22 December 2014

An Email from Santa Claus to Climate Skeptics: An Annual Green Skeptic Tradition

Back in 2006, I published this email from Santa, which arrived on the night before the night before Christmas. Readers had so much fun with it, it's become an annual tradition. Enjoy!

Happy Holidays!


FROM: Santa Claus
DATE: A few nights before Xmas
SUBJECT: My Christmas List

This is Santa, writing from the North Pole. Soon I'll be gathering all the toys for all the good little girls and boys and packing them in my sleigh to begin our journey, our night of nights.

The reindeer, however, are starting to complain about hoof-rot. Apparently, they've been standing around in too much slush. This has put me in a decidedly prickly mood this Christmas.

You know me; I'm not a single-issue guy. I believe that as long as you are good, and I mean good for goodness' sake, you deserve some slack on the other stuff. I'm an equal opportunity distributor. I know whether you've been bad or good or just plain evil. You also know I'm not one to discriminate against one group of people or another, believers or non-believers.

But this year is different. This year, I'm making a few changes to my list. I'm checking it twice and have decided that the naughty include any one of you out there who do not believe in global warming. All you climate change skeptics out there, you are on the naughty list this year.

Oh, you know who you are. And I've got one special gift for you: Nothing but COAL. You like the stuff so much -- and it's such a big part of what's leading to climate change -- you might as well have bags and bags of it and nothing more.

Make no mistake. Global warming is happening. You don't have to show me any scientific reports, although some nifty ones have shown up in my email box lately, sent to me from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

No, you don't have to convince me; I'm a believer. All I have to do is look out my window to my back yard, what's left of it! It's a soupy mess out there.

We usually have a good bit of ice up here at the North Pole -- and early. That's important, too; you see, every year the elves and I construct a temporary workshop up here where we make the toys and assemble the other goodies. The earlier the ice, the sooner we get started.

Although I have figured out a way to deliver the entire shipment of gifts on my list in one night, I still haven't perfected the manufacturing process. I can't speed it up. (Some of that I blame on the unions.)  We need all the ice we can get up here for there is no solid ground.

But this year, the ice cover was the lowest it's been in almost 30 years. And at least one of those science groups studying this stuff tells me that, according to their models, by 2040, we'll have mostly open water up here. (They sent me this short animation clip, which sends chills up my spine: Arctic Ice Melt.)

Mrs. Claus has even started looking for Houseboats on Craig's List!

So, dear boys and girls, you better not pout or cry or whine or deny climate change any longer. And I'm telling you why: because climate change is coming to town. Time's a wasting. We need to do something about this now, before it's too late. Or before I have to move all of my operations to the South Pole!

Here's wishing a carbon-neutral Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

S. Claus, North Pole

17 December 2014

10 Favs; 10 Years: Caring, or A New Conservation Ethic

My son Jasper tagging a saltwater croc,
Mexico, January 2005. Photo by the author.

This post originally appeared on The Green Skeptic in October 2005. It clearly demonstrates my concerns about the disconnect between people and conservation and articulates my view of the need for 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.

15 December 2014

10 Favs; 10 Years: 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 was a pivotal time for conservation and I think some of the strides that my former organization, The Nature Conservancy, and others in conservation have made are reflective of some of my espoused views. There's more progress that can be made, but it's a start.


Village children on Batanta Island, Indonesia. Photo by the author.
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.

10 December 2014

10 Favs; 10 Years: The Coming Disruption - Lead It or Lose It

Back in 2011, disruption was very much on my mind -- personally, professionally, and economically. Reading that post now -- in the wake of the current social unrest and new revelations about the banking system -- I wonder if plummeting down the same cliff. The questions I ask in this post still seem relevant and worth asking. The answers, alas, are still a way off. The disruption, I suspect, has already begun. Here is my post from October 2011 on "The Coming Disruption":

I feel like our economy -- our very way of life -- is in a simultaneous state of suspended animation and free fall.  Like a cartoon character that has run off a cliff and hasn't yet realized there is no ground beneath it.

As I said in my talk at SXSW ECO a couple of weeks ago, I don't know whether we're going to go all the way down or we're going to catch ourselves and scramble back up top.

It seems clear we're headed for a major disruption. The question is, will we instigate that disruption or will we let it happen to us?

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests are indicative of this coming disruption. In many ways, it's a welcome and refreshing sign that Americans are no longer complacent, apathetic, hedonists whose sole purpose is to consume.

My fear is that OWS gets co-opted and becomes a kind of anti-Tea Party movement for the left. I fear that when I see folks like MoveOn.org, the unions, and extreme environmentalists jumping on board and trying to grab the reins.

Partisan ideology on both sides is getting in the way of facing the systemic problems of our way of life.

Our country is failing because we reward people who fail, cheat, and game the system. We bail out institutions that fail to add value to the world. And we let others create the world they want for us.

It's a perfect storm of deeply entrenched special interests, leadership incompetence, and redistribution of wealth. (Yes, that's right, I'm against redistributing wealth -- to either the one percent or the 99 percent. Wealth needs to be earned the old-fashioned way: by creating value and hard work.)

Some are calling for stronger regulation, which would inhibit financial institutions being innovative. Meanwhile, banks sit on their money and make big payouts to incompetent managers who are asked to leave and start charging fees for purchases made with debit cards to squeeze more revenue from customers.

How is that going to grow our economy?

Unfortunately, innovation in financial services is getting a bad name. The innovations of the past decade or so -- much of what got us in the mess we're in -- were driven by regulatory or credit ratings arbitrage, and were increasingly complex, opaque, and focused on quarterly results or success for those who could manipulate the game.

Now it's time for financial innovation that is conducive to sustaining economies – to value creation rather than value destruction, and that drives a new kind of prosperity.

I've been thinking about financial services as an engine of change because we're not going to make real and lasting change – or build a new economy – if money can’t be made while doing it. Altruism is great, but it won't trump greed.

So what if financial services firms clearly demonstrated their community, social and environmental impacts?

What if banks told their customers what they did with their money?

What if customers were rewarded for making sustainable choices?

What if there was a greater connection between money and values, and management was compensated for maintaining or growing that connection?

What if profit and purpose were more equitably connected?

What if sustainability wasn't an add-on, but was part of the DNA of our enterprises?

What if, instead of a triple bottom line, we talked about a single, redefined bottom line that encompasses all three: profitability, environmental health, and social well-being?

Is it even possible for us to make this shift without regulation or with better regulation or, better yet, with self-regulation?

Whatever the answer to the above questions, it's clear a disruption is coming.  We need to decide whether we will lead it or lose it.


08 December 2014

10 Favs; 10 Years: IMAGINE The Man Who Cared, John Lennon

It was 34 years ago today John Lennon was shot to death outside his home on West 72nd Street and Central Park West in New York. Here's a post that I wrote on the 25th Anniversary of that horrible event in 2005:

John Lennon watercolored by the author.
I was hundreds of miles away when I heard about John Lennon's death from Howard Cosell. He announced the news during the New England Patriots game on Monday Night Football. I had just picked up John's "comeback" interview in Playboy, which had just come out earlier that day.

My stepmother Sandi called me as soon as she heard the news and we both cried into the phone. John's 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.

There were always a number of faithful fans gathered outside the Dakota to catch a glimpse of John. They were nice folks and I would chat-up whoever was there, knew many of the regulars on a first-name basis, even brought 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 staring at him. Michel was a real fan, not like the evil-doer-who-shall-not-be-named who took John down.

John & Yoko in Central Park, 1980;
altered by the author.
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. La Fortuna was an opera hangout, full of old opera buffs and ballet dancers drinking coffee and smoking Nat Shermans, most of whom 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.

"Imagine" at Strawberry Fields in Central Park;
photo by the author.
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 blog 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.


05 December 2014

10 Favs; 10 Years: Falling Up --The Choices We Make May Be Our Own

Letchworth Gorge by J. Stephen Conn, used by permission
Back in November 2011 I posted about the need for change in our economy and the way we approach that change. Here is my post "Falling Up -- The Choices We Make May Be Our Own":

When I was 15 years old I was hiking in Letchworth Gorge in upstate New York. (Here is a picture of the gorge, left.) A beautiful place.

Despite the warnings or perhaps because of them -- I was a teenager after all -- I got too close to the edge. And I fell. I fell for what seemed like a long way and a long time, but in reality it was perhaps just a matter of seconds.

Time dragged, however, like a cartoon character falling off a cliff – think of Bugs Bunny falling, eating a carrot, reading War and Peace, and filing his nails. I was remarkably calm, at peace, really. One with the fall, it was a true Buddhist moment.

And then it was over. Somehow there was a branch or root and my arm reached out to grab it – I remember the jerking feeling like a parachute opening…I was safe. I'd fallen but I didn't die. I had a second chance. 

After a few seconds of stunned silence, I climbed back up to the top of the gorge.

That memory has been haunting me lately.  I shared this story in my talk at SXSW last month and again with a group of leaders at a retreat last week.

Why am I reminded of this story now?  Well, as I wrote in an earlier post on this blog, I think our economy is in free-fall and we seriously need to change.  

The latest example of a society in free-fall is the news of a "celebrity marriage" failing after 72 days.  

According to Twitter sources that include some celebrities allegedly close to the situation, the wedding earned the bride $17.9 million.  Really?  $17.9 million for a marriage that lasted 72 days? 

No wonder people like Lawrence Lessig think our society could fall like Rome.

It doesn't have to be this way. We can change the outcome. We can adopt a new game plan. 

But we can't change the world if we aren't first prepared to change within ourselves and live the lives we know we can live, be the people we know we can be, and take the actions we are compelled to take.

The choice is ours, but we must be conscious as we make our choices. We need to stop compromising in our lives, letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. And we need to deliver lasting value, to innovate, and finally, to inspire and be inspired.

When you're free-falling, you have two choices: keep falling to the bottom or grab the first available branch, scamper back up to the top and create a new path forward. Call it "falling up."

Which do you choose? And what are you waiting for?

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03 December 2014

10 Favs; 10 Years: "What Keeps You Up at Night?"

Back in November 2009, Lou Rappaport of Blank Rome asked me a disturbing question at the MAC Alliance Conference in Philadelphia.

Here's the post I wrote in response to his question:

On the face of it, Lou's question was a simple one:

"What keeps you up at night?"

We were interrupted before I could answer, but Lou's question lingered with me.

In fact, it kept me up the past couple of nights.

By way of an answer now, here are seven things that keep me up at night:

1.) We will fail to embrace change and tackle the new green economy.

2.) We are so deeply entrenched in partisan politics that we will blow this opportunity to lead in a sector (alternative energy) that we invented.

3.) The Dems have made climate and energy a "left" issue and the right has ceded it to them. Where is the GOP leadership stepping up to fill the void on these issues?*

4.) Enviros and NIMBYs will kill the energy economy transformation by blocking efforts on clean coal, nuclear, natural gas exploration, and the new electric grid just as they did with wind farms and offshore drilling.

5.) We don't have time to dither, yet we are a nation of inveterate ditherers.

6.) While we dither and dawdle, China is ready to seize the day.

7.) I don't know Mandarin.

*(Note: This is deeply disappointing for the party of Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon, which once led on issues now considered clean and green – and that now seems blind to this incredible opportunity for wealth generation.)

01 December 2014

10 Favs; 10 Years: Philanthropy & Environmental Change -- Should Social Capital Markets Take Over?

Back in October 2007, I had an exchange with my friend Lucy Bernholz about philanthropy as an agent of change in the environmental sphere (I was still working for The Nature Conservany). Lucy, as it happened, introduced me to my (then future) wife, Samantha, via LinkedIn a few days after this post with the immortal words, "You two should know each other." Thank God for social media...

Here is my post on "Philanthropy & Environmental Change -- Should Capital Markets Take Over?"

I'm taking up a friendly challenge here.

Lucy Bernholz, who writes the excellent blog Philanthropy 2173, and I started a blogalog (Did I just coin that term?) between our blogs about the state of philanthropy and environmental change.

The author, Samantha, and Lucy in New York, 2012.
It began in response to Lucy's listing of green blogs in the wake of Blog Action Day last Monday, and her noting the lack of discussion of philanthropy on the sites listed (including mine).

My defense stemmed from a concern about philanthropy and its effectiveness as an agent of change in the environmental sphere, which actually was the origin of this blog. I have grown increasingly concerned about the ability of traditional philanthropy to effect lasting change at a pace commensurate with the global challenges we face.

I expressed this concern in my essay for GreenBiz, "Confessions of a Green Skeptic," several years ago about the Earth Charter.

Back then (March 2003), I wrote, "we need to demonstrate how profitable being green can be, and how essential it is to a truly global sustainability. If we can turn the greed motivation to green motivation, effectively turning it on itself, does the means justify the end? Hard to say. But if greed isn't going away anytime soon, we are left with trying to redirect the motivation any way we can. Guilt has worked, but only gets us so far. 'Envy trumps guilt' every time."

This sentiment was influenced by Thomas Friedman's thoughts on the subject expressed in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, that "if conservationists are going to get ahead of the greedy we need to move faster. 'For now, the only way to run as fast as the herd is by riding the herd itself and trying to redirect it,' Friedman writes. 'We need to demonstrate to the herd that being green, being global, and being greedy can go hand in hand.'"

And it was echoed by Gretchen Daily and Katherine Ellison in their book, The New Economy of Nature, from which I quoted, "the record clearly shows that conservation can't succeed by charity alone. It has a fighting chance, however, with well-designed appeals to self-interest."

Things have changed quite a bit since I wrote that essay -- the world has gotten flatter, green has become the new black, Al Gore won an Academy Award and a Nobel Prize for his work on climate change, and the herd has started to move to greener pastures.

But a lot hasn't changed. In Philanthropy, as Susan Raymond points out in a two-part piece called "Does Philanthropy Scale?," the "vast majority of American nonprofits are small; 60 percent or more...have less than $100,000 in annual revenue." And, Raymond notes, "the average foundation grant to nonprofits is on the order of $25,000."

Raymond also points out that "the number of nonprofits with $10 million or more in revenue has increased by 73 percent in the last decade," and asks, "when $25,000 is the average grant, is philanthropy the answer to organizational growth? Indeed, is it even relevant as a source of capital?"

I'm going to quote one more thing from Raymond's essay: "The evolution of microfinance teaches that, when what had been a philanthropic initiative matures and proves its worth, alternative capital sources step in and redefine the opportunity. Is achieving scale, then, the clue for philanthropy to either evolve or exit? And, if so, do we need to rethink what we mean by 'philanthropy' for large organizations or proven initiatives in social markets?"

I quote Raymond's piece at length because it corroborates some of my own thinking on this subject. She rightly points out that the biggest advantage of philanthropic capital is its "ability to take significant risk, to seed a promising idea and recognize that all promising ideas can be failures."

So risk tolerance or tolerance for failure, playing on the field of ideas and at at the edge of problems "where the probabilities of success are unknown, is the key playing field for philanthropy."

For many ideas, perhaps chief among them those addressing environmental issues, it may be time for other types of capital to be brought to bear. I'm particularly interested in what Raymond describes as "a multiplicity of approaches to organizational finance in the nonprofit sector...for self-reliance, sustainability, and (yes) profit" to come to the stage.

This is not far from what Lucy refers to as "tri-sector solutions," such as the B Corporation she has described or the bond purchase strategy Raymond describes in her piece. (In the latter, Raymond explains, "'Donors' took on the role of guarantor rather than funder, and the resources flowed at levels that donations would never have been able to sustain.")

Elsewhere in the web pages of onPhilanthropy, John Bloom of RSF Social Finance, posits that "social finance holds that the purpose of money and finance is to support human initiative and to foster the evolution of new community."

And, Bloom suggests, social finance recognizes "the human and environmental consequences of economic activities...[and] presents a picture of a healthier sustainable future -- and one that leaves behind the industrialist model of philanthropy..."

I will continue this dialogue here on The Green Skeptic, because I think it is an important one, and part of an ongoing, evolving thought process for me that started over four years ago and which led to this blog. Thanks to Lucy for calling me out about it and fostering this dialogue.

28 November 2014

10 Favs; 10 Years: A Tale of Two Cleantech Companies -- One Failure, One Success

Here's another favorite from the past decade. I did a deep dive on two cleantech companies for the IMPACT investor conference back in 2011. I looked at the examples of Solyndra and CPower and examined why one failed and the other succeeded. This post included my original slides via SlideShare:

I recently presented "A Tale of Two Cleantech Companies: A case study of what leads to a successful exit or a stunning failure" at the IMPACT 2011 Venture Summit Mid-Atlantic in Philadelphia, PA.

I told the stories of Solyndra and CPower and how they failed and succeeded, respectively.

Here are my slides from the presentation:

And here is a transcript of my notes/talking points on Scribd: A Tale of Two Cleantech Companies

26 November 2014

10 Favs; 10 Years: The Evangelical Environmental Awakening, Part 1

I've long been concerned by the exclusiveness of the environmental movement and was especially struck by the suspicions aroused in the deep greens when the Christian right started getting interested in climate change and the environment, as if the environment was an exclusive club of left-leaning liberals. It's one of the reasons I agreed to go on Fox Business when they asked me. I didn't want to preach to the converted. I wanted to open the tent and let all the human family in.

Here's Part 1 of my post on The Evangelical Environmental Awakening from 2005:

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Several years ago I attended a conference hosted by one of the country's progressive environmental and cultural institutions.

Invited were writers and artists, environmental activists, conservation practitioners, and a host of others.

The event was held on the beautiful campus of the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia, a venue which exists because a forward-thinking Republican from that state marshaled the resources necessary to bring it to reality.

I arrived on that first evening with a sense of excitement; we were in for a few days of intense dialogue, debate, and communion among the conservation concerned. After checking into my room and making a quick tour of the grounds, I walked up to the first evening's festivities, an invocation and series of readings by some of the nation's best and most influential "nature" writers.

After the reading, we all ambled up to a high point on the property for what was described as a "Summer Solstice Celebration." A bonfire was lit, a circle of the tribe gathered, and there was song and words of inspiration shared by the mostly white, mostly male participants, decked out in what ranged from outdoors uniforms to neo-hippy chic. This was the Birkenstock and granola crowd.

As the celebration continued it spiraled into what I can only describe as pagan ritual, with a few diatribes against those who were not in attendance – the despoilers of the land.

I had a sinking feeling that I didn't belong and started to move away from the crowd. This was despite the fact that I am both a writer who draws inspiration from the natural world and a professional conservation practitioner.

Why did I feel like an alien in my own land, among what should have been my tribe? As I observed the group from down the hill, its music and dancing seemed to take on a decidedly Gaia-worshipping tone, as participants gyrated and "grocked" to their own brand of eco-spiritual convergence.

The discomfort I felt at that celebration was that of a stranger in a strange land. I felt like an outsider, an interloper, like I didn't belong there. I almost left that evening, but the promise of four days of learning and connecting kept me from the road.

My feelings were compounded by questions that began to form in my head: What if I was an outsider, observing this ritual from another, differently held worldview? How would it appear to me?

"I see the pagans are at it again," said a voice off to my left.

I was a good hundred yards or more from the site and hadn't noticed anyone else around me. I didn't catch this fellow's name, but there he stood shaking his head between drags on a cigarette. He looked like a federal employee; at least, he was dressed like a park ranger.

"Why does every one of these gatherings have to kick off with rituals like this?" I asked.

"Because we think prayer circles are for psycho-Christians," my neighbor quipped. "Imagine if we tried to start a conference like this with a prayer circle, we'd be ridiculed – or stoned."

And, yet, I thought, we're comfortable with these types of displays, as if they are desirable because they are so patently other than more traditional, western religious practices.

In fact, anything but rituals adopted from Judeo-Christian traditions seemed to be completely acceptable, a matter of tribal integrity. What were the religious groups in attendance thinking? And where were they?

My companion for that brief, revelatory moment had disappeared, as if he were a visiting alien or a prophet in modern clothes.

His words stuck with me; in fact, his words came back to me a few days later when I listened to William J. Wade, the former president of ARCO, address the group in a plenary session.

He was talking about the impact of reading Barry Lopez’ Arctic Dreams as he prepared to take ARCO's top job in Alaska in the mid-eighties. Later, he got to meet Lopez and fly over the state's many natural wonders. He was a committed conservationist and was talking to us as one who had converted to the cause, like Saul on the road to Damascus, and was doing what he could to care for nature.

The audience reaction to having such an alien in our midst was tepid and suspicious. How could an industry representative – one of "them" – deign to speak to "us" about appreciation for the natural world? We were the keepers of nature not the despoilers. And yet, Mr. Wade's experience was among the most genuine and authentic of the entire conference.

The session was followed by the next speaker, Peter Matthiessen, who fired rude salvos at Mr. Wade, the oil industry, and all conservatives who wanted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. It was an embarrassing moment, but one cheered by the majority of the crowd.
Peter Matthiessen, Ed Betz/AP

I felt sick. Mr. Wade was a brave fellow who had wandered into "enemy territory" without even realizing it. How could we treat another human being this way? Where was our ethical integrity and respect for other human beings?

Had we welcomed Mr. Wade to the conference only to belittle his worldview, attack his politics, and make him a whipping-boy for our gripes against industry? Where was fairness and liberal morals? Clearly these were checked at the door.

After the conference, I wrote Mr. Wade a letter of apology and sent it to him care of ARCO. I'm not sure he ever received it.*

I was embarrassed by my own, some of whom I considered colleagues and even friends. If an environmentalist were to be invited to speak to a conservative group or association and was attacked like this, we would most assuredly cry "foul" and decry the manners of the group at large. And yet, we were not "doing unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Perhaps we should have started with a prayer circle instead of a pagan rite; perhaps then we would have remembered the manners we learned in childhood.

I write this now because the environmental movement is confronted with a new "alien in our midst" - Evangelical Christians. Many environmentalists are suspicious and wary of this group's motivations and, indeed, some have questioned their sincerity in articles and the electronic print media.

This is wrong. We need to apply the same sort of tolerance and respect for diversity that we espouse in our daily lives and work. We need to adapt our liberal moral tendencies to be accepting of this group as a partner. They may not join our organizations and certainly will not put aside their moral visions or worldviews to fit ours, but they have an important voice and perspective on the work ahead of us.

We could learn a lot from their way of knowing this earth, despite what knee-jerk environmentalists might assume. We have not cornered the market on stewardship and care of the earth, regardless of whether you believe the earth as we know it exists through divine creation or evolutionary adaptation.

The diversity of human experience of the earth can be as diverse as the fabric of life itself. We must take heed of this still, small voice in the wilderness and nurture it, welcome it into the good fight.

*Seven years after this was originally posted, I heard from Mr. Wade, who had found my post. It was nice to be in touch with him and to apologize again.

25 November 2014

10 Favs; 10 Years: Kalyan Paul and Grassroots, Integrated Solutions in the Indian Himalayas

In recognition of The Green Skeptic's 10th Annivesary, I'm hand-picking ten of my personal favorite posts from the last decade. Here's the first, from 2008, a post about a visit I made to Ashoka-fellow Kalyan Paul in the Indian Himalayas. --SEA

Kalyan and Anita Paul moved to the "hill country" -- Ranikhet is 1829 meters above sea level -- in 1987. Originally from Calcutta, Kalyan met his future wife and partner in social change, Anita, while both studied for a Masters in Social Work at Delhi University.

After facing numerous challenges and frustrations in urban settings and with more traditional development approaches, the Pauls decided to work with mountain communities. "Kalyan always wanted to live and work with hill folks," according to a source familiar with the situation. "Anita, a Himachali who grew up in the plains, egged him on."

Less than 20,000 people live in the area in and around Ranikhet, a high percentage of whom live in small hamlets and rely on natural resources for their livelihoods and sustenance.

"We got a grant from the Ford Foundation to literally just 'walk around,' and that's what we did," Kalyan says. "At first the local people were skeptical; they'd check us out and see what we were doing. When they saw us walking around like them -- and we walked all over, man -- they decided, 'He's probably okay.'"

That walking around gave the Pauls a clear sense of the integrated nature of the issues facing mountain people.

"They live totally off of what nature provides," says Kalyan. "If there's no water, they can't grow their food. If there are no trees, there is no water. It affects everything in their lives and some leave the mountains for more urban areas. That kind of life can be hard, man."

Enter Grassroots, which the Pauls founded in this area 16 years ago. They started by looking for the root causes of the mountain peoples' poverty: their lives and livelihoods are tied to the land and its natural resources.

Those resources have been dwindling as a result of changes to the landscape that started under British rule and continue in the Indian forestry bureau today. Basically, the foresters promoted non-native pine plantations and eucalyptus over native broadleaf deciduous trees.

Sounds like a simple thing, but it had two major impacts: the pines didn't help recharge the water sources, especially after harvesting, and the dead leaf litter was gone, which the farmers spread on their fields. Leaf litter is a natural top-soil maker. In contrast, the more acidic pine needles form a thick mat on the forest floor, preventing rainwater from seeping into the soils.

You can figure out what happened next. The water table, that feeds the springs that nourishes the crops that feed the people, kept dropping. Today, at winter's end, there is very little water in the aquifer and the springs are extremely low.

The Pauls, and the people who work with them, are addressing it by promoting native plant nurseries, replanting saplings from those nurseries, and developing rain water catchments to help regenerate the water supply.

That would be fine as a standard environment project, but Kalyan hasn't stopped there.

Grassroots determined that another factor in the forest decline was the villagers' own needs for firewood used for cooking in their homes. This use was not only denuding the forests, but was having health impacts as well: women cook with open wood fires in their homes (breathing in the smoke all day) and they have to walk farther and farther each day to find firewood, which they carry on their heads.

So, Grassroots introduced biogas stoves to their homes. The villagers now burn the methane generated by animal waste (cow and goat dung -- one thing of which they have plenty!) instead of firewood, and they use the slurry on their fields as an excellent fertilizer.

They also formed an artisan's guild to train local villagers as masons to build these stoves, thereby accomplishing three things in one: reducing forest cutting, improving the health of women, and providing jobs for at least 30 men in the area; at least 50 men have been trained as masons.

The Kumaon Artisans Guild promotes and builds appropriate technologies for rural development, including the biogas wells, twin pit outhouses, and infiltration wells for drinking water. (The infiltration well technology, developed by Dr. Tim Rees, is worth another post of its own.)

Members of the Guild, who are known as "Barefoot Engineers," told me they are now installing 300 biogas units annually, 60 water pumps a year, and 400 toilets.

In addition, Grassroots has organized a women's cooperative, called Umang, which means "inner strength" or "self-confidence." Umang now comprises a network of 2000 women spread over hundreds of villages and governed by reps from participating women’s "self-help" groups, with day-to-day functions managed by a group of women from the surrounding area.

Umang’s work includes savings and credit, but also enterprise development. They produce knitwear worth more than Rs.1.5 million each year, about a third of which accrues to the women as wages, according to sources familiar with the situation.

In addition, the Umang women engage in food processing, producing about 10 tons of product annually, especially pickled condiments made from local produce such as chilies, ginger, and garlic, along with fruit preserves and jams. (Their plum chutney is fantastic!) Umang also has an apiculture program that produces about 3 tons of honey every year.

To better understand the impact watershed-wide, Grassroots, together with UNESCO, is conducting a study of the hydrology of the Gagas River Basin, which covers 500 square kilometers and includes 360 villages.

Faisal K. Zaidi, a Post Doctoral Researcher in Hydrogeology who works with UNESCO in New Delhi, on the study says that the Gargas has been included in UNESCO's Hydrology for Environment, Life, and Policy (HELP) program. HELP, according to its website, "is creating a new approach to integrated catchment management through the creation of a framework for water law and policy experts, water resource managers and water scientists to work together on water-related problems."

Zaidi says that by the end of the monsoon season this year, likely around September, they should have the first water budget for the Gagas River Basin, based upon the data collected from this study. To date, they have set up rainfall and stream flow monitoring stations in almost 20 locations, and at least a half-dozen weather monitoring stations in the basin.

The true innovation in Kalyan Paul's work is the holistic approach to the root problems. I have seen plenty of economic development and environmental projects that are limited in their scope. Most projects, indeed most organizations attack one problem, and not always the root of a problem. It's often an either/or dilemma: either economic development or conservation; either livelihood or watershed protection. The Grassroots approach is integrated, holistic and more effective as a result.

Not bad for a guy who started out "walking around" 20 years ago.

24 November 2014

It Was Ten Years Ago Today...and I'm Thankful

Today is the 10th Anniversary of The Green Skeptic blog. 

Whether you've been with me for ten years (and please do let me know if you have) or recently came across my blog for the first time I want to say 


Hard to believe I've been doing this -- albeit, not very much recently -- for 10 years.

So much has changed in those ten years, not only in my life, but in the world in which we live.

On 24 November 2004, I announced this blog with the following intentions: "to create a web voice that is at once environmentally concerned, while remaining skeptical about our methods of communication and action. My blog will explore current environmental issues in a pragmatic fashion, debunking environmental myths, while supporting market-based solutions that compliment actions taken both locally and globally." I certainly think I've lived up to that intention over the past ten years, both here and in my three year stint as a commentator on Fox Business with Varney & Co. While I've slacked off a bit on the number of posts in recent years -- only that first year has fewer posts than the current one -- the need for such a voice is ever more relevant and necessary today.

As I wrote on the occasion of the 5th Anniversary of The Green Skeptic, 

"People often ask me why I'm skeptical and what I'm skeptical about.
"Well, the answer is, I believe that skepticism is a hallmark of human nature. Without it, we are sheep. "I think we need to constantly challenge our assumptions about the way the world works or how others tell us it works. We must question even what our leaders tell us, regardless of what side of the aisle their derriere rests upon or what side of the issue they claim to represent."

As I mark our tenth anniversary, I will keep in mind the words I wrote on our seventh year together:

"I want to thank you again for reading. I hope to keep up my end of the bargain moving forward with good, informed writing about the issues, a healthy skepticism about both hyperbole and hysteria and, most of all, a respect for you, my readers."
Thank you again for reading and happy anniversary!

31 October 2014

Nat Bullard's Four Moments in Cleantech Time

My pal Nat Bullard of Bloomberg New Energy Finance kicked off EY's 4th annual Cleantech CEO Retreat, which I hosted a couple of weeks ago, with a look back.

Here is his post from his Sparklines email newsletter, reprinted with his permission:

Four moments in cleantech time

EY (aka Ernst & Young) hosted its annual Cleantech CEO Forum in Napa this week.

Below is my opening presentation to the 90+ CEOs of cleantech pure-plays and high-level senior executives: "Four moments in cleantech time."

Speaking to a group of cleantech executives in 2014 is exciting, because it is an exciting time for the sector – but when is it not? Boundaries shift, companies come and go, technologies evolve, but history matters.

Let me create a sense of where we are now, and where we may be going, with four moments in cleantech time over the past 60 years.


This is the first moment – the Bell Solar Battery, invented sixty years ago. It is instantly recognizable today as a PV panel and a deep-cycle battery, simultaneously the first of its kind and an archetype. Why use this?

Even in its first year, the technology faced the same challenges it does today: forcing costs down, and efficiency up; deciding on best applications; incorporating storage if needed; choosing to manufacture in-house or through a contract manufacturer.

Just as important as what the tech was, is what it became after lowering costs by orders of magnitude: the prime mover of a distributed energy paradigm, driven by experience curves and innovative business models. Importantly, it was something both profound and easy to underestimate from its small base.


Jump ahead 20 years, and we have the first oil price shock, with a quadrupling in one year. This shock gave us three things which are key to our thinking. The first is a national and international sense of urgency to thinking about the future energy mix and security of supply. It was also a time in which corporations (in particular oil companies) began to make solar PV in commercial quantities for applications other than satellites. And it was also when the US Department of Energy, and an entrepreneur named George Mitchell, began the first efforts of another extraordinary change driver in energy: hydraulic fracturing.


Another 20 years ahead – in fact, 20 years ago yesterday – was the launch of Netscape Navigator, the first meaningful and universal human-system computer interface. It provided a way for everyone to use the internet, and also created the ability to start companies light. How many companies here, now, are web-based? How many are cloud-based? And what will another 20 years of the Internet bring us – an effortlessly connected world of smart and enabled devices?


A final 20 years forward, to last week: Tesla’s latest, the dual-motor version of its Model S. I think it is the start to an alternate path to surface transport: all-electric, safe, quiet, very low-maintenance, over-the-air-updated…and with performance better than a supercar (or, perhaps it is a supercar with four doors). It eschews the traditional dealer network, a direct challenge to a very established mode of selling and inventory organisation. It is capable of autopilot; eventually, it will be fully autonomous.

A final thought, spurred on by the dual-motor Tesla. It’s still a puzzle to explain. Read the press, and the comments are "even with the extra weight of a second motor, the car has better performance and longer battery life." Well – the extra motor is only the size of a watermelon! It’s not like grafting another four cylinders onto a big-block V8.

To take it back to the start: there’s a thread connecting the Tesla to the first solar panel. Both are promising, experience curve-driven technologies. They are still a puzzle to some. They are just getting started at scale. The most important tool for thinking of where they will go in the future, is imagination.

--Nat Bullard

©2014 Bloomberg Finance L.P. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the author. 

29 October 2014

Review: SUPERSTORM: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy by Kathryn Miles

Two years ago tonight, Superstorm Sandy hit New York with a vengeance. Whatever you call her: hurricane, superstorm, Frankenstorm, Sandy was a massive, monster storm. 

Sandy was the second costliest hurricane in recorded history. Only 2005’s Hurricane Katrina was costlier in terms of damages -- $68 billion and counting as of the spring of 2014 – and Sandy was responsible for at least 286 deaths in seven countries.

Sandy’s storm surge swamped New York City, flooding tunnels, subways, and streets; cutting off power to residents in and around the city.

At 49 feet above sea level in Park Slope, where we rode out Sandy, we were relatively unscathed, safely ensconced in our apartment building, tucked up on a little one-block, one-way Place, in city parlance.

Sure, we heard the howling winds and saw the rain ripping sideways like an overzealous carnival shooter trying to win the prize kewpie doll. And in the aftermath of the storm, we saw the downed trees scattered about the neighborhood, across blocks, on top of cars, or simply uprooted.

But down the hill – down the slope – in Gowanus and Red Hook, across the bay in Staten Island, and out on Rockaway, the devastation was stunning. While we had power, food, water, and even Internet access, many others had barely anything, forced from their homes or unable to return. We had shelters and help centers and volunteers. It felt far from the madness of the storm’s wrath.

As the days unfolded after Sandy hit New York and New Jersey, we began to learn about the devastation in her wake. We felt even more fortunate. The images and stories that emerged were at times horrific: an uncontrollable fire raging on Breezy Point, caused by rising sea water; a Staten Island mom who lost her twin boys in the storm surge; cars floating in the flood waters outside the Battery Tunnel; a couple crushed by a tree while walking their dog in Ditmas Park.

There were many other stories, as Kathryn Miles reveals in her new book Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy, some familiar from the media coverage, others impossible to know unless you were living it. Miles first wrote about Sandy for Outside Magazine; her story on the wreck of the replica HMS Bounty was a powerful piece of magazine reportage.

But Miles proves, as she did with her previous book, All Standing: The Remarkable Story of the Jeanie Johnston, The Legendary Irish Famine Ship that she excels at long-form narrative. That earlier book was about the lone ship to sail during the famine years without losing a single passenger where countless others had failed. As in that earlier book, Miles writes well not just about the sea (she lives in Maine and is an avid sailor), but she deftly brings to light the lives of the people whose stories she tells.

Miles follows the storm as it first hits the radar of the National Weather Service and then National Hurricane Center, and builds as the storm itself metastasizes, swallowing up another storm to its north, and eventually colliding with not just land, but with a nor’easter plummeting down towards the coast from the north.

The result reads like an historical potboiler as she builds the narrative of the storm out of the lives of the people tracking it, trying to avoid it, and getting trapped in it.

There are the requisite colorful characters worthy of a novel: the Hurricane Hunters, who fly a C130 into the hurricane to collect data; Lixion Avila, torn between his two loves, storms and ballet, as he attends a ballet convention in Cuba at the time Sandy starts to build; Chris Landsea, whose name must have determined his profession; and Claudine Christian and Robin Walbridge, the former a late-comer to the crew aboard the Bounty who died at sea; the latter, the captain who is presumed to have gone down with his ship.

Readers familiar with Miles’ previous book will recognize her technique, which builds and swirls much like the hurricane it depicts, time-lapsed glimpses of each character as they try to understand what this storm will do and where it will go or how to avoid and get around it. Superstorm is a page-turner, as they say, and I couldn’t put it down.

The end result is a remarkable chronicle of Sandy’s impact, not just on the land, but on so many people, on the way such storms will be reported in the future, and about the need for resilience measures for our cities and coastal areas.

Superstorm is a gripping read and, despite a few very minor editorial flaws -- she doesn’t close the loop on a couple of stories she sets up, such as the fate of the couple in Ditmas Park and their dog who waited by its fallen caretakers, for example -- should be read by all who want to understand the storms of the past to help deal with or keep out of the way of the superstorms of the future.

As Miles herself writes in her afterward (sic): “Sandy was the worst-case scenario that was never supposed to happen. New York may have fared better than Haiti, but the storm show just how vulnerable we all are…But sometimes, that’s just not enough. Sometimes, Nature breaks all the rules. And it always plays to win.”

Hopefully, that's a lesson Miles can help us learn before the next superstorm hits.