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“If We Don’t Change 5 years From Now It’s Over”, Gov. Brown

GreenTown Los Altos was well represented at the “2013 WEST Summit and Showcase of Solutions” Thursday, May 23, hosted by Sustainable Silicon Valley, WEST stands for Water, Energy, Smart Technology, all critical elements necessary to drive sustainability regionally and globally.

I think the Governor nailed it when he said, “If we don’t change, 5 years from now it’s over,”  a comment picked up by the Mercury News.   As citizens, now our challenge is to hold him to it.

The meeting was excellent and the location of NASA Ames Research Center was truly inspired.  If we can get to the moon we should be able to tackle climate change – right?

It started with the usual grim run down on where we are going off the tracks:

  1. The CO2 Hockey Stick, just this month spiking above 400 ppm.  It has been verified 23 times now, so it is as close to indisputable as such scientific numbers can get.  Waleed Abdalati, Director Earth Science Observation Center at the University of Colorado, looks at the graph and says, “If this was a company’s stock performance we would say what an opportunity – buy it, it’s going up, up, up.”  The climate change deniers look at it and say, “Oh, I don’t know, it’s all cyclical.”

 If we can get to the moon we should be able to tackle climate change – right?
  1. Jim Hansen talked.  Yes, that Jim Hansen, former Head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.  His message – we have already burned over half the fossil fuels we can without truly disastrous consequences.  His solution is the carbon fee with the dividend returned to all legal citizens.  He projected about $2000 per person. This levels the playing field for all forms of energy.

  2. Anthony Barnosky, Professor, Dept. of Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley, noted that climate change is only one part of the damage being done to earth’s life support systems.  There is also population growth and pollution.  He says we are on track for a major extinction event.  Earth has had these before (remember the dinosaurs went bye bye about 65 million years ago).  Such an event means 75% or more of the existing multi-cellular life forms disappear.  As he put it – look around you and note that 4 out of every 5 living things you see will be gone.

Enough with the grim news already.  So why don’t more people seem to care?

Banny Baberjee, Associate Professor and Director, Stanford ChangeLabs, talked about short term and long term benefits.  Climate change is too distant – there are more immediate concerns that always take priority.  We seem to have three choices – growth (economic prosperity), social issues (solving poverty for example) and environmental issues.  The dilemma:  You can have two, not three – take your pick.  So the environment gets dropped.

The speakers did get into solutions.  The way we grow our food, more efficient use of our energy, more bicycling (Google wants all of its employees living in Palo Alto to be able to safely bike to Mt. View), restore marsh lands, allow utilities to use adjustable voltages (it’s technical), impose higher standards on our producers (Walmart had done this), build developments adjacent to public transit, and much more.  There is no silver bullet, but there is silver buckshot.

In the afternoon there was a very fun presentation of specific proposals by groups.  A panel then passed judgement and gave each “contestant” a score.  It was very “Shark Tank” like.  The winners were a couple of guys who came up with a cheap portable toilet.  Yep, it got down to that level, but in places like Haiti this is important. They don’t have water for toilets, or sewer systems even if they had the water.  I’m not certain about the climate change potential here, but it was innovative.

I liked the presentation by Craig Lewis, Clean Coalition, on local generation and distribution of electricity.  This has some real energy efficiency potential as well as introducing resiliency.  He is testing the concept in five demonstration projects in order to prove it to the satisfaction of his customers – the utilities.

The Cool Cities challenge was presented by David Gershon.  Yes, that David Gershon, author of “How to Lose 5000 Pounds in 30 Days.”  They will select three early adopter California cities to demonstrate the methodology and then scale it throughout California and beyond.

A presentation aimed at inspiring young people to take action on climate change was the Green Ninja.  This is an effort by a San Jose State team that targets the sixth grade.  They have developed short films and accompanying lesson plans that use the adventures of the Green Ninja as a mascot, unifying theme.

There were many other presentations with good and interesting ideas – so there is some hope!

The day concluded with remarks by State Senator Jerry Hill.  His told us, “We need to step up.  Too many people think someone else will take care of it.  Some even think the government will do it.”  That brought a laugh from the audience.

We need to step up.  Too many people think someone else will take care of it.  Some even think the government will do it.

The final speaker was NASA Astronaut (ret.) Col. “Bo” Bobko.  He told us, “Earth really is a small place from 190 miles up.  It looks like a Christmas ornament and just as fragile.”  That’s a final thought that we should always keep in our minds.

Kids who care about climate change rap, “One Bottle at a Time (Save The Fishes)”

We had some entertainment just before our lunch break – a rap by two guys from Redwood High School called, “One Bottle at a Time (Save the Fishes).”  This environmentalist found it very cool.

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