of Doom


My response to the letter from Dr. Martin Parkinson, Secretary of the Australian Department of Climate Change, is available, along with this note, on my web site.

Thanks to the many people who provided comments on 
my draft response, including Steve Hatfield-Dodds, a senior official within the Australian Department of Climate Change.  I appreciate the willingness of the Australian government to engage in this discussion.  I believe that you will find the final letter to be significantly improved over the draft version:
    Dr. Martin Parkinson
    Department of Climate Change
    Government of Australia
    Re: Australia’s Response to Climate Change

    Dear Secretary Parkinson:

    Thank you for your letter of 6 April, in which you provided reasoning behind the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) announced in your Government’s White Paper1 and the updated plans, with more ambitious reduction targets, announced today.
    The White Paper is forthright about the “need for action on climate change”, stating:
    Carbon pollution is causing the world’s climate to change, resulting in extreme weather, higher temperatures, more droughts, and rising sea levels.

    Eleven of the past 12 years rank among the 12 warmest years since records began and
    Australia had warmer-than-average mean annual temperatures for 16 of the past 18 years.

    As one of the hottest and driest continents on earth, Australia will be one of the nations hit hardest and fastest by climate change if we don’t act now.
    This kind of straight talk is admirable, as is the statement in your 6 April letter that “We strongly agree with you that climate change requires urgent and significant changes in human activity.”

    I am also encouraged by the policy proposed in the White Paper to return 100 percent of revenue from permit auctions to Australian households and businesses. Unless the tax is fully returned to the public, in a transparent fashion, they will almost certainly not consent to having the carbon fee rise to the needed level.

    However, I note that your plan is still based on the disastrously ineffectual cap-and-trade approach. Below I point out principal flaws in this approach based on empirical evidence. I hope you will reconsider your plan – such an ineffectual cap-and-trade approach would waste another decade at a time when the threat of passing climate tipping points makes it unconscionable to waste another year...


The Next 100 Days Part 1: Bring on the Beef


During the last presidential race, Republicans issued a bumper sticker that read “All Sizzle, No Steak” next to a picture of Barack Obama. It was the bumper sticker that didn’t stick and today, Republicans are eating those words. During his first 100 days in office, Obama has served up far more steak than Republicans are willing to digest.

A check of the 
Obama-Biden campaign platform shows the President has made progress on an impressive number of his pre-election promises on energy and climate, not the least of them an economic stimulus bill that provides the biggest green energy investment in the U.S. history.

Given the Bush Administration’s eight-year climate fast, we’ll need even more meat in the second 100 days and in many 100 days to come. In fact, stabilizing the climate and maintaining that stability is a standing commitment that every future president must make.

So, what’s on the president’s menu for the next 100 days? The honeymoon period – rudely cut short by the “Party of No” on Capitol Hill – traditionally lasts from Inauguration to Congress’s August recess. These are the months when a new president usually has best cooperation from the legislative branch, before the next congressional election begins fogging up the political climate in Washington.  Continued...