The Great Pivot, by Justine Burt

A book review by Steve Schaefer

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There are many books, videos, and news stories out on global warming and climate change. Some are filled with scary predictions and are good at shocking us into action. But the best kind are the ones that try to paint a picture of ways we can take action to make a difference. The Great Pivot is one of the latter category.

The current carbon-based business model is becoming unsustainable. So, dealing with the huge tasks before us means not only deciding what to do but who’s going to do it. The Green New Deal, which is the subject of the last chapter (and is throughout the book in spirit) says that people want and need meaningful work. So why not get two for one?

That’s what the 30 pivots in The Great Pivot are meant to do. Burt’s carefully developed ideas show how we can scale up efforts to build a sustainable future. This means both creating meaningful jobs for workers and generating more sustainability project opportunities for investors.

Burt begins by addressing the employment situation today. The low official percentages don’t reflect the 37 million people ages 25-64 who are out of the labor force. With outsourcing, automation, and the gig economy, it’s tough out there. Today, the middle class is disrupted by changes in the work place and rising costs, and wages have been stagnant. We can rebuild the economic safety net with new sustainability jobs.

The author proposes five categories for job creation and devotes an entire chapter to each. They all have the goal of stabilizing the climate:

  • Advanced energy communities
  • Low-carbon mobility systems
  • A circular economy
  • Reduced food waste
  • A healthy natural world

Starting with Zero Net Energy, the first few pivots involve electrifying single-family homes and then spreading to multi-unit dwellings and commercial spaces. Existing technology can make all spaces more pleasant and energy efficient.

Twenty-eight percent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, and Burt spends significant time discussing low carbon mobility. Besides moving to electric cars, we also need to develop clean mass transit, safe bicycling options, walkable communities, mobility-as-a service options, and build out the EV charging infrastructure. All of these are pivots that require people to do them.

The circular economy is a worthy goal to get us to our goal of climate stability. Instead of the current take-make-waste economy, a circular economy reuses and recycles. There are many jobs in waste prevention and building deconstruction (instead of demolition). How about a tool lending library combined with a repair café and maker space to reuse things rather than replace them?

It’s pathetic that 40 percent of food grown and raised in the U.S. is thrown out, for various reasons. Wasted food has a large impact on the climate. Jobs to prevent, recover, or recycle food waste make for excellent pivots. Many of these jobs do not require higher education—just training—so they would be available to many people who need meaningful work and steady pay.

Restoring nature is a valuable and meaningful form of employment that would help the planet recover. Ways of sequestering more carbon in the soil can improve agricultural yields while reducing carbon in the atmosphere. There is good work in restoring forests, waterways, and wildlife. How about creating furniture or other useful items from drought-stressed trees? Then we could leave healthy trees in place to do their job of pulling carbon out of the atmosphere.

Besides these actions, we can start looking at the economy differently. We need to disrupt business as usual. For example, we should decouple growth from the traditional measurement of using gross domestic product (GDP). Burt proposes four goals:

  • Shift from fossil fuels to renewables
  • Create a circular flow of materials
  • Dematerialize by shifting to digital products and services
  • Radically reduce waste

It’s fine to get people working, but investors can make a big impact too, by funding the projects we need as part of the overall process of transforming our economy. Burt discusses bootstrapping, crowdfunding, direct public offerings, private equity, and other ways to get investors involved in the right way.

The book ends by discussing meaningful work and relating it to the goals of the Green New Deal, including leaving no person behind. We have many ways to move forward, and the 30 pivots are a great place to start. We need to do it now.

 

The Great Pivot by Justine Burt

MP Publishing, 2019

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Skip Scooters – a First Ride

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I just tried my first electric scooter! It’s easy, fun, and a little scary, too.

It began with seeing little blue Skip scooters tied to posts and trees around downtown San Francisco. I’ve just started a new job working in the city again after a few decades, and things have changed. My company builds and sells software for carsharing and ridesharing (and in the future,  hopefully scooters, too), so I was eager to sample one of the new “micro-mobility” options.

Skip scooters are available where you find them, but to ride one, you first need to download the app. That takes about a minute, from searching for it on your Apple or Android phone and waiting for it to download. When you open the app, it explains how to use the app and also how to ride the scooter safely. You can sign up for an account by adding in your personal information, such as driver’s license and credit card.

I decided that this particular Friday afternoon was a great time to try a scooter. Using the app, I located a couple of them near my office and set out to find them.

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I followed the map and looked–but no scooter! Then I looked across the street. I must have missed something, because there it was. The app made it look like it was on my side of the street.

I went up and tried to scan the QR code. The app then asked me for my driver’s license (front and back). Leaving the scooter tethered, I went to find a slightly more private spot to photograph my license on the street. The app warned me of “glare,” but I got two decent images. Then, I had to enter my credit card information.

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After this, when I put my phone up by the QR code, it gave me a four-digit combination to enter to unlock the scooter’s combination cable lock. Then, all I did was recoil the cable onto the scooter frame and pulled the bike over onto a piece of open sidewalk.

One push, and I was off. The accelerator is a thumb paddle on the right side of the handlebars. On the left is a matching one that slows the scooter down. There’s a manual foot brake that rubs against the wheel, but I think it’s more like an “emergency brake,” since the thumb brake worked fine during my .07-mile ride.

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After zipping along the sidewalk (proscribed by Skip and the City of S.F.), I got onto the actual street, after looking both ways carefully. I then spent the rest of my ride in back alleys, where I had lots of space and few cars to deal with.

The little Skip takes off strongly with its electric motor–just like an electric car, but without the mass. Of course, the motor and battery are tiny, so it all balances out. When you rent a scooter, the app tells you the percentage of charge left and approximate range you can expect. I assume going up hills would use up charge more quickly. I don’t think there’s a regen feature to add charge when you brake or go downhill, as in a car.

I wasn’t wearing a helmet–a bad idea–but I was just testing it, right? Most of the riders I’ve seen so far don’t wear them, possibly because they just hopped on it for a quick trip. However, if you take at least one ride, Skip will send you a helmet for free (you pay $10 shipping). When I got back to my office, I ordered mine using the app, I’ll wait for my helmet to arrive before taking another spin, just to be safe. However, even with a helmet, cruising up to 18 miles an hour down a street full of cars, potholes, pedestrians, and who knows what else seems like a risky proposition with no protection whatsoever.

When I was done with my test ride, I parked the scooter and attached it to a handy street sign pole. As a first timer, I neglected to wrap the lock cable around the pole a bunch of times like I should have, and I somehow missed the step in the app of taking and sending a “parking photo,” but the loan completed fine and my bank account was lighter by $2.75. I had a brisk sense of adventure and a little chill from moving at that speed with just a sweatshirt on.

Micro-mobility, as represented by scooters and electrically assisted bikes, is with us now. It makes a lot of sense in dense urban areas, where driving a car is a pain and environmentally irresponsible. It’s perfect “last mile” transportation from public transit to an office front door. I look forward to the day when downtowns are designed for scooters, with wide, car-free bike lanes separated from the cars and buses.