TEDx crowdsourcing/call for abstracts



We’re organizing a TEDx event, and we appreciate your help in thinking about it.

Here’s the idea:

When it comes to energy and global climate change, most Americans can be loosely grouped into 3 tribes, each well-meaning in its own way:

  1. Global climate change deniers;
  2. Entrepreneurs and others who believe we can innovate our way out of any problems, and that new energy sources will be found to replace existing ones as needed, soon;
  3. Citizens who are quietly concerned, hoping and trusting that someone else has the situation under control; some of these citizens are making personal changes in response to their concerns.

What if all three tribes are wrong? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to practice thinking about it?

What might be some costs or benefits of behaving now as if all three tribes are wrong? How long should we wait before deciding or acting? If the three tribes are wrong, how will it change our business ideas, our approach to education, to planning and policy? Are there businesses or others that are acting now as if the three tribes are wrong? How are they doing it, and how is it going?

What are your thoughts? Please comment here or e-mail verheys@hotmail.com .

Ideas about speakers are particularly welcome: feel free to send a proposal/abstract of your own, forward this e-mail to possible speakers, or suggest speakers for us to contact. Thanks for joining the conversation!

About Steve

Steve Verhey, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Cascadia Carbon Institute (CCI). CCI is a nonprofit think tank dedicated to educating policymakers, agriculturalists, industry, and the public about sustainability, agriculture, renewable energy, and global climate change. Dr. Verhey has been involved in sustainable agriculture and energy issues for over 20 years. Trained as an agricultural scientist, he received his Ph.D in plant molecular biology and biochemistry from Oregon State University and his M.S. in Botany from the University of Washington. He recieved his B.A. in Biology from Reed College. He has served as a consultant for a variety of national and international renewable energy projects for companies such as Boston Consulting Group, HSBC, Portland General Electric, Algenol, Harvest Partners, Biofields SAPI de CV, Guggenheim Partners, Viking Global Investors, and Bank of America-Merrill Lynch. He is co-founder and Chief Managing Manager of Central Washington Biodiesel LLC, a rationally sized biodiesel startup, and served as Chief Science Officer for Bioalgene, an algae-to-fuel startup.
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9 Responses to TEDx crowdsourcing/call for abstracts

  1. Reuben Deumling says:

    Are there businesses or others that are acting now as if the three tribes are wrong?
    Yes. Transition Town movements are arguably part of a fourth contingent. I’m not sure I’d phrase it quite like this, however. It is less about acting as if others were wrong and more about acting in a manner consonant with the belief that humans are cable of organizing themselves around ideas and habits that do not rely centrally on fossil fuels.
    How are they doing it, and how is it going?
    They’re trying to focus on the community level, on neighborhoods, towns and cities. One approach involves articulating a vision of where the group thinks we need to go, and then working backwards from that vision to steps and strategies and skills that would assist in that. In my experience it is going so-so. Transition-folks have a vision, and a commitment, but not always the wherewithal to tackle the challenges head-on. We’re all busy and to a greater or lesser degree enmeshed in the day-to-day patterns that may distract from or thwart efforts to relinquish fossil fuels in their myriad forms.
    Our media, secondary educational institutions, and leaders of almost all stripes are of little help. Most fall into your third category, I think.
    Another obstacle is our penchant in the US of fearing the past, of being allergic to anything that appears to undermine the Idea of progress, or linear and inexorable movement in only particular directions. We’re very timid in the kinds of things we allow ourselves to imagine. Like phasing out reliance on cars. A lot of people don’t own cars right now. But no one’s asking them how they manage, how they get around; many of us have a hard time imagining that they can function at all. Same with electricity, water, natural gas, etc. Many folks in our neighborhoods use 1/10th or 1/100th of the mean quantities; their patterns of consumption already mirror where our laws specify we need to be by 2040 or 2050. But are we asking them how they do it? Trying to learn from their experiences? Celebrating their approach. Ha.

  2. Steve says:

    Really interesting comments, Rueben. Where are you located? Do you know someone(s) (you?) who might like to be considered as a speaker?

  3. Michael Schultz says:

    Climate change is only a symptom of a much bigger problem. The Earth has finite resources and we’re on an infinite growth path. This path has gotten blocked recently because it’s fully unsustainable. If there is a new tribe gathering, it’s the tribe that wants to figure out how to live in balance with natural systems. Many of us feel that we already have the technology and the knowledge necessary to begin this transition.

    There’s not a lot of money to be made in balance though, certainly not as much money as can be made by willy-nilly resource extraction. This holds us back, and our entire economic system and global stability is on a crash course with the rocks of reality. This will SUCK for every person that is trying to hang on to the old model.

    So, what’s the new model? There is no panacea to the problems that we face, there is no magic button. But there are new patterns starting to be put into place. These patterns are local, and based on community self-reliance and interdependence. Of course, this model directly challenges the current economic model.

    The tribe that I’m connecting with is the one that is not only rationally looking at the issues that face us, but also intuitively picking up pieces of the new patterns and sharing it with openness to peers. Then we’re doing things together, building our circles and the strength of our circles through meetings, workshops, celebrations and rituals. We’re connecting to natural cycles, we’re pulling in info from the web and sharing it. We’re helping, nurturing and promoting each other.

    This is all happening in the cracks that are beginning to widen in our culture. Many of us are tired of being at or near the bottom of pyramids that at the top are treating the Earth as humanity’s bitch. Excuse my language please, but this is accurately profane. Our global “leaders” are digging a hole in ecosystems that it will take a parade of generations to heal.

    For what? For comfort? For some to be able to live in almost unimaginable luxury while the majority of humanity lives in squalor? The Earth is sacred. Humans are sacred. Every species on this planet is sacred. We are each of us an unbroken chain of generations stretching back to the beginnings of life on Earth.

    So, what do we need? Food, Water, Shelter and Community. We can do that. We’ve just got to recognize that we’re all on this planet, in this nation, in this city, in this neighborhood together and begin to act like this matters.

  4. Peter Sergienko says:

    To put my bias out there right from the start, I’ve got two teenage children and I’m very concerned about climate change and the impact it will have on their future. I’ve been following the politics of it since the mid-1990’s, and both the politics and science of it more closely in recent years. I’m stunned by the combined failures of the United States’ political system and international diplomacy to come to grips with the problems posed by continued unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases, which extend beyond climate change to ocean acidification, and more immediate impacts to human health (e.g., asthma rates) and the environment (e.g., damage to forests and crops) associated with increases in tropospheric ozone.

    Turning to the proposed triad of citizen groupings posited in your email, I see a few basic issues with the groups and the issue statement related to them.

    First, by definition climate change deniers cannot be considered “well-meaning,” either in their own way or in any way. Given the level of confidence in climate science and the body of scientific work underlying our understanding of human impacts on climate, denying human causation of climate change amounts to denying reality. Denying reality is not well-meaning; it is delusion.

    “Deniers” is also a loaded word–tied to holocaust deniers. If you want to identify this grouping in a more neutral way, and perhaps to also capture the range of persons among this group, you might try something like this: Persons who defend the status quo, notwithstanding evidence to the countrary, because (a) they do not believe that climate change exists; (b) they believe climate change exists, but that humans are not responsible for it so nothing can or should be done to counteract it; (c) they believe that climate change exists and that humans may be responsible for all or some of it, but climate change will not cause serious adverse impacts; or (d) they believe climate change exists, that humans may be responsible for all or some of it, and that it may cause adverse impacts; however, it is too costly to act now compared to actions that might be taken in the future.

    Second, I’m sure you’re at least as familiar with the polling as I am and probably more so, but I believe all or virtually all polling in the United States in recent years has shown and continues to show majority support for action to address climate change/greenhouse gas emissions, even if it results in some costs to citizens.

    Coupled with this, there is at least a fourth group of citizens, probably a reasonably large group proportionally, who recognize that we need to act now (acting years ago would have been better, but acting immediately is better than waiting). This group further recognizes that we already have the technologies and policies we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with the demands of climate science, consistent with reasoned risk management, and affordable to society in terms of cost. This group supports some form of global carbon price, beginning now and rising steadily through mid-century when, effectively, the world economy would largely be “de-carbonized.”

    The “act now” group also understands the concept of “stabilization wedges” developed by Pacala and Socolow in 2004 and tweaked by others in recent years. The “act now” group sees much low-hanging fruit that is not only affordable, but stimulative, some of which has been picked even in the current political climate. This fruit includes fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, green building standards, and the beginnings of utility scale wind and distributed, community and utility scale solar. The “act now” group understands that coal has never been cheap given its environmental costs, but once a carbon price is put into place, coal will no longer be competitive with renewables on cost. Finally, the “act now” group supports governmental investment in R&D and assumes that improved technologies will help, but acting now is imperative.

    The “act now” group has been thwarted for myriad reasons, most significantly including these three: (1) the ability of a minority of senators representing a small minority of the American people to prevent action on climate change legislation; (2) poor or non-existent media coverage of climate science, policy and politics, including the costs and risks of inaction; and, (3) President Obama’s failure to prioritize and lead during the effort to pass a climate bill.

    Third, the “R&D/Future Technology” group has contributed to the delaying of action on climate. There is clear superficial appeal to the approach (politically, nothing has to change currently). It also has some powerful adherents (monied interests) who have political clout and who see big, centralized, capital intensive (profit-making) solutions to GHG emissions problems. This is an extension of conventional thinking that does not seem to apply well to climate change solutions. The end game of R&D only is a highly geo-engineered planet. Thus, the ultimate societal value questions associated with it are these: (1) to what extent are we willing to further sacrifice biodiversity and natural ecosystems in order to continue with business as usual? (2) assuming we care about future generations, how confident are we in their ability to pay for and manage complex systems that must operate on a planetary scale to maintain habitable environments for people? (3) If the consequences of R&D failure are civilization ending, do we have the moral authority to assume that risk on behalf of future generations?

    Fourth, anecdotally, most of my friends and family fall into the third group–concerned but trusting that the systems we have will solve the problems. I believe this is the most important concept you’ve identified in your premise. Whether we voice it this way or not, I think at least a majority of American citizens still believe in meritocracy and that competent people will identify and solve complex problems within our political, social and private enterprise systems. Given the dysfunctions in our political system and the media, however, this assumption is no longer valid. In fact, we have not taken the steps that are necessary to solve the problems. In fact, action was needed years ago and is needed even more urgently now. The “act now” group recognizes all of these things.

    Importantly, we appear to be incapable of modifying our political, social and entrepreneurial systems in ways that move us away from business as usual within the time frames dictated by science. Thus, it may take either a catastrophic event or events clearly tied to climate change or a major change in the political calculus to pave the way for needed change. A catastrophe is nothing to wish for and political/cultural change is incredibly difficult. However, as an example of this change in thinking among activist groups, author and organizer Bill McKibben of 350.org has concluded that the status quo will remain until the majority of Americans who support action on climate is transformed from soft-supporters of theoretical action into a politically powerful voting bloc that changes election outcomes. Thus, that’s where Bill now focuses his own energy and his organization’s resources.

    In conclusion, I agree with the premise that the three groups you identify are all wrong. However, I disagree that they are the only groupings possible. Moreover, there is a significant ‘act now” group that is effectively correct. This group may even constitute a majority in America, although the depth of its support for acting now is undeniably soft.

    For speakers, you should contact Richard Brenne in Portland. I do not know him personally, but he is a frequent commentor on Joe Romm’s Climate Progress blog (I think the best blog for climate science and policy and a space where I also comment occasionally). Mr. Brenne is a gifted writer and organizes climate change symposia for a living. There is a brief bio for him here: http://www.ametsoc.org/boardpges/cwce/docs/profiles/BrenneRichardAlan/profile.html

    Good luck with your project and best regards,

    Peter Sergienko

  5. Kendall says:

    I’d love to hear from Paul Gilding, author of “The Great Disruption”


    I just finished the book and very much enjoyed his recommendations for next steps!

    • Steve says:

      Somewhere during the process of getting this far with planning, I heard Paul Gilding interviewed on OnPoint, and I’m with you: I’d love to hear from him, too.

  6. Alan Page says:

    We are considering forming a traveling discussion group using a variety of USA Rail Pass offers to allow people to hop a ride for what ever amount of time they have and participate as needed to become conversant with the issues and the proactive prerequisites. I agree that there are at least four groupings of potential participants and all should be welcome to add to the discussion. Disruption of proceedings will be grounds for the railway police to set anyone off the train at anytime. Everyone must have a voice. The group that I find missing is the one that accepts that there must be a major reduction in either population and or consumption regardless of what else happens. There must be an understanding of “growth” and the implications of relying on ‘growth’ to solve problems as it has in the past. In this regard the banking community must be brought to heel through the understanding that interest bearing currency creation must be limited to those areas where there needs to be an overwhelming incentive for rapid payback of debts to limit excessive consumption. On the flip side there must be funding for long term proactive practice by any competent practitioner on an as needed basis.

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