Earth Summit

Channel that inner Bruce Lee to clean energy

Bruce Lee was more than a movie star to those of us who watched all his movies many, many times in the early 1970s and beyond.

He was THE movie star. The guy we all wanted to be. Somebody who didn't necessarily want to get involved (note the opening scenes in "Fist of Fury") but ended up spinning a couple of nunchucks ("Return of the Dragon") in a back alley with a grin on his face and kicking some serious, um, tail.

Enter Sir Richard

I thought of Lee while watching a video-taped interview of Richard Branson, the Virgin Group billionaire and knight of the United Kingdom, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Likewise, here's a guy who has his own island, is one of the world's richest men and wants to make the world a better place by enhancing sustainability and renewable energy.

Talking to Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz Group Inc., Branson says every business and individual can make a difference. "Every single decision they make can put the environment first," he says, adding "don't do it in a way that will bankrupt you."

Branson's got that combination of instinct, moxie and ability to make things happen in the business world, much like Lee could do on the silver screen.

Unlike Lee, he doesn't do any leaping kicks (see a particularly neck-breaking fight scene in "Enter the Dragon"). But he does know how to make a point.

Asked for his opinion of Rio + 20, Branson says he's heard "lots and lots" of initiatives and ideas from attendees but "sadly, I think our leaders are letting us down."

Time is not on our side

Others appear to be thinking similarly. Gerard Aziakou of French news service AFP says thousands of protesters marched in support of saving Brazilian rain forest. Rio + 20, he writes, drew representatives from 191 United Nations members, "including 86 presidents and heads of government."

U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon addressed the gathering, saying, Aziakou reports, "The world is watching to see if words will translate into action as we know they must ... It's time for all of us to think globally and long term, beginning here now in Rio, for time is not on our side."

Gauging the results of past summits, this one will likely turn out little in effective policy. But looking deeper into what Branson says may be the key. Cleaning up the world is an individual endeavor. No superhero is going to drop from the sky and clean up our mess. Everybody's got to play a role.

And here, Lee's philosophy may provide some insight. He called his style of martial arts Jeet Kung Do, which he said "is just a name, a boat used to get one across, and once across it is to be discarded and not to be carried on one's back."

In other words, do what you have to and get on with it.

Battlefield Earth

The battle to improve the planet won't be easy, and every day the situation grows more dire. That means those who can should lead by example wherever possible.

Again, here's a little advice from Lee ("Enter the Dragon"): "A good fight should be like a small play, but played seriously. A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready. Not thinking, yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit. It hits all by itself."

And remember, Bruce Lee is the only guy to have whupped Chuck Norris. And that's something.

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.