Lost Opportunity

March 3rd, 2009

The change of administrations means that the geography of the climate change issue has shifted. As predicted by Jeff Immelt of GE at last year’s Eco.nomics conference, carbon regulation is coming. The choice is to ‘be at the table or on the menu”, he said.
Which begs the question, why would George Will choose instead to revisit the past instead of take the opportunity to stake new ground in the here and now?
I can’t speculate on his motivation in selecting his position and arguments for his now all too famous column. The idea that more immediate crisis will dominate our attention is kind of obvious. Suggesting that climate is 1) not a threat and 2) far off is neither compelling nor effective in the face of the current state of Congress, to say nothing of the position of the President.
While most of the world has focused on hammering Will on his research,his editors or the fact checking of both, etc. what I want to know is when will a conservative leader address their real problem with the issue.
Science is not the point. There is plenty of science to suggest that problems are at hand with climate change, and that the laws of man (think economics) can not trump the laws of God (think physics and chemistry). Where there is lots of room for debate, and where the conservatives among us have huge opportunities, is about what are appropriate policies to respond.
Will, like most of those who opinionate on the issue of climate change, don’t really care about the science. They are fundamentally against big government, nanny states, collective responsibility, and taxes. Rather than oppose the proposed solutions that are all of these things, by proposing alternatives that would tax less, regulate less, and most importantly focus on the opportunity embodied in possible responses, they have stayed focused on attacking science.
As strongly as the Post’s editors and Will have attempted to stonewall the storm his column generated, the tipping point on approaching this issue with these weapons has occurred. It’s time to consider another approach.
Let me suggest this to conservative leaders- focus on how government, as the largest purchaser in the global economy, could, instead of legislating companies’ behavior, encourage that behavior by offering to buy its power, transportation and buildings from the cleanest sources, delivered in the most sustainable way. Equally viable would be to articulate a post petroleum geopolitics built upon energy and transportation independence, led by in country private sector initiatives.
These territories of political discourse are currently the unchallenged ground of those who acknowledge the science, regardless of their governing philosophy.
There is little to gain by arguing against the preponderance of scientific thought. There is much to be won by focusing on how that thought could lead us toward prosperity and national security.
For nearly forty years the dominate paradigm has been that adding 15% more CO2 to a closed system will produce observable results, and today the large picture is fulfilling that theory. Two generations of scientists have striven to find an explanation other than the dominate idea, because to do so would make them the most famous scientists of this century, much as Einstein dominated the last. That none of them has succeeded should be evidence enough that aligning oneself with the opposition of the dominant paradigm is to take oneself out of the discussion of what is the appropriate policy to implement.
Whether or not Will can find a position of relevance again on the issue of climate, the opportunity is still there for a new conservative position on climate.

Change in command

January 22nd, 2009

The inauguration of Barack Obama signals change in many areas, and there are anticipated numerous policy and execution differences in the area of climate research, environmental policy, and primarily energy.

His speech used the word “planet” twice, once modified by “warming”, and once after “threaten” referencing our energy use strengthening our adversaries. “Science” will have “it’s rightful place.”

As significant as what was said, was what wasn’t said. Not once did the new President mention ‘oil’, coal or ‘environment’. He didn’t say ‘constitution’, but did mention “founding documents.”

Over the next few months, the debate about energy in particular will reference the science on climate. The economic ramifications (“economy” mentioned just three times) of these will bring out the vested interests of those who stand to lose something in reworking the energy infrastructure, and the money to muster forces both on ‘K’ Street and the halls of Congress.

“New” (mentioned eleven times) thinking will be called for. And that is no different here at Ceilings Unlimited. Starting shortly, the film will be available for download, purchase direct on DVD. We will be making the ideas embedded in the film identities on social networks, and seeking the communities most interested in the application of science and business thought to the climate issue.

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Neither ‘belief’ nor ‘debate’

November 10th, 2008

Thanks to Brian Thomas, whose &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a href=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;http://carbon-based-ghg.blogspot.com/&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;Carbon Based blog&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; keeps me informed on many fronts about the many stories in a complex global field, for pointing out this &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a href=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/climate-science/2008/nov/08/climate-science—why-dont-we-treat-is-like-other-/&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;post&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/a&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt; in the L&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;a href=&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;http://www2.ljworld.com/&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;awrence Journal, which addresses the use of the word belief, in relationship to climate change, or the more commonly term- global warming.

In it, Vicky Lytle shares &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;I am frustrated that when people learn what I do, they often ask– ‘do you believe in climate change?’ Climate change is not a religion. It is a science. There are a lot of things we know about climate change, and there is a lot we still do not know. But, just because we have not solved everything does not mean the rest of it should be ignored.&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;quot;

In the over 40 interviews I did with scientists in researching the issue, not one ever used the word ‘belief’. They talk about the data first. Then they reference ways to test ideas that might help us understand the actual mechanics of climate. And then they reference the theory that is based upon the physics and chemistry that we know.

There was no theory of gravity until Newton came along, yet no one had any doubt about gravity. Once there was a theory, it helped us to engage the physical world with better understanding, and permitted us to exercise some power in relationship to gravity. Yet Newton’s theory was insufficiently sophisticated to say send a rocket to the moon. His theory, and the math related, would have caused you to miss the moon. Yet his theory was incredibly useful, and helped others understand, and then expand that understanding so that the theories of physics and thus gravity got better. Good enough to send large hunks of complicated machinery to other planets much further away.

So in the area of climate, there is the same process today. The question I get asked when people learn about my work in the subject, is ‘what side of the debate are you on?’ Well to have a debate today is just to argue about the veracity of the only theory we have. Given that this one dominant paradigm has the vast majority of data that is coming in verifying it, the debate isn’t. And in fact to really have a debate, we would need another theory to put up against this one. Since we don’t have a competing theory, we don’t have a debate either.

What we have is one good tool to use to predict a large number of complex conditions that loom large for our food and water supply, to say nothing of our planning for energy, transportation, housing etc. The fact that there are some inconsistencies in the data in a very complex system that we live in, and need to understand, does not suggest that we should ignore the theory much less the data.

The science describes a wide range of possibilities, and in keeping with scientific standards, offers a bell curve of probabilities about those. Unfortunately today, the public discourse is still dominated by two extreme points of view that represent the two narrow aspects of that bell curve, and thus the least likely outcomes. In telling the NOAA climate story, we focused on the middle, and what is suggested by those most likely outcomes, as well as the most positive and beneficial actions that can be taken based upon those outcomes. 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“Planet in peril”

November 5th, 2008

Yesterday’s victory by Barack Obama has historical implications. But for the climate change story, not so much. Yes, a new administration will change the national policy on climate, and attack energy in a new way. But this was going to be true of a McCain administration too, albeit in a distinctly different way.

So it begs the question- how different? How far into the century of progress alluded to by Barack Obama will the next year take us? Will the now dominant Democratic party divide itself to its various factions and fight over old turf of regulation and entitlements or will it hew to the unification theme that was clearly resonating for voters?

One thing is clear, from a communication analysis. Only one phrase in the eighteen minutes of eloquence from the President elect referenced the climate issue, arguably by the scales measuring time and planetary space, the largest that face us. And it can be interpreted many ways that don’t reference the environment, nature or any other aspect of climate.

For the planet peril that clearly most dominates at the moment is not a construct of chemistry or physics, but of man. It is economics, and the toolbox of those who have succeeded in its ways, power. Will the forces that have done well in the current economic system be swept up and transformed by the army of hope? Will ‘yes we can’ be directed in ways that crack the walls of those who resist innovation, much less justice? The story of climate can be either the leading example of inclusive reinvention, or a casualty of those that cannot see beyond short term balance sheets.

The answers, of course are in the execution. And the optimism here is that the people that organized, built and ran a campaign that was capable of capturing the Presidency of the most powerful nation on the planet by a candidate that has numerous strikes against him ( black, broken home, middle name Hussien, etc. etc.) can bring that same vision discipline and execution to running a government.

From all indications, those in the climate change space in government are ready to do more, share more and help a proactive policy team go forward.

Calm in the face of the storm

October 28th, 2008

Sunday Stanley Fish published a report of the campaign that points out how this election, and others in the past, is being won by the person saying the least.
Last night I attended a presentation by Will Steger, polar explorer and climate change activist. Steger has witnessed ‘on the ground’ the extraordinary changes at either pole during the recent decade. He has before and after pictures with himself in the picture! Both during his presentation and the Q& A he repeatedly used a moderate voice and deflected questions of blame. He recommended ‘putting on a coat and in order to convince the most resistant.
Certainly since early in this century, we have been subjected to the politics of fear. Most of the existing productions on climate focus on the scary outcomes. It is hard to avoid, given that the scale of climate is so big- beyond the horizon of either our experience or lifetimes. When something the size of the Larsen Ice Shelf can collapse and dissipate in a short time, it definitely is sobering.
But the calm response, as evidenced by Obama in the presidential campaign, is what creates positive response. This was the creative choice made during the production.
We are now in the process of finding out whether those controlling the distribution channels will respond as the public has.

Is Green the right color for the ‘green economy’?

October 23rd, 2008

Bob Metcalf asked this question in presentations he made all spring and summer this year. Green is the color of envy, and inexperience. It is also the color of environmentalists that oppose capitalism, technology and well, progress.
There are plenty of voices suggesting that inexperience combined with the crises in confidence in that other green ( you know the kind with “in God we trust” on it) spells strong headwinds for those flying the reinvention of the economy flag.
Well, I can’t find it online, so I am going to suggest you go buy “The Green Collar Economy” so that you can read Robert Kennedy Jr’s forward, in which he cites a remarkable precedent (cribbed from Lord David Puttnam no less).
Two hundred years ago, Parliament debated abolition of slavery. One significant aspect of resistance to the idea was that it would, in eliminating the cheapest form of energy at the time, ruin the economy. It only took a year in those non electronic times for them to make the moral decision. The result was exactly opposite.
In searching to replace slave energy, innovators instead harnessed steam, organized the use of debt to finance all manner of new scales of business, and unleashed the manufacturing boom that made it possible for people to give up scratchy underwear, and the industrial age. That in turn has made humans incredibly successful. Too successful according to the most extreme factions of environmentalism.
Today you can find voices that suggest that we are on the brink of the same opportunity today. Some of them are in “Proof or Propaganda”, and some are in the NYTimes.
It’s great to see the message out there. Eager for the CU version to reach the public.

Screening the public

October 22nd, 2008

With the election looming, and the two candidates both pitching some variation of rebuilding the US economy with green business, the crisis of confidence will be focusing on the how and what of reinventing how we live. With this in mind, we staged a screening of “Proof or Propaganda” for a large group. We gathered about 140 people in a room, showed them the production, and asked them to comment, rate, and discuss.
The result was that the presentation was graded highly, averaging an ‘8’ among those who filled out the questionnaire. To the question “would you recommend’ the average was 9.5, meaning that whatever reservation they had about the program, they thought their friends should see it. That strong endorsement is a great indicator.
Also, people liked the people on screen. They may not have registered just who the people were, but they got exactly what they know, and like how it was expressed. They found the scientists and business people likable, trustworthy and believable. While a certain small percentage thought there was too much ‘marketing’ from business people, far more were excited and encouraged to hear people speak optimistically about the challenges. By a wide margin, people found PG&E CEO Peter Darbee to be their favorite, even if they didn’t get what company he was from correct.
The negatives were around the narrative character, the only fictional person in the program, and the quality of the presentation.
The first requires some finessing of the part, both in writing and execution. The second is a matter of remastering the program in HD and using a delivery mechanism appropriate to the size of the screen and room we were in.

Meanwhile the film has been submitted to several festivals, especially those with markets associated. It is also in the process of being submitted to distribution channels of various sorts. More news when we have some!

Pick a subject-

August 29th, 2008

With the program delivered, this forum will now have a lot more comment on what is happening in the realm of the issue, as well as what is going on with the program.
Discussions with people range from film making issues, documentary theory, to the giant valley of climate, which itself comprises so many details, technical and otherwise, that any question that gets presented needs to be classified, and the most appropriate sources referenced, before a reasonable conversation can take place.

So today, thanks to the synchronicity of the universe, right here in my little corner of the earth, a classic collision of category breakdown presents itself. Off shore drilling has become, thanks to the price of a gallon of gas, the election year, and the opportunity to pit ‘common sense’ against existing policy, something to discuss.
On the surface of it, it seems pretty much a no brainer- if the price is going up because of demand, doing something to increase supply ought to drop the price. I guess that is why McCain was willing to make it part of his opening remarks when he appeared locally in June. The hundred or so who protested were emblematic of the long and strong local environmental activism. The fact that this resonates with those answering the polls that seem to guide leaders these days, would explain Pelosi and Obama allowing that lifting the off shore moratorium on drilling might be a good thing.
There is some precedent. When Reagan did this way back when, it prompted the Saudis to open their spigot and drench the western world in enough oil to give us amnesia about the embargo of the seventies. We all felt good about ‘morning in America’ with our petroleum equivalent of caffeine that we suspended the progression of CAFE standards, and started making jokes about Jimmy Carter having suggested we should conserve.
And freeing up supply worked during the Clinton administration. Twice when gas prices started to impact the inflation index, Clinton used Presidential prerogative to open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Each time the rise in prices was halted.
Unfortunately, these are not good examples. Today no country except Saudi Arabia can significantly increase the oil supply in response to demand. They are all using all the infrastructure that exists to find, drill, pump and process. Including the United States. Thousands of unused oil leases exist, and aren’t being drilled for a really simple reason– it doesn’t make business sense to do so.
This is true locally as well as nationally. The county of Santa Barbara is home to one of the largest untapped light crude deposits in the continental US of A. It has never been tapped because the policies of the jurisdiction are considered too expensive to meet, and thus this on shore easy to tap quality reserve lies waiting to increase supply. Santa Barbara, being the self proclaimed birthplace of the environmental movement ( and with credible accomplishments and history to back that claim) has long been a leader in demanding accountability of developers of all kinds. Being of this world, mistakes have been made. Currently a local petroleum company is having its issues keeping the stuff in the tanks and pipes, and the county seems challenged in bringing them into compliance.
So into this context, bold leadership at the county level voted this week to send a letter to the state Governor recommending off shore drilling. An all day hearing included themes on improved technology for drilling, the threat of a world wide oil shortage to our national economy, as well as speakers who pointed out that at best, off shore oil couldn’t make an impact on supply for at least eight years.
The most remarkable comment was made by the leader on the Board on this issue, retiring Supervisor Brooks Firestone. Firestone, elected to pacify the north south left right rancor that the board had been known for, said that since these world concerns might make the local ones not compelling to others, they the supervisors, the representatives of the community most responsible to keep and act on those concerns, should be the first to discard them! And then, along with the other two north county representatives, voted to send the letter recommending drilling in the south county coastal waters. Thanks for healing the north south left right divides there Brooks.
Not to be left out, the minority members of the board sent a dissenting letter to the Governor.
All of this around what the LA Times termed a “symbolic’ action.
A day of activity at the highest level of county government was expended on a policy that is solely about pandering to a political agenda that by any informed experts opinion will not produce the desired reduction in petroleum pricing. County government has no authority on the drilling moratorium- that is federal and state territory. So the letter is more a state of mind play. But it begs the question of how posturing contributes to getting policy wrong. Especially high stakes policy. The fact that the input of experts was not sought, and in fact when volunteered, ignored in this case, illustrates the problem leadership, especially elected leadership, faces in having to integrate the public discourse, the facts of physics, market place realities, and what is reasonably passable as ‘common sense’. It just happens to be wrong in this case.
Increasing supply is a great idea. Why off shore, or ANWAR for that matter, is considered the economical way to do that isn’t being examined- because it isn’t. How will policy become informed, and lead the public in addressing the enormous challenges that are based in technical and scientific facts, is a question that by this example in this county, is yet to be answered.


August 27th, 2008

Ceilings Unlimited has delivered the contracted product to NOAA and is now available for distribution.
You can see an example of the style here.
Response has been good. The film has been invited to be in the SBIFF.
More to come!

Old Windows need replacing

July 10th, 2008

Freeman Dyson has written, by way of a book review in the New York Review of Books, an in depth look at ‘Global Warming’ and analysis of the policy choices. Kevin Kelly has excerpted and elaborated on this in his own unique way. Now these are two really smart people, writers and thinkers that I have enjoyed and appreciated for years. Yet I find myself thinking that they are stuck in a paradigm that is so yesterday, much like single pane windows. We are all due to have our old windows removed and replaced by double and triple pane versions. It may take a hundred years, but it is going to be worth the effort, and put lots of people to work, and that is always a good idea.
Let me elaborate a bit-

The laws of physics and chemistry are pretty well set, but economics is a construct of man, and can be changed with our minds. We need to get economics to account for common values like the atmosphere, fisheries and other currently unaccounted for assets.

If we don’t escape the notion that the current economic model is actually viable, then we can’t really transform the society, much less the environment. The fossil fuel paradigm can’t lift even half the current have-nots out of poverty, much less the next three billion people. Other sources of energy need to be utilized. And there are lots of them available right now, without digging, without burning, without creating poisons. Between solar, wind and tidal, there is more energy available every day than the entire fossil fuel inventory. We keep using ancient sunshine because we are creatures of habit, especially economically.

There are immediate economic and security benefits to turning our attention to both efficiency and production of clean – non burning – energy production. Even an oilman like T Boone Pickens gets this (although he wants to keep burning natural gas). Shifting the buying policy of the federal government to the cleanest energy made available to it is sufficient market influence. Moving all incentives/subsidies for fossil fuels to non burning energy sources and investing in a grid to distribute them will resolve the energy issues. The best place for nuclear is right where it is right now- in the sky. The best place for fossil fuels is in the ground.

We also need to stop thinking about whether or not we can succeed, and get on with trying. Tomorrow never knows. And although we will certainly know more tomorrow than we do today, that is no reason not to act on the ways we can reinvent living well right now.

BTW_ thanks for Doc Searls for keeping me posted on the outside world while I am in post.