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San Francisco’s clean-tech report card
Joel Makower, WorldChanging
Last October, my company, Clean Edge, published a report, Harnessing San Francisco’s Clean-Tech Future, outlining how San Francisco could implement programs and strategies to become a leader in the clean-technology sector, with a focus on clean energy and transportation. The report, commissioned by the Mayor’s office and the city’s Department of the Environment, offered a ten-point plan to help the city play a central role in pursuing clean-technology development and attracting new business and jobs.

Just before Thanksgiving last year, I, along with former U.S. EPA administrator William Reilly, were called in to brief Mayor Gavin Newsom on the report. I entered the Mayor’s office much like a Master’s candidate, fully prepped to defend my thesis. To my pleasant surprise, Newsom began the meeting by pointing to the report and saying, “This is great. Let’s do it.”

The ensuing conversation was, suffice to say, pretty easy.

Still, this was, after all, big-city government. And while I had long admired Newsom’s green politics and risk-taking initiatives, I left his office with a healthy skepticism about how much would actually get done.

Some ten months later, the Mayor’s office called again, asking us to update the report. It turned out my skepticism was dead wrong. Five of the ten recommendations had, to some degree, already been accomplished. Two others were underway. Only three hadn’t yet been fully addressed.
(7 November 2005)
David Roberts has a comment at Gristmill. The SF Chronicle ran a column by SF mayor Newsom on the wonders of green technology. Note that both author Makower and Mayor Newsom are involved in this news story and may not be completely objective. -BA

Cool idea helps save energy, environment

Chantal Martineau, Washington Post via Seattle Times
In the 1940s, when Robert Tamblyn was working at Toronto’s Eaton Centre department store, he noticed that it had tapped the city’s water main — illegally — to rig up a system that fanned the chilly water through a network of pipes to cool the women’s-evening-wear department.

It was years before the city’s water commissioner wised up. And years more before Tamblyn had the idea of applying the same concept in a bigger way.

“Air conditioning was a whole new word up here in the 1940s,” said Tamblyn, the engineer many credit with developing an alternative technology — lake-source cooling — in North America.

He has helped devise large-scale, energy-efficient cooling systems for the city of Toronto and Cornell University’s Ithaca, N.Y., campus. The city system, the largest of its kind, began operating last summer.
(6 November 2005)

When cleaner air Is a biblical obligation

Michael Janofsky, NY Times
WASHINGTON – In their long and frustrated efforts pushing Congress to pass legislation on global warming, environmentalists are gaining a new ally.

With increasing vigor, evangelical groups that are part of the base of conservative support for leading Republicans are campaigning for laws that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which scientists have linked with global warming.

In the latest effort, the National Association of Evangelicals, a nonprofit organization that includes 45,000 churches serving 30 million people across the country, is circulating among its leaders the draft of a policy statement that would encourage lawmakers to pass legislation creating mandatory controls for carbon emissions.

Environmentalists rely on empirical evidence as their rationale for Congressional action, and many evangelicals further believe that protecting the planet from human activities that cause global warming is a values issue that fulfills Biblical teachings asking humans to be good stewards of the earth.
(6 November 2005)

Sweating the big stuff:
Chip Giller and Grist Magazine

Jessica Kowal, Brown Alumni Magazine
At Brown, Chip Giller ’93 shunned clothes dryers and hung his wet laundry in his dorm room. A decade later, he’s teaching a Web-savvy generation that you can save the planet and still have a few laughs along the way.

As a Brown student, Chip Giller woke up every morning and fretted about how consumption in America was ruining the environment. It pained him to see a roommate hold open a refrigerator door and waste valuable chilled air before deciding what to eat. When another roommate plugged an answering machine into a wall socket, Giller cringed, imagining an endless and needless hemorrhage of energy.

…Fifteen years later, Giller, who is now thirty-four, hasn’t forgotten what he learned at Brown. At a time when environmentalists are often viewed as either just another special-interest group or a bunch of doomsayers standing in the way of economic progress, Giller is trying to encourage a less hysterical approach. He is the founder and president of the increasingly influential, a Seattle-based environmental-news Web site that skewers green sanctimony while delivering deeply reported, we-are-in-trouble stories on issues such as global warming and the Bush administration’s manipulation of science to suit the needs of industry. Grist’s motto is “Gloom and doom with a sense of humor.”
(November/Decemgber 2005 issue)

Curitiba: a global model for development

Bill McKibben, Common Dreams
…From time to time over the next few years, I would see Curitiba mentioned in planning magazines or come across a short newspaper account of it winning various awards from the United Nations. Its success seemed demographically unlikely. For one thing, it’s relatively poor – average per capita (cash) income is about $2,500. Worse, a flood of displaced peasants has tripled its population to a million and a half in the last 25 years. It should resemble a small-scale version of urban nightmares like São Paulo or Mexico City. But I knew from my evening’s stroll it wasn’t like that, and I wondered why.

Maybe an effort to convince myself that a decay in public life was not inevitable was why I went back to Curitiba to spend some real time, to see if its charms extended beyond the lovely downtown. For a month, my wife and baby and I lived in a small apartment near the city center. Morning after morning I interviewed cops, merchants, urban foresters, civil engineers, novelists, planners; in the afternoons, we pushed the stroller across the town, learning the city’s rhythms and habits. And we decided, with great delight, that Curitiba is among the world’s great cities.

Not for its physical location; there are no beaches, no broad bridge-spanned rivers. Not in terms of culture or glamour; it’s a fairly provincial place. But measured for “livability,” I have never been any place like it. In a recent survey, 60 percent of New Yorkers wanted to leave their rich and cosmopolitan city; 99 percent of Curitibans told pollsters that they were happy with their town; and 70 percent of the residents of São Paulo said they thought life would be better in Curitiba.

…To learn from Curitiba, the rest of the world would have to break some longstanding habits. And the hardest habit to break, in fact, may be what Lerner calls the “syndrome of tragedy, of feeling like we’re terminal patients.” Many cities have “a lot of people who are specialists in proving change is not possible. What I try to explain to them when I go visit is that it takes the same energy to say why something can’t be done as to figure out how to do it.”

Excerpted from The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, edited by Paul Rogat Loeb, which won the Nautilus Award for best social change book of last year and was named the #3 political book by the History Channel and The American Book Association. See

Bill McKibben’s books include Hope, Human & Wild (Little Brown 1995, Ruminator Books, 1997), from which this was adapted, Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age (Times Books, 2003), and Wandering Home : A Long Walk Across America’s Most Hopeful Landscape(Crown Journeys 2005).
(8 November 2005)

To save endangered butterfly, become a butterfly

James C. McKinley Jr., NY Times
LLANO DE LAS PAPAS, Mexico, Nov. 3 – Francisco Gutiérrez has trouble expressing precisely when the idea came to him. It was six years ago and it crept up on him like the dawn, a connection between himself and the monarch butterfly.

As an expert hang glider and ultralight pilot from the mountains where the monarchs winter, he felt a strange kinship with them, and the notion of flying with them on their yearly migration from Canada to Mexico became first an itch, then an obsession, his family members said.

So when Mr. Gutiérrez wheeled his ultralight plane painted like a monarch over the butterfly sanctuary here at noon on Thursday and brought it swooping in to land on a stretch of mountain highway, it marked the rarest of human experiences, a dream come true.

He had traveled more than 4,375 miles from Montreal to Michoacán State, following the butterflies at low altitude. He logged more than 90 hours of flying over 72 days, averaging about 60 miles a day, stopping dozens of times to talk to scientists and butterfly fanatics, in a feat of aviation meant to call attention to the insect’s precarious situation.
(3 November 2005)

Interview: Sir Jonathon Porritt

John Vidal, Guardian
Sir Jonathon Porritt has spent more than three decades highlighting green issues, from the ‘in-yer-face’ days with Friends of the Earth to advising today’s government. He tells John Vidal why, now, capitalism is the agent of change.
…Porritt, sometime adviser and confidant to the government, the Prince of Wales, Tesco and almost every major business executive, lives now in the netherworld between corporate power, consumer activism, the civil service and the young guns of the Forum for the Future, the charity he set up with colleague Sarah Parkin in 1995. Since he returned from the Rio Earth summit in 1992, he has cajoled a generation of business people to become – in their own fields – as radical as the early Green party or FoE activists.

To underline what he has learned, he has written a book called Capitalism As If the World Matters. It’s no contrarian potboiler, but it will shock some people because its stark premise is that capitalism is the only global force able to get the world out of its present deep troubles.

His argument is pragmatic and goes briefly like this: it is impossible to deny the need for profound change in the face of today’s ecological crises; the pace of change is not sufficient, and conventional environmentalism has failed to win over hearts and minds; change has to be desirable and will not come by threatening people with ecological doom; therefore, we must embrace capitalism as the only overarching system capable of both reconciling ecological sustainability, and reforming it. More to the point, he says, “we don’t have time to wait for any big-picture ideological successor”.

It has taken 30 years of heart-searching to distill that, but Porritt insists that he is not complacent. “I don’t have great faith in capitalism, but it is formidably flexible,” he says. “It is potent, able to recreate itself in many forms. I also feel that there are enough capitalists who feel passionately that they don’t want to see their system disappear. But this is a last- chance-saloon job. If you leave through the wrong door your passion for capitalism is finished.”

…He finds it amazing that the radical ideas of the 70s are now part of mainstream politics. When people talked then of the greenhouse effect or the need for recycling, they were told they were insane. “There was contempt for anyone who took that set of political beliefs,” he recalls.

So what are today’s equally heretical ideas? Porritt does not hesitate. “It is the carbon-constrained world,” he says. By this he means that everything in the future, because of climate change, will have to be assessed and valued by its carbon content, and that the world will have to adapt to life without emissions.

“In my day, people felt overwhelmed by anger and passion at what was happening to the world. I have learned that anger is not very helpful, but I can’t help myself. If I am surrounded by businesspeople who are in denial or complacent, I can’t help the anger bubbling out.”
(9 November 2005)