Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays and some advice to non-profits. (Part 1)

In a recent interview with a non-profit organization for a social media job, I was asked what I would do with their website and social media plan. I gave them some small suggestions based on a cursory glance over their platforms, mainly regarding linking and authorship in the conversation. I stopped myself from my usual tendency to ramble on by saying, "...but I can't give away all my secrets. " After a chorus of laughter one of the fellows said something to the effect that he hoped that there isn't anyone out there who would take advantage of a situation like that. I have been thinking and to the best of my knowledge, most people in both the for-profit and non-profit worlds would jump at the chance for free advice.

In this environment of stiff competition over even the smallest of jobs our information and knowledge-base are factors in what sets us apart. Our information is in essence, a great resource for us. It is valuable. As one who has worked on both sides of government; the governing and the lobbying, and as one who has developed campaign strategies and outreach efforts for all sorts of campaigns, I would like to think my knowledge has value and is a huge resource for me.

While I am not Christian, I still get moved by the concept behind the Christmas spirit and the "reason for the season." From watching "White Christmas," "Trading Places," "Scrooged" and "It's a Wonderful Life," I feel like sharing a bit of my resources and giving a few tips and tricks to those who care to read. Who knows, may turn it into a monthly thing.

The first thing that needs to be understood here is that social media is good. It can help you and is nothing to be afraid of. There are far too many organizations out there that are afraid that by engaging in social media, they will have no control over what is being said. What most of these organizations forget is that they currently have no control over what is being said. By not engaging in the medium, they are not engaging in the conversation and have absolutely no control over it. If you think that the public has huge complaints about you, why would you think not having a facebook account or a blog or a forum of your own would stop those complainers from registering their complaint somewhere else? Other rating forums and discussion groups exist and even relevant newspaper articles published online can have hundreds of responses.

Non-profit organizations, government entities, and elected officials need to recognize that these forums are not just a place for people to leave complaints like the age old Festivus tradition of the listing of grievances. This is a way to develop a back and forth method of conversation and constituent tracking. If someone registers a complaint, address it. Speak to it and be honest (within the confines of your organization's guidelines).

See this more as an opportunity to become closer to your constituency in this more modern age. It is a window to your organization, a way to become more human with those who may want to donate or volunteer. Having active and inclusive social media platforms enable the public to know why they should be excited about your organization and what you do.

I was speaking with a former Assemblywoman this last year at a St. Patrick's party. She and I agreed that you can't really have an effective political campaign, especially in California, without using social media. This applies to organizations, issue campaigns and even marketing campaigns. So, for those who are in the non-profit, government and political worlds my small tid-bit of advice for you is simply this, it is time to embrace your fears. And I have said this many many many times before. If you, as the communications leader for your organization, have some remaining fear about jumping into the social media world just remember the litany against fear;

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

So this is my small gift to anyone who, like me, thinks my knowledge could be useful; some of that knowledge. I have decided to make this a monthly thing because it would mean a bit more than just saying "don't be afraid" and will give me more of an opportunity to say what I want to say.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Until I come back next time with "Social Media Advice to Non-Profits Part 2 - The 5 Step Process"

-Andrew Kornblatt

Friday, December 17, 2010

Obama and The Tax Deal

Call us Obama-apologists, call us deluded, call us moderates, call us whatever you will but there are those of us Democrats who can see the rationality behind the actions of Obama in brokering his tax deal with the Republicans. In fact, part of what the Reactionary Left is doing could be seen as part of an overall plan to lay the ground work for some slick political maneuvering.

We really are in a pickle as a party, us Democrats. For the last 4 years we have gotten a lot done to aid our country. There are in fact some really amazing things on the list of at least 100 accomplishments that this administration has done including the signing of the Recovery Act and the establishment of a method to openly track the spending of that Act. I mean seriously, take a look at that list, it is rather incredible. While it is a fact that this administration has accomplished some truly amazing things, it is also true that there are some major short fallings when it comes to the promises and expectations that have not been met.

"Don't ask, don't tell" still exists, as does the Afghan and (de facto) Iraqi wars. There is still this air of Fear and Constitutional pliability out there. Things are not what we expected, but that was always to be expected. Obama has a lot of criticisms out there, and justifiably so in many instances for those without patience. Again, this is to be expected that there would be little patience in the age of instant gratification. We don't vote for big capitol projects anymore because there are those who will not live to reap the rewards, we don't really understand the monetary needs for 10 year plans and 100 year plans. There are many of use who rationalize climate change as a problem for the future instead of something to plan for and attempt to prevent. As a liberal democrat, I understand the frustration at America for a lack of Universal Healthcare and at the inequality in the classes, races, sexes, sexual practices. I am more frustrated with the shortsightedness out there from both sides. We need to try to think beyond the now and look at where things need to go and work hard to get there. We forgot how hard it was to get each step. We expect it as soon as there is a new president when that is not how it has ever really worked.

We all have to remember something, we are hurting, hard. As a country we are in some dire times, people's lives are falling apart. A great accomplishment is to give these people time. Time to help the economy along (remember your Keynesian economics) and find a job. These people who now will not be late on their payments will have a real example of the accomplishments of this administration - their continued benefits. As one of the millions of Americans on some form of unemployment, this issue hits very close to home. Did we give up a lot on it? Yes. Does it send a message to the Right? Yes, but not the one I think has been the most discussed. The Republicans are just as afraid of us as we are of them, perhaps more. The last time the Republicans gained control and threw a tantrum, Bill Clinton just let them have their closed session. They looked like ineffective children and he is currently one of the most popular presidents and is seen as accomplishing at least as much as FDR.

In presenting this current agreement to the right with a bargaining chip of something relatively small, a slight continuation of some of the tax cuts, for the attention and love of the disenfranchised and just to be able to help them seems a fair trade. Obama actually shows himself as a compromiser and unifier. The fact that the Liberal Dems are up in arms about it is a bonus.

To me it just seems like a mind game.

Again, the Republicans have seen what an angry and mobilized Democratic party can do, in the election of Obama, in the reinstatement of their control of Congress during Clinton. The Republicans are afraid. The fact that the Democrats are already frothing at the mouth for a fight, in my mind, is making the slightly bankrupt Republican leadership shake in their boots. It is a huge show of power, especially with Obama's "Let them bring a fight" conversation unifying them and drawing a line in the sand. It would be lovely if this was all planned and thought out by the administration.

Who knows, maybe I am giving them too much credit in their ability to gamble and believe in themselves. We shall see.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Some thoughts on the Plastic Bag Ban in San Jose yesterday

Yesterday the San Jose City Council banned plastic single use bags making it the largest city to band them outright. This was a project that I worked on, as I have previously mentioned, while I was working for Kansen Chu. We generated the memo that led to this ban as a result of many influences and reasons but I really want to speak to a concern that many mentioned at the council meeting for this provision, including Councilmember Constant. There was a fear that during these times of economic hardships, this effort was unfair and unwise. I feel the need to speak to this from the point of reference of cost. Now while the costs of cleaning plastic bags from our streams, our oceans and eventually our food stream are as yet only speculative, we have to look at the current costs to our tax payers to deal with these plastic bags currently in our waste stream.

For the most part, plastic bags enter our waste stream through two sources, the trash/recycling stream and the bio-waste stream. For both of these streams there are major costs on cleaning the systems that these plastic bags "gum up." It costs thousands of dollars when sewage treatment plants and recycling plants are stopped as a result of gears being gunked up by a stray bag or two. In fact it has gotten to the point where recycling centers, which are required by state law to accept plastic and plastic bags, don't want the bags because they are losing money on them. To make up these funds, the recycling and processing centers will increase their rates which will instantly increase rates on taxpayers.

Just as a tangent, it should also be noted that these centers and municpalities are also required to take all forms of recyclable plastic but are unable to actually recycle all of them. Many of the bottles and containers are simply thrown away or shipped to China to be "taken care of."

The big issue that we were constantly speaking to was producer responsibility, the idea that those who generate products should take into account their entire life cycle including the waste stream aspect. Since the producers of these plastic bags seemed unable or unwilling to put forward the effort to deal with the wastestream end of their product, the costs will continue to be on the Municipalities and the tax payers.

In the end, eliminating the plastics from the system will cost far less to the people of San Jose then keeping them in the mix. Just food for thought.

Congrats San Jose, congrats.

Next step; paper bags and Styrofoam clam-shells.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thoughts on The 9th Circuit Appeals Court Hearing on Prop 8

Today a historic hearing on the validity of the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8 took place in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

This was one of the first judicial tribunal hearings that I have listened to all the way through. Both sides worked hard to present their arguments thoroughly and the Judges gave an excellent example of fair jurisprudence in their questions to each side of the argument.

After arguing the validity of the claim and the claimant (an Imperial County Deputy Clerk not wanting to "deal" with same sex marriage) the heart of the arguments were heard, whether or not the voters of the State have the right to a. deny a group or "class" of individuals set "rights" because of the traditional values, roles and definitions of those rights, b. take away a set of rights that were allowed to a group of citizens and c. enact laws against a special class of citizenry because of "bigotry" and what the definition of "bigotry" is.

The three main things that I have to say, from a legal standpoint, are the fallacy of the Pro-prop 8's attempt to distance this case from the Loving case where mixed race marriage was the issue, the argument and definition of the "purpose of marriage," and the rational basis test.

In the Loving V. Virginia a mixed race couple was refused to marry because of laws on the books in Virginia that for all intents and purposes prohibited "mixed race" relations. To avoid the implications of the Racial Integrity Act, a state law banning marriages between any white person and any non-white person, the couple married in the District of Colombia and returned to Virginia to be arrested for engaging in interracial sex. After seeing their out of state marriage certificate the couple were instead arrested under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and then returning to Virginia. The Proponents of Prop 8 attempted to argue that since the marriage between an interracial mixed sex couple could produce children, meeting the definition they were apparently putting forward of the role of marriage - procreation. There was a dizzying attempt to show that bastards and children of single parents were some how less well adjusted to society as those with a 2 parent mixed sex household and a burden on the state and would be the same with same sex couples. In essence this means that any single parent household AND any barren mixed sex marriage were violating the rules or "sanctity" of marriage and failing at meeting the purpose of marriage. Over all both the arguments trying to distance Prop 8 with Loving and the attempt to define this role of marriage failed and it seemed laughable that this attempt to re-instate Proposition 8 was even seeing light of day.

This feeling was compounded when the issue of "Rational Basis Review" was breached. In rational basis, the base level of scrutiny is applied by courts when deciding constitutional equal protection and due process issues. In most instances, rational basis is the default level of review and does not usually apply in situations where a suspect or quasi-suspect classification is involved, or a fundamental right is implicated which, in the mind of this non-lawyer, both apply here.

The passion could be felt and it reminded me of watching Inherit the Wind, the movie regarding the Scopes Monkey trial. I wonder when the movie will be made of this. I also must say that it was rather great to hear the judges and the advocates engaging in some levity here and there, like the comic relief in a Shakespearean Drama.

Over all it was quite enjoyable and look forward to reading the decisions of the Judges.

Democracy in action.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cancun Sumit update - China's Complaint

Though there is a glut of news out there that may distract us, we can not forget that the Cancun UN Climate talks are currently taking place. Also known as COP16, short for the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the talks have already showed some disparaging signs as to how effective they will actually be and seem to possibly be as small of a step as the Copenhagen talks were to having an international and legally binding Climate Treaty. We need to keep in mind that the last landmark climate treaty which was legally binding was the Kyoto Protocol, which the United States never actually signed onto under the Bush Presidency. With the Kyoto Protocol expiring in 2012 and the non-binding and weak agreement that came out of the Copenhagen talks giving no real replacements, time is starting to run out for anything of real value to be done about it in time to build upon Kyoto.

Currently, many are blaming the United States for the lack of effectiveness, and partially I cannot fault the detractors for that. The United States delegation seems to be doing little to push an effective and time efficient treaty and seems to be messing up the process from the background. As Sarah Laskow of the Weekly Mulch puts it (in an excellently researched piece);
What does seem certain is that if, at the end of this session, international climate negotiations have become so messy and tangled the world abandons them, and starts over, much of the blame will lie with the United States.
It actually looks like the Republican gains in the mid-term elections caused the US delegation to abandon plans to introduce its own climate change legislation. Currently they have only offered a weak pledge to cut emissions by 17 per cent, a stance that has weakened their position in the international talks and negotiations.

The United States should be eating some humble pie regarding effectiveness and leadership at home for these talks. Compared to China, the United States has been caught sleeping on the Climate Leadership job. While the legislation to cap carbon dioxide emissions died in Congress, China made pollution cuts and energy efficiency the law and even considered a CO2-trading system. In fact, while the U.S. attracted about $18.6 billion in renewable-energy investments in the last, China attracted $34.5 billion, nearly double. As stated in an article from Bloomberg news;
“China is in a stronger negotiating position now than they were in Copenhagen because the perception is the U.S. doesn’t have its domestic act together,” Alden Meyer, head of policy in Washington at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an interview. “The Chinese public believes they are doing a lot more on the ground than the U.S., and they don’t think China should have to make any concessions.”
In fact China and other countries like Bolivia and Venezuela, have been accusing some developed nations at the talks of trying to kill the Kyoto Protocol pact and without America, or even Canada, taking the lead and presenting anything strong, the talks seem to be going towards a deadlock. As written by David Derbyshire of the Daily Mail;
Without American committed to taking action, other countries are reluctant to sign up to a legally binding cut in their carbon emissions - a cut that could put them at an economic disadvantage... China is equally reluctant to sign up to any legally binding treaty, claiming it is unfair that its economic growth should be restricted by the West.
The United States really needs to get their domestic act together. The current lack of leadership on the U.S.'s part is frightening, not just for the present but for 2012. Imagine a scenario for a moment. Obama and the Democratic leadership are so split that they are no longer an effective party and there is stagnation in the legislature which bolsters the Republicans. As a result of infighting and lack of unity, Obama is either met with a challenger (and loses to that challenger) or split from the major party effort causing the Republican candidate to win the Presidency and gain control of both the House and Senate. Imagine, on the best of cases, that the UN delegations can pump out something relatively binding and effective by 2012. That means that by the time a treaty agreement can voted on in Congress, there could be no Legislative support for it, causing us to not sign or abide by that treaty either. In the worst case scenario, no UN action comes about and as a result of the change in regime in the US, no delegation would be sent that would push for anything progressive. Sorry situations in either case.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Great Green Energy Race Part 1: Intro

With the Cancun Climate talks beginning and various groups keeping their eyes on the events unfolding It is an opportune time to start to discuss a project I decided to embark upon.

This project stems from an online chat between David Roberts of Grist and the Sierra Club's Executive Director Michael Brune where the subject of a "Green Arms Race" was brought up. In describing the purposes of training advocates in many different countries including China, India, etc Michael Brune states that "the goal, whether its with China or other countries, is to create a "clean energy arms race" so that countries are competing, aggressively and fairly to develop their clean energy economies most quickly." This idea of competing for dominance in the green tech industry really resonated with me. While collaboration and openness in technology advances everyone and is an amazing practice when it comes to the Scientific Community as a whole, it is also apparent that in the age of the Cold War and the Space Race so much money was pumped into the system that industries were able to be created, developed and thrive as a result of National level pushes. On a Nation verse Nation level a mentality of competition may be the only real solution to developing the public backing for major investment in the Green industry; making it a National priority on the basis of pride and supremacy in a field (not to mention control of the jobs in the industry).

In the initial research to answer the question of "Who is winning the Green Energy race" I found that not only was the answer much harder to pinpoint than I originally thought, but also that the "answer" would really be a huge undertaking much larger than most people would want to read in a single setting. There are many great resources out there from the 44 page Pew Report of "Who is Winning the Green Energy Race" to The Third Way's publication "Creating a Clean Energy Century" that there is just a lot of information to break down, process and analyze. This task has to be broken into multiple sections by the efforts and progress done by separate countries.

This effort was also spurred by an article I stumbled upon by Gizmag showing reviewing various graphics that have been spreading around the eco-bloggosphere generated by Third Way, the "leading moderate think tank of the progressive movement."

Of the graphics I found and perused one stuck out. It shows a comparison of percentage of GDP spent on Clean Energy investment. From one perspective this is a telling graph showing how much of an investment countries are willing to spend of their Gross Domestic Product, some may say that the total amount is really what matters. Spain, whose 2009 GDP is only 1.46 Trillion compared to the US's 14.26 Trillion makes a total investment of approximately 10.3 Billion to the US's 18.5 Billion. In my mind this comparison, to show interest in investment, really must be made to GDP percentage for it shows how important the investment is to the Nation's Government; countries who devote a higher percentage of their total funds are showing that clean energy and green tech innovation are higher priorities than those investing a smaller portion of their own coffers. (China's total investment ends up being $34 Billion). For who is leading the industry, however, it is important to also look at how much is actually being invested in real dollars, for they will have a more comparable affect, across the board.

If we are to imagine that those who spend more of their budget on Clean Energy then, from this graph the apparent leaders are; Spain, China, the UK, Brazil, Canada with The United States in a dismal 7th place behind India. When looking at total amounts, however The order appears as follows;

Vertical bar chart

This shows that, in relationship to total dollars spent, the top two contenders are the United States and China, with China spending nearly double. By these metrics, the United States is a poor second place in the Green Energy Race.

Back in 2009, the San Francisco Chronicle published an article entitled; "Will America lose the clean-energy race." This article pointed out how far the United States was falling behind with their investment, not only in the industry, but in the future of the industry;

The United States is also falling behind in energy science and technology education. Only 15 percent of undergraduate degrees earned in the United States are in science and engineering, compared with 50 percent in China, according to the National Academies.

That same year Obama had proposed a program, called RE-ENERGYSE (Regaining our Energy Science and Engineering Edge), designed to encourage young Americans to follow clean energy careers. Unfortunately, Congress had rejected the proposal cutting the funds to virtually nothing. This program would apparently have funded new undergraduate and graduate energy programs to prepare up to 8,500 highly educated young scientists and engineers to enter clean-energy fields by 2015 alone. It shows that investing in the industry is not the only metric that needs to be kept in mind to determine who in fact is winning.

Thanks to the efforts of Michael Liebreich (@M_Liebreich) and , this effort should be relatively seamless and interesting. The Bloomberg New Energy Finance, or BNEF is a data company focused on energy investment and carbon markets research based in the U.K.. London is pretty much the current center of the carbon markets since the United States backed out of the Kyoto Accords killing that industry in NY and the exchange there. As a result of their background and position in this important aspect of the green economy, BNEF has conducted extensive research on this subject and have written papers and reviews regarding the money invested in the green industry by countries.

So look forward to and (hopefully) enjoy this continuing series called "The Great Green Energy Race."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Canada, California, Cancun and Climate Change

Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday.

A huge upset happened this week in the fight against climate change and to curb our world's carbon output. In Canada, C311, the Canadian Climate Change bill, was defeated in the Canadian Senate.The Canadian Federal bill would have done the following;
...ensure[d] that Canadian greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, subject to the ultimate objectives of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,
(a) as a long-term target, to a level that is 80% below the 1990 level by the year 2050; and
(b) as a medium-term target, valid prior to the target plan referred to in subsection 6(1), to a level that is 25% below the 1990 level by the year 2020.
This bill, which had been passed through the House of Commons, was destroyed by the Conservative controlled branch of the Canadian Federal legislature.

Canada, which is still subject to the British Royal Crown, has a bicameral legislature made up of the elected and sovereign House of Commons and the Senate. The Senate is a 105 member "upper house" that is appointed by the representative of the British Crown; the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. In this most recent instant, the Canadian Senate had a swing in power where the majority of appointees were from the Conservative party, as a result of the Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's pushing. While it is democratic tradition that the House of Commons is the dominant branch of parliament and the Senate and Crown rarely oppose its will, in this case the most current precedent has been set with the Senate deliberately and completely destroying C311. From a press release by Alberta Senator Grant Mitchell;
It is unprecedented that unelected Conservative Senators have defeated this bill even before the committee stage. The Conservatives’ disregard for the House of Commons and this bill is underlined by the fact that not a single Conservative Senator has debated the bill even though it was presented in the Senate 193 days ago.
Many are angered by the fact that what thus represents is the truly undemocratic process in the Canadian Parliament. The Senate held no hearings or debates in committee on this hugely important bill which would have put serious bench marks to reducing their greenhouse and carbon gas emissions. Canadian environmentalists (and much of the Canadian media) seem outright furious about this situation. As written by Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star;
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s defiant views on democracy and the environment have exploded together in one Parliament Hill uproar, as unelected Conservative senators killed a climate-change bill passed by a majority of elected MPs in the Commons.
While this process of killing a bill on its arrival has been virtually unheard of in Canadian government, the worst aspect of this is the ramifications on the upcoming UN Climate Change talks set to take place in Cancun.

A tourist boom in Cancun is devastating the ocean and reefs. (Reuters: Henry Romero, file photo)

With a major post-industrial nation like Canada coming to the talks on the 29th with virtually nothing on the table, and the recent failure of the American Federal Green Energy bill and the virtual impossibility that a Climate bill will be passed through by the currently elected Congress, the outlook for Cancun's talks doing anything meaningful is rather dismal.

Many fear that Cancun will be another Copenhagen, with little if anything being actually accomplished. Many of these fears have actual basis based on the behavior of the largest developed countries, such as Canada and the USA, and the short comings of their financial and action-oriented promises. As Corbin Hiar writes in the UN Dispatch;
Vexing questions remain about the money set aside in Copenhagen for adaption. A paper released today by the International Institute for Environment and Development found that developed countries are not delivering on the $30 billion in so-called fast-start climate finance pledges. This precursor climate aid is intended to build the capacity and trust needed to ramp up the climate funding to the $100 billion annual level promised by rich nations in last year’s Copenhagen Accord after 2012.
While it is rather frustrating and frightening that the support does not seem to be there for real change from the largest delegations' home countries (noted by many writers even for more conservative publications such as the Wall Street Journal), some are hopeful that real progress and action can truly take place.

Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote an amazing blog that outlines key elements that can accomplish real progress without a "binding agreement" being reached. I suggest everyone who sees this and has read this far to check it out. He finishes up his thoughts with the following hopeful words;

In Cancun countries need to begin to outline the key steps they are taking to reduce their emissions, improve the transparency and accountability of their actions, and support the creation of a new global fund for climate change. This agreement also needs to begin to implement key efforts to reduce deforestation emissions, deploy clean energy, and help developing countries adapt to the global warming impacts they are experiencing right now.

As I have mentioned previously; the solution to Climate Change is a global one, but it is up to Regionalities and Municipalites to try and sidestep the red-tape that Nations and even States can be tripped up by. With local action and local innovation regarding solutions, we can impact higher strata of government, thus moving forward, instead of dragging behind to be left in the global warming aftermath.

It seems like California and other regions are doing just that for these upcoming talks. R20, the apparent brain child of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, is an organization made up of about 100 regional leaders including local officials from countries such as South Korea, Japan, Mexico, and poignantly Canada whose mission is to develop and execute low-carbon and green energy projects. The plan is to circumvent national and even international organizations through the cooperation of subnational governments around the world. This coalition was created just as the negotiators for the upcoming global climate-change treating deliberations, a process that is looking grim. As written by Kim Chipman in the financial software, news, and data company Bloomberg's blog;

“We can’t afford to wait for national and international movement,” Schwarzenegger said in a statement. “Action is needed now.”

The regional leaders will strive to move beyond gridlock by helping public-private partnerships and accelerating development of clean-energy initiatives, according to the news release.

I must commend the Governor on this effort, I am pleasantly surprised at this innovative and timely effort. More can be found on this coalition in a great article from Reuters.

It is not just Government agencies and NGOs that would like to see a resolution and real progress at these talks. Businesses and investors, much like the Copenhagen conferences, have been pushing for real change. As written by for the Guardian;
A group of the world's largest investors have issued a call to governments, asking them to take action at the upcoming UN climate summit in Cancun or face a potential economic recession more severe than the recent financial crisis.... The release also comes on the same day as the Cancun Communiqué, signed by approximately 250 businesses around the world, calling on world leaders to deliver significant progress in Cancun... The statement acknowledges that there is unlikely to be a binding agreement in Cancun, but it argued that investors want to see progress towards a deal that can be agreed upon in South Africa next year.
Hopefully with all these elements pushing, there will be some real successes, but if not, there is always the local efforts that can meet immediate needs and create change through open and progressive cooperation.

For more information on the upcoming meeting please take a look at the official site here.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Government Participation in the Age of Social Media

Interacting with the government in our country has evolved as society and technology has advanced. The advent of wide-spread print media, the telegraph, the radio and the television all gave impetus to change. The widespread use of these media by citizens and the leveraging of them for both advertising and political campaigning has dramatically changed how the public receives information and how it participates in the legislative and governing process. Each technological leap has led to increased ease in interaction and visibility of the process. The changing landscape not only allows for candidates to spread their political message and increase their electability.

Seemingly progressing in tandem with technology is the implementation of sunshine ordinances and decisions that add visibility to the process. These include historic moments such as the Supreme Court case Londoner v. Denver (1908), the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, the Freedom of Information Act of 1966, the Government in the Sunshine Act of 1976 and the Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980.

from Businessweek

It appears that social media is continuing the trend of technology bridging the gap between governing bodies and those governed in a meaningful way. According to a recent article on, social media is replacing traditional media as the “default ” outlet for political discussion and interaction.

“It will be about how much society has integrated itself into it,” said Gerrit Lansing, the new media director for Congressman Peter Roskam (R-IL 6th). “Citizens will be far more accustomed to being a fan of their congressman on Facebook, because it will soon become one of the main ways in which they communicate with him.”

We have already seen that governing bodies from the Federal to the State and Local levels are gearing up for social media with plans and guidelines and that some tools are in the early stages of development. But more and more “forward thinking” campaigners and public servants are abandoning the traditional viewpoint of political campaigning and outreach. They recognize that information and communication, especially in the social media age, is a two-way street with many points of access.

Larry Ell of the recently published an article about social media entitled, “Social media not just for kids.” Ell touched upon the efforts of a few accounts created by Lake County, California. He mentions, “Municipal governments have also recognized the potential of social media to deliver focused content to their residents.” What needs to be mentioned here is that this is just the beginning. Social media has the potential to create a verifiable interaction framework that could lead to a government style much closer to direct democracy than we have ever imagined before in this nation.

Traditionally, constituents had to rely on direct mail, press releases and events to interact with their elected officials. This was especially true if that individual wanted to provide direct input on legislation and issues. Today, by being part of the information stream of your elected officials, you are able to insert yourself in the conversation and let your ideas be heard. Many public officials are even posting links to their public talks and forums, taking a note from the hugely popular webinar format.

One interesting and noteworthy tool that was mentioned in the previously referenced Mashable article comes from Republicans in Congress. They have launched a program utilizing social media and direct input from constituents called “YouCut.” While the nature of the program may seem partisan (many view the project as benefiting mainly the conservative agenda because of phrasing and focus) it is still a platform where anyone can voice their opinions and still has potential as an input stream for a more direct democracy. If Congress as a whole utilized this type of tool as an opinion gathering method on the legislative items it dealt with, it would have the potential to be a game changer in the political world. This is becoming the case with social media platforms and tools across the board.

In late July and early August, the 2010 Global Forum for Modern Direct Democracy was held at U.C. Hastings in San Francisco. The purpose was to explore the various avenues for modern direct democracy techniques. One of the of the panels included, “Technology Symposium on the Rise of Digital Direct Democracy,” which attempted to answer the question, “What impact will social media have on democracy in the next three years and beyond?” While the findings were expected – digitization will streamline the initiative and petition process – the fact that the question was raised indicates interesting prospects for the future of interacting with government.

The real lesson here is, as the times change, so will the methods of interacting with government. While traditional methods still prove useful, it behooves government organizations to stay ahead of the curve and meet the shifting trends in constituent engagement, or they will find themselves lost as to what the public concerns are and how to inform the governed in the most appropriate and expedient way. While we may not be there yet, the potential for this form of interaction is something worth being excited over.

(This was originally posted at my company blog, but thought it would fit here as well. )

Thursday, October 21, 2010

California's Governor's Race and Youtube

The race for California Governor has been heated to the point of being explosive. The Meg and Brown camps have been holding no punches from bringing Meg’s treatment of her undocumented housekeeper to an alleged garbled phone message from Brown’s staff calling miss Whitman a “Whore”. This should come as no surprise, it has been this way since before the Brown – Unruh years and with the increasing technology and ease of reaching the public, more and more money has been spent on the campaign fervor and new methods for swaying the electorate.

When LBJ first released his controversial commercial highlighting the possibility of nuclear war, it was so triggering that it was only aired once but talked about by the majority of news outlets nation wide. Many argue that this ad won him the election.

While an advertisement can cost a certain amount to produce, most costs have lowered due to the huge availability of video production software and the relatively inexpensive equipment available. The real costs is buying of time on television and these days that isn’t the only forum for these adds. Platforms such as youtube have allowed for so much information to be stored that it would be ludicrous for anyone without an internet connection and an hour to be uninformed of the race and the issues.

You can watch everything from the debates such as the first debate held at UC Davis,

to almost ever advertisement that both sides want to show. Here are two that stand out in my mind. The first is from Meg called “puppet”. This was obviously a mediocre budget production probably put together in flash or some other low tech form.

In my mind it isn’t particularly effective advertisement. It is very short, there are no real references to the “facts” that the video is putting out there and the add itself doesn’t really resonate that well. It seems to try and trigger humor and possibly fear (ropes and darkness) in the audience.

In contrast here is a very simple yet very effective video from the Brown campaign drawing comparisons between Meg and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Obviously the part that took the longest in generating this video was the research and finding these specific clips. The video itself is again, relatively basic, even using a very rough morph at the very end but the reason it is effective is that it hits home this direct comparison, it not only keeps to its message but drives it home. On Youtube alone this video has gotten almost 15,000 views while Meg’s puppet video has only had about 2,500.

Both of these videos are blown out of the water by an amazingly well done anti-Meg Whitman add put out by California Correctional Peace Officers as an independent expenditure. They either found or made a great bobble head and well done animation with a great and catchy tune that sounds more like They Might Be Giants song than a political song. The video shows itself as being effective by the fact that it has over 47,000 views.

Social media has already been shown to be changing the way our politicians campaign. But it is promising to be so much more. With the ability for every day individuals to create their own content and put forward their opinions on issues and candidates, the face of political advertisements and videos is going to be something we have never seen before very soon and I for one am looking forward to it with bright eyes. Yes I know that there will be some horribly done or uninformed dribble out there but the glistening examples will rise to the top.

For the last example I will put on here is a spoken word piece by Brave New Films ( who touts tons of political videos, many very well done (such as the Carly Fiorina Loves the Tea Party video) and also has amassed a total over 48 million views.

This isn’t my favorite video of them, but shows my point of where the political discussion is headed.

Monday, September 20, 2010

California to be Solar Powered and the Wake of the Oil Spill

We all knew that the BP Gulf disaster would have far reaching ramifications not just in loss of jobs or environmental (of which scientists are still trying to pinpoint the actual effects). Approximately 186 million to 227 million gallons of crude oil came spilling out into the gulf and is now lost and unusable. Mix that with the fact that this was an accident that has other fiscal impacts and it leads to the conclusion that one of the longer term effects of this disaster is going to be increased gas prices.

According to the Guardian, the BP oil disaster has driven up insurance premiums for Oil companies participating in “deep water operations by 25-30% and deepwater drilling by 100% or more.” The Gaurdian explains;
However, the full impact will not be felt until 1 January onwards when the bulk of reinsurance is bought, insurers warn. The disaster has also fuelled demand for insurance, as regulators are moving to a tougher stance on how much cover is needed by oil and gas companies.
The costs from both the decreased supply and these increased premiums are going to be passed onto the consumers meaning higher gas prices and I, for one, am excited about this.

Before anyone starts to speak to me about the negative effects on the lower income earners that rely on their cars I will say that yes, it will be tough for them but hopefully this will continue to spur on the green transportation movement. This includes the highspeed rail project in California (which is hurting for funding a bit) and the Vactrain efforts.
If you are unfamiliar with Vactrains they are basically a system of highspeed vacuum sealed rail lines with magnetically levitated that could literally get passengers from Los Angeles, California to New York City in less than an hour.

Sound like science fiction? Apparently China, Switzerland and, yes, the United States are working on developing these technologies. It appears that these are either never actually going to be produced because of expense, or will be around long after I can enjoy them. China is hoping to pump theirs out in the 2020 to 2030 range.

For more local solutions, electric vehicles are constantly being improved as is solar solutions. When I first heard about slim solar panels and how they were not only more efficient to produce but more “aesthetically pleasing” I was sure that this was just the first step in solving domestic demand issues. It appears that Walmart is starting a new solar project of installing thin solar panels to 30 of its locations in California and Arizona. This on top of the 31 existing installations Walmart has in Hawaii and California.

Even if other companies and organizations fail to capitalize on the momentum it looks like America’s solar industry is in for a boost. Not only is a Renewable Electricity Standard still hypothetically viable but it looks like the there is significant interest in the industry to bring big bucks into the market.

A broad view of parabolic trough solar collectors at Kramer Junction in the Mojave desert in California. Image source.

From the NY Times Green Blog;

California regulators have licensed what is for the moment the world’s largest solar thermal power plant, a 1,000-megawatt complex called the Blythe Solar Power Project to be built in the Mojave Desert.

This is big news. It has taken about 3 years of environmental reviews by the California Energy Commission but in the past 3 weeks it has the potential of generating 1,500 of Sun Powered energy and have additional solar projects on the dockets to be passed by the end of 2010 that will generate an additional 2,900 megawatts.

This is compounded by the fact that First Solar, the world’s largest photovoltaic company (by market value) and a company that produces the thin film PV cells, is currently working on building 3 large Solar Plants in North America and is planning on working on its biggest project ever next year in California (the 290 MW Agua Caliente plant). According to the Reuters article describing this amazing news, the investment in North America is as a result of declining demand in Germany (a frontrunner for “Greenest Country in the World”) and a burgeoning market in the USA.

So bring on the higher gas prices, bring on another oil crisis. We had a road beginning to be paved during the oil crisis under Carter, but as a result of Regan, all of that headway was turned back on its own head. As I have said before, hopefully the sticker shock will get people to realize that gas is a stop-gap and a more long term solution needs to be established.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Non-Profit Fundraising and Social Media.

The economy is still in a poor state, and while it is a time to try and remain hopeful and hard working on the road to recovery, those that appear to be the worst hit are the nonprofits. When the economy suffers, there is understandably less money to go around, especially to organizations that depend on donations to stay afloat. These funds go toward a wide array of issues including medical, environmental, and homeless and in a situation where funding is stagnant, the people who receive assistance in these areas are the hardest hit. There are fears that things will only grow worse in this changing and shifting economy.

Back in March, an article in the San Francisco Chronicle referred to the economic woes faced by local nonprofits as the 2010 nonprofit “Armageddon.”

Hardest hit will be the Bay Area, home to one of the highest concentrations of nonprofits in the nation. There are 25,000 nonprofits in the region; 7,000 in San Francisco alone. Among them are 10,000 charitable nonprofits with budgets above $25,000. Their combined budgets account for 14 percent of the Bay Area’s gross national product – twice the national average.

Many are teetering.

California is by far not the only region whose nonprofits are affected by this current climate. Across the nation groups are struggling to find ways to stay afloat. In Washington, D.C., organizations have been turning to new methods of attracting donors and raising funds. According to an article in the Washington Post in August, GuideStar USA, an organization that tracks finances of nonprofit groups, suggests nonprofits are doing all they can to weather the storm.

“The bottom line is that individual giving drives philanthropy,” said Chuck McLean, GuideStar’s vice president of research. McLean said that about 10 percent of giving typically comes from foundations and 90 percent from individuals.

McLean said there were two strategies successful nonprofit executives have been employing to hold things together during the extended economic downturn. First, he said, they are raising money with new ideas. “A lot of the organizations that are doing pretty well said that maybe they are doing a silent auction or something they’ve never done before … They’re trying new and different things,” he said. And when they do receive donations, he said, they treat donors like a good business treats its customers.

Time and time again it comes down to the fact that in hard economic times, nonprofits need to reevaluate their strategies and methods for outreach and fund raising. These days, when methods for communications are changing on a daily basis, it makes sense to leverage these new tools for those aspects. According to the most recent studies, this is not necessarily the case.

In a recent article from PR Newswire titled, “Who Gives, Why Do They Give, How Do They Give to Nonprofits?” the author discusses the results of a “new research study that was released Tuesday that may change the way many nonprofits approach their fundraising budgets.” The report seemed to indicate that while social media is useful and new in reaching a portion of their target demographic—younger donors—it is currently not the most efficient means to garner funds based on their polling and analysis. The article puts forth the following analysis:

As many would expect, the study finds that today’s most valuable donors – boomers and older donors – primarily give through the mail. But those in the 25-54 age range tended to give both online and through the mail. “One thing we find interesting is this nexus in the 25-54 year old group,” said Lisa McIntyre, Russ Reid Senior Vice President, Strategy Development. ”The donors who will be most important to us in the coming decade seem equally facile with both mail and online.”

This touches upon an aspect of social media that many in the industry seem to forget. Social media is not the “end all, be all” of outreach. Its primary use is as a way to facilitate communication and support your key efforts. A man cannot survive on bread alone, and an outreach campaign cannot survive on social media alone; it must work in tandem with other efforts. That being said, it is still a useful tool that is growing in necessity. This is increasingly true as the technology and techniques become more sophisticated and refined.

According to a recent press release, companies Ventureneer and Caliber have partnered to perform an audit by way of a survey of what the majority of nonprofits are doing in the realm of social media with the intent of sharing which social media activities are most effective by nonprofit sector, size of organization, and purpose.

The results of this survey will be used to discern and develop the best practices that can be shared and passed from nonprofit to nonprofit. This same type of project, polling to pull the best practices regarding new outreach methods, seem to have already been utilized or in the works as part of various efforts including nonprofit outreach and “government 2.0” efforts. As the technology and integration develops these best practices will be more like a living ideal that will change with the times.

New technologies and methods are springing up every day. According to a recent press release from Blackbaud, Inc., a provider of software and services designed specifically for nonprofit organizations, the company has announced the launch of Blackbaud SocialTM, to provide social media solutions for nonprofits to create both private-label and public socially-enabled communities. According to the press release, “it is the only integrated social platform that offers organizations an easy way to extend their mission, access user data, and leverage it for meaningful constituent engagement.”

This is one of many new developments I suspect will enable nonprofits to leverage social media to target those audiences they have been missing. New sites, aggregators, organizers, and applications are being developed daily. To write off social media for reasons of fear or false return on investment (ROI) results is premature. Last month, my colleague Tiffany Refuerzo wrote a great interview piece with “The Generation Project” who developed an entirely web-based philanthropic model which has been shown to be more efficient and effective at connecting donors with their impact. Earlier in that same month I posted an entry regarding government agencies and social media. In that entry I mention that the United States government, which looked at in a certain way can be seen as a giant “non-profit,” has already established a policy surrounding the use of social media and discussing how important it is in keeping connected with the community. Both of these entries touch on one of the most important aspects of social media; connectivity. With its ability to quickly and efficiently connect donors with their causes and the impact of those donations, social media is an investment in the long term. This connection that is established creates a closer relationship between all involved in the philanthropic process, increasing the likelihood of returning donors. The lesson to learn here is not that social media is the one thing that will save nonprofits and bring them their own personal bankroll. But it will help with efforts in the long run and should be a necessary part of any outreach strategy.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

AB 1998 - Why the California Plastic Ban Failed

Today the Senate of the State of California killed AB 1998, a bill that would have set a ban on plastic bags in the state. If the bill had passed the Governor had already stated that he would welcome and sign the measure making California the first state in the union to pass an all out ban. Instead of making California a leader in environmental efforts, the bill died in the Senate with a vote of 14-21. In a time where municipalities across the nation are passing bans on plastic bags, the question of “why did this not pass?” rears its ugly head.

The short answer is intensive lobbying. From and article entitled, “California plan to ban plastic bags defeated” by Susan Ferriss of the Sacramento Bee

Lawmakers debated the bill as they worked toward a midnight deadline. The measure received just 14 votes, with 20 opposed.... Chemical-company interests lobbied members intensively to block the bill, doling out donations last month to politicians and mounting a TV, radio and newspaper ad campaign. Grocery store lobbyists, meanwhile, argued strongly for the measure.
You can actually see the scare tactics and big budget production from the Chemistry council, rather mind blowing.

The long answer comes from the argument that the industry was pushing.

The main argument I have been hearing is that with the downturn in the economy and the fact that this will negatively impact workers in the plastics industry especially in California. According to the American Chemistry Council, the main opponents and lobbyists against AB 1998 attests; “There are about 1,000 workers out there right now who stand to lose stable, well-paying jobs.” Another source describing the industry's efforts, “...enter stage right the plastic bag manufacturers lobby that cried it would be a biodegradable victim itself costing the state with an unemployment rate of 13% more jobs.

The American Chemistry Council in an editorial in the L.A. Times complains about the issue of “choice” and the issue of a “free bag.”
...the real blitz has come from those who would stifle choice and presume to tell shoppers how to take their groceries home from the store. It's come from special-interest California grocers who, incentivized by the prospect of no longer having to provide free bags to customers, are seeking cover behind what amounts to state-sanctioned price fixing. And it's come from a few opportunistic reusable bag companies, many of whom import their products, who without an environmental impact study promise to ramp up U.S. production and make reusable bags to replace the plastic ones the state wants to ban.
During my time working on the Plastic Bag ban in San Jose, I had the interesting pleasure to discuss with the American Chemistry Council the producer responsibility for the waste-stream life of their products. The concept of producer responsibility is a rather simple one. If you make a product, you are also responsible for making sure that there are reasonable ways of dealing with those same products at the end of their lifecycle. This does not mean “throw them away” and, as I shall discuss shortly, this does not even include recycling. They didn't seem to understand the issue then and they miss the issue now. They forget that these bags only appear free and the fact that they cause such determent to our environment will cause a horrible increase in our costs in the future to clean up the products they produced and had no viable answer for.

We have to also remember that not only are the recycling rates for plastic bags approximately 1-3% but also that the process for recycling them is expensive. While still with the San Jose City Council's office I participated in many talks with industry leaders including those in who represented recycling and land fill centers. During these talks the managers of recycling facilities informed me of two things.

1. The Plastic Bags cost far too much to recycle for it to be worth it for them, so they increase their rates so that the difference is footed by the tax payer since it is mandatory that they accept them.

2. Plastic bags will constantly “gum up” the recycling machinery taking approximately half an hour of man hours, and an approximate total cost of cleaning plastic bags out of the machine to $60,000 a month a cost that gets passed onto tax payers.

According to San Francisco City officials in 2004, plastic bags counted for 2% of the city's total “waste stream” but the actually costs are astronomical, including $7.4 million annually for picking up and disposing of littered bags.

More figures from the California Progress Report - Californians spend $25 million a year to collect and dispose of many of the 19 billion single-use plastic bags used by residents of the state every year. Local governments also spend money cleaning up the bags. For example, in 1994, the annual cost to clean 31 miles of beaches along Los Angeles County was over $4 million.

To me it is a huge shame that this did not get passed and that the arguments against its passing are so flimsy. Hopefully there will be a gut-and-amend effort this round and we can make a stronger push for it. Till then, if you want to make a positive impact for a more sane world, call your California elected officials and let them know you want an end to plastic bags and you are not satisfied with the vote. Be sure to call your State Senator and let them know what you think of they way the voted on the bill, the vote report is here.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Open Letter to Glenn Beck and My Uncle's Blog entry

As you all may be aware, Glenn Beck had a rally. In an attempt to "Restore America" he rallied an argued 25,000 to 500,000 people in a frothy festival of fury. My uncle wrote a blog entry regarding this stating that the attendees should not really the focus of our concern but the monetary issues from the situation.

What I read and took from the event infuriated me to the point of writing and submitting the following letter to Mr. Glen Beck;

Mr. Beck,

I will not pretend to be a subscriber to your ideology. I will not pretend to be a fan of yours. While I am not usually one to write angry letters to pendents and puppets, I must say that what you and others in your industry are doing is hurting this country. Based on the dialogues on your show and your soapbox speeches you seem to be arguing and touting that to be an effective American president you must be a devoutly religious and observant Christian. As a non-Christian American, I find what you are saying and attempting to push frightening and reminiscent of dangerous times in my people's past. As a Jew I am constantly wary of those who are ardently inflammatory and who would provide a scapegoat to bind people together in hate. By calling into question the President's religious beliefs: beliefs that, from our country's inception were considered personal and sacrosanct, and making reference to the possibility that he is a Muslim, you are playing upon the ignorance of the misled masses for your own political goals. Your program and other Fox and conservative media outlets have increasingly vilified Muslims throughout the world to the point of inciting violence. What you and yours are doing is blatant Antisemitism. The stream of anti-Muslim behavior and sentiment is, in portion, your direct fault and you need to realize the damage you are doing. We are a society of different perspectives, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hinduism, Atheist, Conservative, Liberal and all points in between. Fox's "News" services and other conservative outlets have been acting since they began as a wedge to drive neighbors to hate each other and not participate in rational discussion in attempt to make America a better place for her citizens. The amount of hate and passively accepted ignorance in this country has risen to the point where you and other Americans who allow themselves to be led by you should be ashamed of yourselves. What I saw of your recent rally was a shining example of this mass ignorance and hate. Unfortunate people are so misinformed by shows like yours that they not only are driven to hate and spew the same lies that you push through the airwaves but also lose their savings on worthless imitation gold.

The fact that you, and I am referring to the entire conservative media base, have focused so much on the President's religious views is a breach of his civil rights and a return to a much darker time. I would give you a quote to think upon that shows my point. This quote is from one of my favorite Presidents, Abraham Lincoln: "The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession... My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures, have become clearer and stronger with advancing years and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them." Did this make him a horrible President or one who was rational enough to not enforce his views on the public or let his own religious views dictate his policy? I would have you take a look at a rather amazing article by Ali A. Rizvi entitled, Barak Obama: Closeted Non-Believer? where the quote is also mentioned.

I hope for all of our sake that we make it through this time of hate and mistrust and come to an understanding but to get there, you will have to let go of your hate.


Andrew Kornblatt

Monday, August 9, 2010

Human Adaptation and the need for behavior modification and conservation

In high school I once got into a long winded debate with a classmate over the topic of conservation and sustainable practices. He was under the impression that he didn't really have to care about it because "future technology" would take care of it. This concept seemed very short sighted and naive to me at the time but I couldn't really think of why. Part of me realized that it would be a sisyphean effort - constantly trying to fix the symptoms of the problem and not coming up with a solution to the cause of the problem in the first pace and a bit of a blind faith in the abilities of man and science.

I recently found a few articles that made me more sure of my original position. According to the Ecocentric Blog at Time magazine, many of the efforts we will use to help us adapt to climate change will exacerbate things.
Positive feedback cycles—they're what keeps climatologists up at night. The term describes the way that certain ecological responses to a warming climate can further accelerate warming, creating a feedback cycle that can spiral out of control. Take the billions and billions of tons of methane buried beneath the Arctic permafrost. Methane is about 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but fortunately, those vast stores in the Arctic are locked beneath frozen soil, for the most part unable to escape and add to the greenhouse effect. But as the planet—and especially the Arctic—continues to warm, some of that permafrost will melt, potentially leaking methane into the atmosphere and amplifying global warming. And the warmer it gets, the more Arctic permafrost will thaw and the more methane will be released—so on and so on.
The article paints a frightening picture of the attitude of "well, we can adapt" instead of "we need to fix the cause of these problems." Knowing what I know about human nature, especially in America where the culture of convenience has taken root and grown far too strong for my comfort, the simplest solution will usually win. In this situation it is far easier to just put a band-aide on the problem by moving to a more comfortable climate or ignore legislation (such as AB32) to concentrate on economic issues instead of the long term.

What we must remember is that the Earth is changing, biodiversity is shrinking and there should not even be an argument on that issue. From a CBS article regarding the Carnegie Institute's findings on the possible effects and trends of climate change:
Among other things, the report expects deforestation and logging to exact a higher toll on the world's humid tropical forests than previously reported. Carnegie researchers concluded that only 18% to 45% of the plants and animals found in these ecosystems "may remain as we know them today" by the year 2100.

Among their conclusions:

  • Climate change could alter two-thirds of the tropical forests in Central and South America
  • Over 80% of the Amazon Basin could suffer changes in its biodiversity
  • About 70% of Africa's tropical forest biodiversity is at risk
  • The Congo: Between 35 percent and 74 percent of the forests in the region are threatened by logging and climate change.
  • In Asia and the central and southern islands of the Pacific may fare better than other regions. Deforestation and logging, the primary drivers of changes in their local ecosystems, are down 22% in the last decade. Still, up to 77% of the area is at risk of biodiversity losses.
There have been arguments and theories regarding attempts to control the weather, to attempt to curtail such negative trends. Whether it is in our best interests to try and change the weather systems since they are starting to teeter on extremes has been at the forefront of that arguement. Seems to me like huge hubris and attempting to catch a tornado with a rope. From;
"Geoengineering, " as many of the practice's adherents prefer to call it, has been around in one form or another since the first aboriginal people undertook the first rain dance. Its critics have been around since about five minutes later. In "Owning the Weather, " those critics -- a motley collection of scientists, academics and hippies -- insist the real solution to climate change isn't weather modification, but behavior modification on the part of humans.
So it comes down to, act on something that seems like super-science from the comics or working on trying to change the aspects of our behavior that is contributing to the weather problem or doing nothing.

A very interesting internet meme has been going around through Youtube that hits the nail on the head.

One thing that stands out significantly about the benefits of this video is that he has a call to action for comment and discussion. Not in a way that says "bring it on" or "i dare you" but in a way that promotes active and intelligent and calm discussion.

So is calm discussion and forward progress actually happening in the political world? The short answer seems, not really. What seems to be happening out there is not calm discussion but aversion. Look at the Copenhagen talks and the subsequent non-actions that followed. The most recent insanity is the U.N. talks in Mexico. Keep in mind that there are horrible conditions out there; "Russia is burning, Pakistan and China are grappling with floods and mudslides, and millions of people are starving after long droughts in Niger and the Sahel. The Arctic sea ice is reportedly melting at near record pace, land and sea temperature data show conclusively that the world is warming and 16 countries have experienced record temperatures already this year. (From the Guardian)" California is having a cold wave where the east coast is having a huge heat wave. The upcoming talks will be attempting to address many of the same issues that Copenhagen originally set out to deal with but the outcome looks like it is going to be similar.

From the Guardian;

With so little time left for full negotiations before the politicians arrive, the talks now look to be in semi-crisis. The chances of a deal in CancĂșn were always slight, but now it's quite possible that the world won't get a legal agreement even next year in South Africa. You would almost think that some countries did not want an agreement, and you might be right.

So in this situation; we can't squabble, we can't point fingers and we need to stop the bureaucratic red tape because every year we delay on action can add decades to the process, and at a certain point it may be too late to make an actual real change. We need to push ourselves and our leaders to make the uncomfortable decisions and choices that will be the best in the long run.

Though a weather controlling machine does sound nice....

Thursday, July 22, 2010

AB 32 Update

With less than a month till a special election to replace Abel Maldonado and a little over 4 months till the November 8 elections, the air in California feels a little more like a political war zone than the peaceful sunshine state. With attack adds ranging from hitting Santa Cruz's kindly John Laird to asking how many lies Meg Whitman can fit into various things it is hard to keep focused. The fight for climate change over California Assembly Bill 32 continues in the golden state and both sides have had their interesting moments.

Former Green For All director, Obama employee and 'green jobs czar' Van Jones came out publicly against the Proposition and laid out his concern that the effort to repeal AB 32 would hurt the economy of California, the traditional argument for the other side; the side calling for its repeal. From the Sacramento Bee:

Van Jones said efforts to roll back California's landmarkclimate change law will not only hurt Sacramento's budding clean-tech sector but also open the door for competing cities and states to wrest away green jobs and businesses... "It's like taking a sledgehammer to a job-creating machine," Jones said

The fact of the matter is that Van Jones is right, the green sector can be a huge growing industry and AB 32 helps put a cost on sectors that should move in that direction. From the Huffington Post;

More than 100 Ph.D. economists with expertise in California energy and climate issues joined a growing chorus of supporter for the state's energy and climate security law. We released an open letter warning against any delay in the implementation of California clean energy policies. The letter, organized by the Union of Concerned Scientists, features a broad array of leading economists who disagree with those who want to stop implementation of pollution reduction policies. "Delaying action now," the letter states, "will be more costly than initiating action now."

The argument, and it is a valid point, is that AB 32's implementation is a chance for behavior modification and the encouragement of an industry. If we fail to provide clear benefits for the green industry to grow in this state, other states will be more than happy to be the center of the green tech boom. This is an agreeable point but it must be made clear that there are never any real solid numbers to prove these types of arguments - sampling of information can be done in error, data can be fudged and results can be skewed.

Case in point, a reporthas come out from Varshney & Associates, an investment and advisory firm in California which specializes in stock picks. Supporters of Proposition 23 (that is right, the inverse of 32... funny) have been touting this report as "proving" that the costs of AB 32 becoming active are too much.

This report goes through 50-odd pages of assessments made about the hypothetical ramifications of AB 32 being enacted. Just within the first few pages questions arise with their methodology such as how the list of "discretionary spending categories" was generated and how the causal relationship was linked. At one point there is even a paragraph devoted to explaining the possible hypothetical uses they could come up with for the hypothetical tax revenues that would come in from the hypothetical growth of the industry from lack of implementation; nothing substantial. The report itself gives two caveats that stand out like a sore thumb; 1. " It is important to recognize that this analysis focuses on the costs of AB 32 and not whatever savings there may be." and 2. "...there is some uncertainty as to what the actual costs of AB 32 will be." In other words, this report has basically said "this is totally not 100% certain."

An Op Ed in the San Francisco Chronicle has shown the importance of this:

The Varshney & Associates report examined only the potential cost of the law and not the savings. As Hank Ryan, the executive director of the advocacy organization Small Business California, said, "Delaying implementation of AB32 is a lose-lose-lose for California - it will cost our state jobs, increase pollution and drive up energy costs for small businesses."

The importance of this fight has not been lost on the blogosphere and in the media. On Triplepundit's website there is a great article titled "AB 32 The Normandy of Climate Change Legislation" that brings us to the real meat of the situation, the political process;

What really matters is AB 32 Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 which requires California’s greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020. But thanks to California’s absurdly easy rules that allow citizens to vote on complex legislation (which has run the gamut from a horsemeat ban to marriage to insurance laws), a measure on November’s ballot, Proposition 23, would scuttle AB 32. Using the argument that AB 32 is a jobs killer, two Texas oil companies are largely behind the effort to roll back AB 32.

This is something that has been of concern for a while. Back during the California recall I was working on a research project regarding Propositions and recalls and other direct democracy methods, how they developed and what the ramifications of that system could be. One of my deductions was that it could easily develop into a system of easily swayed electorates who will be generally misinformed reworking the political structure and process. Since my external hard drive decided to die, I will have to post a link to that later.

For now, the California Independent Voter Network(CAIVN) has a great article that touches upon this:

Our growing problem is that the citizen is nowhere to be seen in this process. Clearly, the California proposition process is so gamed and compromised that the original (and noble) goal of giving ordinary citizens a way to directly influence government is long gone and absent. Instead, we have well-funded special interests paying for the version of democracy they want to have implemented.

CAIVN's argument focuses mainly on the issue of paying signature gatherers. It is really just a small piece of the issue. As with many instances, this effort to get the proposition on the ballot, also has the money to back an outreach and support campaign to get it at least close to passing. PG&E, after the proposition 16 failure, have also thrown their hats in on this issue as well.

This is all coming on the same trail as the currently dead Federal Energy bill which is too depressing for me to talk about right now but has the perfect image for this story;

Again, what the fight overAB32 should come down to is not the jobs argument, or the state budget effects, or even really the environmental argument since it doesn't seem important to the opposition anyway. What we should be realizing is that this is also a fight between direct and representative democracy. This is a straight forward example of the "citizenry" trying to over turn or "recall" a piece of legislation that went through the difficult two house of representatives process to then be signed into law by the Governor, all who had been duly elected by the people. This is an instance where the electorate have been misled by larger business interests and while there are those who defend this act of external investment in our state's political process, it is becoming rather annoying how many times this issue keeps cropping up in our political past. Remember it was also a huge issue for Harvey Milk and the ban on homosexuals in education.

What really tips the scales of why the out of state oil company contribution can't be ignored is the fact that this process didn't start when the bill was ratified in 2006, but a full four years later. I hope that the previously mentioned quote from the mentioned report quells any "well we didn't know what the effects would be" argument since there is uncertainty on both sides. This legislation has been trying to look at the longer vision and the bigger picture since its inception, a viewpoint I hope those who react solely out of fear take a moment to consider.