Archive for the ‘Sustainability’ Category

Van Jones speaks, Thomas Friedman listens

You know you’re somebody when you’re featured in a column by Thomas Friedman in the NY Times. Not that Van Jones needs any affirmation that he’s somebody. Today Friedman brings Van Jones to the attention of his thousands of influential readers worldwide. And what an incredible platform for Jones to spread his vitally important message.

In the past year I’ve had the good fortune to hear Jones speak twice. I’ve never heard a more compelling speaker. Both times he was addressing audiences of almost all white progressives and environmentalists. His powerful request to us as people helping to build the next new economy is this: As you’re hopping on that train to the land of the lush green economy, ask yourself, “who are you taking with you — and who are you leaving behind.”

If Van Jones has any say in the matter, and believe me he does, the African-American community will not get left behind this time. He also knows that it’s going to take great effort on his part and among African Americans to ensure the new economy is not just green, but inclusive. The first step is getting this message out to as many people of power and influence in green political and economic circles as he possibly can. That’s why Friedman’s column strikes me as a watershed moment in Jones’ crusade. Friedman speaks to power and influence across America. I fervently hope they’re listening.

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007
Posted in Business & Economics, Sustainability | No Comments »

The language of global warming

A couple months ago, I signed up for Google Alerts on certain keywords. Two of them are “global warming” and “climate change.” I wanted to get a sense for what is being said and argued in the blogosphere and the general media about these topics. I don’t begin to read all the posts and opinions that come to me each day. In fact, I find myself increasingly wanting to tune out.

Why? First off, let me state that I’m deeply concerned about the broad environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change, and I absolutely believe human actions contribute greatly to, and are maybe the sole reason for, our warming atmosphere. I believe we must act now, collectively and individually, to avert the worst outcomes of climate change. But I also have a new concern: the rise of global warming fear mongering, what others view as hysteria and alarmism.

Unfortunately, on this point I find myself sympathetic to the complaints of those I will call “The Deniers” — those on the other side of the debate (FOX News, anyone) who deny the existence or predicted impacts of climate change and continuously rant against the alarmist claims they see spewing from their liberal enemies. And let me tell you, they have plenty of fodder for their daily diatribes over the global warming movement. Consider a few of the headlines I pulled from my Google Alerts in just the past three days:

– Global Warming Linked to Worst Mass Extinctions in Earth History
– Global Warming And A Deadly Amoeba That Feeds On Your Brain
– Global warming report gives grim outlook for state
– Pumping Particles Into the Atmosphere: A Global Warming Doomsday …
– Climate Change, Past Tipping Point
– Environment: Climate Change: Can We Stop It?
– The rising threat from global warming affects us all, warns Sir Emyr
– Another reason to sweat about global warming
– Global warming driving up humidity levels, says study
– Burning Earth: Linking Wildfires to Global Warming
– Global warming may aggravate Argentine energy woes
– A matter of life and global warming
– Global warming brings additional woes to orangutans
– WITNESS – Global warming changes face of high Alps
– October heat wave adds to global warming fears
– Where Climate Change is Felt More Strongly Than Anywhere
– Papua’s forests and global warming
– Climate Change “Mega Disaster”
– GLOBAL WARMING: Connecticut lobsters dying off
– Will Global Warming take away monsoon & food?

These headlines are from bloggers and journalists worldwide: US, Asia, Europe and South America. The Deniers would look at this sampling as evidence of hype, junk science and liberal conspiracy. I view it as the potential cause for human inaction. Yes, some of us read posts and articles like these and feel compelled to act, out of fear or a deep sense of obligation to Earth and its inhabitants. But I’m also convinced that these dire-sounding reports and opinions, repeated over and over again by well-meaning media and bloggers, will lead many to tune out and send others into a tailspin of depression and powerlessness. In which case, scientists, politicians, journalists and concerned citizens attempting to raise awareness and ignite action on global warming will be stymied.

If large numbers of people stop listening because the drumbeat of warnings is too loud or are rendered inert by the perceived vastness of the problem, the doomsday warnings will become self-fulfilling. Those who are out front on climate change issues worldwide need to rethink and carefully monitor the effect of their language choices. We need everyone on board in this great cause.

Thursday, October 11th, 2007
Posted in Climate Change, Communications, Sustainability | 1 Comment »

Deserved accolades for Portland restaurant scene

There are a lot of reasons I love living in Portland. And the New York Times has done justice to one of them: our amazing restaurant scene. I’m sure the tourism crews in the city and state are diggin’ yesterday’s lengthy piece, “In Portland, a Golden Age of Dining and Drinking.” For those of us living here, it’s not news. But it’s a good feeling to know we live in a city where the ingredients that make for a high quality of life – local, sustainably grown food and people who revel in producing and preparing it – are in such abundant supply. The article also touts our local wines, micro brews and distilled spirits. I would add my favorite, terrific local coffee roasters, to the list as well. (Another New York Times reporter recently featured Portland’s burgeoning and distinctive tea culture.)

If you have read this blog, you know my bias for things local. Local businesses and the people who own and work at them give communities their unique character. In Portland, we are blessed with many fantastic locally owned restaurants. I look forward to the day the New York Times returns to feature Portland for the thriving locally owned businesses of all sizes and types and their thousands of loyal customers that have stood up to America the Franchise and declared victory for what makes our community special.

Thursday, September 27th, 2007
Posted in Food and Drink, Oregon, Sustainability | No Comments »

Misperceptions of economic relocalization

For economic relocalization to become something more than a fringe movement, it has to make clear that it isn’t simply about the selling and purchasing of goods and services within a narrowly drawn geographic region. I say this because yesterday I heard Karla Chambers, an Oregon farmer sympathetic to efforts to localize our food supplies, tell a large group of sustainability-minded individuals that Oregon farmers cannot survive on local markets alone. We simply have too small of a population. Ninety-two percent of the agricultural products grown here leave the state, she said. Oregon is a natural-resource state, and we can’t consume all that we produce.

I take from her comments that she would view relocalization (a term she didn’t use) as far too extreme to be seriously considered. To her, the goal of relocalization is the end of global trade; that economies should consist exclusively of local companies trading with each other and people consuming only what they can purchase locally. I certainly don’t see it that narrowly, and I don’t believe the majority of relocalization advocates do either. Exporting will never disappear completely. Even if a global energy crisis hits, producers will resort to horse-drawn wagons and wind-propelled ships if that’s what it will take to move their products to markets that want them. After all, countries depended on international trade centuries before fossil fuels and combustion engines came along (of course, much of it was forced trade from colonization).

The point is global trade is here to stay, and clearly it is better economically for a state or community to be a net-exporter than a net-importer. The economic case for relocalization isn’t in becoming a substitute for global trade; it’s in raising awareness that too much of the income produced locally is leaking out of our communities because it is increasingly spent on goods or services from providers that are not locally owned. Think big-box and other chain retailers that source almost nothing of what they sell from local businesses and ship their profits off to headquarters in other states or countries. Keeping money circulating in a local economy multiplies its value by up to three times as it changes hands from one local producer, retailer or service provider to another.

Those of us sympathetic to economic relocalization want to see much more of our communities’ personal and business income stay home and multiply in value. That means citizens spending more of their disposal income with locally owned businesses and local businesses looking more to each other for products and services. And yes, we must also continue to help our local businesses dependent upon national or international markets to compete and win. Bringing money into our local economies from elsewhere is vital.

The issue isn’t either/or, local or global. It’s that political and economic leaders focus almost exclusively on the so-called global traded sector. They all but ignore the leakage of dollars to out-of-state businesses that set up shop in our communities. In fact, they exacerbate the problem by using tax subsidies to encourage many of those very same outsiders to locate here – not exactly a recipe for economic sustainability. The most productive economic debate is asking how to keep more of our money trading locally and help local business owners, like Karla Chambers, win globally.


What would you do if Wal-Mart called?

“He Sold His Soul to Wal-Mart,” the cover of September’s Fast Company magazine shouts.

The story inside doesn’t quite pay off the cover tease, but it offers a fascinating look at the life of Adam Werbach. Or at least what it’s been like since he decided to take on Wal-Mart as a client. That alone isn’t newsworthy. But the plot thickens when you recall or learn that Werbach is the former wunderkind president of Sierra Club and once called Wal-Mart “a new breed of toxin.” After a very public falling out with the environmental movement, Werbach was approached by Wal-Mart to help them with their now much-publicized sustainability initiatives. He eventually agreed. And in the past year his consulting firm has grown from eight to 45 employees, mainly to handle the Wal-Mart work.

The article gets to the heart — and soul — of one of the many contentious debates within the environmental movement. Are environmentalists better advised to become corporate insiders to move business toward greater sustainability? Or do they need to remain outsiders to a consumption-based economy that by definition is unsustainable and needs radical overhauling? Perhaps that choice isn’t as stark for the environmentalist who weighs whether to go to work for a progressive company such as Clif Bar. But when it’s the hated Wal-Mart, well, that’s a line most won’t cross. Had Werbach taken on just about any other corporation in America as a client, he wouldn’t be nearly as reviled by his former environmentalist kin.

While I haven’t walked in Werbach’s shoes, I can tell you this: If I had been approached with the same offer from Wal-Mart, I sure as hell hope I would have run away faster than it takes Wal-Mart to earn its first million dollars each morning.

How about you? Is Wal-Mart “beyond redemption”? Would you have stayed in the environmental movement and tried to make it more effective, rather than walk away like Werbach? Or would you have taken the Wal-Mart gig and figure on making a bigger difference there?

These are my questions.

P.S. Thanks to The Triple Bottom Line Blog for the tip-off on this article.


Sampling the local-foods debate

A recent post, “The Eat-Local Backlash,” has stirred up some good conversation over on (thanks to BALLE for tipping me off to the blog entry). I encourage you to read both the post and the comments to sample the debate that is emerging over the local foods movement.

The author addresses specific efforts to debunk the claim that shorter distances between food and plate — “food miles” — mean fewer carbon emissions. The commenters take the discussion in numerous other directions, including whether it is better to buy local non-organic versus non-local organic or whether it is immoral to stop buying food from impoverished African farmers in favor of growing and buying locally. I agree with the guy who writes:

“I do think we’re going to be seeing more and more clashes over competing ‘goods’ (reducing carbon emissions and alleviating poverty).”

Speaking of the local-foods movement, the blog author thinks the visible criticism it is getting now in places like the Economist and NY Times is a good sign:

“Just as you’re not really famous until you’ve been rumored to be gay or on drugs, a movement hasn’t come into its own until it’s drawn a formidable entourage of detractors.”

Just getting high-profile media to openly examine the tradeoffs between localized and globalized food economies is indeed a sign of progress. I am optimistic this argument will expand into a much broader mainstream conversation around the merits of turning to local producers for not just food, but for an increasing share of all the goods and services we consume.