Monday, December 10, 2007

Peak Everything:

Waking Up to the
Century of Declines

By Richard Heinberg

New Society Publishers

[About the Author: Richard Heinberg, from Santa Rosa, CA, is widely regarded as one of the world's foremost Peak Oil educators. A member of the core faculty at New College of California and Research Fellow of the Post Carbon Institute, he is an award-winning author of seven books. His monthly Museletter has been in publication since 1992.]

Book Description

The 20th century saw unprecedented growth in population, energy consumption and food production. As the population shifted from rural to urban, the impact of humans on the environment increased dramatically.

The 21st century ushered in an era of declines, in a number of crucial parameters:

* Global oil, natural gas and coal extraction
* Yearly grain harvests
* Climate stability
* Population
* Economic growth
* Fresh water
* Minerals and ores, such as copper and platinum

To adapt to this profoundly different world, we must begin now to make radical changes to our attitudes, behaviors and expectations.

Peak Everything addresses many of the cultural, psychological and practical changes we will have to make as nature rapidly dictates our new limits. This latest book from Richard Heinberg, author of three of the most important books on Peak Oil, touches on the most important aspects of the human condition at this unique moment in time.

A combination of wry commentary and sober forecasting on subjects as diverse as farming and industrial design, this book tells how we might make the transition from The Age of Excess to the Era of Modesty with grace and satisfaction, while preserving the best of our collective achievements. A must-read for individuals, business leaders and policy makers who are serious about effecting real change.

Break Through:

From the Death of Environmentalism
to the Politics of Possibility

By Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus

Book Description

[In the fall of 2004, two young environmentalists, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, triggered a firestorm of controversy with their essay, "The Death of Environmentalism." In it they argued that the politics that dealt with acid rain and smog can't deal with global warming. Society has changed, and our politics have not kept up. Environmentalism must die, they concluded, so that something new can be born. Now, three years later, Break Through delivers on the authors' promise to articulate a new politics for a new century, one focused on aspirations, not complaints, human possibility, not limits.

If environmentalists and progressives are to seize the moment offered by the collapse of the Bush presidency, they must break from the politics of limits, and grapple with some inconvenient truths of their own. The old pollution and conservation paradigms have failed. The nations that ratified the Kyoto protocol have seen their greenhouse gas emissions go up, not down. And tropical rain forest deforestation has accelerated.

What the new ecological crises demand is not that we constrain human power but unleash it. Overcoming global warming demands not pollution control but rather a new kind of economic development. We cannot tear down the old energy economy before building the new one. The invention of the Internet and microchips, the creation of the space program, the birth of the European Union--those breakthroughs were only made possible by big and bold investments in the future.

The era of small thinking is over, the authors claim. We must go beyond small-bore environmentalism and interest-group liberalism to create a politics focused as much on uncommon greatness as the common good.

Break Through offers more than policy prescriptions and demands more than casual consideration. With its challenge to conventional environmentalist, conservative, and progressive thought, and its proposal for a politics of possibility, Break Through will influence the political debate for years to come.]

Questions for Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus Your book grew out of an essay you wrote, "The Death of Environmentalism," that had an impact on the environmental discussion beyond even your own expectations, I assume. What did you argue in the essay, and why do you think it struck a chord?

Shellenberger and Nordhaus: We wrote the essay thinking that it would generate discussion among grantmakers and environmental insiders. We really didn't expect it to go viral and to be read by environmentalists and liberals all over the world. The essay was mostly about the failure of the environmental movement to make much progress on its agenda over the previous decade, but we could just as well have written it about any of the other liberal interest groups over that period. In the months after George W. Bush's reelection, a lot of liberals and environmentalists were ready to take a hard look at their political agenda, the Democratic Party, and the interest groups they supported. For that reason, our essay really did strike a chord.

In the essay, we argued that the great successes of the modern environmental movement in the '60s and '70s had laid the seeds of their failure in the early years of the 21st century. That they had built institutions filled with lawyers and scientists well suited to lobby policy makers who basically shared their world view. This worked well when liberals controlled the Congress and much of the federal bureaucracy, and when the politics of the time were more supportive of active government efforts to regulate the economy and clean up the environment. But as social values shifted through the '80s and '90s, as modern conservatism rose to power, and as the electorate became a good deal more skeptical of both government and environmentalists, these strategies, and the institutions that were created to prosecute them, foundered.

We argued that environmentalists needed to rethink the entire project, that these problems would not be solved simply with better PR and spin. Most especially, we argued that environmentalists needed to stop imagining that they were representing a thing called Nature or the Environment, separate from us (e.g. humans) in politics. It was for this reason that we argued that environmentalism had become a special interest, incapable of addressing large, complex, and global problems such as global warming. You wrote the essay three years ago. What have you learned from the response it got?

Shellenberger and Nordhaus: First and foremost, we learned that there was a generational component to the debate that we really hadn't been conscious of when we wrote the essay. Those who came of age in the '60s and '70s, when the environmental movement, along with the larger liberal political agenda, was ascendant, were most defensive and critical of the essay. Their identities as environmentalists, and their identification with the environmental politics and strategies of that era, were most resistant to the idea that environmentalism needed to die so that a larger, more expansive politics might be born. Younger generations were much more open to our thesis and excited to get to work creating a post environmental movement. This remains the case. As we travel the country speaking to audiences about Break Through, it is younger audience members who are most inspired by our message and most committed to building a movement and a politics that not only saves us from global warming apocalypse but is also equitable, free, and prosperous. On one hand, you argue that global warming is a "monumental" crisis that demands a response beyond the more limited (and limiting) environmental policies of the past. On the other, you acknowledge that, despite a great deal of press attention, "global warming" still ranks at the very bottom of voters' concerns. How do you confront a crisis that voters don't care about?

Shellenberger and Nordhaus: By getting it out of the global warming/environmental ghetto. We know that things like energy independence, getting off oil, getting out of the Middle East, and creating jobs and economic development in the new clean energy industries of the future are much higher priorities for most voters than capping carbon emissions or taxing dirty energy sources. So why not redefine our agenda as the solution to those problems? We can still cap carbon, but that needn't be at the top of the agenda that we communicate to voters. Making big investments to get off oil, making clean energy alternatives widely available and cheap, and creating millions of new jobs in clean energy industries is a winner with American voters and can carry the whole suite of policies that we need to address global warming. It seems that in the 2008 election, the possible candidates who have most identified themselves with environmental issues, like Al Gore and even Newt Gingrich, are sitting this one out, and it hasn't yet become a central issue among the declared candidates. Barack Obama did just give a major speech on the environment that has gotten some attention, though--do you think, despite voter apathy on the subject, that the issue could move the needle for a candidate?

Shellenberger and Nordhaus: We don't think that environmental issues, traditionally defined, including global warming, are likely to be make or break issues politically in this election. Voters simply have too many other pressing concerns, from health care, to energy prices, to the war in Iraq. The key, as noted above, is to reorient our agenda around those higher priority concerns. The good news is that all three leading Democratic candidates have made big commitment to large public investments to build the clean energy economy. Hilary Clinton has announced plans to invest $50 billion dollars, John Edwards recently announced a commitment to invest $13 billion annually, and just last week Barack Obama announced a $150 billion investment plan. The candidates read the same surveys we do. They know that there is extraordinary opportunity politically when we redefine our agenda around clean energy investment. I was fascinated by the section in your book in which you look favorably on Rick Warren's small-group evangelical movement [see The Purpose-Driven Life] as a possible model for providing belonging in our bowling-alone society, but you don't provide many specifics about what a similar environmental movement would look like. Do you have some ideas? Birdwatching? Boy Scouts?

Shellenberger and Nordhaus: We don't provide a lot of answers because we really don't have them. We wrote Break Through not to tell our readers what to do but rather as an invitation to join us in asking the right questions and experimenting with answers. For secular, liberal environmentalists, maybe we will find those "strong ties," through health clubs, or internet chat rooms, or mom's groups, or public service projects. What is key is that we understand that in a highly mobile and autonomous post-industrial society, we need to find easy ways for people to find connection and relationship with other people whom they may never have met, the literal equivalent of the evangelical service that is conducted several times every day, where people can come and go as they want, with child care and dry cleaning and whatever else liberals need to integrate that kind of regular activity into their everyday lives, and then we need to find ways to deepen those ties and connections, in ways that support and affirm secular values and personal autonomy. That is the starting point for creating a powerful secular political movement that is grounded in something more personal than direct mail campaigns, telephone appeals, and email alerts. Some skeptics of your technological optimism argue that the kinds of breakthroughs you expect as a result from massive investment just don't come easily in the energy sector. Solar power, nuclear energy, hydrogen fuel cells: they have all been around for decades without weaning us from oil and coal. What makes you think that the next decades will be different?

Shellenberger and Nordhaus: They are right in part; energy is a sector of the economy that has been particularly resistant to innovation. This is precisely the problem. It is why we are still dependant on energy sources that are 100 to 150 years old while virtually every other sector of the economy has transformed itself. This is why we believe that the faith that many environmentalists still hold that carbon regulations and taxes will drive sufficient private sector investment into energy markets to create the kind of innovation we need is unfounded. It is worth noting that virtually every alternative energy source we have--solar, wind, nuclear, and battery and fuel cell technologies for storage--resulted from public innovation and R&D, not private. The problem is that we haven't done enough of it, and we have done it inconsistently. After a brief couple of years in the late '70s, public funding for clean energy technologies dried up and has been on the decline ever since. The levels of technology investment in the energy sciences pales compared to the kinds of investment we make in the computer and bio-sciences. Skepticism about the potential to achieve the kinds of breakthroughs we need has been a self fulfilling prophecy. We don't make the investments we need to make, the sector fails to innovate, and then we conclude that it can't innovate. All of the barriers to innovation in the energy sector are arguments for a big commitment to public investment. Only the public sector can make the kind of long-term, common investments that we need to overcome those barriers to innovation.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Our Current Reading

Blessed Unrest:
How the Largest Movement in the World
Came in to Being and Why No One Saw it Coming

In his new book, Paul Hawken looks at the history
of the environmental movement and predicts its future.

Interview with the Author

By Elizabeth A. Evitts
April 18, 2007

Paul Hawken has always been ahead of his time. In 1966, he co-founded Erewhon Trading Company, the country’s first natural foods business. Later he launched several successful sustainability-focused companies, including the garden-tool boutique Smith & Hawken, often cited for its environmental awareness. Hawken continued breaking new ground with several books on socially responsible business. His 1993 release The Ecology of Commerce went on to become a cornerstone of business-school curricula.

In his new book, Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came in to Being and Why No One Saw it Coming (Viking), Hawken deciphers the history of the environmental movement and predicts its future. Contemporary environmentalism, he argues, is nothing less than the fruition of a long global uprising to reclaim basic human rights. The book’s May release will coincide with the launch of a website, Wiser Earth, an open source social network with a database of more than 100,000 organizations. Recently Elizabeth A. Evitts talked to Hawken about the book, contemporary environmentalism, and how designers are playing a pivotal role in its evolution.

In Blessed Unrest you go back to the start of the environmental movement. You analyze Emerson and Thoreau, bring us through slavery and abolition to Civil Rights and the impact of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. What inspired this approach?

My work involves giving a lot of speeches and after every one people would come up, ask more questions, and give me their card. Over the years they just piled up until I had literally a huge shopping bag of business cards from nonprofit organizations. I began to wonder how many groups there were. It’s amazing; you just assume somebody knows. But nobody does. So I began to ploddingly try to figure it out. As I did so, I discovered that there were more than 100,000 (there’s in fact over a million, but at the time I only thought more than 100,000). I started to wonder how this compared to other humanitarian or social movements, both past and present. And I couldn’t find anything comparable to it. Then the question was: where did it come from? The easy answer is, well, it’s recent or it’s Earth Day. But it didn’t work that way. It was like pulling a string on a flour bag that went on and on. It was fascinating to see that there is this history that we don’t access. Or if we do, it doesn’t include the idea that there is a cumulative movement of humanity that wants to address the suffering of other forms of life, and specifically now, ecological degradation, economic disease, political corruption, and all of the cascading effects of that. I was surprised at how broad, deep and ancient it really is. What’s happening now is it’s spreading like crazy.

Thus the subtitle of your book: How the Largest Movement in the World Came in to Being and Why No One Saw it Coming.

Exactly. Climate change is certainly a big driver in the last few years, but there’ve been others—poverty, water issues, environmental refugees, war. The other driver is modern communication technologies, which allow groups to organize more easily. Smaller groups can have a much bigger effect than they could have prior to the onset of the internet. They’re connecting better, collaborating better, working as swarms, as some people say.

You write about how this evolving movement will look very different from movements of the past.

There’s no charismatic leader, no center. It’s not ideological. That’s often lost in the reporting of it, because what’s reported is the resistance point of a group saying, "Stop. Don’t." That becomes an interesting event from a media point of view. What goes unreported is the innovation, design, engineering, and social technologies. This is a movement of ideas. And sometimes ideas don’t work and you try another one and that works, and then you try and figure out how to make it work better. It’s an iterative, evolutionary process. It’s tens of thousands of ideas with respect to water, buildings, cities, poverty, women, education, climate and carbon neutrality. You can’t sum them up because they appear all over the place. But they actually do all point north toward a very different world than the one we live in now.

You suggest that the politics of the future are really about fostering unusual alliances that revolve around ideas. Strange bedfellows—evangelicals aligning with environmentalists, for example. Are you seeing this elsewhere?

Yes. At the same time, we find out that we’re not strange bedfellows. We’re human beings and what estranged us is far less important and almost meaningless compared to what is meaningful now. You’re seeing Wal-Mart, for example, quite authentically—and I don’t care what someone else says about them—they’re very committed to 100% renewable energy and a lot of other things that they have not talked about yet. Well, who would’ve thought it? Is that a strange bedfellow or just the American people awakening to core values that now need to be expressed?

This goes back to what you wrote about in The Ecology of Commerce. At the time it seemed an oxymoron to combine those two ideas of nature and business. You were among the first writers who tied sustainability to commerce.

I was and I didn’t get a lot of support at the time. But this week’s cover story of Business Week is called "Beyond the Green Corporation" and the first line is, "Imagine a world in which eco-friendly and socially responsible practices actually help a company’s bottom line." That’s the opening line of the lead story of Business Week. Fourteen years after The Ecology of Commerce was published. When it was published, not a single business publication here would review it. It was reviewed, by the way, but editors wouldn’t publish the reviews.

Why did it take so long for American business to catch on?

They saw it as a threat: "We have a business to run and this is the government’s responsibility." This is the same businessperson that would vote against the government doing anything. They would offload the responsibility, they had a very narrow sense of responsibility. It was to the bottom line, to shareholders. "If we obey the law than that’s all we have to do." That has pretty much been abolished.

In the book you write that green, safe, livable cities are at the fingertips of architects and designers. What do you mean by that?

In the last fifteen years, architects and designers and planners have come up with an array of design technologies. They have started to put them together in ways that drastically reduce the footprint of the city, making it safer and much more livable. The reason you’re not seeing it sooner is simply the way that cities evolve. They’re not clean slates. You don’t just erase a city and put a new one where it was. The rate of change is not as fast as the rate of technical and design innovation. Design is a technology, but you can’t just fix things with technology. You need people who see the world in a different way and then put it together in new ways.

The book talks about the U.S. Green Building Council. You reference architect Edward Mazria for his Architecture 2030 project, which aims to make all buildings carbon neutral by that year. Sometimes it feels as if the industrial design community is the last design discipline to catch on to the idea of sustainability. Why?

The last to catch on are clients, the manufacturers. Look at Ford. They went and designed a green factory, that’s great. They didn’t change the cars that were coming out of the factory and they got walloped by sales, the stock market, energy prices. They had it upside down and backwards. They should have gone to designers for green cars first.

How would you counsel an industrial designer on navigating that conversation with clients? How do they make the case for sustainable design?

When you’re a designer you can be no better than your client. But you’re always in the job of educating them, and part of that education is about perception, costs, positioning. It’s about the future. Are you designing for yesterday, today or tomorrow? The idea of tomorrow has always been the slate, brushed aluminum projectile—if you could take something that was blocky and clunky and make it look like it could be a suppository, than somehow that was supposed to be great design. That paradigm really has to shift. That’s a difficult thing because we’re all kind of primitive. We’re all entranced by baubles. I’m talking about consumers now. Some of the new PDA’s and phones are brilliant—except from a materials and waste point of view they’re not. From that perspective they’re poorly designed. Here you have a system in which the designer is supposed to reposition or redo something so that a product stands out in the marketplace, like the Motorola Razr, and he or she may succeed in that, but they’re not given the full agenda, the full charge, which is: Can you design a product that will be valuable when it comes back to us as well? I remember years ago when HP was forced by pending legislation in Germany to design their printers for disassembly for reuse and recycling. They discovered that assembly time was reduced by, I forget exactly, but about 70 to 80%. A huge savings. Engineers asked, "Why didn’t you do this before?" And the designers said, "Well, you never asked." The talent is there, but the question isn’t there. They have to be asked to design things that fully embody what is possible in terms of material cycles, which is to say that it can be reused continuously and the value goes up. It’s not just about recycling, but it’s about upcycling, which is you design something, you use a material, and then when it’s reused it’s even more valuable than it was before.

You write that it’s time for us to have our Rosa Parks moment, to have someone refuse their seat on the bus so to speak, and upset business as usual. You actually mention Ray Anderson of Interface.

Yeah, I said, maybe he’s the one in hindsight. We don’t know. Rosa Parks wasn’t seen at the time as precipitating a whole movement. But there were women before her as I mention in my book who did the same thing and nothing happened. Then something did happen; there was a convergence because of Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy. A whole bunch of things converged at that point. Whether Ray is that person is for history to decide looking back. But certainly in terms of understanding, comprehending, and then meticulously implementing it piece by piece throughout his company, Ray is definitely a leader.

You designed many of the tools and products sold during your twelve years at the helm of Smith & Hawken. Your Monet bench is still the most popular outdoor bench in America. How has your approach to design changed over the years?

From a systems perspective, if you optimize a component, you pessimize the system. It’s hard for people to get their arms around because we think that if you make all of the pieces better, the whole gets better. That’s not necessarily true. You could say, well, every single thing in the U.S. that we use today, except for some SUVs, uses less energy. Except when you add it all up together, we’re less efficient today than we were 50 or 100 years ago. To me when you design something that is good design, it’s not about how it looks, it’s about what it does. It will appear beautiful if you understand its total impact on the system. That’s one way it’s changed for me. I think of designing systems now.

How important is materials research to breakthrough products?

Absolutely critical. And there are two sides to materials research. First, there are new materials. The second is taking the materials that are everyday, plebian, and redesigning those as well. I saw a hardwood flooring design by a company in Oklahoma and it is made of the pallets that are piling up by the tens of thousands at Ford Motor Company. Owner Joy Nunn is an expert on fiber and so much of our material is fiber if it’s not metallic. With this flooring, you would never know it came from ash or oak pallets. It’s bulletproof, it’s so hard, so tough, and you can do anything with it in terms of textures and appearance. It’s like a new material. This is an example of upcycling where you’re taking fairly hard but not great grades of wood, and then you’re using it until it’s no good anymore and then you’re making beautiful hardwood flooring at a lower cost than regular flooring. It’s kind of elegant.

What would you tell industrial designers about how to be more effective, more creative, while negotiating the realities of the marketplace? What resources would you suggest they tap?

I would say to go to the other design school that they didn’t go to yet—nature. Go to biology and immerse themselves in biomimicry, in biomass. It’s a huge field that’s growing. I have a company, the Pax Group, and our work is based on how fluids flow in nature, not how they flow in a pipe, or how they’re forced to flow by pumps, fans, turbines, or compressors. We’ve taken those flow forms and made fan designs based on them. These designs are more efficient, they save energy, they’re quieter, and there is less or no cavitation in the case of marine propellers. All we’ve done is bow to Mother Nature, which always moves in the path of least resistance. We were talking earlier about design removing stress from the system. Well, there’s a system that has the least amount of stress: it’s called nature. The reason nature does it that way is because it has no choice, it has no V8 engines, no coal-fired plants. We have a motto that nature sucks, and what we mean by that is that nature always draws water or flows to it; it never pushes, never forces. And good design is never forced.

You write about the loss of the public commons and the rise of the creative intellectual commons. Much of this activity is coming from young designers who are sharing software, sharing research, sharing design. Still, the marketplace seems to foster manufacturer paranoia about being knocked off. How would you change this?

I don’t know how I would change it, but it certainly is changing. There’s just a different ethos arising. We’re moving from a world created by privilege—which is a top down world—to one created by community, which is a bottom up world. And that’s going to be true for everything—money, design, planning cities, information, politics. It’s an amazing threshold that we stand upon. The rate of change right now fosters and foments the open source model, because it’s evolutionary. The proprietary model is not. We’re moving to a period, in ecological terms, called perturbation. One hundred twenty five mile per hour winds in Poland and Czechoslovakia last night. That’s so bizarre as to be unthinkable and yet at the rate we’re going that will be 160 miles per hour ten years from now. In a period of perturbation you get a rapid rate of evolution. And that’s what we’re going into. It is exciting, dynamic, hair-raising. It’s the stroke of midnight for the rest of our lives.

You said that you went into this project not knowing how you would feel, but that you came out feeling hopeful.

Very much so. If you look at the data about Poland and Czechoslovakia and you’re hopeful, then you’re not understanding the data. But if you meet and hang out and see the groups and people and organizations, and watch their brilliance, innovation, and creativity and you’re not hopeful, then you don’t have a heart. Both are true and I put my faith on people.

* * *

Original Story Can Be Found At:

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Our Current Reading:

The War of the World:
Descent of the West

by Niall Ferguson

Paperback: 816 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
(March 29, 2007)

We know Ferguson is a British conservative and supporter of 'staying the course' in Iraq. But he's also an important historian and influential public intellectual. This book will give us the occasion for examining the last century in a fresh way. Here's a brief Amazon review. A long one is posted as the first comment.

Reviewer John Matcock: A most interesting view of the 20th century. Certainly the two World Wars were the climatic moments, but he also points out that more people have been killed in the smaller wars that we don't normally think about.

Perhaps 55 million were killed in World War II. Perhaps a hundred million more in the Russian collectivizing of farms, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and one genocide after another in places of which we had never heard. In this book Dr. Ferguson takes a different view of history than normal. Here is not the sweep of Rommel towards Dunkirk, but here is the relentless killing. Killing of all kinds of 'undesirable' people. It's a view of history well worth keeping in mind as we approach the next century with no hint of violence slowing down, and the incidence of Shiite/Sunni strife that we see developing in Iraq.

In the sub-title of the book, 'the Descent of the West,' he is less clear. He laments the passing of the big European empires that controlled much of the world. I'm not so sure that the people of India would lament their getting out of the British Empire. Perhaps they helped to hold the peace, but they also started World War I, and the Romans also held the peace at places like Masada.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Our Current Reading:

The Shia Revival:
How Conflicts within Islam
Will Shape the Future

By Vali Nasr

W. W. Norton
August 5, 2006

$17.13 on Amazon

(Purchasing through Cawi's Amazon Store, last page,
at helps us a bit)

Vali Nasr is Professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. He joined NPS in 1993 after teaching at the University of San Diego, University of California, San Diego, and Tufts University. He is the author of Democracy in Iran (Oxford University Press, 2006); The Shia Revival: How Conflicts within Islam will Shape the Future (W.W. Norton, 2006); The Islamic Leviathan: Islam and the Making of State Power (Oxford University Press, 2001); Mawdudi and the Making of Islamic Revivalism (Oxford University Press, 1996); The Vanguard of the Islamic Revolution: The Jama`at-i Islami of Pakistan (University of California Press, 1994); editor, Muslim World, Special Issue on South Asian Islam, 87:3 (July-October 1997); an editor of Oxford Dictionary of Islam (Oxford University Press, 2003); and co-editor with S.H. Nasr and Hamid Dabashi of Expectation of the Millennium: Shi`ism in History (SUNY Press, 1989).