Kevin Kanarek

Frederick Kaufman on Stability in the Global Food Supply

Food and economics are two topics that are central to Green21′s focus on sustainability. We know that a reliable food supply is essential to life, right up there with water, and that sustainability in any economic system involves matching supply with demand and incentivizing productivity as well as profits.

So we took notice of Frederick Kaufman’s article ”The Food Bubble” (Harper’s Magazine, July 2010) which tells how a crisis, similar to that which hit the U.S. housing market, had struck our food supply on a global scale.

Between 2005 and 2008, the price of wheat gradually rose, and then skyrocketed. “It was as if the price of wheat was generating its own demand. The more it cost, the more investors wanted to pay,” Kaufman writes. In the article, he goes on to show how the effect rippled across global food markets and increased the numbers of hungry people worldwide.

How did this happen? The story reads like a murder mystery, and Kaufman is pretty sure he’s found the culprit. It wasn’t lack of supply, or any one company that had cornered the market on wheat, but rather a kind of systemic malfunction. And it could happen again.

Check out the article, reproduced with permission here.  And stay tuned to the comments section below, where Frederick Kaufman will be offering some solutions.

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climate-one Michel Gelobter, Hara’s Chief Green Officer and a member of the Green21 Board of Advisors, spoke at Climate One at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.  The discussion was titled “Measure What?” and focused on how the measurement and reduction of carbon emissions is spurring competition and innovation among forward-thinking companies.

Click here to listen to audio clip (mp3 stream or download)

Republished with the permission of Climate One at the Commonwealth Club of California
Commonwealth Club of California.

Greg Dalton, Vice President and founder of Climate One, interviewed the panelists:

  • Hara Chief Green Officer Michel Gelobter (Green21 Board of Advisor)
  • Business for Social Responsibility Senior Vice President Eric Olson
  • Blu Skye Principal Glen Low

Excerpt from Michel Gelobter’s talk:

…Energy and resource management has not been a systematic business process, right? No one ever tracked bails of hay per beer cart pulled by horses in London. Or where the manure went afterwards. They certainly have not been doing that with respect to modern industrial energy use significantly. We’re now entering a world where we’ve hit those limits, right? We know we’re running out of fossil fuels, we know that prices are going up, we know we’re running out of atmosphere and a variety of other resources. We need to use energy, and energy is becoming much more of a day to day currency. Carbon, certainly, as a friend of mine says, is becoming the first new global currency since gold.

Michel Gelobter with Jennifer Thompson at the Green Software UnConference

Michel Gelobter with Green21 Executive Producer Jennifer Thompson at the Green Software Unconference

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Over the summer, with the support of the Compton Foundation grant, Green21 kicked off the production of our pilot episode – Got H20? This episode focuses on the California water crisis as a microcosm of national issues.

We look forward to sharing some video clips very soon. Update: the video clips are here! Check out our Trailer and Segment One!

And here are a few stills of the crew and the people we filmed.

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Dr. Peter Gleick
President, Pacific Institute

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Denise Zmekhol
Director, Green21

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Jennifer Thompson
Executive Producer, Green21

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Rita Sudman, Executive Director,
Water Education Foundation

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John Diener
Farmer, Red Rock Ranch

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Imelda Padilla
Youth Program Coordinator,
Pacoima Beautiful

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Over the past year we’ve had the opportunities to speak with many inspiring people in the sustainability movement.  One thing that emerged from these talks is that storytelling is indeed part of the solution.

Speakers:
Kari Fulton, Brower Youth Award Winner, on the power of one person to inspire change
Zenobia Barlow, Executive Director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, on the challenge of understanding the scale of climate change
Lewis Perkins, Co-author of Green Heroes, on creating optimism and reducing fear
Mathis Wackernagel, Executive Director, Global Footprint Network, on how we need to position ourselves
Boyd Cohen, President,  3rd Whale, on the power of mobile to influence decision making
Tod Argbogast, Board Member National Recycling Coalition, on the hope for the future

And special thanks to the Global Oneness Project which has kindly allowed us to include some of their footage.
Stay tuned as the Green21 pilot episode about water — “Got H20?” — goes into production this summer.

Produced by Green21.
Some rights reserved.

Creative Commons License

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Every year, the Goldman Environmental Prize is awarded to grassroots environmental heroes who work to protect the world’s natural resources. Green21 Cinematographer Vicente Franco went to Suriname to film the story of 2009 award recipients Wanze Eduards and S. Hugo Jabini. Members of a Maroon community originally established by freed African slaves in the 1700s, Eduards and Jabini successfully organized their communities against logging on their traditional lands. (learn more)

Vicente Franco also filmed and co-directed Daughter from Danang and Summer of Love, and shot  Thirst, The Judge and the General, and many other documentary films. He was also Director of Photography for a documentary which was recently broadcast on PBS, based on Michael Pollan’s book The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World.

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“River of Renewal” is an award winning documentary that will air on PBS stations beginning October 25. Produced by Stephen Most, Jack Kohler and Steve Michelson, “River of Renewal” won Best Documentary Award at the American Indian Film Festival.

Conflict over water & wildlife in the Klamath Basin turned farmers and ranchers against American Indians and salmon fishermen in Oregon and California. But after lawsuits and winner-take-all politics brought disaster to the farms, the fish, and the fisheries, these stakeholders came together to forge a consensus for the common good. Will the future witness the extinction of salmon in what was once North America’s third greatest salmon-producing river? Or the restoration of the Klamath as a home for life?

“River of Renewal” is scheduled to air on KQED in San Francisco 11/15 at 6 pm (check PBS Air Dates for other stations and locations). Writer and producer Stephen Most is also a member of the Green21 team, and he’ll be blogging at this spot next week (Nov 10).  Check back then, or subscribe to green21.org on your RSS feed reader!

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At the West Coast Green conference earlier this month, Ray Anderson told the story of Interface Carpet: how a small manufacturer in Atlanta Georgia became a market leader while reducing the enormous waste of energy and materials inherent in commercial carpeting by completely rethinking the process. I’d heard the story many times before — beginning with the 1999 book “Natural Capitalism” by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins — but this was the first time I’d seen Anderson speak. I appreciated his graceful demeanor, somewhere between a wise and humble Sunday School teacher and an inspiring captain of industry.

At the same time, I was wondering:  aren’t there any new stories on the feasibility of large-scale greening? As if in answer to my question, keynote speaker Andrew Winston followed with a presentation that was uplifting, intelligent and often humorous. He described some excellent case studies, of which I’ve summarized a few below.

Drive smarter:
Con-Way freight estimates that their lowering the maximum speed of its truck fleet from 65 to 62 mph will save the company 3.2 million gallons of gas. At peak 2008 prices, that’s $15 million, or over 20% of Con-Way’s net income that year. And they found that the fewer stops to refill the tank equalled out the time loss in driving slower.

And my favorite: UPS redesigned its routes to eliminate left turns, since waiting to cross traffic wastes time, energy and fuel. The savings on “No Left Turn”? $3 million per year.

Turn the lights off:
Disney has started turning the lights off at night, on its theme park icons such as the Tree of Life, the castles, the big ball at Epcot. In addition to saving millions of kilowatt hours, it will also send a strong signal to guests as they see the park shutting down for the night. “Hmm, honey, maybe we should have turned the lights off at the motel…”

Open the door:
We think of computers as somehow being much less energy intensive than industrial machinery, but data centers are emerging as a major energy sink. As Winston says, “there’s a persistent (and believable) rumor that Google is the largest single energy user in the state of California.” Yet less than 4 percent of the energy use of a modern server farm is actual processing — the rest is cooling and keeping idle machines running. (This is reminiscent of Amory Lovins’ calculation that only 1% of a car’s energy use actually goes toward propelling the driver.)

Solutions? ”Outside air economization” or letting some of the hot air out instead of relying entirely on cooling systems. Also, “add the power bill to the CIO’s budget” — basically letting major energy users know just how much energy they’re using, and giving them an incentive to do something about it.

For more detail on these, and other case studies and insights, check out Andrew Winston’s new book Green Recovery, from Harvard Business Press, or the 30 page excerpt Green Cost Cutting which is available as a free download on his website.

Winston’s message is a powerful one: going green can be an investment, not a cost, and in many cases the pay back comes within one or two years. And if they choose not to invest in sustainable solutions, especially with respect to energy, companies are putting themselves as well as the planet at risk. Just compare Toyota today with their competition in Detroit.

Still, sifting through these examples, I had to wonder: the more sustainable course of action is not always the more profitable one, especially in the short term. Hopefully these stories are all part of a large scale shift in thinking, that will enable us to choose sustainable solutions even when there isn’t an immediate profit incentive to do so.

Photo Credit:Chris Campbell
under a Creative Commons License

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Green21 was featured at the Green Software Unconference at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA on Wednesday, August 19th.  A special thank you to Mary Vincent of Green Star Solution for bringing together an amazing group of green software developers, engineers, entrepreneurs and social media producers. The event’s major sponsor was CSRware, makers of carbon and sustainability management programs.

The Green21 team included  Jennifer Thompson (Executive Producer), Denise Zmekhol (Producer/Director), Ken Eklund (Director of Game Design), Michael Gelobter (Board of Advisors) and myself.

Jennifer  delivered the keynote address.  She described how social attitudes have changed radically over the past 50 years, and she named two key factors in that change: 1) media, which offers new paradigms, and 2) peer influences, in other words modeling our behavior on those around us.  In the case of climate change and sustainability, however, we don’t have 50 years.  By combining elements of both the media and peer influence models, we hope that social media can facilitate even faster change in the near future.  Jennifer then cited the work of Paul Hawken, showing how many disparate groups working toward sustainability and social justice can be seen as  different facets of a single movement. She concluded by paraphrasing one of Hawken’s more inspiring points:

If you look at the scientific data you can’t help but be pessimistic, otherwise  you don’t understand the data; but if you meet the people who are working to create real change, you can’t help but be optimistic.

After this speech, Green21 Director/Producer Denise Zmekhol screened the video she created with Google Earth Outreach “Trading Bows and Arrows for Laptops” which explores how the internet and GPS technology is being used by indigenous peoples to monitor the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest.  The audience had many questions, including the implications of a society moving from the stone age to the internet age in the space of 40 years, and work of the Surui leaders to gain access to the carbon offset market.

Green21’s Director of Game Design Ken Eklund, creator of the groundbreaking massively collaborative game “World Without Oil,” led a session on alternate reality games and social issues. Ken is developing the Green21 game “Lifeboat,” an alternate reality game that encourages participants to contribute their own experiences and discoveries, opening new paths to consensus and action. Ken and Jennifer were then briefly interviewed on the topic by Dee McCorey.  On another short video, I discuss how Green21’s  online ecosystem will bridge diverse communities that don’t often get to communicate directly over the critical issues of sustainability and climate change.

All in all, the unconference format allowed for spontaneous discussions and workshops at a manageable scale.  This event offered the ideal forum for connecting with people who are working at the intersection of technology, sustainability and social change.

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The Russian River watershed, just north of San Francisco, is surely one of the more progressive and resource-conscious areas of the country. I was staying in Guerneville on the river for a few days, about midway between Santa Rosa and the coast, and I got into a conversation with a local couple about the river and related water issues. They were in their sixties. They had lived in Guerneville over 30 years, raised their kids there and remained involved in the community.

When the topic of water use came up, the man spoke with deep resentment. I’ll paraphrase:

Santa Rosa just keeps dumping on us. Literally! This has been going on for decades. They take the water out of the river for development, always more development. The more water they use, the more waste they’ll wind up flushing downstream.

Once we proposed that they put their own intake pipes downstream from their effluent, so they’d need to use the same water we do. They looked at us like we were crazy. “Why would anyone want to do that?” they asked.

I asked him if there was any solution that might work. He smiled.

Well, we had a farmer around here who once drove up to Santa Rosa City Hall and dumped a truckload of manure on the steps. I think that got their attention.

His wife added that another step, at least as effective, had been the construction of a pipeline that ships treated wastewater to the Gysers steam fields – over 10 million gallons per day – where it helps produce enough electricity to power all of San Francisco.

Since then I’ve been intrigued by the question of water use along the Russian River. One important pitfall which that conversation highlighted: the temptation to frame a resource crisis as a conflict between two opposing groups, in this case the city upstream and the town downstream. Here’s what I’ve learned so far, and some big questions that remain unanswered.

Competing Interests:

  1. Downstream Residents: the river provides most of their water supply; sufficient water quality and flow is also needed for tourism and recreation (swimming, canoeing, fishing) which is vital to the local economy
  2. Fish: Endangered species such as the Coho and Chinook salmon need unpolluted rivers for spawning with sufficient forest cover to provide shade and erosion control along the riverbank. However, apparently they also require LOW overall flow rates on the lower river near the estuary.
  3. Agriculture: Sonoma county vineyards and other agriculture use the lion’s share of water. But extractive industries, including logging and gravel mining, also require water for their operations.
  4. Urban Residents and Development: Earlier this year, water contractors representing Santa Rosa water users successfully fought a proposed 30% increase in water rates. Meanwhile, the Sonoma County Water Agency continues to try to increase the amount of water it draws from the river from 76,000 to 101,000 Acre Feet/Year (over 30 billion gallons).

Of course there are many more groups and subsets of groups at work, and agencies that represent different interests and mandates. Brenda Adelman at the Russian River Watershed Protection Committee has been reporting on these issue now for some time: see www.rrwpc.org/articles.html

Questions:

Are there any solutions on the table that would balance the needs of all the impacted groups fairly> Could pricing water use in accordance with its scarcity and high environmental impact not only curb unsustainable development in urban/suburban areas like Santa Rosa (by reducing the economic incentives for developers) but also reduce waste discharges downstream. Less water used equals less wastewater discharged.

My biggest question is this: if Guerneville and Santa Rosa can’t make peace over the Russian River, what are the chances for India and Pakistan over the Indus?

(Photo Credit: brian-m under a Creative Commons Attribution License)

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A little while ago I was in a grocery store with a friend, standing at the checkout line around lunchtime. We had put together the ingredients for a simple lunch that could be assembled at a picnic table using just a pocket knife: tomatoes, cucumbers, salad greens, a packet of dressing. We were feeling very virtuous, but then at the checkout line, there was the enticement of the small chocolates rack: the ultimate impulse purchase.

She said, “Keep moving.” I said, “Hang on a second.” Which side won out? Virtue, frugality, and a healthy diet on the one hand, or the irresistible pull of cocoa and sugar?

I’ll tell you in a minute, but first, a little known fact: did you know that chocolate used to be money?

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There was a presentation on sustainable economics at the Green Festival. The speaker was Daniel Pinchbeck and he was talking about Ithaca Hours, a local currency in Ithaca NY which encourages people to spend their earnings within their community. Afterwards someone asked what happens when this currency pools — when one business is stuck holding alot of the Ithaca dollars but needs to pay suppliers that don’t participate in the program. After looking at different mechanisms for dealing with this scenario, Pinchbeck took a longer view of the issue.

Our current economic system encourages investments that will yield the highest short-term return regardless of the long-term consequences. But what if we could measure and reward investments according their ability to sustain community? Currency only has value as long as it’s in play. Pinchbeck mentioned the work of Bernard Lietaer, architect of the Euro, and alternative systems that Lietaer had proposed including currency that would depreciate over time — a kind of negative interest.

The Ancient Aztecs, Pinchbeck noted, traded in cocoa beans. The actual unit of currency decayed over time and lost value. The point was to spend wisely and invest, not hoard the wealth.

After my friend and I finished our vegetable lunch, just so you know, there was a chocolate bar to look forward to. But I let go of any impulse I might have had to hold onto the chocolate bar, to use it as a hedge against an uncertain future. Instead, I broke off a small piece for my friend. Before we knew it, the whole thing was gone.

(Photo Credit: davitydave under Creative Commons Attribution license)

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