Who Speaks for the Earth?

In the 1970’s, when I was active in the National Organization for Women (and a proud charter subscriber of Ms. Magazine), I made women’s rights my prism for who got my vote, and which businesses and charities I would support. It was a simple approach but proved a spot-on compass for decisions that would affect my life as a woman on many levels. Although I’ve come lately and through a circuitous route to this realization, the rights of the Earth serve much the same purpose.

The idea that the Earth does in fact have rights – to exist, to habitat, to thrive and evolve – no less than humans and all other livings things, is these days usually attributed to author, Catholic priest, and ‘geologian,’ Thomas Berry, and to Aldo Leopold’s land ethic.   Both proposed a profound ecological consciousness that is lacking in our worship of the Big Fix.   It’s hard to understand how anyone working on environmental issues could miss this forest for the trees, but people can (and I did).

Budda quote on timeSometimes it takes one riveting speech to bring it all home.   This did it for me.  I’m at the first Healing Our World Conference (Orlando, 2013) listening to Sister Patricia Siemen, director of The Center for Earth Jurisprudence at Barry Law School, and feeling something like an electrical current move through me. Here she is at a TEDx, describing how she was transformed from a social justice activist working on securing land for a homeless shelter – “Over my dead body would some [protected] bird stand in the way …” to an attorney who regularly litigates for the rights of Florida’s rivers and streams. In that speech, and many others she has given, she argued convincingly that human rights that ignore the rights of all beings and the Earth itself, harm ‘the single emergent community’ of which we are all a part.

I’m with Sr. Pat that there’s something wrong with a legal system that supports the destruction of the environment for short-term legal economic benefit.   Of course, Citizens United has only exacerbated this. In a ‘true Earth democracy,’ says Sr. Pat, if other species could vote, they would vote us off the planet.  And with good reason:

In my backyard, it’s farewell, Panama Hatties, hello, gridlock over the Intracoastal bridge:

Palm Beach Post: PGA Partners has optioned 7.95 acres on the south side of PGA Boulevard at Ellison Wilson Road, along the Intracoastal Waterway. The firm has applied to annex the site into Palm Beach Gardens, raze the restaurant and build its mixed-use project, initially valued at $175 million.

Miami Herald: One of the world’s rarest forests, a section of Miami-Dade County’s last intact tracts of endangered pine rockland, is getting a new resident: a Walmart.

And don’t even bring up Minto West, a project that opponents point out will essentially double the size of the existing town.

So who speaks for the Earth? This is only partially a rhetorical question, and I hope it is one that encourages reflection based on your own experience — of ownership; your sense of ‘the commons;’ your appreciation of the wild. And if you were to attempt to answer, perhaps you, too, arrived at the same response: if not us, then who? If not now, then when?*

So don’t forget to vote: http://voteyeson1fl.org/sections/page/faq

Dig more deeply into this topic here:

http://www.earthrights.org/

http://therightsofnature.org/

http://earthjuris.org/

http://celdf.org/democracy-school

*(Blending Hillel the Elder and activist, John E. Lewis)

Save the Planet While Saving Money

Some people dismissed (even dissed) Amy Dacyczyn, author of The Tightwad Gazette, a newsletter she wrote and published quarterly between 1991 and 1996, for some of her ‘extreme’ suggestions about thrift, e.g. reusing aluminum foil and extending the life of sneakers with duct tape. But she no doubt had the last laugh after her fan base swelled to 200,000 and she closed a deal for a book that became a best seller. Following her own advice, she also was able, on her husband’s modest salary, to raise six children in a handsome, mortgage-free farmhouse in rural Maine where she still lives.

tightwad gazette-600x399The Complete Tightwad Gazette: Promoting Thrift as an Alternative Lifestyle makes recession-era ideas like frugality and avoiding debt, newly relevant in these volatile economic times. It enjoys the distinction of being one of the most stolen books from the Maine library system. While Dacyczyn (sounds like ‘decision’) doesn’t specifically tackle environmental issues, her strategies for personal financial responsibility make this classic of the genre a must-read choice for every Transitioner’s reading list. Although people have many reasons for consuming and wasting less, the positive impact on the environment cannot be overstated.

I wondered if the self-proclaimed ‘frugal zealot’ was still around, preaching what she practiced, and was a little surprised to find that The Tightwad Gazette had apparently morphed into a Facebook page and a blog (though neither affiliated with the author). Both sport the tagline: Helping You to Spend Less to Get More, and are packed with coupons. Sorry, but I think that rather misses the point. The Tightwad Gazette fan club is much more in keeping with the original along the lines of: “The highest calling in Tightwaddery is to take things that would otherwise be thrown away and turn them into something useful.” You could apply this to stuff or skills we have let languish.

It turns out that Amy Dacyczyn is happily ‘retired’ from her advice-giving career and a spell running a thrift shop (see the recent interview in The Simple Dollar). Her greatest contribution was to demonstrate that saving money could be just as effective in achieving financial stability as raising household income via all the means familiar to most modern two-income families.

Another influential book packed with ideas that will resonate with Transitioners, emerged in the same period (1992-97): Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. A new, updated edition came out in 2008, and maintains a low five-figure sales rank on Amazon. As the title suggests, the book helps readers to examine their relationship with money. Through its 9-step program, you learn to distinguish between work that enables you to thrive vs. that which demands sacrifice – of life, family, civic life, even health.  Even if you think you have a good handle on your financial life, this can be bracing reading.

Vicki Robin

Vicki Robin

As a best-seller, the book brought to a new, larger audience (myself, included) an education in financial intelligence, integrity and independence created by Joe Dominguez, a successful financial analyst who retired at age 31, “having cracked the code not of Wall Street but of money itself,” to dedicate himself to changing people’s minds about money.  (Also check out the links below for FI material, offered at no cost.) Embedded were Vicki Robin’s insights about the “environmental imperative of breaking free from auto-pilot consumerism.” Her insights into “the global impact of over-consumption and the American life-style” are now indelibly part of conversations about economics and the environment, and fundamental to the ideas of Transition. Now in my 70’s, I’ll stand behind what I wrote in Too Young to Retire: 101 Ways to Start the Rest of Your Life (Penguin Plume 2004):

“…the groundbreaking book by Vicki Robin and the late Joe Dominguez … has some excellent exercises to help measure what something costs you in life energy. Find out if you are making a living or, as Dominguez and Robin mordantly suggest, ‘making a dying.’ Small, resolute steps like these not only make practical sense, but add up to financial independence and freedom later in life. That’s wealth an accountant might have difficulty accounting for.”

Vicki Robins has become one of the most respected activists for social change of her generation, influential in the development of a number of successful initiatives, including Transition Whidbey, Conversation Cafes, Awakening the Dreamer symposia, and Sustainable Seattle. You can catch up with her as I did at https://www.facebook.com/vicki.robin?fref=ts.  Transition book clubs take note: Robin’s most recent book, Blessing the Hands that Feed Us: What Eating Closer to Home Can Teach Us About Food, Community and Our Place on Earth, was published in 2014.

More reading:

http://financialintegrity.org  — the complete YMYL course

http://transitionus.org/vicki-robin-september-24

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUFyD-FTf-E

http://www.context.org/iclib/ic26/dacyczyn/

A Four-Year Degree for Everyone?

The unresolved student loan crisis and the plight of debt-strapped graduates flipping burgers will keep this debate on the front burner for some time to come. But if you, too, have anecdotes about the taxi cab-driving Ph.D, or the electrician with a vacation home in the Bahamas, you know it’s not necessarily news, just more politicized –isn’t everything?

Google the question, or some version of it, and you’re likely to find plenty of opinions along the lines of former William Bennett’s (Reagan’s education secretary) “the broken promise of higher education,” the tagline of the book he’s currently promoting. Even Michael Bloomberg cautions students with so-so grades and large tuition bills to skip college and learn a trade like plumbing that can’t be outsourced or automated.

College is on the radar for two of our grandchildren who are entering their junior year in high school, and on the minds of their parents. One grandson took a workshop in entrepreneurship that enabled him to check out a school on his shortlist. The other took college level math at a local college to earn advance credits, earning an A and family accolades. Do they already feel the pressure of decisions they don’t have the maturity to make? I fear so. It seems to me that age 16 is a little young to be thinking about, let alone training to join, the workforce, especially when it is more than likely they will have several different jobs during their working life. (Young workers hold an average of nine jobs before age 32, according to the Department of Labor.)

I find it troubling that most forecasts about the ‘top jobs for the 21st century’ from U.S. Government sources are based on a paradigm of business as usual, that is, the growth model, plus the changing demographics — by 2050, the population of older Americans will double – that is expected to create demand in certain categories, e.g. the ‘top earner’ ranks of physicians, optometrists and podiatrists. Automation, that eliminated many of the well-paid manufacturing jobs of the past, is about to do the same for the service industry, see Humans Need Not Apply.  And barely factored in at the moment: the business- and life-disrupting impacts of climate change that will call upon some quite different, humanitarian skills sets: resilience, conflict-resolution, communications, and empathy.

Who would want this chillingly Orwellian description of a Department of Labor “real work day” in “future time?”

5:30 a.m. get up/get dressed/exercise

6:30 a.m. make: breakfast, school lunches, grocery list

7:30 a.m. get kids up, dressed, and fed

8:00 a.m. drop off kids and dry cleaning

9:00 a.m. on the job . . . 12 e-mail messages waiting for reply

1:30 p.m. meeting at daycare center (your child is biting!)

2:30 p.m. back on the job . . . 8 voice-mails waiting

5:00 p.m. forward office calls to cell phone

5:30 p.m. pick up child from school aftercare

6:05 p.m. pick up other child, pay late pickup fee at day care

7:00 p.m. make dinner

8:00 p.m. do: dishes, homework, laundry

8:30 p.m. bathe kids

9:00 p.m. read work memos to kids as bedtime story

9:30 p.m. fold laundry/fall asleep

station_road permacultureWe can do better than this for our children and ourselves, and my friend and colleague in Transition already is. This week she wrote that her 18-year-old daughter had completed an online course in permaculture, and had decided to forego the conventional college route of so many of her peers to launch a career in this practice. When she gets her certification, Brennah will be able to practice permaculture in a community that sounds ready to offer her many clients. This choice of career is a natural extension of the family’s long commitment to homeschooling the children, living simply, and growing as much of their own food as possible — a decision they made when they lived in my part of the world, and are carrying forward in their new environment. As part of their self-directed curriculum, the children have already raised and cared for backyard chickens, learned about and foraged for wild edibles, and more recently, added bee-keeping to their repertoire of resilience skills.

I don’t think the family realized when they began just how cutting edge many of these practices would become. Far from a redo of the back to the land movement, permaculture is a highly sophisticated system. The word itself is a combination of permanent and culture, created (and copyrighted) by founder, Bill Mollison, Australian ecologist and university professor. There are many practitioners and definitions, but this one is among the clearest: permaculture is the study of the design of those sustainable or enduring systems that support human society: agricultural and intellectual, traditional and scientific, architectural, financial and legal. It is the study of integrated systems, for the purpose of better design and application of such systems. Rob Hopkins was a permaculture teacher and the Transition movement got its start from a project with his university students.

The permaculture project submitted by Brennah as part of her certification takes a half-acre suburban plot with existing house and adds food-bearing trees and bushes, a kitchen garden, pollinator garden, and grape arbor, all positioned to take advantage of natural contours of the site and optimum growing conditions through the seasons. It will also include a grey water system, and the introduction of forage plant species into the woods behind the main house. Although zoning prohibited any livestock, the clients (who happen to be family members) had their requirements for low-maintenance and year-round yield met by the plan. If this is life’s work for the 21st century, count me in.

Will skilled trades enjoy a renaissance? Will we, as a society, begin to value and reward practical education, skilled manual labor, and crafts more highly in the future? A few pioneering Transitioners seem to think so.

More reads:

Let Your Children Be Farmers

Permaculture education

Geoff Lawton

http://www.permaculture.org/

Florida Permaculture Convergence

Permaculture Broward

Let’s Talk Dirty

I’ve wanted to write that headline ever since Dr. Mehmet Oz did his poop show on Oprah, giving us more on that subject than we ever wanted to know. But this is about sewers, another subject we just as soon not think about. It’s just flush and forget, until something goes wrong. And then, we call the plumber. The end? Not exactly.

van-goghs-toilet-claire-wentzelI first got curious about sewers when we had a block-long pavement collapse in front of our building in New York City in the late 1980’s. It was caused (we were told) by the breakdown of an old water main, and it took over a week to replace the section of pipe and repair the road. In the meantime, we residents of adjacent buildings and passersby got a good look at the size of pipes that move water – and sewage, too – through underground tunnels in a city of that size. I could have stood up in the pipe, assuming I wanted to, and stretch my arms straight overhead. Back then, I wasn’t all that worried about crumbling urban infrastructure, let alone what could happen in the kind of flooding Sandy brought to lower Manhattan and Hoboken (another place I’ve lived) across the Hudson River.

Then my husband came across an oddball story from Dubai about waste management that curled our hair. Terry Gross zoomed in on it, too, in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with Kate Asher on her book (The Heights) about skyscrapers, including Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, still the world’s tallest building. Of course, if you’re a fan of hers, you’ll know that Terry Gross cuts right to the question that everyone wanted to ask : “When you’re on the 100th floor of a building and you flush the toilet, what exactly happens after that?” (Quick answer: about the same as what happens in a two-story townhouse, with more pipes.)

Burj Khalifa has broken all kinds of construction records, but what the official page fails to mention is that its plumbing is not connected to the Dubai sewer system. In a building designed to hold 35,000 people, this means that about 15 tons of human waste must be hauled away each day, by truck to a sewage treatment facility. Sometimes so many trucks line up this process can take 24 hours to complete, whereupon it begins again. Seems a bit cart before horse s—t, to me, design-wise. (Google Poop Trucks of Dubai if your curiosity out-weighs the eeww factor.)

Feels like the subject keeps chasing me. Found this in my inbox today: We have a “scary sewage problem,” wrote Gar Alperovitz in Alternet, due to aging, overwhelmed treatment centers and the kind of infrastructure problems I got to witness first hand over 20 years ago, in all our older cities. If the more visible roads and bridges are allowed to fall apart, chances are what is out of sight is getting even less respect and maintenance. Mix flooding from heavy rain to the runoff from agriculture, and you’ve got a sanitation and water security problem, Houston, and Toledo, too, where toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie recently poisoned the drinking water.

In his groundbreaking book, What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution, historian/political economist/activist, Gar Alperovitz offers plenty of great ideas for addressing the huge problems with our economic system that too many people rant endlessly about on Facebook and other social media. Hint: he’s big on cooperatives. So I wasn’t at all surprised that, although he is straight talking about the challenges, he also sees plenty of opportunities, as in JOB opportunities, in fixing the monster urban sewage problem. Chief among these is prevention of storm-water runoff in the first place. He points to smart design approaches like urban forestry, green roofs, and artificial wetlands, among others. It reminds me of the ‘soft’ design approaches to an inrushing ocean – high dunes planted with dune grass vs. seawalls – that spared some Jersey Shore communities during Sandy.  It also made me think of On the Water: Palisades Bay, the architectural design project that captivated me during a visit to the Museum of Modern Art in 2010 (see link below).  These are the kinds of things we need to lobby for in our cities, whatever their size, as adaptive strategies to climate change that also positively impact the economy, immediately and later on.   Check out Alperovitz’s work at Democracy Collaborative about building a more sustainable, equitable economy, and what we as thoughtful citizen can and must do.  Sign up for his newsletter.

Click for pdf intro: On the Water: Palisades Bay (Soft infrastructure aims to synthesize solutions for storm defense and environmental enrichment along the coast.)

Photo: Van Gogh’s Toilet by Clare Wentzel

Transition and Diversity

How can we ensure that Transition isn’t primarily a pleasurable movement for predominantly white, educated, post-materialist, middle-class small community people?  ~ Simplicity Collective

Among the many things we discussed last night at our monthly Transition meeting, the issue of inclusiveness – racial, ethnic, socio-economic, gender — resonated with me enough to want to investigate further.  Thanks to Caroline Chen for having brought it up.   Like other attendees interested in Transition, Caroline lives in Lake Worth, which takes some pride in its ethnic diversity, including a large Guatemalan community.  How, she wondered, could we reach out to the wider community?  I think the underlying question is: how might we build a local movement that reflects the community as it really is, and educate ourselves into a community that brings out the best in us all?

In attempting to find some answers, I was glad to discover that Transition US is responding to the Simplicity Collective’s critique. This fall, the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub will offer a webinar entitled The Maturation of a Social Movement: A Regional Response to a Critique of the Transition Movement on the Transition US website, to explore diversity, among other issues.  November 6, 2014, 2:00 pm ET, Click here to register (I just did.)  An important aside: this webinar, like the regularly scheduled Salons are all available at no cost from Transition US via the Maestro Conferencing system, one of the many benefits of belonging to a worldwide movement.  My donations (and yours) help keep this high quality education coming.

Funny, you don’t look … Mutts like me tend to be acutely conscious of the racial mix of any size group, or lack thereof.   Even in my admittedly limited experience with face-to-face climate activism, I can see why the misconception that the environment is a white person’s issue persists.  At last year’s Walk for Our Grandchildren, for example, people of color were noticeably in short supply.  And yet since Katrina, no sane person would argue that climate impacts fall equally on us all in this country, let alone on the low-lying and/or island nations most threatened by a rising sea.

Check out the blogosphere, and you’ll see a lot of opinions on this.  I’ll sum up like this:  people who are struggling to find and keep jobs that satisfy basic needs – predominantly of color, urban, and poor  — have other things to worry about beside the environment.  I’ll leave that stereotype unchallenged for now.

kids in gardenIn this recent article, (first published in Grist) Mother Jones assigns partial blame to high-profile green organizations that are falling far short in achieving equality in their hiring practices.  Weirdly enough, what has existed and been tolerated, despite mounting criticism since the 1970s, is an ‘apartheid ecology.’  Furthermore, (the article continues) civil rights activists have had cause to be suspicious of any movement that would draw energy – not to mention funding – from the on-going struggles for social justice.   That Green activism has been predominantly white and male is not a new problem, conferring on it an elite status that I believe has held it back.  This is clearly one among many issues that the shifting demographics in this country will address and possibly resolve.  As Center for Diversity and the Environment notes:  In 2043, people of color will be over 50% of the U.S. Population.  But everything we hear from climate scientists tells us we can’t wait that long to bring everyone into the fight for our very survival.  This is the unique challenge Transition US is girding itself to tackle through educational and outreach.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this intriguing topic.  So join me in my continuing education in the weeks ahead, focusing on youth and the next generations who will literally inherit the earth (school farms, here I come!).  So far, the most interesting work in the new, more inclusive environmental activism makes a strong case for the societal and economic necessity of tackling climate change and shrinking resources (energy, water, food) now, rather than later.   In addition to CDE just cited, check out the mission statement of Van Jones’ Green for All: Building a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.   Those of us seeking to build local Transition Towns could do well to borrow a page from this playbook.

More reading:

Greening Forward (young people)

NAACP Climate Justice Initiative

Center for Diversity and the Environment

The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations

Transition Network Inclusion and Diversity

Deep Outreach

Water: Next Capitalist Tool?

This photo of a Burmese girl at the head of a long line on her daily water-collecting chore went viral last year; the girl became a new poster child for injustice, incompetence and greed in Burma.  Involuntary child labor is rare in our part of the world, and a chore like this the stuff of weather-related emergencies, unless you happen to live in Detroit.  Retrieving the photo was no more difficult than turning on a tap to fill my kettle or wash my hands.  In a well-functioning society, we take water — and Dala township, Burma: people line up to collect waterelectricity, and until recently, the Internet — for granted, squandering them as if there was no tomorrow.

If you’ve been following social media, you may have noticed that water is on the brink of becoming a marketable commodity, like fossil fuels.  Maybe you thought that just because water makes up between 50-75% of our bodies, it is a human right.  Corporations like Nestlé beg to differ. Nestlé has been bottling water from aquifers in Palm Springs, California, and selling it to drought-stricken Los Angeles.  Maybe we should have seen it coming when we gave in to the whole bottled water craze like our European neighbors, without cause.  New York tap water is wonderful.  But there’s no stuffing that genie back into the bottle, recyclable or otherwise.  I’m not generally an alarmist, but this latest corporate move does seem like a strike against basic human rights on a whole new order of magnitude. Water: Next Capitalist Tool.

As a coastal Florida resident, I think a lot about water, maybe more than most of my neighbors.  We prefer our water where it ‘belongs':  at the beach where we can use it for recreation, and flowing from our taps for all the things we must do with water … and then some.  But too much water or the wrong kind can change that in a flash, as neighborhoods in Miami, Delray Beach and Loxahatchee know too well every time there is heavy rain, high tides and/or a full moon.

Last week, at the Second Annual Sea Level Rise Symposium, I got a refresher course in just how important water is to my adopted state, delivered by a group of smart, dedicated people — scientists, elected officials, activists and philanthropists.   Attendance this year was roughly double, filling up the auditorium of Oxbridge Academy.   In sum, according to keynote speaker, Kristin Jacobs, Broward County Commissioner and Co-Chair of the President’s Subgroup of the Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience and others, unless we can respond appropriately and very soon, climate change will deliver two distinct threats to a state that is essentially entirely coastal: 1. the risk to real estate and tourism in the billions due to storm damage and flooding, and  2. saltwater contamination of drinking water wells, due to sea level rise and a compromised water table.  The maps made by Jayantha Obeysekera, aka “Obey”, chief modeler, South Florida Water Management District were, in a word, scary.   There are, he said, no wells that will not be affected.  Who should care?  All of us. And yet, according to Keren Bolter, FAU Geosciences PhD candidate, there is a chasm in public awareness between those who get it and those who haven’t … yet. Even EPA operatives are behind the curve on climate science, noted Bryan Myers, Energy and Climate Change Coordinator, EPA Region 4.  Don’t look for much help from our current state administration.  Commented Bobby Powell Jr., Florida State Representative, District 88, salt water would have to flow from our taps before there would be any action.  Just remember that come election time. So, where to turn?

Go local (where have I heard that before?).  Said West Palm Beach Major, Jeri Muoio, in any emergency, the buck stops at the mayor’s office.  In Miami, considered the most vulnerable city in the world for storm surge and sea level rise, 87% of residents approved higher taxes to address impacts, and agreed to an 84% increase in their storm sewer fees.  We, the people.

Jan Booher, South Florida Climate Action Partners, and Barbara Eriv, League of Women Voters of PBC (one of the Symposium sponsors), running a breakout session on Community Outreach, would agree.  The two are members of the Climate Change Working Group which is designed to enable climate activist groups to share information, plans and results. They intend to use citizen muscle — that would be us — to get more municipalities to sign on to the Mayors’ Climate Action Pledge.  As of this writing, only two out of 38 municipalities in Palm Beach County have done so: Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.

According to attorneys Mitchell Chester, SLRAmerica.org and Richard Grosso, Nova Southeastern University, Director of Environmental and Land Use Law Clinic, (Breakout: Legal Wars and Economics) the existing environmental laws are ‘more than sufficient to protect health, business, property.’   However, our justice and financial systems have yet to understand that climate change and sea level rise (SLR) represent a “global phenomenon that are a major challenge to our way of governance,” or to prepare for it.  We need a financial system for SLR because it is a monetary problem for individuals, and ‘there is money to be made’ in addressing it.  “If you deny climate science,” said Grosso, “you can still value the health of your children, the economic value of our coastlines, the need for clean air and water.”  How to communicate better with skeptics?  We could all use some help with that.  Until someone designs such a course, consider these.

HuffPo on Nestlé

The Everglades supply 66% of all the water used in South Florida.  Check out Love The Everglades.  Support this and other eco-organizations with your time and money

Read John Englander’s High Tide on Main Street

Write/call your state representatives, and VOTE.

 

Business Plan for a Planet

60 Minutes re-ran a show from November about The Pledge, an initiative created by Bill and Melinda Gates with Warren Buffet, to encourage people in the billionaire club – about 1,600 people in the world according to 2014 figures – to pledge to ‘give back’ 50% of their fortune to the charity of their choice.  Gates and Buffet are #1 and #4 in the world as of the Forbes List for 2014.

Max Plank imageSara Blakely, who turned $5,000 into billions with her butt-shaper, Spanx, is interested in ‘helping women.’  Steve and Jean Case (AOL) want to empower others in civic engagement.   Billionaire passions in the group interviewed included unemployment in South Africa; brain cancer; tax reform in California and the national debt.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation aims to eradicate infectious diseases.

Honestly, I was struck by how few of these great business minds seem to think climate change worthy of their attention and money.  Only former Ebay president, Jeffrey Skoll, included climate change in his top five ‘global threats,’ although #2 water security and #3 pandemics are closely related.  Skoll is also founder of Participant Media that was a key underwriter for An Inconvenient Truth and Years of Living Dangerously, among others.

Could the reluctance of self-made billionaires to engage with the politically-charged issue of climate change have something to do with biting the hand that feeds you?  After all, American corporations in particular enjoy tax advantages and a cozy relationship with the government few ordinary citizens can aspire to.
(We can Amend this, and right-size corporate power.)

A business background is not preventing former hedge fund manager, Tom Steyer, from climate advocacy that is raising eyebrows on both sides of the political divide.  Steyer is pledging $50M of his own money — and seeking matching funds — to eliminate climate change deniers in key races (for governor of Florida, being one), fighting fire with fire, as it were.   And it hasn’t stopped former NYC mayor, Michael Bloomberg (Forbes List #15), from co-chairing a stunning report entitled Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the U.S.   It should be mandatory reading for everyone in the business community.  And if you live/work/invest in/own property along the East Coast, this quote from the executive summary should get your attention:

Within the next 15 years, higher sea levels combined with storm surge will likely increase the average annual cost of coastal storms along the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf Mexico by $2 billion to $3.5 billion.  Adding in potential changes in hurricane activity, the likely increase in average annual losses grows to up to $7.3 billion, bringing the total annual price tag for hurricanes and other coastal storms to $35 billion.

Where will the money come from to cover these losses?  Will ‘ongoing emergency response’ (Bill McKibben) become part of business as usual, accounted for in GDP in the years affected by big climate events?   What will happen to civil society in such a world?

It may be cold comfort (better than none) to realize that a large shift is occurring, not just among the people who hold most of the world’s wealth, but in the business community that, for better or worse, shapes and controls so much of who and what we are – and with our consent.   Whenever you feel powerless, remember what author/activist, Arundhati Roy, says so memorably about corporations: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. 

Boycotts are effective.  Remember Gandhi’s walk to the sea to gather salt.  But equally, it makes sense to identify the businesses that are part of the shift and support them: Starbucks, Stoneyfield Farms, Eileen Fisher, Ben and Jerry’s – about 170 at last count, and growing.  Here’s their letter in support of President Obama’s climate initiative.  Find the business leaders who speak your language, and don’t waste your time fretting about their personal lifestyles.  Plan B Team’s Mission:

We, the undersigned, believe that the world is at a critical crossroads.  Global business leaders need to come together to advance the wellbeing of people and planet.  In fact, we think business has to think this way in order to thrive.

More links:

Plan B

Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy

McKibben on Extreme Weather