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Rio Earth Summit: Welcome to the 'insidious conspiracy'

Twenty years ago, Pres. George H.W. Bush told those gathered at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro that he brought an action plan to combat climate change.

"It stresses energy efficiency, cleaner air, reforestation, new technology," he said.

The 41st president also started his speech with a Chinese proverb: "If a man cheats the Earth, the Earth will cheat man." He then followed with, "The idea of sustaining the planet so that it may sustain us is as old as life itself. We must leave this Earth in better condition than we found it."

Blast from the past

That was then. The United Nations' Rio + 20 Earth Summit this week has ushered this debate back into the political scene.

Bush's words show how much he was ahead of his time. Now Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney skirts the entire issue, leaning as far from the entanglements of climate change as he can. According to Neela Banerjee at the New York Daily News, Romney "expresses doubts about climate science like the majority of his party."

Romney says if elected he would support expanded coal and oil production and work to "amend (the) Clean Air Act to exclude carbon dioxide from its purview," according to his official website. He also calls solar and wind failures.



Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., takes aim at such positions in a fiery speech on the Senate floor on the eve of Rio + 20. If he had looked like this during his failed presidential bid, things may have turned out much differently.

"We should fight today's insidious conspiracy of silence on climate change," he says. "The danger we face could not be more real."

Kerry fights back

Kerry singled out those on the green side of the fence by referring to the "timidity of proponents." He likewise railed about those who marginalize and misrepresent the facts.

"Every major national science academy in the world has reported that global warming is real," Kerry says. "It is nothing less than shocking when people in a position of authority can just say — without documentation, without accepted scientific research, without peer reviewed analysis — just stand up and say that there isn't enough evidence because it suits their political purposes to serve some interest that doesn't want to change the status quo."

Rio should be interesting. And no, solar and wind aren't failures. In fact, Brad Plumer of the Washington Post speculates that policy makers may be significantly underestimating their potential. He cites a recent study by the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory that says the country could generate 80 percent of its electricity from renewables using existing technology by mid century. He also cites the exponential growth of solar as an indicator.

We could use the jobs. A report by the McKinsey Global Institute says that between 90 million and 95 million low-skill workers -- or 2.6 percent of the global workforce -- will not be needed by employers by 2020 and will be vulnerable to permanent joblessness, according to a story in Huffington Post by Bonnie Kavoussi.

That means we'll be needing something for them to do. Clean energy is a solid investment and a great return jobs wise. Toss in the cleaner air, and we've got a winner. One that members of both parties would approve of more openly just 20 years ago.

Rio must bring out the best in clean energy

Protestors in Rio, courtesy 350.org.
World leaders will debate the merits of sustainable development and a green economy at Rio + 20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to take place in Rio de Janeiro.

Protesters will use the event to highlight injustice.

And something substantive benefiting the environment may actually get done this week. This year's theme is after all "a green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development."

However, listening to current U.S. political discourse makes me wonder if anybody in government seriously considers steering toward a green economy.

Wall street bankers, brokers and speculators remain so fixated on profits and bizarre anti-populist goals like killing Dodd-Frank (read Matt Taibbi's "How Wall Street Killed Financial Reform" on rollingstone.com), the already weak-kneed consumer protection act, that real values get swept away like last quarter's balance sheet. The concepts of quality of life, a better place for children and continued proliferation of the American way -- where everyone has a chance to make it big -- get nothing but lip service.

A trillion reasons

Robert Redford put it succinctly in a piece on Huffington Post: "We can do better," he writes. His point is that with so much at stake, we need to shift some emphasis to clean energy and eliminate the near "one trillion dollars of subsidies ... handed out to help the fossil fuel industry" each year.

Here's author and activist Bill McKibben's take, from an email he sent to the 350.org network: "We know that world leaders aren't likely to achieve a comprehensive climate breakthrough in Rio. But our governments could at least stop sending nearly a trillion dollars a year to the fossil fuel industry. If they did, it would help weaken the coal and oil and gas tycoons, and give renewable energy a fighting chance."

The buzzword now is jobs. The issue is so important people are ready to jump at anything, even a silly pipeline project that taps perhaps the most planet-cooking reserves Earth has to offer.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Redford says, and he's backed up by numerous studies, that every federal or state dollar invested in clean energy gives multiple times the return of fossil fuels. Truly, that's the kind of job that makes sense. Here in California's San Joaquin Valley, we're trying to prepare a ready work force. A consortium of community colleges has banded together to prepare curriculum that meets industry's specifications and enables a green energy renaissance.

Then intent is to create living-wage jobs, rather than positions that perpetuate and exacerbate extreme economic divisions. The middle class is no longer bullet-proof. Incomes are declining.

So how does a green economy fit in? Not easily apparently. If it were up to me, I'd say, "Make the United States energy self-sufficient in 10 years, emphasizing sustainability."

That's not to say we should completely shed oil. The stuff has been quite good to us. Let's just give a shot to making the world a better place, allowing American ingenuity fill in the blanks.

Taking up the challenge

Former Great Britain Prime Minister Tony Blair and a group of international statesmen and business leaders have penned an open letter advocating for a "clean revolution," which they say is essential to "save our economies from the crippling costs of runaway climate change, and create meaningful jobs and enhance energy security."

The group backs a campaign by business and government that calls for the launch in Rio of a campaign by The Climate Group and a range of government and business partners for a "green growth" push out of global recession.

Topical, especially with nearly a half dozen countries in the European Union teetering on financial collapse. Greece elected the conservatives by a squeaky thin margin that allowed the markets a respite. But the future is anyone's guess.

How's the weather?

Kathleen Rogers, president of the Earth Day Network, says there's a chance the Rio + Summit will get results, but "the outlook is bleak."

Normally, I love that pessimistic stuff. It nurtures the curmudgeonly spirit I gained from 24 years in newspapers, pounding out or editing stories about the best and worst in people.

But I'm hoping for more. The summit marks the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, the country where my cousin Sarah has decided to raise her twins.

Rogers says the U.N. event two decades past generated real optimism and a climate change treaty that "charted a new course to sustainability."

Love at first bite

Implementation is a completely different issue. All that optimism from the first Rio summit had the bite of my toothless and blind 14-year-old dachshund Spike. Oh, he still barks like crazy -- as do those of us who believe in a sustainable future. But we need a pit bull.

Adding some fangs, or even some well-worn teeth, requires agreement and action. I do believe it wouldn't take much. Many are willing to give it everything they've got to extract power from those green dilithium crystals.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's Sustainable Energy for All initiative has lofty goals, calling for universal energy access, a doubling of energy efficiency and a doubling of renewable energy by 2030. But it's got allies.

Nothing but wind

The European Wind Energy Association says 75 countries around the world have installed wind turbines and 21 have more than 1,000 megawatts generating energy. It says with the right policy support projections show that wind power will double capacity by 2015 and again by 2020.

"This can be achieved," says Kandeh K. Yumkella, the Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, in a statement.

After all, what choice do we have. Really?

'Gas is Your Choice' campaign launched in Fresno

Matt Falcon, the avowed Fresno ebike rider, is at it again.

This time, he's interested in expanding the ranks of those who minimize their dependence upon fossil fuels. He wants people to try something new, even if it means changing their lifestyles somewhat.

He sums it up in four words: "Gas is your choice."

"Yep... I like changing the conversation," Falcon tells Pete Moe, an organizer of Fresno Earth Day 2012. "Had a 'divine spark of inspiration' for a great and catchy one-liner and a design for a Facebook graphic, and found it was really a great flyer/poster as well, so I designed this."

Moe responds: "I love the sentiment! Has a campaign feel kind of like the 'Stop Kony' campaign of recent."

Falcon says: "Realized I had a black toner cartridge in my color laser printer that needed to be replaced (damaged, bad quality), so instead of wasting the toner, I figured I'd print a bunch of these to post on light poles around town."

He used misprinted and recycled paper from his office. So far so good. The posters are mostly in Fresno's north end, around the River Park shopping center and Blackstone/Nees avenues. There's no group affiliation, just a message.

So far the response has been a bit lackluster. But it's just getting started. Perhaps through social media? (Readers are encouraged to share blog posts, by the way.)

"I really have no idea how it's doing," Falcon says. "Nobody's mentioned seeing one yet. (But I don't have a very wide social circle, haha)."

Expect to see more Your Choice posters. And expect to see more of this sentiment. 350.org just had its Connect the Dots Climate Impacts Day on May 5 during which it encouraged everybody to do their own thing to promote a better environment. The photos of efforts were amazing. A group in the Sierra carried a huge banner and placed it in the snow, saying something Oz-like: "I'm melting."

May 5: Connect the Dots Climate Impacts Day

On Saturday May 5, 350.org is coordinating a "global day of action."

Climate Impacts Day is not location specific and being coordinated through the web. There are a number of locations at which people are getting together to talk about climate change and the effect it's having.

"On that day, we will issue a wake-up call, and connect the dots between climate change and extreme weather," 350.org organizers say. "We will educate, protest, create, document, and volunteer along with thousands of people around the world."

At this point there are no events scheduled in the San Joaquin Valley. But there's still time. Think about starting a new event in your community.

Here's a list of nearby events:

Dana Glacier - I'm Melting!

Saturday, May 5, 10:00 AM, Mount Dana, Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lee Vining, CA 93541

"We'll be hiking in to the Dana Glacier (near Tioga Pass) and laying out a massive banner to connect the dots on climate change and glacial retreat. If you have some experience backpacking - you are welcome to join. We have 4 massive banners to deploy on the glacier, and need lots of hands to help. The trek will depend on the conditions. If Tioga Pass is open, we'll have a moderate 2 mile hike/scramble, leaving from near Tioga Lake. If the Pass is closed, we will have to park on the East side near Lee Vining, and face a hike closer to 9 miles (mostly on the closed road), which will require camping the night of the 4th near Tioga Lake."

Everything is Connected!

Saturday, May 5, 2:00 PM, Esalen Institute, Big Sur, CA 93920

"Residents and Guests of the Esalen Institute will gather together at 2pm on the front lawn and engage in a 'Spinning the Community Web' exercise. Followed by discussion and info sharing on how we can act at Esalen and here in the wild Big Sur within Monterey County, California to responsibly and creatively respond to Climate Change."

Cinco de Mayo Climate-Change Awareness Day

Saturday, May 5, 10:00 AM, San Lorenzo River Park, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

"We have Earth Day each year at this park, and everyone knows how to do that here, except this will be a 350.org Day of Action to stop Keystone XL, as well as local environmental issues with petitions to Government Brown, speakers, music by local bands, booths to disseminate information, sign petitions, join with our community in all the ways we can personally act, as well as ways we can join with actions in our community. We have an active Occupy movement here, so I'm sure many others are wanting to participate, plan and make a difference."

Transition San Lorenzo Valley Potluck

Saturday, May 5, 4:00 PM, Covered Bridge Park, Felton, CA 95018

"We would like to extend an invitation to our quarterly potluck on May 5th, 4-6pm, which will be a great opportunity for people to meet one another and generate some ideas for how to create a more vibrant, interdependent and sustainable community. We ask that attendees bring their own dishes and silverware. RSVP if you can make it -- we hope that you can! http://transitionslv.ning.com/events/potluck-quarterly-gathering-1 The mission of Transition San Lorenzo Valley is to increase our communities’ resilience and self-reliance and help strengthen our local economy in preparation for the effects of climate change, dwindling fossil fuels, and economic instability."

Connect the Dots in Fremont

Saturday, May 5, 1:00 PM, Corner of Mowry and Fremont Blvd., Fremont, CA 94536

"This is a public awareness event that will demonstrate that Global Warming is having a profound effect on peoples lives, and recognizing a problem is the first step in solving a problem. Please bring a sign in one of four categories ( one for each corner ): 1. Human activities are causing => 2. More carbon in the atmosphere, causing => 3. Freaky weather which is => 4. All part of climate change ( your solution here )."

The AtheniaN School Eco tour

Monday, May 21, 2:00 PM, The Athenian School, Danville, CA 94506

"A tour of Athenian's 75 acres at the foot of Mount Diablo. A guide to Athenian's student projects including the electric car conversion and the bio-swales. Also a tour of the Solar "A", other solar installations (70% off the grid), the compost (all food waste) and garden, the irrigation system, perma-culture garden, waterless urinals and other water saving actions taken, and an explanation how natural gas used to heat water for dorms, kitchen and bathrooms was reduced 60%."

Climate Wars Talk Screening

Saturday, May 5, 8:30 PM, Outdoor Movie of a Talk by Gwynne Dyer, Palo Alto, CA 94306

"Outdoor video screening of a recent talk given by Academy Award nominated journalist Gwynne Dyer on the topic of "Climate Wars", a book he authored on climate change and the potential geopolitical conflicts likely to ensue. Dyer is one of the world's experts on the history of war and a few of his accomplishments are listed on the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwynne_Dyer . Bring a lawn chair for the screening, and join us for live music / jam session after the screening."

Flower Mobs

Saturday, May 5, 11:00 AM, College Terrace, Palo Alto, CA 94306

"Join the College Terrace Green Team and help to beautify our neighborhood by planting flowers, fruit, veggies, and succulents. More info: www.flowermobs.blogspot.com."

Rising San Francisco Bay

Saturday, May 5, 1:00 PM, A Pocket Park overlooking San Francisco Bay, Hayward, CA 94545

"The event location is at Eden Shores Park, just west of the Costco at the intersection of Hesperian at Industrial in Hayward. Take Hesperian South and turn west onto Eden Shores Blvd. Drive to its end at this park, which overlooks the Bay. Look for us at the elevated blue gazebo. The site provides an amazingly clear view of how little sea level rise it will take to make BIG problems for vast tracts of Bay side housing and commerce. A speaker or two will present concise information about the pace of climate change and how it drives sea level rise in San Francisco Bay, the steps local and state agencies are taking as they plan for it, and the enormous costs of moving, protecting and abandoning infrastructure and development year by year. We'll also do a short skit, and anyone bringing along a diving mask and / or a snorkel is welcome to join the cast. Wearing clothes with a fish or waterfowl motif, or even dressing up as a tornado or storm cloud is also a way to add to the fun. Attendees also may pick from our selection of dot shaped signs tying in with the world wide theme of the event . Start time is 1:00 PM and we'll be done by 2:00 or 2:15 at the very latest. We will have informational Rising San Francisco Bay leaflets to pass out to Costco customers for anyone wishing to do so on your way home."

Desertification? No thanks!

Saturday, May 5, 9:00 AM, Death Valley National Park, Death Valley, CA 92328

"We'll be spending a few days riding our bicycles around Death Valley, CA. We love deserts, but don't think the whole world needs to be one."

Breathe deep: Beating greenhouse gases won't be easy

Contemporary cast of musical Hair, courtesy Joan Marcus.
Recession does have some positives.

The stalled economy reduced demand for gasoline and diesel and electric power. People drove less, bought fewer items and used less energy as a result. The production of greenhouse gas -- carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases -- peaked in 2007 at 2.752 billion metric tons, dipped to a low of 6.608 billion in 2009 before showing a little robust "recovery" by increasing to 6.821 billion in 2010, the most recent year for which numbers are available.

These and other fascinating facts can be found in 2012 Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. While that may sound encouraging, a deeper look at the numbers shows that U.S. consumers, business and government continued to show a prodigious hunger for fossil fuels.

Bad air on the rise

Production of greenhouse gases just from fossil fuel combustion (that's vehicles and stuff like energy generation) rose to 5.388 billion metric tons in 2010, a 13.7 percent increase from 1990.

The culprits? Electricity generation accounts for 34 percent, transportation 27 percent and industry 20 percent. The rest comes from agriculture, commercial, residential and other sources. Just for a little perspective, an average automobile produces 5.2 metric tons of greenhouse gases each year.

This stuff isn't good. In addition to mucking up the skies, the EPA ruled in 2009 that greenhouses gases are the primary cause of climate change. This leads to higher temperatures and longer heat waves and, among other things, threatens the health of Americans. Increases in ground-level ozone pollution, which is created by chemical reactions between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, have been linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Forecast in the 60s

The information is hardly new. A prediction can be found in the original Broadway cast recording of "Hair." The song, "Air," is as real now as it was then: "Welcome sulphur dioxide, Hello carbon monoxide. The air, the air is everywhere. Breathe deep, while you sleep, breathe deep." And so on. The lyrics are permanently seared into my brain, courtesy the first record I laid my hands on. --


Strange to think that "Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical" debuted off Broadway in October 1967. Seems like yesterday. I'm kidding. Seriously, I tried getting my arts friendly son Calvin, now in his first year at Seattle University, interested in the soundtrack.

Nothing. No response. Nor did any of my kids seem to get Cheech & Chong. Oh well.

Aiding the cause

The bigger plan is getting them thinking about the air. Facts and figures do little to inspire most people, but add an effective anecdote of how it affects somebody and interest can increase geometrically. We learned this in the newspaper business. A good photo, a great story people can relate to and a writer and photographer could fill a city council chamber.

But I'm no longer a journalist and this will never appear in newsprint. Still, the axiom holds. I offer up an observation many in the San Joaquin Valley can relate to: On sunny hot days in the depths of summer, the skies often look like they've been coated with a fine layer of mud. The views of the Sierra from Valley towns and farms, which were once so crystalline and vibrant, just don't exist. And the air kind of tastes like dirt.

The solution is obvious. We've got to reduce the national production of greenhouse gases. The alternative is something I'd rather not contemplate. Sure, we could experience total economic meltdown. For instance, Spain just reported an unemployment rate pushing a quarter of its work force. That's one way. But hardly optimal.

One building at a time

Another approach has been adopted by many colleges, government agencies and private sector organizations. It involves reducing the climate footprint. This can be done relatively painlessly through building retrofits, practices like benchmarking energy use and policies that encourage reduction in water and waste as well as electricity.

California Gov. Jerry Brown took the plunge, issuing an executive order that state agencies reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 10 percent by 2015 and 20 percent by 2020. The order also said that all new state buildings and major renovations after 2025 be designed and built to meet requirements of net-zero facilities. That means they generate as much energy as they use.

Brown's Order also says that as of 2020 half of new facilities should meet the net-zero requirement and that state agencies should make half their existing facilities meet the rule. It also includes reducing water use and adding plug-ins for electric cars and other changes.

"Doing something real about the growing threat of global warming requires more than just new laws. We must lead by example,” Brown says in a statement. “Greening the state’s buildings will shrink our environmental footprint and save taxpayers millions of dollars.”

No new world order

Pursuing climate friendly policies costs money. Not so much when it comes to green buildings but more so when looking to retire fossil-fuel-burning power plants.

Even the governments of Germany and Japan, which earlier pledged to push all out for green energy, are having trouble sticking to their goals. National Public Radio's Richard Harris, reporting from a meeting in London of energy ministers from around the world, says, "It turns out that right now, just about everything is conspiring to make it harder to clean up the world's energy supply."

Harris reports the International Energy Agency warned that nations are nowhere near being on track to avert significant climate change. He quotes David Victor at the University of California, San Diego, who says, "What's happened across the industrialized world is the governments are feeling poor these days."

Feed-in tariffs, which provide subsidies to make renewable energy competitive, are drying up and other incentives are being lost. The result has been a contraction of solar and wind companies in Europe and the United States. The reduction in price of natural gas, a direct result of hydraulic fracturing tapping new reserves, also has compounded the clean energy industry's problems.

The solution is to continue plugging along. Economic pressures will continue. The forecast continues to be in positive territory but disappointing.

So breathe deep, this won't be easy. And if you're looking for a way to help, 350.org is a great place to start.

Young people battle for a cleaner planet, their future

Much depends on the younger generation.

Their habits, priorities and motivations largely will define the directions of development, technological advancement and political leanings. And while this always has been true to some degree, it may matter more now as society ponders the potential crushing cost of climate change, pollution and the cumulative effects of humankind's unprecedented industrialized push forward these past 150 years.

Millennials, or Generation Y, and those born after them will have to seriously consider the environmental impact of everything they do. Mental Klaxons may as well sound a crisis alert every time they consider driving a car, purchasing a house or otherwise taking part in potential carbon-creation.

Passing the Boomers

Growing up, I didn't have to do that. To me, pollution, contamination and too much garbage was the big scare. I remember walking above an abandoned missile site in the middle of nowhere Alaska and thinking about irradiated dirt in 1971. (I was 10, hitchhiking with mom.)

Nukes are bad, certainly. But their impact proves relatively minor as long as they remain in their silos.
Now the passive threat of rising sea level threatens thousands of island nations and low-lying real estate worldwide, and we've blown past the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that scientists say is safe for humanity -- 350 parts per million. Current level is 392 ppm. Yet, we keep pushing it. The stakes are off the charts.

"Danger, Will Robinson!" Or so says voice actor Dick Tufeld in his guise as the Robot in the the 1960s TV show "Lost in Space." But that's Boomer speak. (Another that comes to mind is Rita Moreno bellowing "Hey you guys!" on Electric Company.)

New catchphrases

This generation has its own references, its own icons and its own messages and means of popular delivery. Who over 30 knows of Strong Bad? This phrase is apt: "When all the land is in ruins; And burnination has forsaken the countryside. Only one guy will remain. My money's on Trogdor!"

Whatever.

Many Millennials take their air and water quality seriously. They want to limit commuting, live close to work, walk to restaurants. Potentially, they're creating an entirely different approach to community design, energy use and how resources should be exploited.

And they're hardly shy about expressing their opinions. They're tearing up the Internet via YouTube and social media pathways. But they aren't stopping there.

Democracy & climate change

Take Zaheena Rasheed, a former 350.org intern and a resident of the Maldives, a scattered island nation with an average ground level about 4 feet above the sea about 250 miles southwest of India. In an email, she expresses thanks to 350.org, which seeks to build a global movement to solve the climate crisis.

"In under a week, an incredible 35,553 of you signed our petition to world leaders," she says. Her words appear on the group's website in a post by Kelly Blynn. The Maldives have reportedly scheduled democratic elections after President Mohamed Nasheed's troubles that culminated with Canarygate, which involved allegations of corruption.

Rasheed continues. Her words ooze power and conviction: "There is much in common in the battle against climate change and for democracy -- the right to a healthy and dignified life -- and this can happen when people are free to speak their minds, make decisions over their own resources, and have the power to act against injustice."

Eloquent, yet not too unapproachably activist.

Others offer a more laid-back delivery. But the underlying message -- be good to Mother Earth -- remains.

So Fresh, So Green

Sarah Laskow of grist.org stumbled across a video created by a group of seniors from Atlanta’s Marist School. "So Fresh, So Green" was written and performed by Butta Biscuit, Mikey-B, Confucius Rodge and Clive Sensation with the filming and editing handled by Eric Eichelberger.


Laskow says the motivation was Marist's participation in the Green School Alliance’s Green Cup Challenge. She says schools that took part tried to reduce their energy use over four weeks, and some did so by more than 20 percent.

"This stuff isn’t rocket science: They just turned off more lights, readjusted the thermostats and, in some cases, replaced old equipment," she writes.

The video is based on Outkast's "So Fresh, So Clean." The student rappers stick to the basics, encouraging people to recycle, save energy by turning off lights and not just "talk the talk, but walk the walk."

Mr. Eco spreads the word

Another would-be Al Yankovic is Mr. Eco from Cal Poly (known offically as California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo), who has a number of videos devoted to the green cause. Mr. Eco calls himself an environmental rap superhero who incorporates sustainable living tips into parodies and represents the Alliance to Save Energy's Cal Poly Green Campus Program.

In one of his videos, dubbed "Turn Em Out," Mr. Eco parodies rapper T.I.'s "Bring Em Out." That latter video has more than 4.5 million views, while our Mr. Eco at this writing had 3,127. But when we first wrote about him in early November 2011, he had yet to break 1,000.

And Mr. Eco, the outspoken superhero that he is, also has taken his schtick on the road, visiting Ahwahnee Middle School in the scenic confines of our own Fresno, Calif. Mr. Eco, also known as Brett Edwards, is from Fresno. So that helps.



He's making an impact. Ahwahnee Principal Tim Liles even did a plug for Mr. Eco in the video.

One year, zero garbage

The crew at yert.com is tirelessly going from city to city to screen its powerful documentary. The next is March 2 in a Seattle church.



Dubbed "Your Environmental Road Trip" -- thus the acronym YERT -- the film covers all 50 states in a search "for innovators and citizens solving humanity's greatest environmental crises."

The trio of filmmakers says they were "called to action by a planet in peril." Producer Mark Dixon tells me he's up for more screenings. So if anybody's interested ...

I'm psyched.

Climate change? Imagine what a penguin thinks

I sent a penguin to Durban, South Africa. Not a real one, just a cartoon.

It's part of an effort launched by four Belgians to drum up international interest in the largely ignored Climate Summit.

Why? Here's what the site says, "Penguins are very peaceful animals. They want to be in Durban in a peaceful way. That’s why the penguins organize parties, parties against global warming."

Grassroots pollution control

The penguins are the latest of a barrage of efforts to rein in pollution. And since little materialized from the 190 nation summit, expect more like it by increasingly disillusioned groups and individuals.

Of course, many are already quite active. There's the sophisticated activism of groups like 350.org and Bill McKibben targeting efforts to pipe tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. There are authors like Naomi Klein electrifying audiences with her talks on reckless risk taking with the future of the planet. But possibly the most important development is the evolution (think of the transformation in "Altered States") of American corporate thinking -- that going green might not be so bad.

More on that in a bit.

Durban deadlock

Little was expected of the Durban talks. World leaders talked but took little action. Analysts weren't impressed and believed talks will achieve far less than the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, which set targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations.

Global warming got lip service. China's not into setting limits while in expansionist mode, and the United States doesn't want to jeopardize whatever economic recovery this may be.

Durban did show some progress. Negotiators tackled the concept of forming a Green Climate Fund, which Reuters reporters Nina Chestney and Barbara Lewis say is "designed to help poor nations tackle global warming and nudge them towards a new global effort to fight climate change." Rich countries would capitalize the fund with up to $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries deal with the effects.

Sinking under rising waters

Just imagine island nations with very little elevation, disappearing under water like the final scene of "Son of Kong." In the movie, an earthquake causes Skull Island to sink. Kiko, the ape, dies saving filmmaker Carl Denham, an image etched into my brain when I watched it as a kid.

The situation is so overwhelmingly dire, that most of us would rather not think of it. That fits with U.S. policy, which is all about kicking payment down the road.

But events have a way of making themselves known. Call it massive foreshadowing for the epic movie of all time.

Political sea change?

My coworker Sandy Nax points out that even though anything environmental or climate-related has become a dirty word in the nation's capital, a groundswell is moving under their planted feet. Sandy, a veteran reporter with a great sense of forecasting trends, says this movement, which is coming from corporate America no less, could force a renewed focus on clean energy and the environment.

Honest. It's happening. Companies have seen the light when it comes to energy efficiency and are jumping on the renewable band wagon in increasing numbers. The fact that solar's gone down to near parity with fossil fuels is a big deal that will play out in the next few years.

But author and environmental activist McKibben believes we have maybe five years before the earth hits the point of no return and carbon dioxide levels push the climate change button. It's hard to believe Wall Street will go green that fast and shove projects like the Keystone XL pipeline into the dust bin.

Many say we should try. What would Montgomery Scott do? Seriously? He'd pull a miracle from somewhere. It won't be easy, "The star drive is junk, Captain."

Taking a big dirty risk

In a speech for the nonprofit idea-generator TED (for Talks, Entertainment, Design), Naomi Klein paints a clear picture of where we're headed environmentally. She says the push for dirty fuel isn't diminishing a bit. Big oil is "slamming its foot on the accelerator at the exact moment they should put on the brakes." She says we need a new narrative one that isn't about growth for growth's sake but one that says what goes around comes around.

Klein says we simply have our priorities reversed, that many nations' climate policies are based on a cost-benefit analysis and that politicians are waiting until the last possible minute to deal with the issues. "Why do we take these crazy risks?" she asks.

Klein calls our foray for fossil fuels today a quest for extreme energy, mentioning mountain-top removal for coal mining, fracking and deep-water drilling as increasing the stakes. She says the worst appears to be the tar sands, which requires a tremendous amount of water to unlock the crude oil. That leftover slurry is stored in massive contaminated ponds that Klein calls the "biggest black hole in the planet."

Solar friends in corporate places

But the news from corporations isn't all bad. Sure, Keystone XL developer TransCanada doesn't plan to install solar panels along its proposed pipeline. But plenty of other companies have seen the benefits to installing a clean energy source that some say is already as cheap as fossil-fuel generated power.

New Jersey-based Royal Wine Corp., which operates Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard, Calif., has installed a 1.15-megawatt solar system at its headquarters to provide 65 percent of the company's electrical power needs. The roof-top solar adds to the company's sustainability practices and energy efficiency efforts -- much like those of fellow New Jersey companies Fed Ex, McGraw Hill, M&M Mars and Johnson & Johnson, Royal says in a statement.

Other companies are also seeing the light. Sure, some of the motivation is image related. But many companies that launch sustainability efforts realize the dollar-for-dollar cost savings and expand the programs. Beats continual layoffs to trim costs.

Recycling less CO2

A move is afoot by one of my favorite Stockton, Calif. energy efficiency activists to keep the majority of recycled content in the state of California, thereby avoiding all the greenhouse gas production that goes into shipping it over seas to Asia and back again as product. He's working with politicians and entrepreneurs to create incentives to boost domestic manufacturing. "Anything can be made of recycled content," he says.

As I write this, I realize all my examples of progress to a green future hardly scratch the surface of the realities of climate change. I can see the smog in Fresno, but I can hardly imagine the impact of a rising Pacific Ocean on some of the most beautiful island beaches in the world.

My solution? Do what you can, even if it is simply sending a penguin.
Penguin economics

The idea engages your social media muscle. Those interested sign up and send a social media message to as many people as you can via facebook, twitter or whatever else. The penguins are cute and can be customized to taste. Currently, most participation on Pissed Off Penguins is coming from Germany.

The site keeps the statistics: Little flags on an Olympic style podium down in the corner on the home page show first, second and third place. The United States isn't in the top three. By the end of the Climate Summit, about 4,200 sent a penguin.

Clearly that won't clear the air or drop CO2 levels. Still, every little bit helps. And when Wall Street thinks green is viable, watch out.

Energy innovation: Dinosaurs are not the future, clean energy is

When I bought my little rotting-into-the-earth beach house on Camano Island, Wash., I discovered not only did it not have any insulation other than some magazines nailed inside the walls but that it had dreaded and inefficient electric heat.

Two things about Washington: It used to have cheap electricity and when it got cold, those in timber country put another log on the fire. I rebuilt the circa 1903 728-square-foot house when I should have burned it down. But it did show me that that new technology in insulation, weatherizing and building can lower heating bills dramatically.

Actually, I still used wood heat. But it was far less, maybe just a cord and a half a year. In Fairbanks, we used a dozen or more for an 18-by-32-foot cabin.

The nation's builders are learning the same lesson, jumping on the innovative Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, ratings system promoted by the U.S. Green Building Council. Others also are catching on, embracing energy efficiency and learning that clean energy can be competitive and create jobs -- not to mention its ability to promote national security.

Super-insulated solutions 

As a reporter, I stumbled on a bunch of alternative builders who fabricated super-insulated houses that needed almost no heat or cooling. Yet, building officials thought these were so obscure that the home owners were put through multiple delays and reviews.

Something out of the ordinary even in the 1990s proved vexing for those in charge. If it didn't have 2-by-6 dimensional lumber in the walls and factory-made trusses, a house was suspect.

Now, that's changed in many regions as reflected by the advances being made in New York and other progressive cities. Even going off the grid isn't considered counter-culture anymore. It's being done by industrial parks, colleges and residences with solar and fuel cell systems.

Smarter and greener

One of my favorite bloggers, Brian Keane, president of Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit SmartPower, wrote a piece inspired by a recent issue of Scientific American, which ran a story about "Better, greener, smarter cities." He praises the story and the anecdotes about various inner-city efficiencies while also underlining the difficulties of expanding those practices beyond high-density living areas.

"It will take some work, but if we are to fulfill the expectation of a better, greener, smarter city, we all need to get on board," Keane writes.

The nation has made progress, but the challenge is so steep as to boggle the mind. Humanity is pushing hard to fill earth's skies with the legacy of burned fossil fuels at a rate that alarms scientists.

Hothouse earth

"If we continue down this road, there really is no uncertainty. We're headed for the Eocene. And we know what that's like," says Matt Huber, a climate modeler at Purdue University who was interviewed by National Geographic for a piece by Robert Kunzig entitled "Hothouse Earth."

Kunzig's story chronicles what researchers know about the earth 56 million years ago when a massive spike in carbon dioxide pushed global temperatures higher, resulting in massive geologic change, extinction and adaption. Climate change then turned the Arctic and Antarctic into tropical jungles.

Kunzig reports that Huber uses a climate model, developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, "to forecast what might happen if humans choose to burn off all the fossil fuel deposits." Huber's results are inconclusive and "still infernal," but his "reasonable best guess at a bad scenario" doesn't sound pleasant. Much of China, India, southern Europe and the United States, would experience summer average temperatures "well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, night and day, year after year."

We remain far from the Eocene's level of atmospheric carbon, but we're pushing to free it with current energy trends.

Moving the planet

The folks at 350.org and one of its founders, author Bill McKibben, bring this subject up every chance they get. The gist of their argument is even if the world stopped polluting yesterday, the planet would still be burdened with way more climate-changing carbon dioxide that would take nature decades or more to scrub.

The organization's Moving Planet events the last week in September brought many thousands out in support for a reasonable future with a stable climate, clean air and clean energy. The activists pictured in videos and photos are relatively low profile. They're young and riding bikes and running around.

As they displace aging Baby Boomers, especially now that so many of us have been laid off from professions -- like newspapering -- that fell behind the technological curve, these young people will evolve into the decision makers, entrepreneurs and community-minded types who will shift society into a more forward-thinking mode.

At least I hope so. I can totally see the economic benefits to McKibben's No. 1 foe, a trans-Canada/Midwest U.S. pipeline from the oil/tar sands to port in the Gulf of Mexico. I was raised in Fairbanks during construction of the Pipeline. The amount of money and illegal drugs dumped into that state's previously frozen economy was amazing. I can also see the economic prospects of a gas line through Canada. Heck, ask anybody from my era in the state from Anchorage and the Interior and we'd say, "Hell yes."

I'd vote to build both pipelines, then render them immediately obsolete with cheap renewables. That could amount to a form of fraud, but it would be satisfying.

Pebble problems

And I see the sense, economically, in developing the proposed Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska. Gold, molybdenum and copper are a valuable commodity and it would put many of the region's residents to work. This proposal, however, makes me sick imagining the potential catastrophe to the Bristol Bay fishing industry and Bering Sea should the mine's tailings ponds burst and contaminate some of the world's richest waterways.

There's a limit to what we can do in the name of the economics. We've already stuck our nose into the Middle East, spending billions for the opportunity to access the region's crude oil.

At some point, the long view must be acknowledged. Our rate of deforestation and general ecological pillage in the name of progress has to be redirected. The consequences have become increasingly evident. Even island nations are starting to sweat their existence.

The answer is not a dinosaur

The first episode of Fox's new series "Terra Nova" chronicles a family's desire to leave the toxic world of 2149 for one overrun with dinosaurs. Present-day life on the planet is dying. Most animals are extinct and the air is poison. The only hope is the past. (I lost interest in the show after the hero, Jim Shannon, played by Jason O'Mara actually gets to the new-old world.)

While that sounds a little like Barry Goldwater's philosophy, I'd prefer one in which oil is used simply to produce polymers and products that don't brown the skies or pollute groundwater. One where the sun is the primary driver of power and the only thing we burn is hydrogen.

I'd also like to see interstellar space travel, but, hey, I'm a dreamer.

Photo: Promotional look at the cast of Fox's "Terra Nova."

Solar could unlock path to clean energy; the sooner the better

The man with gnarled hands was a legend in Skagit County.

Many in the Washington state farming region said he could find water in a desert. The man's name eludes me and I'm sure he passed from this world, but he developed a reputation for finding the shortest route to tap fresh ground water. He charged nothing, and people from all walks swore by his skills.

I feel like asking that old water witcher for his advice now. But rather than water, I'd ask him to work his magic on the clean energy industry. Maybe take that fresh-cut Y-shaped branch and point to the shortest route for unlocking thousands of jobs in the promising sector.

Kind of a wise man (or woman) on the mountain thing.

After several years of hype, the clean energy industry appears on the verge. Solar's finally looking like it's got the chops to compete. Biofuel breakthroughs may propel relatively cheap new sources of U.S.-made fuel into the domestic pipeline. And wind continues to kick up dust, not to mention a bubbly hillbilly cousin, geothermal.

Nuclear's Fukushima shuffle appears to have added shine to the green sector. Nuclear power's reliance on huge government subsidies don't help it much either. And Germany's backing off nuclear further burnishes renewables's image.

Clint Wilder, senior editor of Portland, Ore.-based consultant Clean Edge Inc., offers an explanation for the recent spate of news. "Follow the money," he writes in a post.

Businesses from a variety of sectors and borders are looking to cleantech for opportunity, Wilder says. Among the examples he mentions is a $1 billion investment by European oil giant Total in SunPower.

Adam Browning of grist.com reports that the global solar photovoltaic market went from $2.5 billion in 2000 to $71.2 billion in 2010. Browning also writes about how the New York Solar Jobs Act, which seeks to build 5 gigawatts of solar in the state by 2025, has attracted the promotional efforts of "The Bachelorette's" Ryan Park and spots on the CBS Super Screen in Times Square.

A number of sources predict solar will reach parity with fossil fuels, most recently General Electric's Mark Little, global research director, who in a recent interview with Bloomberg estimates five years.

The U.S. Department of Energy also has contributed to the effort, most recently allocating $27 million to standardize regulatory procedures, reduce fees and "reduce the overall costs associated with permitting and installation," officials say. DOE also has established a $12.5 million challenge to encourage cities and counties to compete to streamline and digitize permitting processes.

In California, my employer, the San Joaquin Valley Clean Energy Organization, which largely administers clean energy grants for local governments, has uncovered a list of 93 solar projects in our valley that are either in the regulatory process or being proposed, and, according to California Department of Fish and Game, have little or no environmental impact to wildlife resources.

The projects represent about 8,600 megawatts and would cover about 64,000 acres. That's real progress and furthers the University of California, Merced's declaration of this as Solar Valley.

And I came across a juicy statistic in a piece by Michael Moynihan on Huffington Post about the new guy President Obama wants as Secretary of Commerce. Nominee John Bryson, former CEO of Edison International. Southern California Edison, looks like a good pick for cleantech. His legacy? A subsidiary of Edison International, writes Moynihan, buys 65 percent of all solar power generated in the United States.

The San Joaquin Valley contributes a big portion of that sun-harvested energy and will provide more, soon. My colleague and I have been saying for the past year that our region is a Petri dish for clean energy, with all its attributes. I hope we're right. With jobless rates in rural parts of this region pushing 40 percent and national rates climbing, we could use the economic activity.

The need couldn't be greater. The International Energy Agency says that after a dip in 2009 because of the global financial crisis, "energy-related carbon-dioxide emissions in 2010 were the highest in history."

The IEA says it estimates that 80 percent of projected energy-related emissions in 2020 are "already locked in, as they will come from power plants that are currently in place or under construction today."

But recognition of coming trouble is starting to dawn. While the topic remains ultra-controversial and mostly off limits in Congress, others in the international arena are less afraid to address the symptoms of climate change. The Associated Press reports that in Sao Paulo, Brazil at the C40 Large Cities Climate Summit officials from the World Bank and 40 cities from around the world pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is optimistic. "This unique partnership with the World Bank will help solve many of the problems that cities face in obtaining financing for climate-related projects," he tells the AP.

Sounds good, but it's likely just a drop in the bucket. Change, the saying goes, doesn't happen overnight.

We could use that old water witcher right about now. Maybe he's already here. Bill McKibben and his 350.org offer some pretty good directions on how to get there.

How can you really measure Top 10 greenest states?

On the eve of Earth Day, I started reading a story in the Huffington Post declaring the top 10 greenest states.

I'll get into what they are in a minute. What immediately got me are what I considered a couple glaring omissions and imagining how it felt being labeled the worst. The ranking organization, 24/7 Wall St., gave Ohio the No. 1 worst ranking for coming in dead last for alternative energy with 0.7 percent coming from green sources and landing near the bottom for toxic waste creation and carbon footprint.

Ohio residents likely aren't pleased. In fact, the state appears to be working hard to burnish its green graces. Last year the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News quoted Gov. Ted Strickland as pledging that the state "would surpass global competitors" with its aggressive "advanced energy requirements" and innovations. The story followed the official opening of Dayton Power & Light’s 1.1 megawatt Yankee Solar Array and mentioned another 12 megawatt plant installed by Juwi Solar Inc.

But it's all in how statistics are measured.

Whenever there's something about the top anything, somebody's got a beef with it. For instance, my beautiful kinda hometown of Fresno (I live in neighboring Clovis) usually gets labeled No. 1 on low-brow lists, like crime and poverty. Yet, Fresno was No. 7 on a list of hottest U.S. cities, for temperature, not coolness. However, I can't recall the source as it was emailed with a group of other lists from friends.

And I didn't see California anywhere on either 24/7's greenest or least green states list. Keith Matheny of the Desert Sun in Palm Springs wrote of a robust collection of approved projects in Southern California totalling 3,600 megawatts and another 2,173 megawatts worth "in the permitting pipeline." Pretty impressive stuff.

And the state has quite a few more. Sure it's got its other issues, like water and too many houses, but it's also got the only measure in the country requiring that a third of its power come from alternative sources by 2020.

But this green Huff Post left California somewhere in the middle. Here are the greenest states: Starting from No. 10, it goes Colorado, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Hawaii, Nevada, New Hampshire, Maine and No. 1 Vermont.

I have no problems with any of the listed states. I mean Vermont is beautiful. It has mountains, forested views and communities that look as if they haven't changed in 75 years. It's green and gorgeous. I never got as far as Maine, but I've seen photographs.

And the rest are pretty too. Although, I don't get Nevada. The Vegas AC bill certainly must challenge any green activity.

But how the heck would I know? The metrics used by 24/7 Wall St. show measurable data. For instance, No. 4 greenest Nevada gets 9.4 percent of its power from alternative energy, its toxic waste production is relatively small and its carbon footprint ranks 12th in the nation.

The group says it "examined energy consumption, pollution problems and state energy policies with the help of industry experts, government databases and research reports." 24/7 used 27 categories and data from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, the Energy Information Administration, U.S.Department of Energy and other federal and independent organizations.

One reader of the Huffington repost wasn't convinced, saying that Texas is No. 1 in wind power. My grandfather in law would say when the wind picked up in San Antonio that that little barbed wire fence between his massive state and Canada wasn't doing much.

I'd one up Texas, as Alaskans often do, by saying the biggest state in the union may not measure up in the metrics used by 24/7 but it does have one thing going for it. It's green. It has more green, even in winter, than teeny Vermont. And it stomps even larger but still small Maine.

The now expired 50-year contracts with the pulp mills in Southeast Alaska didn't, try as they might, deforest the Tongass National Forest. I recall a trip in a Dehavilland Beaver, soaring above the patchworks of clearcuts for an Anchorage Times story on logging and its effects on the environment and economy.

I'll never forget the experience, and I could immediately see why early on how federal planners thought the timber would never end. The Beaver on pontoons is an awesome plane. We landed at a recent cut in the middle of nowhere, north of Ketchikan (where my great-grandfather married his wife) and got out, wading to shore. I had to touch the scads of rings reflected in the stump of an old growth evergreen and got sap all over my hand and subsequently my pants and notebook.

And I remember growing up in Fairbanks with a band of off-the-grid hippies whose motto was do more with less. Now it's called carbon footprint reduction. But that's green. I'm sure Texas has its own stories, as does Ohio.

I'd like to see more of those green stories. And it needn't be anti-growth. Logging can be sustainable. Wind can be harvested as can the sun. We'll still need oil, but the cost is climbing. The price of carbon is likely to be tallied as its effects become more visible, making the alternatives to fossil fuels that much more approachable.

At 350.org, a site dedicated to reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a recent post was titled "Celebrating our victories." It mentioned this pearl of wisdom: "One of the biggest global warming myths is that nothing is happening to stop it."

Work to improve the economy and environment is going on in all 50 states. Some of it just doesn't register right away.

Photo: Juwi Solar Inc. plant in Ohio.

Global warming -- or cooling aerosols?

The subject of global warming remains a political hazard largely due to its perceived uncertainty and the drastic solutions proposed to keep it at bay.

Energy companies believe fossil fuels are king and reject measures that would hamstring their dominance, while renewable energy gurus say, "Too bad, it's gotta be done."

Meanwhile, J.Q. Voter, wavers. He likes clean air but wants a stable economy, jobs and the San Francisco Giants back in the World Series.

"Where the proof?" he asks.

The California Air Resources Board and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believe they can track down a piece of the answer through a relatively massive project measuring the pollutants and greenhouse gases fouling California's once azure skies. The $20 million CalNex project dispatched airplanes, ships and researchers to, as officials said, "examine the nexus between air pollution and climate change."

The project took three years to plan. Monitoring started in early May and continued through June, involving four airplanes, NOAA's ocean-going research ship the Atlantis, two land-based air monitoring super sites -- one in Kern County -- and more than 150 highly trained scientists.

Eileen McCauley, manager of the research division at the Air Board, said she expects some preliminary results from the CalNex 2010 study will be presented at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco in December. She said the California Air Resources Board plans to continue research to produce a report for policy makers on CalNex findings.

The follow-up report is meant to address "emissions (both greenhouse gases and ozone and aerosol precursors), important atmospheric transformation and climate processes, and transport and meteorology," according to documents.

Determining the effects of a warming environment is complex in the extreme. The white paper describing the CalNex project touches on the difficulty researchers have determining how to separate out the cloud of cooling aerosols over population centers from the warming swirling nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and microscopic particulates.

But just about anybody who spent any time around the subject realizes it won't be easy to solve or explain. Our habits as consumers, travelers and entrepreneurs have led us down a comfortable path. Now that road looks a little like the a highway in Canada's Yukon Territories at night in a snowstorm at 35 below -- uncertain at best.

350.org explains that scientists believe that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity, but the site places the current level at 388 ppm.

“The goal is to provide decision makers with the information they need to develop win/win strategies that address both climate and air quality,” said A.R. Ravishankara, director of NOAA’s Chemical Sciences Division, in a statement.

Officials said the CalNex data will help scientists better understand atmospheric-chemical transformations and climate processes and help the Air Board measure greenhouse gases, traditional air pollutants and their causes.

But don't expect miracles even after results are posted and regulations announced. Coming to terms with the state of the environment is something many of us would rather avoid. The answer might mean we'd have to adapt.

Not that it can't be done. It's just not easy.

Solar planned for White House

Author and environmental activist Bill McKibben has got to be smirking.
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Council of Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley just announced President Obama's intention to install solar panels and a solar hot water heater on the White House roof. The message?

That the solar installations "will be part of a Department of Energy demonstration project showing that American solar technologies are available, reliable and ready for installation in homes throughout the country."

That's in stark contrast to last month when McKibben and a crew of Unity College students hauled a solar panel all the way from Maine to the White House. It had been installed on the White House by President Carter's administration and taken down by President Reagan's.

The move was symbolic. A "softball" to President Obama to embrace solar.

However, the response from the White House when the Unity crew arrived was chilly. No big reception. Just a couple of staffers reciting party lines about energy efficiency policies. Wow.

The organizers of 350.org -- another McKibben-supported group -- let out a collective groan. The group is seeking to build enthusiasm and work crews for its 10/10/10 initiative, which means to launch into environmental cleanup and clean energy projects across the globe on that date. A grassroots go-green-for-real movement.

But somebody must have been listening in the Obama administration.

"By installing solar panels on arguably the most famous house in the country, his residence, the president is underscoring that commitment to lead and the promise and importance of renewable energy in the United States," Sutley said in a statement.

"Good for the White House," McKibben tweeted soon after the announcement. He linked to The Associated Press story by reporter Dina Cappello.

Part of the mission was to promote Oct. 10, or 10/10/10, an effort launched by McKibben and students to stage a global work day in which teams pursue clean energy projects across the globe. 350.org is the website coordinating various projects.

Part of the Unity mission was to promote Oct. 10. 350.org is the website coordinating various projects.

On the site this morning, the White House move was top news. McKibben, never at a loss for words, had this to say:

“The White House did the right thing, and for the right reasons: they listened to the Americans who asked for solar on their roof, and they listened to the scientists and engineers who told them this is the path to the future.

"If it has anything like the effect of the White House garden, it could be a trigger for a wave of solar installations across the country and around the world."

McKibben also said Obama's not the only world leader taking the challenge, explaining that Maldivian president Mohammed Nasheed will install panels on his official residence.

Along with Obama's announcement, the U.S. Department of Energy also released "Procuring Solar Energy: A Guide for Federal Facility Decision Makers" to support the use of solar energy throughout the federal government.

Environmental justice movement gets push from White House

Environmental justice.

The term sounds great. The concept, however, has a long way to go.

While poor areas get the brunt of a long list of environmental hazards and toxic sites, bad stuff can be buried or swirling in the air or water in any ZIP code. Progress has a way of getting things done and dealing with consequences later.

But Obama's taken up the call.

This week, Lisa P. Jackson, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, and Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, resurrected the Interagency Working Group on Environmental Justice.

Big deal, right? Perhaps not. But it's something and at least a positive move by the Obama administration to push for federal protection from environmental and health hazards for everyone. The language of a press release reminds me of talk in the living room political gatherings I grew up with in Alaska.

I can hear my activist parents, Willie and Mary Ratcliff, publishers of the San Francisco Bayview, saying the same thing 30 years ago.

"Pollution like dirty air and contaminated water can have significant economic impacts on overburdened and low-income communities, driving away investment in new development and new jobs and exposing residents to potentially costly health threats." I was momentarily taken back in time by the words.

My activist parents continue to fight the battle they began as teenagers in the 1950s, my mother at Oberlin, my father as a black concrete contractor in California and up the coast to the Last Frontier. The best way to describe their message over the years I sum up by quoting Jesse Jackson's jobs, peace and freedom call for justice.

Environmental justice is a huge part of this, and it's effects can be seen in any poor community across the globe. Immigrant entry points in big cities are overlooked as are rural areas. Got something toxic? Give it to the poor folks under the auspices of jobs.

Jobs never materialize but the toxics remain.

I generalize, but dig a little and the examples are there.

The EPA's newfound call for environmental justice is supposed to "guide, support and enhance federal environmental justice and community-based activities." Officials say the effort will help federal agencies identify projects "where federal collaboration can support the development of healthy and sustainable communities."

Who knows if it will mean anything beyond more high- and low-level bureaucratic meetings? I'm optimistic. Just talking about it raises the political capital of the environmental movement and the push to generate interest and jobs in a clean energy economy.

Groups like 350.org will gain grassroots members and the 10/10/10 movement may gain a little boost to identify and tackle projects that make the world a better place.

I'm inspired by something U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said: “In too many areas of our country, the burden of environmental degradation falls disproportionately on low-income and minority communities – and most often, on the children who live in those communities. Our environmental laws and protections must extend to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.”

Photo: KQED Quest. One of many signs at Hunter's Point Shipyard in San Francisco.

Global warming debate heats up

Global warming predictions evoke anger or fear in some, cynicism in others and denial in an increasingly vocal group.

Whatever the outcome, many of us older types won't be around for the final act.

Perhaps we may see the opening credits. Here's hoping it won't turn out like "The Day After Tomorrow," which sent tidal waves into New York City and temperatures plunging in North America.

Two authors have taken decidedly different tacks about how to approach the issue. Bill McKibben, author, activist and 350.org founder, took off today from Unity College in Maine with one of the original solar panels from the roof of the White House. It was put there by President Jimmy Carter and taken down by President Ronald Reagan.

McKibben wants it restored to its rightful place. His quest is chronicled at putsolaron.it/road-trip. He said in a tweet this morning: "Headed for the White House with the Carter solar panels. See you en route I hope."

Author Roger Colley took a stab at the debate through the recent release of his book, "A Truthful Myth," and accompanying website.

The book is described as a suspense/action/romance that "promotes the view that climate science is unsettled ... and needs to be further opened, researched and improved."

Here's a synopsis: "The novel relates an unlikely but possible scenario: an oracle predicts gradual global warming suddenly turns abrupt, catastrophic, and the new president must find a way to save America. The ensuing story leads to an intriguing web of dramatic climate changes, new energy technologies, uncertain economics, and political upheaval. The young, romantically-linked engineers, Michael Reynolds and Rose Haines, must match wits with the president's villainous Chief-of-Staff in their attempts to favorably resolve the destiny of the nation. Beyond their heroic efforts, the two protagonists open the door to a host of American values in jeopardy, even beyond climate change and global warming. Can America be saved?"

One thing is certain: More are adopting the attitude that money can be saved through energy efficiency and that alternative forms of power generation -- that don't put CO2 into the air -- make more sense than ever.

The next few years will be interesting to say the least. Of course, quite a bit depends on pricing and technological developments. Fossil fuels will remain a big part of the energy picture.

But just how big depends on individual will.

Photo: Pioneering eco-warrior President Carter in 1979 with White House solar panels.

Can number 10 save the environment?

The date 10/10/10 generates a number of concepts -- coolness, binary code, even fractals and chaos theory.

"Most predictions and opinions concerning 10/10/10 are based on or rooted in its mathematical uniqueness as a number," writes paradigmsearch.

But for 350.org, the concept is extremely concrete. That's the day the campaign, which was organized to urge a worldwide movement to reduce atmospheric carbon, wants people to launch serious efforts to combat climate change.

"This October we're organizing a 'global work party' all over the world," the website says. "People will put up solar panels, dig community gardens--and send a strong message to our leaders: 'If we can get to work on solutions to the climate crisis, so can you.'"

350.org's site has a number of components. One explains the concept: Scientists say that 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere is the safe limit for humanity.

However, the atmosphere is currently saddled with about 390 ppm, and bad air days are as common in the San Joaquin Valley as they are in the heat-scorched East Coast this summer, which has coal-fired power plants working at full steam to keep up with air conditioning demands.

350.org functions as a web-based platform to organize, educate and help develop projects. It offers ideas, helps people communicate and offers contacts with others planning projects.

For instance, author and clean energy activist Bill McKibben and a team from Unity College are planning a road trip next week to the White House to encourage President Obama to restore the solar panels put atop the world's most famous residence by former President Jimmy Carter.

McKibben, founder of 350.org, put it this way: "All around the country and the world people will be putting up solar panels and digging community gardens and laying out bike paths. Not because we can stop climate change one bike path at a time, but because we need to make a sharp political point to our leaders: we’re getting to work, what about you?

"We need to shame them, starting now. And we need everyone working together."

Strong words. Yet, the effort to embrace energy efficiency and alternative energy has expanded greatly in the past few years with major corporations, both U.S. political parties and mom and pop businesses joining J.Q. Public.

We'll keep you posted.

Photo: Spiral Galaxy courtesy hubblesite.org.