Climate of Hope

One of the positives of the US President pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord is it has galvanized the many who see the need to act to save our planet. Coupling the US exit with the President placing climate change deniers and fossil fuel supporters in key cabinet roles, he has placed the US government at the kids table, while the adults talk about solving the world’s problems.

Fortunately, even the President’s actions cannot stop the momentum as a tipping point on renewable energy and other efforts have been reached. As reported in the book “Climate of Hope,” by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Executive Director of the Sierra Club Carl Pope, cities, businesses and citizens have been leading the way. This is important as cities are significant contributors to climate change and can therefore make a huge dent in ameliorating its effect. And, they are sharing their successes formally and informally.

Some of these efforts include:

– Restoring and renovating older buildings into green buildings. Bloomberg touts the renovation of the 1931 built Empire State as a key example.

– Building new structures with an even greener footprint. In India they deploy white rooftops to reflect away the sun to minimize cooling costs, e.g,

– Building more pedestrian areas which provide safer and eco-friendly access to shops, restaurants and businesses. These car free zones actually are part of a solution to reroute traffic to reduce carbon polluting stoppage.

– Building with buffers to allow nature to do its jobs to absorb the pounding of the ocean, since,  so many large cities are coastal cities with some below sea level. We should use nature to provide defenses that stand the test of time.

– Developing master traffic plans embracing car sharing, ride sharing, bike sharing, pedestrian pathways, electric vehicles from buses to taxis, and the elegant use of mass transit based on capital needs and restrictions. Bloomberg is big on measuring things, so installing GPS in New York taxis allowed them to measure success and make modifications to their plans as executed.

– Planting more carbon saving trees in cities and other areas, as well as using other plants such as mangroves in coastal areas as they suck carbon out of the air.

– Conserving food and reducing wastage. We waste huge amounts of food, both before and after it is cooked. Imperfect fruits and vegetables go straight to the dumps unless concentrated efforts prevent it and guide distribution to other users. Buying local saves on transportation costs and emissions, as well.

– Challenging manufacturers for efficient production and distribution. For example, a significant amount of wood goes to pallets that are tossed after one use. Look to more durable pallets that can be reused. Plus, the US does an excellent job of distributing products by rail and can do even better, as the rest of the world improves their efforts. These transmodal distribution centers that marry the efforts of ships, planes, trains and trucks provide huge efficiences and enhance trade.

– Dissuading the building of new coal plants. Active efforts have reduced coal from over 53% market share in 1990 to 30% market share of energy in 2016. Market forces are reducing this further as natural gas became cheaper and renewable energy cost fell to become more on par with coal. If new coal plants must be built, do it in concert with retiring older, less efficient plants.

– Making investment funds available to pay for upfront costs for renewable energy in countries that have fewer capital funding sources. India could do even more with available funding, especially as they electrify more of the country.

The great news is these things are happening. And, they are being shared. Please read this book. It is brief and optimistic. Also, watch the soon to be released sequel to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” Then spread the news about what is happening.

To be frank, these actions are positive and smart irrespective of one’s stance on climate change. And, a final note from Bloomberg is the millennials are paying attention. They want to work in places that are doing their part to fight climate change. Think about that as you plan.

Are you sure you want to double down on fossil fuels?

The United Kingdom just announced it will ban sales of combustible engine cars in 2040. Australia announced the same week the planned development of a super highway for electric cars, complete with charging stations.

These announcements come a month after France made a similar decision to the more recent UK one to ban combustible cars and Volvo said they would no longer make combustible cars after 2019. And, not to be outdone, several cities like Paris, Mexico City, Madrid et al, want to ban combustible cars much sooner by 2025.

In fact, as reported in the book “Climate of Hope” by former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Sierra Club ED Carl Pope, cities around the world are leading the way on the climate change fight. They are making huge strides in making buildings more green, improving the time for taxis and cars to move across the city which produces less exhaust, developing more pedestrian and bike areas that improve safety and Eco footprint and migrating to hybrid and electric vehicles among other things. Bloomberg cites large buildings as a huge impact on carbon emissions, so improvements like NYC made with the 1931 built Empire State Building pays dividends.

Lastly, the shareholders of three energy companies – ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum and PPL – voted in May to require management to report their climate change impact and plans to reduce such impact to the shareholders. It is not ironic that ExxonMobil is being investigated by three state attorney generals for alleged past misrepresentation to shareholders of the impact of climate change on its business, which would be a securities crime.

So, back to my question in the title which is addressed to the US President, EPA Director and DOE Director, are you sure you want to double down on fossil fuels? Or, would you rather acknowledge the significant movement toward renewable energy and conservation in your own country and invest in the true growth industries and our environment?

Gone to seed

We have a poverty problem in the United States. Too many of our declining middle class did not rise to the next strata, falling instead, to near poverty and into poverty. Yet, we do not talk about this problem enough. We have let their ladders out of poverty, go to seed along with their environment.

Poverty should be succinctly defined, as it is often misdefined along with simplistic diagnoses. Quite simply, poverty is the lack of money. The causes are many and complex, so the solutions must be holistic.

Some like to say it is due to lack of virtue. Some like to say it is due to lack of work ethic, while others may claim it is due to drug use or alcoholism. When I work with people in poverty, I witness hard working, often pious people. I see people with a lesser propensity to do drugs than general society.

If we recognize the simple definition of poverty as lack of money, we can focus our attention on providing ladders out of poverty. We can invest in the communities that have gone to seed, both with economic and social capital. We can start with redeveloping depleted assets. The term coined with a successful program in Atlanta is ABCD – Asset Based Comminuty Development.

ABCD could focus on repairing and not closing a community school, recognizing the during and after school value it offers. Or, it could be redeveloping a gone to seed golf course or empty textile or tobacco mill. Or, it could be repurposing a mall to be a school, church, charity or governmental building. Replacing or refurbishing blighted assets makes a huge difference.

Coupled with these investments must be education and career development, or social investments. Jobs and careers are scarce in too many areas. Opportunities must be introduced and nurtured to make them sustainable. STEM education, apprenticeships, trades skills are part of an all of the above tactical strategy,

But, we must be mindful of four negative trends in areas that have gone to seed – crime, opioids, food deserts  and single families. Community policing by people living in the community is key. Targeted help with the opiod epidemic is important. Better food choices must be available as they may not have a grocery market. And, we must have holistic sex education and access to planned parenthood tools and birth control.

What we cannot have is kicking tens of millions off health care insurance. We cannot reduce an already minuscule food stamps program. We need to think about improving the minimum wage.

These are just a few ideas. But, first we need to address what people in poverty lack – money.

 

 

 

A Tale of Five Cities

I am often bemused by folks that argue against renewable energy citing costs and jobs. Some say the industry is fledgling, but this does a disservice to the huge progress made over the last five years. Renewable energy jobs are growing at double digit rates per annum and the production costs continue to fall and are much closer to fossil fuel costs, and even cheaper when the present value of all costs (environmental degradation, extraction, transportation, maintenance, health care, litigation, et al) are factored in.

Yet, let’s set that aside and consider five cities in the US – Aspen CO, Burlington VT, Greensburg KS, Houston TX and Las Vegas NV. The first three cities are fully powered by renewable energy, where the last two have significant renewable energy portfolios.

Burlington was the first city to claim being 100% powered by renewable energy – solar, wind and hydro-electric. Per a November, 2016 Politico article, the electric utility has not had a rate increase in eight years for its 42,000 residents.

Greensburg came next, unfortunately they had to experience a tornado that leveled the town. As they rebuilt the town, they did so with a green mindset. So, using solar and the heavy wind across the plain states, helped electrify the town with renewable energy. Starting from scratch let them build for the future.

Aspen was the third city. I find this interesting as I read an article a few years back over the concern of climate change on the skiing industry. More often, climate change impact focuses on coastal cities. This city acted and has now pushed the envelope to 100% renewable energy.

Which brings me to Las Vegas. They got press stating they were 100% renewable energy powered, but that was somewhat of a misnomer. Yet, what they did do is still impactful. The 140 municipal buildings and facilities are now 100% powered by renewable energy. That is not the rest of the city, but it is a statement nonetheless.

Finally, let’s visit Houston, deep in the heart of oil rich Texas. Per The Guardian in an article this week, Houston is the leading city in the US in producing renewable energy through wind and solar power with 1.1 billion kWh. 89% of its electricity is renewable energy powered. They are in the top 30 in the EPA’s list of Green Partners leading six Texas cities on this list. As I mentioned recently, Texas gets just under 13% of its electricity from wind energy.

These are powerful stores, pun intended. Please remember them and tell others. We are passed the tipping point on renewable energy and we should highlight those leading the way.

Let’s focus on jobs – promote renewable energy

Nadja Popovich of The New York Times penned a story this week called “Today’s energy jobs are in solar, not coal.” Using 2016 numbers released by the US Department of Energy in January, the following data points are revealed per Popovich:

  • 1.9 million Americans work in the field of power creation (including generation, mining and other fuel extraction activities).
  • More than 373,000 Americans work full or part-time in solar energy, with 260,000 of them spending over 70% of their time on solar projects.
  • Wind energy jobs topped 100,000 for the first time in 2016.
  • The coal industry jobs have fallen to 160,000 Americans nationwide, with only 54,000 in coal mining, a significant reduction which has occurred over time with the advent of natural gas due to fracking and decreasing prices in renewables.
  • It should be noted there are another 2.3 million jobs in energy transmission, storage and distribution, including more than 900,000 gas station workers and related retail jobs.
  • If non-traditional energy workers are added, those installing energy-efficient products, the number swells in total to 6.4 million Americans.

Solar jobs have been growing at an annual double-digit rate for several years and will continue to do so with the falling prices. A report of a couple of years ago, noted that wind energy jobs could grow to 500,000 by 2030, if we invest appropriately. It should be noted that Warren Buffett and oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens are big proponents of wind energy, with the Buffett investing in GE who produces wind turbines and Pickens promoting wind energy in the plain states for several years. Iowa gets over a 1/3 of its electricity and oil-rich Texas gets 11% of its electricity from wind energy, e.g.

So, the next time you discuss the need for moving forward with renewable energy and someone counters your argument with a remark about jobs, please remember these real numbers released by the DOE. The best I can ascertain, is the DOE is not in the business of fake news. And, the final question to ask is where do you think investors are going to place their bets – on a retrenching industry or a growing one?

Rewarding inefficiency

As a former consultant, I have witnessed too often how some are rewarded for their inefficiency. For those who have never worked for a consulting firm, the management goal is to bill all time to a client. So, pressure is applied to record all time spent working on that client, then pressure is placed on the account manager to bill the time charges in the system.

The dilemma begins when you are working on a set  budget for a project and the agreed upon maximum amount cannot be billed, unless you speak with the client first about why additional work is needed. With those further removed from the budgeting/ billing process, they are told to record time, whether they are inefficient or not. As they are measured on billable hours, people who are inefficient are actually rewarded for their inefficiency.

So, Joe is inefficient on his work and has 1,800 billable hours for a year. Susan is efficient and works well within budgets and has 1,500 hours. Joe will get more rewards for his work, even though the company had to write off 300 of his hours that exceeded budgets with clients. I should note this is not an uncommon dilemma. What Joe fails to realize is future project managers may say we cannot use Joe as we always have a write off. So, this may right itself long term, but in a matrix managed world, Joe does not report to the account and project managers, so he will be judged by his supervisors.

Why am I thinking of this? Our President is getting kudos from his followers for doing what he said he would do. The problem is much of what he said he would do may not be the best course of action. While I applaud looking at infrastructure and looking strategically at how we can increase domestic jobs, measures like building a wall or introducing a travel ban will do very little to accomplish making us safer and dealing strategically with immigration. Neither will ignoring the far greater terrorist threat in our country of anti-government and other domestic hate groups that are already here.

I have written earlier these tactics are more like a gorilla beating on his chest than they are about solving real problems. Data centric analysis should drive what we should do, rather than the campaign rhetoric of a man who is not known for his desire to perform due diligence. So, let’s not reward inefficiency. Let’s focus on doing smart things that can help our country. Building a wall and banning travel are inefficient.

 

 

 

Hillary should have heeded Arnold Palmer’s Example

Today, unless thirty-seven electoral college members decide not to vote for the President-elect, Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. We will likely never know officially the extent of the influence of the Russian hacking on the election results, but it had to have some impact at least in my opinion. But, to me there was a key failure by the Democrat candidate that should be noted – Hillary Clinton wanted to win big and took her precious time away from where it was needed most and tried to run up the score.

Arnold Palmer, who passed away this year, could have told her not to follow his example back in 1966, when he was well-positioned to win his second US Open and eighth major golf championship. Palmer is remembered as one of the greatest golfers in history, but also for his go-for-broke style. Because of this style, while he won often, he also fell short when playing it smart would have been the better course of action.

In 1966, at the Olympic golf course in San Francisco, Palmer came to the back nine of the final day of the US Open with a seven shot lead. That number is correct. Standing on the tee, he decided to go for a record victory and continued to go-for-broke. Now, if you do not follow golf, note that rough off the fairway is grown higher than normal for the US Open, so it is very unforgiving if your ball misses the shorter fairway grass. I have actually played this course and can attest it is not an easy one to play, but even more difficult from the rough.

So, Palmer’s swashbuckling style caused him to bleed strokes off his lead at the same time one of the most underrated players ever, Billy Casper started making a few birdies. By the end of the nine holes, Palmer had lost all of his lead and ended the day tied with Casper. The next day Casper was able to be beat Palmer in a playoff denying the latter another crowning achievement.

Why do I bring this up? Clinton decided she had a slim chance to win Arizona and decided to spend more time there than she should have. Where she should have spent her time was in states she should have won, but lost – Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. She did not visit Wisconsin at all after the convention, while many snickered at Trump going there. Flying to Arizona is a long flight, so she lost at least a day each time she went, a day that could have been invested in states nearer to each other.

Truth be told, she had a good story to tell for helping the middle class get jobs, a well thought at plan which included investing in our infrastructure and renewable energy industries which are growing at a fast pace. But, she was not there to tell it. So, she gave the mike to Trump, who knows what to do in front of people wanting to be told what they want to hear.

People talk about what a flawed candidate she was and is, but she still won the popular vote by almost 3 million votes. She just did not have enough of those votes in states where it mattered to the electoral college. I feel that she could have run a better campaign from the get go. I realize it is easy to say that now, but many said that before the election was long over. The drip-drip-drip of the constant email leaks did not help her at all, as it distracted us from issues and her opponents spotty business record and poor treatment of others along the way. Yet, half of success is showing up and she missed a few places to tell her story.

I am also quite perturbed by those who on November 9th saw that not voting at all and voting for a third-party candidate did a disservice to her efforts to give us some rational governance. Jill Stein’s voters wanted clean energy, so by voting for her instead of a candidate who could have moved us further down the path, we will have a new President whose cabinet is filled with fossil fuel protagonists. As I have said before, if you did not vote or voted for someone else, your voice is less compelling to complain about Trump winning.

So, unless something significant happens in the next 24 hours, we will have a President who will scare the hell out of most of the citizens on our planet and in our country. I hope he does some good, because I anticipate many things that will lead us down the wrong paths. Arnie could have told you Hillary – you should have played it smart.