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.

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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.