Thursday, April 23, 2009

State of the Hope: The First 100 Days

The headlines say he's touched off a firestorm on both right and left on the torture issue. The headlines say the banks are resisting his proposed credit card reforms. The blogs say he's trying to do too much, he's not doing enough. The Republican obsessed cable shows duly report and debate every flaky pompous self-serving crass piece of idiocy anyone says or belches about how he's ineffective and wrongheaded.

Oh yeah?

The Associated Press:

"For the first time in years, more Americans than not say the country is headed in the right direction, a sign that Barack Obama has used the first 100 days of his presidency to lift the public's mood and inspire hopes for a brighter future.

Intensely worried about their personal finances and medical expenses, Americans nonetheless appear realistic about the time Obama might need to turn things around, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. It shows most Americans consider their new president to be a strong, ethical and empathetic leader who is working to change Washington."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Act Locally

For Earth Day 2009, President Obama went to an Iowa factory that manufactures wind power turbines to continue his economic argument for ecological sanity: "The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy—it’s a choice between prosperity and decline,” said Obama. “The nation that leads the world in creating new sources of clean energy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy.”

He spoke in support of the EPA finding that greenhouse gases are harmful pollution and should be regulated. He also announced that the federal government is beginning the process of leasing offshore areas for electricity generation projects using wind and ocean currents.

That's good news for us here on the North Coast, where interest in using wave power has already generated some encouraging studies and discussion. Apparently our offshore area is prime for this kind of power.

Federal leadership and seed money are crucial, but local and state efforts are where things happen. California continues to lead in the attempts to control carbon emissions. The San Francisco Chronicle reports today that "The California Air Resources Board is expected to approve on Thursday a far-reaching rule called the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, the biggest step yet in the state's campaign to slash greenhouse gas emissions."

The Bay Area is also participating if not leading in innovation to foster a green economy. Another Chronicle story reports: Several Bay Area companies, including Cisco Systems Inc., Intel Corp. and Google Inc., were recognized Tuesday for pioneering environmental-saving innovations that cut costs and create new business. Smaller businesses are also recognized.

But there are other kinds of efforts that are just as crucial in safeguarding our planetary resources. Back when Earth Day started, so did recycling efforts (which so many experts said people would never do. They were wrong.) The full and too often forgotten mantra was "Reuse, Reduce, Recycle." One of the worst things we're doing that's poisoning our shared resources and causing geometrically increasing damage is dumping huge amounts of stuff, a lot of it toxic. No one seems to want to talk about it, but we're rapidly busy filling up and poisoning the earth with millions of cell phones a year.

But even with ordinary, non-toxic stuff, we've lost the ethic of repair and reuse. The Great Recession however is starting to reverse those practices. Yet another Chronicle piece reports on a suddenly thriving business: SCRAP, or Scroungers' Center for Reusable Art Parts. It's more than art parts now--it's become a place where companies with surplus stuff (because they're downsizing or going out of business or just changing inventory) unload without discarding, and where people with various needs can buy the stuff cheap.

The stuff includes clothing from Banana Republic, a textile company and an architecture firm, for instance. There are other companies besides SCRAP doing similar work in the Bay Area, most of which have been around for years (SCRAP for 30 years or so.) The difference is interest--and more stuff, being reused in more ways. "We used to have people come for things to accessorize. Now we have more people making their own clothing."

Looking around, Kraft said, "This was all going to be garbage. Companies probably would have just thrown it away. It's such great stuff."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blue Planet

Last Chance

We're probably down to the wire on addressing the Climate Crisis to avoid planetary tragedy of almost unimaginable proportions and duration. The worst of it could begin later in this century, unless we stop the process now. It's humankind's last chance to redeem itself, before it become the species that kills the others. The experiment in complex life that didn't work out.

So optimism is a relative thing, and hope springs this spring in Washington. First the EPA finding on Friday: "said rising sea levels, increased flooding and more intense heat waves and storms that come with climate change are a threat to public health and safety. The agency predicted that warming will worsen other pollution problems such as smog." Declaring greenhouse gases pollution a threat to health and safety signals that the EPA will take steps to regulate it, even if Congress doesn't act.

This week could be the beginning of an historic shift, as Climate Crisis legislation comes forward for consideration. Apart from the important shift represented by the Obama administration, there is growing support if not yet consensus. "For the first time ever, we have got the political actors all aligned," said Richard Lazarus, Georgetown University environmental activist and author. "That is not enough to get a law passed, but that is a huge start. We haven't been close to that before." So the work is just beginning.

Of course, there is tremendous opposition, especially from fossil fuel conglomerates, as well as their sad sack know-nothing minions, tea-baggers all.

But it's getting harder for reasonable people not to see what's happening, or to see that the solutions are beneficial anyway. Forbes magazine has just named Denmark as the best country in the world for business--partly because it has one of the strongest committments in the world to reduce carbon, and a relentless effort to conserve energy and develop and use clean energy technology.

The dangers of not confronting the crisis--a frequent topic at international gatherings, like the recent one of Latin American nations-- were outlined by Energy Secretary Steven Chu as comparable to an Ice Age in reverse. Chu is direct, as is President Obama's chief negotiator on the next round of Climate Crisis international agreements, Todd Stern. They know the reality and what is at stake. The deck at this point is stacked against all of us: we may be too late, we may do too little. But we have to try, and if we've got any chance at all, now is the time to seriously start.