We at Fund Balance are concerned that the only mention of climate change in President Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address was “The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change.”
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences states, “The world is heating up and humans are primarily responsible. Impacts are already apparent and will increase.” Greenhouse gas (GHG) induced climate change is a clear and present threat to our civilization and way of life. Its continued politicization is dangerous. We accept the consensus of the world’s scientific community which is summarized well by the American Chemical Society:
Careful and comprehensive scientific assessments have clearly demonstrated that the Earth’s climate system is changing in response to growing atmospheric burdens of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and absorbing aerosol particles. (IPCC, 2007) Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems. (NRC, 2010a) The potential threats are serious and actions are required to mitigate climate change risks and to adapt to deleterious climate change impacts that probably cannot be avoided. (NRC, 2010b, c).
We further acknowledge and accept the conclusions of our medical community. The American Medical Association (AMA) urges that we as a society confront the health issues of climate change now.
Scientific evidence shows that the world’s climate is changing and that the results have public health consequences. The AMA is working to ensure that physicians and others in health care understand the rise in climate-related illnesses and injuries so they can prepare and respond to them. The Association also is promoting environmentally responsible practices that would reduce waste and energy consumption.
We see that escalating carbon emissions are seriously damaging our oceans depleting them of oxygen and acidification. Carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activities over the last century have increased the acidity of the world’s oceans far beyond the range of natural variations, which may significantly impair the ability of marine organisms to live. We realize that rapid deforestation increasingly impedes nature’s ability to buffer carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere and thus keep our air suitable for breathing.
The time is now for President Obama and Congress to heed science and pursue evidence based policy formation in addressing the real and gathering dangers of Climate Change. Putting a price on carbon is a critical first step.
“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” — John Lennon
Imagination, that force which when coupled with discipline, drives the arts. Such a force is necessary to successfully protect and sustain our biosphere as it represents the best alternative to cynicism and defeatism. My work, involvement, and strong passion for the arts catalyze a lifelong love and respect for our improbable orb, the earth. A few examples of this force which are set out below as well asBeethoven’s 6thalways leap to mind. Clearly many members of the artistic community share this sense of connection.
My first collaborative project out of college was an effort to broadcast an image of the earth from outer space onto the Jumbotron in Times Square. At this time, the World Wide Web remained a research project in labs and universities including the one I attended. So I learned early on what an amazing treasure of earth imagery was stored at NASA, the JPL, and other labs. This project partially resulted from my studies in Kenya at the Athi River research station. Each night the research assistants would lie in the savanna watching satellites pass overhead in their equatorial orbits. Witnessing the absolutely divine beauty of our planet in Africa, from other ecosystems such as the Togiak River basin in Alaska and much of the the American West, and in the woodlands of Alabama where I roamed growing up, has made me a naturalist at heart. So, knowing that the earth was entering a crisis, I wanted people to simply see her from space everyday as they scurried about one of her busiest intersections.
My grant application to the Whitney Museum’s fellowship program to rent the Big Screen in order to broadcast the images of our planet was rejected. That hardly slowed me down. Seeing these images and thinking of what I know of astronomy and astrophysics, the shear improbability of Planet Earth has always struck me. For this reason alone, it seems we should cherish the earth and its unlikely ability to support and sustain a broad and diverse array of life forms.
Looking at our solar system, our galaxy the Milky Way and beyond, we notice one thing: most planets are rocky and uniform, lack an atmosphere, or are so stormy and gaseous as to not credibly support life. A great many are too close to their sun or too far away to sustain life. (This essay is not to say one way or the other if life as we conceive it exists out there.)
My travels to Africa, which included skin diving in the Indian Ocean, particularly heightened my sense of the earth’s lungs and plasma- its forests and oceans. In travels since to places such as Beijing, China, it grew increasingly clear that Earth was entering a serious crisis.
Surely since the first rain dances began, art has transmitted an acceptance that humanity’s dominion over the earth is limited, and that somehow every technological discovery is limited in its ability to help mankind. The Christian Bible charges mankind with stewardship over the earth, as does the Koran and numerous other religious texts. This is not to say we do not need technology or agriculture. We do. The very satellites I watched traverse the sky in Kenya are now used to observe earth and alert us to the rapid degradations in her life support systems. In short, sustainable agriculture and tool-making are essential for a thriving civilization.
Artistic expression reinforces the notion that both agriculture and technology are critical for the survival of our civilization. Artists, along with farmers and technologists, have after all, strong histories of technological innovation. They have done so in provisioning means for survival and media for creating deeper connections amongst humankind. In the 21st century, we see new challenges in the how we must shape the methods of agriculture and technology. This will help us sustain our planet, which had literally a vanishingly small chance of existing.
For the sake of brevity, excuse me if I leave it to you, the reader, to think of your own examples. There are many: I will touch on just a few. I think of Shakespeare’s sonnets and
Jonathon Franzen’s recent novel Freedom. Interpretive movement, from the rain dances of the Anasazi to Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, share a seamless flow of connection to the earth through their rhythm and movement. Film making brings appreciation of ecosystems to the fore through such works as Avatar and Godfrey Reggio’sQatsi trilogy. One of our collaborators at Fund-Balance, Jessica Baron, has given us a great exemplar as well with the Green Song Book from her work to preserve and protect arts education via Guitars in the Classroom. Artists get it.
As someone who studied visual art formally for over a decade, I have a great many favorites from this discipline. The work of Andy Goldsworthy always captures my imagination. Another British artist Jason DeCaires Taylor’s recent Silent Evolution presents the convergence of past and present, human and ocean. I hope you will seek out the works of these artists if you are not yet familiar with them.
Another important way that imagination helps us “remain in light” with respect to the crisis that our earth faces is cultivating empathy, the ability to imagine what it is like to be in another creature’s skin or circumstance. The arts amplify my consideration of what it’s like for someone else and their life in their time and space.
From perhaps a broader perspective, Aristotle’s prescient distinction between “oikonomia”, use value of products in the real economy, and “chrematistics” the maximization of exchange value measured by money, seems as relevant now as then. Contemporary finance and resource extraction operate irrespective of their environmental impact and hence lack empathy for natural systems they destroy. These pursuits fail to employ imagination towards finding ways to minimize such degradation and thus sustain the very systems that create capital and wealth. The arts generate value for objects and/or expressions beyond crude additions of the cost of materials. This is a deeply human mode of thinking that our civilization should factor back into our economies and ecologies. And to wit, artists have a long, hallowed, and harrowed tradition of working together with very limited resources to solve problems.
It may seem counter intuitive to some, but artists can inform business, banking, and policy making in the 21st century just as they have with Kabuki dances in Japan and in the plazas of Florence during the Renaissance. In this century, if Wall Street practiced empathy and took a long view of culture and civilization while they calculated their winning formulas while spinning their deals, abundance might occur without the depletion of the very land beneath our feet, without disregard for degradation of our air and water, and with respect for the mineral resources held deep in the earth. This in turn protects and preserves the means by which wealth happens. In sum, to protect the earth, we must protect the arts.
So I encourage you to join me in looking at the great Pacific garbage patch- a flotilla of discarded plastic in the South Pacific-estimated to be the size of Texas and the expanding dead-zones in our oceans with expansive imagination. I also encourage you to read a great essay by a great artist, Sigourney Weaver. She describes how empathy for women’s rights can preserve and reinforce a balance between ecosystems and human civilization. She writes
“Two groundbreaking studies, one from the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research and one from the Futures Group, found that simply by meeting women’s existing needs for voluntary family planning, we could reduce carbon emissions by between 8 and 15 percent. That is the equivalent of stopping all deforestation today. Empowering women to make critical decisions in their own lives can help solve the biggest environmental and humanitarian challenge of our time”.
This is another recent example of an artist using empathy and imagination to point to solutions for a major problem confronting civilization.
In the early 90’s, I participated in a project in which I enlisted a choreographer and composer to create a dance piece and compose music to be performed against a backdrop of images of the dancers’ brains via PET scans. It was a challenging and expensive endeavor. The concept was to present both the internal rhythm and flow of each dancer with each viewer’s external perception. My hope was that this effort to reveal the beauty of life both within and without would reinforce the audience’s sense of its sanctity.
That one got turned down as well with no explanation, just a simple rejection notice. Perhaps that was for the best as it doubtlessly led me to consider the need for development of green technology and the far nobler pursuit of finding sustainable means with which to power it. And, in turn, we at Fund Balance who with our newest partners join in putting imagination and empathy to work in order to inspire and inform investing in sustainability.
In the coming months, we will hear a lot about the Taxed Enough Already (TEA) Party’s plans for the U.S. during the 112th Congress. No doubt we shall hear how such plans signal a new, brighter era.
But do they?
The principles espoused by the Tea Party and their Republican allies already dominate policy across America in many of the red states, such as South Carolina and Nebraska. These states have for many decades now served as laboratories for TEA Party neoliberalism. They share very low tax rates on wealthy individuals and businesses, high carbon emissions, low unionization (enforced via so-called Right-to-Work statutes), privatized and under-funded public healthcare and so on.
When viewed in contrast with blue states, such as New York and Washington, what is the quality of daily life in the red states?
The picture that emerges from the numbers at left and below shows that blue states provide cleaner air, higher rates of education, and higher per capita income than red states. Furthermore, blue states pay more into the federal government than they get back while red states take more than they pay.
American states paying more into the U.S. Treasury (the blue states for the most part) also have higher rates of unionization combined with higher standards of living than their red tea party counterparts. In red states we find less unionization, lower rates of education and income coupled with higher rates of infant mortality and teen pregnancy. Arguments about the failure of abstinence only approaches to family planning aside, some may argue that a lower cost of living offsets some of these drawbacks for red state citizens. But given the extent of red tea party breastbeating about “economic growth,” it is an interesting irony that these red states take more from the Treasury than they provide and afford their citizens a lower quality of life as described in Chart 1.
Chart 2 breaks out how most red states are subsidized by blue states and have much higher rates of carbon emissions, the emerging standard measure of general pollution. The not so astonishing observation we make about Charts 1 and 2 is that they would appear to suggest that the well-being and productivity of blue state citizens surpasses that of their red tea party neighbors.
Recent and ample anecdotal evidence supporting this conclusion abounds.
In Florida, a state loosely defined by a deeply conservative northern panhandle, and a progressive Southern portion, we see HDI scores just above the national average and a consumption of roughly .97 cents for each dollar of tax revenue provided. Florida’s incoming governor, Rick Scott, recently made headlines by calling for an end to public education and providing vouchers for families of up to $5280 to attend private school. Yet Florida spends $8,800 per pupil. The average cost for private schools per year is $8,549 while the median income is $24,543. Where do the families get this extra sum which amounts to more than 10% of their income? Does this not in effect, amount to a new tax? Mr. Scott’s inability to grasp the glaring problem of federal subsidies to private enterprise (eg the bank bailout) is further demonstrated by his involvement as a CEO in the largest (medicare) fraud settlement in U.S. History according to the Department of Justice.
Texas scores just under the national average of 5.17 at 4.67 on the HDI while its near neighbor Arizona manages 5.11 and takes 19 cents per dollar more from the U.S. Treasury than it pays. Perhaps that is why its Governor Jan Brewer (R) attracted attention from both parties recently for her statements that Arizona needs more Federal funds for Medicare. Gov. Brewer commented recently on her cuts to the state’s Health Care Cost Containment System, which have imperiled the lives of patients in need of an organ transplant. Brewer said that people branding the cuts as a real-life incarnation of death panels should be asking the federal government to send more money – a surprising position from someone who continues to oppose the The Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA) of 2010. As Think Progress points out, “AHCA would foot 100 percent of the bill for states to expand [Medicaid] until 2016 and 90 percent after 2020 for states that are able to maintain current eligibility levels in Medicaid and CHIP.” However, the Brewer Administration recently claimed that it had been forced to cut the transplant program because the health care reform overhaul had prevented the state from being able to save cash by making it harder to qualify for Medicaid. Go figure.
Brewer – who declined to hold a special session to reinstate the funds, a refusal that leaves some patients’ lives hanging in the balance – blames Arizona’s dire financial situation. (Apparently “death panels” aren’t such a big deal when a Republican is in charge.) She argues that if people are so worried about the transplant patients, they should ask the federal government for more money. A report from the Arizona Republic gives
some insight about how Brewer used stimulus funds, and clearly healthcare was not a priority for her. Whither the death panels, Governor Brewer?
All of the red tea party’s empty rhetoric about austerity (for the middle and lower classes, the rich need more tax breaks) needs to be viewed in the light of the past and future.
Aristotle wrote, “It is clear then that the best partnership in a state is one which operates through the middle people.”
The conscious effort by the founders to create this middle class defined American success and stability since the founding. But now, with more than 9 in 10 American families experiencing significant economic shocks year in and out, the middle class in the U.S. – and with it our nation’s future – is seriously endangered.
“Shaky Ground” , a recent study released by the Rockefeller Foundation and authored by Jacob Hacker and Mark Schlesinger of Yale University paints a grim picture of widespread economic insecurity in the era of the Great Recession.
The study concludes, “Economic insecurity has become the rule, not the exception, for many Americans — even in good times.” This report finds that between March 2008 and September 2009, fully 93 percent of American households saw substantial decreases to their wealth or income, or increases in emergency spending, often for medical needs. It further shows that the impact of those shocks was not confined to the working class. The report found that more than half of families making between $60,000 and $100,000 who experienced employment or medical disruptions weren’t able to meet minimum economic needs.
Importantly the study asserts that the recession — which officially lasted from December 2007 until June 2009 — exacerbated some of these economic woes, but that many were in place even before that. “Job-related concerns did increase dramatically during the recession,” Margot Brandenburg, an associate director of the Rockefeller Foundation, told The Lookout. “But other drivers of economic worry — wealth, medical needs, family-related issues — were very high before the recession, and they’ve remained high.”
This trend formed over the last three decades. In 1985, just 12 percent of Americans lived in households that saw a drop in available income of more than 25 percent from one year to the next. By 2009, it was 20 percent according to the report. Where does the shift come from? Why is economic insecurity the new normal? Brandenburg stated what many of us already realize: economic risk has gradually shifted away from corporations in recent years onto individuals through developments such as defined-contribution retirement and high-deductible insurance plans.
Professor Hacker, who authored “The Great Risk Shift” in 2006, argues that since last year’s “winner-take-all politics,” government policies have accelerated a shift that benefits the rich at the expense of the middle and working class. Brandenburg attributes growing economic insecurity to, “the hollowing out of the middle”. Increasingly, the sectors that produce the most jobs either pay high wages and require highly skilled workers, or pay low wages and require unskilled workers. By comparison, the sectors in the middle — manufacturing, technical support, and clerical work, for example – continue to evaporate. These members of the workforce find themselves replaced by cheaper foreign workers and machines.
It is difficult to see then, in light of the data and anecdotes above, how TEA Party and Right to Work states are valuable models for our nation and our civilization’s future. If workers cannot pool their risk via organized labor – much as insurers do with policy-holder liability – then the overwhelming majority of non-union workers will be at the mercy of resource-rich conglomerates and cartels when they are unfairly denied payment for services rendered. When citizens must stand alone in defending themselves against deep-pocketed polluters they find themselves in the same position. And this soon after the great crash of 2008, it is hardly necessary to point out that banking and other corporate and industrial concerns fail miserably at policing themselves.
Society does not need another instantiation of the TEA Party’s rehashed brand of laissez faire economics. That movie was called the Gilded Age, with all the familiar Upton Sinclair and Dickensian storylines: gussied up slave labor, excruciating poverty, and multi-generational tragedy in the lower classes. Nevertheless, 3D technicolor sequels to that movie are now playing in Red and TEA party states, not surprisingly, the data again tells a tragic story.
Looking forward in 2011, we must innovate away from the proven failures of these 19th century economic models. This does not require a revolutionary rejection of capitalism but rather its further refinement.
Early 21st century capitalism is succeeding only partially or pro tanto as J.K. Galbraith would say. Balancing social responsibility and sustainable economic practice has produced great success all across the Union. Within this framework, the world’s efforts to integrate sustainability into financial and industrial systems emerges as an obvious imperative, along with the rejection of loosely regulated 19th century style economic policy.
Not surprisingly, the data suggests that municipalities that value intelligent public sector-driven resource and pollution management systems will have healthier economies and ecologies than their deregulated neighbors. TEA party policies have already run their disastrous evolutionary course. Returning to them would be a giant and unnecessary leap backwards.
In the coming months at Fund Balance, we will be presenting some of the dawning precepts of the bright green future: policies, businesses and projects that build upon the lessons of the past, not its mistakes.
The financial crisis that was precipitated in 2007 by structured finance (credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations et al.) parallels the Deepwater Horizon spill in important ways. And indeed, the very first credit default swap was engineered to offset Exxon’s exposure to remediation, fines and legal costs resulting from the Valdez spill.
Both are examples of advanced engineering methods applied in advance of thorough testing and risk assessment. The practitioners, policymakers, and stakeholders involved with deploying these systems either ignored or failed to understand the risk and potential economic impacts of these technologies on the world in which we live. As a consequence, their customers, constituents and the natural world have suffered greatly.
Both disasters are examples of the lax enforcement of existing regulations and the failure or unwillingness of regulators to keep up with the astonishing systemic complexity that emerges from 21st century technology, whether software or hardware. For example, Warren Buffet famously called CDO and CDS’s, or derivatives, “financial weapons of mass destruction” and sought recently to protect Berkshire Hathaway’s holdings of certain tranches of derivatives, from new regulations on how to value them, since they are indeed so hard to value. As we can see, like deep-water drilling, the practitioners and owners of these sophisticated technical financial instruments find them incomprehensible as well.
Interestingly, the SEC’s indictment of Goldman Sachs over its derivatives strategy and the havoc it caused dominated headlines in the weeks preceding the tragedy at Deepwater Horizon.
Until the government enacts legislation without multiple loopholes, euphemistically referred to as compromises, the public will continue to suffer and subsidize the failures of untested and unproven technologies when they fail. One hears frequently about how top tier investment banks and petrochemical conglomerates attract the best and brightest. At Fund Balance, we want to see this amazing pool of human capital utilized to developing a sustainable economic future.
Mainstream media coverage of the critical depletion of key fish populations – and the serious economic threat it represents – echoes a key refrain at Fund Balance. Time Magazine covers how climate change is warming oceans and thus reducing their ability to support life, and CNN.com has a post byFedele Bauccio addressing ways to halt overfishing.
Blue Fin Tuna populations have dropped by 83% in the past 30 years.
The annual 27 billion dollars in government subsidies to fishing, mostly in rich countries, is misguided since the entire value of fish caught is only 85 billion dollars.
As a result, fishing fleet capacity is 50 to 60 percent higher than it should be.
About 20 million workers will be displaced by ending these subsidies and thus retraining will be required.
Fish populations can rebound quickly if no-fishing zones are expanded and their limits enforced; for example, by allowing tuna to live twice as long as they currently do, they are able on average to produce twice as many eggs.
We hope that the ongoing Gulf Coast disaster heralds a new time – one where:
The false dichotomy between ecology and economy in the public mind is finally eliminated.
Government and industry realize that an environment where pollution and unchecked exploitation are controlled and tightly regulated is an environment that supports healthy economic growth.
People and governments vigorously address the fact that Climate Change is not the only impact of fossil fuel extraction and combustion, and that “market-based” strategies like cap and trade must be combined with other, precautionary and complementary policies.
The public consciousness is imprinted permanently with the understanding that drawing down capital at a rate that exceeds one’s ability to replace it is economic and biological folly at best and suicide at worst, whether of banks or fisheries.
One hears frequently these days that eco-nomic needs trump eco-logical ones in the public mind – especially here in early 2010. But it is increasingly hard to see a difference between the two at all.
Tanya Ott’s recent coverage on WBHM reporting on the challenges the city of Anniston, Alabama has faced is instructive. A large military base, Fort McLellan, closed there in 1995. The city was largely dependent on the revenue this installation created. Then came wide-spread land devaluation as a result of PCB contamination in the surrounding waterways. Next there was national publicity over local resistance to the incineration of deadly nerve gases left over from the military installation.
That was not the last chapter in the story. Ms. Ott notes how arts and humanities-based activities are leading the way toward the revitalization of downtown Anniston. This process also includes uncovering a formerly paved-over creek that runs through downtown.
On the policy front, various campaign officials for local and federal offices insist that jobs matter more than the environment in the vox populi and voting booth. A recent article in the Demopolis Times on concerns over coal ash disposal indicates that wastewater from coal fired plants might not just be a NIMBY (not in my backyard) issue. Rather it may well indicate that yet another zone in the Black Belt is starting to question the long-term cost/benefit analysis of energy consumption that produces toxic water:
“While the Tennessee Valley Authority’s cleanup has removed much of the ash from the river, the arsenic- and mercury-laced muck or its watery discharge has been moving by rail and truck through three states to at least six different sites. Some of it may end up as far away as Louisiana.
At every stop along the route, new environmental concerns pop up. The coal-ash muck is laden with heavy metals linked to cancer, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering declaring coal ash hazardous.
“I’m really concerned about my health,” said retiree James Gibbs, 53, who lives near a west-central Alabama landfill that is taking the ash. “I want to plant a garden. I’m concerned about it getting in the soil.” Gibbs said that since last summer there has been a “bad odor, like a natural gas odor.”
After the spill, the TVA started sending as many as 17,000 rail carloads of ash almost 350 miles south to the landfill in Uniontown, Ala. At least 160 rail shipments have gone out from the cleanup site, said TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci.
Since the EPA approved that plan, unusually heavy rain – including about 25 inches from November through February – has forced the landfill to deal with up to 100,000 gallons a day of tainted water.
The landfill operators first sent it to wastewater treatment plants – a common way that landfills deal with excess liquid – in two nearby Alabama cities, Marion and Demopolis…”
Birmingham’s Green Building Focus, mentioned in last week’s blog for their Green Industrial Real Estate Project, has just announced their second Green Building Focus Conference and Expo to be held in Birmingham, Alabama this August 24-26. Such activity exemplifies economic opportunity emerging from ecologic planning.