Category: Policy

A Fictional Letter to the New York Times

This is a preview of some writing I’ve been doing lately. It’s a fictional letter to the editor of the New York Times, written (again, fictionally) on December 12, 2009. Enjoy! Comments most welcome.

To the people of New York City:

I invite you to imagine life fifty years from now. Set politics and religion aside, and just imagine New York in the year 2059.

Going to the Stock Exchange? Better take a water taxi – unless you’re a strong swimmer. The buildings around Wall Street were sealed off years ago on their lower stories and the streets are now navigated with water taxis and gondolas, similar to Venice. The water levels do fluctuate several feet at times, but New Yorkers are quite adaptable.

In fifty years, the coastlines of Brooklyn, Long Island, and the Bronx have been dramatically altered, in many cases beaches and whole communities erased. The resulting move inland has caused real estate prices to rise ever higher – harder still to imagine than a watery Wall Street, I know.

Fifty years hence, higher sea levels have given severe storms much more water to funnel toward the city. Surges of water come from both Long Island Sound and the Verrazano Narrows. Vital infrastructure — hospitals, sewage treatment plants, communication conduits – has been paralyzed by flooding with corrosive seawater. It took decades and billions of dollars to rebuild them, and some were simply abandoned.

Like hot weather? Hope so, because here in New York, in fifty years, we now have close to 50 days a year with temperatures over 50 degrees. And about 600 heat-related deaths each year.

Are you fond of good music and good parties? You’ll have to find them closer to home, because New Orleans no longer exists. It was buried under water about ten years ago and has been left for dead.

Is this just fantasy, or, at best, science fiction? Afraid not. And New York is not alone. Since all life on the planet is connected in an intricate web, the effects are everywhere. Collapsed economies, dying ecosystems, disappearing fresh water sources, floods, droughts, resource wars, and increased terrorism, to name just a few. I’ll give just a few examples, but read on to the end, because I also have very specific advice for how you can avoid or at least mitigate these effects. Think of it as a legacy project. What do you intend to leave behind for your loved ones?

Humanity opened a Pandora’s box with our years of burning fossil fuels and emitting the carbon dioxide that warmed our atmosphere. Once nature began her response, she magnified the effects pretty quickly. Think: runaway freight train.

I had a lot of paragraphs written about species extinction, disappearing forests, dying coral reefs, droughts that have killed millions, hundreds of millions of people homeless from coastal flooding. Millions with no access to fresh water because their sources – mountain glaciers – have melted and gone the way of the dinasaurs.

But you don’t live near a melting glacier, do you? And you probably don’t know any of those people who have been flooded out or starved by famine.

I could also go on about worldwide instability of governments, social structures, and economic systems. About the intensification of the divide between “haves” and “have-nots.” Between rich countries in temperate zones, where wealth and technology provide a buffer against climate risk and poor countries close to the equator that are deeply exposed to the twin climate hazards of flood and drought.

But that’s all pretty abstract and far in the future. Reading that probably didn’t even raise your heart rate.

I’ll also refrain from going into detail about fuel costs and trade embargoes that have wreaked havoc with world economies. About political and climate refugees who are increasingly hopeless, funneling into global terrorist cells and crime syndicates.

Because, let’s face it. In fifty years, you may very well not be alive, having lived a full life and died well.

Ah, but your children or grandchildren, nieces or nephews will still be around to clean up the mess.

Today, scientists and policy makers are currently arguing passionately back and forth over what to do about all this. Some even question whether climate change is real, or whether it’s caused by human activities, or whether it’s happening now. Wonder no more, because here are the answers to those questions:

Yes, yes, and yes.

Besides, and this is harsh, the earth doesn’t care what you believe in.

That out of the way, let’s roll up our sleeves and talk action. If I lived fifty years in the future, I would have a unique perspective on things. In that spirit, here are my suggestions, offered with deep respect and in no particular order. I have divided them into two categories: 1) shift your thinking and 2) things to do now.

Shift your thinking (or, suspend disbelief, even just until the end of this letter):

  • Don’t fall prey to the schism of believers and non-believers.
  • Don’t rely too much on the science, especially when it threatens people’s values. This will only create resistance and denial.
  • Find ways to talk about the same thing, not a middle ground. There is always a place where people have more in common than we have differences.
  • For those of you who think climate change is a lot of hooey, putting major efforts into innovations in energy efficiency and renewable, clean energy is still the greatest economic development opportunity since the early days of the industrial revolution. Possibly ever. Look around. It’s not just the European countries who are investing heavily in this; it’s also China and India. You don’t want the U.S. to be left behind, do you?
  • This is not about instituting world government, taking away civil liberties, or redistributing wealth.
  • Climate change is not a distant threat, a “what if;” it is already upon us.
  • Never underestimate the critical role of public discourse, civic values, political leadership, cultural habits and economic interests, even spiritual beliefs. Science, wealth and technology do matter, but culture and politics trump them.

Things to do now:

  • Put about 75% of your efforts on making everything in your economy as energy-efficient as possible. Start with buildings, transportation, and agriculture. You have all the technology and knowledge you need to make it all at least 50% more efficient right now. By the way, that 50% is a very low number. I could just as easily have said 85%, but I didn’t want to sound too crazy.
  • Put another 75% into investing in innovations in clean energy sources. No, nuclear doesn’t count. Sorry. And, yes, I realize that adds up to more than 100%. Have I mentioned that there’s plenty of work for everyone?
  • Plant trees. Lots of trees, everywhere you can.
  • Hate to say it, but you’re going to have to build levees and sea defenses. People are already talking about and even designing them. You just didn’t know until I told you.
  • Do not allow fear or despair, or even anger to be your only response.
  • Stop arguing about things that do not matter.
  • Look at your neighbors, smile more. Dance.
  • Look inside; the answers are all within you.
  • And never, never forget that you belong here. This is your home. Humanity is your family. You can design any future you want.

This is a country founded on a hatred of tyranny. Failing to do everything you can to address climate change now is a form of intergenerational tyranny. This generation would, in effect, be imposing its will and wasteful way of life on future inhabitants of this planet, dooming them to the suffering that we residents of 2059 see on a daily basis.

H, F, & C Redux: Virtues of Regulation

I ran across these notes I made from my own reading of “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” last fall. Two stories illustrate Friedman’s point about the importance of incentives and also of standards and regulation. We usually hear the side of the equation that regulations are going to cost the consumer more. This is not necessarily true, because when you are innovating, you can often design something to be manufactured more cheaply.

One example is from when the EPA issued the Tier 2 emission standards for locomotive engines in the early 2000s. It was a standard for NOx, not CO2. It had to do with air quality; carbon was not on the radar back then, although it should have been.

G.E. is the world’s largest maker of locomotives, and they do it in Erie PA. They could have just tweaked their engine design. Instead they looked at it as a clean slate. They went to the drawing board and designed an engine that met those emission standards, was much more fuel efficient, and much more reliable in terms of maintenance. The CEO of the locomotive division openly admits that it was that EPA regulation that caused them to innovate.

By having the standard, your competitor also has to meet the standard. There’s no more guesswork if you put all this time into R & D whether there is going to be a market for your innovation. It turned out that, because the G.E. locomotive was more fuel efficient, it also had much less CO2 emissions. G.E. sells all over the world – to China, India, Europe. Those countries were already starting to put carbon regulations into place. G.E. was ahead of the curve in curbing CO2. Their engine is still one of the only ones that meet the new regulations being passed around the world, including in China.

Another story comes from the early 1970s. Some of us are old enough to recall the brouhaha over the catalytic converter requirement passed in California. The Big Three automakers went to Congress and claimed that if they had to do this, it would cripple the entire American economy. Continued

Green Gas. Greenroof. Greenwash.

 cartoon by: Wilcox

Gasoline production is never actually going to be "green" but to show they really care, British Petroleum has been going the extra mile for the environment in other areas. A Los Angeles BP , Helios House, is the nation’s first station to operate with high "green" standards which includes low-flow toilets, solar panels, a rain-catchment system and floors made from recycled glass, everything green (except its product.) The station also hands out tips on being green and seeds you can plant in your home garden.

Here in Baltimore we have our very own "growing" equivalent. The BP station across from the Museum of Industry off Key Highway has a greenroof on both the convenience store and the car wash. This roof was was planted in spring, 2007 by me, your GOforChange contributor, while working for Furbish Co . The easiest — and probably the only — way to see it is if you have any friends with roof-top decks in South Baltimore. Although most of us can’t see it, it is helping improve air, lowering the urban heat-island effect, and slowing storm water run-off.

Is BP acting "Beyond Petroleum" or is it closer to greenwashing? Listen to NPR news story.

Greenwash is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.” View a list of America’s 10 worst offenders from The Green LIfe.

We have two new programs starting up, including the Green Website Adventure Tour, which begins the week of July 13. Join me on a F*R*E*E phonecall to find out more: Friday, July 3 at 11:00 a.m. EST.

More Pavement = More Or Less Cars?

photo: unknown
What’s Happening with the Intercounty Connector (ICC)
The ICC is one of those things ever-present in the back of the collective mind, the idea of which has been around for several decades, here in Baltimore. It was shot down in the 80’s and again in the 90’s and you just hope it gets shot down during this decade and never comes back. We have a current Maryland administration that is supposed to be more environmental, why is this issue even being considered?

Our volunteer, Debbie Smith, attended a meeting of the Baltimore Chapter of Chesapeake Climate Action Network (BCAN) Tuesday night February 3rd, 2009. There was a very knowledgeable speaker named Greg Smith who led a “Grassroots Discussion of Maryland Environmental and Transportation Priorities.” He can be reached at Community Research of the Anacostia Watershed Society. –
Some of the points that he made about the construction of the ICC were: Continued

The War On Food: It’s Happening In Our Own Backyards

photo by: alyssa
During WWII, Victory Gardens advertised that the war effort could be supported with the help of every American by planting their very own backyard garden. In the early 40’s these gardens produced up to 40 percent of all the vegetable produce being consumed nationally, not to mention positive community growth. This kind of practice, one that gave each American the sense of empowerment, as well as health and well-being during a time of war is now being seen as a major threat to industrial seed producers like Monsanto, ADM, Sodexo, Dupont and Tyson. These companies aren’t just nasty corporations, but are makers of Genetically Modified foods which means they are patenting and branding seeds so that what you grow will be owned by them not you. Read more about Monsanto here . A more disheartening thought is that these companies have a stronghold within the United States government! Heads of the Department of Agriculture since the late 1970’s have worked with Monsanto including Tom Visack, Agriculture’s director for the Obama Administration. I have just read news of a devastating bill that is supposedly on its way to Congress. Its about criminalizing organic farming and could include you, the backyard farmer . A few highlights include the following from the Campaign For Liberty website where you can read the plan in more detail:

Red flags the Campaign for Liberty found ………..

  • Legally binds state agriculture departments to enforce federal guidelines, effectively taking away the states’ power to do anything other than act as food police for the federal dept.
  • Effectively criminalizes organic farming but doesn’t actually use the word organic.
  • Affects anyone growing food even if they are not selling it but consuming it.
  • Affects anyone producing meat of any kind including wild game.
  • Legislation is so broad based that every aspect of growing or producing food can be made illegal. There are no specifics, which is bizarre considering how long the legislation is.

Things you can do…… Continued

The Fight On Energy Efficiency?

photo by: alyssa We were wondering if you’ve heard of Blackle? A new Google search page in black, created by Heap Media. Their idea is that having a black screen on your computer can cut electricity demand. Seemingly insignificant? Blackle was also created to “remind us all of the need to take small steps in our everyday lives to save energy.” I wonder if this might be more effective then the actual energy savings but according to Ecolron a white web page uses about 74 watts to display, while an all black page uses only 59 watts. There is much dispute. Please, tell us what you think. Could this be "green-washing"?

On a local level the fight for energy efficiency is hitting much harder. This just came to me via email with the following concerns from the Green Building Institute. Thanks Janice Romanosky for sending it along:

A key committee in the Maryland House of Delegates will decide this week whether to divert $70 million away from energy efficiency program to bill-payer assistance. The committee will vote as early as Wednesday, so it couldn’t be more urgent. Please call AND fax the Delegates in the areas where you work and urge them to keep the energy efficiency funding in the Strategic Energy Investment Fund as it was passed into law last year.


· Baltimore County – Del. Susan Aumann – (410) 841-3258, fax (410) 841-3163

· Baltimore City – Del. Talmadge Branch – (410) 841-3398, fax (410) 841-3550

· Charles County – Del. Murray Levy – (410) 841-3325, fax (410) 841- 3367

· Montgomery County – Bill Bronrott – (410) 841-3642, fax (410) 841-3026

Please also pass this message along to former clients or colleagues who also believe that energy efficiency is an important part of Maryland’s energy future.


All you Need to Know about the Future of Integrative Medicine

arranged by: alyssa

Just a quick post to encourage those of you who are interested in the role of integrative medicine in health care reform. . . . Our own U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski is holding a week-long series of hearings to elicit the wisdom of the best and brightest in this field. And — the hearing from Monday, 2.23, is all on video ! Go, Babs! What’s next? YouTube?

Among those testifying, be sure to watch Tai Sophia Institute ‘s Bob Duggan and University of Maryland ‘s Brian Berman (my son’s homeopathic doctor). There are more hearings next week, so stay tuned.