Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Lovable Climate Change Skeptics

There are many ways to interact with a global warming skeptic. One site offers "How to Talk to a Skeptic" line by line.

But I don't recall ever being approached by a skeptic who said "please tell me how wrong I am." We all have a given amount of energy and we have to decide where to invest it.

I have 3 very dear friends who are pronounced skeptics each for vastly different reasons. I have another 3,000 friends who are not skeptics, but it is these 3 that vex me sometimes because I LIKE them and RESPECT them for being wonderful, intelligent, humorous, kind people. One is an astrophysicist PhD and dean, one is a modern day medicine man who was also my doula, and one is a brilliant metal artist.

As a teacher I strive to give people the tools to development discernment of the truth. But those people have paid tuition which implies they have asked for my direction in their development. My three amigos have not asked that of me.

So how do I deal with those 3 people? I LIKE and RESPECT them. They don't have to think like me, read what I read, live like I do - they can just be themselves. They are perfectly wonderful people. Occasionally I tease them I will prepare a delicious dinner of Roasted Crow for them to eat. But then again, I may have to eat my own cooking and if that happens I can only hope they will be as gracious to me as I strive to be to them now.

There are few issues that warrant damaging or limiting relationships especially when those relationships are so highly prized.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Power to the States

On today there was an article reporting Obama had sent a memo asking the EPA to consider allowing 14 states to set tougher emission standards. I have to say, I respect states that want to be more accountable than the minimum required under federal law.

We saw this with California when they changed their building codes in response to the 1970s oil crisis. They now use 40% less energy per capita than the national average. They dared to be better and build better and they accomplished both. Impressive. I sometimes wonder if California is their own country or really part of the U.S.

Also, in my UK building newsletter, they reported that Obama is looking to UK for leadership in green building. They have the "Code for Sustainable Homes" that puts our green efforts at a distant second. As a building code, it may be a tad tough to achieve, but at least they set the bar high. It is about time we "adopt and adapt" some proven sustainability ideas from our "socialist" neighbors who figured out some of these challenges years ago.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Vancouver Miracle

What makes it a miracle is the transformation from forgotten dump to world class city in just a short 30 year time span.

I was fortunate to work for one of the original architecture/planning firms that helped facilitate this change. I chronicled the stories as told by the inner circle. They were stories about change, collaboration, humility, courage, political will, visionary foresight, and hope.

Sounds like some guy in the White House doesn't it? But Vancouver wasn't just a top down miracle, it was ALSO a grassroots effort and an economic business decision. You might call it a convergence of ordinary flawed human beings who were committed to making their corner of the world better for themselves and for future generations.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lightning in Ojo

Ojo Caliente, New Mexico is where I first encountered Sustainability on the ground. Johnny Waterman gave me a tour of his off-grid home. He educated me on solar energy, small wind turbines, passive solar, grey water, black water, composting and rain catchment systems.

His 3,000 square foot home cost him $14 per month to operate. It was mortgage free also. I knew he was a retired physics teacher so I asked him what he did for a living now.

"ANYTHING I WANT TO," Johnny replied with a smile. That was my lightning bolt.

I returned to Dallas. I paid my $2,000 mortgage, $450 electric bill, the $200 lawn care bill, the $1,200 nanny, the $1,000 car payment, the $250 water bill. Johnny lived on 9,000 gallons of water per year. My water bill showed I had used 27,000 gallons in ONE month. I used a three year supply of water in 30 days. Lightning strikes twice.

Johnny was a kind teacher. He did not belittle me for my excess and ignorance. He spoke his truth and let me convict myself. As I read about America's green CEOs I see a similar pattern. Each was approached by a trusted friend and were ready and able to hear the message without someone screaming at them. We are all always learning.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Spy

We were honored to have Senator Paul Muegge (center) speak at the Sustainable Enterprise class at OSU yesterday. Mr. Muegge was in the Oklahoma State Legislature for 12 years and won the JFK Award for Profiles in Courage in 2004 for his stand against the hog CAFO industry in Oklahoma. He also appeared in the documentary "Shall we Gather at the River" which is about the environmental consequences of the poultry CAFOs in Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma.

It was a public lecture and the turn out was an interesting mix of people: a few retired professors who have followed Paul Muegge's career, a few curious Ag Econ professors, community members, and 14 lucky OSU students enrolled in the class who get to be on the front lines.

Mr. Muegge is a straight shooter. The talk was very candid. The strange part was that there were someone from Tyson in the audience. He is a paid expert witness who testifies in the court cases on behalf of Tyson. The newspaper in Stillwater did run a front page story that Mr. Muegge's lecture was open to the public so anyone was welcomed. It just seemed this person came to spy but not to dialogue or offer other opinions to explore. We try to hear all sides in a classroom and help students develop discernment. Someone mentioned the state of Oklahoma had spent $25 million in legal fees against the poultry producers (Tyson included).

A central tenant of Sustainability is TRANSPARENCY. Hidden agendas are not necessary, not appreciated, and not part of authentic sustainable business. In the lecture it was mentioned that Tyson controls 85% of our beef, chicken, and pork eaten in America and our role as a consumer is to keep American corporations honest by watching them, demanding safety and quality, and supporting the enterprises that uphold Sustainability principles. I, for one, will rethink my next chicken purchase at the grocery story.

Photo: Jane Talkington, Senator Paul Muegge, Bill Holmes during an Oklahoma Sustainability Network state board meeting.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Wind-Wind Situation

Harnessing the wind has propelled our civilization for thousands of explore, to trade, to hunt, to war, to pleasure. A wind turbine is a beautifully designed, elegant solution.

Photo credit A figure from Antony Gormley's "Another Place" welcomes one of the Tall Ships to Merseyside as it sails past the Burbo Bank windfarm on the approach to the Port of Liverpool on July 18, 2008, Liverpool, England. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Born Knowin' Nuttin'

Knowin' Nuttin is Oklahoma-speak for "Knowing Nothing" as in we are all born knowing nothing and only through our own efforts and the efforts of benevolent teachers and parents and community do we learn anything at all. So people are often surprised that I listen to global warming skeptics. I'm curious about how they came to hold their belief system about climate change. They obviously have had a different set of information thrown in their path so I'm curious to see if their position is based on science or second-hand science or group think or their religion or their politician or denial to remain sane, et al.

Scientists state that science is an evolving field that builds on cumulative knowledge. That makes a lot of sense to me. It takes great humility to be able to adjust your position based on new facts as they become available. The opposite would be true, supreme arrogance, if scientists carved every theory in stone. The media can be unforgiving of this evolution. Even by definition a "learning process" is a process, adaptable, shifting, learning, cumulative. There is new discussion that climate change is just a risk management analysis. Being able to access which path to take is less about arguing about the validity of the science and more about being able to recognize and choose the least risk option.

Different Places

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cree Indian Prophecy

"Only after the last tree has been cut down, only after the last river has been poisoned, only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten."

Stevie "no wonder" Forbes

Steve Forbes of Forbes Magazine spoke at OSU today. He chronicled the events and people that created the economic crisis then he listed his recommendations to fix the economy for the new administration. I was impressed by how gracious Mr. Forbes was toward President Obama, especially considering Mr. Forbes made two attempts to get the Republican Presidential Nomination. He showed deep respect and reverence for Mr. Obama as a person and encouraged all Republicans to support him which is a message this red state desperately needed to hear. He praised Obama's intellect and his collaborative approach.

I did disagree with one of Mr. Forbes' recommendations. He suggested the federal government guarantee home loans of 4% through the banks in order to jump start the housing market. At first blush this seems like a good thing. But having lived in a tower in downtown Vancouver BC as well as a single family home in the sprawling suburbs of Ft. Worth I now take a strong, yet unpopular position AGAINST single family homes. Single family homes are the BANE of sustainable societies.

Having personal expertise in these two industries (home building and sustainability) I predict with some confidence a 4% mortgage would indeed send people running to the builders demanding more single family homes in the suburbs. They would be even bigger homes that used even more energy. Fewer than 10% of all homes built in this country have been constructed to meet Energy Star standards. Why is that? Energy Star only requires that a home tests out to be 15% more energy efficient that a home built to the minimum code. How hard is that? Evidently it is daunting for the majority of the builders. More homes means more carbon dioxide spewing into the air.

More (big, energy inefficient) homes also means more sprawl because few cities have government officials who grasp the long term financial implications of sprawl. Or care. More infrastructure such as sewer maintenance, water service, fire and police protection. More sprawl means mass transit becomes even more unfeasible. Sprawl means more single occupant vehicles driving further to work so carbon dioxide emissions increase even more.

Yes, a frenzy of home building would create jobs but at what environmental costs? Mr. Forbes no doubt understands monetary policy more than I do but does he understand systems thinking and has he considered the irreparable environmental impacts of generating massive economic growth rates? I listened closely and never heard Mr. Forbes say the words "environment, natural resources, degradation, or sustainable economy." I was disappointed because I expect smart people to hold a more sustainable state of mind. Economic activity is based on natural resource extraction so basing our existence on economic growth without asking if we have the resources to support that growth is not wise. No, worse, it is foolish.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Meth in Oklahoma" TV Show Tues 6:30 pm

There are 86,000 Meth addicts in Oklahoma, a state of 3 million. I see every social problem as a symptom of some unsustainable practice. What is it about our state that drives people to be illiterate, unhappy, high-seeking, and Inhofe devotees?

The police got rid of 90% of the meth labs a few years ago so now the users just import it from Mexico. The supply will always find a way to fill a market demand. So it begs the question , why is there a demand for this life-wrecking product??

Just because you don't use this drug doesn't mean it doesn't affect you. You drive on the same streets, you shop with them, you are their neighbor, and you will likely be their victim either indirectly or directly. Over Christmas someone broke into my car in my driveway and stole $1,500 of merchandise. It was likely a drug user needing cash to fund his habit.

When you run a business you will have to find qualified, trainable, drug-free people to hire as employees. Good luck in Oklahoma. Half the students who start high school in Oklahoma City do not graduate. You may have greened the supply chain, lowered the carbon footprint of your product, recycle, and support green business in every way possible, but with a workforce with these kind of issues, you will be limited in your success at running a green company.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Learning Curve Balls

If we could read a book per class, boy howdy we would really be able to establish green business in your minds. First we have to establish what the problems are, hash out the science to understand those issues, determine what the constraints are, and finally what the solutions might look like. But no solution is perfect so then we create more problems and more constraints.

What I can do is give you 28 articles on various topics and point you toward the top resources and authors should you ever need to investigate it further.

I do consulting in Green Building. I tell clients that when they google that term they will find 23,000,000 links to investigate. If they spent one minute per site, night and day, every day of the year, it would take 43 years to investigate those links. The other option is to ask me to identify the top 20. That is what I can do for you as students - shorten your learning curve or at least your wandering curve. I have spent five years in Sustainability following rabbit trails, tracking trends, reading authors, etc. I have 16 weeks to sell you the top 20 things you should know.