Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Change in command

Thursday, 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’

Monday, 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”

Wednesday, 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

Tuesday, 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.

Screening the public

Wednesday, 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!

Old Windows need replacing

Thursday, 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.

Landmarks- data

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

As the months go by, more and more signs appear on the horizon that the market is coming to the project, and it is time to get it in circulation, regardless of where it is in its own evolution.
And each day, I see items across the spectrum that show that fundamentally, people, wherever they stand on the issue of climate change, don’t have a good understanding of science, how it works, or how scientists have brought us to the state of knowledge that we have.
So let me get out in words as best I can those fundamental things.
First and foremost, is data. That objective repeatedly observable stuff that is part of the physical world. As Stephen Schneider says in the film, “there is no such thing as a democratic flood or a republican drought.” Data just is. Depending on how it is observed, there is variations, and there can be a great deal of variation in how it is interpreted, but the first task of science is to produce really good data.
Second, there are multiple data sets. In an area of interest such as climate, these are almost infinite. The climate is a very complex set of systems and sub systems that interact and have both visible and nearly invisible phenomena. So it is to be expected that there will always be some sub set of contradictory data points.
In order to have any deeper understanding, scientists come up with theories. A theory is an attempt to describe the situation in a way that makes it possible for us to understand and have the power to anticipate and use that understanding to our advantage.
For example, until Newton described gravity, it just was, but his theory gave us an understanding that made it possible to understand why things fell. Nobody argued with it, although there was plenty of work to be done on the subject of gravity. Newton’s theory wasn’t a good enough description of gravity to send a rocket to the moon for instance. Others came along and added and refined and now average people can’t even get a good grip on physics.
Today in climate, there is only one theory that adequately describes the totality of the data. That there are contradictory details does not invalidate or make this tool useless. Those who present this data do not have an alternative theory that has stood up to the standard tests of observation and repeatability. That is why they don’t get space in scientific journals.
The person who can present an alternative would be the most famous scientist of our times. And thousands of very smart people are working on that right now. But they keep coming up with stuff that is ultimately very neatly explained by humans having burned fossil fuels for the last century and a half. That explanation stands up when sliced and diced by methods of analysis that reveal the flaws in famous past errors in science.

On the social side of the issue, let me share with you something you probably don’t see in the midst of all the go green consumption promotion, or the ‘its over’ conclusions (due to this year’s winter having been cold enough): The current issue of CFO magazine has this article “How to Run Supply Chains on Less Oil”. Packed full of such advanced thinking as “pack smarter, ( meaning the trucks that ship your goods ) and “streamline the fleet” CFO’s are also advised to rethink just in time production, and localizing warehouses. There really isn’t a green word in the article. It isn’t about the environment, but rather efficiency.
How remarkable that the very thing that radical environmentalists have been calling for for years, and something of keen interest to capitalists since before Adam Smith, are now worthy of application. There are many benefits to the choices that are appropriate responses to what we know and don’t know about climate. And it begs the question of why we haven’t been taking advantage of them.

Can virtue change the world?

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Robert B. Reich has written an article in web edition of The American Prospect that suggests “It’s naive to think corporations can or will sacrifice profits to fight climate change. Firms that go green to improve their public relations, or cut their costs are being smart — not virtuous.”

I have to question virtue as a motivation. While the vast majority aspire to be virtuous, the number is exceeded by those that are hypocrites. We all want nicer homes, better jobs, a better something. None of us want to do the wrong thing just to get them, but we often do. Not out of being evil, no.

More by design, or a failure of it. As articulated in “Cradle to Cradle”William McDonough & Michael Braungart show how we have unwittingly fallen into a immense bad design problem.

Most of us intuitively know and understand that we will act in our own self interest. George Washington did. He stated that the real difference in men is in how they define ’self’. For some people ’self’ is just them and their immediate family. For others it is a whole community or society.

Well MCDonough and Braungart lay out a very good case for how poorly we have designed, and therefore defined, what self interest is in the industrialized society. And they suggest that application of our brains, including our imaginations, to redefining and designing how we construct our society, as well as our goods, can transform ourselves as well.

One can’t fault Reich for being cynical about corporations. But it certainly hasn’t been successful to expect the society to change out of virtue. Self interest will continue to rule. Will we come to see a redesign of our society, which by definition must depend on government ( on this Reich and I agree) from anything less?

Polarity

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

There is a lot of response to Al Gore winning the Nobel Prize. As with all things Al, there is plenty of polarity to this. Equally interesting is all the speculation about what this means for the issue, for the presidential election, etc. It has also brought out a lot of stuff that has already been said, like just how many things are wrong with details about how Gore and by association other ‘enviros’ are overstating the situation. Given how little it takes to rend the social fabric ( recall the wild west video of post Katrina New Orleans) it doesn’t seem that outrageous, but still I don’t like any data manipulated. I don’t think most people need to be jerked around to get them to think, or act.

So one thing to come to my inbox was an article by Patrick Michaels that appeared in the National Review just before the Academy Awards. It took issue with both Al Gore and George Bush relevant to climate change. This is what seeing it seven months later suggested to me-

On the issue of the ice melting- everything we thought we knew about it has been proven wrong in the last three years. There is a forty year minimum lag in carbon loading the system at least, so the trends we see now can be expected to continue, and most of the discussion is about how many degrees increase will that known load actually cause. When it melts isn’t as significant as how soon can we stop adding to the reason it is melting. It is probably going to melt within a couple hundred years, but that isn’t really our first problem.

What we don’t know are the effects are of specific impacts on the biosphere. Most of the surprises we have right now are not about the ‘highs; but how ‘lows’ have risen. This gives us the massive die off of pines in the northwest, especially BC, where the dead trees are now over a half a million acres. This is because the winters aren’t cold enough to kill off the pine beetle. This sort of stuff - unpredictable because the biosphere is relatively understudied and not understood, but critical to our economic and resource matrices - is going to multiply, even if we see only the low range of the possibilities. There are also the increases in extremes- highs, floods, range of storms etc.

So the realistic set of things to do is be prepared to adapt in whatever way circumstances require. The best adaptation preparation requires lots of cheap clean energy, and the ability to rebuild our society wherever the food and water supplies will be stable. So a whole new energy and building reinvention is called for. Transportation is right there too. Ultimately we don’t want to be burning anything to heat, run or cool anything. Electricity is the most flexible and portable energy, and the sun dumps more than enough energy to generate the electricity we need on virtually every part of the globe, even the higher latitudes. The existing grid, enhanced and regated, becomes a method of distributing from where ever it is sunny to wherever it is cloudy or dark. Eliminates issues of mass storage, and lets everyone decide for themselves if they want to be in the energy selling business. Done right, it won’t be a big decision, because we should be trying to make energy like salt, a cheap available commodity we used to have wars about. Everything else is a negotiation with death of the existing paradigm, which is to be expected. Maybe soy for fuel is a good way to help farmers deal with the fact that their land is going to be changing right underneath them. That is a marketplace equation of its own, although heavily stilted by corrupted political processes.

All of that means that virtually all the current ‘energy’ companies, to say nothing of the automakers, have to reinvent themselves, and most of the political fight right now is about how to suck the public trough while not doing that. Like many of the other ills of our society, this is about some very rich people wanting to be richer still while the community is not served. Every aspect of regulation today that is considered onerous by fair minded people had its start in trying to reign in an unintended consequence or design flaws of the industrial evolution. Why are we so calm about the fact that a food stock like tuna is being restricted because of heavy metals accumulating in them? This is a direct consequence of poor design and accounting of the true costs of the industrial processes that put those metals in the water in the first place. Today there is no ‘away’. There are too many of us to think we can just go somewhere else and find clean air and water. Even those who want to leave the planet.

The real legislation we want is about encouraging a huge investment in clean energy, a big tax break for people buying clean cars, appliances, and a huge advantage for those who build ‘green’ buildings. The carbon marketplace needs good governance too. We also need to create fees on those who don’t adapt to pay for the losers in this - coal miners who will be retrained to be solar installers etc.

At the end of the day, everything that should be done in response to climate change turns out to be great for energy independence, which translates into national security and a foreign policy clean up, and economic vitality, since the people that solve the cheap energy puzzle first get to lead the world in this. Check the price of oil and steel. These are just beginning their inflation; given the scale of development in the world and that there are four billion people that want to live as well as us. We should be figuring out how to get rich making it possible, instead of arguing about what might be two percent of the gross world product over a hundred years to figure this out.

Alternative channels

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

While working on getting the NOAA project together, one of the frustrations is with the existing channels and their various mechanisms for filtering. Originally we conceived extracting the elements of drama from the NOAA story, putting them in the hands of an award winning writer who has experience fictionalizing reality, and producing a dramatization that would fit the most widely seen stories in our society- prime time television. In spite of the recent success of science oriented dramatic presentations (CSI & Numb3rs for instance) we got no traction at the development offices of the big broadcasters. It was not a ‘procedure’ crime show like CSI, nor was it clear enough to development folks just “who dies this hour”. So at this stage we have taken up the more conventional approach and are pitching a documentary pilot. Even that has its frustrations as the mechanisms are not funnels attempting to gather all the ideas and filter for the most appropriate or marketable, or cost efficient to produce a net gain.
So the idea of alternative channels keeps popping up. Is IPTV going to be a breakthrough? I can’t say. But over the past weekend I saw one example of a creative inspiration applied to create a new alternative channel to the fine art audience.
“Ashes and Snow” is currently on display by the pier in Santa Monica, in what is a far more interesting an example of an artist developing an alternative channel than it is as either art or nature conservancy, which is the project’s stated purpose. The site of the project is more about experiencing the project than learning about it. Here is a better description of the artist and his background.
The most fascinating aspect I found was not the impressive photos of animals and people together, nor the very cool architecture ( shipping containers as walls, large paper columns supporting a fabric roof, plank floors and black river rocks for floors, the swag stor all out of large cardboard) but the fact that in a totally artist organized and defined place and space, people were going, at about $12 per average, to see this presentation. The artist not only concieved and created the conventional forms of photos and films that were the content, but the package, the marketing and every other aspect of delivery to the audience. Truly an alternative channel.