31 December 2005

Roberto Clemente: A Howitzer for an Arm, An Ocean for a Heart


In an earlier post on John Lennon, I said that he was one of three people who taught me about caring. The other two were my Aunt Gladys and Roberto Clemente. It seems appropriate to write about him on this, the 33rd Anniversary of Clemente's tragic death, when he and four others crashed into the Atlantic Ocean while flying relief supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims. "Some right fielders have rifles for arms," said Tim McCarver. Clemente "had a howitzer." He also had an ocean for a heart.

Roberto Clemente was born on 18 August 1934, in Barrio San Anton in Carolina, Puerto Rico. He played baseball in the major leagues from 1955 until 1972, the year of his death, all with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The first Latino Hall of Famer, Clemente finished his career with a .317 batting average, 440 doubles, 166 triples, 240 home runs, and 1,305 RBI in 2,433 games. He hit exactly 3,000 hits, knocking a double in his very last at-bat. I have a framed photograph of this hit in my house.

I was born in Providence, Rhode Island, and grew up between there and Boston, along the Route 1 Corridor, 45 minutes from anywhere. I am a lifelong Red Sox fan, followed them religiously throughout my life, which encompassed three World Series losses before the 2004 season. So how did I become a fan of Roberto Clemente, who played his entire career in the National League on a team in a city nearly 600 miles from my hometown?

I'm not sure what it was that first attracted me to number 21. I started reading about him in the peak of his career, maybe it was the writers' adjectives. Late at night, I could pick up a Pittsburgh station on the radio and listen to his feats in the "green fields of the mind." The old television series "This Week in Baseball," showed me Clemente's "howitzer arm." He easily threw runners out as they tried to stretch a double into a triple, which was always a mistake against Roberto. Curt Gowdy on NBC brought me the All-Star Game and the 1971 World Series against Earl Weaver's Orioles. Clemente batted .414 in that World Series.

However, something else drew me to Clemente. I am part Portuguese on my mother's side, and in southern New England at the time, probably still, this came with a certain sense of insecurity. "Pork'n'cheese," my Scotch-Irish father used to joke; I had the dark olive skin, black hair and dark eyes of a "Portagee" kid. The ribbing and insults caused me to be ashamed of my Portuguese heritage for a long time. Yet the more I learned about Roberto Clemente's difficulties on and off the field dealing with prejudices against Hispanics and Blacks, the more I felt a kinship with the right fielder.

For one entire summer, I wore only a t-shirt someone (an Aunt or Uncle?) had given me from a trip to Puerto Rico. It bore one of those economic maps displaying what products came from which area, where the big hotels were, and baseball fields. I knew Clemente had played for the Santurce Crabbers, so I circled the city with a pen. My mother finally had to throw out the t-shirt I had worn it out. I stormed off to my room and wouldn't speak to her for days.

On New Year's Eve 1972, Roberto Clemente boarded a small DC-7 to deliver food, clothing and medicine to victims of a devastating earthquake in Nicaragua. Clemente, who led the Puerto Rican relief effort, and four others died when the four-engine plane, with a questionable past and an overload of cargo, crashed into the Atlantic. This was a major league baseball player, mind you, putting his life on the line to help others. He cared.

I wanted to name my second son Roberto, after my boyhood hero. My wife didn't think "Roberto Anderson" worked too well, so we went with her suggestion, Walker, after Walkers Percy and Evans. One day, after our son Walker was born, I showed him the framed photograph of Roberto's 3,000th hit, which is mounted with two Clemente baseball cards from my childhood and a postcard of his plaque from the Hall. "I wanted to name you after this guy, one of my heroes," I told him. It was then I looked at the plaque saw that my hero's mother's maiden name was Walker. An astounding coincidence? My Walker and his twin sister were born on 18 August 2003, which would have been Roberto's 69th birthday.

Roberto Clemente Walker was 38 when he launched his ill-advised relief mission in that DC-7. No one could persuade him not to go. He cared that much.

Categories: , ,

23 December 2005

The Green Skeptic's Best Books of 2005

Friends and acquaintances are always asking me to recommend books, so I thought now would be a good time to make a list of the best books I've read this year and post it here. While not all of these titles were published this year, I read them in 2005 and recommend to you.

Non-Fiction

The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century, Thomas Friedman. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times and this book was a revelation for him. It is an enthusiast's take on globalization, a bit starry eyed at times, but recommended for his assessment of the effects of globalization on everyday life and how we can adapt to such change. If you only read one book from this list: this is the one to read.

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, Jeffrey D. Sachs. Economist Sacks has been on the front lines of major economic change in many developing countries, from Bolivia to the former Soviet Union. Here he offers a prescription for how we can and why we must attack extreme poverty in the 21st Century. He postulates that this is the central issue facing our generation.

Boundaries, Maya Lin. A chronicle of how one artist thinks about her work that will change the way you think about her work. I've been a big fan of hers ever since the early days and have gone out of my way to see her work wherever I can. In this book, designed by the author, Lin proves she is a thoughtful and engaging a writer as she is an artist.

Red Sky in the Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment, James Gustave Speth. Speth is dean of the Yale School of Forestry and co-founder of Natural Resources Defense Council. His analysis of the current environmental situation is dead-on, as is his thinking about where to go from here. Read this as a companion piece to "The Death of Environmentalism," which is still available through The Breakthrough Institute.

Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade, Pietra Rivoli. If you've ever wondered after the origins of your clothing, this book is for you. If you harbor any doubt that the global economy is a fact of life or that we're all irrevocably connected to one another, read this lively, short book to disabuse you of these notions.

The Spice Islands Voyage, Tim Severin. I read this while on a trip through eastern Indonesia and found Severin's grasp of the natural world exactly as I found it. The book is intriguing and engaging. It's the tale of his re-creation of Alfred Lord Wallace's adventure, including the building of a boat similar to Wallace's, and what he found there, both changed and unchanged in over 100 years. Wallace, some of you will recall, simultaneously developed an evolutionary theory that prompted Darwin to complete his work.

Eye of the Albatross: Visions of Hope and Survival, Carl Safina. Safina, a MacArthur and Pew Fellow who runs the Blue Ocean Institute, follows the remarkable flight of the Albatross as it struggles to survive under extreme conditions. Along the way, Safina makes a compelling case for why our oceans need the attention of global conservationists -- and he tells a great story.

The Millennium Development Goals and Conservation: Managing Nature's Wealth for Society's Health, edited by Dilys Rose. This report makes clear, in simple and direct language, the connections between conservation, development, and poverty. A must read for anyone with delusions of siloed grandeur.

The David Suzuki Reader, David Suzuki. A lifetime of writings from this important activist and thinker, whose perspective on global issues, science, and ethics are informed by his deep concern for the world, as well as his training and background as a geneticist.

Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, George Lakoff. Wanna understand why the right and left can't get along? Or why the Red States and Blue States are as polarized as they are? Lakoff provides some answers to these and other nagging questions, as well as a perspective on what can be done about it.

Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, Dennis Meadows. The controversial book updated to include revised scenarios for unchecked growth on our finite planet. Regardless of your position on natural resource use, it's hard to ignore this book's warnings on climate, water quality and scarcity, oil and forestry -- unless you're an ostrich.

The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power, Daniel Yergin. This book is still, over a decade later, the seminal history of the oil business. And a remarkable story it is. Worth reading (or reading again) if you want to understand why this is the most powerful and influential industry on earth.

Nature's Keepers: The Remarkable Story of How The Nature Conservancy Became the Largest Environmental Organization in the World, Bill Birchard. Business writer Birchard looks into TNC's inner workings and history through the stories of some of its remarkable individuals. This is a frank look at how one of the big conservation organization operates, innovates, and manages change. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have worked for the Conservancy for the past 14 years.)

Poetry

Genius Loci, Alison Hawthorne Deming. The third book of poetry by one of our best -- who happens to be a friend and mentor of mine. The title poem is as engaged with the world as contemporary poetry gets. Why this book has slipped off the critical radar is beyond me. A brilliant book by a poet in top form.

Riverfall, Simmons Buntin. First book of poetry by my editor at Terrain, the online Journal of the Natural and Built Environments. Published in the UK, but available through Amazon and others, this is a clear-eyed work of approachable, lyrical poetry. Check out especially his poem written as Darwin writing to his sister.

Various Modes of Departure, by Deborah Fries. A first book of strong, discursive and authoritative poetry ranging in the intersection between lives lived, remembered and forgotten. She writes with an elegant intelligence and grace.

Pyx, Corrine Lee. A first book and National Poetry Series selection discovered by Pattiann Rogers. Lee balances the sacred and profane, and finds the poetic in the everyday without once getting either sentimental or solipsistic. Her inventive music and use of language belies a readability that is encouraging in a world of poetry written for academe.

Fiction

Snow, Orhan Pamuk. This novel is perhaps the Turkish writer's most accessible in translation. It follows a poet as he faces the challenges of being an exile returning to a country and a culture that is caught been Europe and a hard place. A timely read with Pamuk's recent trials for "defaming Turkey" by speaking out against the atrocities inflicted by the Turks on the Armenians during WWI. He's likely to win the Nobel for Literature one day, hopefully before he's assassinated by a zealot.

The Life of Pi, Yann Martel. I can't remember whether I read this in 2005 or earlier, but I'll recommend it anyway as one of the handful of excellent novels I've read in the past decade or more. Martel explores the interstices of story, truth and faith in a most fascinating way. You won't forget this story, regardless of which version you believe in the end.

The Fifth Book of Peace, Maxine Hong Kingston. A sequel to her delightful novel of 20 years ago, Tripmaster Monkey, which follows the earlier book's main character Wittman Ah Sing on his adventures in the counter-culture world of late-sixties Hawaii. This is the book Kingston was writing at the time of the Berkeley Hills fires that destroyed all of her possessions, including all copies of the novel. She recreates it here and mingles it with a narrative exploration of personal loss, disaster, perseverance and a call for peace in the world.

This list is not all the books I read in 2005, but it's the best. Please feel free to offer suggestions for books I may have missed. (There's a few still on my "to read" list, including Collapse by Jared Diamond and Europe Central by my old pal William Vollmann.) Happy reading!

21 December 2005

The Human Cost of AIDS


My friend and fellow blogger Jeff Leschensky (Shenky's Log) pointed me to a PSA by Médecins Sans Frontières about the Human Cost of AIDS. It's an animated look at the "snowball effect" of doing nothing to attack the root causes of AIDS: better prevention, universal access to treatment, more research, education, and poverty.

You can view the PSA here.

This type of animation, computerized projections of possible scenarios, is starting to be a trend. Take a look at Greenpeace's "Global Warming: It's the Real Thing" spoof on Coca-Cola commercials to make a point about the climate crisis and its impact on polar bear habitat. (I'll have more to say on that subject later tonight.) I haven't told my son about the polar bears drowning in the arctic waters of Alaska; he's still smarting from last night's news that Johnny Damon has gone over to the evil empire. This would just put him over the edge.


Categories: , , ,

18 December 2005

End Farm Subsidies by 2013, Says WTO

HONG KONG -- In a move that may have saved this latest round of WTO talks from failure, 149 countries agreed to an end-date for agriculture subsidies, but not until three years after the date that was sought. The EU got it's way on this one and may "owe one" to developing countries as a result, according to some participants.

Perhaps the biggest immediate impact is the elimination of export subsidies on cotton next year, which will help African cotton-growing nations. (It may also cause Pietra Rivoli to revise her fascinating book, The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy, which details the history of such subsides.)

For the complete story, see CNN Money

Categories: , ,

17 December 2005

WTO Talks Erupt in Violence Yet Again

HONG KONG-According to the Bangkok Post, hundreds of anti-globalization "protestors were arrested early today as police reclaimed the streets of Hong Kong following a night of violent clashes."

The violence today was the first since the early clashes between police and South Korean protestors on the opening days of deliberations. Of major concern is that, after "two days of relatively peaceful protests, police said they had been expecting thousands of demonstrators at the last two days of the meeting, attended by 6,000 delegates from 149 member states."

The meeting was meant to produce a plan to lower trade barriers for increased global trade, but the sticking point has been agricultural subsidies provided by developed countries.

According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, "time is fast running out for a deal, as negotiators remain deadlocked over the thorniest issues," especially putting an end to farm export subsidies centered in rich countries and bolstering exports from poorer nations.

RFE/RL reports that, "with just one day left, U.S. Deputy Trade Representative Peter Allgeier put a brave face on the faltering talks.

'We have within our grasp in the next 24 hours the possibility of a very significant package of measures, decisions I should say, that would move us forward in meeting our objectives of unleashing the power of trade for development in the form of a successful Doha agreement at the end of next year, so the potential is there, as I said, it is just beyond our fingertips,' Allgeier said.

The draft of the final declaration has agreed that rich countries must scrap their export subsidies for cotton next year, a move aimed at helping poor African producers.

Critics, however, say the talks have failed to reach their main aim -- setting a date for ending rich countries' farm export subsidies.

The draft suggested farm subsidies be eliminated in 2010, or within a period of five years, but both suggestions were inside brackets, meaning neither may be adopted in the end.

The United States and other countries wanted subsidies to end by 2010. But the EU objected. It says the United States and other rich countries must agree to reform their farm-export systems first. And it wants poorer countries to free up their markets for manufactured goods and services.

And there's also no progress on a plan to give greater access to exports for the world's least-developed countries."

For more information, see links above or the World Trade Organization web site.

Categories: , ,

13 December 2005

The Montreal Verdict: More Hot Air

I was in Seattle last week for a very productive meeting to set goals for global marine habitat protection by 2015. It was one of those meetings that started out frustrating and looked hopeless, but was rescued by some very smart people making very tough decisions and sticking to them. By the end of the meeting, we felt like we had really accomplished something and actually succeeded in our goal.

Of course, we scheduled another meeting, but that wasn't the only outcome. From what I gather, a similarly productive time was not had in Montreal. To learn that the biggest outcome of the Climate Conference is another series of meetings to "engage in talks aimed at producing a new set of binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions that would take effect beginning in 2012," as The Washington Post reported Sunday, is pretty depressing.

Admittedly, I was unable to pay much attention to the conference after the first week -- and now I'm on jury duty, so I have limited time to assess the full range of outcomes -- but what I saw via the web casts that first week was a lot of men in dark suits spouting a lot of hot air.

One encouraging bit of news is the growing sentiment, expressed by Britain's environment secretary and also reported in the Post that "the debate is changing on the costs and benefits of climate change...There is growing recognition of the costs of not taking action and of the opportunities that come with taking action itself."

In other encouraging news, China and India have pledged to pursue voluntary emissions reductions, according to the "non-binding agreement" reached late Saturday. But Kyoto is dead, I suspect, and we should just let it go. It's now become such an emotional flint that I fear it will always get in the way of constructive dialogue. Am I wrong in this assumption?

Montreal may be a tipping point, as some attendees suggest, but what concerns me is tipping toward what? Are we just tilting at windmills that are catching more hot air?

Categories:

02 December 2005

IMAGINE: The Man Who Cared


It was 25 years ago next week that John Lennon was shot to death outside his home on West 72nd Street and Central Park West in New York.

I was hundreds of miles away and heard about it from Howard Cosell, while watching the New England Patriots play on Monday Night Football and reading John's "comeback" interview in Playboy, which had just come out.

My stepmother Sandi called me as soon as she heard the news and we both cried into the phone. His death struck home for a couple of reasons.

One, because John Lennon was a boyhood idol of mine and another because I was supposed to be there, in the apartment I shared on 72nd Street, a half a block west towards Columbus Avenue. I missed my ride back to New York that Saturday night. It was probably a gig or a concert that kept me away. No matter.

Had I been there, I might have been taking my usual night walk around the block at the precise moment John and Yoko were returning from the recording studio to meet their fate. Could I have prevented it somehow if I had been there? The thought haunts me to this day.

You always met a number of the faithful fans gathered outside the Dakota to catch a glimpse of John. They were nice folks and I always chatted up whoever was there, knew many of the regulars on a first name basis, would bring them coffee from the Argos Restaurant up on the Columbus Avenue corner.

I remember one guy, a photographer named Michel from Montreal, whose pictures later showed up in one of the posthumous collections of images that appeared after Lennon’s death. He was a regular, whenever he was down from Canada, and had even managed to get some of his photographs in to John via the doorman; he showed me some of the images, mostly candid snapshots of the family taking a stroll.

John and Yoko liked to stroll around and in the Park – "It's John Lennon, I can’t believe it," he would say if he caught you recognizing him. Michel was a real fan, not like the evil-doer-who-shall-not-be-named who took John down.

John and Yoko frequented Café La Fortuna on 71st, where I used to hang out writing poems and drawing. You could see the back patio from my building. Across the hall from me was Benny Fine and his roommate Max, a doorman who used to play in The Circle (they had a hit in the Sixties with "Red Rubber Ball"). Benny used to point out the café from their window, mostly to complain about the smell of coffee waste in the garbage cans out back.

That night could have been different; John could have lingered in the neighborhood, gone around for a late night espresso. It was an opera hangout, full of old opera buffs and dancers drinking coffee and smoking Nat Sherman's who didn't care much for Lennon's music.

Nobody bothered John there, it was an unspoken rule, but sprinkled among the photographs and album covers of famous opera singers on the walls, was a fair number of signed pictures and LPs from the famous couple.

But they didn't get a coffee that night; they went straight home, John still clutching the last recordings he made.

That was "the day the music died," as the old song goes, but it was more than that for those of us to whom John was more than his music. His was an example of what one could do with art, music, and fame beyond the art: he cared. And he taught me to care.

To a boy growing up in the shadow of the Nixon, John was like a beacon of hope. He stood for things. He wasn't afraid to play the fool. He spoke out – whether you liked what he said or not – and spoke up.

In the entire hullabaloo around Bono's promotion to end poverty and AIDS, has anyone noticed that "One" is a derivative of John's "Bag One"; his efforts of the late sixties-early seventies?

John climbed in bed for peace and was ridiculed, but brought attention to his cause. He zipped himself and his bride into a bag for peace, returned his MBE for peace, planted acorns for peace, and other silly acts of caring.

Even the white of the wristbands and t-shirts used to promote the One Campaign is reminiscent of the white clothes, balloons, and "WAR IS OVER" billboards John used for his cause.

I can trace my caring to three people. Three people who shaped my ethos of caring and helped make me who I am today, who led me to do the work I do, and write what I write here on this web log and in my poetry: John Lennon, Roberto Clemente, and Gladys Taylor. (More on the other two later.)

John was an icon. He was also a fragile, insecure man – could even be an asshole, according to many reports and biographies. Nevertheless, he wasn't afraid to care. And caring is what it's all about.

IMAGINE that.

Categories: , ,

01 December 2005

Green Laptop May Help Poor Bridge Digital Divide



According to CNN.com, a green laptop weighing only a kilogram and not reliant on electricity was the center of attention at The World Summit on the Information Society held in Tunisia. Its inventor, Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims the $100 machine will help eradicate poverty. Negroponte's non-profit group called "One Laptop Per Child," will sell the machines directly to governments in the developing world.

Read more at: $100 Laptop or at One Laptop Per Child

Categories: , , ,

Goldman Sachs Embraces Its Inner Environmentalist

In a move some say will spur other companies to examine their triple-bottom line ways, Goldman Sachs announced last week that they have adopted a comprehensive environmental policy.

The policy statement begins, "Goldman Sachs believes that a healthy environment is necessary for the well-being of society, our people and our business, and is the foundation for a sustainable and strong economy."

Get the skinny at CNN Money or download the full policy at Goldman.

According to the New York Times, Hank Paulson, chairman of the investment banking firm, also announced the creation of a Center for Environmental Markets to develop and study free-market solutions to environmental problems.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I work for an organization that is associated with Mr. Paulson.)


Categories: , ,

28 November 2005

A Party in Montreal: Hot Air or Fresh Air?

The UN Climate Change Conference got underway today in Montreal with many people talking and praising each other's participation, statements, and proposals. Those of us on the sidelines hope there is more fresh air than hot air at this conference, but don't count on it.

The US government has, according to some, declined to participate but there they are, making a nuisance of themselves, saying how they are doing more than any other country to reduce pollution in the air, yadda yadda yadda...until they are virtually shouted down and then critics like Sierra Club Canada jump all over them and try to shame them for not participating in the Kyoto Protocol.

As my childhood friends back in Rhode Island might say, "Fuhgetaboutit." They will never change their minds on this one so give it up, folks, and move on. Don't invite 'em to your party, or boycott the country if you want (as Mark Lynas suggested in the Independent today), but why bother worrying about them anymore?

On the other hand, you could listen to them, because maybe some of the ideas are not that off base after all. In fact, as Iain Murray suggested in an Op-Ed on the Competitive Enterprise Institute web site last week, even "Tony Blair, for all his faults, has recognized that the approach is fundamentally at odds with securing economic growth," and who among you out there is going to trade economic growth for potentially unreachable targets at this point? Stalemate is always a no-win situation.

Meanwhile, according to The Guardian the small island nation of the Carterets became the first to be officially evacuated because of climate change. The authorities will move 10 families at a time to Bougainville, an island 62 miles away. Within two years, the six Carterets will be uninhabited and undefended. By 2012 or 2015, they are likely to be completely submerged. So what are we waiting for? In management and art, you try a bunch of things and keep what sticks. Maybe it's time to try a few new things.

But in more hopeful news, a new report from the Pew Center for Global Climate Change offers some useful suggestions for what to do beyond Kyoto. It calls for a "more flexible international framework that can engage the world's major economies." Some of that flexibility would be in the manner in which countries achieve their target reductions, such as having groups of countries coming together to explore like-minded tracks. For example, steel-producing countries could hammer out a sector agreement. This would provide a voluntary approach, which is something both industry and the Bush administration have been asking for.

As Linda Fisher from Dupont, one of five corporations engaged in the study, noted, "one of the things I found unique about is that [this report] recognized that there might not be one common end, but you can still make a lot of progress in the ultimate goal, which is reducing these emissions."

The report also calls for a high-level political dialogue outside the UN process, which demonstrates a lack of confidence that the UNFCCC can deliver. But more to the point, the Pew report calls for adaptation strategies to complement any mitigation strategies, a more robust carbon trading market, including "no-regret" conditional targets, as well as greater investments in new technologies.

Another important point the Pew study suggests is to integrate climate and development projects in a way that is fair and consistent with economic development. This is important because many view climate mitigation as an impediment to achieving the already hard to achieve millennium development objectives of developing nations.

One hopes the Pew suggestions get an airing at this forum. We'll see. I'll be monitoring the progress of the talks over the next two weeks.

You can listen in at: Live Webcast


Categories:

21 November 2005

You Are a Miracle, Reader: A Year of Blogging Life

I've been writing this blog for a year on Thursday. When I embarked on this journey, what I really wanted to do was to begin a conversation about how we live on this earth and how we go about protecting our environment. Along the way, this experiment has taken me into commenting on the oil business, hurricanes, market-based conservation, climate change, poverty and, perhaps most importantly, what we talk about when we talk about conservation.

The comments my work has received -- directly either in the blog or separately to me via email -- lead me to believe this is worth continuing. The most common question I receive from friends who learn about this blog is, "How do you know anyone is reading it?" My answer is similar to the one that keeps me writing poetry: "One reader is a miracle; two, a mass movement."

Walter Lowenfels said that. Lowenfels was born in New York City in 1897, and lived for extended periods in Europe. He was one of the expatriate poets of the 20s and 30s. Upon returning to the United States, he became editor of the Pennsylvania edition of the Daily Worker and gave up poetry. In the mid-50s, he was arrested for advocating the overthrow of the government and later released for lack of evidence. He then resumed his career as a poet. Walter Lowenfels was what would be called in modern management circles a "change agent."

I'm no Lowenfels and have no interest in sedition or even political posturing. In fact, I'm probably more conservative in my political leanings than many of my poet friends and colleagues. And I do not intend to give up poetry for punditry. Neither do I claim to have all the answers, as did another politically oriented poet, Ezra Pound. No, I'm more concerned about being the fly in the ointment, the sand in the oyster, the spanner in the gear. If my skepticism, something to which I come naturally, leads to questions in the minds of my readers, however few or many you may be, then I have succeeded. In part.

As I've become familiar with blogs as a form, I have noticed several things. One, there is a lot of blather on the blogrolls. Some use it as a public diary of their daily thoughts, which like most diaries only occasionally (and accidentally) lapse into brilliance. Two, the blogs that get the most attention are the ones set for attack mode. And three, for a blog to reach a large audience, there needs to be some sex in there.

Well, my dear reader, The Green Skeptic maintains that there is room for thoughtful, well-reasoned argument in the blogosphere. In the coming year, I hope to hone in on more questions along the lines of those I've raised thus far. You'll seldom see me condemn another, I'm just not interested in backbiting, but I'll try to offer solutions and to continue the line of concern I've laid out for myself. I do hope that more readers will comment or challenge some of the thoughts I offer. Only through dialogue will we advance our cause, only through believing in the power of words can our actions be thoughtful and our aim made true.

Thank you for being among the "mass movement" your Green Skeptic has engendered. I value your mind and your eyes and your very existence. You are a wonder to behold, even if only twice a month or for the time it takes to read these few paragraphs in the wilderness.

Categories: ,

10 November 2005

Enlightened Energy Policy Not Oil Profits Tax

Oil companies have reaped enormous profits in this past summer's run up of oil prices. We've also seen greater noise about hybrids, alternatives, and greater fuel economy in the wake of escalating prices at the pump. But should the oil industry be socked with a tax to address "excessive" profit-taking? No.

Rather politicians should take advantage of these times to encourage conservation by consumers, call for an enlightened energy policy, and improved vehicle fuel-efficiency. This would be a better long-term solution than taxing this momentary windfall.

Oil prices will continue to fluctuate -- it's the nature of the business. At some point, a few speculate, we'll see oil top $100 a barrel. But already the price is dropping and people are starting to take the FOR SALE signs off their SUVs. While this may be a reaction to scrutiny on the part of the oil companies, more likely it's the usual reaction caused by unseasonably warm weather in the northeast driving down demand or increased productivity and the efforts of companies to pump up refining in the aftermath of the hurricane season. There's more oil available. That won't always be the case.

So why not seize this opportunity to make a real difference by addressing the demand side of the equation? Reduce our consumption through conservation measures and improving our energy use per unit of economic output, which most agree is abysmal, and we may be able to create long-term impact and incentives. (This is always better for an economy than increased taxes.) Some are calling for an economy-wide carbon tax (more on that later) and greater energy-efficiency requirements.

In the long run, such solutions may provide much more traction than any tax on windfall. Besides, one person's windfall is almost always someone else's loss. Where will it end? Is your business gleaning excessive profits? What if you made a bundle on the sale of your house in an insane market? You could be next.

Categories: ,

25 October 2005

World Series of Conservation?

It's not my Sox in the World Series this year. ("There's always last year," was the word in Red Sox Nation after the ALDS.) But I can't stop watching baseball. The White Sox have proven to be a formidable American League force, even at Minute Maid Park. Could it be another curse broken? Another Year of the Sox, albeit not of the scarlet variety?

All during this series -- imagine it as the series of the Chicago Climate Exchange versus Houston Big Oil -- I'm struck by the tenor of the commercials: the words "conservation," "fuel economy," and "fuel-efficiency" are filling the airwaves through advertising.

Of course, one expects Honda's claim to have the highest efficiency of any auto manufacturer, but then there's the very unlikely GMC, claiming its Envoy Denali has "fuel efficient technology" behind its massive front grille. Now that's be professional grade.

Here's Ford and Chevy duking it out over who provides more fuel economy in a full-size pickup. Then Ford listing its goals for hybrid and ethanol cars and trucks.

And Chevron talking about the future: "innovative technology," "alternatives" and "conservation." That's right, conservation. An oil company calling for conservation. At over $60 a barrel, I guess they can afford it. But it's made for an interesting twist between innings.

I've long thought that if there was money to be made in being green more companies would get on the bandwagon. Maybe we're heading for a tipping point?

And now, back to the game...

Categories: , ,

15 October 2005

Hurricanes & Climate Change


Color-enhanced Sea Surface Temperature 50 KM Global Analysis,11-14 October 2005. Archived at the National Climatic Data Center.

Last year, four successive hurricanes crisscrossed Florida; this year Katrina, Rita, and Stan have pummeled the Gulf of Mexico region. According to CNN, tropical storm Vince "strengthened briefly to a hurricane, making 2005 officially the second-busiest hurricane season on record." Vince made landfall in Spain, the first time a cyclone has struck that country in recorded history.

Has this hurricane season been stronger than normal? Is global warming to blame? While pinning the blame on global warming for any single extreme weather event is facile, some recent studies do show an alarming rise in the intensity of tropical storms. Intensity is linked to rising sea surface temperatures. It is widely known that such storms gather strength from warm ocean waters; therefore, as ocean temperatures rise it's likely we'll see more storms of greater violence.

In a recent issue of Science, Peter Webster and Judith Curry document a "60 percent jump in major hurricanes with winds of 131 mph or more and a 1-degree increase in the tropical ocean surface temperature." The study claims that category 4 and 5 hurricanes -- the most intense -- have doubled in the tropics in the last 35 years. Nevertheless, they also warn that more study is needed, given how little is known about the patterns of hurricanes throughout history.

Back in August, NOAA experts determined there were optimal conditions for hurricanes this season, including unusually warm ocean surface temperatures and low wind shear. They upgraded their prediction to "11 to 14 tropical storms from now [then] through November, with seven to nine becoming hurricanes." The greatest hurricane season on record was 1933, "when 21 systems reached tropical storm status or greater. The next most violent year was 1995, with 19 storms."

Thus far, CNN reports, 2005 "is one of the fiercest on record, with more than 17 named storms and nine hurricanes." Not all have hit land, but we have seen the results of those that have and it isn’t comforting. This summer also brought us the earliest Category 4 hurricane recorded in the Caribbean, Dennis, which hit Cuba and Haiti before landing in west Florida from 4-11 July.

Not everyone believes there is a link between the violence of this hurricane season and global warming. Last month, Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, told a Senate subcommittee that this is part of a natural cycle that began in 1995 and could last another decade. According to Mayfield, this is "driven by the Atlantic Ocean itself along with the atmosphere above it and not enhanced substantially by global warming."

However, Brenda Ekwurzel, a climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists told CNN in September that, "warmer oceans are converting low-grade storms into powerful hurricanes." She said that warm water to a hurricane is "like throwing gasoline on a fire."

While Webster and others feel secure that global warming may not have an impact on hurricane generation "for another 100 years," most agree the debate on the issue is healthy for science, especially if it leads to further study of one of Mother Nature's cruelest aspects.

Categories:

07 October 2005

Caring, or A New Conservation Ethic

Over the past several weeks, in the conference centers of Monterey, the wilderness of Yosemite, and the halls of my company's offices in suburban Washington, our talk has been about drawing a closer connection between conservation and people. We've come a long way, but still have miles to go before we can say we've expanded the boundaries of our own conservation ethic.

I've been thinking a lot lately about conservation ethic. One phrase that keeps coming back to me is Robert Michael Pyle's statement that "People who care conserve, people who don't know don't care." It's a powerful truism and one to which we should pay heed. Our movement is often accused of being elitist and defeatist and, frankly, those criticisms are far too often accurate. Beautiful photos of pristine places beg the question, "What about the people?"

(Pyle's words came back to me during tonight's playoff battle of the Sox. It was late in the game, my beloved Red Sox had bases loaded and blew several chances to tie the game or take the lead. Johnny Damon was up, surely ready to play the hero. My nine-year old son, who learned to care about baseball -- and my team -- during the 2003 ALCS, was on tenterhooks: would Damon do it? When the Caveman struck out, stranding three base runners and turning the BoSox into WoeSox once again, my son was apoplectic. "Now I know you are a true fan," I told him. "You really cared." I haven't seen him that upset since he learned that polar bears were losing habitat to global warming!)

We need a new conservation ethic that clearly redefines the human + nature equation: that human beings are not apart from, but rather a part of nature. We need to articulate the real connections between conservation and restoration of the earth's natural functions -- also known as ecosystem services -- and their real implications for the people of the earth. Moreover, that we care about people as much as the earth's other species. Without this, we will sink in a downward spiral of our own making.

Whether we're talking about food, fuel, fiber for clothing or paper or a myriad of other goods and services nature provides, we need to stop "seeing the natural world as a resource for the economy," as James Gustave Speth writes in his book, Red Sky at Morning, "rather than seeing the economy as nested in the natural world."

We have obligations to the world that go beyond our self-interest, to paraphrase Aldo Leopold, and until we own up to this our conservation ethic will ring false for the majority of the world's people. Our new conservation ethic must be as inclusive as it is pragmatic, and as interconnected to the other issues of our time -- poverty alleviation, terrorism, AIDS/HIV -- as to the natural world we hold dear.

We need to remember this whether we're on higher ground in one of this nation's important National Parks, the sterile corridors of an office in northern Virginia, or the cozy confines of that little bandbox of a ballpark that is Fenway.

Categories: , ,

28 September 2005

And the Poor Shall be Rich...

In a meeting I attended last week in Monterey, California, much of the talk centered on ecosystems services and how to account for them, how to factor them into the mix for conservation action, and their impact on the poor.

How curious to note, then, that only the week before, on the floor of the UN, the environment minister of Costa Rica was making similar comments and selling the concept to a group there gathered.

Maybe there is something in the air.

The concept of ecosystem services -- the life-sustaining properties and protection provided by nature -- has been kicking around for more than a decade. Only now, it seems to be getting some traction.

Countries like Costa Rica have unparalleled natural riches; this is undeniable. That we should economically quantify the contribution of such natural services as clean water from watersheds, flood and storm control from coastal wetlands and barrier islands, greenhouse gas reductions from forests and grasslands is not a new idea. But there is a new twist.

Where ecosystems services are concerned, it turns out the poorest are richest.

As The Economist (17 Sept 2005) says, "When natural accounts are expanded to include not only 'produced' wealth (goods and services), but also intangibles (such as knowledge) and especially natural wealth, they reveal some interesting patterns."

Now the World Bank and others, such as Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, that environment minister from Costa Rica, are calling for a new accounting to measure a country's economic welfare, a sort of "Green GDP," in the words of some.

It's been tried before, most notably in the macro-scale by Robert Constanza and other authors of a controversial Nature article a few years ago, but never (to my knowledge) on a country by country basis.

"If all environment ministers abandon tree-hugging in favor of such talk of profit and loss," The Economist notes, "Mr. Rodriguez's dreams may yet come true." That may be a long time coming, maybe too long to outrun the herd.

And there are still many a naysayer in the environmental community who would eschew any such valuing nature. They believe nature has "intrinsic value" and argue we should be altruistic in our efforts and our goals.

Wiser minds than mine have pointed out that "profit trumps altruism" every time. Maybe it's time to cede the bean counters the floor, and give profit a chance. Then the meek shall inherit the true wealth of nations.

Categories: ,

04 September 2005

A Ripple of Hope: Safe Drinking Water


One of the UN Millennium Development Goals is to "reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water" by the year 2015. Currently, more than one billion people do not have access to safe water and about half of the world's poor suffer from waterborne diseases. Over 6,000, mainly children, die each day by consuming unsafe drinking water.

Now a company called Vestergaard Frandsen, with branch offices in many developing countries, is pioneering a new product called the LifeStraw, which aims reduce the impact of waterborne diseases such as typhoid, cholera, dysentery, and diarrhea. The company specializes in disease control textiles and is the creator of the PermaNet, an insecticidal polyester mosquito bed net, and the ZeroFly shelter, an insecticidal plastic sheet that provides both shelter and malaria prevention for extreme emergency situations.

The LifeStraw turns surface water into drinking water as the drinker sucks in water from wherever she may be. Its simplicity is matched only by its effectiveness. It has a lifespan of 700 liters or about one year of water consumption for one person. The cost? The small plastic pipe filter runs around two bucks.

An article in MedGadget, "the internet journal of emerging medical technologies," describes the LifeStraw this way:
"What first meets the water when sucked up is a pre-filter of PE filter textile with a mesh opening of 100 micron, shortly followed by a second textile filter in polyester with a mesh opening of 15 micron. In this way all big articles are filtered out, even clusters of bacteria are removed. Then the water is led into a chamber of iodine impregnated beads, where bacteria, viruses and parasites are killed. The second chamber is a void space, where the iodine being washed off the beads can maintain their killing effect. The last chamber consists of granulated active carbon, which role is to take the main part of the bad smell of iodine, and to take the parasites that have not been taken by the pre-filter or killed by the iodine. The biggest parasites will be taken by the pre-filter, the weakest will be killed by the iodine, and the medium range parasites will be picked up by the active carbon. The main interest to everyone is the killing of bacteria, and here our laboratory reading tells us that we have a log. 7 to log 8 kill of most bacteria. This is better than tap water in many developed countries."

And the LifeStraw does all this for about the cost of a small bottle of "spring water" at your local airport newsstand!

More information: INDEX: The World Arena for Future Design and Innovation

Categories: , ,

03 September 2005

Story Telling as a Conservation Strategy

In the conservation community, when we talk about our work, we talk mostly about bucks and acres. We focus on how much land we protected, the species saved or how much money it took to do the deal.

What we leave behind is the back-story, which has more to do with the human communities affected by our work -- the families and individuals with ties to the lands and waters and the natural, life-sustaining services that provide their livelihood. There is always a story behind the scenes -- beyond the deal -- that is more compelling.

Several years ago, I learned about the work of Peter Forbes, who was spending a year or more as a fellow with his group, the Trust for Public Land. He spent much of that time examining their deals, looking for, and telling the back-stories. He gathered the stories, developing a method for ferreting them out of the muck. The result was The Story Handbook. I talked to Peter about his work several years ago at the annual Land Trust Alliance Rally and found an ally, someone whose thinking on the subject dwarfs mine.

My discipline in the conservation arena is fundraising; I've spent the last 14 years raising money from some wonderful people to protect places we care about together. I wanted to find a practical application for this thinking and a venue to test my assumptions. I'd been leading fundraising workshops for the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association over the years and approached them about an idea for a new workshop.

I called it "Telling Our Story: Connecting Place & People to Inspire Transformational Giving." I lead participants through an exercise in uncovering the back-story and bring it to the foreground. Really, it was about changing the nature of our conversations about conservation. I wanted the conversation to be more about the needs we fulfill, not about needs we have, and about what we can solve and what we can only serve. The idea was to focus on people, their values, and the impact we were having on issues and on people.

The participants had ten minutes to create their story, then pair off and tell it to a partner. Bringing them back together, I shared Forbes's "Story Sheets" concept from the Handbook, pulling out six essential points for a different kind of story telling:

Describe the place from personal experience
State the context for the conservation project
Broader historical context
Larger Social Good Being Addressed
Relationships Strengthened and Preserved
Convey Emotion and Core Values

The group then had to redraft their story along these lines, retell the story to their partner and then talk about what changed in their story, whether it was more compelling told in this way. The results were great; people told better stories in this new context. Moreover, their stories were less jargon-riddled and numbers oriented. They told real stories to which others could relate.

I went back to a couple of people in the organization I work for, The Nature Conservancy, and shared this idea. They latched onto it and took it further than I could ever imagine. The next thing I knew, we held a conference for fundraisers devoted to this concept of story telling. Peter Forbes was a keynote speaker and we passed out copies of The Story Handbook as required reading. Then one of our regions adopted the method, instructing their field-based staff in the art of telling their stories in a more personal and compelling way. Beautiful.

I continue to explore this vein, after afflicting the organization with this idea virus of story telling. Most recently, I have worked with a few colleagues to collect stories from the field and from partners and incorporate them into our toolbox for staff. Later this month we will publish a small book for a meeting in Monterey, Saving Our Seas: Stories of Marine Conservation. I'm excited about this effort and hope others will be.

People connect to stories; it is a tradition as old as human communication itself. We are a story telling species. Stories connect people to other people and to the lands and waters we protect. Like the songlines of the Aborigines, stories map a place in a way beyond symbols and geography. Stories are our way of connecting with each other and more broadly with the world. Think about it: when you get together with your friends, do you share stories?

If we're going to build a conservation ethic, we need to share our stories, to nurture a culture of story telling. We need to get at the heart of what makes our work relevant and important to people, to the future of our species and those with whom we share the earth, our island home.

What's your story?

Categories: ,

02 September 2005

A Tragedy in the Deep South

This has been a troublesome week, as Katrina wrecks havoc on the Gulf Coast. Enviros and NeoCons start pointing fingers at each other over whether the severity of this storm has any relation to global warming. Meanwhile, the relief effort seems positively underwhelming and even Newt Gingrich questions the preparedness of our Homeland Security. While the loss of life and livelihoods pales in comparison to December's tsunami, it is still beyond comprehension.

Especially when it hits relatively close to home: my wife's family is from Gulfport, Mississippi, practically the epicenter of Katrina's impact. Her parents met there and were married for 57 years until her father died this past June. We were in Gulfport a couple of months ago for the funeral and burial. Someone told us the cemetery was now under water. All of her family, cousins and aunts and second cousins, are okay, but their homes have either been lost or suffered damage. While others watched their businesses wash out to sea.

The fact is rising water temperatures will lead to more hurricane forming conditions -- hurricanes feed on warm water, it's where they get their strength. But more to the point is the damage may have been lessened had the islands and wetland marshes along the coast survived the onslaught of development and levee construction. As Andrew Revkin and Cornelia Dean wrote in The New York Times this week, the barrier islands are the first line of defense for the coasts, marshes are the second.

"Maybe it's because of all those casinos," a resident of Biloxi said. The casinos and development all along the Gulf Coast has depleted the already degraded wetlands and marshes, which provide coastal protection and natural flood control. Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) spoke of the importance of restoring her state's coast to its natural state. Louisiana is losing ground most significantly due to erosion and the diversion of Mississippi River silt from the Delta. Some estimates say the Louisiana Coast has shrunk by an amount equal to the size of Rhode Island since the 30s. And the EPA estimates that the Mississippi Delta Region has lost roughly 95 percent of its floodplain forest.

It's hubris to think that we can continue to build indiscriminately in these areas and that we can simply throw engineering solutions at flood control. It comes down to money and, as David Usborne wrote in The Independent yesterday, "In the battle between dollars and nature, you know who wins."

And once again, who suffers most from environmental degradation and the misuse of natural services? The poor, who can ill afford to lose the protection afforded by nature.

I am not about to pass judgment on anyone involved in the response, this was clearly an unprecedented event of a magnitude that we can only imagine. The logistics, even before victims started shooting at rescue helicopters and each other, were clearly complicated. All we can do is pray for the victims and hope for their recovery.

Yet, I can't help looking at the satellite images of Gulfport, where everything south of the railroad tracks is wiped out, and recalling the images from Aceh Province, Indonesia, and elsewhere of eight months ago. I have to wonder when we will wake up to the real benefits nature provides and stop letting dollars trump it every time.

Categories: , ,

22 August 2005

Make Poverty History: Protect the Safety Net

"Nature is the safety net of the poor," a colleague said last week.

What I think he meant by that is there are a range services nature provides upon which the Earth's one billion poorest people depend. From food production to flood control, from fuel for heating and cooking to traditional medicines, nature is the fabric that supports the poor and, ultimately, all of us.

Technology may be what drives the poorest to ascend the rung of the ladder of development, as Jeffrey Sachs suggests, but without nature's services, the poor would have nothing to fall back on. We need to protect those attributes most commonly found in the full range of biological diversity, while encouraging the most efficient means possible of getting the poor up that ladder.

Jon Christensen in "Forgive Us Our Debts" points out that "governance is the key word in international development." Good governance is just as important for biodiversity protection, whether we're talking protected areas or community conservation action. Governance, according to a recent release by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), includes "all the processes, traditions and rules that concur in establishing decisions, and should be based on principles like accountability, transparency, effectiveness and participation."

"Good governance is also a way of simultaneously expanding the conservation effectiveness of Protected Areas and their global coverage," said Ashish Kothari, co-chair of the IUCN's Theme on Indigenous and Local Communities, Equity, and Protected Areas, which is raising the awareness of existing governance tools.

When the Group of Eight agreed to forgive the debt of 18 of the world's poorest countries, Christensen writes, "they tied the debt relief to good government practices, improvements in health and education, and elimination of poverty."

Christensen notes the absence of the environment on that list. However, many of us believe the environment is intrinsically linked to those areas in need of improvement. Does it need to be called out? Possibly, but the effort to support the Millennium Development Goals through conservation measures is a step in the right direction. The time to ensure the equitable sharing of costs and benefits of biodiversity protection is at hand -- right next to the white wristband.

I agree with Christensen that sound governance "needs to be pushed further to embrace conservation of ecosystem services and biodiversity through good laws, adequate administration, and practical incentives that work for people on the land." We're talking not only governments here, but also communities and NGOs. Let's work toward that goal and, at the same time, revisit our conservation practices to encompass the needs of the communities in which we work -- be they global or local.

Categories: , ,

10 August 2005

Conservationist, Nature Poet...Rock Star?

One of these things is not like the other. Can you guess which?

A few years ago, at a conference of nature writers and conservation practitioners, Barry Lopez told his audience that he felt "marginalized" as a writer. What he meant was that as a "nature writer" the literary establishment had sidelined him. A number of us rolled our eyes at that one; we would have given our left nut to be as marginalized as Barry Lopez. (Didn't he win the National Book Award for Arctic Dreams? He's a best-selling author, with a larger audience than many novelists!) My friend Bill from Alaska, said to me, "Wow, if Barry Lopez feels marginalized as a nature writer, how must you feel as a nature poet?!"

Bill had a point. I mean, can I be any more marginalized? Now, new reports about the environment dropping among issues of concern, the "death of environmentalism" debate, Michael Lewis' essay in the current issue of Poetry, and my wife's obsession with the reality show "Rock Star: INXS" have conspired to make me think, "You must revise your life!" (To quote an unkempt poet of some renown.)

Why is it so uncool to be a poet or an environmentalist? What is it that marginalizes these two ways of knowing and that alienates the general public? Why aren't there any rock stars in the conservation or poetry worlds? Or as Michael Lewis asks in his essay, "'Is there some new law that says a poet can't have sex appeal?'"

"I want to wash when I meet a poet," said Basil Bunting in his poem "What the Chairman Told Tom." Michael Lewis instructs poets to stop being so negative, that "nobody likes a whiner." He could have been talking to many greenies. In fact, much of Lewis' six-point "plan of attack" for poets would be well heeded by environmentalists: "Think Positive"; Pay Attention to the "Paying Customer"; "Think About Your Core Message"; "Strive to Be Relevant"; "Overcome Your Fear"; and "Think Bigger!"

My point is I think we in the movement need to reinvent ourselves. Turns out this is especially true for me, a "nature poet"; just thinking about it now, makes me want to grab a white shirt and black jeans from the closet , slap on some Beatle boots and hit the nightclub. I don't want to be a nature poet or a crunchy-granola conservation geek. We need some rock stars.

One colleague of mine is a smart-looking Brit who clearly shops at the right tailors in London whenever he gets back home. He looks sharp. He does not conform to the male uniform of the organization we both work for and that of the movement at large: blue oxford cloth shirt, khakis and brown loafers. One day I told him, "Nigel, you're looking great. You look like a pop-star not like someone who works for a nature group." He held out his hands, weighing the two as if they were scales of justice: "'Pop star'; 'Nature Group,'" he said. "Hmmm, I'd rather..." I don't have to tell you how he answered.

I used to be a rock star. Well, okay, a small-time rock star. Under the name Dash Beatcomber, I sang lead and played bass in a band for about five or six years in the late seventies-early eighties. The band had various incarnations, among them Deadpants and Active Driveway; we even had our own label "Sorry Kitten Records" and our own magazine Rockstop!. We went through a punk phase, a post-punk phase, even a Europop phase and were, at the end of our lifespan, among the original grunge and alt-country outfits.

We were cool, we were hip, we had seasons in the sun – actually, out of the sun, working on that trademark pallor of the rock star. Our recordings got airplay on WFMU, WFUV, and other cool NYC alternative stations. Our biggest claim to fame was opening for a then on-the-brink-of-being famous new wave band. (We were one of several acts on the bill; I said we were small-time). Jan & Dean had planned to record our song "Surf Ohio," which I’d written in a Dunkin' Donuts in upstate New York, but then they 86'd their comeback album.

What happened to us? Like many garage bands, we burned out. I moved to Europe; we all moved on with our lives. Our last recording session – now lost – included a couple of songs. One that I wrote with our guitarist Joshu called "Blondes on Bikes," a sort of alt-country paean to summer romance and Dylan's "It Takes a lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry." I did a killer harmonica solo on that one. When I told this story to my wife after playing Dylan's version on the jukebox in a bar the other night, she said, "It's probably best the tape is lost." (Somewhere out there is a cache of recordings of Active Driveway that would prove my point about at least one thing: we were ahead of our time. Okay, two things: we were small-time and ahead of our time.)

Those were the glory days, as the Boss says, when I used to be cool. Now, according to some recent reports in the media, I find that I have one foot in each of two "loser" camps, poetry and conservation. Moreover, I've spent the better part of the last twenty years trying to bring those two worlds together in my work and life. Who advised that? Now there's no chance that I can make a comeback as a rocker in my forties – comeback from what? Can one come back from virtual obscurity?

This is where my wife comes in. She's been watching (okay, I'll admit, I have too) this new reality show where a group of singers compete to lead the band INXS. I began to wonder what it would be like to be one of the competitors. Would I still have my rock 'n' roll moves? Could I still make a crowd get up and scream not just get up and scram? These days, my only performances are either in front of a PowerPoint screen, behind a podium in a bookstore, or in my living room in front of my two year old twins.

At heart, I'm concerned about being more marginalized than Barry Lopez. I don't want to be Barry Lopez, I just don't want to feel like I have my feet in a pair of loser boots. How do we expect to compete with stuff like "Rock Star: INXS"? I mean, INXS were not that groundbreaking a band and they have millions of viewers tuning in to this stuff. The closest thing we have in the environmental world is Jeff Corwin on "Animal Planet." There's got to be more. And poetry? The most popular poet in America today is Billy Collins. Have you seen him? A decidedly un-sexy fellow.

I say all this not because I'm suffering from some mid-life crisis—okay, maybe a little one—but because I think it's all connected to the fact that the environment is slipping on the list of issues that reach people. (I'm not the first to notice the similarities between "The Death of Environmentalism" and "Can Poetry Matter?" Dana Gioia's 1991 essay that spoke of elitism and insularity in the poetry world.) Poetry, at least Spoken Word poetry, has certainly made a more public splash these past few years, but for the most part, people are not turning to poems for inspiration and truth anymore. They are turning to rock stars. And do they care about the environment? Apparently, not as much as they do about who the latest "Survivor" is.

How can we expect to connect with people on this level? How can we get them to understand the links between where they live, the lifestyle they choose, and the future of our existence? Will they care the way they care about all these Janes and Joes trying to make it big on the small screen? After all, you can't "Text-Message" your vote for the environment like you can for Suzie, Ty, or Marti. But why not? Send a text message to Rockstar:INXS vote for ECODASH05

Categories: ,

06 August 2005

‘Wishful Thinking’ or Tea for the Tillerson?

Several interesting items in Friday's Financial Times have me wondering whether the stepping down of Lee Raymond, every enviros' easy target at ExxonMobil, presents an opportunity or more business as usual for the energy behemoth. While other "Big Oil" companies warned of a coming energy crunch, and Securing America's Future held an oil supply interruption simulation, EM is still the proud owner of those wonderfully banal ads, "Wishful thinking must not cloud real thinking."

Indeed, perhaps Rex Tillerson's first move should be to clear the air. He can start by admitting that the real wishful thinking is that ExxonMobil can remain the world's largest company (by market capitalization, $375.6bn as of last Thursday) if they refuse to believe that diversification in energy as well as investments in alternatives is essential. Most of their sister and brother companies have already taken the inside track to stave off the eventual end of their good fortunes.

But don't count on it. Any shareholders out there willing to stand up and ask him what he plans to do?

26 July 2005

"The Environment" is Losing Ground

I've been thinking about the following from The Millennium Development Goals and Conservation, a publication from the International Institute for the Environment and Development:

"The global community no longer has the luxury of viewing biodiversity loss as a problem of the future. Like sustainable development, the call to conserve the world's biodiversity must be transformed from a theoretical challenge to a slogan that rouses people from their armchairs and gets them marching in the streets! Even as we say this, however, 'the environment' has lost ground in development agencies to other newer topics. We could do with the creativity of an advertising agency to craft new terms to inspire the popular imagination with the scale of the challenge we face."

"The environment" is losing ground to other, seemingly more pressing concerns, such as poverty alleviation, terrorism, and human health and well-being. Yet, those of us who work in the environmental field or conservation know that biodiversity is inextricably linked to at least two of these concerns. Some could argue that it is related to all three, if you take into account the interconnectedness of poverty, oppression, and lack of access with the fostering of new terrorists.

Why, then, have we been so inarticulate when it comes to making the case for the connections between biodiversity and human well-being? What aspects of our rhetoric get in the way of establishing the link between biodiversity loss and poverty? And what can we do about it?

An advertising agency might help, but it would cost us. Think tanks and forums might also lend a hand. But are we really incapable of making these arguments ourselves in a strong, clear statement? Do we not have the intellectual capacity to make our case in terms that a reader of USA Today can understand and be compelled to action?

If this is so, then what we have is a real failure of imagination on the part of the environmental movement. And perhaps environmentalism is dead. I chose not to believe this is true and hope to do some thinking about this in coming posts to this blog. We must not let this critical issue be put aside in favor of "other newer topics," with development agencies or the public at large. Neither should we cede it to an advertising firm. We need some serious reflection here. And it is one of the challenges that I'd hoped to address in creating this blog. I welcome the input and thoughts of any readers out there.

Categories: ,

14 July 2005

The New China Syndrome: Chinocal?

The recent move by the majority state-owned Chinese oil company CNOOC Ltd. is stirring up a lot of controversy; curiously, none of it aimed at the potential environmental concerns of its offer to buy Unocal.

To recap: CNOOC has offered Unocal shareholders $67 a share for a total $18.5 billion. While this bid exceeds rival Chevron’s offer by almost $2 billion, some usually free-market thinking congressional delegates have criticized the bid, questioning it on grounds of national security.

According to James K. Glassman, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and co-sponsor of a resolution asking President Bush to review the deal, called CNOOC "a ‘front company for the Chinese communist government.’"

This isn’t very likely, as Glassman acknowledges, "71 percent of the company is owned by China National Offshore Oil Corp., which is controlled by the Chinese government. But it's also true that CNOOC, Ltd. is capitalist enough to list its stock on the New York Stock Exchange as American Depositary Shares."

UPI Energy Watch reports that CNOOC Chairman and CEO Fu Chengyu called this bid "purely a commercial transaction," in a conference call with reporters. "We are confident that the U.S. government will support this project." Rival bidder Chevron warns that China will have the power to raise energy prices for U.S. consumers if CNOOC prevails.

China's acquisition of Unocal could lead to more exploration, in Glassman’s opinion, "especially in the Gulf of Mexico and off Indonesia." This could reduce the price of gas at the home pumps, but it may also increase some environmental concerns. Of perhaps greater long-term environmental concern is China’s insatiable and growing thirst for oil.

"There is no question China suffers from major energy-related environmental problems. According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), seven of the world's ten most polluted cities are in China," as an Energy Information Administration (EIA) Country Analysis Brief cited a few years ago. "China also is important to any effort to curb emissions of greenhouse gases, as it is projected to experience the largest absolute growth in carbon dioxide emissions between now and the year 2020."

So what’s driving the bid? According to the EIA brief, "China’s leadership has become deeply concerned about its long-term rising dependence on imported oil and natural gas and the risk that future supply disruptions could undermine economic growth, job creation, and social stability."

"This growing sense of energy insecurity is undermining China’s traditional preference for self-sufficiency and state action," the analysis goes on to say. "Limited success in developing domestic resources is driving them to try to secure supplies internationally through equity stakes, sponsoring regional pipeline projects to diversify supply sources, and 'oil diplomacy'."

Whatever the driver, the American people need not be concerned that a foreign company will control a minor player in the oil business, especially one with one a toe on American soil. In fact, it seems like China is playing our game (or calling our bluff). This is the kind of move we usually applaud when it goes in the other direction.

We have been promoting the elimination of protectionist policies in other countries to encourage foreign investment, often making it easier for US companies to invest in foreign entities. As the New York Times reports, "China is already home to growing number of American-owned factories, many of them exporting to US, and large number of factories that are suppliers to American companies."

The greater risk is China’s investments in US government bonds, which are financing our huge deficits. China acquired over $200 billion in U.S. Treasury securities last year, securing its position as one of this country’s major creditors.

We need China and pissing it off by blocking CNOOC’s bid for Unocal is not a wise move.

As James Surowiecki writes in a recent issue of The New Yorker, "Over the last three decades, as China has become more and more integrated into the global economy, it and the United States have become ever more dependent on each other. At this point, if one economy implodes, so will the other. China may ultimately turn out to be more competitor than partner, but for now interdependence is a lot better than open hostility."

There’s that word again, interdependence.

06 July 2005

A Tribute to Two Fallen Fathers: Harold Dubuisson & Gaylord Nelson

Harold Dubuisson and Gaylord Nelson never knew each other. They had little in common, other than both being part of "The Greatest Generation." They certainly would not have favored each other’s politics. Nelson was a tireless champion of environmental regulations and Dubuisson was, as one of his son's said at his funeral, a "Southern Democrat."

Nelson worked for much of his life to shape public policy and regulations, much of it in favor of the environment and its protection. He introduced legislation mandating fuel efficiency standards, and eliminating the use of DDT and Agent Orange. He founded Earth Day, wrote the legislation that preserved the Appalachian Trail, and created a national park. He also helped craft landmark bills such as the Wilderness Act and the Clean Air Act.

Dubuisson was a "land man," a lawyer for international oil interests, a role that might rankle many of today's most ardent environmentalists. Yet, he was always conscious of the human, if not the environmental impacts of the deals he made. As a friend and colleague of Harold's in Indonesia told me earlier this year, Harold Dubuisson did much to help the people of that country.

Both men possessed the courage of their convictions and imparted an appreciation of the Earth’s natural resources to their children and grandchildren. Several of Harold's children followed in his footsteps in the oil business. Late in his life, Harold grew to appreciate the natural world from his garden in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Nelson's daughter, Tia, a former colleague of mine, has spent much of her career working on behalf of the environment. A short time ago, Tia said in an interview that her father still went into work at the Wilderness Society at the age of 89, because "the job's not done."

Another thing Nelson and Dubuisson had in common was an abiding interest in people. Nelson once said he never disliked anybody he had gotten to know. Dubuisson cultivated people of all stripes, which was one of his gifts as a dealmaker. He was always interested in the lives of others and in their passion for their work.

Harold Dubuisson was my father-in-law. I'm sure his interest in my work with a global conservation organization stemmed in part from his love for a son-in-law, but it was also because of our free market approach. He often asked after the details of a deal we did to protect a piece of land. Some of the carbon sequestration deals and debt-for-nature swaps we brokered intrigued him. I suspect the lawyer in him enjoyed the sophistication with which we approached land deals. Had he grown up in a different era, he might have applied his copious negotiation skills in the conservation arena.

The death of a father or father-in-law is never easy. That these two men died within weeks of one another is a coincidence, of course, and I try not to read too much into it. However, I do take away some strong lessons from both men:

-Believe in the power of your convictions;
-Strive for a balance between regulation and free market solutions;
-There are many ways to appreciate the natural world and its resources, many worldviews that contribute to how we live on the Earth, and none is more "right" than any other; and,
-In the final analysis, we all have a stake in what our environment provides.

Whether you work of behalf of energy, clean air, a piece of land or peace of mind, if you believe in it and work hard it's worth doing.

04 July 2005

Interdependence Day

Today is Independence Day in the U.S. and folks all over this land are wondering if Americans will stand up and declare their energy independence. Where’s the group that will call for a rethink of America’s energy policies?

It turns out a number of groups are calling for adjustments to the Bush energy policy; and one coalition has even created a “Declaration of Energy Independence,” which starts off humorously enough but then just turns into an attack on Ford, one of the US companies that actually has developed a hybrid. That’s where they lose me.

“I know that America can do better than another oil dominated energy policy, and I want real investments in new energy now,” begins the petition to Bush posted by the Apollo Alliance “I call on you to find the courage, vision, and common sense to reject big-oil dominated energy legislation which makes us more dependent on foreign oil.”

Then Apollo asks for an energy policy that commits to investments in energy conservation, new energy industries, and re-tooling for high-performance energy efficiency, and pollution reducing technologies. Okay, I can buy that. Such investments will help fuel our new economy -- one we desperately need.

They also post three speeches by Senators Cantwell, Durban, and Dorgan who came out in support of American Energy Independence. This in the wake of polls indicating, "9 in 10 Americans support a crash effort for reducing dependence on Middle East oil." They are politicians, of course, but make some interesting points.

Finally, “Set America Free” – a coalition of individuals, NGOs, and others have put forth a “Blueprint for U.S. Energy Security” that’s worth a look.

But all this makes me wonder: is it really energy independence we want or energy interdependence? Perhaps, as Pietro Nivola claimed in his 2002 essay in the Brookings Review, "Instead of futile planning to quarantine 'foreign energy providers,' U.S. policy should seek deeper integration with some of them, especially the ones next door."

We aren't going to be able to fill the gaps left by turning off the taps of foreign oil, not immediately at least; and some of our investments overseas are helping people get a leg up rather than fueling resentment towards America. Like it or not, even in the estimates of some of the most progressive economists, we're going to continue to need oil from other nations. In other words, let's be real about energy while asking Bush and the G8 to get real on climate change and poverty.

And this Independence Day, let’s recognize that we’re not alone in the world and call for a new Declaration of Interdependence -– on energy, the environment, and the global economy.

15 June 2005

Most Americans Want Energy Independence

A recent Yale poll to gauge U.S. public opinion on energy issues reveals some interesting results:

92% of Americans say that they are worried about dependence on foreign oil.

68% say dependence on foreign oil is a "very serious" problem.

90% say building more solar power facilities is a "good idea".

87% support expanded wind farms.

86% want increased funding for renewable energy research.

93% of Americans say requiring the auto industry to make cars that get better gas mileage is a good idea, with 96% of Democrats and Independents and 86% of Republicans supporting the call for more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Gus Speth, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, said in a press release related to the poll that it "underscores the fact that Americans want not only energy independence but also to find ways to break the linkage between energy use and environmental harm, from local air pollution to global warming."

The survey, which polled 1,000 individuals nationwide, also reflects broad sentiment for actions "to improve air and water quality but growing discomfort with "'environmentalists.'"

The survey questions and full results can be found at the website http://www.yale.edu/envirocenter for the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

09 June 2005

It's Time to Terminate Global Warming...

President Bush says the U.S. has spent more on climate change research than any other nation. That's true. But this week's revelations that a White House aide with no science background toned down a report linking greenhouse gas emissions with global warming puts a cloud over the government's $1.8 billion-a-year effort, an effort designed to "clarify" the cause and consequences of the growing climate crisis.

It's time for Bush to concede, as almost everyone else has, that we have the science to suspect the connections between emissions and warming. And that is enough. Even developing countries like Brazil, China, and India, that were exempt from reductions in certain international agreements, and were used by Bush in his excuse to keep the U.S. from signing on to such agreements, have come on board. The three countries, along with representatives from the scientific community in 11 countries worldwide, signed a joint letter calling for action now.

States in the Northeast are taking measures into their own hands, in the absence of federal leadership. Even California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is getting into the act. Announcing his challenge to Silicon Valley to come up with solutions to reducing his state's greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent over the next 50 years, the Ah-nold said, "We know the science, we see the threat, and now it's time to act."

It's time to take that $1.8 billion annual investment and turn it over to innovative thinkers here and abroad who can help derive solutions to the problem, as well as new technologies that can drive our economy in this century. Americans are bold enough to take on a challenge like this; entire industries can be transformed or created with the right investment. If we set loose such investment to developing free market solutions to this global crisis, while hastening inevitable federal regulations, there's no telling what we can do. That means more jobs, a cleaner environment, and a hopeful future.

So what are we waiting for? "Let's terminate global warming!" as Ah-nold might say.

04 June 2005

We Need a Bigger Tent

I and a colleague had an email exchange about the environmental movement the other night. He'd just read my post on enviro-evangelicals, which was really -- as he put it -- about how "just as those whose actions we decry rely on a strategy of creating a false 'other' (we can kill it because it isn't us), we enviros do the same. Indeed, we apply that strategy to everyone, so that in the end we are the only people left in the tent and here we stand arguing with each other about whether we are dead!"

That made me think that maybe the real problem is our tent isn't big enough. When my family went from three (two spouses and a son) to five (add twins born seven years after their big brother), we didn't decide to stop camping. We bought a bigger tent. Now we have a six-person tent rather than a four-person tent. It's roomy and bulky and while I'm not going to pack it into the Sierras in September, I'll admit it's a pretty comfortable tent.

The environmental movement is a bit like my expanded family. Sure we were nervous about how the twins would change the dynamic of the family; I was even a little worried about how they would change the existing relationships of the "Anderson 3". But I must admit, aside from a few minor inconveniences, the “Anderson 5” is better. There's more variety, our world views keep getting expanded in very interesting ways, and we've had to relearn or unlearn a few old tricks and even learn some new ones.

So it was alarming to me as I began to think more about the "Death of Environmentalism" debate and started to follow it a bit more, that the movement to make a better, more sustainable world is even more fractured that it appears. Whereas I was concerned that we weren't opening our tent flaps to evangelicals, people of color, and others, the situation is much worse: we aren't even inviting our own into the tent, let alone asking them to sit by the campfire.

In response to "Death," Ludovic Blain and others remind us how "white", "elite", "male" and "American" is the environmental movement. They also want to claim that the environmental justice is the true environmental movement, that we "already have a movement positioned to build a multiracial progressive agenda that democratically represents environmental interests of communities." Right on, Ludovic; so if I hear you correctly, the funders to whom Shellenberger and Nordhaus gave their report should shift all their funding to environmental justice groups and stop giving to any others, because they're all run by "elite, white male Americans." (He uses a variation of such phrase over twenty times in a recent Grist piece.) I'm sorry, but this doesn't sound very inclusive. Can't we all just get along, as Rodney King implored over a decade ago. Isn't it time to get beyond name-calling and race-carding? Your tent has some holes in it.

Michael Gelobter and his co-authors do a better job in "The Soul of Environmentalism," recently released by his group Redefining Progress. (As a poet, I’ll admit to enjoying the fun they have comparing the response to "Death" to the flak received by Dana Gioia's "Can Poetry Matter?" essay of the early 90s.) In "Soul," the authors push for an agenda that is more integrated, inclusive, and interdependent. They draw some interesting parallels between where the environmental movement is today and where the civil rights movement ended up almost twenty years ago, after its peak. Finally, they call for "getting people to recognize [their] interconnectedness. Socially, economically, and environmentally," and suggest "it's time for us to start walking the talk." Now that's more like it. The tent flaps are open.

A few years ago, at the conference I mentioned in an earlier post, I took part in a series of dialogues on how to make the environmental movement more inclusive. Running-Grass, an environmental educator who runs the 3 Circles Center in Sausalito, California, was the only African-American in our room. And it was duly noted. He and Greg Watson were two of the few people of color in attendance at the conference. (We had a lot of women, however, so we could all pat ourselves on the back about that.) Running-Grass said that when he was invited to be a speaker he wasn't sure he wanted to participate -- he was also asked at what amounted to the last minute. We were glad he came.

The conversation we were having that day centered on the need for a new language to talk about nature. "Nature is different things to different people" and "While we may be high on biological diversity or ecological diversity, we are woefully inadequate on cultural diversity," read my notes from that session. I'm reminded now of something that Robert Hass, another one of the conference presenters, said, "Spirit is that which calls things into form." Maybe what we need is an old-time spiritual tent revival.

And when we look inside, I hope to see all of us there.