16 Ideas for the Planet

The next 50 years are make-or-break
The way I look at it, global climate change and the environment have been important for quite some time. I hope they stay here in the forefront of the U.S. consciousness, but they may not. Something could relegate those issues to the margins tomorrow. Since 9/11, the situation has been fairly simple and straightforward: issues of terrorism and security have seized the public imagination to the extent that everything else has become a lesser priority. Anything that has a longer time horizon, like climate change, with a slower fuse to anticipate catastrophe, has to wait.

But clearly the salience of environmentalism has returned rather suddenly in the last 12 months, which is interesting because there hasn't been a real galvanizing event. Katrina for some people seems like a thing to come with a warmer world, but by no means is that clearly the case. But we certainly now have a shifting landscape in which almost nobody clings to the position that the science of climate change is bogus. Rather, the opposition has begun to say, "OK, it's happening, but there's nothing we can do about it." My guess is that this position will further weaken, because I think the gradual development of new technologies will show it is possible to make the leap. I am very confident that there will eventually be a post-fossil-fuel economy and that technology will extricate us from this awkward position we now find ourselves in. The way I see it, the next 50 years will be the eye of the needle through which we need to pass. That will not be easy.

Energy efficiency is the ultimate answer
If we're going to survive global warming, there are two things we must do. We have to move in the direction of renewable energy, such as wind and solar power, and we have to improve energy efficiency. You can measure it in different ways—passenger miles per gallon of gas, lumens per watt—but we need to think in terms of doubling efficiency. Not "conservation," which implies sacrifice. Efficiency doesn't involve sacrifice. If you compare a modern refrigerator with one from 1973, which was the year of the OPEC oil embargo, it's bigger, it's gotten rid of CFC refrigerants, its inflation-adjusted price is two thirds less—and it uses 75 percent less energy.

Have we picked all the low-hanging fruit already? There's no evidence for that at all. People wondered about that when refrigerators doubled their efficiency, and we went right on and doubled it again. There's virtually no end in sight. One area of interest right now is standby power. If I go to your house at 3 a.m. on a nice spring night, nothing but the refrigerator is actually "on," but you're probably consuming 80 watts in remote-controlled appliances such as televisions and garage-door openers and in cell-phone chargers. These devices used to draw around three watts each, but the California Energy Commission recently passed regulations that limit them to a half-watt. If you buy a cordless telephone in California in 2008, it will use one fifth the power it did a few years ago—and that will eventually be true everywhere in the world. Which brings me back to my main point: that while we do need to develop renewable-energy supplies, energy efficiency is the quickest and cheapest way to delay global warming.

We've got to get our kids outdoors more
Linking our children back to nature is one of the most challenging environmental issues we have. When I used to come home from school, my mom and dad just said, "Go out and play, and come back in time for dinner." But today, because of security issues, children aren't going outside and playing in nature as much anymore, because we want to know where they are every minute; there's a greater need for supervision. And, as much as we love our technology, many children prefer to come home and be on a computer and in a chair rather than being out of doors—it's what Richard Louv [a visiting scholar at Brandeis University and author of "Last Child in the Woods"] calls "nature-deficit disorder." It has health repercussions as well: there's a direct link between a lack of exposure to nature and higher rates of attention-deficit disorder, obesity and depression.

The best way to protect our resources for the future is by helping children develop an appreciation for the outdoors. It's part of a movement underway right now, with people across the nation working on how to get children linked back to nature. One of the things we're doing here at Clemson is, we're working on an institute that may help us link our parks back to our children and to people of different cultural backgrounds who may not be as familiar with the parks. This is a challenge for all of us and something we all need to work on. The best way to protect our parks and our environment is to foster an appreciation for the outdoors. We can call the movement "no child left inside."

Cutting down trees can lead to malaria
One of the most important and overlooked ecosystems in the world is in areas of rapid land conversion, where agriculture is encroaching on wilderness and where wildlife, livestock and humans are in close proximity. When you talk about emerging diseases, that's where they're emerging from. Nipah virus, which was first identified in Malaysia in 1999, is an example. Pig farms were carved out of forested areas, and fruit orchards were planted next to the pig enclosures, which brought pigs into contact with fruit bats, the natural reservoir for Nipah virus. The virus spread to pigs and then to the farmers, and the ones who caught it had a 40 percent mortality rate.

Organizations such as ours are pioneering a new specialty we call conservation medicine. In developed countries, the default assumption is that you're healthy unless you have a specific disease. In developing nations you have a whole cornucopia of pathogens, you have patients with multiple vulnerabilities, malnutrition, environmental exposure to pesticides and other toxins, a heavy parasite load, and people are living among livestock and wildlife. Jonathan Patz of the University of Wisconsin documented a huge upsurge in malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the Peruvian Amazon, corresponding with intensive settlement and deforestation. Clearing the trees changed the population balance among the species of mosquitoes. Those are the kinds of challenges we're increasingly going to face in the 21st century.

Everybody can do something
One important lesson I've learned in advocating environmental progress is that the perfect is the enemy of the good. It's not about everyone doing everything. Those days are over. In fact, that's part of what held back the movement. We can't hold people up to a gold standard, because that's unattainable. We're all guilty of being part of this problem. I have a swimming pool that I keep heated for our kids and a house that's got a big carbon footprint. I recognize that and try to do other things, not to justify it but to do the best I can. I can't do everything. But it's about everybody doing something. And if everyone would do something, we would get there. There's a great quote from the governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer. He said, "Unless you're living in a tree eating nuts, you are a global-warming polluter." The whole idea here is to bring people in, not to push them out or alienate them. Not everyone in Hollywood is perfect, either. But you have to give Hollywood credit for some things. Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz were driving hybrids before anyone—while people were still making fun of them. And that influenced people. And Hollywood made "An Inconvenient Truth." Hollywood made that movie, not thinking it was going to make them money, not thinking it was going to be a huge success. They did it out of passion.

Being green is just good business
As the largest chip manufacturer worldwide, Intel has been leading the area of environmental excellence for decades. For us, being green is just part of the way we do business. One thing that plays to our advantage is that our manufacturing process essentially gets refreshed every few years. We can anticipate that, so instead of having to retrofit facilities, we've applied a philosophy of design for environmental health and safety that projects eight to 10 years down the road. With each step we take in successive generations of the chip, we employ different manufacturing recipes every two years. So when we went from the eight-inch wafer to the 12-inch wafer, we were able to drive reductions to 50 percent in terms of water and energy use. We have a long-term goal to reduce our energy use on an average of 4 percent a year from 2002 to 2010, which will amount to a 30 percent overall reduction during that period.

We are a large user of electricity, but we're also the largest purchaser of wind energy in the state of Oregon, and one of the largest purchasers of renewable energy in New Mexico. As a global company, Intel exports its environmental leadership to every country we do business in, including China, where we've been asked by the government to work on their air-quality regulations.

Look at the crisis as an opportunity
I think the debate about the climate crisis in this country has been framed the wrong way. We've been talking about it from the perspective of the cost to society, rather than the point of view of the opportunity for profit. People are missing that this is a $4 trillion market for energy, and that's before we factor in the supply-demand imbalances that will occur as China and India ramp up their energy use. There is both a climate crisis and an impending energy crisis, and as Stanford economist Paul Romer has said, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Energy is just the capacity to do work, and work is what creates economic output. I'm not against conservation, but the idea that we can conserve our way out of this problem will not hold. If we want to tell the generation that comes after us that they'll be better off than we are, they will need to consume more energy and not less. And the country that figures out how to make that happen will be the leading economic power in the 21st century. That's the message that we ought to be getting out to the country, not that New York will be underwater. Bloom Energy makes fuel-cell systems for on-site power generation: you produce electricity when and where you need it, from natural gas or ethanol or other renewable fuel sources, and it's reliable, clean and more efficient than the "grid."

God told us to protect his earth
The protection of the environment is a Biblically rooted epic task straight from God. The status quo [of how we are treating the earth] is simply unacceptable. The idea that we can continue as a nation without exhibiting leadership to the rest of the world in this crisis is simply anathema. We have to be at the forefront of providing energy-efficient green solutions across the board, from autos to heating and air conditioning. We have to show leadership if India and China are to follow. Yet we're at the back of the line; that's not American. I'm a Ronald Reagan sunny conservative, and I know for a fact that evangelicals are can-do, solution-oriented entrepreneurs. Instead of looking at global warming as Jerry Falwell has called it, "Satan's diversion," we should see it as a note from God that says, "I said to be a steward, my children. Sin has consequence, and if you pollute this earth there will be a price to pay. But it's not too late, and with my help you can restore Eden." Environmentalism is the civil-rights issue of the 21st century, and one doesn't have to look too far back to see that evangelicals sat on their hands when it came to civil rights for blacks. I refuse to sit on my hands and allow the evangelical heritage to be sullied again, because the very reputation of the evangelical witness is at stake. It's crucial that we not make the mistake of our fathers.

Small changes quickly add up
We are only as healthy as our planet. And, unfortunately, it's obvious that we're not doing a good job in keeping our planet healthy for our children. It's clear to me and to many experts in the field that environmental toxins play a role in some childhood cancers and other illnesses. But people get overwhelmed. They believe the problem is just too big. When people saw "An Inconvenient Truth," they were saying, "How can I save the glaciers? How can I save the polar bears?" All you have to do is make simple changes. Most of us use the same cleaning products our mothers used. Many of the products that we use to keep our homes clean contain toxins, harsh chemicals that are bad for our health and bad for our environment. Why not switch to a nontoxic alternative? There are a lot of great nontoxic household cleansers and detergents on the market. People can even make their own. And you don't have to toss everything out all at once, just change one product at a time. I think that's the secret to not becoming overwhelmed. You have to realize that small changes can add up. All you have to do is make the first one.

New stores will use less energy
Hurricane Katrina was a big turning point for us. It showed us that we've got a role we can play that might be greater than we realized. Two years later, we have prototype stores—the first is in Kansas City, Mo. It uses LED lighting in the freezers, and a heating and cooling system without a fan. That store uses 20 percent less energy than a store we'd have opened in 2005. One product we're promoting heavily are compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs. They account for only 5 percent of light-bulb sales, but at Wal-Mart we've been redoing our aisles to make CFLs more visible. Today 20 or 30 percent of the light-bulb aisles will be CFLs, mostly at eye level. We have a goal of selling 100 million CFLs in 2007, more than double what we did last year. That will save our customers $3 billion on electricity. It will save 700 million incandescent bulbs that will never have to be produced. It will prevent 20 million metric tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.

The ocean's food chain is at risk
We were one of the first to call attention to the acidification of the oceans. The oceans take up a huge amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. A portion of that carbon gets turned into carbonic acid, so that the more carbon dioxide there is in the atmosphere, the more acidic the oceans become. The oceans are now 30 percent more acidic than they were before the Industrial Revolution. It's the most chilling change I've seen in my professional career. If it continues, tiny organisms at the base of the food chain will have their shells dissolve while the animals are still alive. It will also threaten coral reefs, which are already stressed by rising temperatures and fishing practices. We issue a report every five years called The State of the Nation's Ecosystems, which includes 113 indicators of environmental health, from chemical contaminants to harmful algae blooms. We're trying to boil it down to just three or four that could be released quarterly, like the leading economic indicators, but for the environment. It would give people a sense of whether we're making progress or losing ground.

A chance to fix a neighborhood
There is a huge hole in our economic fabric where clean tech should be. And residents of this community can be trained to fill these "green collar" jobs. Instead of all these economic-growth agencies pushing for stadiums or big-box stores where the average wage is $7 an hour, the city could invest in cleaner transportation systems such as barges and rail lines to connect us to the rest of the city. We could take all the waste grease from the food industry that now gets trucked here for disposal and process it instead into biodiesel fuel. Workers will install "green roofs" on commercial buildings, which will provide cooling and generate oxygen. This summer we are hiring greenway stewards to help maintain our new street-tree network, which will eventually cover 11 miles in the South Bronx. We're going to plant herbs in the tree pits. It'll be beautiful. People can do all of this while making a living wage. They will be participating in the economic and environmental transformation of their own lives. The possibilities are endless.

President, The Apollo Alliance

Today the environment is at the forefront of everyone's thoughts, not only in this country but also worldwide. I haven't seen an issue with such a magnetic capacity to bring people together since the Civil Rights movement.

Excessive temperatures have a greater impact on the poor who have less access to air conditioning and proper heating. Poor people have less access to health care to deal with climate-related medical problems. Water is a major problem worldwide, either because there's too much of it—the poor tend to live in flood zones—or not enough that's safe to drink.

The most powerful mechanism of change is our right to vote. We have the ability to elect officials who are going to focus on and be champions for a clean environment for clean energy. We must encourage elected officials to make energy more affordable for the poor. Oil companies need to reinvest in America and fund the research and development of new alternative fuels.

The Apollo alliance is focused on building clean energy as a solution. We've received commitments from the states of Pennsylvania, Washington and California to request that a certain percentage of the energy produced there will come from alternative sources. Those alternatives will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and on fossil fuels and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere. There's as much energy on top of the ground as in it. We've been too dependent on drilling for energy.

We have a very narrow window to fix the problem. Our earth is in critical condition and we are the life support. It's going to require a diverse coalition of people and businesses and organizations to come together with one goal: to save the earth, and to save humanity.

Executive director, Environmental Sustainability for Aveda

Since our inception in 1978, our focus has been on producing plant-based personal-care products. Currently, 90 percent of the essential oils that go into our products are certified organic, and, as we continue to learn about the functionality of plants, we are able to use even more. That's been a lot of work for our suppliers. In terms of the industry, we're certainly a leader, as a lot of companies have come into organics. In the scope of personal- care products, we're small but we've been a catalyst for so much change. The packaging of products, to how stores get designed, we're always getting chased. So it's good to see the big players step in and say there's some action there. It's competition for us. It keeps us on our toes and forces us to get better.

We're thrilled that more people are becoming aware of the social and environmental impacts of these things. In general, I think consumers are oblivious to what is in their product. We look at the entire lifecycle of the product and the package, from the ground to the bottle. We believe that sustainable agriculture is a better method of sourcing raw materials, certainly better than something coming out of a nonrenewable barrel of oil. One hundred percent of the energy used at our distribution center and manufacturing facility in Blaine, Minn., is from wind energy. Aveda is the largest private purchaser of wind energy in the state of Minnesota.

In the last eight years, Aveda has raised more than $6 million for environmental causes and this year we will have raised $8 million if we meet our goal. Last year, we raised $1.5 million for threatened and endangered plant species. This year we hope to raise $1.8 million to bring clean water to people who desperately need it.

Mayor of Salt Lake City

In Salt Lake City, we've been able to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in our municipal operations by 31 percent in four years. We've eliminated 143 cars from the city's light vehicle fleet, and replaced 41 SUVs with smaller, more efficient cars. By retrofitting all city and county buildings with compact fluorescent bulbs, we save the city $33,000 a year. We then invest one third of that in wind power, making Salt Lake City the state's largest purchaser of wind power. We also changed all the city's traffic lights from incandescent bulbs to LED lights, which saves about $50,000 a year in electricity while also reducing annual carbon emissions by 500 tons. Those are just a few small, easy changes that net out thousands of dollars of savings for taxpayers that will quickly add up to millions.

As for transportation, we've helped expand the area's light rail system very rapidly. Before the first line was built, we faced great opposition. It's been such a success though, communities throughout the Wasatch front are now clamoring for light and commuter rail expansions, voting on things like sales tax increases to fund it. And these are some of the most conservative counties on the planet. I think someday we'll be able to live here and not be dependent on an automobile. Until then, we're rewarding people who drive high-efficiency cars. If you do, our transportation division will put a decal on your back window that allows you to park at city meters for free.

Climate change is the most urgent issue facing our planet today, and there will be impacts on every local community. So to me, the question really comes down to leadership. Whatever role a person plays in their local community, in their nation, or on an international level, we're completely abrogating our responsibilities as leaders if we don't do everything we can at every level to help solve rather than exacerbate the problem. The importance of local action is not only reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, but also demonstrating it can be done without the economic devastation that's been perpetuated by the Bush administration.

I think we've done a tremendous amount of damage to the planet, but I wouldn't work as hard as I do if I weren't extremely optimistic. There's no question that we have the technologies necessary to address climate change. All we're really missing is the element of leadership.

Professor of architecture at the University of Texas at Austin

In the summer of 1999, I received a call from Laura Bush. She and then-governor George Bush wanted a design for a house that would blend into the landscape of an extraordinary piece of land they had just purchased in Crawford, Texas. We talked at length about environmental systems, and Laura was clear at the outset that they wanted to do everything possible to protect the land. It is exceptionally beautiful, with deep bluffs, streams and stands of native live oak.

The house is designed to use a quarter to a third of the energy of a normal house its size. With some modification, it could run entirely off the grid. There are dozens of features that contribute, including rainwater-collection and wastewater-treatment systems, which recycle water for irrigation. We installed a geothermal cooling and heating system to cut down the biggest energy drain for houses in Texas: air conditioning. A closed pipe of water runs to underground wells that are at a constant temperature. In summer, the air in the house warms the water in the pipe, which then gives off its heat underground. In the winter, the same system brings heat to the house. It also heats all of the home's hot water. We used "low e" glass, which cuts transmission of heat, and designed the house for easy cross-ventilation. The roof is galvanized aluminum to reflect sun. And we placed the house east of a fantastic stand of oak trees to shade it from the afternoon sun in summer. The house has overhangs on all sides, extending 10 feet out. During the summer, when the sun is high in the sky, these overhangs block sunlight from streaming into the house and heating it. In the winter, when it is lower in the sky, the sun shines below the overhangs and warms the stone walls and rooms. This is actually an old principle used in Native American cliff dwellings. These dwellings are set beneath rock overhangs facing south, so that they heat all day long during the winter, but receive no direct heat from the sun in the summer.

There's another advantage of the overhang. It forms a porch all the way around the house. At the end of the house, the roof extends quite far. When it rains, it makes a room of water, with rain on three sides (the rainwater is collected at ground level). On the fourth side is an outdoor fireplace, so you can be outside even on a cold, wet day, enjoying a fire.

Join the Discussion