This user hasn't shared any biographical information
Posts by Mike
Post Super Bowl (power outage and all), I thought it would be as good a time as any to do some Monday morning quarterbacking of what in my view went wrong with climate change communications in America.
Strange thing is, almost everyone I talk to these days agrees something weird is happening with the weather. Ever since Hurricane Sandy, normally hardcore climate change denialists are saying things like this, “It was 45 degrees in Chicago yesterday. I grew up there and it was never 45 degrees in January.” According to recent polls, up to 73 percent of Americans now believe climate change is real and man-made.
The facts on the ground have caught up with us but unfortunately most people still don’t get the dire situation we have created for ourselves. We’re in desperate need of an immediate conversion to a low-carbon economy and require a transformation similar to the way the U.S. became a war-time economy overnight during World War II.
It all could’ve been so much different, in this communicator’s opinion. I think the climate change reality-based community missed the boat to create earlier action. What should we have done better?
Develop a Clear Communications Roadmap – Once Al Gore drew the world’s attention to global warming with “An Inconvenient Truth” back in 2006, communications professionals from all the relevant NGOs, public agencies, sympathetic businesses and the like should’ve held a Climate Change Communications Summit that laid out a broad communications strategy over the years to come, pulling their various resources together in the service of a common cause. The climate change reality-based community was (and still is) fighting a battle against the vast wealth of the fossil fuel industry and it needed all the help it could get. Sharing resources and mindshare would’ve helped.
Find and Groom a Charismatic Spokesperson – The next step should’ve been finding and media training a climate change reality spokesperson. Preferably a scientist with unassailable integrity, he or she would serve as the major point person to explain the reality and extent of the looming danger to our civilization. Some might think that spokesperson is and was Al Gore but I’ve always felt the fact he was a politician worked against him. Back in the 1950s, the anti-nuclear proliferation movement had Einstein as its spokesperson. Where was our Einstein of climate science? NASA’s James Hansen might’ve been a good pick for his position, knowledge and integrity, but I’ve never seen him put in front of the cameras for some reason.
The most persuasive evidence for me of the reality of man-made climate change was when all the major Academies of Science from around the world signed a statement some years ago to that effect. Perhaps bringing each Academy’s representative on a media tour of the U.S. would’ve helped put any doubt to rest.
Demonstrate the Immediacy of the Threat – The problem with trying to persuade people to move on climate change is that they don’t fully comprehend the unprecedented danger we are facing. More interviews with scientists on the front lines of global warming showing exactly what changes are being wrought in the physical world today would’ve helped.
It’s Not about Polar Bears Stranded on Ice Floes – Early in the debate over climate change, many Americans were given the impression that polar bears and other species endangered by global warming was the main reason to take action. While it’s important to maintain all our precious eco-systems, that was never going to spur people to action. The message should have been focused on pending human calamities like food production losses and destructive storms, as we’ve seen this past year with the droughts and fires in the Southwest and Hurricane Sandy’s flooding of New York.
There Is a Reasonable Road to the Future – Now that the fact of climate change is becoming clear to most Americans, there still needs to be someone who communicates a reasonably logical and doable transition to a low-carbon society. I’ve seen bits and pieces of this roadmap but nobody has laid it out completely and hit it hard over and over. People need to know and believe there is a way out of this mess. Only then will they be motivated to move in the right direction.
And that’s my Monday morning quarterbacking on climate change communications. It does remind me of the old adage, however, that hindsight is always 20-20.
An historic milestone occurred in the effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions last month.
Mark the date. It was on Nov. 14, 2012 when those spewing harmful carbon emissions here in California finally started paying a price — $10.09 a metric ton annually, to be exact. As far as I can determine, it is the first time in the U.S. that companies have been charged for polluting the atmosphere with fossil fuels, at least on an ongoing basis.
And after all the hand-wringing and woe-is-me attitude from the business sector, most notably the California Chamber of Commerce, 10 bucks a ton is what the market of the largest carbon emitters in the state decided is the real business price to be paid to lowering their emissions. This year, the program covers about 350 industrial businesses operating a total of 600 facilities throughout the state.
Now we’re finally on our way to reducing carbon emissions in one of the world’s largest and most influential economies to 1990 levels by 2020. Why 1990? Because those levels are well below the 350 parts per million threshold that climate scientists say will cause catastrophe (or should I say, endlessly more catastrophes) for this generation and generations to come.
Facilities subject to the cap will be able to trade or purchase an ever-decreasing number of credits or allowances to emit greenhouse gases, forcing them to either buy more credits at increasing prices if they continue to pollute, or purchase green technology so they start polluting less.
The system was created in response to the Global Warming Solutions Act, approved by California voters, charging the state government to limit emissions from refineries, power plants, industrial facilities and transportation.
Whew. For a climate change geek, this was a major box to check. Like breaking your maiden in horse racing, we are now clear to run this horse as fast as it will take us.
More than an immediate effect on the climate will be the carbon trading’s effect on the business climate here in California and abroad. As one San Francisco Bay Area cleantech investor wrote:
California’s decision to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has created tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurs, scientists and business strategists to develop technologies and services that will help businesses accomplish their greenhouse gas emission goals. Those are exactly the kinds of companies venture capitalists love to fund: high-tech firms with tremendous growth potential, not just in California but also across the country and around the world.
The carbon trading market provides investors the assurance that their cleantech investments won’t disappear overnight because the state has shown its long-term commitment to addressing climate change.
Awesome. Let the cleantech company land rush begin!
(Photo of Richmond Chevron refinery, the largest single carbon emitter in the state.)
To anyone who has been following what climate scientists have been predicting for years, the superstorm that devastated the Eastern seaboard this past week was no surprise, unfortunately. It’s exactly what the models said would happen, and now, is happening.
This doesn’t make me feel proud, happy or smarter than anyone else. It does make me feel a bit sad and forlorn but also hopeful that maybe, just maybe, America will finally wake-up to face this challenge.
It’s not going to get any better. Already, another storm is brewing. With the Atlantic five degrees warmer than normal in some areas, storms can now become super-sized to cause more destruction than they would have otherwise. Combine that potential power with the ever-increasing rising of the seas due to the Arctic ice melt, and it’s a recipe for a never-ending series of disasters like Hurricane Sandy, one worse than the next.
The message can’t be any clearer — don’t mess with Mother Nature. She can be ruthless enough without humanity’s help, so there’s no reason to make her wrath worse. But that’s what the carbon and other greenhouses gases we are still pouring into our atmosphere each day are inviting.
But even in Sandy’s aftermath, we are still facing the same three obstacles to meeting these climate change challenges:
Fossil Fuel Money – As climate change activist and author Bill McKibben so brilliantly pointed out recently, companies and even entire economies have already heavily leveraged the massive oil, coal and gas reserves that are still in the ground but will destroy us if they see the light of day. This “bank” of fossil fuel money exerts a huge force on government to allow the release of that carbon into the atmosphere in the next few years. It waits for us like a junkie’s last hit that may finish us off.
Fear of Drastic Lifestyle Changes and Deprivation – Most people who still deny the fact of global warming do so because they don’t see any alternative to the relatively cheap and plentiful fossil fuels to run our civilization. Let’s be clear — no one, including me, wants to suffer in the dark and cold with no modern amenities. But let’s face it, that is currently the way many New Yorkers are living at this moment, and that scenario may become the norm for all of us if Mother Nature’s abnormal strength continues to grow like some hitter on steroids. These folks don’t trust in the innovation engine of American capitalism to find a replacement for fossil fuels. Personally, I just can’t believe in this era of technological wonders that we can’t get renewable forms of energy up to speed in efficiency, cost and ubiquity to make a real and immediate difference if we wanted them to.
The Enemy Is Us – Americans like a clear-cut bad guy to fight. We had no problem spending untold trillions on defense during the years of the Cold War in our face-off against the USSR, and the same goes for domestic security and foreign wars to ostensibly fight terrorism in the wake of 9-11. But the bad guy in climate change, sad to say, is me and you. America has been by far the undisputed leader in spewing CO2 by large margins for decades until China, in trying to emulate our standard our living, recently surpassed us. WE are the ones who caused the worst of the explosion of greenhouse gases, and WE are the ones best equipped to finding solutions that will halt and reverse the course we and the rest of the industrialized world are on.
The only good news about Sandy is that the death toll was relatively low. But still too many people, especially the most vulnerable in our society — the poor, the aged and children — are suffering. To a longtime believer in climate science, this was all so avoidable. Now people, especially Americans, have to look deep into their souls and see what should be readily understood.
We created a problem and now it’s time for us to fix it.
If you’ve driven to Las Vegas anytime recently, you may have noticed three strange-looking towers rising from the desert floor before you enter Nevada on Interstate 15. (One is pictured above.)
No, those aren’t landing platforms for alien spacecraft. The towers are part of what promises to be the largest solar thermal energy plant in the world when the “Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System” being built by Bechtel is fully operational next year. (That strange name, “Ivanpah,” is apparently the Anglicized version of the Native American name for the area, and also the name of a copper mining town that came and went in the 1860s.)
Solar thermal energy differs from most of the solar panels you see dotting rooftops. Solar thermal energy collects the sun’s rays to heat water, generally, while solar photovoltaic panels in your neighborhood turn sunlight directly into electricity.
The difference is noticeable when you stop and check out the facility a little more closely, as I did one recent trip to Vegas. Instead of the typical solar panels you’d expect, the towers are surrounded by mirrored panels that will reflect sunlight to the top of each tower. The fields of some 350,000 “heliostats,” technology provided by Silicon Valley start-up BrightSource, focuses the sun’s energy on water-filled boilers that will sit atop the nearly 500-foot-tall towers. The heated water will then create steam to drive an electricity-generating turbine built by Siemens.
When all three towers are online, they will generate 392 megawatts of power and be able to serve 140,000 homes in California during peak hours of the day via Southern California Edison and PG&E. It’s projected that 13.5 billion tons of CO2 will be avoided during the plant’s 30-year lifespan.
Of course, the real question is the economics and if the plant’s a financial as well as an environmental benefit to California. According to most estimates, the costs of energy from concentrated solar power plants works out to roughly $0.12 to $0.18 per kilowatt hour (kwh). Natural gas, however, can be as low as $0.06 kwh.
However, according to Wikipedia, a solar analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance has calculated that the cost of electricity at Ivanpah over the life of the plant will be lower than that from photovoltaic power and about the same as that from natural gas.
Time will tell. But for now, at least for me, those towers that will soon be glowing at the California stateline portend a new era of renewable energy for the state and the world. Hope blooms in the desert.
You’ve got to give a lot of credit to guys like Mark Anderson, CEO of ReTechnology Engineering in Carlsbad, Calif.
While many environmentalists wring their hands over the state of the world, Anderson is a businessman first and foremost who likes to get things done.
That’s the impression one got loud and clear at his presentation last week at the monthly meeting of the OC Renewables Society.
Anderson’s company focuses on developing utility-scale solar and other renewable energy projects in what were once called “Third World” countries, bringing cheap and clean energy to remote places and serving a market that the larger construction firms generally ignore.
It’s no business for the feint of heart. But Mark maintains that successful renewable energy projects are all about sticking to basic business principles that keep costs under control.
In Anderson’s business, that’s not always an easy proposition. In addition to the usual headaches associated with any major construction project, ReTech must also deal with relatively new and untested technology, at least at the utility scale, and working in different cultures with its own languages, regulations and customs.
“You can’t believe how many holidays there are when you’re working with different cultures,” he said with a laugh.
Anderson said every utility-scale solar customer wants the same thing — the most megawatts possible on the smallest piece of land with minimal capital expenses. While a 5-megawatt solar project may cost upwards of $20 million, it’s not uncommon for that price tag to more than double due to unforeseen complications.
He shared some of the lessons he has learned in keeping costs down, including:
- Pre-qualify bidders so you don’t waste their time or yours
- If you have a multicultural workforce, do team-building exercises early on to encourage cooperation
- Ensure there are detailed RFPs, design specs and statements of work to avoid misunderstandings down the line
- Research and make sure you meet all local regulations (California has some of the toughest so that makes things easier for Cali-based firms like ReTech)
- Procure major equipment early because delivery times can sometimes be 18 months or longer
When asked about the recent negative news regarding the solar industry, Anderson shrugged his shoulders.
“The failure of Solyndra had nothing to do with the cost of a project,” Anderson said. “It’s not rocket science to build renewable energy projects. It’s just that we haven’t built a lot of them yet. Planning ahead is key.”
As the green blogosphere was buzzing last week about Joel Makeower’s article declaring green marketing is over (at least to consumers), I made my way down to the Santa Ana Civic Center to get a read on the ground at the second annual County of Orange Green Fair 2011.
What I found gave me reason for optimism, seeing vendors from a broad spectrum of green companies enthusiastically pitching their wares.
Solar was out in force with such firms as American Solar Direct and Home Depot making their case to attendees. As I’ve noted before, solar salespeople are looking for homeowners with a monthly electric bill of around $200 to make switching to solar cost-effective.
Simpler but effective solar products were available, too, including SolaTube that brings daylight from the roof into your home or business, reducing the need for electric light. There was also a solar-powered attic fan that reduces the temperature of your attic and, by extension, your air-conditioning bill as well.
All Green Electronics was on-hand to talk about its free e-waste removal for homes and businesses as well as its electronics recycling fundraising events for schools and charities. Sounded like a triple win to me.
There were several green business-to-business firms, including Miles Electric Vehicles which leases low-speed EV fleets to universities and corporations for use by staff at large campuses. Also, a company called Braille Signs, Inc. (BSI) was touting its LED lights as less toxic and generally brighter than the compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) commonly used today to reduce energy use.
Academia was represented as well with Cal State Fullerton promoting its Professional Development Sustainability Programs including those focused on green building, green data centers and green HVAC design. Irvine Valley College was providing information on classes leading to the Professional Certification in Resource Management to help students get their start in a green career.
In a unique combination of sustainability and cause marketing, Toshiba copiers was on hand to tout its ”Zero Waste to Landfill” program. Toshiba makes it easy for its customers to recycle their spent printer cartridges from any manufacturer by providing free packaging and shipping.
According to Tom Walter, director, aftermarket sales, marketing and operations for Toshiba America Business Solutions (TABS), the cartridges are then used to created “eLumber,” a patented composite product by Toshiba’s recycler Close the Loop used to build structures for local communities and non-profit organizations. Many of Toshiba’s recycled cartridges have been used to create park benches, fences and garden boxes for its non-profit partner Habitat for Humanity. See the photo above. Amazing.
So all in all, if we look at the American Marketing Association’s definition of marketing — “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large” — I think you have to say green marketing is alive and well.
I do believe, though, that green marketers need to get down to the customer level more often to discern what makes them tick — their motivations, desires and needs large and small.
That is why in my next Green Asteroid blog post and future ones, I will be speaking with customers of green products and services as often as I can to see if we can scrub some turpentine off the greenwash and discover what the true benefits and features customers are seeking and getting, or not.
I look forward to your suggestions and participation.
Green needs a macho makeover.
Forget the entrenched fossil fuel lobby and their money for lawmakers and other influence. I think the main reason America hasn’t wholeheartedly embraced a sustainable society yet is cultural — we just don’t consider it manly enough.
In a continuing legacy from our frontier heritage, the American cultural ideal is the cowboy — tough, resilient and fiercely independent. It’s a man of few words who is sometimes pushed by circumstances to kill the bad guys and/or destroy everything in his path. He doesn’t want to resort to violence, but he will if that’s what it takes to protect the larger community.
Think of John Wayne in “The Searchers,” or just about any Clint Eastwood movie. These guys don’t mess around (though many have a fatalistic sense of humor like Bruce Willis in the “Diehard” movies). They see an evil or danger to society and they eradicate it. America likes a man of action. It’s one of the reasons Obama’s poll numbers climbed among all demographics and party affiliation after bin Laden was killed.
But how does this cowboy ideal translate into confronting the dangers of global climate change for instance? It doesn’t easily. Climate change is slow and diffuse — it’s not a killer roaming the town. Climate change undermines our frontier assumption that we can take and use what we want when we want as much as we want for as long as we want it. Solving climate change means taking a long, hard road of transformation rather than one simple act of heroism. Climate change also means possibly confronting who the real villains may be, unwitting or not.
Greening society is dangerously close to nurturing, and that just doesn’t capture the popular imagination in a culture steeped in macho cowboy mythology. But I think the answer may lie in the testosterone flipside of nurturing — protection. Because what all those Westerns were really showing was a lone hero bent on finding a way — any way — to protect his family, his friends, his community.
Now accept my submission for a replacement icon for today’s sustainable frontier — the green cowboy. We need to rally behind the men and women who are re-shaping our world to keep it inhabitable for generations to come. People taking extraordinary measures using only their wits and determination to come up with new and better ways of doing things, from clean energy to recycling to sustainable buildings.
When you take a step back and watch these environmental heroes at work, it really is a glorious thing to behold. They are everywhere, and working in your city and your neighborhood right now. You may be one of them. They do it because they know it’s the right thing to do. And they won’t be deterred. Like the indomitable heroes of the old West, they will find a way.
Recently, a representative from American Solar Direct (ASD) knocked on mine. But unlike most every other door-to-door sales pitch, and likely to the surprise of the salesman himself, I was very interested in hearing him out. In fact, as I peppered him with questions, I probably wore out my welcome with him.
Once the salesman, who I’ll call Joshua (he asked me not to use his real name but approved the use of his photo), told me he was selling solar, I relaxed the usual sales defensive posture. And the pitch was interesting. ASD will plan, install and maintain solar panels on your roof to create all the electricity you may need for the foreseeable future at “no additional cost” to the homeowner.
Sounded great. The only catch is that your monthly electricity bill must be around $200 for the program to make financial sense. Essentially, that money that would’ve gone to Edison for your electricity would go to ASD.
How does ASD make its money? I asked. Joshua said that the company takes advantage of all the rebates and incentives that a homeowner receives from federal and state programs when solar panels are added to the home. The company also sells back any additional electricity produced by the solar panels that goes unused by the homeowner back to Edison.
Besides doing your part for the planet with no upfront costs or additional outlay of cash, Joshua said solar-powered homes tend to increase their equity over the years. When you sell your house, that $200 monthly bill is then transferred to the new owner as part of the sale.
All well and good. I’ve been interested in adding solar to our home for some time, and this seemed to offer a risk-free way to do it. The only problem is our monthly electricity bill averages about $60 a month. We may have one month where we come anywhere close to $200 – generally during the dog days of August when we’re using the air conditioner.
I was surprised to hear Joshua say our neighbors had expressed interest in the program. I had to think it was nearby neighborhoods with larger homes than ours because we reside in the largest model in our tract. I couldn’t imagine other families using triple our electrical power each month to meet the $200 minimum.
Here’s where the rubber meets the road in green marketing, I thought. No matter how green someone may consider themselves, it has to make financial sense to implement a greener way of doing things. Only the wealthy with green leanings or those with the right electricity bills would be able to take advantage of the deal he presented. Most families have to consider other priorities such as monthly bills and putting away money for a child’s college education or retirement. If it was simply a break-even proposition with enhanced home equity and green street cred, I might’ve gone for it (after some discussions with the wife and some additional due diligence, of course).
Yet still it warmed my green heart to see something as once foreign to the American daily experience as solar go mainstream with door-to-door salespeople now pushing it. From all reports, solar is soaring and will continue to well into the future. At some point soon, I hope, it will make financial sense for my family.
Joshua did a great job answering my questions and, to his credit, never pushed after I told him our electric bill didn’t match the baseline for going forward. I thought later, though, that as electric cars become more ubiquitous, it might make a lot more sense.
Imagine “re-fueling” your car every night and powering your home with solar panels. Just the satisfaction of never stopping at another gas station in your life would be well worth it, especially as the price of gas edges toward $5 a gallon.
Powering your home and car while benefiting both the environment and your wallet? To paraphrase “The Godfather,” that’s an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I saw this commercial for the new all-electric Nissan Leaf on TV recently and was blown away.
It comes across like a short by a talented film school student with a Greenpeace agenda, then ends on making a pitch for both humanity and a car. Not an easy thing to do, but it works.
Traditional marketing tells us that consumers only buy products to meet their personal needs and desires. But they’ve overlooked the strong altruistic streak that runs through the race. In other words, people can be as motivated by helping others as they can by helping themselves. We wouldn’t have gotten as far as we have without it.
The Nissan Leaf ad turns the traditional marketing focus on its head by boldly asking us to consider what “zero” pollutants can do for the planet and the children yet to be born. (If it sounds familiar, that is the voice of “Ironman” actor Robert Downey, Jr.)
There’s a lot of subtleties going on as well, which makes the ad all that more captivating and memorable. Sprinkled amid the powerful images of nature is a child’s alphabet block and bicycle, as well as a recycling can. Images of food and water are featured as well, tying a healthy natural world to our ability to subsist.
When Downey says, “Imagine zero dependency on foreign oil,” there’s a quick cut to a $10 bill. When he refers to zero pollutants in our environment, the uglier images of gas and oil are shown. A frog raises his eye when zero depletion of the ozone is mentioned, which has been tied to the disappearance of frog populations around the world.
Things get even more pointed with images of a melted iceberg and a terrifying-looking, massive, swirling hurricane seen from above. After several more images, the ad transitions to the belly shot of a very pregnant woman.
You get it. The preciousness and precariousness of life, the dependence of humans upon a functioning natural world. And then the money shot, literally. A gas pump meter going backwards and the last “zero” or circle – the round electric plug being removed from a Leaf.
“Innovation for the planet, innovation for all,” Downey says.
This is sophisticated green marketing, and a milestone as well. Congrats to ad agency TBWA/Chiat/Day for the work.
There is good news in California this joint Good Friday and Earth Day: California keeps zipping along the path of greater economic prosperity and a clean future for our kids.
We were doing well under Governor Schwarzenegger with his support of AB23, the most aggressive climate law of any state, and to his credit he gave a spirited and winning defense of the law during the last election as the failed Proposition 23 tried to take it off the books. Schwarzenegger also wrote a great article on the topic of a greener California in his last days as governor.
Now, things are speeding up even more under Gov. Brown.
This week Brown signed Senate Bill 2X that will increase California’s use of renewable energy to a third by 2020. State Senator Joe Simitian of Palos Verdes worked long and hard to get this bill passed and I will let him do the crowing:
While a new Congress covers its ears and shuts its eyes to global warming, power-plant pollution and turmoil in the oil markets, California has seized the national leadership in clean and sustainable energy by committing itself to obtain 33 percent of its electricity from renewable resources by 2020.
On Tuesday, when Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 2X, a longstanding goal became law. It is essential to address climate change, reduce air pollution, diversify our sources of energy and stimulate the economy. And it is readily achievable.
As any energy wonk in Europe or China would tell you, Simitian knows this law is important not only for reducing carbon but for increasing investment in the state:
SunPower CEO Tom Werner, at whose brand new solar manufacturing plant in Milpitas Governor Brown signed the bill, said the new plant is a direct result of the commitment the 33% mandate represents. Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director of the Independent Energy Producers Association, has said that his members have billions of dollars invested in biomass, solar, wind and geothermal generation, and that they are looking to expand here in California.
And Brown has set the bar even higher. After signing California’s new renewable energy requirements into law , Brown sent a letter to California’s legislators stating that he wants to see higher commitments to renewables:
While reaching a 33 percent renewables portfolio standard will be an important milestone, it is really just a starting point—a floor, not a ceiling. With the amount of renewable resources coming on-line, and prices dropping, I think 40 percent, at reasonable cost, is well within our grasp in the near future.
With the BP Gulf oil spill still fresh in everyone’s minds, and the ongoing struggles to contain the Fukushima nuclear disaster in the news for the foreseeable future, renewables are getting more attention than ever before from investors, governments, utlities and consumers. In fact, according to Forbes, solar is now the fastest-growing industry in the country!
So while some still fight tooth and nail for the Old Energy Economy, the New Energy Economy is taking shape here in California. With any luck, California’s success will be an example to the rest of the country that clean energy is not only doable, it’s essential for the long-term health and viability of the nation’s economy.
(Photo courtesy of Associated Press.)