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. )