Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Must Read — “The Power of Green”

If you are a Conservative, you probably know the name Brent Bozell III. He is a widely distributed syndicated columnist and the founder and president of the Media Research Center, the largest media watchdog organization in the United States. Liberal or Conservative, you undoubtedly are familiar with the name Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times columnist, three time Pulitzer Prize winner, and the author of The World is Flat, a book that has been on the Times best seller list for a remarkable two years, selling well over two million copies.

In a recent column, Mr. Bozell rails against the fact that only five conservatives have won a Pulitzer Prize over the last thirty years. He goes on to elaborate, “In short, like many national awards of this kind, the Pulitzer is a political prize bestowed almost exclusively on writers, journalists and thinkers who cater to suitably liberal or left-wing points of view. It wasn't always thus, but since the 1960s that's been the case.”

I mention this because Mr. Friedman, may very well ignite the wrath of Mr. Bozell once again based on an article he wrote in the April 15 th edition of The New York Times magazine section. It is my contention that this article alone should earn Mr. Friedman still another Pulitzer Prize.

This 12-page article titled “The Power of Green” is, by far, the most compelling, logical, and insightful analysis and synthesis of the geopolitical and geostrategic positions and interests of the United States you will ever read. While I have attempted below, to condense Mr. Friedman’s article into an allotted space, for those with access to the Internet, I urge you, nay, plead with you to go directly to the article by “Googling” it using the phrase, “The Power of Green.” What might satisfy conservatives is Mr. Friedman’s approach to solutions from a capital market standpoint, suggesting that by taking a leadership role on energy/climate issues, the United States has the potential to gain enormous economic and geopolitical advantages.

The article establishes background by emphasizing that after 9/11, “Americans started to realize we were financing the U.S. military with our tax dollars; and we were financing a transformation of Islam, in favor of its most intolerant strand, with our gasoline purchases.” He then asks, “How stupid is that?” He rightfully accuses the Saudi royal family of avoiding a clash with the extremist Wahhabi religious establishment by essentially buying them off. He writes, “Awash in cash, thanks to the spike in oil prices, the Saudi government and charities also spent hundreds of millions of dollars endowing mosques, youth clubs, and Muslim schools all over the world, ensuring that Wahhabi imams, teachers, and textbooks would preach Saudi-style [extremist] Islam.”

Conservatives might wince at the following, but the conclusion is difficult to disparage. Friedman writes, “No wonder, more Americans have concluded that conserving oil to put less money in the hands of hostile forces is now a geostrategic imperative. President Bush’s refusal to do anything meaningful after 9/11 to reduce our gasoline usage really amounts to a policy of ‘No Mullah Left Behind.’ James Wooley, the former C.I.A. director, minces no words: ‘We are funding the rope for our own hanging.’”

Friedman then describes a concept he first introduced a year ago in a front cover article in Financial Times. He calls it the First Law of Petropolitics. “The price of oil and the pace of freedom always move in opposite directions in states that are highly dependent on oil exports for their income and have weak institutions or outright authoritarian governments.” He then emphasizes, “Soaring oil prices are poisoning the international system by strengthening antidemocratic regimes around the globe.” Freidman makes it glaringly obvious that energy independence is a national security issue.

The third segment of the article deals with his agreement with the recent report by the United Nation’s 2000 experts’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which concluded that “changes in climate are now affecting physical and biological systems on every continent.” Friedman quotes two scientists, “Robert Socolow, an engineering professor, and Stephen Pacala, an ecologist professor, who together lead the Carbon Mitigation Initiative at Princeton, a consortium designing scalable solutions to the climate issue.” Friedman reports that, “they first argued in a paper published by the journal Science in August 2004 that human beings can emit only so much carbon into the atmosphere before the buildup of carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) reaches a level unknown in recent geologic history and the earth’s climate system starts to go ‘haywire.’”

However, unlike others who concentrate only on the problems we face, the two scientists offer 15 possible solutions that would entail an effort to “get rid of 175 billion tons of carbon over the next 50 years — and [allow the economy] to still keep growing.” Pacala emphasizes that “There has never been a deliberate industrial project in history as big as this.” Yet as we invent and develop alternative energy technologies, and tools to achieve these goals, we would also create products, devices, and systems that we could produce profitably and export on a worldwide basis, spawning new industries in the process, thus galvanizing our economy.

Friedman underscores the importance of the government getting deeply involved in this issue, and for those who might object to that view and wish instead for a unilateral non-governmental market approach, Friedman makes a surprising point. In 1999, a governor of one state “pushed for and signed a renewable energy portfolio mandate.” The mandate stipulated that power companies in that state had to produce 2,000 new megawatts of electricity from renewables, mostly wind by 2009. Friedman asks “What happened?” He describes how “a dozen new companies jumped into the market and built wind turbines to meet the mandate, so many that the 2,000 megawatt goal was reached in 2005.” Because of economies of scale, wind is quickly becoming competitive with coal. The surprise? Friedman says, “Thanks to [then] Governor Bush’s market intervention, Texas is the biggest wind state in America.” Governor Bush? Really!

Friedman’s entire thrust is to adopt, adapt, and export the “Power of Green” by “embedding clean tech into everything we design and manufacture [as] a way to revive America as a manufacturing power.” He elaborates on this by stating that America needs a “Green New Deal — one in which government’s role is not funding projects, as in the original New Deal, but seeding basic research, providing loan guarantees where needed and setting standards, taxes and incentives that will spawn 1000 G.E. Transportations [a company that produces the most energy efficient, and lowest emission light locomotives at a price that even China buys them], for all kinds of cheap power.” That market-oriented approach should satisfy even conservatives.

Friedman lambastes politicians when he says, “Bush won’t lead a Green New Deal, but his successors must if America is going to maintain its leadership and living standard. Unfortunately, today’s presidential hopefuls are largely full of hot air on the climate/energy issue. Not one of them is proposing anything hard, like a carbon or gasoline tax, and if you think we can deal with these huge problems without asking the American people to do anything hard, you’re a fool or a fraud.” Perhaps Freidman should run for political office.

I apologize for using so many quotes from the Friedman article but how can I equal the writing mastery of a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner. So allow me to end with one more quote summing up Freidman’s philosophy: “Equally important, presidential candidates need to help Americans understand that green is not about cutting back. It’s about creating a new cornucopia of abundance for the next generation by inventing a whole new industry. It’s about getting our best brains out of hedge funds and into innovations that will not only give us the clean-power industrial assets to preserve our American dream but also give us the technologies that billions of others need to realize their own dreams without destroying the planet. It’s about making America safer by breaking our addiction to a fuel that is powering regimes deeply hostile to our values. And finally, it’s about making America the global environmental leader, instead of laggard…”

Friedman’s book, The Earth is Flat attained “must read” status amongst American politicians and perhaps every world leader (at least those who read books). I would hope the same importance is adopted for his Power of Green article.

Just three days before the deadline for the above article arrived, and after it was written and completed, the following quotes from a speech on oil independence and global warming appeared in the New York Times; comments that, considering the person who voiced them, have significant relevance to the above subject.

“The problem isn’t a Hollywood invention nor is doing something about it a vanity of Cassandra-like hysterics. It is a serious and urgent economic, environmental, and notional security challenge.” The speaker continues, “The world is already feeling the powerful effects of global warming, and far more dire consequences are predicted if we let the growing deluge of greenhouse gas emissions continue, and wreak havoc with God’s creation.” The speaker was Republican Senator John McCain who has already introduced legislation to lower carbon emissions.

Just In Case You Missed It... Johnny CAN Read — If He’s Finnish

Johnny CAN Read — If He’s Finnish

Shortly before last month’s article on our failed school system appeared under the title Johnny Still Can’t Read, U.S. News & World Report ran an article (March 26/April 2) titled The Secret to Smarter Schools. It described how Finland has achieved the type of school performance success about which the U.S. can only dream.

Every three years the Paris based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development offers a Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). It tests 15-year olds from 40 industrialized nations in reading literacy, science, and math. Finland ranks first in literacy, ties for first with Japan in science, and is second in math. How does the world’s richest nation fare? As you might guess (if you read last month’s article), not too well. The U.S. ranks 18 th, 22 nd, and 28 th in those subjects respectively.

How does Finland do it? The U.S. News article expresses it most succinctly: “Perhaps the most potent secret weapon in Finland’s success is well trained teachers.” What a surprise! With so many smart, educated people in our country, how is it that no one ever thought of that? Well, let’s see — In Finland, teachers of all grades must obtain at least a master’ degree. In the U.S., most teachers are untrained in the subject they teach, and that is especially true in science and math.

More importantly, the attitude towards teachers in Finland is in marked contrast to our country. As described in U.S. News, “Today, teacher education programs are highly competitive, in part because teachers enjoy high prestige in Finnish society. ‘The status of teachers is comparable to doctors and lawyers’ says Jouni Valijarvi, director of the Institute of Educational Research at the University of Juvaskyla.” What would we have to do to raise the stature of the teacher class to that of other esteemed professionals? Mr. Valijarve’s suggestion: “This means big investment in teacher education, special education, and supporting children and families at an early age. The returns can be high.” U.S. News suggests, “This idea deserves an A.”

Just In Case You Missed It... A Must Read — “The Power of Green”

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Doomsday Book, An Environmental Nightmare — Part II

It would be ingenuous to believe that this or any article on environmentalism immediately captivates the attention of, and enthralls all prospective readers. Yet, the apparent popularity of the Al Gore movie, An Inconvenient Truth, whether one agrees with its premise or not, certainly propelled the subject into the forefront and initiated a dialog on what most will agree, is an important subject. Therefore, in an effort to seduce even the most disinterested reader to at least continue to read on, as most public speakers do, we will attempt to warm up the reading audience with a few jokes. So, here goes. Yuk! Yuk!

Julius Henry Marx died in late 1977, almost 30 years ago at the age of 87. Yet, he is still remembered fondly, and even with reverence, by those who saw him and his brothers scamper wildly through a number of hilarious movies such as Animal Crackers (1929), Monkey Business (1930), Horse Feathers (1932), Duck soup (1933), and several others. Of course I’m referring to “Groucho” Marx who also hosted the TV series, “You Bet Your Life” in the 1950’s. In addition to their acting insanities and inanities, the brothers, especially Groucho, are known for reciting some of the most amusing comedy lines ever written for films.

As entertaining as these lines were, most interesting are several that have serious connotations and applications today. For example, it’s easy to think of any number of recent and current events to which the following can be applied: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.” (WOW! If ever the shoe fit.) — or this cruder line relating to Vietnam, “We should pull out, which is what Nixon’s father should have done.” Another is, “The secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake these you’ve got it made.” (Politicians, take note). How about, “Only one man in a thousand is a leader of men. The other 999 follow women.” (How about those who now follow men?) In the race for the presidential primary, I love these two: “Those are my principles, If you don’t like them, I have others;” and, “In America, you can go on the air and kid the politicians, and the politicians can go on the air and kid the people.” Here is one for Dick Cheney: “You know I could rent you out as a decoy for duck hunters.” While this next one might have been funny in the film Duck Soup in 1933, it is sadly ominous today, “You’re a brave man. Go and break through the lines. And remember, while you’re out there risking your life and limb through shot and shell, we’ll be in here thinking what a sucker you are.” And this one can be applied to politicians of opposite parties, “Whatever it is, I’m opposed to it!”

But there is one line from Duck Soup that has special resonance with the subject of climate change — (Gotcha!) — a line usually misattributed to Groucho that was actually recited by his brother Chico: “Who are you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

The Fundamentals

Almost every climate scientist who participated in a recent United Nations report released on April 8 th would probably ascribe that statement to those who are termed “skeptics,” or even “deniers” regarding what has been announced as a “broad scientific consensus” reflected in the February and April 2007 United Nations reports stating that recent climate changes will have potentially catastrophic results, and have been exacerbated by human activities.

The fundamental issue relating to climate change is described as follows in Wikipedia: “The existence of global warming since the end of the Little Ice Age in the mid 1800s is not controversial. It is accepted by virtually all scientists in climate-related fields. The controversy focuses on the causes of that warming, especially the warming after World War II; the likelihood and magnitude of future warming, and whether additional warming would be harmful or beneficial.”

Actions have been proposed to slow down warming, based on the assumption that (1) it's likely to be large enough to cause harm, (2) that it's because of human activities and (3) that it's possible to curtail those activities sufficiently to prevent predicted harm. In addition to the scientific controversy, these proposals are controversial on political, ideological, economic and even religious grounds.

The Mystery of the Missing Report

It is not well recognized that despite its belligerence toward the concept of global warming (and environmentalism in general), in mid-2002 the Bush administration, abiding by an agreement, sent a document to the United Nations titled, “U.S. Climate Action Report 2002” that detailed the specific and far-reaching effect that global warming will inflict on the environment.

As described in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle in 2002, “In the report, the administration also for the first time places most of the blame for recent global warming on human actions — mainly the burning of fossil fuels that send heat trapping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.” The Chronicle article continued, “But while the report says the United states will be substantially changed in the next few decades — very likely seeing the disruption of snow-fed water supplies, more stifling heat waves and the permanent disappearance of Rocky Mountain meadows and coastal marshes, for example — it does not propose any major shift in the administration’s policy on greenhouse gases.”

Although that report was approved by senior White House and State Department officials, Mr. Bush quickly distanced himself from it, saying it was “put out by the bureaucracy”— but obviously, it was his bureaucracy. Of course Mr. Bush’s comment reflects his Administration’s attitude that has continued to pervade the subject — until a few weeks ago — when a new U.S. Climate Action report, overdue by over a year, (it had a U.N. deadline due date of January 1, 2006), was leaked to The New York Times. [Rick] Piltz, a former senior associate with the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and now director of Climate Science Watch, a non-profit watchdog program was quoted: “I think it is very likely that the main reason the report has been held up for more than a year beyond the deadline is because the administration is reluctant to make an honest statement about likely climate change impacts on this country.”

As described in an article by the Associated Press on March 3 rd 2007, this new Climate Action report stated, “By 2020, the United States will emit almost one-fifth more gases that lead to global warming than it did in 2000, increasing the risks of drought and scarce water supplies. The United States already is responsible for roughly one-quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse” gases that scientists blame for global warming. The draft report, which is still being completed, projects that the current administration’s climate policy would result in the emission of 9.2 billion tons of greenhouse gases in 2020, a 19-per-cent increase from 7.7 billion tons in 2000.”

The article also referred to the recently released (April 6 th) summary of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group’s climate change scientific assessment report. Based on studies from hundreds of scientists and government officials, it said global warming is “very likely” caused by mankind and climate change that will continue for centuries, even if heat-trapping gases are reduced.

That UN report was endorsed by 113 countries including the United States. A previous February report by the same group, stated there was at least a 90 percent chance that most warming since 1950 was the result of continuing buildup of heat trapping emissions in the atmosphere.

The Pentagon Papers

You are probably familiar with the phrase, “A day late and a dollar short.” Last month’s Viewpointe was scheduled for delivery on April 16 th. In it, this column described a 2004 report commissioned by the Pentagon that strongly warned that “It is time to recognize it [global warming] as a national security issue.” That article was a day late in relation to an article that was datelined April 15 th (a Sunday) in the Washington Post.

The Post article reported on a brand new Pentagon study (also little publicized elsewhere) funded by The Army War College, and published in March of this year, titled, “The National Security Implications of Global Climate Change,” and as it turned out this new Pentagon report was indeed a dollar short. Why? Because ironically, it came to the exact same conclusions as the earlier 2004 report cited in Viewpointe — worldwide catastrophes. The new 63-page study boasts a list of contributors that included eight retired four-star generals and three three-stars including a former chief of Staff of the Army. One fact did stand out: Kent A. Butts, a professor of political military strategy at the War College’s Center for Strategic Leadership was quoted as saying, “It’s only in the last six months that climate change itself has surfaced as a term that’s commonly recognized as having security implications.” Only in the last six months? Professor Butts (apparently aptly named) better get off his butt and wake up to the fact that a report that exactly mirrored the new one has been sitting in some Pentagon drawer, obviously ignored by the Army, as well as the Bush administration, for the last three years.

Could the Skeptics Be Right?

Despite what is obviously the overwhelming consensus of a diverse group of climate scientific experts at the UN, there are still those who vehemently disagree with their conclusions, and even question whether or not there is a consensus. Amongst the strongest skeptics on manmade global warming is The Wall Street Journal. It has long been a vigorous opponent of the notion that mankind has in any way contributed to the problem. On April 4 th, in an editorial headed “Climate of Opinion,” the author, Holman W. Jenkins Jr. claims that “…evidence of warming is not evidence of manmade warning.” He is particularly critical of Al Gore’s Oscar winning film An Inconvenient Truth. He also questions its conclusions related to the above-mentioned “consensus” of UN scientists and their statement that human produced carbon dioxide is driving this dangerous warming thus validating this hypothesis. He also criticized the Supreme Court for using that same rationale in a recent decision that “invokes the magic word ‘consensus’ for a physical fact that itself is unproven, improvable and exists purely in the realm of speculation.” He himself hypothesizes that “The consensus that human activities are causing global warming is purely a social invention — there’s no way of showing it to be so, and no self-evident reason for preferring to believe it’s so. The ‘consensus’ is, in truth, a product of itself.” It should be pointed out while Mr. Jenkins may be qualified to express an opinion he is a journalist not a scientist.

On the other hand, Richard Lindzen is a true scientist and climate expert. He holds the position of Alfred Sloan Professor of Meteorology in the Department of Earth, Atmosphere, and Planetary Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is considered one of the most respected skeptics on the subject of climate change, disagreeing with those other experts (the consensus) who express the opinion that recent climate changes are the result of human activities. Here is one of his comments on the subject:

“To understand the misconceptions perpetuated about climate science and the climate of intimidation, one needs to grasp some of the complex underlying scientific issues. First, let's start where there is agreement. The public, press, and policy makers have been repeatedly told that three claims have widespread scientific support: Global temperature has risen about a degree since the late 19th century; levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by about 30% over the same period; and CO2 should contribute to future warming.” Professor Lindzen then states, “These claims are true. However, what the public fails to grasp is that the claims neither constitute support for alarm nor establish man's responsibility for the small amount of warming that has occurred. In fact, those who make the most outlandish claims of alarm are actually demonstrating skepticism of the very science they say supports them. It isn't just that the alarmists are trumpeting model results that we know must be wrong. It is that they are trumpeting catastrophes that couldn't happen even if the models were right as justifying costly policies to try to prevent global warming.”

Until recent years, most skeptics challenged the view that global warming existed, yet today, as acknowledged even by Professor Lindzen, this hypothesis is fully accepted. Mr. Lindzen’s doubts stem from his belief that since mankind did not create the global warming phenomenon, efforts to curtail the burning of fossil fuels and carbon emissions would only entail a huge cost and impede economic growth.

The subject of climate change has been heating up (no pun intended) in recent weeks with significantly increased media coverage. This, and more pros and cons will be addressed in next month’s issue as will, finally, the subject of the title, The Doomsday Book.