March Newsletter--Spring is nearly here....
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News and Views
I attended a Green Energy Conference in Washington DC in January 20-22 at Ronald Reagan Building and blogged about my thoughts that we are at a crisis point since Copenhagen proved to be such a disaster and President Obama has found the Senate more intractable in terms of passing a serious climate treaty. But the meeting pointed out strongly the disconnect between the media, the scientific and advocacy community. You can get more of the mood of the conference by viewing the opening session video. This video brings up the key issue is that you cannot create the jobs we now need very badly by building on the old economic model--first it is unsustainable to continue using the resources we have been depleting and second as one speaker states--"the bow wave of ecological debt" was being sent to other countries for payment." We were not as wealthy as we thought. If we are to be successful we have to restructure our economy around a green economy. Browse the the rest of the videos to see potential directions.
As I mention below-- public opinion now does not seem on our side--given the exceptionally cold winter larger numbers of people are either disbelieving the science around global warming or not valuing it. This is not a joke. People are reverting back to skepticism in quite large numbers persuaded by what they view as "evidence" that contradicts the science--not realizing that the exceptional weather is linked to global warming in that when the planet heats up it fuels more intense weather --so that Friedman believes that a better name for global warming might be "global wierding."
So because scientists have not been able to get their message across there are now a large number of serious doubters. According to a Guardian article
Public conviction about the threat of climate change has declined sharply after months of questions over the science and growing disillusionment with government action, a leading British poll has found.
“The proportion of adults who believe climate change is "definitely" a reality dropped by 30% over the last year, from 44% to 31%, in the latest survey by Ipsos Mori.
Overall around nine out of 10 people questioned still appear to accept some degree of global warming. But the steep drop in those without doubts will raise fears that it will be harder to persuade the public to support actions to curb the problem, particularly higher prices for energy and other goods.”
We already know that in the US the numbers are also lower (again via a Guardian survey) than they should be if governments are really to tackle the problem:
“Only about 47% of the (US) public views climate change as a very serious problem, a finding that has remained stable over the years, the survey said. In other public opinion polls over the years, climate change has ranked near the bottom of the list of pressing problems.
According to a Brookings Public Opinion Survey of January 2010, "the struggling national economy is a likely determinant of the softened support levels." They cite the following declines in the percentage of Americans willing to pay anything for more renewable energy which "increased from 22 percent to 33 percent over the last year. Among those willing to pay some amount of money to get more renewable energy there was a notable decline in the percentages of those willing to pay $250 or more per year for this cause. In 2008, 17 percent of Americans said they would be willing to pay at least $250 each year to increase renewable energy production, but in 2009, only 5 percent held this position."
So when you look around the world
as the World Public Opinion organization did last year they found that the US
was among the lowest in wanting increased government action on climate change:
"Asked how high a priority their government should place on addressing climate change, most want a high priority--on average 7.33 on a 0-10 scale. The highest mean levels are found in Mexico (9.09), China (8.86), Turkey (8.34), and France (8.03).
Only three nations had means below 6. The lowest was the United States (4.71) followed by the Palestinian territories (4.91) and Iraq (5.14).
On average across all nations polled, 73 percent think their government should give climate change a priority between 6 and 10; 12 percent think this priority should be between 0 and 4; and 9 percent say it should be a 5."
So still a lot of room in the US for some public awareness and advocacy work around these set of issues.
Matt Frei BBC AmericaBBC America has been granted unprecedented access to Cuba over the next few days and I watched today the first broadcast with Matt Frei following an ordinary Cuban family through their day. Essential points--- the infrastructure seems in great decline—buildings seem old and in need of repair—old cars have been parked for years on the streets. Wages are extremely low and it is hard for even a two earner family to make a living. That said the health care seems excellent with a nurse who visits the elderly on a regular basis, schools seem very rigorous and fresh food seems plentiful now that the Cuban government gave permission for farmers to work privately and independently. But watching BBC America as regularly as I do, I am struck by a larger point. How much more international coverage there is and how relatively unbiased the information is allowed to flow with out the sensationalistic spin that is now endemic to all major US broadcast networks including CNN. On the same broadcast they covered the power struggle in Nigeria, the Ukraine election and got time in to discuss Toyota’s woes and the Presidents’ healthcare summit. My non scientific survey of the US media at the same time seemed obsessed with the awful killing of the marine trainer who was tragically mauled by a killer whale at an Orlando Sea World and the Olympics. The idea that any American network would do the kind of impartial job that BBC America will do over the next few days—focusing in on an ordinary family and their life in Cuba is hard to imagine. But rather than constantly moan at the US media—which can under the right circumstances do superb international broadcasting –particularly that accomplished by Frontline and PBS’ NewsHour-- we should rather be thankful to live at a time when on most basic cable channels we can now access TV stations broadcasting from Russia, France and of course Al Jazerra and of course BBC America whose hour long show at 10:00 am nightly is must watch TV for me.
Drinking more than two cokes a week can kill you. According to Reuters “A Singapore Chinese Health Study published in the medical journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention showed “that regular soda drinkers had an 87% higher chance of getting the cancer than people who drank fruit juice, the researchers followed 60,000 people over 14 years. What will we do to educate the world that the western diet that includes plenty of Coke and Pepsi and McDonalds can kill? Surely a challenge for ethical corporate leaders of US fast food firms to really figure out healthy diet choices as some chains having been trying to do?
Connecting the Dots
One of the stranger issues to emerge from the Toyota debacle was the company’s failure to connect the dots when they received information that models of their cars in Europe and elsewhere were subject to safety concerns. President Akio Toyoda, grandson of Toyota admitted that the firms’ goal was to overtake GM and that they grew too fast to reach that goal and increase profits. In an opinion piece for the Washington Post recently that the company had “failed to connect the dots” between the sticky pedals in Europe, surfacing as early as December 2008, and those in the U.S. that culminated in the massive recalls. He also said, “The Company needed to improve sharing important quality and safety information across our global operations.” If Toyota cannot really perform as a global company—does that indicate something about how difficult it is to manage global corporations? Does it say anything about what we need to do in own lives to simply connect the dots?
I attended this week a book signing with Edwin Black a New York Times award winning investigative researcher, author of some groundbreaking books such as IBM in the Holocaust, published in 2001 that "tells the story of IBM's conscious involvement-directly and through its subsidiaries-in the Holocaust, as well as its involvement in the Nazi war machine that murdered millions of others throughout Europe". His next book the War Against the Weak, published in 2003, documented the rise of US eugenics movement in the first decades of the 20th century, “The campaign forcibly sterilized some 60,000 Americans by virtue of racist, pseudoscientific legislation in 27 states eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.” After a book documenting the history of corruption in Iraq—Banking on Baghdad, in 2006 he published
Internal Combustion, documenting how corporations subverted clean energy alternatives throughout the last century. The books are written by teams of people who work in libraries throughout the world assembling materials that have been difficult for conventional researchers to find or even know about. He tells the story of how when he pays visits to archives the most useful folders he finds are the ones marked “miscellaneous”
Edwin Black makes a mind blowing 300 personal appearances a year and is an impressive gentleman with an impressive command of recondite facts and a firm clear speaking style. He is on a mission these days as he believes we in the US are singularly unprepared for the energy crisis that is all but inevitable the day that the oil runs out. In his book, The Plan he details how easy it would be for one country or another to seize the few choke points through which the mass of Middle Eastern oil is shipped. The country simply does not have any plan beyond the strategic reserve which could last up to 60 days runs out, other than commandeering tankers and directing them to US ports. He believes the cash for clunkers program was the last chance we had to develop a plan. The problem with the cash for clunkers approach was that the goal was not set high enough—you could simply swap out a vehicle that was 4-5 miles per gallon more fuel efficient. We will not of course impose an energy tax that makes us virtually dependent upon middle eastern oil indefinitely as it makes it currently uneconomic to invest in alternatives when gas is under $3.00 a gallon, less than the price of bottled water.
I have been invited to speak at the New York Institute of Technology’s “Engaging NYiT’s 2010 Interdisciplinary Symposium” on March 19th 2009.
I am also planning to attend the SITE annual conference in San Diego
Where I will be giving a workshop with one of my very admired colleagues Dr Kathy King of Teacher from Fordham University and co-host of Teachers Pod cast “ Preparing our Students for a 21st Century Globally Integrated World” on Monday March 29th 2009.
Resources of Interest
I recently ran across a non profit organization, Teachers Without Borders. Founded
in 2000 TWB has members in 183 countries they specialize in “gathering and creating free and open educational resources; empowering the voices of innovative and compassionate teachers and community leaders; and nurturing partnerships from the village to the government.” Our content is derived from the collective wisdom of our teacher members, rather than a broadcast model of right answers. I invite readers to comment on how useful they find these resources.
Bill Gates at TED Talks Bill Gates new website/blog--"The Gates Notes" is full of fascinating material. He is a global thinker and without doubt one of the most influential--I recommend you take a look at his TED talk on climate change and why we need to focus on 2050 as the year when we reduce the world's carbon emissions to zero. He has some very important thoughts about how we can get their via a coordinated R&D program that provides incentives to hundreds of companies to innovate in strategic areas where the five leading alternatives to fossil fuel (solar photovoltaic, solar heat, wind, nuclear, carbon capture) have problems.
So thanks for reading and being part of myglobalpicture community-- have a happy and productive "green" spring and please stay in touch
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org