August 18, 2011

Cool Heads, Beautiful Minds and Caring Hearts Are Heating Up In Aspen

Like Cowboys and Aliens, we’re making contact at the 8th Annual American Renewable Energy Day conference in Aspen. The industry leaders in every discipline of energy are mingling with one another doing their very best to move beyond the conflicts between the good guys and the bad guys. Maybe the aliens aren’t enemies. After all, it’s time we realize we are all in this together. There is more to it than economics. As soon as we acknowledge that,  an uncomfortable knowing ripples in the awareness of the audience that it usually, if not always, comes down to money. Especially in a culture that honors money and has allowed greed to rule the day. To recognize this reality, the theme this year is putting the green in green. There are many who are beginning to track other motives among corporate leaders.  They are beginning to do the right thing for the right reasons. More on this in a future article, stay tuned.  Conservation and efficiency actually saves money for companies, (imagine that)  prudent business behavior favorably translates to the proverbial bottom line.

The American Renewable Energy Day happening NOW in Aspen

Check out how competent, experienced and knowledgeable this crowd is. This is better than FaceBook, it gives you the smiling faces and professional affiliations of nearly 90 courageous leaders currently creating the clean energy economy.  If you were ever intimidated to stay after class and ask your “all knowing teachers” to clarify their lectures like I was, you can heal that pain at ARE DAY. Or,  if you wondered about something you read and needed some help understanding, but  were afraid to reveal your ignorance, you can forget all that trauma from your school days. Come and mingle with these brilliant scientists, activists and business entrepreneurs in an intimate and relaxed atmosphere at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen.

At the very beginning of the conference, we’re already being challenged to appreciate that we are in an arms race for energy, and it’s not all bad news.  Why would anyone want to engage with the most challenging issues of our time?

A good percentage of Elephant Journal readers, it means fulfilling your Bodhisattva vows. Taking your spiritual principles and core values to their ultimate conclusion – action in the world to relieve suffering. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to care about our shared future, anyone from any wisdom tradition or genuine spiritual path, be it Christian, Hindu or Jewish – there is an inherent obligation and responsibility to care for the most vulnerable among us – that includes everything human and non-human. Especially those living beings that have no say in the affairs of  human commerce. If you haven’t read the most basic primer on the impact of business and how we can create a restorative economy, see Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce. Precisely HOW we choose to organize the production and distribution of goods and services in our society, has a significant impact upon the Earth. It is important to remind ourselves all of our business systems are human constructs, which means we can change them when it becomes obvious they are no longer providing the greatest benefit for the greatest number.  There is a growing uneasiness in our culture that the privileged among us are not acting responsibly. The self-serving interests of the few are affecting the lives of the many. This is true in the financial domain, as well as the environmental domain. Lines of demarcation are dissolving.

Billion Dollar Clouds - Extreme Weather Events are Smashing More than Climate Records

Here are just a few factoids to ponder. They were shared in this morning’s presentation from Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA administrator:

“In 2011 all weather records have been smashed.  That’s pretty dramatic language for a scientist. In Colorado alone, 53 heat records have been set so far this year. And, Colorado isn’t even experiencing the worst of it. 5,000 heat records have been broken just in the first 8 months of this year. 3,000 of those records were the high minimum temperatures at night. Every state in the U.S. has broken its heat record just this year.”

One thing NOAA does is track the damage being done by extreme weather events. In 2008 the U.S. set the record with 9 – $1 Billion dollar events or more. In 2011, we have just tied that record of 9 events that have done more than $1 Billion in damages, and we haven’t even entered the hurricane season.

Yes, it’s a complex dynamic, just as the nay sayers point to unusual snow storms as a reason they don’t believe in global warming. There are far too many people who don’t want to embrace the reality of climate disruption. They don’t want to connect the dots between extreme weather events and anthropocentric climate disruption. According to recent research from the Pew Charitable Trust, the numbers of people who don’t believe climate disruption is an important concern are actually increasing. Apparently, those folks haven’t talked to citizens living in 26% of the country that was under water due to torrential rain fall and flooding this summer and the residents living in 33% of the country that was simultaneously experiencing the most severe droughts in 50 years.

People in the know, wonder how on Earth anyone could ignore these changes in the weather and dismiss the importance of climate change upon their lives. Of course, the controversy centers on the role humans are playing. In their book, Merchants of Doubt, Professors and researchers (Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway) explain how doubt and uncertainty perpetuates business as usual, fortifying the status quo while protecting the sacred domain of profits and dividends.

Exploring how Doubt is the Friend of the Status Quo, paralyzing action and stifling change

We’re all familiar with the shallow sound bites and inflammatory rhetoric of talk radio hosts fond of  demonizing anyone who might suggest that poisoning the air we breathe is bad behavior. Fear of changing standard business practices is rampant among polluters; not to mention free-market ideologues, joining forces with political and religious zealots. This is totally understandable, they might actually be held accountable for their effluents and “externalities” – think collateral damage. There is another explanation for resistance to regulatory intervention and government controls. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, no one wants to be told what to do – the triumphant individual reigns supreme.

America's first "Combat" Flag - Symbol of Unity, Liberty and Freedom. Thirteen rattles for 13 colonies

Stay tuned, as I’ll be sending some highlights from the conference for the next few days.  And now, Lester Brown, the author of World on the Edge is sharing his concerns about what it will take for people to wake up…he said:

“not very many people can understand why 398 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere is something to be concerned about, but they do feel the pinch of increasing food prices and they’ll definitely pay attention when they can’t afford to eat”.  

How ironic as we were all chowing down our box lunches.

With any luck people will connect the dots between weather, climate change, heat waves, freak freezes, pollution, droughts, deluges, crop failures, brown outs, black outs, oil spills, energy prices and human behavior.

Music and art can inspire an awakening of the heart and mind – here is a You Tube I put together for a climate change talk that I offer to interested groups.  For those who know me, I do enjoy playing the role of provocateur. Besides being Forest Gump the 2nd, one day I may have to change my middle name to “Earnest,” due to my relentless desire to challenge assumptions. Warner Music Group blocked my quick time video of Julian Lennon’s Salt Water – So, let’s hope they don’t crush this creative effort of some young students.

Onward with Courage.

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