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Cylvia Hayes' Posts

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West Coast Leaders Providing Trickle Up Leadership

Monday in San Francisco four elected officials boldly went where few politicians will these days – they talked openly and passionately about the urgent need to take action on climate change including putting a price on carbon.   As California governor Jerry Brown noted, “To utter the term Global Warming is deviant and radical!” But utter those words they did.  Brown was joined by Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, Washington Governor Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier, Christy Clark, all of whom signed the signed the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy.  The plan lays out an ambitious agenda including …

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Why Congress Reminds Me of NASCAR

NASCAR and Congress have much in common. They both go round and round in circles burning up vast amounts of resources without ever really going anywhere. Both are driven by big-monied sponsors although only the racing companies are transparent about who those sponsors are. NASCAR is implementing a host of green measures to try to compensate for the fact that its cars get 5 miles per gallon and emit enormous amounts of greenhouse gasses.   Similarly Republican Congress members bluster and grandstand trying to divert attention away from the damage being inflicted by the Tea Partyers. The fact that both of …

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Irony and Idiocy

Sometimes I can only shake my head at the irony of our species calling itself Homo Sapiens, meaning “wise man”, given the sheer idiocy of so many of our actions. Fellow Grist contributor John Upton just posted a report on the massive and ongoing tar sands oil spill near Cold Lake Alberta.   Nobody seems to know how to stop it because it is the result of a relatively new process of pressurizing underground oil reserves.  In this process thousands of gallons of superhot, high-pressure steam are injected deep underground.  This liquefies the hard bitumen and creates cracks through which it …

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Dalai Lama and a Suicidal Economy

A few days ago I met the Dalai Lama.  He held my hand and embraced me.  Then I drove past the broken body of a person who had just killed himself by jumping off a building. Two days earlier I sat in a packed auditorium for the opening day of the Dalai Lama’s Spirituality and the Environment conference.  That was the same day that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose above 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. The contrast between His Holiness’ message of compassion and the damage we are inflicting on ourselves and the earth …

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Pacific Northwest paying high price for carbon emissions

It is ironic that despite relatively progressive clean energy policies the West Coast is paying an unusually high price for global carbon emissions. Ocean water off the Pacific coast has absorbed so much carbon that it is becoming acidic enough to melt the shells of sea creatures. Our national and global addiction to fossil fuel and unwillingness to seriously reduce carbon emissions is taking its toll, right here, in real time, with profound implications for the Pacific Ocean. The oceans act like a massive sponge soaking up airborne carbon. As carbon dissolves in the ocean it forms carbonic acid. Once …

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Measuring What Matters

Confucius once said, “We are so busy doing the urgent that we don’t have time to do the important.”  I haven’t been able to get that comment out of my mind as I watch the “Fiscal Cliff” shenanigans.  Our faltering economy has been a central concern for the last several years.  But the focus of that concern has been on the urgent, the short-term, the cliff a few feet away, with no serious attention paid to the very important fact that there are fundamental flaws in the underpinnings of our economic system.  If we don’t address them we will face these urgent, volatile, short term crises over and over again, with more and more painful consequences.

Two of the biggest flaws in the status quo economic system are that we use incomplete accounting tools and measure the wrong things.  The primary tool we use to assess the health of the economy is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  If the GDP is going up the economy is seen to be doing well.  If the GDP is going down the economy is seen to be unhealthy.  But here’s the problem.  The only thing GDP measures is how many dollars are flowing through the system; not whether those dollars are making us healthier, happier or more secure.

According to the GDP, the money spent to keep a child in the foster care system or jail registers as just as positive as the money spent to help stabilize a family so that the child can stay at home.

The funeral costs for the victims of mass shootings boost the GDP.  So does the flurry of gun purchases as people react to growing fear and insecurity.  The GDP registers both of those things as an economic gain.  Nowhere does it account for the human capital – the potential and talent and social connections – that was lost.

We’ve been growing the GDP for decades but, more Americans are in poverty today than at any point since the Great Depression.  The gap between our wealthiest citizens and the poor has never been greater.

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Getting ready for climate change: How the West Coast can lead the way

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In mid-November, I was in San Francisco for the Greenbuild conference and a series of events related to clean economy policies on the West Coast. One of the most significant was a meeting of representatives from the leaders of California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia -- scientists and advocates addressing climate change risks and infrastructure decisions. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time a coalition of states had come together to seriously discuss how to handle infrastructure challenges and investments in a world facing increasingly extreme weather and rising sea levels.

The roundtable meeting had been in the works long before Superstorm Sandy, but the flooded New York subways, homes burned to the ground in the Bronx, and thousands of people still without electricity gave the session an even greater sense of importance.

Participants discussed the effects of a changing climate on infrastructure strategies, options for adaptation, and opportunities for funding the infrastructure of the future. The West Coast is slated to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure over the next 30 years. The big question: Will it be spent throwing good money after bad on ill-suited, outdated structures, or will it be invested in more resilient, climate-smart alternatives?

Smart infrastructure choices need to (a) move us toward lower-carbon energy and transportation systems and (b) be able to stand up to increasingly intense weather and temperatures, heightened risk of wildfire, and rising sea levels.