Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cotton, the White Gold of the Uzbeks - by Lauren Campbell

“There was no choice; you did not get to say no. They told you to go pick cotton and you went and picked cotton, no questions asked”
            Anvar Abamislimova

“Everyone went and picked cotton, for three months you could not do anything else; no parties, no weddings, nothing. You scheduled those events around cotton season”
   Fatima, Abamislimova
This was part of a conversation I had with an Uzbek family living in Indianapolis. Anvar and Fatima grew up in Uzbekistan and lived there until 1991. They both grew up picking cotton; every year from September to October, and occasionally through November. What follows is a research paper in conjunction with the personal interviews I've conducted during the first part of 2012.

Uzbekistan then was under Soviet control; cotton farming was a huge industry for the Soviet Union and continues to be the main economic export for Uzbekistan. During the Soviet years, vast resources and investments were poured into the Uzbek region for cotton, making the region a global powerhouse for cotton production.

The impact cotton farming has had on the region is enormous. It has infiltrated the culture, the language, and the economy and has had lasting effects on the environment, health care, and politics; even after the fall of the Soviet Union. I wish to spend a few spans of attention on the effects cotton farming has had in the Uzbekistan region after the fall of the Soviet Union; but my primary focus will be on the environmental impacts cotton farming has had there. More specifically, based on my research of Central Asia’s environmental problems, I’ve come to believe that environmental degradation due to cotton farming in the region is extensive and long lasting and severely impacts on health and economics of the region and its people.

There is a wealth of information published on the region’s irrigation routes, heavy fertilizer usage, and dependency on pesticides in Uzbekistan. The cotton culture of Uzbekistan also received a lot of scholarly attention; however, academia does not seem to want to integrate environmental impact studies with cultural manifestations to help us formulate a holistic understanding of the region’s developing problems. My interests reside with exactly this holistic topic: to explore how the local populations are affected by this cotton industry; how is living in a kolkhoz, farming the ‘white gold’ of Central Asia, and scheduling life events around the cotton industry have shaped this region that we see today. I will also lend to the discourse surrounding agricultural practices associated with cotton farming and the possible negative environmental impact that can occur. This impact permeates health, culture, and economics in any given culture and an interdisciplinary approach provides the kind of knowledge that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.

Cotton Farming in Uzbekistan has taken on a culture of its own. According to Bohr (2004), Uzbekistan has replaced Moscow as the dominant power in Central Asia; and has become a leading economic free market in Central Asia (Bayzakov, 2011).  This was largely because of the strategic partnership with the United States post September 11, 2001, as well as, the immense amount of money the Uzbekistan receives from cotton farming. Together with the low cost of labor to produce it, cotton farming accounts for 20-30 percent of all rural employment and uses approximately 40 percent of all irrigated water (Rudenk, Lamers, & Grote, 2009).

Uzbekistan accounts for two-thirds of Central Asia’s irrigated land (Lubin, 1989). According to Lipovsky (1995), the mid 1960’s experienced an intense cultivation campaign eventually increasing the cultivated land in the region to 4.2 million hectares. This led to an increase in economic wealth; however, the ‘white gold’ still could not provide for the rapidly growing population (Lubin, 1989).

Because the rapid population growth also required water to survive, combined with the increased irrigation to the cotton fields, the people saw critical water shortages in Uzbekistan. An irrigation effort was developed in the early years of the Soviet regime; starting in 1913 (Lubin,1989) and intensified in the 1960’s (Lipovsky, 1995). The two large rivers of the area, the Amudarya and the Syrdarya, which dump into the Aral Sea were engineered into irrigation routes to the cotton fields of Uzbekistan (Spoor, 1998). This caused environmental damage to the Aral Sea itself (Lipovsky, 1995; Spoor, 1998), as well as an increase shortage of water to the local population. According to Zanca (2011), water shortages have led to cultural unrest and accounts for most of the conflict in the Ferghana Valley. Water is such a scare commodity and so important in the rural areas, especially in the cotton fields, that
“the land itself had-and retains today-of little value without sufficient irrigation. Securing the rights to water and receiving adequate amounts were as important a part of agriculture as any other. Historically, irrigation management and organization in Uzbekistan have emphasized that control over water’s movement often was key in maintaining power and privilege”
(Zanca, 2011).

The use of power and privilege around natural resources is also played out in the rural cotton farms called the “kolkhoz.” Zanca discusses the political structure of the “kolkhoz”; that the leadership is “dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrats of the ancient regime.” These bureaucrats administer wages and payment in kind; the people of the kolkhoz are dependent on them to provide wages and other necessities as wheat, cooking oil, and rice for their labor in the cotton fields. Most villagers view the leaders as corrupt and willing to capitalize on anything, including “ directly pocketing kolkhoz income-either the farm’s budget or profit.” This is much different than the free market economy that the Uzbekistan expects in modern times. According to Trevisani (2009), as cited in Liu (2011), 
“Uzbekistan’s rural sector does not exemplify “transition to the [free] market,” but reregulation via control of markets to bring efficiencies for the state budget at the expense of farmers who bear most of the risk.”
Those living in the Kolkhoz have a much higher rate for health problems associated with contaminated water; although, all Uzbeks are at risk: “large portions of the population lack drinking water systems and must drink water straight from often contaminated irrigation ditches and canals” (Lubin, 1989). When population grows, demand on water grows. The deterioration of water within Central Asia can lead to conflicts, as seen in the Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan. However, according to Lipovsky (1995), Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have had conflicts over water use from the Amudarya as well. Lipovsky noted “that Turkic and Islamic solidarity recedes into the background with the issue at stake is division of such a precious resource as water.”

Uzbekistan also suffers from poor soil quality due to heavy cotton farming.
“large-scale use of dangerous pesticides, exceedingly poor irrigation, and especially poor drainage systems have led to a very high filtration of salinized and contaminated water back into the soil. Water with high levels of salt, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and other wastes has severely contaminated the fresh-water supply."

(Lubin, 1989).

The use of agrochemicals takes an exhausting toll on the earth. In Uzbekistan, “more than 400 kilograms of fertilizers are used per hectare of cotton” and “pesticides are used at levels dozens of times higher than required” (Lubin, 1989). This leads to pests developing immunities to the pesticides and potentially can cause serious crop failure. If the cotton crop fails, there will be immense economic effects in the region.

But weaning off this chemical dependency is not so easy. Once the pesticides and chemical fertilizers are used in the farming process, it becomes necessary to continue to use them to get the desired yield. The agrochemical fertilizers and pesticides, along with ceasing the crop rotation process, have huge negative effects on the soil. Libovsky points out the “thoughtless use of fertilizer-many times exceeding the amounts required-the earth on many cotton fields has become covered with a thin layer of salts and chemicals.” Declines in soil quality from chemical fertilizers, as well as an increase in salinization of the land, due to irrigation, has in turn “led to declining quality in the production and quality of both seed cotton and food” (Lubin, 1989); this has also led to exceedingly large investment to be put into these farms, with long-term losses outweighing current production.

In addition to contaminating the water supply, pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers do harm in other ways. Some negative health effects associated with intake of pesticides and fertilizers (whether it be through the air or through consumption of water) include: double the cancer rates in high agro areas versus other areas, an increased frequency of hepatitis, anemia, and dystrophy, just to name a few.

The salinization of land has caused higher salt content in water, paving the way for disease and health problems, especially in infants. According to Lubin, “infant mortality rates have risen dramatically” and “in some regions, the breast milk of women has a salt content several times higher than normal; pesticides have also been found in women’s blood and breast milk.” Most of all women who work in cotton fields suffer from different illnesses that are brought on by pollution of the environment (Lipovsky, 1995).

The petrochemical fertilizer and chemical pesticides are taking their toll on the human population of Uzbekistan, where there have been increases in birth defects and plant and animal mutations. When the shear amount of pollution is taken into account, combined with economic and health care issues, the region’s population also faces a wide range of physiological health problems (Crighton, Elliott, Meer, Small & Upshur, 2003). This is a very high price to pay for cotton, even if it is the number one export for Uzbekistan.

How is Uzbekistan going to manage such horrible water, soil, and environmental conditions and the necessity of such a large cotton industry while balancing its obligations to the people living in the region?

The cotton industry has rooted itself in the Uzbek economy. The money that the cotton has brought in has also funded other economical/industrial outlets, such as, chemical facilities, machine building plants, irrigation networks, hydro-electricity plants, cotton processing plants, and some textile factories (Rudenko, Lamers, & Grote, 2009). The state controls cotton production under strict standards. According to Rudenko, Lamers, and Grote, 70 percent of the Uzbek population are agricultural producers and most of them are willing to continue to grow cotton even if given the option to grow something else. Cotton in the region is viewed as the ultimate economic commodity, resulting in no cultural push to change even at the risk of higher morbidity and mortality rates associated with poor environmental quality from the agro-chemical cotton farming practices.

Zanca (2011) reports that many Kolkhozchi referred to cotton as ‘white gold’ and it “permeates so many sorts of activities and elements of social life that it literally forms a part of the Uzbek people’s diets.” Fatima, one of the Uzbek native I interviewed, recalled using cotton oil to cook and burned the stems of the cotton plant to heat their homes in the winter.

There have been reports, from the World Bank, as cited in Rudenko, Lamers, and Grote (2009), of privatizing the cotton sector, to help increase monetary compensation for cotton farmers such as the Kolkhoz. However, no information as to whether that has occurred could be found.

The cotton industry in Uzbekistan is currently walking a tight rope, balancing environmental problems, water shortages, poor soil quality, and increased population. Zanca stated that there has been a decrease in hectares dedicated to cotton since 1990; however, it was primarily due to poor soil quality.

Relying so heavily on a single agro-mono culture has had negative effects in other countries in the region as well as increases the dependency on other countries to purchase the export. In some instances an agricultural monoculture can be dated back to dependence on colonialism described by Lipovsky (1995),
“In contrast to former African and Asian colonies which have in time managed to overcome their absolute dependence on their colonial masters, the Central Asian states find themselves in a position which is aggravated by their fatal dependence on Russian water sources.”
A political tie that must be retained in order to have access to water is a scary idea for any nation, especially one in a situation like Uzbekistan.

The environmental degradation that has occurred in Uzbekistan is going to take decades to fix. The heavy reliance on petro-chemical agriculture is going to have to be controlled in some capacity in order for anything to grow in the future. With such pollution and environmental contamination, the adverse health effects are going to take their toll on the local population as well as the nation’s economy. Preventive healthcare is difficult as is in the Central Asian region, let alone when people are fighting a chemical battle with their drinking water. An intervention is extensively needed in Uzbekistan in order to combat the problems to come.

How this will effect the population of Uzbekistan?

Only time will tell.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Strip Mining - by Lauren Campbell

On April 6th I got to tour the Bear Run coal mine (BRM) in Sullivan County, Indiana. Bear Run coal mine is the largest coal strip mine east of the Mississippi river. It spans approximately 15,000 acres and operates 24 hours a day 365 days a year, producing 8 million of tons of coal per year. Coal production is scheduled to rise next year, increasing the production to 12 million tons per year.

The mine drew some attention in the local media recently. The Indianapolis Star also published a story back in January about the health risks of the coal mine. There was also a petition making its way around the Internet (the petition is now closed). That is really the end of the coal mine’s media limelight… just about 15 minutes of fame if you will. This is why my classmates and I wanted to research further into Bear Run’s operations and make our own decisions about its significance.

What was more curious, it seems, is how the largest strip mine in the eastern United States has not drawn a larger discussion on the topic, save a few pages in the Star and an online petition?

We began with reading up on Peabody Energy, the company that owns and operates BRM. We then decided to tour the mine itself; after the movie Erin Brockivich, who can resist some harmless snooping?

Before we took our tour, we researched the environmental issue to the extent that we could. We discovered that BRM is operating under a general permit, which is what has Hoosiers divided on the mining issue. The Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) portrays the situation as though BRM is breaking laws, such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act while BRM, along with IDEM, claim no laws are broken and that the mine is operating within all legal standards.

We then looked into Peabody Energy itself--BRM’s owner and operator. Peabody Energy is one of the largest energy companies in the world; located in 21 different nations and on 6 different continents. They provide 10 percent of all US electricity and 2 percent of all global power. They purchased the mineral rights to the coal here in Indiana some years back, but then had to slowly purchase the surface land from locals who lived on top of the coal Peabody wanted. Many locals sold, a few remained. I presumed given Peabody’s size and extensive business operations, following rules and regulations was something they took seriously; at least it appears in Indiana they are.

Federal law mandates that all coal mine operations have permits to operate within a safe and sound parameter.

More than three dozen federal environmental laws and regulations cover all aspects of mining. The following list includes some of those major laws. In addition, each state has laws and regulations that mining companies must follow.
  • National Environmental Policy Act - requires an interdisciplinary approach to environmental decision making. 
  • Federal Land Policy and Management Act - prevents undue and unnecessary degradation of federal lands. 
  • Clean Air Act - sets air quality standards. 
  •  Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act) - directs standards for surface water quality and controlling discharges to surface water.
  • Safe Drinking Water Act - directs standards for quality of drinking water supplied to the public (states are primary authorities) and regulating underground injection operations. 
  • Solid Waste Disposal Act - regulates generation, storage and disposal of hazardous waste and manages solid, non-hazardous waste (states). 
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act -requires reporting of hazardous substance releases and inventory of chemicals handled. 
  • Toxic Substance Control Act - requires regulation of chemicals that present risk to health or environment. 
  • Endangered Species Act - lists threatened plants and animals; protection plans mandated. 
  • Migratory Bird Treaty Act - protects nearly all bird species. 
  • Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act - regulates coal mining operations and reclamation.
Other laws that impact mining include: the Rivers and Harbors Act, the Federal Mining Law, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Law Authorizing Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to Regulate Sale, Transport and Storage of Explosives, and the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act. 

Under the circumstances, mining companies are required to obtain individual permits that require testing for specific pollutants enumerated in our environmental protection laws (arsenic, mercury, etc.,); these pollutants have stricter environmental and discharge standards due to their toxicity and serious threat to health and safety standards. In Indiana, however, coal mines operate under a general permit, which appears to operate under a more relaxed discharge standards. Being the curious ones that we are and the left and right squabbles in a less and less trustworthy media, we decided to tour the mine see for ourselves how BRM operates.

We arrived in Sullivan county around 11 am or so. BRM is located in Sullivan county but is large enough to cover an area of three towns or so: Carlisle, Sullivan, and Duggar. We were lost at first. There were quite a few roads closed and with a car full of gadget dependent city dwellers, we somehow stumbled upon a lake: Locust Lake.

We stopped. We thought to look at the lake more closely, we wanted to see the water at least. We met a couple of fisherman and asked for directions to the BRM main office. Bob, the gentleman we spoke to, had lived in Carlisle for decades and had a lot of information about the mining operations in the region. He told us that Locust Lake was once an old “strip pit” from strip mining. It had been left open to collect water and then was labeled as a lake. Bob showed us a local map pointed out all of the “lakes” in the area—old strip pits that were left open, to fill with rain and then labeled lakes.

The Department of Natural Resources fills these lakes with fish for the locals to fish. Bob didn’t seem to mind fishing out of an old coal mining pit. Although he had no complaints about the lakes or the fish, he did say that he didn’t like how much power BRM wielded. The coal mines are the reason the roads we had passed were closed; “the can just shut a road down and not tell anyone why or when.”

BRM can also reclaim any lake at any point for personal use. Bob said that this had happened recently: Deep lake was a lake that he and his friends enjoyed fishing and that now they can’t access it because BRM is using it for their operations. He said most locals do not like BRM for that reason; the strings they are able to pull to get whatever they want.

We asked about BRM’s support of the local economy. Bob said that the mine only employs about 500 people from the area and that he doesn’t see any real economic benefit for him or his community.

We enjoyed our time speaking with Bob, but we had to be on our way for our tour.

When we arrived at BRM, Mark, a reclamation foreman had been waiting on us. We spent the next 3 hours with Mark driving through the area, seeing the mines and appreciating the enormity of their operations.

"mining slurry" - Coal slurry consists of solid and liquid waste and is a by-product of the coal mining and preparation processes. This impounded liquid waste can sometimes total billions of gallons in a single facility. Coal slurry contains a large range of constituents, including dissolved minerals that have been leached or washed out of the coal and other rocks. In addition, the slurry contains chemicals added to facilitate the washing or water re-use processes. One of these chemicals is acrylamide.
Mark took us through the entire process; it was quite the experience. Mark was very informative and answered any question that we had. He explained how the mining was done and some of the byproducts as resulted of their operations. One thing in particular that caught my attention was the waste water Mark called “slurry” that came from washing the coals that were mined. I asked about what they did with the slurry and he replied “it goes into the open cuts in pit 3; which you won’t be seeing today.” I don’t know what an ‘open cut’ is; but I did wonder if it was lined properly so as to not allow polluted water disturb the ground water supply.

Mark also mentioned something about a “gob” which according to him is dumped back into the pit and must be at least 50 feet down and filled in. This surprised me. I thought the kind of nasty industrial by products labeled as “gob” would be handled in a more environmentally friendly way; how many gob pits are the people of Sullivan county walking over or having their tap water run through?

We left the mine with a new understanding of how BRM operates; the process of how coal is mined as well as the low environmental standards Indiana has for the coal mining operations. We drove around a bit more, taking in the local scenery; we were interested in seeing how many “strip pit lakes” we could find. We parked ourselves on a side road, next to a bridge that was built by Peabody Energy for the railroad system they needed for transporting coal. When we looked down into the ditch and saw the water running were black, our first question was “Is this from BRM?”

Picture of water in the ditch outside of BRM

I do not know if we will ever find out, but it does make me wonder who or what is on the receiving end of that water…. How many people are drinking diluted black water?

In all of our research, webinars with the HEC, getting lost in Carlisle, and our private tour, we walked away with a new appreciation for the coal mining in Indiana. For me, if BRM is operating within the legal boundaries, those boundaries are obviously not keeping our waters clean. If the coal mines are allowed to operate under a general permit in Indiana and not meet the specific pollutant discharge standards, then it is up to the residents of Indiana to demand higher quality of our own lives.

The Sunny Side of Occupying Victories

Wells Fargo is having their annual shareholders meeting in San Francisco Tuesday. I believe the Occupiers will be in attendance protesting a jumble of demands. My wonders go to the strategic sunny days in the beautiful city; but consider that I’m hundreds of miles away and have to face an immigration law final this week, my attention span is firmly planted here. Part of me wants to be part of that occupying movement, I have heard that banks are all the evil enmassed.

Yet the irony of San Francisco’s immigrant past and its embracing of environmental protection today demands attention. So while I cannot attend either the shareholder meeting or the protest, I can help at least opinionate to my own satisfaction. That’s what the world needs these days anyway, another unsolicited fool telling it like how his twisted mind sees on the open vast Internet space:

Strap in!

Wells Fargo announced that it will commit to $30 billion in loans and investments towards building a greener economy. This is not the first time the bank has made a pledge, it had previously promised and surpassed the $1 billion by 2010 ambition by more than $2 billion. In 2011, it had totaled $11.7 billion in green investments. With the new $30 billion promising mark, the bank will deliver a host of incentives for solar, wind, and efficiency engineering to the power game.

The bank’s CEO, in a statement, also affirms its commitment “in promoting the long-term economic prosperity and quality of life of the communities we serve,” It had pledged $100 million in helping grassroots environmental efforts, increased LEED compliance to 35%, and continues to build on what it calls the “human capital.”  

Wells Fargo is not the only ones on the block kicking the green bucket around. Bank of America had posted more than $11 billion in investment since 2007; global venture capital investments in this sector reached almost $9 billion in 2011.

But I’m not going to argue if Wells Fargo is doing enough. That’s a waste of time simply because after the 2009 market crash, the banks and public corporations are under a much more stricter scrutiny from both the government and the public. They are doing what they can and if they wish not to do their best, at least a legislative floor governs their social responsibility efforts.

I’m not saying lift the pressure on the banks either, because they need to be reminded that we care about where our money is going: not warlords and dirty companies but good-doers and clean techs. So protest all you can in the sunny city of San Francisco; may the force be with you.

What I really think is the key now for the Occupying movement is the private sector; not the small mom and pop stores. I’m talking about multi-national private conglomerates that seems to be able to invade any communities at will, take what they want and make a quick profit, then leaves the clean up and restoration work for the people displaced in the first place. (See my wife's post yesterday about Peabody.)

While the young and the restless protests in the sunny San Francisco, it’s the Bobs of places, where coal-mining rights are given away in exchange for polluted strip pits with funkedified fishes, who ought to be up in arms. If anyone ought to do any sort of occupying, it ought to be in places where the water is black, neighborhoods blighted, children starving, and teens murdered; not where diversity is celebrated and progress is made.

But then again, troubled places are usually not sunny, do not have places to surf afterwards, and the people’s problems do not go away just because a bunch of teenagers have taken over a public park and declared play money on cardboard.

Troubled places are usually unseen and are troubled on the dark side . . . .

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Art, Life, and Struggle - a book review.

(I've been on a mental break for the last week. In the duration, I worked on a book review for Harry Belafonte's My Song, a Memoir. The process has made me appreciate the meaning of social change in the artist's soul. From it, I've come to reconsider many things about my own life, about my own ambitions; I have come to reexamine my desire to shape a better world for today and tomorrow. The question I must ask now, where is the soul of my movement? How will I sing my song?

We learn what we can about social movements from history books and documentaries; all of which are incompletely objective—lacking a self-description of the soul, the art, the music of the movements, of life in general. To find that, we read the memories recollected in search of an artist; we read memoirs of those who’ve learned what it means to create hope in the darkest of times. 

My Song brings us the recollections of one such subjective, holistic, and artful account of a life—one that held the Civil Rights Movement together, one that held the people of the movements together. In Harry Belafonte’s memoir, My Song, we hear beneath the songs of civil freedoms the underscores of his personal struggles in his three marriages, in his concerns for his children, and in his encounters with betrayal and accusations. In all of the pains and pleasures, we come to appreciate Harry Belafonte not only as a pop icon, but as participated in something far greater. Through his music, his passion, his troubles and apprehensions, we come to see his immersion in the Civil Rights Movement transcends popular sentiments; we come to see the Movement culminating to a focal point in reflection on more intimate terms with the human experience; we come to see the Movement through Harry Belafonte’s generosity to a brazen feeling so real. 

“Harry,” as Dr. King would affectionately call him, gave to the life of the Civil Rights Movement; My Song is Harry’s composition. In his music, we hear the soul of a struggle unyielding. 
“I pray the day will never come, when I can't awake to the sound of drum, never let me miss carnival, with calypso songs philosophical.”

Harry Belafonte, lyrics from “Island in the Sun.”

Mr. Harry Belafonte was born March 1, 1927, to Caribbean immigrants. He grew up between Harlem and Jamaica; raised by a proud working class mother, he was heavily heartened by his unconditionally loving white Jamaican grandmother. They both nurtured him to have the will and easy to navigate between race and class so he could negotiate his ambitions. In his memoir, we fathom Harry Belafonte’s participation in the Civil Rights Movement would not have been possible if it were not for the influences of these powerful women in his early childhood. 

As a young man, he served in the Navy during World War II and later used his GI Bill to study theater. He became fast friends with the likes of Sidney Poitier and Marlon Brando, both of whom shared his passion for human beings more than for things of tradition and prejudice. Harry described them both in his memoir warmly as caring and compassionate men fitting to inspire the spirit of movements; albeit, as he noted, Brando was not celebrated for such sentiments. These men became his pillars of support; through them, Harry Belafonte would find his perseverance to achieve despite time’s oppositions. 

Harry Belafonte went on to star in movies at the dawn of the Civil Rights era featuring, above all, leading black roles. Most notably, he started opposite Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones (1954), with Joan Fontaine in Island in the Sun (1957), and with Inger Stevens and Mel Ferrer in The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959). Amongst his co-stars, Harry Belafonte made keen observations of the tragedies of Ms. Dandridge’s life in his memoir; the story of love and strive, of race and struggle, is worth a study of the burden one carries in the human experience of paradigms. 

Outside of the film industry, Mr. Harry Belafonte is more famously known to the world as a musician. In 1956, he released the first million-selling full-length LP in history—Calypso. He would later become known as the “King of Calypso.” One of his celebrated song, the “Banana Boat Song,” epitomized the Calypso style and the Civil Rights struggle in general: depicting working men sweating all day and unpaid, begging the tallyman to give them an honest count of the worth of their lives—counting the bananas picked—yet if unpaid, they would have a drink of rum to indulge their equanimity. To the careless listeners, the Banana Boat song is a song of joyful cheers; but to Mr. Belafonte and to the struggle, it is hope. 

Harry Belafonte went on to record in many genres including blues, folk, gospel, show tunes; but he is mostly proud of helping other artists discover their own voice in an era where it meant something to have a voice for what one believed. He was attributed to bringing hip-pop to Cuba giving a people a renewed sense of culture in an increasingly political climate. He worked relentlessly to discover himself and others in movements of the people in lyrics and rhythms that told their stories. He saw himself as an artist by trade but an activist at heart. He writes, “A lot of people say to me, 'When as an artist did you decide to become an activist?' I say to them, 'I was long an activist before I became an artist.'" Where we meet ideological divides, Harry Belafonte tumbled social differences with his artful soul. To Harry, he always thought himself an activist.

Although Harry Belafonte is known as a musician to most; but to those who would really care, Harry Belafonte is an audacious civil rights activist. He was a key confidant to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to SNCC; he was instrumental in forging negotiations between the Kennedy Administration and the Civil Rights leaders; according to the New York Magazine, he was the “only man to speak to both King and Bobby Kennedy on a daily basis” through the Civil Rights years; he financially supported many key civil rights engagements and organizations without recourse. The book, My Song, in fact opens with a life-or-death scene describing Harry and Sidney Poitier, risking everything, delivering what funds they were able to raise to support the Civil Rights volunteers during the Freedom Summer

His creative activism persisted throughout his life and extended well beyond civil rights issues in the United States. He was the prominent architect behind the “We Are the World” video for African famine relief. He was appointed a goodwill ambassador to UNICEF, helped launched a media campaign to raise awareness of the needs of Rwandan children, supported campaign against HIV/AIDS; he was personally involved in prostate cancer advocacy where others shunned such controversial issues. In his later years, returning to his roots and passion for civil rights, he produced the Gathering for Justice Project to train minority youths in nonviolent activism. His involvements and accomplishments are impossible to catalog, but his triumphs easily visible. 

But fame, fortune, and success do not define life’s melodies; life dictates what music wills one’s life song. 

Despite his fame and a gambling problem, Harry Belafonte always put passion art and soul before notoriety, justice before wealth. He never would let injustice go by unchallenged, even when it is the unpopular. Calling George Bush a terrorist in 2006 and judging President Obama to be insufficiently compassionate and uncommitted to the poor, he was alienated by the King family for their political alliances. It broke my heart to learn that he was not invited to Coretta King’s funeral for his asperity and convictions, but life is not celebrated at death for dear friends; attachment to such atonement for the ceremonies is mere empty desires designed to comfort strangers and make true friends suffer. Harry Belafonte does not deserve such penance; he will always be with Dr. King and Coretta King as he will always be with the Movement. 

Throughout his life, Harry Belafonte rejected conformity and maintained his tenacious dignity as his mother promised they would; through it all, Harry would be the rock in the wind, the anchor in the storm. Belafonte’s unswerving candor and ego are so often applied to the service of others that we must forgive his apathetic character; from his memoir, we come to admire his stern voice in life’s struggles. 

In all of the chaos, his voice would be the voice in silence.

To read Harry Belafonte’s My Song is to discover the soul of a struggle; to read My Song is to hear a rhythm and melody so tempting that you must sing your own lyrical struggle in the music of the “Banana Boat” and “We Are the World.” To Harry Belafonte, there is no greater honor than to have you sing your song in a movement you believe. 

There is no greater purpose in life.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cats Are Plotting.

The proxy season is usually in April. It means good number of companies are having their shareholder meetings deciding important issues like how many banquets they will have this year to celebrate their board of directors.

Laugh, it’s good for your health.

Turning to our serious side, though, the proxy season is a time to better empathize with investor sentiment and gauge the future market. Usually, when the economy is good and no one has any reason to ask the tough questions, company boards walk away with menial tasks of sharpening their looks or the threat of hostile takeovers.

This year seems a bit different. Although still plenty of mergers are in the news and proxy contests are scuffling the floors, there is also a high level of shareholder activism in the mix. Apple investor demanded majority shareholder approval for any candidate to be elected in February, making visible a fundamental power shift from the board directors to shareholders that began two years ago.

In the wake of our housing crisis and the banking disaster, shareholders like the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), the largest U.S. pension fund and Apple's biggest investor, is making demands and taking names. Board directors are now forced to engage more directly with institutional investors, (well, at least the good ones are). Technology also made this possible; Twitter and LinkedIn each have a unique incentive to promote this kind of interaction between the public, institutional investors, and boards.

The power shift would not be significant if it were not for what seems a commitment for environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing from these institutional investors. Ernst and Young released their 2012 proxy season report noting a “rising pressure” for ESG:

  • There is an increase in ongoing dialogues with shareholders on a range of corporate governance and corporate responsibility issues.
  • Large asset managers traditionally are passive on corporate governance practices are taking up a more active role in addressing letter-writing campaigns.
  • These investors are trending to issues concerning sustainability issues directly affecting growth opportunities and risk management problems concerning not just the company’s financials, but also their environmental and social impacts.
  • Since the SEC allowing shareholders to link financial risk to environmental impacts in 2009, the SEC also implemented Net Neutrality requirements in 2012.
  • High profile issues continue to dominate the media; the conversation online is maturing to include more environmental and social issues.
Another E&Y report pointed to a survey (conducted by Ernst & Young and GreenBiz) that revealed five major factors driving this investor led sustainability movement:
  1. Desire for cost reduction (from energy) 
  2. Changes in consumer demands
  3. Brand risk management
  4. Shareholder expectations
  5. Competitive threats 
Overall the survey showed more than 60% increase in sustainability related inquiries with more than two-third of those inquiries directed at reducing energy consumption and emission. An overwhelming majority (83%) of the companies already taking action or in the process of discussing future actions.

Average shareholder support level for these sustainability initiatives are also reaching the 30% threshold, forcing companies who are not taking action take notice.

I would also like to note that 2011 is the first time ever the U.S. export to China has breached the $100 Billion mark; I am surprised to note Ohio (my favorite State in the Union) is one of the top five exporter states.

Our export revenue has been on a rise ever since China opened-up, but it's not until the recent decades did we see a dramatic increase demand from its rising middle class. With its serious environmental and social problems, sustainable practices are becoming the next new thing in China. So it seems that while the off-shoring is drying up as China's market is maturing and becoming more cost prohibitive for U.S. companies to build there, it is becoming a much more lucrative place for U.S. companies to sell and turn profits. That profit meets its customers in light of a growing sustainable market place.  

This is good news. It seems that time for us, I mean US, to make a change and actualize the impossibility of a Sustainability Renaissance is near--have we ever had a American Renaissance? I wonder what would she look like?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Cheers 可口可乐

The first time I had a Coke-Cola I was at the zoo with my mom and grandparents. I was young, it was the mid 1980’s; China was changing. My mom and I had just moved to Beijing, I believe my grandparents came for a visit to see how we were doing. My dad was in the U.S., writing us letters with pictures of his reflections. He looked happy, I did not think much of it then.

We had gone to the zoo that day. It might have been a Sunday or a Tuesday, I don’t remember; it was cold and early, but that wasn’t important. My surroundings were no longer just barren lands and sandstorms, I now lived in Beijing—where I thought everyone wanted to live and learn. My grandparents had come for a visit; together with my surroundings we were strolling through the places where tigers and bears claimed their existence. I was happy, curious, and adventurous. I was indulging in my environment as if everything was perfection.

And I saw the strange markings on an hourglass shaped bottle at the concession stand, with dark contents far from the bright colored soda I was accustomed. I was immediately pinched by the mysteries of this thing I knew then was foreign . . .

. . . this thing called 可口可乐 (“Kěkǒu Kělè”).

Had I seen these strange letters on the pages from my father?

I must have a try at this.

I begged the sympathy of my grandparents: oh look at the poor Jin-jin who had traveled all this way to Beijing now living away from home; he should be rewarded for his troubles with this thing that is so deliciously and happily named. (可口可乐 literally means ‘both approved by the mouth and by your happiness’; but you can imagine the lost of emotional meaning in such dry and literal translation.)

Why not? Mom and I had suffered the push-and-shove of two of the busiest train stations in China with most of our belongings dragged, lugged, pushed through for days on our own. I was a big man then, almost five; I had helped by managing to not get lost in the massive crowd the entire way; a Coke was just the trophy I deserved.

Yes, I was a spoiled little brat back then; (still am if you ask my wife).

My mom reluctantly forked over what seemed like a large sum for the bottle. I could’ve had five or six of the domestic orange-soda at that price. But I happily watched my first of the mysterious dark liquid pop and fizzle open.

I couldn’t wait, took it in my hand, and just as I would a bottle of the sweet orange soda I chugged the thing.

I don’t remember how my first mouthful of Coke-Cola tasted or how it went down; foam swelled from the dark liquid and a sticky foul sensation still vividly reminiscent on my hand. I remember vomiting, I remember mom cussing for wasting money, grandma trying to wipe me clean, and my grandpa with his arms crossed, half annoyed and half smiling.

I don’t drink much Coke these days for health reasons, maybe once in a blue moon; but that shouldn’t stop you from the intrinsic enjoyments of having one yourself. I’ve always said everything in moderation and it’s your free will to do with what you judge to be reasonable.

Occasionally Lauren will also crave a can of Coke and I would convince her to share it (my wife does my spoiling these days). I don’t throw-up any more, I have actually come to enjoy the taste of cola. I have nothing against Coke the company; and up until recently, I’ve kept a distant irreverence for its brand because I’ve been one of those 'Pepsi guys', mostly for Pepsi’s track record on sustainability performance.

This morning, however, I’ve discovered some new found respect for my once vomitous adversary. For some years now, Coke had been disinterested in sustainable developments. More recent pressures from cause marketing and consumer awareness campaigns, Coke had to take notice and had to take action. With the recent negative publicity and a petition effort against its ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Coke pulled its support from the ALEC.

Coke-Cola cited human rights issues amongst its top reasons for disentangling the relationship. The most controversial are ALEC’s political support for voter ID legislation that has the effect of suppressing minority, student, and senior voters and its influence on Florida’s infamous “stand your ground” (“license to kill”) law. In between the lines, ALEC is also a player in lobbying to discredit climate change and limit sustainable development. Coke, with its signature water stewardship efforts at the core of its sustainability efforts, must’ve considered the conflict of interests between its environmental missions and public responsibilities against the ALEC’s political ideologies.

I have been noticing more rapid corporate cultural shifts toward sustainability in recent months. The movement has been slow at times, but there are more frequent milestones lately. Others have also observed this increasing optimism and hope this new decision by Coke will further push the collective shift towards a self-regulated socially responsible economy:

Just last week, GM announced that it would no longer provide funding to the lobbying organization The Heartland Institute, which is notorious for its role in delaying effective federal action on climate change. GM, maker of the electric-gas hybrid Chevy Volt, has recently seen sales of its award-winning car soar despite a two-year smear campaign spearheaded by conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh.

In the past few years the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also taken hits from a growing roster of major companies that have either distanced themselves from the Chamber’s denialist position on climate change or have quit the organization outright. That includes Apple, U.S. energy giant Exelon and other utilities, Nike, Johnson & Johnson, and Microsoft among others.

Tina Casey, Coke Pulls the Plug on Anti-Climate Change ALEC Lobby

I have seen that China's younger consumers are more carbon conscious when it comes to buying. This is a tremendous transformation from the days when I first tried capitalism at its best and vomited in a memorable public place for all the bears and tigers to see.

Back then, the Chinese were just emerging from the anxious Cultural Revolution. For the first time in modern Chinese history (1911 going forward) people were somewhat at ease. Movie theaters then began to show action flicks; rap and Elvis had entered into the little circle of friends I had in Beijing. By the late 80’s and early 90’s, I had owned my first mixed tape of Chinese hip-hop, went on a date with a girl I really liked to a movie I don't remember, and had my first pair of American tennis shoes that made me an inch taller.

But those days were more about getting rich and buying more stuff. Commerce was picking up pace, things like supermarkets and Coke-Cola were novelties. People were not worried about hunger but instead had time to enjoy life. The first McDonald’s and KFC were established in China a few years later; a couple of decades after the Golden Arch and Colonel Sanders invasion, I found China’s big cities transformed into something completely new, something beyond enjoyment and into indulgence.

But then, when I had my first Coke-Cola, I had no idea of my revulsion for the taste would lead me from Beijing to Cincinnati, to Mosul, to Indianapolis, and finally to relive my first mouthful of indulgence happily with my wife who is equally repulsed by things unsustainable.

I wonder if today's spoiled Beijing kids still vomit at their first taste of Coke, or have they gotten used to indulging in things foreign? I wonder when my wife and I eventually spend time living in China again, will our kids have the same reaction to their first mystery of the dark liquid? Will we consume a little less of the colas for the enjoyment of it and not just out of habit? Will the sky be blue or gray? Will the air be fresh or taint? Will we have a zoo or will the animals have left us to our barren lands and sandstorms?    

Suddenly my revulsion not so prevalent; my once vomitous adversary now is something I contemplate with confidence. There are things beyond the moment and I see it in the hands of conglomerate corporations that hold the fate of our planet, but their prosperity is in our hands. The vivid foul sensation would transcend itself, the dark liquid so mysterious would be explained and eventually enjoyed in a healthy moderation; fizzles and pops with our cheers. I would have the final say in how I remember our first steps into a modern transformation.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How Do You Take Your Humanity - Half Full or All Empty?

Last week, Green Building Law Update blogger Chris Cheatham created a wildfire of confusion regarding the U.S. Army’s adoption of the new ASHRAE Standard 189. Cheatham had thought the Army meant to abandon their LEED commitments and switch in favor of the new ASHRAE code in its sustainable building and construction ambitions.

Thankfully, Cheatham cleared up the confusion quickly: the DoD is not abandoning the voluntary certifications under LEED; its adoption of ASHRAE Standard 189 for all of its constructions simply raises the floor of its green performance in general.

The Army will continue to pursuit voluntary LEED certifications; it will also comply with the new ASHRAE Standard 189—potentially a legal requirement.

Cheatham's hasty jump to conclusions perhaps came from a general unacquaintedness with the new ASHRAE code; or at worst, it came from a sense of “either/or” mentality that I often encounter in my quest to understand sustainable developments. I feel this is an important concern, but before I reach to explain my apprehensions let’s take a closer look at LEED and the new ASHRAE Standard 189.

First, LEED is a voluntary certification program demonstrating what the public and institutions may aspire as a viable sustainable construction culture.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and provides rating systems for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings, homes and neighborhoods. The Green Building Certification Institute accredit professionals as LEED GA (Green Associate), AP (Accredited Professional), or Fellows; these professionals aid in the building, construction, and certification process so the aspiring infrastructure is labeled as LEED Silver, Gold, or Platinum to demonstrate its energy efficiency and environmental friendliness. LEED is meant to be a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.

Since its inception in 1998, there had been more than 7,000 LEED projects in the United States and 30 countries, covering over 1.501 billion square feet (140 km²) of development area. The virtue of LEED certification is that it is an open and transparent process where the technical criteria proposed by USGBC members are publicly reviewed for approval by the almost 20,000 member organizations.

LEED is continuously evolving; its principles currently encompass building design and constructions for new buildings, for core and shell, for schools, for retail, and for healthcare infrastructures. LEED also accommodate interior design and constructions, building operations and maintenance, as well as holistic neighborhood developments. It had left private homes uninteresting until the 2009's adaptation of LEED for Homes. LEED also forms the basis for other sustainability rating systems such as the Environmental Protection Agency's Labs21.

American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 189 is one of the most far-reaching and impactful mandatory requirements in terms of sustainable building and construction. Although not binding law, ASHRAE standards often are directly referenced in local building codes and compliance with local building laws often means compliance with ASHRAE Standards. (In essence, ASHRAE codes behaves more like uniformed laws such as the Uniformed Commercial Codes or Model Acts, which states often choose to adopt in entirety or with minor modifications).

Unlike the criticisms faced by the voluntary nature of LEED, there can be no complaints of a competitive disadvantage with ASHRAE since everyone in compliance with ASHRAE has to use the code. The purpose of this standard is to provide minimum requirements for the siting, design, construction, and plan for operation of high-performance green buildings to balance environmental responsibility, resource efficiency, occupant comfort and wellbeing, and community sensitivity, with the goal of development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Standard 189 provides minimum criteria that apply to new buildings and their systems, new portions of buildings and their systems, and new systems and equipment in existing buildings. The Standard addresses site sustainability, water use efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality (IEQ), and the building's impact on the atmosphere, materials, and resources. (Most of these are also encompassed in the LEED principles.)

Standard 189 provisions do not apply to single-family houses, multi-family structures of three stories or fewer above grade, manufactured houses (mobile homes) and manufactured houses (modular), or buildings that use none of the following: electricity, fossil fuel, or water. Unlike LEED, Standard 189 is not a design guide or a rating system. It is intended to fill the gap between building codes and LEED aspirations.

The Standard is written to establish mandatory criteria to prevent race to the bottom problem with the current voluntary LEED rating system (since LEED is voluntary, builders may either “book” around their certification applications or ignore the existence of LEED; Standard 189 hopes to remove at least some of the incentives there). The Standard has the potential to confirm market certainty for manufactures who would like to produce more sustainable material; it also strengthen the sustainable supply chain by inherent incentives for stocking better performing products as they become available. Some of the more notable aspects of Standard 189 are that it discourages unmitigated urban sprawls, prohibit development activities on flood plains, wetlands, fish and wildlife habitats, as well as addressing urban heat effects and light pollutions.

There hasn’t been a uniformed sustainable building code in the past. LEED is voluntary, not a codified program, but is quickly catching national and international attention. In rapidly developing economies like China and India, this kind of sustainable aspiration is attracting a lot of devotion especially due to their environmental and other critical resource problems; these emerging markets will no doubt dictate the future of the global building and construction supply chains as well as the various international service industries underlying the global construction sector.

Standard 189 is a much needed gap filler for many local markets because existing codes are simply too far behind LEED be an effective floor against the emerging economic incentives worldwide. If we don’t act now, we may be too late to the party in the long run; we may find ourselves outcompeted by other suppliers in the world, other designers, other construction pros keenly focused on sustainable goals. The gap domestically is simply too wide; by raising the legal bar to ASHRAE 189, the DoD perhaps hopes to make it easier for various contractors to adopt certain green practices as the norm.

This will force our construction and other relevant market sectors compete with the coming of an emerging sustainable building economy. But this takes me back to my apprehensions about the new ASHRAE Standard 189.

I once had a brief Q&A exchange with a law professor about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. I had asked the question if we can hope to regulate ourselves out of the millennia old problem of bribery and dirty businesses, or if we can expect corporations to voluntarily change their culture in light of a new Constructive Capitalism landscape.

Of course the law professor had to conclude that we must regulate our way out of our problems, (or else he is out of a job); aspirations are just that: aspirations. Human beings will never aspire to more if they know they can get away with less; hence we have the race to the bottom problem. Either we have laws and enforce them, or we fail.

I resent this kind of "either . . . or"

I hope humanity is a bit more enthusiastic about its future experiences. I take an optimistic view and I hold that voluntary compliance, albeit with market incentives to serve as catalyst, will eventually lead us out of our sustainability crisis.  Of course I am less of an idealist as I was when I was young. As far as ASHRAE 189 is concerned, I hope the gap-filler regulations work well, but I continue to hope that voluntary certifications with LEED will self correct market incentives; I hope human aspiration will win out the day as opposed to punishing and regulating ourselves to victory.

But then again, I’ve always been a radical optimist; I am only right if everyone in the world collectively sees the human experience as something better than our mere desires and hedonistic sins.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

No Fools Day

Cynthia Figge reported today to the Triple Pundit from the Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics Conference.

For not having the opportunity to attend, searching for first hand accounts is as close as I will get to experience that level of excitement and inspiration. Ms. Figge seems a reputable pro and I liked what she had to say; I'm here to recycle her data for a little inspiration. 

First, Ms. Figge notes a “clear focus” on the abundance of natural gas at the Conference. Natural gas is a cheaper and cleaner alternative to petroleum; it is hoped it will serve as a bridge for us to transition to a carbon zero, or at least carbon neutral, economy. But Ms. Figge thought “that bridge appears to be getting longer.”

Here are some of the other things that caught her attention (and you will note my uninvited comments intersect):

1. According to Bill Gates, “we have a chance of reaching 50% renewable energy use in the 2060 timeframe, but it will take at least one of five miracles to come true, and about 200 crazy people working really hard at all five.”

I wonder what are those miracles and who are potential candidates to work on these miracles?

2. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, CEO and CTO of SpaceX, advocated for “rapid change to get to 50% renewable energy in 10 years. The best generalized solution would be to price CO2.”

I would like to see the list of alternatives to pricing CO2; can we toughen disclosure requirements and enforce voluntary reporting standards? I’ve always wondered if our problems lay elsewhere. Emission is largely based on how we do business, pricing on other product and services indirectly attribute to our valuation of CO2, so why not curb consumerism to a healthy level and expect both the corporation and consumers fundamentally change the way we do business to curb emission? Taxing, or pricing, CO2 directly will be a huge incentive to change our way of doing business, but there are more powerful incentives in the postindustrial consumer culture at play here. P&G is on board with me in calling for consumption changes. Its CEO, “Robert McDonald says 4.4 billion people on the planet use a P&G product every day. Today 40% of laundry is washed in cold water – P&G has a goal of 70% in cold water. This alone would have an impact on several percentage points of the world’s GHG emissions.” But I digress.

3. J. Craig Venter of the J. Craig Venter Institute called for a change to our source of food noting our industrial farming problem.

4. Former Pennsylvania Governor T. Boone Pickens, now Chairman of BP Capitol Management, estimated that we “could cut our consumption of OPEC oil by 60%.”

5. California Governor Jerry Brown said that fracking is not so bad as environmentalists make them out to be or as good as the industry says, according to Aubrey McClendon, Chairman and CEO of Chesapeake Energy; so make your own decision. CSRHub has an upcoming new special issue on the topic.

Mark your calendars.

6. David Rubenstein of the Carlyle Group (an assets management group) called for improving environment, social, and governance principles to increase cash flow and profits. He believes this to be “crucial for incenting and supporting companies with sustainability missions.”

7. Dara O’Rourke, CSO (Chief Sustainability Officer) of the Good Guide, noted the “greenwash” problem: “[s]elling green is about being honest. Marketers have less control over the message, and are instead are expected to be transparent and authentic.”

I completely agree. This is where I hope the green elephant will eventually make a positive impact in our own lives. My wife Lauren and my friend Mark both recently reminded me that changing the world starts with cultivating the person. This entire time I was lost in my search for the ideals of two very different nations, I realized both the Chinese people and the American people are capable of living in harmonious ways. But they will not do so under the weighty regulations that control their lives. Here we find the balance between our freedom to be individuals yet still return to the community with positive impact. 

Alexis de Tocqueville once observed that Americans idealizes individualism, but it is not a failure as some would argue. When individualism is seen as a positive force, it prompts people to work together for common purposes; when seen as self-interest in such a thing as consumerism, it helps to reinforces the tyranny of the majority. Tocqueville made the observation that modern American democracy has invented new forms of tyranny: radical equality has led to the materialism of an expanding of the consumer culture and to the selfishness of individualism. Under these conditions we have lost interests in the future of our children; we are merely allowing ourselves to be led in ignorance. I would add to this that we see a decline of journalism, we see a decline of quality information in the public sphere, we see not just a "greenwash" but a "wash" in general of the quality of our lives. With the emergence of a new Internet Culture, I hope we can all take up a self discovery to live in better ways; change the world for the better together. But again, I digress. I have a bad case of ADD; I wonder at times if that is what compels me to write these blogs.

8. David Steiner, CEO of Waste Management, acknowledged the technology to reduce waste and increase recycling is readily available, reaching a waste diversion rate close to 100% is achievable. But he called for effective subsidies and incentives and a change in culture and behavior.

This is my wife’s favorite topic. Since I have relinquished the writing and publishing of this blog during the next few months to her, reserving my editing duties, I will leave this topic for her to explore in the near future.

9. Betty Noonan, Senior VP of Panasonic, noted that the “best companies are embedding sustainability into their innovation pipeline. It’s in everything they do and it’s part of their image and brand.”

10. C.S. Kiang noted that for the first time in modern history, China had more patent applications than the U.S. “This marks a change in innovation, transparency, and the rule of law [in China]. This will go a long way to sparking change for sustainability in China’s economy and workforce.”

I have noted that China is gearing up their IP laws and enforcement protections at the same time as they prepare to amass “domestic champions” in their economic sectors. In effect, China has recognized its lag against the U.S. in the white-collar workforce and is hoping to protect it as it grows.  So far, the U.S. have faired well in the white-collar economy, but I wonder how soon will not only the software programmer jobs leave town but also those innovation jobs, the managing jobs, and yes—even the legal jobs? 

I have seen bits of news about places farming out certain parts of the legal work to cheaper places like India, how far are we from off-shoring the whole enchilada? China has already expunged America's blue-collar workforce with cheap labor and readily government subsidies in their new polluting factories. The next decades will be about competing for desk jobs with the U.S., lowering their own consumption, and adapting to sustainable practices. They recognize sustainable development will be the next global economic reality. The Chinese are not fools, they have amassed a national will to do this. If you visit China today, “greening” their nation is propagandized everywhere in the Party’s red. Americans should not let China taken them for fools either. 

Ms. Figge concluded her reporting by disclaiming her professional interests in data mining and empowering users to “filter the data they see” and pay attentions to key issues, like natural gas, as the type of “specific wedge point that may shift our understanding of sustainability and CSR” in its entirety.

My lesson for the day from reading her report: everyone has their agenda, everyone has their own views. But it is inspiring to know these very influential people are coming together to work together to make happen a universal goal. There is a bit of Tocquevillian selfish factors here, but the important thing is that selfish need for survival has brought these institutional players to their collective senses. They are talking about potential solutions to our problems; suddenly, I don't feel so alone anymore. 

The beauty of the American system, as I see it, is not of capitalism or democracy as often tokened as the American strength, the real beauty of the American system noted by Alexis de Tocqueville some 170 years ago is that we empower each other through our individualism for the common goal so that we can build something together that is unimaginable—something outside of the systemic spiraling down. This is a virtue despotism could never compel its people to perform; this is the American strength. In this we find our revitalization.   

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

Spiraling gyring the center does not hold
The falcon does not need to hear the falconer;
Things fall apart but there comes another spring;

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Before dawn is the darkest of what I know
That twenty more centuries of waking fling
Will whisk the dream by a gentle cruise of howl,
And what beauty, its day come forth at last,
Proud treads the once New World to be born.

Cynthia Figge, Cofounder and COO of CSRHub is a forerunner and thought leader in the corporate sustainability movement. In 1996 she co-founded EKOS International, one of the first consultancies integrating sustainability and corporate strategy. Cynthia has worked with major organizations including BNSF, Boeing, Coca-Cola, Dow Jones, Noranda and REI to help craft sustainability strategy integrated with business. She was an Officer of LIN Broadcasting/McCaw Cellular leading new services development, and started a new “Greenfield” mill with Weyerhaeuser. She serves as Advisor to media and technology companies, and served as President of the Board of Sustainable Seattle. Cynthia has an MBA from Harvard Business School. Cynthia is based in the Seattle area.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on nearly 5,000 companies from 135 industries in 65 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

CSRHub rates 12 indicators of employee, environment, community and governance performance and flags many special issues. It offers subscribers immediate access to millions of detailed data points from our 140-plus data sources. Its data comes from six socially responsible investing firms, well-known indexes, publications, “best of” or “worst of” lists, NGOs, crowd sources and government agencies.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Chicago Wind.

You have noticed recently the green elephant’s contents are driven more so by my introspections on the human ecology. The change of pace is not meant to be a permanent shift to partisan politics; rather, I wanted to remind myself, and whoever is reading out there, that the topic of sustainability is encompassing of the People, the Planet, and Profit. Without pondering the human ecology and the state of our affairs in the human discourse in general, we cannot fully understand our problems; without fully understanding our problems, we simply will perpetuate the cycle of self demolition. Without discussing the scope of the People’s ontologies in an encompassing Planet’s survival, we fall to pray to the anthropomorphic state of things; we fall to nothingness—No Exit.

My recent dormant writings and pontifications are nothing more than a self-exploration into the political reality of things such as constructive capitalism, global sustainability development, and many things faced by power house nations such as China and the U.S. Since I have been intimately indulged on the topic of the China-U.S. relationship, once in a great while, you will see me confront the different ideologies to indulge in such pointless philosophical babels; that is simply the nature of how my brain functions. Without such exercise, I fall to the numbness of being just another machine. 

So you will have to excuse the digression lately; but I hope you were at least entertained by my sophomoric imitations of an artist  becoming.

But it is not enough to dwell on such tragic topic; the human affair, as I have come to see, often is too depressing; art, too embarrassing. Tragedies are often disguised in many ways so our humor can provide temporary relief. Grist recently posted an April Fools’ joke; it had brought me back from beyond the thunderdome. I am reminded that there are more pressing matters at hand, so I now return you to our regularly scheduled programing:

Recently, the Lane Report gauged the Obama administration’s deal with Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania “to speed up regulatory review of plans for offshore wind farms in the Great Lakes, which had been dogged by cost concerns.” Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin declined invitations but could join the partnership later, according to an administration official.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn applauded the agreement, noting that developing offshore wind energy would “promote economic development and create jobs while reducing our dependence on foreign energy sources.” 

Marc Lane, a Chicago attorney and chairman of the Illinois Task Force on Social Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Enterprise contended if “Congress continues to nix the extension of tax credits for advanced energy manufacturing, scheduled to expire at yearend, the local “economies stand to lose thousands of jobs along with the environmental benefits of a clean, local source of electricity.”

Mr. Lane noted that the $1.4 billion annual tax subsidy may be tough while the president's alternative-energy initiatives such as Solyndra have polarized Congress. But Mr. Lane is hopeful in Chicago’s toting of wind energy (puns unintentional). He noted that wind is among the fastest-growing energy sources and “thanks to government support and technological advances, wind power's cost has plummeted, approaching competitiveness with fossil fuels, a political and fiscal imperative.”

Americans, as he observes, now produce more wind power than anyone else; according to the Department of Energy, wind may supply 20 percent of the nation's electrical by 2030.

Chicago, Mr. Lane’s stumping round, is home to 13 turbine makers and wind farm developers; but without the $1.4 billion tax subsidy from Congress, each of the wind farm employer are now at risk.

Collapsing the fear that the tax subsidy, 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour for 10 years, will go to support what will eventually fail, Mr. Lane noted that the tax credit is only available to businesses already in operation, so the credits won't subsidize a startup more likely to fail. While Congress still debates whether to continue to subsidize the heavily tolling oil and gas industry, I wonder why it has lapsed its judgment to promote the alternative energy market making us more competitive to the Chinese and Europeans. With gas prices at an all-time high, isn’t it time to take back subsidies from the failing and exhaustible sector and provide those incentives to the alternative and sustainable sector?

Only with the credits can wind compete effectively against other electrical sources, its large capital investment notwithstanding. But without the credits, as many as 4,000 jobs are likely to be lost in Illinois, and up to 37,000 nationally.

There are 10 federal agencies taking part in this initiative: amongst them are the Pentagon, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wind developers would need state and federal approval to establish offshore wind farms.

State governments own the Great Lakes bottomlands within U.S. territory, while a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would be required to erect the turbines and all 10 federal agencies would review the plans. The agreement will encourage the agencies to avoid "a hodgepodge of different processes" causing needless delays, said David Poneman, deputy secretary of the Energy Department.
John Flesher, AP Environmental Writer