With the advent of advanced global communication, new forms of social contract can be created which transcend the geographic state. These new cybercoops or cyberstates will bring humankind to higher levels of cooperation and understanding.
As Chairman of the Electric Utility Commission of Austin, Texas, Peter Sinclair of Climate Crock of the Week interviewed me the other day about the new solar contracts that the City of Austin and Austin Energy are considering. It comes in two parts. Here is the first one:
And here is the second:
In the back ground, you can see the two new Huichole string drawings that we just purchased during our most recent trip to Real de Catorce.
Things are better in Mexico, and this is the first time we have driven in three years. It's like the good old days when you have to wait 2 hours to get a permiso for your car. And the police at the state lines (we cross three on our trip) actually stop you again. During the height of the panaderos, only the military would stop you.
Regarding the 600 MW solar purchase by Austin Energy, City Council should make a decision in October. If they decide to do the entire 600 MWs, Austin Texas, the nation's 11th largest city, will have close to 50% Renewable Energy by the end of 2016, with a remarkable 800 MWs of affordable solar.
In my second year as Chairman I am delighted how far we have come.
Now, I'm not a Catholic, but I play like one when I'm in my mountain home in Mexico. I go to the 200 year old church of Our Lady of the Clean Conception (Nuestra Senora de Concepcion Limpiada) almost everyday to pray to a particularly tortured Jesus back to the right of the apse. However the real star is St. Frances. Folks from all over Mexico come to this church to see him. Many of them walk and some walk on their knees. For St Frances is known as a healer and this church is known for its healing power.
And Pope Frances is doing his part to try to heal the world in his encyclical on Care for our Common Home. There has been a lot of reporting about the Pope's position and how it may or may not effect change and mobilize the billion Catholics in the world. Already the Catholic Rs in the US have made it clear that the Pope should stick with Religion since he's not a scientist. (actually he is)
But very few reports have actually shared the actual language of the letter. And it is really quite inspired. Pope Frances begins
1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”.
In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds
us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life
and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to
you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs
us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.
2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have
inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with
which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords
and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in
our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of
sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms
of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is
among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in
travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. clip
Saint Francis of Assisi
10. I do not want to write this Encyclical without turning to that
attractive and compelling figure, whose name I took as my guide and
inspiration when I was elected Bishop of Rome. I believe that Saint
Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of
an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the
patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is
also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for
God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply
loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was
a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony
with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just
how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the
poor, commitment to society, and interior peace. clip
I. POLLUTION AND CLIMATE CHANGE
23. The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.
At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the
essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus
indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the
climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a
constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of
extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause
cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to
recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption,
in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which
produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such
as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the
solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most
global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of
greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others)
released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the
atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays
reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is
aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of
fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system.
Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the
soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.
24. Warming has effects on the carbon cycle. It creates a vicious
circle which aggravates the situation even more, affecting the
availability of essential resources like drinking water, energy and
agricultural production in warmer regions, and leading to the extinction
of part of the planet’s biodiversity. The melting in the polar ice caps
and in high altitude plains can lead to the dangerous release of
methane gas, while the decomposition of frozen organic material can
further increase the emission of carbon dioxide. Things are made worse
by the loss of tropical forests which would otherwise help to mitigate
climate change. Carbon dioxide pollution increases the acidification of
the oceans and compromises the marine food chain. If present trends
continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and
an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences
for all of us. A rise in the sea level, for example, can create
extremely serious situations, if we consider that a quarter of the
world’s population lives on the coast or nearby, and that the majority
of our megacities are situated in coastal areas.
25. Climate change is a global problem with grave implications:
environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of
goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in
our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries
in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected
by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are
largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as
agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial
activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change
or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and
protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which
animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn
affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their
homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their
children. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking
to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation.
They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they
bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any
legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to
such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. clip
It's pretty hard to say this any clearer. Europe is dealing with this migration issue right now. Trump would have us build a beautiful wall. The reality of climate change is upon us. As the new story in Rolling Stone says:
"Historians may look to 2015 as the year when shit really started hitting
the fan. Some snapshots: In just the past few months, record-setting
heat waves in Pakistan and India each killed more than 1,000 people. In
Washington state's Olympic National Park, the rainforest caught fire for
the first time in living memory. London reached 98 degrees Fahrenheit
during the hottest July day ever recorded in the U.K.; The Guardian
briefly had to pause its live blog of the heat wave because its
computer servers overheated. In California, suffering from its worst
drought in a millennium, a 50-acre brush fire swelled seventyfold in a
matter of hours, jumping across the I-15 freeway during rush-hour
traffic. Then, a few days later, the region was pounded by intense,
virtually unheard-of summer rains. Puerto Rico is under its strictest
water rationing in history as a monster El Niño forms in the tropical
Pacific Ocean, shifting weather patterns worldwide. clip
Last fall, in northern Alaska, in the same part of the Arctic where
Shell is planning to drill for oil, federal scientists discovered 35,000
walruses congregating on a single beach. It was the largest-ever
documented "haul out" of walruses, and a sign that sea ice, their
favored habitat, is becoming harder and harder to find.
Marine life is moving north, adapting in real time to the warming
ocean. Great white sharks have been sighted breeding near Monterey Bay,
California, the farthest north that's ever been known to occur. A blue
marlin was caught last summer near Catalina Island — 1,000 miles north
of its typical range. Across California, there have been sightings of
non-native animals moving north, such as Mexican red crabs."
The Pope goes on to say:
207. The Earth Charter asked us to leave behind a period of
self-destruction and make a new start, but we have not as yet developed a
universal awareness needed to achieve this. Here, I would echo that
courageous challenge: “As never before in history, common destiny
beckons us to seek a new beginning… Let ours be a time remembered for
the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve
sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace,
and the joyful celebration of life”
It was 10 years and about a month ago when I wrote this post that starts with this quote:
I see in the near future a crisis approaching
that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. ...
corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will
follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign
by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in
a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864.
Ten years ago, I was convinced that the only way to save ourselves and our planetary nest was to begin to create new inventions of social contract that transcend the geographic state. I offered that these new cyberstates or cybercoops would bring human kind to higher levels of cooperation and understanding.
I still am.
Since that time, so much has happened and yet so little has happened.
When I wrote these words a decade ago, there was no Facebook. There were no smart phones, and there was no Uber, and no so called sharing economy, even though I predicted they would come. There were no plug in hybrid vehicles, but we would soon start a successful campaign to create them. There was no Tesla and there were no Nest thermostats.
Most of us still used desk top computers. Wireless was just becoming ubiquitous.
Hardly any one knew who Barack Obama was. But in three years, many of us would be enthralled with a new vision of hope and a "can do" attitude.
Soon after the election, the plutocrats ran to their Supreme Court to get their Citizens United decision which would allow the Corporations to give any amount they chose to the political process because it was "corporate free speech". The internet fund raising techniques developed by the Obama campaign was thus neutralized. And the Corporations kept their hold on government from slipping any further.
Miraculously, the first semi-progressive health care law based on Republican think-tankisms was enacted with democratic majorities in both houses. Even though it still lined the pockets of the 1%, the Affordable Care Act was attacked before the President's signature on the bill was dry. And just this month, like grateful abused partners and children, we all celebrated its survival from the judicial political attack of the power hungry opposition.
In the meantime, Republicans who once supported climate change actions became emboldened as the "thank you for smoking lobby" managed to confuse those who were looking for something they could tell themselves that would make them see themselves as something that wasn't just plain evil. Pope Frances has now pretty much fixed that. Still, humankind lost 10 years of action that may prove to be critical in our combined effort to right the wrong we have brought upon ourselves.
Fortunately, the solutions to climate change have matured. Wind is the most cost effective way to generate electricity. And now, just in the last few years, Solar has become the new wind with pricing that coal, nuclear, and gas plants just cannot compete with. And like the Citizens United solution to people electing their leaders, some plutocrats would take away the tax advantages for renewables that simply level the field with the carbon competition, while leaving the depletion allowance and drilling write offs for oil and gas in tact.
And as I look forward to our third Bush or our second Clinton, without the intoxication of our first non-white President, the vision returns.
We can achieve what we can imagine. And we can do some of that through our geographic state, or through our local community. Most of the good work that I have accomplished in the last 10 years has been local. Within a few years, Austin will be 75% carbon free.
But we can do so much more for ourselves as we begin to understand that soon, very soon, we will be able to help ourselves and one another in new forms of social contract. New forms of internet family will emerge. Your Facebook family will be replaced with a functioning electronic family. New neural networks will grow in the fertile human social soil at exponential rates.
These families will provide housing, food, the energy, mobility, communication, the finances, the entertainment, and security to those who choose to create the solutions to the 1% domination that 99% of us must endure.
And in time, the domination of the today's Corpus of Corporations will give way to a Confederation of Cooperations.
In today’s energy environment, there is a growing need and expectation that our energy
systems must become more and more carbon-free. And indeed, renewables are gaining
larger shares of the energy pie. Last year alone, over 70 gigawatts of wind and solar
were installed globally. Where a goal of 35% renewable energy seemed aggressive just
a few years ago, new goals of 55% to 60% are now becoming the new markers of
progressive energy policy. Such is the case in Austin, Texas.
However, in order to reach even higher percentages, we need to rethink the current
In today's world, the stationary energy grid is our electric system. And in this system,
large utilities produce and sell energy to their customers in the form of kilowatt-hours.
And in the world of transportation, almost all energy comes from oil. Sure, there are
electric subways and the like, but most of the energy comes from oil.
In a Unified Energy Grid, utilities still sell their product to customers, but customers also
sell product back to the utility. Instead of the transportation industry running exclusively
on oil, it begins to slowly become transformed by electric cars and other transportation
appliances that connect not only to the utility, but also to dwellings that are also energy
producers. And as the future arrives, those electric-powered vehicles will be able to
provide energy and voltage support to the utility on the occasional peak load demand
day. Moreover, larger plug-in vehicles with on-board generators can provide critical
support and community resilience in times of unplanned outages.
This triangle of generation, load, and transportation, each feeding and supporting each
other, is then encompassed within a sphere of intelligence, the Smart Grid. A Unified
Energy System is made complete with smart roads, smart buildings with smart
appliances, and networked smart transportation options.
This grid is further supported by smart policies at the community, regional, and global
level that foster and implement what R. Buckminster Fuller called a “Dymaxion World,”
defined as “the use of technology and resources to maximum advantage with a
minimum of energy and materials.”
Energy needs to flow in this new unified system from the increasingly green utility to the
house and to the car. Energy also needs to flow from the house to the car. And energy
must flow in the other direction as well, from the car to the house (if the house is off the
grid), from the car to the utility, and from the house to the utility.
With an integrated, unified energy system, we would no longer have the waste that
exists at a typical football stadium parking lot where more generation capacity sits idle
on the pavement outside the stadium than exists in the whole community's electrical
generation portfolio. With plug-in hybrids and other electric transportation appliances,
that capacity would no longer be stranded.
A decade ago, these ideas were considered to be outside the bell curve of accepted
public policy. That was before John Wellinghoff, former head of the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission (FERC). While he never used the term Unified Energy System,
he preached it. During his tenure as the longest serving chair of the FERC, Wellinghoff
worked to make the U.S. power grid cleaner and more efficient, by integrating emerging
resources such as renewable energy and demand response, and including energy
efficiency and local storage systems such as those in plug-in hybrid and all electric
He championed the agency’s landmark Order 1000, which required grid planners and
public utilities to coordinate regional power line projects and encouraged the integration
of solar and wind installations. That is exactly what Texas did in building the CREZ lines
in the western part of the state.
And it was before Elon Musk of Tesla began to actualize his vision.
According to Lyndon Rive, Elon Musk’s cousin and CEO of Solar City, "Thanks to the
economies of scale that will come from Tesla's gigafactory, within 10 years every solar
system that SolarCity sells will come with a battery-storage system, and it will still
produce energy cheaper than what is available from the local utility company."
The vision of a unified world of energy where renewables, electric cars, and energy
storage work together to bring about a transformation where energy is swapped and
sold and moved about through the energy economy primarily as electricity is
revolutionary. In this near future, this “photonic energy web” will ultimately become an
And its embodiment will be a Unified Energy System.
In the same manner that hydropower in the northwest United States powers southern
California through DC intertie, wind fields in the Texas Panhandle may soon help meet
peak demand in Phoenix, even as solar fields east of El Paso provide peak power to
Dallas, Houston, and Austin. As we sleep, the great nighttime winds of the Llano
Estacado will charge our cars for the next day’s urban commute. After we commute to
work, these same cars will take on excess early morning solar power from local rooftops
that will then be repurchased by the system operator in the afternoon at premium
Through this unification of effort and design, humankind will not only meet the great
challenges that face us, we will create a better and more resilient world.
Michael Osborne is the former Special Assistant to the General Manager for Energy Development
at Austin Energy. He served as Chairman of the Austin City Council appointed Generation
Resource Planning Task Force, which resulted in an adopted plan that will bring the nation’s 8th
largest public power utility and the 11th largest city to 55% renewable energy.
Mr. Osborne is an author, inventor, and policy maker. He has served on the steering committees
of the Texas Energy Policy Partnership and the Sustainable Energy Development Council under
Governor Ann Richards, and on the Texas Energy Coordination Council appointed by then
Governor George Bush.
As one of three founding members of the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association, he has
been at the forefront in making Texas the leading renewable energy state in the United States.
We went to see the new documentary by Wim Wenders about the great photographer Salgado this weekend.
As we left, a couple that looked as dazed and overwhelmed as I felt looked at me and said, "I'm not sure what to do after seeing a movie like that." I told them I wasn't sure if i wanted to go drink, go pray, go cry, or go fast.
First of all, if you don't know the work of Salgado, I suggest you google his last name and then go to images. You will be amazed. Now, imagine these images on a giant screen with the soft narration of the photographer telling the story of the shot and who died and who lived on.
This comes from the NY Times in mid March of this year:
has won every major prize a photographer can receive, with his crisp,
compassionate black-and-white images, many of them from war zones and
other locations of human suffering, hanging on the walls of museums,
galleries and private collections around the world. His books, including
“Workers,” “Migrations,” “Sahel” and, most recently, the
nature-oriented “Genesis,” have consistently met with commercial and critical success.
Now, as if to
complete the picture, a documentary film about Mr. Salgado, 71, and his
work is about to opens in theaters across the United States. “The Salt of the Earth,”
a collaborative effort between the German director Wim Wenders, who is
also a photographer, and Mr. Salgado’s son Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, was
nominated for the Oscar for best documentary film, won a prize at the
Cannes Film Festival last spring and last month was also awarded a
César, the French equivalent of an Academy Award.
I have seen Salgado's coffee table books over the years and probably have a couple in my art book collections, but these images take on new power and depth on the screen. They actually seem to come alive.
According to Variety, "Influential critics such as Susan Sontag and Ingrid Sischy accused
Sebastiao of turning misery into an aestheticized object for Western
consumption, yet reducing these photographs merely to beautiful images
corrupts their intent and meaning. Certainly he has a trained eye for
striking compositions, but his artistry lies in the way he combines
beauty with sensitivity to the inner strength and dignity of even his
most wretched subjects. The satisfying beauty of the shot doesn’t work
against empathy but rather ennobles those he photographs, resulting in
moving, synergistic compositions of deep humanity and drama."
Earlier in the day, at our Sunday brunch, one of our wise ones said something about images and how they effect the brain. He said that they have a unique pathway to our consciousness that the language mind can't filter. Like music, they get under our skin and into our hearts where we become transformed and perhaps transmuted into a different kind of human being. Some images seem to be particularly powerful.
When you have perhaps the greatest photographer of all time working with one of the great cinematographers of our time, it is imaginable that the synthesis of the two might not work. The opposite happened. And like any great movie, the third act comes just in time to rescue the viewer from a wrist slit.
The result is a work of cinematographic art that has the power to change any and all of us. It should be seen on the biggest screen you can find.
I started reading Merchants of Doubt in anticipation of the new movie that was released in March. The book by Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway is so beautifully written, it hardly reads like a science book, but a science book it is. But it is so much more. It puts into focus how this country has been bamboozled into two decades of denial and inaction on not only the most pressing issue of our time, but also other critically important issues that demanded regulatory attention due to market failure.
Oreskes and Conway write that a handful of politically conservative
scientists, with strong ties to particular industries, have "played a
disproportionate role in debates about controversial questions". The authors write that this has resulted in "deliberate obfuscation" of the issues which has had an influence on public opinion and policy-making.
The book criticizes the so-called Merchants of Doubt, some predominantly American science key players, above all Bill Nierenberg, Fred Seitz, and Fred Singer. All three are physicists: Singer was a rocket scientist, whereas Nierenberg and Seitz worked on the atomic bomb.
They have been active on topics like acid rain, tobacco smoking, global
warming and pesticides. The book claims that these scientists have
challenged and diluted the scientific consensus
in the various fields, as of the dangers of smoking, the effects of
acid rain, the existence of the ozone hole, and the existence of anthropogenic climate change.
In seven compelling chapters addressing tobacco, acid rain,
the ozone hole, global warming, and DDT, Oreskes and Conway roll back the rug on this
dark corner of the American scientific community, showing how the ideology of free
market fundamentalism, aided by a too-compliant media, has skewed public understanding
of some of the most pressing issues of our era.
The moviehowever, which finally came to our home town for a very short stand was good, but not great. Rotten Tomatoes describes it:
Filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the curtain on a secretive group of highly
charismatic, silver-tongued pundits-for-hire who present themselves in
the media as scientific authorities - yet have the contrary aim of
spreading maximum confusion about well-studied public threats ranging
from toxic chemicals to pharmaceuticals to climate change.
I'm generally not one of those people who says that the book was better than the movie. But it was. It tells a much more in depth and sinister tale.
The book tells a story about Al Gore's professor who turned him on to the whole climate change story when he was in college. Towards the end of his life, one of our villains, Fred Singer, asked professor Reveille to co-write a paper with him. He agreed, but soon thereafter he had a stroke and his health began to falter. Even then, Reveille made notes on Singer's paper which Singer never included or changed.
Soon after the passing of Al Gore's mentor, the bogus Singer report was published in a non peer reviewed journal. Its key take away was that there is no need to act now on Climate Change....something Reveille never said nor ever believed. Yet, the Merchants of Doubthung that nonstatement around Al Gore like a necklace of Dove Turds. These people are not just liars....they are mean.
Their belief in the efficacy of the free market and its importance to a free society in general, over our ability to save ourselves through joint action other than in war is folly, and folly of a high order.
Because you see, according to Fred Singer, an environmentalist is a watermelon...green on the outside and red on the inside.
The merchants of doubt on the other hand are white men with black hearts.
“Anyone concerned about the state of democracy in America
should read this book.”—Former Vice President Al Gore
After our nice trip to the left coast, I came home to wrestle with a condition that I had never heard of. I had lumbar spondylosis, bacically, a herniated disc. And as for pain, on a 10 scale, it was an 11. It occured in a bicycle accident event when I adjusted my seat height too high. Yes, that's it. I didn't fall, I just extended my left leg a little too much to keep from falling.
My partner and I had just purchased some really cool electric bikes called Stromers. They don't have a little throttle like my last electric bike (an A to B), they have a little computer on them where you set the amount of power you want when you apply energy to the pedals. And its very satisfying. You end up riding more or less effortlessly depending on the setting ranging from eco to power. In a crowded urban roadway, these Stromers are the best, fastest way to travel. And their 22 mile per hour speed is plenty fast.
So, once we got back from the coast, my partner suggested we get some images. That seemed reasonable. And thus I got my first MRI. MRIs are curiously noisy. And after about 25 minutes in that long donut, I was more than ready to get out of there. Later that day I looked up MRI and found out that it was invented by a guy named Damadian. Raymond Vahan Damadian was a violin player who just happened to figure out that potassium ions might provide image potential. This from Wikepedia:
Damadian's early work on NMR concerned investigating potassium ions inside cells.
He found that the potassium relaxation times were much shorter compared
with aqueous solutions of potassium ions. This suggested that potassium
was not free but complexed to ‘fixed-charge’ counter-ions, as he had
Curiously, othersgot the nobel prize for his discovery.
And so thanks to Raymond and the rest of his cohorts, I got to see my spine like never before.
Now, let me set it straight. I have had a bad back ever since the time I was coming down a 500 foot cliff in Colorado and the last ledge before we got to the ground broke off with me on it. It was a good thing actually, because a few moments before there were five other 14 year olds on that ledge with me. As the the ledge broke off, I turned and tried to find something on the cliff to hold on to. After a few seconds of doing my best impression of Wylie Coyote, I pushed off, opened my arms into flight mode and glided to the earth like a rock. Remarkably, I walked away.
Ever since that fall in the mountains of Colorado, I've known I had a trick back. And fifty years later, after running 10 K a day for twenty years or so, and running and working out more than most folks for another 10 years, I got to see the pictures of that day thanks to Ray and my new neurosurgeon Dr. White.
Dr White told me to forget about doing anything other than resting.