Paul Hawken talks to Seattle
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="298" caption="Paul Hawken"][/caption]
Last Thursday was the Sustainable Industries Economic Forum in Seattle. More than 300 people were treated to a morning keynote speech by Paul Hawken and a panel discussion with four sustainability business leaders from the city followed by a round of networking with the leading sustainable-minded business people in the city.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the morning was Hawken's talk, After starting out by exhorting Seattle to be proud of the World Trade Organization protests that took place here in 1999, his talk continued to be as impromptu as any he ever gives. Hawken explained that it's understandable how much resistance there is about solving the problem of the planet's carbon emissions since we've been asked to place our faith in a few scientists who have seen the spike of carbon in the atmosphere via ice cores. "Never has the Earth come together and placed their trust in such a small group of people," he said. "But with global warming, we have to."
Talking about such a dynamic, with so little physical evidence to point to, (Hawken rightly pointed out that the super storms, snowy Seattle winters, cold and wet Northeast summers, and other strange weather patterns we've seen lately may be effects of global warming, but we can't be sure.) he is often tagged as a "doomer." But, doomers play an important role in the sustainability conversation, he says. Their "purpose is to create the conditions for designers [those who solve the problems] to make them wrong." The doomers, Hawken says, talk about limits, which is where the designers see possibility arise.
Hawken's next point was on the subject of "Long," "Fast" and "Slow" energy. Long Energy takes time to create. Think of a barrel of oil which takes 25,000 person hours to extract and sells at a cost of about 1 penny per hour. Fast Energy is made by the sun. Food is Fast Energy. Slow Energy is the building of topsoil. Currently, humanity is using the Fast and Slow energies faster than they can regenerate and we're using more Long Energy to do it, according to Hawken. When one considers that the planet used 20 percent of all the oil used between 2000 and 2008, it's clear that the price of energy and oil will spike seriously within 15 years in Hawken's mind. The fact that the largest recent oil strike of 40 billion barrels will only be enough to feed our voracious appetite for the stuff for 16 months, "It should have a huge impact on the the dynamics of what we do in terms of resources," he said.
What can we do, the self-professed doomer asked. We have to change how we do things, and we have to do it fast because we need carbon-based energy to get to where we need to be. PV panels are made at 2,000 degrees centigrade, which takes a huge amount of energy. On the other hand, thin film solar can be made using energy generated by thin film solar, but isn't yet. "We're talking about putting our faith in technologies that are not renewable," Hawken pointed out.
To get us from here to there without using fossil fuels as a backdrop, Hawken offered a few reccomendations:
- Business needs more leadership like the U.S. Green Building Council which is now the largest environmental NGO in the world, he says. He called for the creation of a green banking council, a green agriculture council, a green chemical council and a green transportation council. He called this a breakaway economy and said it is a necessity.
- We need to look much more closely at resource efficiency than we do. A kilowatt hour saved from a building retrofit costs about 1.4 cents making it a clear economic win in any area of the country.
- We need to use biomemetics to make localization bigger, Hawken says. The United States, in his view, should be making good chemicals, mining metals and creating transportation technologies here, in our country. "We need to stop talking about an import economy." Why, he asked, are we sending e-waste to China and not just recycling it and re-using it here?
In closing, Hawken called on the United States to get it's act together to start doing what needs to be done. "It's amazing what we can do when we know what we need to do," he said. "There is so much work to do and unemployment is an indictment of our economic paradigm. It's cruel and inhumane. We need to do more."