Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Lost Opportunity

Tuesday, 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.

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

Thursday, 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.

Pick a subject-

Friday, 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.

Delivery

Wednesday, 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!

The moving target of public discourse

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

From the beginning of this project, the evolution of the public discourse has been one of the challenges. It is difficult to plan a production to be relevant to a issue that is rapidly evolving, and hope to have it also seem timely and supply new information.

Another example of this was the Wall Street Journal’s conference for corporate leaders and investors that took place last week at the Bacara Resort just a few miles from the production office.

Reported lightly, even by the Journal, the meeting featured CEOs of several of the largest US corporations, as well as representatives of NGOs.

This story in Marketwatch brings up one of the surprises of how much has changed during the course of this production, “Most attendees said the likelihood of putting together such a high-powered conference just two years ago was nil.”

And while there was much repartee over various issues on the panels, there was a consistent agreement about a lack of leadership at the federal level. “Throughout the conference, the White House and Congress came under heavy fire for failing over the past seven years to set the policies and legal parameters business needs to come up with environmental strategies. Regardless of which party wins the 2008 presidential election, the belief among this crowd is that the “hell” of regulatory uncertainty, as GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt put it, is about to end.”

That’s right. Uncertainty is now about regulations and policy, not nature.

Certainty is about the capability to solve the problems. Doubt is about when will the policymakers make the rules stable for investors.

There is still plenty of room for disagreement, as in which technology can actually supply the cheapest and cleanest energy, and who should get front row at the subsidy feeding trough. Plenty of elbowing and politicking is ahead.

How you think is more important than how you breed

Thursday, March 13th, 2008

Doc points out the pestilent nature of mankind in a post today. A commenter criticized the video pointed to for being passe on the issue of population.
The lecture was in 2002, and while he uses population and oil use as the prime examples, his thesis, stated in part 1 is “The Greatest Shortcoming of the Human Race is our Inability to Understand the Exponetial Function”

Yes, the experts of population have demonstrated that if we sufficiently develop the third world, we can level off population at less than 10 billion. It was people’s ignorant statements about population growth that led to his mathematical example of the thesis.

But exponential function applies to our use of resources on a per capita basis as well, and the optimism you hear about oil reserves ignores the rate of increase of use required for ‘economic stability’ otherwise known as ‘growth’ of at least 3% annually. And even this fantasy language was used by the speaker to support his thesis. Just because the species might not breed a gigantic disaster is no reason not to fully embrace an understanding of exponential function and start pointing out how many ‘experts’ continue to spew about how long coal supplies will hold out or how much petroleum the earth might contain.

The same lack of understanding applies to the changes that can improve the societies sustainability. When you have people saying that getting off foreign oil is a fantasy, or that carbon credits will cost too much, underpinning those statements are equations that ignore exponential function. Conversion from fossil fuel will ultimately happen because it serves economic interests, and like many other conversions, it will happen faster than thought possible once individuals see benefit in it. Big changes can happen if they exploit the exponential function, and programs that apply it strategically can have huge results.

Ultimately, in everyday life, as well as collectively, best practices and smart thinking need to be applied for better results. Who defines those terms (‘better’ and ‘results’) will often determine what is decided to be ‘smart’. Today in Santa Barbara, at a WSJ sponsored event, lots of business leaders will extend that conversation.

Your vote is more significant than your footprint

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

Doc Searls, in his eponymous blog, pointed last week to Nansen Saleri’s article in the WSJ titled “The World Has Plenty of Oil”.
Now there are many things to note here, like Saleri’s lifetime in the oil business in Saudi Arabia, or that his estimates are just that. But far more significant is the fact that it doesn’t matter how much oil there is. Like many of us, Saleri continues to ignore the facts about exponential growth. Or other scientific or economic facts that make the continued burning of fossil fuels not practical, much less smart.
Let me share the best explanation I can find- this video featuring the famous, mind-blowing analogy of THE BACERTIA IN A BOTTLE. This is Part 3 of Dr. Albert A. Bartlett’s lecture on “Arithmetic, Population, and Energy.” You can watch just this one to have a really good illustration of exponential growth.
This is but one example of fundamental knowledge that most of us walking around do not grasp, including many ‘experts’ such as Saleri, and one thinks the leadership of the Wall Street Journal. And the rest of us fall into line as much because thinking about these issues requires us to acknowledge an obligation to change.
Many of us want to change- you know lose weight; get a better job, a bigger house, a nicer car. Not too many of us think that reinventing energy, transportation and building sectors of the economy are how that will happen. We’ll just keep doing what we always do a little better, a little different, and it’ll happen.
Knowledge is power, but it is also responsibility. Now that we know and have know-how, the challenge is not capability, but will. As in “Will we act on our knowledge?”

Progress is never a straight line

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

Wired has posted on the recent Always-On investment conference panel on Green Tech.
This project has benefited from the Always-On folks support so I keep track of their coverage and network. Always-On is a great new media resource, and I expect a prosperous enterprise.

What you see in the Green investment space are a certain amount of committed investors- they do think they are going to save the world, or at least our modern western civilized version of it. They are already rich and they have foundations and their own investment firms that put their money where their hearts and minds are. They want to make money, but they aren’t there for the quarterly return. Don’t get me wrong. Plenty of these investors are posting great quarterly returns and growing businesses right now in this sector.

Then you have the people who are making a play. They are quarterly statement driven, and a huge part of that opportunity right now is guessing where the government subsidies are going to make early cash flows appear, and scraping off the top of a big number flow. This is where a lot of the ethanol and bio fuel investment is, with hydrogen fuel cells riding on government enthusiasm too. Like any volatile area, you have gamblers, and some of these are working every angle to improve their odds. When the time comes, and clean green tech is really a gold rush, these early adoptive gamblers will be joined by all the other con artists, flimflammers and representative opportunists that human nature produces. Like corruption in certain places, it is just a part of the geography that we need to work on, but it will be a sign of the success of the transition to a new economy when they show up in the space.

Seeing these guys at other meetings is how I developed my opinion that much of what is going on right now is all about who gets front row at the federal feeding trough, which is itself all about maneuvering interests to co-opt the community need to have something alternative to fossil fuel, especially oil. When the Feds (meaning Congress) get ready to shift the petroleum and coal related subsidies, this will get really ugly, with sex scandals, gun play, and rigging elections.

Somewhere in the middle of those two you have most of the solar and wind folks- people who are trying to time their risk and investment to the increasing (linked to the price of a barrel of oil?) demand. These two are the mid to long term ‘free clean’ energy sources that make the idea of really cheap energy (“like salt”) feasible. And in this space you see a pretty normal distribution of winners and losers, and I would have expected more losers frankly. Both have been around since the early 20th century, and their time hasn’t arrived yet. Edison supposedly endorsed solar lamenting that he hoped it wouldn’t take us running out of oil and coal to get round to it. These guys have some real patience and will deserve their rewards, provided they stay around to collect it.

The positive take away is that this is a lively market, and normal stuff like reported in the Wired account is a good sign that it isn’t being twisted like Russian you name it.

Collaboration

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Science has changed in the last century. One reason is that the frontiers mostly have footprints in them now. There just aren’t that many places one can set out for with a machete or snow shoes and discover something. Oh you can certainly go places that are remote and discover something new. But these days you have to be able to bring a lot more than you can carry on your back. Take ice cores for example. It takes some production to get the machinery to bore into a mile of ice in Antarctica, pull out the ancient ice, and then get it to a stable protected environment where you can analyze the physical matter in a way that reveals something we don’t already know. Imagine that you have the vision to ice core mountain glaciers, something Lonnie Thompson did starting a few decades back. You would have to figure out how to get there with the gear, get it funded, and then bring the ice back. He did, and today he is curator of the world’s most interesting ice library. And it takes a lot of people and money to keep that going.

Many of the sources for this project cited the key skill in today’s science environment as team building and collaboration. The growing social relevance of climate science has demanded of scientists storytelling and public relations skills that were often absent from the previous generation. Virtually all of what the world knows about climate over the last thirty years is the result of the US Government’s Climate Change Research Program, itself an unprecedented collaboration between what is now thirteen separate federal agencies. Given how bureaucracies work, that such a program exists after several decades, much less continues to pump out results, is a dramatic and remarkable story all by itself. That the subject has been politicized and under torque spin in multiple directions over those decades is another facet of how science is more integrated into our society than ever before.

All of this is highlighted this month by my own experience of working on the project. A month ago, I engaged in a week long intensive collaboration to produce a three and a half minute promo ( you can see it on YouTube here) to illustrate the quality and tone that I want to have 90 minutes of. Such quality requires collaboration. In the constant discussion that the effort required, the ideas and how to execute them were constantly in flux, and each and every value in each and every frame received scrutiny from multiple minds. It is how motion pictures are made today. How one gets the intense richness of today’s feature film is the result of multiple skilled people pushing the content through a deep and technical set of crafts.

The desktop digital video revolution promises that an individual can do all these things themselves. And for the month since that collaboration, I have been working in this manner- on a digital desktop, alone with my source material; my two years of background in the subject, editing and shaping the story lines that make up this remarkable progression into a subject that looms larger everyday in our society.

As a person who has been a part of some pretty great projects that have made it to the broad public through the channel of the motion picture theater, I have to report that the digital desktop experience feels like whittling with a pen knife compared to the buzz of an high quality woodshop that the collaboration was. It is why I spend a bit of each day seeking the resources to put this project back in that environment.

Just as the science is best served today by many minds and hands lifting all the complex aspects of the subject, so too is this story best served by applying the best practices of the communication industry. Consider this an invitation to participate if you have any insight or interest is seeing this product get the best practice application.

Energy = Salt

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Let me summarize one of the strong concepts presented by one of the film’s sources. The idea, the goal really, is to make energy equal to salt.

This goal has multiple levels. First let me start with John Kanzius, a former broadcast executive with a background in physics and radio. While in his Florida retirement, John was experimenting with using radio frequencies to isolate and kill cancer cells. The unexpected finding was that he could make saltwater burn. Check out this news report here. The idea that saltwater could yield net energy is pretty revolutionary. While this got a lot of attention last summer, there are no business or technical announcements of late.

Second, on the metaphorical level, it is first important to remember the history of salt. Salt was fundamental to the development of civilization. As a food preservative, it helped reduce our seasonal vulnerability to food supplies, and made it possible for us to travel great distances. Salt has been used as payment dating back to the Romans, and been the issue in many wars. Gandhi organized the Salt March to protest the British salt tax upon Indians. Today salt is a cheap commodity.

Energy has many parallels to salt. It is a foundation of our current way of life. We have used and exploited the cheapest and most easily accessible forms of energy throughout history to have it, and today we are dependent on fossil fuels that took hundreds of thousands of years to form, for our ease of life, and our very thriving on the planet.
However, our sense of limits forces us to harbor closely our supplies, and to go to war over our access to fossil fuels.

One of my interview subjects suggested that our immediate goal should be to “make energy like salt- a cheap commodity we used to fight wars about”.
Think about that. What stands between us and this goal?