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Sustainability Videos & Lecture Series

Some Like it Hot... Lots More Don't

January 14, 2008 | David Orr spoke about the science behind sustainability in a political context and the challenges of communicating the need for sustainable action to policymakers.


This presentation is brought to you by Arizona State University's Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and a generous investment by Julie Ann Wrigley.


Charles Redman:

I'm Dr. Redman, Director of the School of Sustainability and it's my great pleasure along with the undergraduate students and the graduate students of sustainability to welcome David Orr to ASU.


David Orr:

Thank you. It's really nice to be here. Can all of you hear me? Does this come through OK? You can't in the back? Do you want to? All right, Is that better? Wave your hand not if you don't like what I'm going to say, but if you can't hear it.

I want to talk about sustainability. And I want to begin with the biggest issues that we face, which, in my judgment is climate change. You cannot hear? All right. I'll tell you-- Chuck, just let me just use that one. All right, is that-- ooh! Is that better?

OK. I want to talk about climate change and politics. And I want to, as a kind of barometer of how far we have to go, I'm going to read a letter that was written to the Arkansas Democrat. This was a serious letter. It was written last spring, so less than a year ago.

It says, you may have noticed that March of this year was particularly hot. As a matter of fact, I understand it was the hottest march since the beginning of the last century. All the trees were fully leafed out and legions and bugs and snakes were crawling around during a time in Arkansas when on a normal year we might see a snowflake or two. This should come as no surprise to any reasonable person.

As you know, daylight saving time this year started almost a month early this year. You would think that members of Congress would have considered the warming effect that an extra hour of daylight would have on our climate. Or did they? Perhaps, this is another plot by a liberal Congress to make us believe that global warming is a real threat. Perhaps next time there should be serious studies performed before Congress passes laws with such far-reaching effects.

Hey, we've got our work cut out for us.


And I want to begin-- I want to talk about this. I'm going to describe three things. I want to go through real quickly the science of climate change that I think is pertinent in a conversations like this. I want to describe the political challenges and then what happens beyond this.

So let me begin-- and this is going to be a little bit awkward, because I've got a computer behind me that I need to communicate with, and I hope I can. This is going to require a change-- just a second. Now, I'm constrained by the length of my wires, can you all just bear with me here?

This is what has been called a perfect problem. And if you think about the components of this, the problem is one of long-term. It's one that invites a lot of skepticism because the science is complicated. The time lag between cause and effect is maybe 30 or so years between the time we emit heat-trapping gases to the effects that we see.

Denial is real easy with this issue. It's so easy to say it's not really happening. It's not my problem. It's an issue that has gotten caught up in the partisan disputes between right and left. It's a problem of motivation and collective action-- how to we summon the wherewithal to act collectively, especially when the main beneficiaries will be far into the future?

And then, it pits nation against nation. It's a global, national kind of problem. So that if we "sacrifice" here, then other countries-- let's say the developed countries-- are not sacrificing nearly as much. So it's a real problem in more ways than I think we typically have faced.

The cartoonist Walt Kelly had the Pogo cartoon. It was a great cartoon for many years, but one of the most famous of those cartoons, Walt Kelly had Pogo say, "We have met the enemy and he is us." And that's the climate change problem. Carbon as a source of energy or carbon-based fuels is the main power source for the society.

It's insinuated into everything we do. It's how we eat. It's how we travel. It's how we provide heat, warmth, and so forth.

Three curves, this is the Keeling curve-- all of you have seen this many times before, but David Keeling went to Mauna Loa in 1958, and the carbon level in the atmosphere that he measure was about 315 parts per million. We're now at about 385 parts per million. This is a second curve-- this is Swiss Re. This the number of climate-driven weather disasters that they chart and grab, because they've got to pay the bills for these. This is a graph of hottest hot, wettest wets, driest dries, windiest wind conditions, based on lots of different data. This appeared in that environmental rag, Fortune Magazine.

This is a graphic from the Stern review-- Nicholas Stern, commissioned by the British Exchequer to describe the economics of climate change. And what you did here was really quite interesting. The graphic starts off with 1 degree, 2 degree, 3 degree, 4 degree centigrade changes, and then a series of areas-- food, energy, water, ecosystem, services, and so forth. So as the arrows go from yellow to orange to red, the issues become more severe.

A couple of things are interesting about the graphic. One is, these things are self-contained. When in reality, they're not self-contained. If we were to make a graphic that really worked here, you'd see lots of crosshatch and connections. Obviously, what happens to the hydrosphere affects food, disease, ecosystem services, and so forth. The second thing to note here, is that at 1 degree, or less than 1 degree centigrade warming, we're already seeing the effects of global warming appear to the left of where this particular graphic shows it. But still, this is, other than the IPCC, one of the finest summations of the issue of climate change.

The red line depicts where we are now at about 0.8 of a degree warmer. This is what we've always done. And one of the great scientific triumphs, I think, of the 20th century was the development of this science called thermometry-- how do you take the temperature of a whole planet? Well, now we can do it with considerable reliability.

This is what we're committed to. And it's a warming of another half of a degree centigrade to maybe one full degree centigrade. But if we were to stop emitting heat-trapping gases today, this is what we're now committed to deal with. And then, increasingly, the finely-hatched line here depicts what I believe is a more or less a consensus number, that at about 2 degrees centigrade warming is a threshold beyond which we really don't want to go.

This is a point of no return. But if it's a 2, or 2.2, or 2.5, or 1.5, it's clear that we're, in terms of climate change, in the danger zone. This graphic summarizes several things here. One is that when Jim Hansen said several years ago that we had 10 years to solve climate change, he wasn't just talking about figuring that out, he was talking about starting deflection downward of heat-trapping gases.

And then there should be-- this is the wrong number here-- something here that says we probably don't want to go past maybe 400 or 450 parts per million CO2 or CO2 equivalent. And then, this number, at 2 degrees centigrade warming, this appears to be the threshold. This is a graphic taken from the fourth report of the IPCC. You've all seen this. And there are some heat-trapping gases that are on the positive side. There are some that retard the effect of heat-trapping. But the sum total is down here. The total forcing is roughly about, give or take, 1.5 watts per square meter around the planet.

The news keeps coming out-- and I'm an outsider that looks at the science, but if you read Science magazine, or Nature, or proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they're a regular drumbeat of news. Most all of it is bad, or it's worse than what was once thought before. This is a report that came out this past fall, and the interesting take-home message in here is that the amount of carbon going in the atmosphere is actually increasing. And there is a decreasing effect of the sinks absorbing carbon. So the ocean uptake, for example, carbon has dropped rather dramatically in the last few years.

A couple of other graphics-- these are, again, taken from the fourth IPCC report. And this is the range of temperature estimates with error bars. No one knows exactly how hot, how much forcing results and how much warming, but we're in a danger zone. And this is, again, a graphic from IPCC.

What does this mean? Well, one of the things that means is higher rainfall or more severe rainfall events. We had two back-to-back four and half inch rains in Cleveland, Ohio, unprecedented tornado hit in Pittsburgh, a tornado hit in Brooklyn. These things are mostly unprecedented.

This is from the consultative group on international agricultural and research. The area that is in yellow crosshatched, this area is where you can grow wheat now. In 2050 they say it'll be up in Canada. And, of course, this is on the Canadian Shield where soils are a lot less suitable for growing wheat.

And then there are graphics like this. This is taken from the science section of New York Times every Tuesday, and this was late last fall, but the rate of arctic melting has been increasing, and dramatically so. This was not reflected in a third report of the IPCC and not adequately in the fourth report either. And the rate of melting has increased from 2005. One report has it roughly doubling what they thought in 2005. This is the Greenland ice sheet. Everything here in red is subject to melting.

And then there's the issue of sea level rise-- what happens as seas rise and arctic melting continues in Greenland and the west Antarctic ice sheet. So the metric is down here, and you see areas-- New Orleans basically disappears and the lower Mississippi goes under water. The same is true in Florida and along the coastal regions. At a six foot sea level rise, most of downtown Charleston, South Carolina goes under water.

So global warming? No. This isn't global warming. This is planetary destabilization-- radically different kind of thing. And so we know that sea levels arise from thermal expansion of water and from melting ice. We know that the storms, perhaps the number of storms may or may not increase but storm severity will certainly increase. That is seemingly known now.

Disease and famine will change dramatically and for the worse. Drought and heat waves become much more likely and probable. Change in ecosystems-- the forest of the southeast and the Appalachian forest will begin to disappear, apparently, at present rates, around to 2050. Coral bleaching affects now, I'm told, about half the corals in the world. Political and economic disorder will be more frequent. The death toll from climate change driven weather events now, we're told, exceeds 150,000 people per year.

So here is the sum of this-- we're already committed to substantial warming. Whether it's 1.4 to 1.8 degrees centigrade in warming, but we're already committed to a very substantial warming of the earth at a pace that is quite unprecedented. There is this lag between cause and effect of roughly, say, 30 years, from the time we emit heat-trapping gases to the time we see the weather effects. That, I'm told, will drop to 20 years, because the uptake of carbon in the oceans will decrease.

And this is hard news. It's too late to avoid trauma. It's already too late for the people on the island of Tuvalu and parts of Alaska that are directly in the crosshairs of immediate climate change, but it is not too late to avoid the worst of what could otherwise lie ahead. There's no easy way out. There is no magic bullet solution. There is, in the words of several writers, silver buckshot, but no silver bullet that gets us out of the whole thing.

And then, finally, I think Al Gore had it right that this is the first planetary emergency since we've been on the planet as an identifiable species. Where do we have to go? Well, this is from Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, and she argues that we have to go from 22 tons of carbon dioxide down to two tons per person. On average, Americans emit about 22 or 23 tons of CO2. We've got to go on a stringent carbon diet-- 80-90% kind of diet.

And this is interesting, because this is the bargain and the political dialogue a good bit of the next 50 years will be around the nature of this bargain, and how actually to get there. And the bargain is roughly that the third world countries and developing countries will allow us to survive, but in return for equity. And there's going to be some hard bargaining about how this occurs. But any one of a number of countries-- China is building 1,000 megawatts of coal-fired electricity per week can tip the climate into a radically different state and one that we will not live.

What do we do about this? And the second part of the talk is this-- there are a number of us who've gathered around-- about 100-150-- in an effort to create a climate action plan for the next US administration focusing specifically on the first 100 days of that administration. So we're patterning this after the Roosevelt administration in 1933. No mind that the first 100 days the Roosevelt administration weren't all that great, but we've taken at that focal point.

And you can go on the web that and download the entire document. The final version will roll out in September of 2008. We’re making the document available and actually meeting with the various presidential candidates that were willing to meet with us.

In thinking about this, there are several assumptions that we've made in this. And this one way, this is a-- Gary Larson is one of my favorite cartoonists. But this is the Larson's way of describing the issue. Objects in the mirror are a whole lot closer than they appear. And one of the things that is driving us is the belief that climate change is severe, it is here, it's real, and it is a lot closer than we might otherwise want to believe.

Secondly, we've made the assumption that climate change isn't a matter of left or right. It's not a Republican issue or Democratic issue, it's a matter that affects all of us, left and right, liberal or conservative. And it really doesn't matter a great deal what your politics are.

And so we made an assumption that this is an issue that on which we need the support of liberals, we need the support of conservatives and independents, but this is an issue, quite clearly, that transcends politics. This is like World War II. It is in every way a national and global emergency. So this is an issue that transcends politics.

And then the third assumption we've made is that this issue is one that is not an item on a list, but in fact the linchpin that connects every item on the list. And if we get climate change and energy policy right, we will get lots of other things right as a result. We'll get security right, and equity, and economic development right, and so forth. But this is not an issue that is simply one of a lot of other things, and if we get this one right we'll work our way down that list. No. Climate change and energy policy is the linchpin that connects those items.

There's another assumption we've made. Do you remember the movie, Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men, and Tom Cruise, the young Jag attorney? Do you remember the film? And Cruise says to Nicholson-- there's been a murder on a marine base-- I just want you to tell me the truth. And Nicholson, in the photograph here, says, "You can't handle the truth," and spits the words out.

And there's a certain pedigree for that view-- that humans, as TS Eliot once put it, can't handle much reality. And so, the way we would treat people with this issue of climate change is to tell them what somebody's phrase is, happy talk. You know, screw in a compact fluorescent light bulb, buy a Prius, build a green building, and all will be well. And that isn't the truth. That's not what the scientists are by and large telling us.

There's another view here, and it's depicted by Winston Churchill as the bombs are falling in London in 1940. Churchill didn't tell the British people, hey, we can beat Nazis at a profit, or--


What a terrific opportunity for urban renewal. Although it was and they blew it. But that's a whole other matter. Churchill's response was, I don't have anything to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. And he summoned the British people to heroism. And so, between these two perspectives, we have decided that the president's climate action plan has got to be about as clear and as true a vision of the science of climate change as we can possibly muster. And some of that is going to be unpleasant, but that's just the truth as best we can understand it.

This is a graphic that shows the variety of climate proposals out there. This is business as usual. Each of these down here-- you can go to the website and download this particular graphic, but this is a series of assumptions about how much carbon we have got to remove. This is our proposal after a lot of consideration. We've got to go to 80% or 90% carbon reduction by 2050. It really does need to be front-loaded so a lot of the emissions occur early on.

But you can compare a variety of plans. I think the science is slowly pushing everybody in this direction. I was on the phone the other day with a couple of national figures, and their assumption is that we'll have to go to 100% carbon reduction by 2050. But the science is shoving us in that direction that. We'll have to simply balance the carbon books-- no net carbon in the atmosphere.

This is a graphic from Rob Socolow and Stephen protocol Pacala, which a lot of you have seen. It takes this big issue of carbon reductions and divides it into a series of wedges. Each wedge is about 25 billion tons of carbon reduction in total by the year 2050. And so, there are a variety of options here being discussed about this. And it's a handy way to think about the issue.

How do we begin this long-term deflection downward? How much can efficiency take out? And how much can solar power do, and so forth? The main criteria for these-- are really, however, pretty simple. Whatever we do can't cause other problems. And so, if we're trying to eliminate carbon and we say we'll go to nuclear power-- well, nuclear has a number of things that I'll talk about in just a moment. But that really is kind of problem-switching, because nuclear has its own suite and set of problems.

And so the criteria here ought to be, first of all that we don't simply switch problems from one to another. And secondly, the criteria here our energy policy and climate policy really ought to solve lots of other things. How about a policy that speaks to security, as well as climate stability and renewable energy, and other sorts of things?

And thirdly, it's got to be technically feasible. What we do has got to be-- if it's feasible maybe in 20 years or 50 years, it's simply too late to meet this criteria that we really only have 10 or 15 years maybe max in which to solve this issue. And then, the criteria here-- the metric for success-- really, again, is very simple. It is the amount of carbon eliminated per dollar spent. And so, it's the same criteria that any businessman would have for the expenditure of investment capital, but it's the amount, in this case, of carbon not profitability per dollar invested.

And then, it's got to be deployed quickly. We don't have time to wait for something that might be advantageous in 50 years and so forth. And then finally, we would hope that what we do, in terms of energy policy and climate. is repairable, and redundant, and locally accessible.

So here is coal. And the argument is, we have so much coal, it's easily available, we can mine it, we've got, it is said, 200 years of coal supply available. And then you look at the life cycle of coal, and it raises a number of issues, not the least of which is, what do you do with the ashes? And can you sequester carbon? And I should have a question mark here.

If you're on the East Coast and your energy comes from Appalachian coal, this is more and more the topography of coal mining in Appalachia. It's mountaintop removal. And what happens in mountaintop removal, you take the Appalachian hills in this case, and you simply lop off the tops of the mountains and dump the spoil-- or what's called overburden, an interesting term-- into the valleys. And so, this is about 1.5 million acres of Appalachian forest, some of the most fecund kind and beautiful forest ever on the planet and also one of the great carbon sinks in the United States. We've covered over-- or what has been covered over so far is about 1,000 or 1,200 miles of streams.

This is a graphic taken from Ed Mazria. If we burn all the gas, and oil, and so forth, this is the forcing potential here. But if we burn all the coal, this takes us well past the point of 450 parts per million. If we burn all the coal we begin to approach a figure of 1,000 parts per million CO2. That is utter and total disaster.

This is President Bush and Vice President Cheney's energy plan. It is to build 150 coal-fired power plants in the United States. But if they're built and operate to the end of their effective economic lifespan, they'll admit more carbon, it is said, than we admitted as a nation from 1750 until about the year 2000. Ball game is over-- you wouldn't survive that.

And then there's this issue of carbon sequestration-- the belief that we can take carbon, either prior to combustion or after combustion, and sequester this in deep geologic formations. And there are a number of questions about this. One is, can we do this at a scale necessary for roughly 600,000 megawatt coal-fired power plants? And frankly, we don't know.

The study That MIT did last spring that was published by MIT Press leaves the question open. They're optimistic, but it's going to take another decade or of research to find out. But remember, we don't have that decade. And then, secondly, can you hold carbon below ground permanently? And if you can't, what's the point of doing it?

Thirdly, we don't really know what the cost of carbon sequestration would be. The cost is still a variable. But it would certainly drive the cost of electricity up from $0.9 a kilowatt hour, give or take as a national average, to $0.12 or $0.15 or $0.20 a kilowatt hour. We just don't know.

And then, the issue here is, is it cost competitive relative to the cheapest alternatives? Which in this case, would be efficiency and renewables. And then, finally, there's this issue, again, that any good businessman would ask, how much does it take to get how much out? And so the energy return on investment with this-- we don't know how much energy would be invested in carbon sequestration and carbon capture.

Well, how about nuclear power? There's a lot of talk about nuclear being carbon neutral and so forth and. So in examination of nuclear power, this happens to be the photograph of the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant not far from where I live. I'm about 50 miles as a sober crow would fly this. I'm assuming that inebriated crows would fly a sober crow straight.


But I'm in the outer evacuation perimeter of this plant. And it came very close to a loss of coolant accident a few years ago. A workman leaned on a line going into the containment vessel and a chunk of the containment vessel broke off-- roughly the size of a diameter, say, of a football. And it turns out that it was a lot closer than anybody anticipated and a lot closer than the utility admitted.

But here are the issues with nuclear power-- highly subsidized-- it's subsidized energy form in the world-- there are still questions of safety. It isn't just Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Davis-Besse, there are routinely, regular near accidents, and so forth. The safety record is not great. We're not told a whole lot about it, but from what we can find out, it's not very good.

Thirdly, if you can make a reactor, you are a long way toward making a bomb. So this is problem-switching. And the problem in this case is the question of bomb material and nuclear proliferation. And then, there is a question of cost. 1,000 megawatts of coal fired electricity, again, relative to the next cheapest kind of thing that we might do, is a question of net energy.

And net energy, in this case, starts at the mining of uranium, enrichment of uranium-- which we do at public expense-- the operation of the power plant, the entombment of the reactor at the end of its effective lifetime-- we don't just walk away from these things. You've got to cover them in concrete and keep people away from them. And then there's the issue of waste storage.

And so the question here is not how much power the plant produces, but also how much energy it uses all the way through that cycle. And is this going to be a net energy producer or not? And we're not told whether it is or isn't. And then the question of, is this really carbon neutral? Well, it depends on what an economist would call the opportunity costs. If you put the equivalent of that amount of money into, let's say, efficiency and renewables, how much carbon reduction might you have gotten. If the answer is a lot more than you got with nuclear power, then it's pretty clear that nuclear, on its own, is not carbon neutral.

And then there's waste storage and the question of civil liberties, which has kind of disappeared from the public dialogue. If you have a solar collector on your roof, the FBI is probably not going to keep a file on you. But if you've spoken out against nuclear power, they have some reason to keep a file on you, and to keep track of groups that are anti-nuclear in the event that they might be terrorist groups. So nuclear power in an age of terrorism and great concern-- legitimate concern-- about terrorist attacks, simply amplifies what is already an existing problem.

And then there are issues here, and I'm not go over this slide, but there is a question of what happens in the event of an accident. And we have insured nuclear power plants since 1957 through an act called the Price-Anderson act. So utilities are protected against the upper-level of disaster. And who pays? Well, you and I would pay for this.

And then there are biofuels. And biofuels are now the rage in the Midwest, because of subsidies for corn ethanol. But biofuels raise other and similar kinds of issues. And you can look at the options before us here-- this slide shows falling energy return on investment. If you had invested in, let's say, Spindletop in East Texas in 1900, Spindletop returned about $100 for every dollar invested in it. And so that was a pretty good return on investment.

But over time, the energy return on investment has fallen. Even things that we like, wind power and so forth, the energy return on investment will never again be what it once was for cheap, portable fossil fuels. And biofuels, in particular, have a variety of characteristics. So the entire corn crop here, for example, equals only 12% of US gasoline use. And that, of course, puts food and fuel in competition on scarce farmland.

So again, there's no magic bullet solution here. There will be a series of solutions, but biofuels on their own won't do it. And certain biofuels, like ethanol from corn, won't do it at all. And then, if we use farmland to grow fuels, we end up with issues that, again, have ecological ramifications. Nitrogen used in growing corn it's a heavy nitrogen user. Down in Mississippi it creates the dead zone off the mouth of the Mississippi and so forth. So there's a series of problems associated with biofuels.

What options do we have? We've always had options. The Paley Commission report in the early 1950s showed that we could get a substantial part of our energy from sunlight in efficiency, but we didn't follow that path. It wasn't because the technology didn't exist or couldn't be developed, it was because it was out competed in halls of Congress in various kinds of ways to subsidize.

This is Amory Lovins's view of what the world might have been based on an article in Foreign Affairs in 1976. And this is what Lovins described as the hard path. This is what he called the soft path. This is a lot of efficiency, and caulk guns, and duct tape, and insulation, and so forth. This is a lot of big power plants and a lot of capital investment.

This is the line that Amory depicts, and we've actually been on, we’ve more or less been on a soft path but with lots more potential to move in that direction. What's the transition to a soft path look like? Well, it's fairly straightforward-- nothing new here.

It means efficient transport. It means taking the CAFE standards that's happened in the recent energy bill-- bumping them to 35. But 35 miles per gallon is still well below what we can do. We can do a lot better than 35. Some of you in the audience drive Priuses at 45 or 50 miles per gallon. The business page in New York Times today describes Toyota making a plug-in hybrid that will get upwards of 150 to 200 miles per gallon. So we have the technology to do a whole lot better than the current CAFE standard even as raised.

Can you build high performance buildings? Well, the LEED standards and the Architecture 2030 Challenge-- can you make buildings powered by sunlight that are zero carbon emitters. The answer is, probably, yes. Energy efficiency and distributed energy-- this is windmills, and solar collectors, and micro turbines. We have a distributed computing system. And for some of the same technological reasons we'll have, before long, I think, a distributed energy system if the policy we follow is correct.

Prices that tell the truth. And the big price here that is the lie in our society is we priced carbon at 0 up to this point. And so, all the climate legislation is about getting the price of carbon right, either cap and trade system, or taxation, or some combination of both. And then begin to shift taxes-- so we tax things that we really don't want like carbon or toxic pollution, and we take taxes off things that we do want.

And then ending subsidies worldwide-- perverse subsidies [INAUDIBLE] Norman Meyer's study a few years ago showed that we subsidize things we really don't want on the planet to the tune of about $1.4 trillion to $2 trillion per year. Could we power the United States by sunlight in efficiency? A report from the American Solar Energy Society two years ago showed that, yeah, we could-- we have a good chance of doing that-- and that the country may be running out of oil.

Oil production or extraction peaked in this country about 1970. But we are an energy rich nation. And what they did was to look at a whole variety of things, from geothermal to wind and solar--


--States is an energy rich nation. And the cost-- the economics of renewables are falling dramatically. Every renewable is becoming much more cost effective and the technology is becoming much better. And the advantages of doing this-- I'll not read this slide, but you can read it as I talk about it. But the advantages of doing this are huge. There just is not a downside.

Every item on this list was known in the 1970s during the debate-- if you were old enough to recall the debate-- that began with the first Arab oil embargo of 1973 and between the second in 1979. This was known a long time ago. And the fact that this was known, that there are multiple reasons for efficiency and renewables, not the least of which it makes us independent of Middle Eastern oil, gets us out of the politics of that region, and saves us from a lot of other disadvantages-- terrorism or wherever else you'd want to mention. But all of this was known. The fact it wasn't acted on, however, indicates a rather massive political failure.

And then there's the issue of efficiency. This is average household electrical use in the United States. This is California. They were tracking together pretty much in the early years in the 70s and 80s. What California did, however, was to dissociate profitability-- decouple profitability-- from sales. And so utilities finally had an interest in providing efficiency, not just selling more kilowatt hours. It was part of a national policy. Could this work in the United States or other states? The answer is, overwhelmingly, yes. And efficiency works in all kinds of different ways.

This is a graphic that shows the average efficiency trends in refrigeration. If you bought a refrigerator in 1975, you bought a machine that used about 1750 kilowatt hours of electricity. But state of are now is about 200 kilowatt hours of electricity. Better machine, same size cubic footage huge capacity, but a better machine and cheaper. And so efficiency has dropped dramatically. You can easily go into a Sears store or whatever and buy a machine that's around 300 kilowatt hours. Although, state of the art, if you want to spend a bit more, is 200.

This is one of two photovoltaic arrays at the Lewis Center at Oberlin College. This is about a 60 KW array. This is the cost per for photovoltaics, again, dropping dramatically-- the market rising at the rate of about 40% per year. And you can see that in the United States we backed off a commitment toward renewable energy. We were driving the process until a few decades ago, and then we leveled out. In the meantime, Japan took the lead.

This is Sherrod Brown, our new senator from the state of Ohio. This is the second array. This is a 100 KW array. Just after this photograph was taken, Sherrod asked me, where did you buy this equipment? And I said, well, our choices in the time we had to make the decision were Germany on one hand and Japan on the other.

Of course, the irony was not lost on him, a lot of the technology necessary to manufacture photovoltaics was developed 24 miles from where this photograph was taken at the NASA Glenn Space Center at the Cleveland Airport. But we pay unemployment checks in Ohio. We buy our high tech equipment from overseas. This is the Lewis Center. This is, as far as I can tell, still the only entirely solar-powered building on a US college campus. And I'll not talk about the program, but this has been largely hyper-successful.

Could we power the United States with wind power? Well here is some data from NREL. All of you know about this. This is the Saudi Arabia of wind. And four states-- go ahead and back off in just a second-- North Dakota, Texas, Kansas, and South Dakota, in that order, have enough wind potential to provide the entire electrical budget for the United States. Now, that doesn't mean we can move electrons to either coast easily, but that's something about the potential.

As the technology has developed, we can harvest wind at slower and slower speeds. And so, could we power the United States by wind power? This is a wind field near Bowling Green, Ohio, not far from where I live. This was thought to be a marginal investment, it's turned out to be actually a very good investment. So the utility in this case, AMP Ohio is expanding this wind field and developing a second wind field nearby.

The numbers here are from the Apollo project, but imagine aiming to create three million jobs and generate trillions of dollars of revenue. Imagine manufacturing wind equipment in the United States. One of the most successful businesses now in Cleveland, Ohio, an old rust belt city, is a manufacturing of these two or three ton gearboxes that sit on top of the wind turbines-- these boxes right here. But imagine not buying wind machines from Denmark, but making them in the United States as we once did.

The issue here is not just an economic issue, it really is not economics at all. The economics are persuasive. It isn't a technical issue. Do we have the capacity to power the country by sunlight and wind in efficiency? And the answer is, overwhelmingly, yes, we do. What we lack is the political commitment to do it.

Is the public for this? Well, look at the numbers here. Invest in solar wind, 91% support. And this is data from 2002, so this is older. But mandated-- not market development, but actually mandate-- efficient appliances 87%, buildings 86%, cars 85%. This is a New York Times poll from last spring, and, again, you see the support is dramatic. Are we changing climate? 84%, yes.

And look down here at the bottom item, the environment will be worst for our children, 57% say, yes. How sad can that be? But we cannot reconcile or be reconciled with that. We've got to stop that and begin to change this.

Is public opinion for us? This study came from Yale. Again, this is a 75% level. But if you'll notice, a whole variety of areas. There is a constituency emerging for doing something a whole lot smarter than we have been doing.

And then, finally, in terms of poll data, this is a BBC UN poll data from 21 countries, showing that large majorities, even in the United States, are ready to sacrifice, ready to be-- but nobody's thought yet to ask people to sacrifice in order to build this different economy and avoid the worst of what can happen. Are we fated to heed the heat death of the planet? And the answer, my friends, is just, overwhelmingly, no, we're not. This is a choice we make, by default or otherwise.

This is some reading material-- I'll skip over that for just the time being. Let me close with a couple of thoughts here. Posterity isn't really mentioned in the US constitution except in the preamble. And in the preamble it's just mentioned in passing. But there is no case law on behalf of posterity. All those-- the generations that will follow us.

But imagine a standard that says, no generation, no organization, no university, no town, no city, no country has the right to change the biogeochemical cycles of the earth or impair the stability, and integrity, and beauty of biotic systems. The consequences of which will always fall on future generations as a kind of remote tyranny. And you can hear it in those words, you can hear Thomas Jefferson and Aldo Leopold, and Bill McDonough, and some of you in this room.

This is a matter first and foremost of rights. And that's what the PCAT project is about. These are my three grandchildren. And I put them on a screen, because they are real cute. But this is Louis. Louis is age eight, and he just cracked his chin open and had to get eight stitches.

But he's full of fun and humor, and he's a great little guy-- like sports. He plays baseball, and soccer, and basketball. And he's told his dad who was an All State basketball player that he's going to beat him one-on-one by the time he's 15 or sooner. And I believe you'll do it.

His sister, Molly, is in the middle. And Molly is age five. Her New Year's resolution-- I've told a couple of you-- this year, when asked what she wanted to do to make herself better in 2008, she said, she was going to stop biting people.


But she thought it might take her the better part of a year to do that. Louis, in response to the same question, told his dad, my son, who is an Episcopal priest, that he just couldn't think of any way to improve himself. But he could think of a lot of ways mom and dad could improve themselves.


This is Ruby Kate. Ruby Kate is a two and half, and she is very verbal. Her mom is an attorney, her dad's a computer worker. And these three kids, they're not only my grandkids, but the point of putting them on the screen is that they have no voice relative to the future that they will inherit. They're children. What we call posterity have no standing.

They have no voice unless we are that voice. Unless we are loud and clear, they have no rights relative to the world we're creating for them. The Fifth Amendment and the 14th Amendment to US Constitution say that we can't deprive people of life, liberty, and property without due process of law. But they have no due process that applies to posterity.

And then, finally, a couple of thoughts. What does the politics look like? The president's climate action is about changing the nature of US politics and global politics.

One of my favorite books, and one of my favorite writers and people is Thomas Berry, the great Catholic philosopher and theologian. And Tom Berry a couple of years ago wrote a book called The Great Work. And no generation asks for its great work. Those farm guys in 1860 didn't really want to go die in the battlefields of Antietam, and Gettysburg, and Shiloh, and such places, but that was the work that they took on their shoulders to do. It was to end the scourge of slavery once and for all this country. That was their great work.

Our great work, I think, looks like this-- number one, we've got to do the hard work of balancing the carbon books. We've got to end carbon as a free gift to industry and to private consumption. But we've got to balance the carbon books.

Second, we've got to make a rapid transition to efficiency and to renewable energy. We know how to do this. This is not a matter of technology, it's not a matter of economics, it's a matter of willpower and leadership.

Thirdly, we've got to create a global bargain. This is not something we can do the United States alone. We've got to deal with all the world. And, hopefully, we can lead the world in this direction. But this will be hard bargaining.

We've got 22 tons of carbon dioxide per person that we release down to two tons per person. And that means moving to efficiency and renewables as rapidly as possible, and making the kind of changes in lifestyle-- a phrase I don't much like, it sounds too ephemeral. But we've got to change the way we live and the way we provision ourselves with food, energy, water, and materials. That's a design issue.

And then, I think we need a whole new way to think about our role in the world. The precautionary principle has more cache and power, let's say, in Europe than it does in the United States. We have to begin to think about, how do we eliminate risk and exposure of risk? What does it mean to be precautionary and cautious relative to technology? And then these words humility-- it doesn't play very well in the United States in fairness and so forth. But we have to begin to create a very different approach. This, in every way, is an ethical issue.

And then, Howard Odum, who was one of the great ecological thinkers of the 20th century, died in the late 1990s. But Howard Odum his brother Eugene were, more than anybody else, the fathers of modern ecology. Howard and his wife Elizabeth, before he died, wrote a book called A Prosperous Way Down. We've got to begin to envision a very different world.

I think the title is unfortunate, but it's a different way to think about prosperity. We've always known that growth and growth economy didn't make us happy. So we've seen growth go up like this, but happiness peaked and kind of leveled out about 1957. Isn't that interesting? And so, is there a different way to think about how we become prosperous and what this world looks like?

And it's a world of front porches, and better poetry leagues, and baseball, and coherent downtowns, and local farms, and better food. It does not have to be bad. This is not down, it's really kind of sideways.

And then, finally, let me close with this. I think this is a very different kind of political. We're asking the President of the United States-- the next president inaugurated in January 2009-- to help lead us in a political Renaissance, to see politics not as left versus right, conservative versus liberal, but to take on the national business in a way that brings us together around this great work. We have got to do this.

And it's work that is both ethical, it's economic, it's technological. It engages everything that happens at a university or college. But it is the politics of trusteeship. It's the politics of seeing ourselves midway between that distant past and that far future as trustees of this incredibly precious gift that came to us as life. Could we reorganize our politics around the preservation, and protection, and enhancement of life for as far out in the future as we can possibly think? Thank you very much.


Audience Question:

[INAUDIBLE]. But it seems to me that the real truth, or some of the problems [INAUDIBLE] the energy services. The whole country's social fabric is based on cheap energy. A period of cheap energy [INAUDIBLE] demographic shifts that [INAUDIBLE] Arizona. Looking at this sort of a situation that it is now. Why is it, in your opinion, there's no real discussion about that, the massive consumption-- the aesthetics of IKEA that provides for consumption at a rate that really privileges disposable services [INAUDIBLE].

David Orr:

Yeah. I think it's a good issue. For those of you that may not heard the question, why focus just on the supply side, how we create energy and [INAUDIBLE] the demand side?? Thanks for that question. I think that's very good.

There is a debate emerging about consumption. There was slow food movement. There's also something called a slow movement-- just slow everything down.


And there's something to be said to that. Betsy Taylor organized some years ago, not an anti-consumption movement-- well, yeah, it was anti-consumption too. There's the shopping-free day movement. I mean, there are a lot people thinking about this. And I don't know that it's ready yet for primetime in the national debate.

I don't know what would happen in a debate if Obama, or John MccCain, or somebody would say, hey, you've got to consume less. I'm not sure how that would go over. But eventually, you're exactly right, we have got to talk about this.

And I think we could be talking about it in a way that it's a quality of life issue. I think there are ways to envision everything going to hell in a handbasket and climate change comes on like a ton of brick. And things fall apart, and you can't eat, and so forth. And that is a plausible scenario.

On the other hand, what we're hoping with the president's climate action is we're asking the next president of the United States to exert leadership on this issue, to help frame a very different future for us-- help us understand what we have to do. And there's no big mystery here. I don't think there is.

So I would take your point. And to me, that's a world, again, of front porches and coherent downtowns, less sprawl, fewer shopping malls, more bike trails, more local book clubs, better baseball leagues. It's a world where we-- is it nirvanic? No. Is it nostalgia? No.

But it's a world we know how to create. And if we look, for example, in the development market, the best developments now are downtown infill developments that mimic the old European cities where you street-level activity, and you have restaurants, and stores, and so forth, and people living above it, and pocket parks. And that's what people are paying for. That's what they want.

People are hungry for community. And in a lot of ways, the shopping mall and consumption, or over-consumption is a substitute for community and friendship. But you all know that. There's nothing new. But I don't know that' we're ready yet to have that debate nationally.

We didn't put that in the PCAT report specifically. But I think that the pricing carbon-- cap and trade system or taxation-- will have the effect of driving up the price and will virtually-- well, a lot of things. Anything that has a carbon footprint is going to become more expensive. So we'll get to this debate. But, thanks for your question. I wish we were making that debate.

Audience Question (David Eisenberg):

I'm David Eisenberg. I'm Director of the Development Center for Appropriate Technology in Tucson. And one of the things that I was thinking about that's little talked about in the realm of energy efficiency and renewable energy is actually to understand what it costs to have non-renewable energy and energy deficient buildings, and cars, and all the rest of that-- appliances. There is research that you can find-- Rocky Mountain Institute, and Hunter Lovins, and others-- that shows that, on average, in most communities somewhere between $0.70 and $0.80 of every dollar spent on energy immediately leaves the local economy.

So if you just think about $0.75 of every dollar you spend essentially bleeding out of your community, what larger local economic development engine could you imagine actually creating the jobs and businesses to stem that bleeding, and then to keep much of that wealth in the local community. So we keep looking at what these things cost as though there's not an enormous cost to what we're already doing.

And there's another thing, which is the re-localization movement. Which is not anti-globalization, it's about enhancing and redeveloping the capacity to meet local needs as locally as possible. And those are things that I think fit in really well.

And the last thing I just want to put out there is, John FC Turner gave a really great and important definition of appropriate technology, which is that it's technology that ordinary people can use for their own benefit and the benefit of their community that doesn't make them dependent on systems over which they have no control. And I think if you look at these different approaches, including, especially, nuclear power and a lot of these centralized power system, what you see is that they're basically taking control of our future out of community hands.

David Orr:

Thanks for that. I agree with that. I think the point is that we have options and we have alternatives. And a good bit of national policy now, has got to be framed around the idea of opening more creativity and de-subsidizing-- taking money out of things that we really don't want and don't need.

Audience Question:

You talked about problem-switching, but isn't there also problems with doing solar power on that large of scale in terms of the resources, the palladium or whatever, the stuff that goes into the photovoltaic cells and the toxic waste latent to the producing of those solar cells, that we couldn't actually do solar power on that scale. And short- and long-range future, putting things up-- building it on the Moon and putting it into orbit-- that kind of stuff.

David Orr:

Well, next question.

[LAUGHTER] Yeah. There are downsides to everything. It’s planet Earth, and we're humans, and so forth. And I think that the point of your question, I think, is really good. And that is to be honest and do full cost accounting for everything and not have a system where we say, ah, it's solar, it's automatically good. I think on toxicity of solar manufacturing, NASA, some years ago, developed a solar thing.

I used to travel around with this. It was a little, solar piece of [INAUDIBLE] plastic. It was about the thickness of a plastic placemat. And the top part, the top third, was [INAUDIBLE] material and the bottom two thirds was storage. And the technology for a lot of this has been done. And they took great pains to make sure it was non-toxic.

And one of the companies like Nanosolar and some of the new start-ups are going to generate non-toxic materials. I don't know how. I'm not an expert in that field. But the point you're making is a really good point, and that is, we do full-cost accounting for everything. But we basically level the playing field. And that has not happened so far.

The Energy Bill in 2005 gave the nuclear industry $13 billion in subsidies. And imagine what $13 billion would do to promote efficiency. And I think the first rule here is to value efficiency in all kinds of ways, to eliminate energy use by using direct sunlight, by designing communities with proximity, and doing all things and we know how to do, to simply eliminate the possibility of having generate power in the first place.

And all of you have seen, there are variety of studies that show that we could eliminate 25%, 50%, the biggest number I've seen is 75% of US energy use is simply waste. And whatever the number is, we know, in fact, that it's a very large fraction of the total. So anyway, thanks for the question. The point is really well taken.

Yes, all the way in back. Do you want to just stand up and be real loud?

Audience Question (Paul Hirt):

OK. I'm Paul Hirt from the Department of History. As some of your slides showed, we've known about the scope and scale of our problems for quite some time. We've had the technologies available for solving some of those problems, especially in the energy field, for quite some time. Two questions-- why do you think, for the last 10 or 15 years, with the knowledge and technology available we've been either stagnant or sliding backwards in our national policy at least? And why are you optimistic, if indeed you are optimistic, that we can actually make that steep change and begin to solve these problems now?

David Orr:

OK. Now, I really do want the next question.


Paul, I think that-- Nicholas Stern, for example, describes, in the Stern Review, the climate issue as the largest market failure in history. That's one way to think it. But as a market failure, it is, by variation a political failure. The political system ought to regulate the market [INAUDIBLE] set the terms by which markets work. And so then you would real quickly have the issue of, what happened, or what has happened, or was has not happened in US politics.

And let me mention two things. Now, I don't want to surprise anybody in the room, Number one is that we have the best political system money can buy.


That's an old Will Rogers line. But if we want to get serious about sustainability, at some point we've got to say we're going to make the same separation between money in politics that we allegedly have between religion and government. We pay for elections anyway. Why don't we just pay them out of the federal purse and outlaw contributions to political campaigns.

The Supreme Court in its wisdom, however, has said that political contributions are an expression of free speech. And that is simply absurd. Second, and related to that, when Ben Bagdikian wrote his classic book in 1980 on the media in the United States, Media Monopoly, he complained that we only had 50 major media outlets. And now, we're down to five. One of which is Fox News, which is an oxymoron.


And so, what the public hears is increasingly homogenized, dumbed down, and driven by the requirements of the market. So in spring of 2005, when the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report came out, the largest assessment of the state of the planet ever done. 1,000 or some scientists worked on that, some of you may be in the room. On the evening it came out, or on the morning it came out, that was page eight, if I recall correctly, of the New York Times. And it got about six column inches.

Guess what was page one? Terry Schiavo. The fact the planet was dying got page eight, six inches, and she was front page news, as was that particular day, Michael Jackson. And all of you in the room know a whole lot more about Anna Nicole Smith and Britney Spears than you need to know.


So the media has been largely taken over. If you look at right-wing media in this country-- right-wing or talk radio-- talk radio is 91% by volume of time right-wing. And I always say right-wing, not conservative, because what passes now for conservatism isn't conservatism, it's merely recklessness. So whatever your politics are, we need to have a political conversation about this.

So what happened-- or what has not happened, I think, is largely political failure. And it isn't a right-wing or left-wing kind of thing. I don't believe it's that way at all. I think it's a failure across the board of the political system to deliver what we do. And I think that in the process, the blame in a democracy falls on you and me. We're the folks who make it go,

And we're the citizens who are the people. But we've been more consumer than we have been citizens. We have not paid attention. And we've selected some pretty awful people to represent us in Congress. No names intended here. You know the names as well as I do.

Am I optimistic about the future? Optimism isn’t prediction. Pessimism is irrelevant. And so, I'm going to say a ground, let's call it hopeful. But hope is verb with its sleeves rolled up. And it's always busy trying to change the odds. So I'm going to stay hopeful, partly because I've got three grandkids and a fourth on the way. But I'm going to be as hopeful as I can be.

EF Schumacher ended his book, A Guide for the Perplexed, by saying, if I ask whether humankind can make it and the answer comes back, no, well, I'm going to head to bar and eat, drink, and be merry. If the answer comes back, yes, I can get complacent. He says, better not to even pose the question, just get down to work. There's really good sense in that.

So the work before each of us, and the things that you can do as students, and you can do as faculty, administrators, and community people, simply get down to work and do what's before you, and don't pose the question. But for whatever reason, don't marinate in despair. But, having said this, I think it is absolutely essential to have the courage, and don't just blow off what IPCC is saying, or the Stern Review, or the climate scientists-- oh, that's just doom and gloom. Don't do that.

We've got to have the courage to look at the issues, read the science, understand what it means, and act appropriately. And I think, for me, that means act with a sense of urgency about this. And what's so exciting about being here at ASU is you're doing so much of what a university ought to be doing, and the leadership here is really quite incredible. A number of you in the room that are doing amazing things, and you're now a beacon for this larger dialogue about sustainability.

But a final thought here is, we don't do big dialogue things very well. But I think we need to. One of the things we've done in this president's climate action plan, is ask a couple of speechwriters, who've written speeches for George Bush, and Bill Clinton, and other people-- but they know how to communicate to the larger public-- draft a couple of template speeches for us. How does a president, assuming the will to do it, reach our hearts-- not just our pocketbooks? This is not a first edition is already sold, because we can defeat the problems of climate change and profit. We may do that. Or some of us may do it.

But this is, first of all, going to have to be a decision that comes out of the sense of our hearts and a commitment to life in the future. So it's going to call on us for a degree of, I think, frankly, durability. And, again, that's not a left or right. That’s all of us. We're liberal and conservative at various times in our lives [INAUDIBLE]. So it's not an issue that ought to be allowed to divide us on those grounds.

Thanks for your question.

Charles Redman:

I think we have to break. There is a class in this room. Let's all thank David Orr.


This presentation is brought to you by Arizona State University's Julia Anne Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, for educational and non-commercial use only.