Eaarth and Carbon Nation offer pragmatic, clear solutions.

On the cover of Eaarth, Barbera Kingsolver writes that the reader should read through to the end, that “whatever else you were planning to do next, nothing could be more important.”  One of my classmates advised me not to pick it up until after our Fall trimester is over next month. With what I know of Bill McKibben an his 350.org campaign, I figured this would be a depressing read.  McKibben confronts the fact that we very likely live on a planet different than the one that human civilization prospered on:

“The Earth has changed in profound ways, ways that have already taken us out of the sweet spot where humans so long thrived.  We’re every day less the oasis and more the desert.  The world hasn’t ended but the world as we know it has – even if we don’t quite know it yet.  We imagine we still live back on that old planet, that the disturbances we see around us are the old random and freakish kind.  But they’re not.  It’s a different place.  A different planet.  It needs a new name.  Eaarth… This is one of those rare moments, the start of a change far larger and more thoroughgoing than anything we can read in the records of man, on par with the biggest dangers we can read in the records of rock and ice.”

McKibben offers plenty of quantitative and qualitative evidence describing our new home, but this is not a dense tract; in fact, it is refreshing in its readability.  I read it over a week before bed, and found his writing to be concise and clear.  While the subject, our future on this rock he now calls Eaarth, is a serious and grim, McKibben offers some great recommendations for how we can live on the new planet.  He singles out growth as enemy number one, along the lines of ecological economists like Herman Daly and Robert Constanza.  McKibben doesn’t think that an ecological New Deal, as recommended by Thomas Friedman and others, will be able to prevent the planet from continuing to change:

“The next decade will see huge increases in renewable power; we’ll adopt electric cars faster than most analysts imagine.  Windmills will sprout across the prairies.  It will be exciting.  But its not going to happen fast enough to ward off enormous change.  I don’t think the growth paradigm can rise to the occasion; I think the system has met its match.  We no longer possess the margin we’d require for another huge leap forward, certainly not fast enough to preserve the planet we used to live on.”

McKibben recommends some words that encompass the future we will need to live on our new planet: durable, sturdy, stable, hardy, and robust.  McKibben argues for smallness instead of bigness, smaller national purposes:

“So the first point is simple: the size of your institutions and your government should be determined by the size of your project.  The second point is more subtle: The project we’re now undertaking – maintenance, graceful decline, hunkering down, holding on against the storm – requires a different scale.  Instead of continents and vast nations, we need to think about states, about towns, about neighborhoods, about blocks.”

At times like this one, McKibben sounds closer to the Tea Party than the modern environmental movement with his talk of small government.  The one distinction, of course, is that the Tea Party supporters largely deny climate science; they believe growth can save us again and again, with the planet providing no inherent limits.

McKibben calls for communities to get closer together, to develop local solutions for energy and food.  “If the eaarth is going to support restaurants, they’ll need to look like the Farmers Diner” (in Quechee, Vermont, a favorite destination of m wife and I).  McKibben doesn’t just recommend local commerce, but sharing and connecting with neighbors, a lost tradition.  Eaarth is a useful book for this moment, because it appears that a price on carbon will not be set anytime soon.

Along the same lines, in a different vein, the upcoming documentary Carbon Nation, which I recently watched, offers useful solutions for tackling our problems with carbon, in a slightly more optimistic manner.  Peter Byck‘s new film has an intriguing tagline: A Climate Change Solutions Movie (That Doesn’t Even Care If You Believe in Climate Change).  The argument is simple: there are actions that we can all take, that are already being taken, that can begin to solve the problem’s we face.  The film’s argument makes financial sense; in fact the clip above is representative of the film in general, optimistic, aimed at an audience that includes conservatives.  One of my professors, a rock ribbed New Hampshire conservative, thinks the film will be generally successful in communicating to conservatives. Carbon Nation offers some solutions that we would be wise to listen to.  Even the Shell representative who appears in the film says that a price on carbon is crucial to our future.  However, the film discusses issues that range from traditional alternative energy, to biofuel, soil conservation and cover crops.

Carbon Nation premiere’s in New York in January, but screenings are occurring now across the country at conferences.  Eaarth is out now.  Both offer pragmatic, cohesive solutions about the reality we face, and the steps we must take to survive on this planet.

The best part of waking up?

These disposable individual serving coffee K-Cups accounted for 80% of Green Mountain Coffee's 2009 sales.

This morning, when I got home from the YMCA, I began a daily ritual, putting my Cuisinart automatic grind and brew coffeemaker together.  I take beans, roasted locally and sustainably by New Harvest Coffee Roasters, and place the amount that I want to make in the coffeemaker.  My Cuisinart grinds and brews the exact amount of coffee that I want, from 1-10 cups.  To me, the coffeemaker is efficient, well designed, and elegant; it does exactly what I need it do to.

Last weekend, my mother visited from California, and she was very excited to tell me about her new coffee pods.  Apparently, she could make her coffee one cup at a time, no fuss.  Because I have a generous coffee habit, I assured her that those individual serve cups weren’t necessary for me – I was just fine with my Cuisinart.  However, the conversation got me thinking… just how popular are these things?  Apparently, according to the New York Times, very much so.

In fact, Green Mountain Coffee, whose motto is “Brewing a Better World,” received 80% of

Green Mountain Coffee's K-Cups are non recyclable and non biodegradable.

their $803 Million in sales through nonrecyclable, nonbiodegradable, single-use coffee pods and their brewing systems.  In 2010, they plan to sell almost 3 Billion K-Cups, bound for waste facilities around the country.

According to Lawrence Blanford, CEO of Green Mountain Coffee, the K-Cups reduce wasted coffee, and increase demand for Fair Trade and organic coffee.  However, Darby Hoover of the National Resource Defense Council has the quote of the day:

The whole concept of the product is a little bit counter to environmental progress. If you are trying to create something that is single use, disposable, and relies on a one-way packaging that can’t be recycled, there are inherent problems with that… At some point you have to ask, ‘But do we need this product enough that we need to be trying to find all these different solutions for the components of it, or can we just go back to the old way that we used to make coffee, and was that good enough?’ ”

Home from Brattleboro

Downtown Brattleboro, viewed from the Latchis Hotel in February 2010.

The weekend intensives at the Marlboro College MBA program are aptly named; after three days of ebullient conversations, engaging classrooms, and bonding with colleagues, I am excited about the new trimester.

Bill Baue, former Executive Director of Sea Change Radio, will take through a dynamic stakeholder engagement experience in our Communication, Persuasion, and Negotiation class.  Both Managerial Economics and Corporate Finance promise a critical look at how businesses are run today, and how we can create a more sustainable business world.  We’ll be reading Tim Jackson’s recently published Prosperity Without Growth: Economics For a Finite Planet in our vertical Exploring Sustainability course, for a timely critique of Neo-Classical macroeconomic assumptions.

This weekend, Lisa Lorimer, former CEO and majority owner of the Vermont Bread Company, discussed her new book, Dealing With Tough Stuff, and her experience as an entrepreneur.  She talked about why she loved being a businesswoman, despite the many challenges and setbacks she faced along the way.  It was an exciting discussion, especially in light of the growing consolidation within the larger food industry and its implications on our food systems and on our lives.

After three very full days and nights in Brattleboro, Vermont during the Intensives, we all head back to our normal lives on Sunday night.  My classmates come from different parts of the Eastern Seaboard, as far south as Washington DC.  While we are not at school in Vermont, we keep working both asynchronously and in teams online; this educational model allows many of us to work full time in diverse jobs (one of my classmates works for a defense contractor at the Pentagon, while another works for an environmental compliance firm in Vermont) and keep up busy lives (many of my classmates have growing families).  We have all grown very close, and I consider them colleagues and close friends, rather than the competition.  Together, we are building something.