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Chapter 1 - Getting It Right This Time
~ Global warming is Mother Nature's
of telling us
we screwed up. ~
Civilization was a grand experiment, but it didn't work. For a while, civilization brought better living conditions, longer lifespans, and seemingly endless growth. At some point, though, civilization began exceeding the planet's capacity to support it. Natural systems started to fail. Species became extinct. The airborne residue of civilization began to spoil the conditions that fostered it. Having reached its zenith by limitlessly exploiting the world's resources, civilization as we know it has become unsustainable.
We now have the opportunity to replace our flawed civilization with a sustainable alternative. Call it "Civilization 2.0" or, more fittingly for a waste-conscious world, "Civ 2." Making the transition to Civ 2 will entail much more than shifting away from fossil fuels and improving energy efficiency. Those measures alone cannot succeed unless social conditions and trends also change. Each year the world population increases and per person consumption goes up. The resulting increases in demand for food, energy, shelter, and all the other accoutrements of modern life run counter to Civ 2's imperative of staving off calamitous climate change.
Most of that increase in the future will come from people who currently have the least. Many among them understandably want their "fair share" and may see attempts to reduce emissions as just another way to shut them out. Their willingness to participate in global warming initiatives is crucial, yet uncertain. It may depend greatly on our progress toward resolving long-standing inequities. Because global warming ties all of our fates together, those of us who received the most from industrialization have tremendous incentive not only to lead the world by reducing our own greenhouse gas emissions, but also to address issues of social, economic, and environmental justice, both at home and abroad.
All among us share an interest in a livable climate, which accordingly has tremendous economic value. Nonetheless, the yardsticks we use to measure economic vitality are based on productivity and spending, regardless of the consequences for either the climate or our well-being. Not surprisingly, business decisions and economic policy making give short shrift to the climate. Improved economic indicators and business accounting can provide a more appropriate assessment of our well-being so that we aim for the right targets.
Our challenge in making the transition to Civ 2 will be compounded by the effects of the carbon we've already pumped into the atmosphere and will continue to emit for the foreseeable future. The expected consequences of higher temperatures, including rising sea levels, more frequent and extreme storms, longer droughts, and less readily available drinking water, will strain public and private agencies. That strain will be worsened by the toll from other forms of environmental degradation and resource overutilization. This leads to a second major reason for addressing social issues while reducing carbon emissions—since we no longer have the option of preventing climate change and will need to devote substantial resources to mitigating its effects, we can ill afford the financial and social drains of the status quo. Hurricane Katrina has given us a glimpse of what could lie ahead unless we attend to the needs of the most vulnerable communities here and abroad. We have the opportunity to prevent repetitions of the breakdowns that followed Katrina by strengthening the social fabric of our communities. Working toward the American ideals of justice and equality increases our resilience to the stresses that global warming will bring and creates a more desirable world regardless of the changing climate.
To create Civ 2, we can draw on guidance from more sustainable arrangements in the past and existing models of sustainability "to meet the needs of the present world without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."1 On this continent, some Native American tribes once lived compatibly within the limits of available resources. In more recent times, sages and visionaries have tried to point the way. Henry David Thoreau and Rachel Carson made the connection between respect for nature and personal well-being. Gandhi and Martin Luther King preached respect for others as the foundation for peaceable cooperation, which we'll need even more for Civ 2 than we did during their lifetimes. Currently walking among us are trailblazers who are living more sustainably, transforming business practices, and re-imagining the good life. Their stories fill this book.
Green for All
The realization that we can't gain the upper hand against global warming without transforming society drives Van Jones to channel his energy into initiatives that do both. Along with other leaders who share this orientation, Jones focuses on creating a green economy "that's strong enough to lift people out of poverty and restore hope." By emphasizing good jobs and other economic benefits, Jones greatly expands the appeal of measures to reduce global warming. He points out that for many people living in poverty, new jobs with better wages provide an immediate, tangible appeal that's much more powerful than pictures of polar bears.
The strength of the green economy’s appeal has spawned some very broad alliances encompassing traditional adversaries among businesses, labor unions, environmental groups, and civil rights organizations. Jones, a self-described urban, African-American, environmentalist, is acutely aware of the historic conflicts among these groups and the need to transcend them. This time, he says, "we're in a different chapter of the book. This isn't David versus Goliath, this is Noah! And we may need Goliath to help with the ark." Among the ark builders are the Apollo Alliance, 1 Sky, and the U.S. Climate Action Partnership. Each is forging previously unimaginable partnerships to promote the transition to a new green economy based on renewable energy sources and low-carbon operations.
Demonstrating the power of a broadly inclusive approach that links economic and climate benefits, the Apollo Alliance built support for Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell to adopt a strong renewable energy standard. That standard, which requires 18% of the state's power to come from renewable sources by 2020, attracted Spanish wind turbine maker Gamesa to the state. Gamesa opened two manufacturing plants in western Pennsylvania cities that are still recovering from the decline of the steel industry. Negotiations with the United Steelworkers, an Apollo affiliate, produced a union contract for the plants' employees.
As the Gamesa example illustrates, the green economy will be labor-intensive. Manufacturing will make a come-back as we increase capacity to produce energy-efficient replacements for our cars, appliances, and equipment. Millions of workers will be needed to install solar panels, weatherize buildings, and run decentralized operations that will proliferate as rising transportation costs and new technologies offset the advantages of centralization. The Apollo Alliance and other broad coalitions stress the benefits of using this opportunity to create "pathways out of poverty." As Jones explains:
In the green economy, you don't just count what you spend, you count what you save. By training that kid on the corner to become job ready and helping him get one of the good green jobs, you're saving on social services; you're saving on criminal justice; you're saving on pain and misery; you're saving the soul of the country.
We'd also be expanding buy-in for tougher measures to reduce global warming. From his Oakland, California, base, Jones has seen how climate protection measures can fail if benefits for everyone in the community aren't made clear. In 2006, California voters rejected a small excise tax on oil pumped in the state. Early support for the measure eroded as oil companies warned that the tax would increase gasoline prices and weaken the state's economy. That message resonated much better with low-income voters than dire warnings of climate catastrophes in the future. The failed campaign drove home for Jones the importance of building support for reducing global warming among "every class under the sun and every color in the rainbow."
Jones believes profound change is now under way. On college campuses and at other public events across the country, he’s greeted as a rock star by rainbow broadly diverse audiences that cheer his calls for activism. After years of global warming awareness among only a small portion of his audiences, he finds increased public consciousness and a greater sense of urgency. Now, he says, "people are really ready for workable solutions at the scale of the problem. We'll look back at 2007 as the year when everything started to change. This is redemption for our ancestors who viewed nature as sacred."
Redemption for ancestors strikes a chord with Pat Spears, President of the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy. As a Lakota, Spears adheres to the seven generations philosophy of making decisions with an eye to their effects on descendents seven generations in the future. Although that time may seem forever in our Internet age, for Spears it's measured by the period between the era of Lakota ancestor Sitting Bull and the birth of Spear's son Eddie.
Calling upon the wisdom and prophesies of his ancestors, Spears warns, "we're in a time like no other. We have to do something or the Earth will purify itself. Our grandmother will shake, shudder, and purge herself." Spears has found a starting point in the wind that blows across the Great Plains. For the Lakota, the wind is "wakan," a holy or great power. Forever a spiritual force, it is now becoming a practical asset by spinning the blades of wind turbines to produce electricity. Two turbines on the Sicangu Lakota reservation in South Dakota are the first to harness the wind's power. If fully developed, wind farms on Indian reservations could supply a substantial portion of the electricity needed to replace coal.
Spears and his fellow Lakota are trying to assure that their development of wind power does more than generate electricity. Their insistence on addressing related environmental and social issues, despite opposition from established utilities that saw only the profit potential, earned them the first World Clean Energy Award for Courage.2 Reflecting on the award and the challenges ahead, Spears' colleague Bob Gough commented, "In the business of renewable energy, tribes are either going to be at the table or on the menu."
Being at the table as an energy producer changes the dynamics of negotiations with power companies and enables the tribes to push for changes that will do more to reduce global warming and improve conditions on the reservations. Echoing the goals of Van Jones and the Apollo Alliance, Spears takes every opportunity to create new jobs in connection with building and operating wind turbines on Indian lands. More broadly, Spears envisions wind energy as the centerpiece of a revival for the tribes and an example that communities everywhere can follow. Says Spears, "We see this as part of a plan to increase sustainable operations on tribal lands. That includes directing some of the revenue from generating energy to improve energy efficiency." One use of funds is to create a team that assesses the energy efficiency of buildings and then follows up to weatherize them and teach the occupants how to reduce energy use. In that way, the proceeds from producing electricity while the wind blows reduce the need for power at other times.
The goals of self-reliance and sustainability are especially critical for Spears because of reservations' distinctive vulnerability to global warming. For the Lakota tribe, moving isn't an option, and history has taught that depending on assistance from elsewhere when the chips are down works no better for reservations than it did for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Spears has learned from the past:
On reservations, we're at the end of the line already. We've been at the end of the line for electricity, transportation, food, telecommunications, all of that. We have to be able to take care of ourselves. Conserve water, protect our land from further pollution, learn to feed ourselves again. Producing energy is part of that process. We need to re-learn some things and also learn how to use new technology as we reaffirm our values of living in harmony with Mother Earth.
More Sustainable Arrangements
Pat Spears' call for self-reliance and his "seventh generation" mindset resonate far beyond Lakota reservations. Bill McKibben, organizer of the Step It Up Climate Action rallies and author of The End of Nature,3 extols the advantages of farmers markets as an example of local sustainability. Growing iceberg lettuce in California and trucking it to the East Coast requires 36 calories of energy for every calorie we get from the lettuce.4 Buying locally grown food in season at farmers markets brings down the energy costs and associated greenhouse gas emissions. It also builds community by fostering conversation and exchange. And it's catching on: the number of farmers markets has doubled in the last decade.
Advocates of "relocalization" are working to extend the farmers market concept to encompass local production of energy, consumer products, entertainment, and even currency. The objective is to make communities more resilient to the stresses that will result from both climate change and efforts to reduce it. As envisioned by Julian Darley, President of the Post Carbon Institute, "a self-reliant community doesn't necessarily manufacture everything it needs by itself, cut off from the rest of the world. Rather, it reduces economic dependence on outside resources by meeting basic needs from local resources." In general, the more a community can do locally, the less it will contribute to global warming and the better it will be able to function as the climate changes. Whether the local community is New York City or a small town anywhere in the country, opportunities abound to become more self-sufficient and resilient.
The impetus for greater local self-reliance comes not only from concern about global warming, but also from the expected impact of peak oil. As we pass the peak in global oil production and known reserves, our current level of dependence on the intercontinental transportation system will no longer be practical, irrespective of its environmental damage. Today, petroleum is so cheap that more than half of the fish Norwegians eat from the local Barents Sea are sent to China to be filleted before being sent back to Norway for sale.5 More costly and less convenient transportation will favor local production and activity.
Implicit in the move toward sustainability and local self-reliance is a way of living that's substantially less dependent on material goods and limitless travel. In this regard, the principles of "voluntary simplicity" are receiving a fresh look. Popularized in the 1980s as an antidote to the stress and dissatisfactions of modern life, voluntary simplicity offers a strategy for reducing carbon emissions that can be implemented immediately without governmental action or corporate involvement. Proponents of voluntary simplicity seek to strengthen vestiges of the American pioneer spirit by shifting our focus from acquisition of what we don't yet have to appreciation of what we have already. The Simplicity Forum's statement of principles reads, "We believe in traditional values of self reliance, pragmatism, thrift, and working together for the common good. We want to enlarge the range of choices and opportunities for Americans—at work, at home and beyond—who want to live sane, balanced, and fulfilling lives."6
In the words of Duane Elgin, whose book, Voluntary Simplicity, coined the term, the objective is to "Live in a way that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich." The benefits that originally attracted people to voluntary simplicity—reduced stress, better health, greater life satisfaction, less damage to the environment—are now amplified by recognition of its benefits for the climate. It is not a philosophy of deprivation or poverty, but of moderation determined by the limits of sustainability, including the atmosphere's ability to absorb greenhouse gases without overheating.
Businesses, too, will need to change, and that process has begun. Companies such as the Gamesa wind turbine maker mentioned earlier in this chapter are bringing to market a profusion of products that tap renewable energy sources and improve energy efficiency. Perhaps as important as what companies produce will be how they produce it. Calls from Paul Hawken and other business visionaries for a "restorative economy" would transform today's corporations into "human-centered enterprises that are sustainable producers."7 A few simple but fundamental changes, such as taxing carbon emissions and placing "natural capital" on the balance sheet to reflect the value of an atmosphere that supports rather than imperils civilization, could hasten the transition to sustainable production.
The Environmental Challenge
The new civilization we create will have ramifications not just for us, but for all species on the planet. As a sign picturing the wildlife in Yosemite National Park reminds visitors, "They suffer for our mistakes." Among these mistakes has been changing the atmosphere so much that traditional conservation practices can no longer protect places like Yosemite. The task of developing new conservation strategies poses a big challenge for environmentalists. Lara Hansen, Chief Climate Change Scientist for WWF (formerly World Wildlife Fund) explains:
Traditionally, conservation has focused on particular places. Now, the effects of climate change limit the utility of that approach. We can't just build fences anymore. Fences don't stop a protected area from getting warmer or running out of water. Those changes alone can kill sensitive plants and animals. Climate change also makes protected areas more vulnerable to damage from pollution, encroachment, invasive species, habitat destruction, and fragmentation.
Protecting the environment as the climate changes requires a more holistic approach than what has worked before. The new strategies Hansen and her colleagues are developing must anticipate environmental conditions that didn't exist in the past. The changing climate, especially differences in rainfall and the resulting availability of fresh water, also increases the likelihood of conflicts between inhabited and natural areas. "When conflicts occur," Hansen says, "human needs always trump biodiversity. We have to step back from how we've done conservation and think about how to manage human needs so we can head off those conflicts."
On her research missions around the world, Hansen has seen how climate change is already stressing fragile habitats. Based on her observations and the research she regularly monitors, her conclusions mirror those of many environmentalists:
We need to be reducing greenhouse gases on the order of 90%. We should all be doing everything we can to reach that goal as soon as possible. We shouldn't be worrying about whether we're choosing the best solution, we need every solution. We're not in a position to be debating whether to do this OR that—we need to be doing this AND that.
Updating Paul Revere's Ride
To build support for the measures Hansen, Jones, and others envision, David Kroodsma got on his bicycle in 2006 and spread the word. When he finished his trip, he'd logged 15,000 miles between Palo Alto, California, and Tierra Del Fuego at the tip of South America. Along the way he talked with hundreds of people about the international consequences of global warming.
Then he decided to take another trip. Starting on April 21, 2007, at the Old North Church in Boston where Paul Revere began his midnight ride, Kroodsma and fellow activist Bill Bradlee headed south through New York City and Philadelphia, then west across the heartland and on to Seattle, where they turned south toward California. Like the Live Earth concerts and Step It Up rallies, the Ride for Climate USA aimed to raise awareness of global warming, inspire action, and promote solutions.
For a portion of each day, Kroodsma and Bradlee stopped to deliver their message to anyone who would gather, a number that varied from one to over a thousand depending on the location, and to listen to what people had to say.8 "What surprised us the most," said Kroodsma during a stopover in Washington state, "is how little opposition we've encountered. We were very well-received throughout the heartland. For most people, the issue was just very low on their radar." Few people whom Kroodsma met could explain the most basic concepts about global warming. Once he presented the facts and talked with them about what needs to be done, though, they got it. "We really need a bigger public education campaign to drive home the message," Kroodsma suggests. "Something like the Keep America Beautiful ads from the '70s might do the trick. It has to be simple and powerful."
Traveling by bicycle enabled Kroodsma and Bradlee to make a statement about transportation, garner publicity, and enhance their credibility by putting personal effort into every mile. Riding a bicycle is now second nature to Kroodsma, but it wasn't always that way.
Before I took my first long bike tour, it sounded impossible to me. How could I go so far on a bicycle with just a few pounds of gear? What's struck me about the Ride for Climate has been how easy it is if I just get up in the morning and ride one more day. I think our response to global warming is like that. Getting started is very difficult, but if we keep doing more each day, we'll be ok.
Moving rapidly in response to global warming has become imperative. The effects of climate change are occurring worldwide and more are destined to result from processes already in motion. Speculating about the implications of these changes for national security, a panel of eleven retired U.S. generals and admirals concluded, "Unlike the challenges that we are used to dealing with, these will come upon us extremely slowly, but come they will, and they will be grinding and inexorable."9
Maybe. While climate change to date fits the description of "grinding and inexorable," future changes in the climate and the resulting ripple effects that worried the military brass in their report could occur much more suddenly. As explained in the next chapter, ocean currents, glacial melt, and other natural processes are subject to "feedback loops." As these feedback loops accelerate, climate change may be better described as "rapid and dramatic."
By almost all accounts, we still have time before any of the major feedback loops become unstoppable. If we choose, we could undertake a concerted campaign to reduce the extent of climate change and prepare for the foreseeable effects of changes we can't prevent. Given the danger of passing critical thresholds beyond which feedback loops will continue beyond our control, doing as much as we can as soon as we can improves our prospects in the years ahead. Each one of us individually, each city, state, and nation, will play a role in determining how fast the climate changes. Our actions will determine . whether we limit climate change to its "grinding and inexorable" pace and ultimately reverse it, or whether we will proceed to an era of "rapid and dramatic" climate change leading to a very grim future. As a reminder of our power to make a difference, Van Jones hands out T-shirts emblazoned with the words "We are the heroes we've been waiting for." So let us proceed.
1 The World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission), 1987.
2 "Winner of the Award for Courage 2007," World Clean Energy Awards website www.cleanenergyawards.com/top-navigation/nominees-projects/nominee-detail/project/58.
3 Bill McKibben, The End of Nature (Random House, 2006).
4 "Bill McKibben: A Deeper Shade of Green," National Geographic, Aug. 2007 www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0608/voices.html.
5 Deshayes, P., "Norway Sets Ambitious Carbon Neutral Climate Target," Terra Daily, May 1, 2007 www.terradaily.com/reports/Norway_Sets_Ambitious_Carbon_Neutral_
6 "About the Simplicity Forum," Simplicity Forum website www.simplicityforum.org/aboutus.html.
7 Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (Back Bay Books, 2000). See also Bill McKibben, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (Times Books, 2007); Riane Tennenhaus Eisler, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics for Business Owners (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2007).
8 The riders maintained a blog on their website www.rideforclimate.com.
9 Military Advisory Board, National Security and the Threat of Climate Change (April 2007).
As the Oceans Rise: Meeting the Challenges of Global Warming, © 2008