Any decent leader must actually find a way to affect change, rather than just talking about how great that change would be. When I was president of the temple watching membership dwindle with an outrageous annual budget deficit, one of the first speeches I gave was about how we needed to change because we are dying as a congregation. Not only the journey, but the destination would be worth it. And I scoped out a destination that built on community and culture. At every turn, I was thwarted by people that had no interest in change and a rabbi that couldn’t fathom it. I resigned with 4 months left in my term: A leader must bring about change or he/she is not leading. Lead, follow or step aside: In that case, I didn’t have the energy to lead.
Republicans are in the same spot. They see a President incapable of leading, who somehow wins the vision battle without actually creating a vision. They figure if a winning ‘vision’ strategy is to negatively criticize your opponent, then be the better criticizer. That is 2004 Carl Rove thinking. We should be better than that. Don’t be Axelrod and spew stupid alliteration slogans on the Sunday talk shows. A Rational Republican looks to the things that are furthest in the future, figures out a fair way to balance various demands for that future and then promotes a vision. Tactical plans form the basis of legislation to get us there. That is how you win the debate for hearts and minds. Nothing has more effect on the future than environmental policy, because this planet isn’t going anywhere. So I will tackle this one first.
Clean air, clean water, clean cities, healthy animals, that’s the easy stuff. Work with industry to make those goals a reality. Use social media to trumpet companies that do well. Create certifications for environmental virtue (like LEED for efficiency) and then advertise for the companies to make them want to do good to get the free press (aka sales). That stuff is easy, you just need a marketing plan and to enforce laws in partnership with industry rather than as adversaries. Above all, create clarity about what you want and how companies can work with you to get there. Regulatory uncertainty means corporate meetings (lawyers, product, finance, compliance, physical plant, manufacturing- that’s a lot of people), meetings lead to delayed decisions, delays mean waste, waste means falling profits, falling profits mean layoffs. If our President spent a single day in a corporation, he might know that.
Climate change can be just as easy, when you think about and espouse it in ways that emphasize the need for everyone to do their part. The important thing is to make a big deal about how little it should hurt. Don’t come out with Cap & Trade, fuel efficiency standards and criticize oil companies as a strategy. Come out with broad goals, and make one of them really easy, and then push that one hardest of all, the others come along for the ride. Don’t make fun of the other side, this isn’t a battle of ‘I am smarter than you’ or ‘my scientist can beat up your scientist.’ Be a grownup.
The planet is getting warmer. I saw it in Juneau, AK at the Mendenhall glacier. They built the visitor center at the edge of the ice 50 years ago. Now there is a lake and the ice wall is over a mile away. What really doesn’t matter is WHY the planet is getting warmer. It could be greenhouse gases from cars, people breathing, pigs and cows pooping or the lack of algae in the ocean. All I know is that if I close my closet door and breath inside for an hour, the air gets stale and warm. If I run my car in the garage for a few hours and sit in there, I will die. These things are bad. But you know what, it could be solar activity and this whole thing could turn in 10 years with a solar cycle. It doesn’t matter, if you can’t predict the future, solve the problems in the present. Anything that minimizes greenhouse trends, will help. If I am breathing crappy air in the closet and cut a 1 inch hole, that is still better than no hole.
So here is my simple 3 point strategy
1) Eventually, we need to think of carbon oxidation in the context of its fully loaded cost and effect on the environment. I don’t know how to do this formulaically, but methods can be negotiated. Be smart, don’t do it as a tax or a forced trading market. Forcing a company to pay penalties to the government is not going to go over well. Make it so that companies can ‘pay’ the load in the form of R&D spend on more efficient energy research. For small companies, let them contribute to a VC fund that invests in clean energy. At least they get to own an asset that might help them transition to the future. Taxes kill, “investments” build future, isn’t that the liberal mantra? Advocate for every source of energy; wind, coal, natural gas, oil, hydro, solar. But make sure that the relative cost between them becomes equitable based on the effects on the environment. At some point, someone will figure out that ‘free’ sources are more profitable than ones you have to dig up. More profit means a bigger bonus; remember this is about people. People act like people, corporations do not. So don’t treat people like they are corporations. Note that THIS is your aspirational goal, this is not pragmatic, do not focus on this out of the gate.
2) Use the bully pulpit to criticize waste. Waste is everywhere and everyone can share in eliminating it. I have no stats to back this up, but the US must waste at least 15% of all energy on a daily basis. Changing attitudes could recover some of this cost with no real adverse change in lifestyle. Imagine say 10% less energy consumption every day, and you didn’t have to tax, cap and trade, or penalize.
- Instead of criticizing oil companies, how about the moms that sit at soccer games in the parking lot with the car AC or heat running.
- Or cops that leave the car running while on traffic duty.
- Or the companies that make remote car starters so you can warm your car and waste 5-10 minutes of gas for a 20 minute drive to work.
- Where is the focus on recycling, you should see the bin of bottles and cans I take home from a tailgate. Paper, junk-mail, cardboard…if it has a numbered triangle on the bottom, throw it in a blue whale.
- I peel the foil label on Megan’s silly Kuerig drink cups and recycle those. I recycle coffee grounds and have the reusable k-cups. I throw vegetable scraps and other food scraps in a compost pile.
- I yell at Taylor for long showers
- I am constantly turning off conference room lights at work as well as lights at home.
- Close the fridge and don’t preheat the oven. You know why recipes tell you to preheat? Because they don’t know how long your oven takes to get warm, so they can’t give you an accurate cook time. Use your brain, make the adjustment.
- Get a programmable thermostat and heat wisely. The heat in our bedroom goes down to 55 during the day in the winter and comes on just before we go to bed. I use an electric blanket to preheat the bed so the room seems warmer than it actually is.
- Use a push-mower instead of a riding one and get some exercise at the same time (you can still hold a beer- trust me). Use the clippings to cover the dog poop on your compost pile instead of throwing it in the trash.
There are so many more examples: This stuff isn’t tough, it doesn’t even take effort, it is just an extension of the outcome of things you do right now anyway. Want a legacy? Change the way people act, show them that it can be cool to be responsible. Use gamification to promote competitions, make it an activity, part of your normal day.
3) Advocate for smart energy use of existing technologies rather than dreaming of carbon sequestration or super-batteries or hyper-efficient solar panels.
- Green Mountain Power is turning cow manure into power by processing the natural methane. “According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the decomposition of cow manure produces 7 percent of the United States’ methane, a gas that is 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.” Check this out…If methane digesters were installed on most California dairies, they would protect the climate as much as taking more than one million cars off the road – about 5% of the state’s total
- Cape Wind on Nantucket Sound was a no brainer. I don’t care if the Kennedy’s view from Hyannis is hindered or 10 seagulls get hit by turbines, wind power is free and carbon free. Fighting it for so long is a bunch of NIMBY crap. Everyone has to chip in, just do it.
- Same goes for people in the northcountry of NH complaining about hydro power coming down from Canada. Would I rather “trees not towers”? Of course, but everyone wants the lights to come on when they flip a switch. Everyone has to compromise and as much as I love the beauty of the mountains, I understand that I have to give something too.
A CEO would work with what he/she has in the tool shed to solve a problem. A community organizer is free to give lofty speeches dreaming about how great the world would be if the problem were solved. I like dreaming too and hope for a Star-Trek-like positive utopian future where the Earth is clean and peaceful and everything is happy. Matter/anti-matter reactions have the potential of producing infinitely clean power, but if I got on a soapbox calling for a “Manhattan project” to search for dilithium and warp-core reactors, would I be based in reality? Would I actually be solving a problem?
These aren’t crazy ideas, they are Rational. They aim to antagonize waste and laziness not people who are doing their best to get ahead. There is more than enough of that laziness to go around. Somehow we now have these distorted egotistical attitudes that tell us that it is OK to be lazy, because we are going to win no matter what . Well we aren’t and a leader would prepare us for that eventuality. She should give us a kick in the butt that says the only way things are going to be better is if we MAKE them better.
The environment isn’t something you can just wish into nirvana. And a leader has to do something to make it work that is rational and realistic for the times. You have to understand where we are right now and where we want to be. Right now, things are getting warmer. And you know what really bothers me? Warm means no snow. No snow means no skiing. We need more snow. Fix the problem.