The Great Pivot, by Justine Burt

A book review by Steve Schaefer

The Great PIvot cover

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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Teaching Kids about Climate Change with Green Ninja

by Steve Schaefer

Eugene Cordero portrait

Eugene Cordero, Ph.D. is a climate scientist who teaches in the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State University. Dr. Cordero believes that youth education is a key factor in the efforts to mitigate global warming and adapt to a future of climate change.

Cordero spoke on November 14th to an attentive audience at the Acterra Fall Lecture Series at the Foster Art and Wilderness Foundation in Palo Alto.

Besides his teaching, Cordero has worked for the last few years to create the Green Ninja program for middle school science students. It was recently approved by the State of California and will be on the list that California’s approximately 1,000 school districts can choose from for their science education curriculum.

The Green Ninja videos have been enjoyed on YouTube for years. They combine scientific information about climate change with humor and silliness. This is how you get attention from young people today.

Dr. Cordero began his career researching the ozone hole. After his work concluded, he moved into the realm of climate science. His involvement with the ozone crisis impressed him with how scientists recommended a solution—replacing the chemicals that caused the ozone depletion—and turned back the dire consequences of losing the protection of the ozone layer.

“Without this change, people would be getting sunburns in five minutes by 2050,” he said. Today, the ozone layer is recovering.

In his presentation, Cordero explained basic climate change science before delving into the Green Ninja content. He presented a bar chart showing the now familiar rapid temperature rise over the last 100 years, especially in the last 30. He showed images of large glaciers from 100 years ago that are lakes today. He talked about the massive storms we are getting now and the billions of dollars in damage they leave in their wake.

Limiting the Earth’s average temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius is the target, Cordero said, although the recent, frightening IPCC report from the U.N. proposes 1.5 degrees. In any case, there are many actions we need to take right now.

Cordero listed essential areas we associate with making change—inspiration, knowledge, and leadership—but said we’re missing a key piece—education. He has devoted his work to interacting directly with his students and creating a way to scale up to teaching thousands of students through his Green Ninja program.

Cordero collaborated with Laura Stec on a book, Cool Cuisine, that shows how you can reduce your carbon footprint by eating foods that have less environmental impact. For example, the energy to produce a serving of beef is around five times that of chicken. Eating vegetables instead is a small fraction of that. This research helped Cordero focus on stories for a younger audience, which is where Green Ninja came from.

The Green Ninja project started out with videos, games and events. Then, Cordero ran two case studies with middle school kids and university students. After the research was over, he surveyed the participants and found that effective changes in behavior came down to three important attitudes:

  • Climate change is personal
  • Climate change is fixable
  • It’s important to take action

The three things that the participants were most likely to do now to reduce their carbon footprint were:

  • Drive a hybrid vehicle
  • Eat a vegetarian diet
  • Buy energy-efficient appliances

Based on this research, Cordero began his educational programs. Sticking with threes, Cordero found three factors that led students, after they were out of school, to make steps to lower their carbon footprint. They:

  • Felt a personal connection to the issue
  • Felt a sense of empowerment
  • Had an empathy for the environment

The Green Ninja program is designed to support those factors, and is based on the Next Generation Science Standards, which have a direct connection to climate change, especially in California. And that’s where the program is going to be available first.

The original Green Ninja videos were specially designed to make science interesting and engaging. For example, see the classic Styrofoam Man, a six-minute live action saga that’s corny, slapstick comedy, but with a message. The Green Ninja show videos in the program are cartoons, like this one.

Green Ninja

“Climate change is a depressing subject,” said Cordero. “Humor helps to connect to young people.”

The program targets 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, and focuses on each student’s own story, environmental solutions, as well as data and technology. There’s a lot of hands-on activity, where kids bring home what they learn at school and show their families how to make positive changes. This is very empowering.

The Green Ninja materials give Cordero a chance to scale up his work at San Jose State. He hopes that a lot of schools will take up his program soon. You can reach him at eugene@greenninja.org

 

Acterra’s mission is to bring people together to create local solutions for a healthy planet.