31 January 2012

Is Global Warming Dead? The Green Skeptic on FOX Business

I sat down to do a "lightning round" on environmental issues with Stuart Varney on FOX Business this morning. We talked about global warming, car emissions, and green jobs.

According to Stuart, I took two out of three -- although I think it may be more like 3-0 -- and I got the last laugh!

Here's the video:

And in case your browser doesn't support the format, here is a link: The Green Skeptic on FOX Business

27 January 2012

The Future of Biofuels: What's Hot, Hype, and Possible

Renmatix Super Converter
What is the future of BioFuels?

From algae to switchgrass and wood waste to sewer grease, many advances in next generation biofuels are being made today. But what is realistic and how do you cut through the hope and hype to get at viable solutions?

The US military is one of the largest investors in advanced biofuels development and is in a position to make the market ripe for commercialization on a massive scale. Can it do for biofuels what it did for GPS and the Internet?

I'll be moderating an informative and lively dialogue with industry experts, entrepreneurs and investors on the current state and future potential of this emerging growth sector.

Mike Hamilton, CEO, Renmatix, Inc.
Sam Gabbita, Partner, Element Partners
Steve McCracken, Director of Strategic Marketing & Sales, AMERIgreen Energy

A Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technology & Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic event, it takes place Thursday, February 16, 2012, at the offices of Morgan Lewis in Philadelphia.

You can register today at: The Future of Biofuels

(Full disclosure: I am a co-founder and board member of the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic, a business network for cleantech entrepreneurs, investors, and service providers.)

23 January 2012

Cleanweb Hackathon Focuses on Killer Apps Built in a Day...or Two

Hackers hacking at Cleanweb Hackathon, NYC.
What if you put a bunch of developers in the room, gave them access to datasets and APIs and set them loose on the planet's resource problems over a weekend?

Well, the folks behind Cleanweb Hackathon did just that on Saturday and Sunday in New York City.

The result may just be the start of a revolution in cleanweb solutions. The cleanweb, as defined by the hackathon's organizers, uses information technology, the Internet, and social media to address the issues of energy, transportation, and smart grid.

"Information technology is the most powerful lever we have to address resource constraints," as Sunil Paul of Spring Ventures told the audience at NYU's Tisch Center of the Arts before Sunday's project presentations.

Some of the intriguing projects from this weekend include TripWatchers, which founder Ryan Rzepecki calls the "Weight Watchers for vehicle owners," allows drivers to log their routes, track vehicle-related expenses and receive suggestions for how to reduce the impact of their travel such as potential car pooling and public transportation alternatives.

The audience choice award and best overall hack went to Econofy "E-Star," a web-based rating system of consumer products that allows for visual comparison shopping around energy efficiency.

Another cool hack was NYC BLDG, which tracks the energy use and greenhouse gas emissions of city buildings in real-time and puts them into competition.
Hackers will hack for food.

And building on the "Occupy Rooftops" theme of its community solar day back in November, SolarMosaic created Mosaic Map, a web app that maps solar projects socially and in real-time. The idea is to allow project developers to find financing and generate leads for financiers such as, well, SolarMosaic.

The original Cleanweb Hackathon was held last September in San Francisco and another is planned for later  this year. There's even a Bay Area-based business incubator for the cleanweb called Greenstart.

Dave Graham, founder of Greenstart, said "If Y Combinator had a love child with IDEO at the intersection of energy and IT, it would be Greenstart." Greenstart has invested in nine companies so far, putting them through a 12-week intensive program. Graham noted there is a March 5th deadline for the next round of applicants.

I've long argued for more focus on the killer apps that will make a difference today in the cleantech and energy space. Cleanweb drives us closer to a more capital and energy efficient model. Events like this one may be the start of a cleanweb revolution.

20 January 2012

The Green Skeptic on Payne Nation - Keystone XL

Charles Payne of Payne Nation
I spoke with Charles Payne of Payne Nation radio about the Keystone XL Pipeline this evening. In case you missed it, here is the show:

Here is an mp3 of the show (I'm up around 10:00):

The Green Skeptic on Payne Nation

Tar Sands, Pipelines and Nukes: The Green Skeptic on FOX Business

This morning I sat down with Charles Payne on FOX Business's Varney & Co to talk tar sands, the Keystone XL pipeline, and environmental victories.

My opinions shouldn't surprise you if you're a regular reader of The Green Skeptic.

Here's the video:

And here is a link in the event that your browser doesn't accept the format:

The Green Skeptic on FOX Business

18 January 2012

The Green Skeptic Goes Black to Protest #SOPA and #PIPA


For more information, go to Google

17 January 2012

CleanWeb Hackathon Brings Its Disruptive Energy to New York

There's no question that the energy infrastructure is ripe for disruption. Outmoded, inefficient systems and distribution, and an entitlement mindset has ruled the day in the utility industry for decades.

Enter the CleanWeb Hackathon. Its founders propose to apply information technology to resource constraints, building apps and hacks that combine new, sustainable business models and leverage the mobile and social web.

For 24 hours this weekend in New York attendees will tackle utility, transport, and smart grid datasets and see what they can "hack" out of them.

The first CleanWeb Hackathon, held last September in San Francisco, generated such ideas as Dr. Wattson, which helps you sleuth-out energy plan savings, GroMunity, an online community for sharing and trading home garden crops, helping out neighbors, and ridding your community of food waste, and Toxicslayar, a mobile app that shows toxic chemical releases from thousands of US facilities.

Not many of these ideas survived past the weekend incubator, but the concept of applying the innovation of the web and mobile technologies to energy, transportation, and smart grid is a good one.

Sunil Paul of Spring Ventures, the brainchild behind the CleanWeb Hackathon, describes the concept as marrying information technology with green initiatives.

"Information technology is actually going to prove as valuable as the application of new materials and nano-technology and bio-technology have been for the environment," Paul told an audience last year.

It's not just about apps, however. Other examples of CleanWeb innovations include sharing services such as AirBnB, ZipCar, Spride, and even NeighborGoods, which all help reduce an individual's consumption of resources and impact on the planet.

Now CleanWeb comes to New York and taps into the tech ecosystem here -- 24 hours in the city that never sleeps should yield some innovative ideas.

For more information about the CleanWeb Hackathon or to register to attend, go to CleanWeb Hackathon.

10 January 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About Protecting and Saving

This post originally appeared on The Green Skeptic in March 2008, when I was about to speak at the Aspen Environment Forum. It's reprinted here as I am on hiatus from writing the blog. I promise to be back at it soon. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this piece. --Scott


Everything we think about saving or protecting ecosystems and habitats is wrong.

This week, I'm at the Aspen Environment Forum, where tomorrow morning I'll be on a Panel called "Nature's Place: Saving Ecosystems and Habitats."

For the better part of 15 years I worked with The Nature Conservancy to save some of the world's "Last Great Places" around the world (I left in August; see my posts reflecting on my career at TNC
and here.

I consider myself a conservationist, not an environmentalist. What I mean by that is a conservative and prudent approach to our use of resources that requires us to manage them for the long-term -- for the benefit of people today and for future generations.

The Green Skeptic grew out of an increasing concern about our relationship to the natural world and how we protect it. I am a skeptic in the sense that I believe we need to constantly challenge the assumptions we have about "saving ecosystems and habitats."

In my view, we operate under four basic assumptions:

1. We can continue to "save" or "protect" ecosystems and habitats from harm in perpetuity;
2. We can ignore basic human needs and treat poverty alleviation as a separate issue from the environment;
3. We can entrust protection to governments and corporate NGOs;
4. We can't trust human ingenuity and community to manage its own resources.

First, I need to step back and look at the words we use. (I am a poet, so words matter to me.) Specifically, "protecting" and "saving."

Both imply we need to keep ecosystems and habitats from something. The American Heritage Dictionary defines protecting as "To keep from being damaged, attacked, stolen, or injured; guard." When we use the word protecting in terms of ecosystems and habitats, we are guarding nature from something or someone, presumably humans.

Saving is a little less problematic, as it implies a conservative approach to the future (as in saving seed corn for next year's sowing). Still, the AHD's first definition is "To rescue from harm, danger, or loss." It's not until definition number three that we get to the conservative impulse: "To avoid spending (e.g. money) so as to keep or accumulate it."

The question is not about what we should save, but how and for what purpose.

Is it hubris to assume we have protected or saved anything? We promote the fact that percentages of ecosystems or habitats are protected, but they continue to be encroached upon -- see the Amazon Rainforest for example.

What have we really saved if massive changes from climate change or the drive for much-needed economic development will have significant impact on the future status and makeup of places, habitats, and ecosystems?

Climate change will disrupt many ecosystems that exist today -- much as the Internet disrupted print media, the travel industry, TV, bookstores, you name it. It will change everything.

So the question is what are we really protecting when we talk about protecting ecosystems and habitat? Will the places we select for protection today be the same 10-20 years from now? Probably not.

Ecosystems are constantly changing, either from "external" (human) or "internal" (natural) forces. Change is inevitable and could, in the face of global warming, be dramatic.

Shouldn't we be preparing for the changes and begin to think about how we adapt to some of the most likely changes, those brought on by climate change or economic development or basic human needs, such as for food and energy?

Demand for energy and food will drive economic development for years to come and we can't continue to ignore these drivers to "save" the natural, non-human world.

This leads me to assumption two, which is about ignoring basic human needs. It's irrational for us to think that people in developing countries, many of whose basic human needs are not being met, will care deeply about the non-human natural world.

Yet, we continue to have blind faith in our cause and ignore the needs of real people.

I recently returned from India where the extreme poverty is evident almost everywhere you look. Also evident is a growing middle class that strives for the kind of lifestyle we have here in the west, specifically the US, with its inherent accelerated pace and impacts.

Who are we to say that people in developing countries have no right to the kind of lifestyle we have exported for decades? We can not convince, persuade or cajole or even pay people -- Americans as much as people in developing nations -- to "come around to our way of thinking," and yet this is what I hear whenever I talk to environmentalists.

And we can't ask poor people around the world to forgo the comforts of the lifestyle we have been living, and which they wish to copy, "for the sake of the planet" or to set aside their habitats and ecosystems for the sake of humanity. No country wants to become an ecological reserve for the world, especially if it means it cannot pursue economic prosperity.

Try floating this idea with people who go hungry every night for lack of food or money to buy food and see what kind of reaction you get.

In the end, poor people matter. And the governments of Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and African countries must be concerned first and foremost with the well-being of their people. I'm not saying that human well-being isn't tied to ecosystem health; I'm a strong believer that economic growth is tied to those resources.

I believe we can no longer separate the issue of economic development and poverty alleviation from ecosystem health. We also can't expect that governments whose people aren't meeting basic needs to protect their habitats over the economic well-being of their people.

Which leads me to assumption three: increasingly, we are entrusting protection of habitats and ecosystems with the wrong people. Governments have a mandate to improve the economic health of their country and people.

Yet we continue to have faith that these governments will "do the right thing" and enforce laws protecting their forests or other ecosystems in the face of seemingly insurmountable economic obstacles.

Why do we think that is a good strategy? What indicators do we have that tell us this strategy will succeed where it hasn't in the past? Why do we think that the World Bank program to pay countries to "avoid deforestation" will be any more successful than their previous grand plans?

The same goes for NGOs. NGOs are basically corporations that serve a set of shareholders (donors in this case) who subscribe to a specific idea of Nature and a specific set of outcomes, outcomes that may not necessarily be shared by all stakeholders.

This idea of Nature has for a long time discounted the needs of people both today and in the future. To illustrate this, one only need look at the environmental community's approach to government debt.

Conservation groups (my old employers among them) have promoted using a country's debt as leverage to gain conservation protection. The debt-for-nature swap was an innovation of the past couple of decades and a noble one. But it was also painfully ignorant of the true nature of that debt -- in many cases "dictator debt" incurred by regimes that did not have its people's best interests in mind.

Now that we have a more clear understanding of how that debt was derived, and can no longer ignore its immoral origins, we need to give up or adjust the debt-for-nature swap concept and join the call for debt forgiveness. That will free some countries from having to exploit their natural resources to pay down that debt.

Yet, many in the environmental community continue to push the debt-for-nature strategy, because they can't let go of a good thing that advances their agenda.

How is this different from any corporation -- a sector many environmentalists attack -- that advances its agenda at the expense of people here and abroad? Can we really trust ecosystems and habitats to big government or big international non-governmental corporations?

In the end, wouldn't a better approach be to put our trust in the people and the communities where these ecosystems and habitats are found? They have the most at stake in managing these resources, as their needs and livelihoods are most closely tied to the lands and waters.

I believe human beings are basically good. I also believe that, given the opportunity, communities will manage their common interests and keep each other in check. This is the open-source community approach one finds in social networks and in business models such as eBay.

I also believe that human beings are the most creative and adaptable species on the planet -- just look at the variety of habitats, climates, and conditions we inhabit. Our resilience as a species is astounding. I argue that we need to embrace this resourcefulness and apply it to overcoming ecological shifts, climate change, and loss of ecosystems and habitats.

We need to unleash the power of human creativity to find new ways to "save" those places for future use by both human and non-human species.

Unleashing this human capacity will require suspending our assumptions. We will need to focus more on community-based or "commons-based" management (as Jonathan Rowe of the West Marin Commons in California calls it in a recent essay in The State of the World 2008).

We need a people-centered conservation that addresses the real needs of real people, and to empower individual entrepreneurs and communities to manage their resources cooperatively rather than impose grand plans from Washington.

We need to clearly draw the lines connecting economic prosperity with ecological health and human well-being.

And, finally, we need to unleash human creativity to find new technological solutions as well as new ways of living with nature.

This may, in the end, be our only hope to really save habitat and ecosystems – and, ultimately, to save ourselves.

05 January 2012

Thrivancy: The Practice of Happiness

My apologies to those who have been looking for new posts from The Green Skeptic. I've been on a brief hiatus the past few weeks for the holidays and to sort out some personal issues. I'll be back at it soon.

Meanwhile, I want to share with you some words of wisdom from my good friend Jack Ricchiuto, whose new book, The Joy of Thriving is coming out on January 15th (to correspond with his 60th birthday). You can read more about Jack and his work at DesigningLife.com and @zenext and about the book at JoyofThriving.com:

Happiness: The New Face of Thrivancy
Jack Ricchiuto

In societies where success is measured in units of economic advantage, happiness is talked about more as pursuit rather than practice.
Even though the US has lost its world leader status in more categories than most faithful nationals are willing to admit, it still retains global dominance in how to make the symbols of happiness more significant than the experience itself.
Since the 1950s, personal wealth in the US has doubled and happiness has declined. People with over $125 million in net worth are barely happier than the norm. Americans making more than $10 million annually are not significantly happier than the average. In the US and globally, 75% of employees are unhappy in their work at annual costs of over $300 billion. In the meantime, the country launched by Puritans annually spends $1.2 trillion on things they don't need, yielding ephemeral satisfaction that wanes before the next cycle of the moon.
In the recent survey I conducted with 300 people from around the world, the happiest people report that happiness is about practice rather than purchase, doing rather than debt.
92% of the happiest people say that their happiness is about what they focus on in the present. 96% report that happiness is a choice and as a practice, it can be learned. All of the evidence from the neurosciences strongly agree.
Peer reviewed neuroscience research empirically demonstrates that individuals can be trained to be 25 percent happier through various training programs in six weeks. As much as marketers would like to have us believe, there is little empirical evidence that authentic happiness can be measured in square feet, per capita income or big boxes per square mile.
"We can make Gross National Happiness more inspiring and engaging than Gross Domestic Product."
All demographic variables combined, including age, sex, income, race, and education, are responsible for only 15 percent of the difference in happiness levels between individuals. From my research, happiness flows from the prime practices of appreciation, generosity, interest, lightness and easy.
Appreciation is a grateful and passionate heart. Generosity is sharing what brings mutual joy. Interest is discovering new people, spaces, and things. Lightness is a sense of aliveness. Easy is the grace of simple. At least one practice is possible in every moment of your life however it is.
Happy people savor the pleasure of moments. They do not limit life's simple pleasures by multitasking them into seconds rather than minutes. They are thankful and delighted in joyful vision of the future. In measuring abundance from a happiness perspective, they shift from net worth to net gratitude.
They freely offer and invite sharing what brings mutual joy without the strings of reciprocity. With a desire to liberate themselves from the clutter of anxiety in their relationships, they share more from generosity than reciprocity. Happy people know that generosity is not where we lose ourselves. It is where we find ourselves.
They love their questions for the wonder unpeeled. Each of us has a different tolerance and love of questions, mystery, and the unknown. The happiest people on the planet are ridiculously in love with their questions. They decide how interesting their life and world is.
They have a delicious sense of humor and play in the abundant space of serendipity. They love by the principle that life does not necessarily get better by taking everything, including ourselves, too seriously. Happiness becomes more accessible by making our smile the most worn item in our wardrobe.
They do whatever they can to turn difficult into easy and complicated into simple. They reclaim authorship over the way things are easy and difficult. It is clear to them that when we make things easier, we have more courage to take on what we call the impossible.
In the study I conducted, the number one source of happiness for the happiest people is by far the joy of discovering new people, places, and things. 67% of the happiest people believe you cannot become "too happy" and 80% report that if they did, it would lead to a greater life of being caring and passionate. As it turns out, happiness profoundly shapes the contours of our life and world.
In over 200 studies, author of "The How of Happiness," Sonja Lyubomirsky, and her research colleagues find that happiness leads to being more productive, generous, creative, courageous, realistic, passionate, resilient, and healthier. What other qualities do you want to have and have around you in your life, work, and world?
9/11 victims who practiced gratitude were the quickest to be resilient and return to optimism. Higher gratitude people are consistently more helpful toward others in their life, work, and communities.
University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscience research shows that happiness practices restructure the brain in ways that elevate our set-points. Set-points are the normal levels of happiness we personally experience and do not change with any kind of welcome or unwelcome events.
Harvard studies tracking 4,700 people over twenty years find that happiness spreads across three degrees of connection in personal and social networks for up to a year. When we understand the power of networks and the contagious character of joy, it becomes clear that happiness is a personal, social, and political act.
Each additional happy connection in our life is worth an increase of 9% in happiness where a $10k raise would increase happiness by 2%. British researchers find that a single smile releases the same brain stimulation as 2,000 pieces of chocolate. University of California at San Diego study, researchers find that because of these dynamics, the increased happiness of a friend's friend is worth the happiness of a $5,000 raise.
All of this has important implications for how we think about happiness as practice in our life, relationships, workplaces, and communities.
Happiness has unique power beyond classic economic indicators. Now that we have the science to support the efficacy and possibility of happiness, we can have conversations about happy workplaces and happy communities. We can shift from average household income to average household happiness. We can make Gross National Happiness more inspiring and engaging than Gross Domestic Product.
The Joy of Thriving
No era since the beginning of recorded human history has been so poised for making happiness the prime indicator of our thrivancy. When happiness is finally understood as a practice, we start becoming more innovative in designing our personal and shared spaces for happiness as a design principle rather than naively expect it to be the byproduct of wishful thinking.
Happy communities have more civic celebrations than public hearings. Happy workspaces become vibrant cultures of talent engagement, discovery, and generosity.
The realization that happiness is not about things but about the practices of happiness, creates profound implications for the design of public policy, civic spaces, workplaces, social networks, technology. how we raise and engage the next generation, how we go about our well-being, and how we become a happier planet.
The promise is transformative. Happier people are better friends and lovers, leaders and peers, neighbors and citizens. When happiness becomes a choice, all kinds of new doors open up to our personal and collective thrivancy. --Jack Ricchiuto, author of The Joy of Thriving, reprinted by permission of the author.