Archive for the 'Innovation' Category

Occupy Denialism

Occupy Denialism: Toward Ecological and Social Revolution

This is a reconstruction from notes of a keynote address delivered to the Power Shift West Conference, Eugene, Oregon, November 5, 2011.

All of us here today, along with countless others around the world, are currently engaged in the collective struggle to save the planet as a place of habitation for humanity and innumerable other species.  The environmental movement has grown leaps and bounds in the last fifty years.  But we need to recognize that despite our increasing numbers we are losing the battle, if not the war, for the future of the earth.  Our worst enemy is denialism: not just the outright denial of climate-change skeptics, but also the far more dangerous denial — often found amongst environmentalists themselves — of capitalism’s role in the accumulation of ecological catastrophe.1

Recently, climate scientists, writing in leading scientific journals, have developed a way of addressing the extreme nature of the climate crisis, focusing on irreversible change and the trillionth ton of carbon.  Central to the scientific consensus on climate change today is the finding that a rise in global temperature by 2° C (3.6° F), associated with an atmospheric carbon concentration of 450 parts per million (ppm), represents a critical tipping point, irreversible in anything like human-time frames.  Climate models show that if we were to reach that point feedback mechanisms would likely set in, and society would no longer be able to prevent the climate catastrophe from developing further out of our control.  Even if we were completely to cease burning fossil fuels when global average temperature had risen by 2° C, climate change and its catastrophic effects would still be present in the year 3000.  In other words, avoiding an increase in global average temperatures of 2° C, 450 ppm is crucial because it constitutes a point of no return.  Once we get to that point, we will no longer be able to return, even in a millennium, to the Holocene conditions under which human civilization developed over the last 12,000 years.  Many of you are aware that long-term stabilization of the climate requires that we target 350 ppm, not 450 ppm.  But 450 ppm remains significant, since it represents the planetary equivalent of cutting down the last palm tree on Easter Island.2.

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Thoughts following Midwest Powershift

Cross-posted from by Ruby Levine

I spent the weekend at Midwest Powershift in Cleveland. Among the rallies, trainings, and speeches, I was able to catch some downtime with fellow Summer of Solutions program leaders and participants from around the Midwest. Especially valuable was a conversation I had with members of other Midwestern programs on Saturday night.

500 young people applaud Joshua Kahn Russell's keynote poem at Midwest Powershift in Cleveland. Photo credit Ben Hejkal.

This conversation helped me articulate two things: one, the “good environmentalists vs. the evil polluters” framing I saw a lot of other places during the conference makes me deeply uncomfortable, and two, if the green economy is going to work it needs to be the whole economy, not a side industry.

Continue reading ‘Thoughts following Midwest Powershift’

Apply to Start a Summer of Solutions Program in Your Community!

Cross-posted from by Ruby Levine.

The Summer of Solutions is a program for young people who want to build just, sustainable economies in their communities.

We want to invite YOU to be one of those young people building those solutions. Apply here by October 22 to start a program in your community or to join an existing program leader team.

Running a program gives you the opportunity to create and support green economy projects that build power for people who currently don’t have as much access AND to empower young people from your community and beyond with the skills and strategies they need to do the same thing wherever they go next.

Past Summer of Solutions programs have:

  • Built community gardens and farms on vacant lots
  • Taught neighbors how to use bikes as an effective form of transit
  • Run summer camps for children to help them learn about healthy eating and growing their own food
  • Founded and partnered with energy businesses to create a community-based clean energy system
  • Created community spaces, from mini-golf courses in the coal fields of West Virginia to a playground in Detroit, MI
  • Designed and organized for green manufacturing at a closing car factory in Saint Paul, MN
  • Continue reading ‘Apply to Start a Summer of Solutions Program in Your Community!’

The Billion Dollar Green Challenge Launches

Credit: Michael Drazdzinski

Solar panels adorning the tops of Harvard buildings. A bright, towering wind turbine on the St. Olaf campus. Libraries and dormitories chock full of blue recycling options and even composting bins inside the dining halls, at the University of Washington.

Campus sustainability has come into its own over the last decade, with renewable energy, tray-less dining, and sustainability director jobs popping up at campuses across the country. While many colleges and universities can implement some or all of these programs to reduce their carbon footprint, many projects are done piecemeal, without a regular source of funding or the institutional support to make it the first step in a larger commitment.

Being a sustainable campus can be so much more than just a green garden or showcase project. Sustainability projects can often reduce the overall operating costs for the campus, saving energy and money, keeping tuition low. But high upfront costs can be a barrier to administrators experiencing steep budget cuts and rising energy costs.

One way for any college or university to achieve these results is through a sustainability financing mechanism called the Green Revolving Fund.

On the main stage at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s national conference in Pittsburgh, PA, the Billion Dollar Green Challenge will be launched in front of the largest gathering, to date, on sustainability in higher education. The Challenge is inviting colleges to establish green revolving funds to invest in significant energy efficiency upgrades on campus.

At the time of the launch, 32 institutions have joined the Challenge’s Founding Circle. Founding Circle participants range in size from large institutions such as Arizona State, Harvard and Stanford, to small and innovative institutions such as Northland College, Green Mountain College and Unity College.

Green revolving fund projects are diverse and versatile, and can be easily adapted to a school’s priorities. Have an active student body? Consider operating a student-driven fund, like at Oberlin College’s EDGE Fund, where students work with faculty and staff to initiative sustainability projects. Want to retrofit your campus buildings? Take a page from the University of Pennsylvania’s Energy Reduction Fund, which reduces energy through building upgrades.

Existing green revolving funds prove that sustainability efforts can be profitable and even fund larger and more ambitious projects, as they have an average return on investment of 32 percent annually.

Clearly, the benefits of joining the Challenge and operating a green revolving fund are numerous. They are a bright spot in a rocky economy, helping to create green jobs in campus communities while substantially reducing operating costs. The Challenge is a broad network of like-minded institutions focused on improving campus sustainability throughout their operations.

For participating institutions, it will be a best practice forum for what kinds of projects have proven successful, what programs have had difficulties, and what programs you should consider on your own campus, based on real-life examples.

As energy prices rise and concerns about resource scarcity increase, it is a risky venture to not invest in environmental initiatives on campus. By joining the Billion Dollar Green Challenge, institutions can both save energy and grow money.

Visit for more information and see if your school might be a good fit.

Mark Orlowski is the Executive Director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) and Emily Flynn is Manager of Special Projects at SEI.

The View from Four Years Out

Cross-posted from, where you can find more stories of young people building the green economy.

When I helped close the 2011 Twin Cities Summer of Solutions three weeks ago, I knew something amazing was happening, but in the flurry of it all I wasn’t really able to identify it. I started to get a sense of it when I first sat down at the Grand Aspirations August Gathering two weeks ago, when forty people from all over the country streamed in with wondrous stories of their work creating the green economy. By the end of the Gathering, last week, the full depth of the change was starting to dawn on me and was brought to the front of my attention when Ethan Buckner, a friend and Oakland Summer of Solutions Program Leader, said smiling at the end of a big group hug, ‘you know, we’ve created something really remarkable in the past few years’. Now, after a week of catching up and taking the next steps forward back in Minnesota, I’m finally seeing the view from four years out.

Four years ago was about 6 months after the events that got Cooperative Energy Futures and the Alliance to Reindustrialize for a Sustainable Economy off the ground – the seeds of my green economy work in the Twin Cities. It was about 6 months before the vision for the Summer of Solutions and Grand Aspirations emerged. Four years ago, there had been no national gatherings of thousands of youth activists, candidate Barack Obama was barely a competitor, and the economy had not yet tanked. The dream of a green economy was barely starting to be voiced, and the idea that we could sustain ourselves, our communities, and the future of our world by creating new ways to feed, house, power, and transport our society was an exciting but utopian ideal.

So what has changed?
Continue reading ‘The View from Four Years Out’

No More Fukushimas

The situation at the damaged nuclear reactors in Fukushima is dire. Two days ago, three workers were exposed to water containing radioactive materials 10,000 times the normal level in the basement of Reactor No. 3.  This reactor is especially dangerous because it contains MOX fuel, a mixture of uranium and plutonium.  And, things got worse yesterday.  The Japanese authorities have now said that the reactor vessel in unit 3 may have breached, which means that much greater amounts of radiation from the MOX fuel could be released.

Here in the United States, the nuclear industry’s lobbyists and propagandists work to downplay concerns.  “Earthquakes of that magnitude would never happen here.”  “We’ll do a thorough safety review.” “Nuclear power needs to be part of our energy future.”  And so on. What they aren’t saying is that that massive public subsidies to bring this old reactors online would go 7-10 times further if spent on renewable energy and energy efficiency. Nuclear energy development is one of the biggest blockages to and energy revolution that can slow climate change. 

The federal government has failed for years to provide appropriate oversight of nuclear reactors, but fortunately, two states are leading the fight to shut down their dangerous old nuclear reactors.  In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo has been a longtime critic of Indian Point, and has called for a safety review of the reactors.  In Vermont, where the state legislature voted overwhelmingly last year to close Vermont Yankee as scheduled in 2012, over 600 people gathered outside the reactor on Sunday to show solidarity with the people of Japan and call for the plant to be shut down.

This Monday, March 28, people across the country will be showing their support for the people of Japan and calling for a world free of nuclear disasters.  Please sign up to host or join a vigil near you, and let’s fight for an energy future with no more Fukushimas.  To find a Stand with Japan vigil near you, go to:

Youth Forge Solutions Nationwide – All Are Welcome

At a youth climate meeting in Minnesota in January 2008, a neat idea emerged from discussion:

‘We need to start training young people, not just FOR green jobs, but TO CREATE green jobs. We should start in the Twin Cities this summer.’

Fast-forward three years, and over 250 young people have been trained over three years in Summer of Solutions programs around the country to create innovative and self-sustaining solutions around energy efficiency, green industry, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and smart transportation and design that advance job creation, social justice, and community empowerment. A network of over 70 youth leaders has coalesced to launch a national organization from nothing and develop 2011 Summer of Solutions programs that will support hundreds of youth in creating the clean energy economy in 15 cities nationwide. These programs have expanded rapidly in number, quality, and sustainability over the years without grant support, and with a major influx of funding and leadership in late 2010, we’re just hitting our stride.

As you read on, I’d encourage you to think of any young people (individuals or groups) who might be interested in a summer program based on community-based innovation in the clean energy economy. If so, please invite them to apply to any of our 15 programs nationwide by April 24th at

Continue reading ‘Youth Forge Solutions Nationwide – All Are Welcome’

Google to the Rescue?

Google For Nonprofits Marketplace
Img. © Google

Just as it has been getting grim for advocates for climate science and small nonprofits everywhere, Google just announced two major initiatives that hopefully put a little wind in the sails for those beating against the tide.

Google has announced their new Google for Nonprofits program that offers a one-stop application for Google Adwords, Apps, YouTube, Google Earth and more. While many of the organizations and campaigns I have worked with over the years rely heavily on Google tools, this is an effort to make it far easier and simpler for organizations to get access and learn how to use them effectively. They also have setup a Google for Nonprofits Marketplace to connect nonprofits with organizations and consultants able to put these tools to work.

If you are reading this and you are thinking of starting a nonprofit, or you are at a small nonprofit and you feel like technology is always a struggle, this really makes it easy. I am helping a few groups go through this process and if anyone needs help, drop me a line, but they are making it easier than ever.

The other initiative is very exciting to people who care about climate science and have watched horrified as climate deniers have abused public relations techniques and tricked the media in generating fake controversy, forestall action, and create a generational divide in the understanding of climate science. has brought together a team of 21 climate researchers to communicate on the issue of climate change. The Google Science Communication Fellows are a number of climate scientists who will be provided with training on new media, data-sharing, and communications, SolveClimate reported.

“, the technology giant’s philanthropic arm, has hand-picked a team of 21 fellows working in climate research to improve the way the science of global warming is communicated to the public and lawmakers through new media. “We are seeing very clearly with climate change that our policy choices are currently not grounded in knowledge and understanding,” said Paul Higgins, a Google fellow and an associate policy director for the American Meteorological Society.”

It is really exciting to Google come out swinging on climate science. Edmund Burke famously once said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Google is starting to live up to their motto of “Don’t be Evil” by doing something. Now, it is time of us to step up and use these tools for good.

Next Generation Democracy Book Review

I first met Jared Duval in the summer of 2003 on a bus with 100 students from every state in the country who had received the Morris K. Udall Scholarship for college sophomores and juniors committed to the environment and native public health issues. I laughed when he told me he was working for Howard Dean’s presidential campaign — then an unknown Governor from Vermont few thought had a chance at winning the primary. But over the course of the ride, Jared’s well-reasoned confidence began to win me over. And by the end of the Udall gathering, we had recruited most of the scholars into an organization a core group of us invented on the spot: Students for an Environmentally Responsible President. SERP wasn’t long for this world, Jared got busy again at school, and we lost touch.

I had already dropped out of college by then to pursue student organizing full-time, and soon co-founded and began coordinating the Energy Action Coalition. Two years after we had first met, Jared was elected National Director of the Sierra Student Coalition, the student arm of the Sierra Club and one of the biggest partner organizations of Energy Action. We spent two years working together to build the Campus Climate Challenge, and organize the first national student climate summit, Power Shift, in 2007. When Jared’s two terms with the SSC were over, he told me he wanted to write a book. Doubtful again, I wished him the best of luck.

So when I got a copy of his book, Next Generation Democracy, in the mail just a week ago, I was chagrined again as I found myself tearing through it in just a few sittings. The book details how a range of new, web-enabled tools, combined with a newly global, progressive and tech-savvy generation is poised to change the world. He tells the stories behind well-known open-source projects like Linux and Wikipedia, but also unearths some of the most cutting edge approaches like the Deliberatorium, Legislation 2.0, 21st Century Town Meetings and other efforts that hold real promise for fixing our Democracy at a time when such hope can be hard to come by.

A couple of years into the Obama presidency, we are now confronted with the stark realization that truly transformational progress will not be made on any major social challenge until the underlying dysfunction of a ‘pay to play, keep people at bay” system in Congress is addressed…

Where might we look for progress instead? I believe that to get at the root blockages of transformational progress, we must address the disenfranchisement of the American and global public from the decision-making institutions of our society. As author Don Tapscott has written, ‘real change seems glacial…What the current system lacks are mechanisms enabling government to benefit on an ongoing basis from the wisdom and insight that a nation can collectively offer.’

Indeed, while the defining ideological debate of the previous generation concerned the proper size of government, for the Millennial generation the pressing question should be the nature — open versus closed, collaborative versus zero sum — of our very process of government.

Democracy is an ancient idea, and our Democracy here in America is the oldest continuous government in the world. When you consider the incredible gridlock and corruption in our current system against the massive problems on both the domestic and global level it is required to deal with, it’s hard not to feel like we need a tune-up. Jared’s book is as good a primer on these issues as I’ve read, and a good fun read as well.

Moving Beyond Dirty Politics and into the New Energy Economy

After months of debating and endless news coverage, the congressional elections are finally behind us. Though the results of these elections will determine much of our nation’s direction for the next few years, the elections themselves have told us something significant about our country and where we stand today.

A controversial yet prescient ad illustrating the role of Big Oil in Congress,

As a young person and a voter, I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed by what has become a custom among candidates: all over the country and among both parties, politicians welcomed the influence of dirty money into the political process. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon Off-shore drilling disaster last April, candidates raked in campaign contributions from fossil fuel industries, some accepting sums totaling over $1 million. How should I have confidence in our leaders when the very industries that funded their campaigns are those corrupting the political agenda, last year spending a combined total of $175 million on lobbying?

But it’s clear that for these industries, this is money well worth shelling out: in the oil industry alone, federal subsidies and tax breaks range between $6 and 39 billion annually. Between 2002-2008, federal fossil fuel subsidies totaled $72.5 billion, going toward tax expenditures, foregone revenues, grants, and direct payments. $14 billion of this total goes to funding oil production overseas; that’s money going to major polluters and not toward creating jobs at home. In 2006, tax expenditures to oil and gas companies made up approximately 88% of total federal subsidies. Most of the largest dirty energy subsidies have been written into the U.S Tax Code as permanent provisions. We’re channeling taxpayer dollars into an industry that is already well established and wealthy and locking ourselves into the gray energy economy.

Continue reading ‘Moving Beyond Dirty Politics and into the New Energy Economy’


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