Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Reclaiming Public Streets as Livable Space

Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White spoke at TEDxEast about ongoing campaigns to reclaim urban commons from the automobile. Cities are built for human contact and interaction, he said, which is thwarted when everyone sits behind a windshield. Streets that focus on the automobile also run counter to the density that makes cities interesting and efficient. "We are squandering the most valuable real estate in the world giving this public asset to the lowest density mode of transportation," said White.

The mandate for rearranging our urban landscape becomes clear when we grasp the global trends in population and urbanization: "Here in New York the streets comprise about one-fourth of the city's total land area, 80 percent of our open space. What happens in the space between buildings in the next 20 years is going to determine to a large degree how much carbon we emit, what our quality of life is, how often we talk to our neighbors and engage in civic discussion, how happy we are even."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Plan for a Renewable Future

Policy Innovations contributor Roy Morrison weighs in on alternative global warming solutions and related policies to finance them. He calls for a 20-year plan to transition to renewable resources:

The popular wisdom is that a global emissions reduction agreement through cap and trade or taxation is humanity's last best hope before the consequences of melting ice and methane hydrates make irrelevant further human efforts to stop global warming. If that's true, we are in grave danger indeed. We should instead focus on a workable global investment and jobs plan to build the global renewable resource infrastructure that can sustain global prosperity while slashing global greenhouse gas emissions.

The plan will draw upon existing and emergent renewable energy technologies. These technologies range from the now-familiar wind turbines, photovoltaic solar arrays, hydropower dams, and geothermal plants, to new solar concentrators and medium-temperature geothermal systems running organic Rankine cycle generators. These will be combined with electric and renewable-fueled hybrid vehicles using their lithium batteries for energy storage. Renewable systems are characterized by rapidly improving energy conversion efficiency and declining cost.

We should understand that the problem is not that we do not have sufficient renewable resources. This is a plan that will create millions and millions of new jobs and global markets for our products and at the same time free us from the fossil fuel curse and its economic, ecological, and security threats.

The plan for a renewable future is based not on imposing taxes on the unwilling or forcing everyone to eat celery. It's time to stop focusing our efforts on raising costs for polluters who are politically powerful and will fight us every step of the way. We can do without the higher taxes or complex cap and trade schemes that will further enrich Wall Street sharks and may not even work.

It's absolutely clear that markets with sharply fluctuating asset prices, whether for carbon credits or Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), do not provide sufficiently stable long-term cash flows to convince bankers and investors to risk trillions of dollars financing a sustainable future.

For example, I'm working on building solar farms in New Jersey. New Jersey, admirably, sets high regulatory alternative compliance payments (ACP) for energy suppliers that do not purchase solar RECs (SRECs) from solar developers. But since the actual price for those SRECs is determined by a bid-and-ask market with fluctuating prices, there is no working futures market for buying and selling large quantities of SRECs. Why stock up on SRECs now when prices could plunge, as they have for RECs around the country and for carbon in Europe?

Without a long-term SREC contract in hand, financiers will not invest hundreds of millions of dollars in solar farms. We are scrambling to negotiate deeply discounted long-term deals with electricity suppliers and designing our own innovative financial structures to get the financing to build our solar farms.

What works much better is the feed-in-tariff (FIT) used by Germany and now by Ontario. The Ontario Power Authority offers 20-year fixed price contracts, at different price levels, for various renewables, with the goal of ultimately eliminating the province's reliance on coal. You can take an approved design and a 20-year OPA contract to the bank.

If it's true that renewable resources can do the job, then why not put America on the path to its own 20-year plan? As renewable resources and a continental-scale renewable smart grid are phased in, fossil fuel resources will be phased out gradually. The oil and coal can be left in the ground, or sometimes used for chemical feedstock in accord with an industrial ecology of zero waste and zero pollution.

As we increase renewable resource use by a small percentage each year, natural gas can serve as the transition fuel. We don't even need to build the next generation of coal and nuclear plants and gas-guzzling automobiles. If it's politically necessary, we can pay the coal companies for mineral rights, much as we have paid farmers not to plant corn. And, of course, we could stretch the time frame out for 40 years to 2050. But why do that? The risks are too high to drag our feet, while the benefits of implementing a 20-year plan are enormous.

In 20 years, by 2030, fossil fuel power can be an artifact of a bygone era. Gasoline-powered engines would become a once-a-year treat at the county fair demolition derby. The daily news would be not about military deployments, but about surprising new trends in building an ecological civilization.

There's no reason to wait. Renewable resource construction is already moving ahead. It just needs a little more systematic push. Mechanisms we can rely on include:

Feed-in-Tariffs: We set goals for phasing in renewables and phasing out fossil fuels and nukes. We offer long-term contracts at prices sufficient to support investment given current capital costs and energy market prices. Most renewables have zero fuel cost, but high capital costs. Periodically, the price level of new FIT contracts are adjusted to keep up with changes in capital costs and market income as more renewables are phased in and the need for subsidies decreases. The FIT should be applicable to storage and efficiency projects as well as generation.

Continental-Scale Renewable Smart Grids: We transform the current regional power grid system into one capable of operating efficiently on a continental scale using High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) power lines and smart controls. Such continental systems will be designed to optimize the balance between distributed local resources and system resources. Developing efficient and cheap local devices such as fuel cells, heat pumps, photovoltaics, batteries, flywheels, and capacitors means a potential major reduction in large scale "system" generation and storage resources needed to move large amounts of power over long distances.

Self-Equilibrating Systems: The system can be designed to operate in a substantially self-equilibrating and highly secure manner using cybernetic feedback loops. By equipping end-use devices and distributed generation with the ability to sense and respond to fluctuations in local voltage and frequency, the system can be substantially self-controlling, capable of operating in a regional fashion in the event of system disruption, and largely immune from cyber attack from malware and viruses since there will be few control signals to sabotage such as the current Automatic Generation Control (AGC) signals.

Clean Development: Development aid must be provided in sufficient quantities for poor and developing nations to make the transition. In countries without a national power grid, regional renewable resources with local storage and smart control can do the job. The approach must be global or it will fail. Global problems will require global solutions and cannot be accomplished upon the backs of the poor for the benefit of the rich.

This is a plan with winners and few losers. We build massive new non-polluting industries, and create millions of good-paying high-technology manufacturing, installation, computer control, and service jobs. In addition to transforming the economy, we free ourselves from the oil curse, the resource wars, and balance of payments nightmares. Cash will flow in from our customers instead of out to the sheikhs and oil barons. And we will lessen the threat from nations that wish to enrich uranium for "peaceful" purposes under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Today we face resolute opposition to anything more than marginal changes in emissions from such political and economic heavyweights as the global coal, oil, auto, and electric industries, and from major energy exporting and importing nations such as OPEC, Russia, China, and even the United States.

It's time to stop trying to plow a granite field. We can instead focus our efforts on an investment and job strategy that will build the renewable infrastructure and the powerful new industries that will be the basis not only for the prevention of climate catastrophe, but also for the development of prosperous and sustainable ecological future.

[PHOTO CREDIT: Photovoltaik, by Bernd Sieker (CC).]

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Send A Colleague to Copenhagen

I won't be attending the Copenhagen climate conference but my colleague David Kroodsma still has a shot to do so if he wins the Huffington Post contest to send a citizen journalist (You can vote for him here). David is a writer, climate-energy expert, and bicycle adventurer with degrees in physics and climate science. He and I met last year on the Climate Ride while we were traveling to Washington to lobby for clean energy. Prior to that, David bicycled across North and South America to raise awareness of global warming and he has since documented his journey in a forthcoming book.

I spoke with David recently about the city of Copenhagen and how one-third of commuters there use bicycles. Below is an excerpt from his book where he talks about the choice world cities face: They can either copy Copenhagen, or they can copy American cities such as Los Angeles. The excerpt is from his chapter on Colombia. David visited Bogota and saw how investments in public transportation and bicycle infrastructure have helped to reduce carbon pollution and make the city a more pleasant place to live.
Something else remarkable has happened in Colombia over the past decade: the country has reduced its carbon dioxide pollution. Some of this reduction has been because of an increase in hydroelectric power—eighty percent of the country's electricity comes from dams—and a decrease in coal-fired power. But the Transmilenio [the public transit system] and bikeways have also had a serious effect, perhaps decreasing Bogotá's pollution by over half a million tons of carbon dioxide a year and cutting Bogotá's total pollution by a few percent. Car use in Bogotá has dropped significantly, and nearly twenty percent of daily trips are via the Transmilenio, an efficient service that didn't even exist a decade earlier. Bogotá shows that reducing pollution often has ancillary benefits. The city didn't set out to reduce pollution. The city set out to make itself more livable, and consequently reduced fossil fuel use.

If cities in the developing world decide to copy Bogotá, how big of a difference would it make? In the next thirty years, almost all growth in greenhouse gas pollution is expected to come from developing nations such as Colombia—nations where living standards are rising rapidly. Cities in these countries are growing rapidly, and decisions made today will decide the transportation infrastructure for decades to come.

A city like Bogotá could look to U.S. cities like Los Angeles where the majority of commuters drive, or they could look to European cities such as Copenhagen where transit is evenly divided between personal automobiles, public transportation, and bicycles. Whereas the average citizen of Los Angeles produces about five tons of carbon dioxide per person through transportation, the average citizen of Copenhagen is responsible for less than one and a half tons per person from transportation.

Half of the world's population now lives in urban areas, and the difference between these cities copying the transit system of Los Angeles versus copying the transit system of Copenhagen is thus a difference of about 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide. Given that global carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels is roughly 30 billion tons today, the difference between a world of Los Angeleses and Copenhagens is dramatic.

Here is David's video for the HuffPo Hopenhagen contest. Don't forget to vote:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

U.S.-China Clean Energy Announcements

Today the U.S. Department of Energy released the following announcement, which details several U.S.-China energy initiatives very much consistent with the recommendations of our recent Carnegie Council working group. The announcement is below.

Beijing, China - Today, President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao announced a far-reaching package of measures to strengthen cooperation between the United States and China on clean energy.

1. U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center. The two Presidents announced the establishment of the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center. The Center will facilitate joint research and development of clean energy technologies by teams of scientists and engineers from the United States and China, as well as serve as a clearinghouse to help researchers in each country. The Center will be supported by public and private funding of at least $150 million over five years, split evenly between the two countries. Initial research priorities will be building energy efficiency, clean coal including carbon capture and storage, and clean vehicles. The Protocol formally establishing the Center was signed in Beijing by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Wan Gang, and Chinese National Energy Agency Acting Administrator Zhang Guobao.

2. U.S.-China Electric Vehicles Initiative. The two Presidents announced the launch of the U.S.-China Electric Vehicles Initiative. Building on the first-ever US-China Electric Vehicle Forum in September 2009, the initiative will include joint standards development, demonstration projects in more than a dozen cities, technical roadmapping and public education projects. The two leaders emphasized their countries’ strong shared interest in accelerating the deployment of electric vehicles in order to reduce oil dependence, cut greenhouse gas emissions and promote economic growth.

3. U.S.-China Energy Efficiency Action Plan. The two Presidents announced the launch of a new U.S.-China Energy Efficiency Action Plan. Under the new plan, the two countries will work together to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, industrial facilities, and consumer appliances. U.S. and Chinese officials will work together and with the private sector to develop energy efficient building codes and rating systems, benchmark industrial energy efficiency, train building inspectors and energy efficiency auditors for industrial facilities, harmonize test procedures and performance metrics for energy efficient consumer products, exchange best practices in energy efficient labeling systems, and convene a new U.S.-China Energy Efficiency Forum to be held annually, rotating between the two countries.

4. U.S.-China Renewable Energy Partnership. The two Presidents announced the launch of a new U.S.-China Renewable Energy Partnership. Under the Partnership, the two countries will develop roadmaps for wide-spread renewable energy deployment in both countries. The Partnership will also provide technical and analytical resources to states and regions in both countries to support renewable energy deployment and will facilitate state-to-state and region-to-region partnerships to share experience and best practices. A new Advanced Grid Working Group will bring together U.S. and Chinese policymakers, regulators, industry leaders, and civil society to develop strategies for grid modernization in both countries. A new U.S.-China Renewable Energy Forum will be held annually, rotating between the two countries.

5. 21st Century Coal. The two Presidents pledged to promote cooperation on cleaner uses of coal, including large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration projects. Through the new U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, the two countries are launching a program of technical cooperation to bring teams of U.S. and Chinese scientists and engineers together in developing clean coal and CCS technologies. The two governments are also actively engaging industry, academia, and civil society in advancing clean coal and CCS solutions. The Presidents welcomed: (i) a grant from the U.S. Trade and Development Agency to the China Power Engineering and Consulting Group Corporation to support a feasibility study for an integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plant in China using American technology, (ii) an agreement by Missouri-based Peabody Energy to participate in GreenGen, a project of several major Chinese energy companies to develop a near-zero emissions coal-fired power plant, (iii) an agreement between GE and Shenhua Corporation to collaborate on the development and deployment of IGCC and other clean coal technologies; and (iv) an agreement between AES and Songzao Coal and Electric Company to use methane captured from a coal mine in Chongqing, China, to generate electricity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

6. Shale Gas Initiative. The two Presidents announced the launch of a new U.S.-China Shale Gas Resource Initiative. Under the Initiative, the U.S. and China will use experience gained in the United States to assess China’s shale gas potential, promote environmentally-sustainable development of shale gas resources, conduct joint technical studies to accelerate development of shale gas resources in China, and promote shale gas investment in China through the U.S.-China Oil and Gas Industry Forum, study tours, and workshops.
U.S.-China Fact Sheet on Shale Gas Initiative

7. U.S.-China Energy Cooperation Program. The two Presidents announced the establishment of the U.S.-China Energy Cooperation Program. The program will leverage private sector resources for project development work in China across a broad array of clean energy projects, to the benefit of both nations. More than 22 companies are founding members of the program. The ECP will include collaborative projects on renewable energy, smart grid, clean transportation, green building, clean coal, combined heat and power, and energy efficiency.

Media contact(s):
(202) 586-4940

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Copenhagen Poker Game, a Climate Ethic?

Last night I attended the Carnegie Council-sponsored Japan Society panel "Copenhagen & Beyond" on the upcoming climate change negotiations in December with experts Masayoshi Arai (METI), Elliot Diringer (Pew Center), Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhenmin Liu, and Takao Shibata (the former chairman of the Kyoto Protocol working group).

As moderator, Jim Efstanthiou of Bloomberg began by noting that no binding climate change deal is expected in Copenhagen this December since rich countries seem to be holding back their cards in a game of climate poker. The panelists basically agreed that the most we can expect in December is a political agreement or declaration since governments simply are not ready to make a deal. Diringer predicted the low end outcome would be a political declaration with "some money on the table." A higher achievement in Copenhagen would spell out the legal and institutional architecture to pave the way for a binding agreement. He said that would represent a success. Even in the Bali meeting, the Dec. 2009 deadline for Copenhagen was seen as "too soon" for agreement on legal commitments. Shibata hoped that the world would avoid the mistake made in Kyoto--producing an agreement that is "unratifiable" in the U.S. Congress. Liu strongly stressed the importance of finding some agreement in Copenhagen; otherwise it would be "a tragedy" for humanity--politicians who said there will be progress will look like liars.

A major theme of the discussion was the ethical principles of the climate change negotiations. Shibata remarked that the Hatoyama Administration's 25 percent greenhouse gas reduction target is contingent upon having a fair and effective global framework for negotiation in place. (By the way, showing how dramatic that goal is, Arai said, Japan's 25 percent target would represent the equivalent of eliminating the greenhouse gases emitted from the entire transport, electricity, or industrial sector in Japan. I have also heard that the Hatoyama goal was sprung on industry and the bureaucracy without consultations and companies are now waiting to see any action taken.)

Fortunately, a fair framework is in place: The overarching global goal is to stabilize the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference. The intention in the Kyoto Protocol was to include commitments from developing countries but it proved impossible since the commitments from rich countries were incomplete.

In any case, toward achieving this goal, the basic principles from the Kyoto Protocol, which shouldn't be thrown away according to Liu include: 1. global cooperation; 2. common but differentiated responsibility; 3. all states have obligations. Liu advocated for specific quantitative commitments from Annex One (rich) countries while poorer countries should be simply required to "do more," including technology transfer, innovation, and government-to-government cooperation. In other words, Liu said that inter-governmental actions for mutual benefit need to be considered--not just market mechanisms. Efstathiou wondered if we were headed toward "carbon cap equivalents." This description below is from a Center for American Progress article:
With this carbon cap equivalents approach the better measure of what each country is doing is derived by adding up the full range of supplemental and complementary proposals to each country’s carbon cap and converting this into one comparable figure of what these emissions reductions would effectively amount to if they had been the result of a carbon cap alone. The modeling will be complex, but we should open up the language of the hoped-for Copenhagen treaty so that signatory nations can demonstrate their acceptance of the treaty goals through such equivalents—representing the full range of their policy profile to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—above and beyond their formal cap.

Diringer predicted that developing countries will be asked to describe their climate change policies consistent with their development goals but will not be asked to impose economy-wide caps. The framework for developing countries will be flexible but binding so that there will be a stronger collective impact through mutual commitments. As Liu said, it would be unfair to ask developing countries to forgo the benefits of industrialization. Coincidentally, a couple of people questioned the very meaning of the Annexes since economic growth is concentrated in emerging economies.

For rich countries like the United States, the risk is not in adopting climate change mitigation mechanisms or their impact on industrial competitiveness. The idea that climate change mitigation is inconsistent with industrial competitiveness is outdated. Instead, Diringer said, the risk is that the United States will fail to create the incentives to adopt future technologies, like China is trying to do.

The gorilla in the room was enforcement. Fortunately, the final question from the audience was direct: How will states' commitments be enforced? The panel agreed that enforcement mechanisms can't be punitive but rather should be facilitative. Commitments must be clear but not onerous. In that way, countries that fail to meet their commitments will be "named and shamed."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Climate Patriotism Will Only Cause More Problems

Robert Dujarric writes in the Christian Science Monitor that the Obama administration should appeal to patriotism to get Americans motivated to kick the oil addiction. Bush tried this approach back in 2006, but his weak solution was to fund more research (a form of delay) and to prioritize ethanol (which often equates to oil hidden in fertilizers and pesticides, and has unsavory consequences for world food prices).

Dujarric notes that historically in times of war the U.S. government has successfully played the patriot card for various goals: recruiting, war bonds, rationing, etc. Sociologically this argument is dead. America today is a post-sacrifice dreamland. In an economy driven by consumption, there are no costs, only opportunities.

[This is the fluff fed to the American people through marketing, from the bully pulpit (go to war and lower taxes), and by a media that sanitizes the true human experience of war or revolution. (The photos leaked from Abu Ghraib were an exception to this taboo, and the Neda Sultan video a stark intrusion of the Real.) Little wonder our fictional visual media constantly grow more casual, visceral, celebratory, and creative in their depiction of torture and murder. The problem is less that these media motivate violence and more that they are an expression of our repressed refusal to maturely engage the ongoing violence and evil of our world, whether banal or dramatic—poverty, rapes in Congo, strip mining.]

Practically speaking Obama has been reluctant to coax or force people into cutting oil consumption. During the campaign he rejected the idea of raising gasoline taxes, which would have satisfied Dujarric's desire to make life harder for authoritarian petrocrats. And now the administration is handcuffed by the need to stimulate the economy, while the underlying fundamental problem has not been solved: the economy equals pollution. Dujarric rightly notes that the global recession has been the only effective means of slowing emissions.

But the major fault line in his argument is its appeal to a very retrograde expression of patriotism, one based on fear, hate, enemies, and "the other." Gone are the days when we can blanket lump and demonize a "foreign" people to accomplish domestic or international goals. Destabilization of regimes and democracy promotion of this stripe is dead.

If Obama wants to appeal to American patriotism, he should elevate the debate. Americans pride themselves on being the type of people who don't run from their responsibilities. And when you look at current, cumulative, and per capita emissions, Americans bear a lot of responsibility for the current crisis.

Going forward, successful nations will be defined less by whom they confront, and more by what they can construct (and how they share it). This in the end is one symbolic lesson of the falling towers of 9/11: What have we built?

Given the urgency of global warming, the situation has moved past specific battles like saving polar bears to the idea of saving civilization. But this requires that we also be civilized. To achieve this, honesty is the change people have been waiting for, not jingoism.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Stimulus, Justice, and Business in Greening the Developing World

I attended a business leaders luncheon last week organized by the United Nations Association around the idea of Greening the Developing World: Tech's Leading Role (Siemens and TIME co-sponsored). Among the themes one stood out: "Experiment on us!" This came from Minister Modest Mero of Tanzania. He indicated that Africa is an investment opportunity where clean energy pilot projects can take root because they don't have to fight the inertia of creative destruction common in rich countries.

But what is the policy and political landscape for greening development? Robert Orr, the Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Planning and Policy Coordination, explained the relevance and success of the Clean Development Mechanism in this area. About half of new energy demand and development will be in poorer countries, he said, where 2 billion people live without modern energy access or technology. About one-third of CDM projects to date have involved technology dissemination to these countries.

Orr also made the point that it might be more useful to speak generally of "technology dissemination" instead of "technology transfer." He described the latter as too much of a 1960s–70s term. Recasting the process in this light would help account for co-development, PPPs, and other projects. (While I understand his pragmatic bent here, it does seem to gloss over the justice questions at stake in climate change.)

The CDM for all its faults [PDF] is not an insignificant pool of resources, and lessons have been learned from early implementation efforts. In 2006 some $25 billion was dedicated to projects in the CDM pipeline, $5.7 billion of which went to renewable energy and energy efficiency. But it should have come as no surprise for the UN to learn that money has flowed to the biggest, most profitable projects. As Orr acknowledged, about 80 percent of the projects have occurred in just five countries: Brazil, India, China, Mexico, and the Republic of Korea. Forty-nine other countries account for only 1.5 percent of CDM projects, showing a great need for equity and capacity-building. Orr explained that the UN role should be to help harness the power of the market in a formula that ensures full participation for access to energy.

On the topic of climate ethics, Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri of India was asked to explain why the West should help countries like India that are its industrial competitors. He answered that you can't solve global climate change without them! He also offered a somewhat rhetorical question of his own: Should the West give to the poorest countries but not to India? Puri estimated that there are more people living in India at the poverty level of the Least Developed Countries than there are total people living in those LDCs.

He said that countries like India offer potential not only as laboratories for new clean energy projects, but also as new markets for green technologies. He stressed that these investments should occur within the existing intellectual property regime (a point also expressed in Sen. John Kerry's Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act [PDF]). "Accessing technologies" would mean paying for patents, but at affordable rates to promote dissemination of clean technologies. Relying on philanthropy and altruism will go nowhere, he said.

Puri cited renewables and even nuclear as the green technology needs of India, since India still relies heavily on fossil fuels. Biofuels are a non-starter for India in the short and medium term because of land and water shortages, concerns about food security, and commodity price volatility. Puri instead would like to see an increase in public-funded R&D projects that can lead to technology dissemination that also maximizes the common good.

Glenn Prickett of Conservation International broke implementation goals down into three priorities: Efficiency, Forest conservation, and Renewable energy. He cited a McKinsey study [PDF] showing that progress in those areas could account for 75 percent of the global emissions reductions needed by 2020, at a net savings of $14 billion! Of course, this would entail a 50 percent reduction in tropical deforestation, and one roadblock is that public investment in forestry, agriculture, and land-use policies has been dropping.

Energy efficiency solutions, according to Prickett, can be driven by effective standards backed by institutions for enforcement. He pointed out that one of the best ways an "awakening" private sector can contribute is through supply-chain analysis and waste reduction. On a related note, the Kerry climate bill also calls for a voluntary "national product carbon disclosure program," to be based on a review of existing and planned standards such as Carbon Trust's Publicly Available Specification 2050, standards to be developed by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and those of the International Standards Organization.

A question was posed to the panel about why the interaction of climate change and land-use issues has been neglected relative to renewables and other investments. Orr responded that food security must be tackled in tandem with climate change, and that technology transfer for adaptation projects that deal with land use could yield huge advances at low cost. Ambassador Puri turned to the case of India, where he said 60 percent of the country lives in rural areas but only 20 percent of the country's GDP comes from agricultural investments. Why the underinvestment? Subsidies in the rich countries! Puri indicated that it's impossible to disentangle climate solutions from the inequities and stagnation of other negotiations such as the WTO Doha Round.

Indeed it is these systemic complexities and inequities that most plague the path to agreement in Copenhagen. But there is nonetheless climate solidarity that transcends national barriers, as evidenced by the massive global call to action organized by on October 24. As I wrote recently, solving climate change has great potential to serve as an organizing principle for Green Diplomacy, in a way that solves geostrategic, security, and development concerns. But it also has the potential to be a Global Green Stimulus, at a time when developing countries have been further battered by the financial failures of rich nations. Administering much of this stimulus in the form of mitigation grants or an adaptation fund is key to answering the major questions of global environmental justice.

[Photo credit: action on the beach of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (CC).]

Thursday, October 29, 2009

America Shouldn't Blow an Opportunity for Green Diplomacy

Among all the talk about soft power and smart power something big and obvious has been missing: wind power. By not being a global leader on climate change over the past decade America has blown a major opportunity to engage in Green Diplomacy—the strategic use of clean energy projects to boost development and security in poor countries. Going forward, the Obama Administration should articulate and carry out a plan to align several of our national priorities: innovation, emissions reduction, development, diplomacy, and security.

When it comes to linking climate change and security it is common practice to trot out the specter of mass hordes of climate refugees inundating rich countries as their own coastal homelands disappear into the ocean. Likely this fear suffers from a case of xenophobic exaggeration. But an already-porous migration policy does motivate the United States to focus on the development of climate-resilient countries in its own hemisphere first. Fortunately a demonstration project exists in the region: Costa Rica, where reforestation and renewable energy combine in a national commitment to becoming carbon neutral.

One can envision the United States helping clean energy best practices radiate out from there, facilitated by domestic and international regulation. Thus it is heartening to see funding and institutional priorities coalescing around these goals in Sen. John Kerry's recently submitted Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act [PDF]. The bill calls for establishment of a Strategic Interagency Board on International Climate Investment, to be composed of the secretaries of State, Energy, Treasury, Commerce, and Agriculture, the administrators of USAID and the Environmental Protection Agency, and any other relevant officials the president sees fit.

The SIBICI's task would be "to provide United States assistance to developing countries to develop, implement and improve nationally appropriate greenhouse gas mitigation policies," including preparation for participation in "markets for international offset credits for reduced emissions from deforestation." The bill also calls for the State Department to establish an International Clean Energy Deployment Program that would distribute funding either as bilateral assistance, to multilateral funds or institutions formed pursuant to the UNFCCC, or some combination of both. Similar funding would also be distributed under the International Climate Change Adaptation and Global Security Program to "provide assistance to the most vulnerable developing countries... in a way that protects and promotes interests of the United States."

The bill goes on to specify the details for emissions allowances and international offset credits, but much is also left open-ended to ensure that the executive branch has enough latitude to create and carry out these new programs. This bodes well for putting Green Diplomacy in the American power toolbox.

[Photo credit: Volcan Arenal, by Arturo Sotillo (CC).]

Japan Loves You, Brother - Newsweek piece

My take in Newsweek on Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama's speech in front of the Diet this week and his notion of yuai (fraternity). Here is an excerpt:

...Hatoyama's vision would go far beyond that of his predecessors, who have been trying for decades to coin a catchphrase that would somehow provide a signpost for understanding Japan's place in the world. Some of these ideas understood Japan primarily in relation to the world's great powers. DPJ chairman Ichiro Ozawa talked of Japan as a "normal country"—by which he meant that Japan would have a foreign policy of its own, independent of the United States. Other ideas were more nationalistic in tone, such as former prime minister Shinzo Abe's idea of Japan as a "beautiful country" or Taro Aso's of Japan as the "thought leader" of Asia. Still others attempted to position the country as the premier power in Asia, with Japan dubbed the head of "the flying geese." But all of these formulations seemed to position Japan against others, rather than putting it in a truly global context. Yuai, by contrast, identifies Japan as an independent actor that is also part of a much larger and integrated global system. Indeed, the universal rhetoric seems appropriate for a time of universal problems.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

IceStone CEO: "Buy American and Ask Questions" - An Interview with Miranda Magagnini

Today, I visited Miranda Magagnini, Co-CEO of one of New York's leading ethical companies, IceStone at its headquarters in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The Brooklyn site, which used to be owned by the U.S. Navy to produce the USS Missouri and other famous war ships, is now home to IceStone, which is waging its own battle for a better world by creating green alternatives to stone surfaces and counter tops. The company, which Miranda runs with Co-CEO Peter Strugatz, produces durable surfaces made of recycled glass and concrete. Their product is not only made from recycled materials but is also recyclable itself. The company has achieved an extraordinary level of certification, including LEED, Cradle to Cradle GOLD, and B Corporation.

Miranda was especially proud of their company's B Corporation Certification since big companies simply don't have the ability to be transparent enough to get B Corporation Certified. There are only 190 B Corporations, including Seventh Generation, Good Capital, and Greyston Bakery (listen to our interview with CEO Julius Walls, Jr. here). IceStone's logo is featured prominently on the B Corporation website. Miranda also showed me a stunning table made from their refined collection (pictured in photo from their website). She also had some cautionary advice for would-be ethical consumers.

"There is a lot of confusion about what 'eco' means. 'Green' has become something that is in the eye of the beholder. While deep green people ride their bicycles to work, others might feel fine just recycling their paper," she said. "People have to make compromises because that is what society demands. We all make decisions everyday. There are trade offs."

Beware of Green Washing

While Miranda was encouraged to see big companies trying to get their minds around sustainability issues and that they are seeing a real business case for the "leaning of products" (or green and lean), she reminded me that it is small businesses that do the innovating. She also warned that some companies are intentionally confusing consumers on green claims. They are "dumbing down" claims on being green. "How many tree frogs do we see on corporate communications? Does it mean anything?"

To avoid falling into these green washing traps, Miranda called on consumers to ask more questions and buy American. Why? Buying products made in the United States helps products that are subject to stricter standards; it employs Americans; it creates jobs; it reduces the U.S. dependence on foreign oil; and it is therefore good for society.

Despite the more stringent labor and environmental standards in the United States, this country has a long way to go in terms of recycling. We are way behind Europe. "And glass has become the orphan of recycling in the United States," she said. In Europe, 95 percent of glass is recycled and it is sorted so it can be used to create higher value products. IceStone uses post-industrial waste instead of consumer waste because the recycling systems are lacking in the United States. Big U.S. beer companies lobby against increasing the cash return value (container deposit legislation), which would make it worthwhile to sort and recycle glass. The big beer companies simply don't want to establish the recycling systems to facilitate the more advanced consumer waste recycling, she told me.

But overall, Miranda is upbeat. "I am pathologically optimistic," she told me. "I have to be as an entrepreneur."

She sees green products as a permanent presence in the market. "Green is not a trend. It is in people's vernacular. People want deeper value. Because money is tighter, people ask more questions." She sees consumers seeking "layers of value," meaning products must be high quality and the company that produces them must demonstrate that they share your values.

Meanwhile, consumers have a duty to ask questions and find out what is inside those products and what went into making them so they can make informed decisions, which can have a collective impact. It has become cheaper to import quartz from Madagascar or stone from China or Africa, where people routinely die in mines and environmental standards are low, than to source the stone from Vermont. "Every time you see mined or engineered stone," Miranda urged me, "think IceStone could be used there instead."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Security Implications of Climate Change

A couple of years ago at a conference in New York, I tried out a theory I had been developing: What if climate change presents a security threat in terms of a confluence of oil dependence, funding to terrorists, displacement of people, and changing water supplies, arable land, and strategic choke points. Certainly, I thought, the combination of poverty, terrorist groups, and the presence of people with new, powerful grievances are an explosive mix. My co-panelists looked at me in bewilderment.

Now it seems the idea is coming into its own, if it's not too late. At a UN meeting I attended yesterday, I asked a UN official whether member states and her colleagues were focusing on the effects of climate change. Her only answer was that everyone was doing their best to make the Copenhagen meeting a success. There didn't seem to be any thought given on preparing for the inevitable impact of climate change. We all have a responsibility to slow climate change but we also have a responsibility to prepare for its impact.

But there are many who understand the gravity of the problem. This afternoon, the Truman National Security Project and Operation Free hosted a conference call with Senator John Kerry on the security implications of climate change. I recommend everyone take a look at Operation Free's excellent website, which contains a ton of information on the possible threats from climate change. The message of the call was that in the past the United States had led by rank on these issues; now, it must lead by example. One officer said that we cannot wait for 100 percent certainty on what climate change means before we act on the threat. The time for action is now.

Senator Kerry's message was that American soldiers in Afghanistan have already reported on the visible threats related to climate change, including desertification and drought in areas that are vulnerable to extremist groups. General Zinni has said that climate change will involve the military and the loss of human life. Some of the points Senator Kerry mentioned were:

- The growing desert in Sudan against the backdrop of the need for firewood, worsening the desert
- The acute need for water in the Middle East where only 2 percent of the world's water is located
- The melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas that provide water to billions of people; the glaciers may be gone in 20 years.
- The rising oceans and their devestation to island nations
- The destruction of fishing grounds
- The predicted displacement of some 100 million people form climate change
- The anticipated increased migration of Mexicans to the United States
- The increased spread of diseases
- The disappearance of forests in Colorado
- The continued money from oil funding petro-states, autocrats, and extremists
- The dependence on (and shifting) strategic choke points like the Malacca Strait

If these threats were not enough, the arguments to take leadership include: the positive economic impact of investing in clean energy; the health benefits of reducing pollution; and the ethical responsibility to future generations.

Photo of Sudanese desert by tomallen.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Toward a Global Economic Ethic: Fraternity Needed

I just got back from a presentation at the United Nations of a new manifesto on advancing a "Global Economic Ethic" by the UN Global Compact, the Swiss Government, Novartis Foundation, and the Global Ethic Foundation. Swiss Ambassador Peter Maurer, UN Global Compact Executive Director Georg Kell, philosopher Hans Kung, economist Jeffrey Sachs, economist Josef Wieland, and Novartis Foundation CEO Klaus Leisinger presented the new manifesto, which draws from all the religious and non-religious moral traditions of the world (including Humanism) and includes as its first signatories Michel Camdessus, Hans Kung, Mary Robinson, Jeffrey Sachs, and Desmond Tutu.

The manifesto starts with a preamble that situates this effort for a more ethical globalization in the urgency of the financial crisis:

For the globalization of economic activity to lead to universal and sustainable prosperity, all those who either take part in or are affected by economic activities are dependent on a values-based commercial exchange and cooperation. This is one of the fundamental lessons of today’s worldwide crisis of the financial and product markets.

At the core of the manifesto are two pillars: humanity and the Golden Rule (or reciprocity).

On humanity, the manifesto states:

The fundamental principle of a desirable global economic ethic is humanity: Being human must be the ethical yardstick for all economic action: It becomes concrete in the following guidelines for doing business in a way that creates value and is oriented to values for the common good.

On the Golden Rule, under its fourth article, the manifesto states:

What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others. This Golden Rule of reciprocity, which for thousands of years has been acknowledged in all religious and humanist traditions, promotes mutual responsibility, solidarity, fairness, tolerance, and respect for all persons involved.

Such attitudes or virtues are the basic pillars of a global economic ethos. Fairness in competition and cooperation for mutual benefit are fundamental principles of a sustainably developing global economy that is in conformity with the Golden Rule.

Some of the discussion at the conference focused on the French motto: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Some argued that while governments and societies have done their best to improve the first two goals--liberty (or freedom) and equality--the third goal of fraternity (or brotherhood) had been dropped by the wayside. And this lack of a sense fraternity--the sense of caring for others--accounts for a lack of ethical thinking in the world.

Coincidentally, the new Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama's personal philosophy (yuai) also emphasizes fraternity.

This morning I attended Japanese economic official Hidehiko Nishiyama's talk at the Japan Society in NYC, moderated by Merit Janow. Giving the audience a sense of where Japan is headed under the DPJ as APEC 2010 approaches, Mr. Nishiyama introduced some concepts:

- Japan's economic policy will emphasize "inclusive growth" (which is to say a fairer economic policy benefiting more people in my words).

- Japan will promote green, sustainable growth, including energy efficiency and green infrastructure.

- Japan will champion "human security," improving food security, human health, etc.

- Yuai (fraternity or brotherhood) will be a guiding principle of Japanese society and Japan's relations with the world.

After the conference, I mentioned Prime Minister Hatoyama's expression to the organizers. Their response: "Probably not a coincidence."

Buddha statue in Kamakura, Japan. Photo by Kristian Stevens (CC).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

U.S.-China Climate Change Leadership: Five Ideas for a Common Agenda

NEW YORK, Sept. 29 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As the United States and China prepare for a bilateral summit on climate change in November, a pair of think tanks--one from each country--said today they have identified five concrete, business-oriented steps their nations could take together to combat climate change while meeting energy needs.

China and the United States--the world's two largest carbon emitters--should identify a handful of "world critical" technologies that address energy production and climate change, according to the China Reform Forum, the Chinese think tank, and the Carnegie Council, a New York-based institution. The two countries should then jointly develop the technologies under a bilateral regime that promotes private investment, project development, and shared intellectual property rights.

Carnegie Council and China Reform Forum said they had developed the proposed measures by convening an expert working group in New York on August 28.

The group identified specific areas in which the two countries could cooperate. Participants at the meeting noted such cooperation will require developing deeper trust. They said, however, finding ways to cooperate will help to build that trust--a reinforcing process. The deeper the level of trust, the more ambitious and successful joint projects will be. Successful cooperation can depoliticize the issue of climate change, allowing U.S. politicians to sell the issue to their constituents and expand the prospects for future bilateral cooperation, participants said.

The two think tanks urged the United States and China to:

- Identify five to ten top "critical" technologies that would abate climate change while increasing needed energy supplies in the near to medium term;

- Establish a bilateral protocol to spur joint development of these technologies by encouraging investment, development, and protection of intellectual property rights;

- Embark on joint research, perhaps creating laboratories, to develop "leapfrog technologies" beyond the carbon footprint--such as hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles or green buildings--with an eye toward harnessing entirely new infrastructures.

- Implement a joint pilot project in each country--such as carbon capture at a coal-fired electricity plant or smart electrical grid--at the local, state, or regional level.

- Support one another in creating and launching public education campaigns aimed at changing public opinion on climate change, strengthening the sense of individual responsibility, moving beyond a zero-sum notion of climate change obligations, and issuing a set of best practices.

The New York meeting, hosted by Booz & Company, a global management consulting firm, took place shortly after it was announced that President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao of China would hold a summit meeting in Beijing in November ahead of the multilateral climate change talks in Copenhagen this December.

The China Reform Forum sent the delegation to New York City and included a People's Liberation Army major general and leading climate change and economics researchers. Conference participants hailed from two United Nations agencies, North American think tanks, universities, and corporations, including IBM and Booz & Company.

The Carnegie Council and the China Reform Forum said they plan to reconvene within one year in Beijing with two goals in mind: to further develop a common ethical understanding between the United States and China on climate change and other issues, and to report back on the feedback from their networks on the five suggested areas of cooperation.

The meetings are the first steps in what both sides hope will be a strong, long-term, institutional relationship dedicated to the pursuit of common ethical approaches to problem solving.

To show international leadership on climate change the United States and China must overcome domestic mindsets suspicious of real burden-sharing. It was suggested that both countries should find ways to change public attitudes by, for example, recognizing, celebrating, and incentivizing green entrepreneurs.

For an interview with Joel Rosenthal, President of Carnegie Council, or other participants, please contact Carnegie Council Communications Director Madeleine Lynn at 1-212-838-4120 ext.222.

The Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs (, established in 1914 by Andrew Carnegie, is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing understanding of the relationship between ethics and international affairs.

SOURCE Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Reflections on US-China Climate Change Working Group

Last month, the Carnegie Council, Booz & Company, and China Reform Forum held a US-China working group in New York City on the ethics and innovations surrounding the global climate change debate ahead of the US-China summit in November and the Copenhagen climate change talks in December. The big success was in that the group was able to list a set of concrete research, technology, and policy objectives (forthcoming in a later publication).

As Nikhil Chandavarkar of UNDESA noted, the group was able to view the US-China relationship as a positive sum game and less binary than is sometimes portrayed in the press or in domestic constituencies. The group also noted how similar the United States and China are in their attachment to values. Nikhil recommended more US-China talks on the civil society level in order to build confidence between the countries.

Similarly China energy expert Chris Brown noted that the group was able to lay out a set of proposals for future cooperation--and in specifics (an unusual feat). Chris said it was one of the most "forward-looking, constructive" panels he has been on. As for the atmosphere for the US-China summit in November, Chris was encouraged by the agreement on both sides of the enormity of the climate change problem. The problem will be getting past domestic obstacles.

Carnegie Council Trustee Jonathan Gage (of Booz & Company) compared the working group to the delegation we led to Beijing last year. He sensed a growing level of trust and willingness to talk about future initiatives.

One of the big themes of the discussion was the moral obligation of businesses to society in the context of climate change. Jeff Hittner of IBM made the case that publics will hold companies to account for their impact. "Sustainabilty and profit... go hand in hand," he said. "Ethical consumers" are making decisions based on a broader set of factors, he continued. Because of the growing interconnectedness of technology, Jeff said, people can make better, more efficient decisions with a greater awareness of the impact of those decisions.

Stay tuned for our forthcoming conference statement.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Expect Minor Quake (No Tsunami) From Japan's Elections

Next week's lower house national elections in Japan will likely give the inexperienced Democrats (DJP) a majority, putting an opposition party in power for only the second time since 1955. Will the expected DPJ victory really spell a "tsunami" for the U.S.-Japan relationship as some have suggested? My view is that this concern is probably overblown.

Earthquakes are a fact of life in Japan. Some generate tsunami, some don't. During my recent trip there, I experienced three significant quakes, one of which was quite dangerous. Despite a lot of anxiety about what the expected Democratic Party of Japan's victory in the lower house elections on Aug. 30 will mean for U.S.-Japan relations, I expect only a minor quake in Japan's foreign relations. The tastelessness of using the cliche "tsunami" to describe the upcoming elections aside, I would argue that there are too many factors weighing against a Japanese foreign policy moving away from the U.S. alliance in any meaningful sense.

First, political opposition in Japan, just like in most places, likes to create rhetoric in all spheres that distinguish it from the ruling party. That doesn't mean a party will follow through on its campaign or opposition rhetoric. In the United States, one only needs to recall George W. Bush's 2000 campaign promise to carry out a "humble" foreign policy if elected. Once in power, parties have to come to grips with the realities of governing--or as my colleague David Speedie calls it the limitations on options and thinking strategically.

In other words, national interest will trump political rhetoric and most Japanese see close ties with the United States as a critical national interest. The DPJ's Secretary-General Katsuya Okada recently said in an interview that U.S.-Japan relations are "extremely important for Japan's national interests. We should consider how we can make US-Japan relations, the US-Japan alliance, more fruitful."

In fact, as it looks more probable that the Democrats will win in Japan, the DPJ has moderated its critiques of the U.S.-Japan relationship. As Dan Okimoto recently said in an interview, "What I've noticed over the past several weeks is that the DPJ statements have stepped back from commitments to make immediate and far-reaching changes. They've been backtracking from the positions of ending the refueling mission in the Indian Ocean and of moving quickly out of Futenma. What the DPJ leaders appear to be seeking is a smooth, seamless transition, where bilateral issues don't get entangled with domestic reform priorities."

Which brings me to another point: The DPJ (and Japan itself) already has a full plate. At the top of the DPJ's agenda is reviewing budget priorities and eliminating waste, as well as reducing the amount of nepotism in politics and increasing the power of local governments. The DPJ also wants to give more power to politicians in making policy at the expense of the elite bureaucracy. Then there are the long term policy issues, including the aging society and pension burdens on taxpayers. These priorities alone will keep the DPJ busy. It doesn't need another battle.

Some of what we are hearing from the DPJ is a matter of emphasis and being honest about Japan's capabilities. People have long advocated for tighter U.S.-Japan economic ties and collaboration in non-military areas such as energy and the environment. "Japan's relations with the U.S. have been heavily biased toward defense," DPJ head Yukio Hatoyama recently said. "Now it's time to shift our focus to economic ties. We will strengthen our economic ties and promote free trade while protecting our national interests." And above all, the Japanese, like most people, want to feel safe in a region that still looks like a dangerous neighborhood.

The refrain I kept hearing from everyday people in Japan was this: "The DPJ will become the LDP."

What does this mean? The most obvious interpretation is that it will be business as usual; the DPJ (which in fact has former LDP members in its ranks) will adopt the same policies as the LDP. Somewhat darkly, perhaps there is a success strategy in this thinking: For the DPJ to survive as the ruling party, it may be forced to adopt some of the policies and practices of the LDP. The expectations are so low for the DPJ, meanwhile, that if it can govern without being corrupt, it will have a shot at staying in power. Conversely, the phrase may mean that that LDP as the opposition will have to move closer to the DPJ's anti-corruption and pro-social safety net rhetoric.

But if the DPJ seems to be failing, I doubt the Japanese population will have much patience. The Japanese voters love Schadenfreude, and if the party gives them something to complain about, they will. The DPJ must therefore remember that their support from the population comes as a rejection of the LDP, not an explicit endorsement of the DPJ. The DPJ would be unwise to over-interpret their mandate.

But when it comes to the foreign policy differences between the LDP and DPJ, what are we really talking about? A stronger emphasis on the non-military elements of the U.S.-Japan relationship; better relations with Japan's Asian neighbors; more active involvement with multilateral initiatives through international organizations, like the United Nations. These are precisely the types of foreign policies the Obama administration would welcome. The concern among Japanese about U.S. foreign policy stemmed from Bush's unilateral action in Iraq, trashing of international treaties, and contempt for international organizations--the very things that concerned the Obama team, too. When you look at it, the Democrats in Japan and the Democratic Party in the United States are quite aligned.

Instead of sounding the tsunami alarm, Americans should be welcoming political change in Japan as a manifestation of a real, healthy democracy. Japan, which has been held up as the shining example of democracy in Asia can now walk the walk. Small quakes are a fact of life in Japan; a political tsunami in U.S.-Japan relations would be out of character and would probably require a much more dramatic shock to spark it.

Photo by Toe Stubber

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Japanese Women Reassess Gender Equity

The Japanese are one big family, it is often said. Small trends and changes in the family mood are amplified and exaggerated in the press--no matter if the trends are real or imagined. In fact, there is a whole industry, involving TV commentators, the print press, social scientists, and small businesses, that taps into these blips. One of the most salient trends I detected during my recent trip to Japan (visiting Tokyo, Yokohama, and Kushiro) was a subtle shift in the attitudes of young women toward gender equity.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a story about a new trend in Japan--again whether it is real or imagined is debatable. The article (titled "With Jobs Scarce in Japan, Women Become Professional Flirts") said that some women are choosing to become hostesses in order to survive during the recession and that the image of hostessing as a job has gained some respectability. The article's sensational photo featured a single mother who works as a hostess (oh no, Japan's mothers are becoming prostitutes!).

I asked a Japanese friend, who is an MBA candidate in Japan, about this article and she said that the deeper issue is that single women in their late 20s and 30s are kicking up their search for financial stability. This drive includes doing previously shunned jobs or searching for husbands by engaging in "kon katsu" or "marriage hunting," which includes the use of websites that help women find men. Given the U.S. media's fondness for exoticizing Japan, what are we to make of this new trend? During my recent trip, I was eager to find out.

After talking with many people during this trip, my view is that this trend is both much ado about nothing and much ado about something very subtle, but not necessarily what one would expect on the surface. Keep in mind my view is based on conversations only, not quantitative analysis.

In one regard, this story is about nothing much or at least something that has been going on for a long time in Japan and in the world. Men and women need ways of finding spouses in all countries. Given Japan's ostensible shy culture, its society has developed indirect methods of match making. In the past, it was arranged marriages ("omiai"). In the recent past, it was singles parties at restaurants ("gokon"). In today's digital world, the newest version of this method is match making websites and other services that facilitate marriage hunting. No big change.

But in another regard, something else is going on here. Women seem to be reassessing gender equity. To understand, we have to go back about ten years. During the middle of Japan's "lost decade" of the 1990s and early 2000s, economic growth was weak and companies were trying to respond--as was the government. Policymakers and businesses appeared to have found a mutually beneficial solution: tap into Japan's under utilized resource--its women's human capital. From the policy community, this idea was captured by my former boss and former MITI official Nobuo Tanaka in his essay "Girls, Be Ambitious," published in the early 2000s. Here is his essay's sober conclusion:

Encouraging women to enter more fully into the labor force will increase competition for jobs at a time when Japan's unemployment rate is at a post-war high; salaries for male workers could suffer as a result. But two working family members instead of one, which is still more or less the norm in Japan, means more income for the household. Also, it could encourage the sharing of housekeeping chores and child-rearing, tasks which are really much more tiring than office work, as a famous female ex-MITI official once said.

One of our recent speakers, Goldman Sachs Japan Chief Strategist Kathy Matsui, remarked that she was surprised to discover it is not only Japanese labor conventions that keep women from participating more fully in the workforce, but a tangible lack of career aspirations among Japanese women themselves. In her investigations into the economic implications of Japanese women in the labor force, an area that she calls "Womanomics," she notes that fostering career ambition is something that must be addressed as well.

It is difficult to say whether this can, in fact, be addressed through policy: it may be an educational, or even simply a child-rearing, issue. But ambitiousness and career aspirations are very much a desirable characteristic in the upcoming generation of Japanese young women. There is no doubt that they can make a significant contribution to the economic restructuring of Japan, something that we, as well as all of you outside of Japan, are anxious to see emerge.

Meanwhile, from a businessman's perspective, this idea seemed appealing in that women could be hired part-time, thus the birth of another trend in Japan--the furita and arubaito (part time workers). It seemed to be a win-win-win situation--policymakers found a new resource for Japan's economy, businesses found new flexible labor, and women found a new role in the workplace and a new sense of equity. In fact, women could pursue a dream of becoming career women. But how did it turn out?

For some women, the dream was fulfilled--they found careers. For others, the dream was ephemeral--they found drudgery in part time work with no social safety net and no stability. The current recession is hitting these women especially hard as they are seen as expendable--thus the New York Times article about women trying previously undesirable types of professions. As my MBA friend put it, women are doing whatever it takes to find financial stability, whether it be in becoming hostesses or trying updated versions of the age-old match-making practice in Japan. Women are also re-thinking gender roles.

My sociologist friend puts it another way. There are two successful types of couple equity: (traditional) complementary relations where the man does certain tasks (say working full time) and the woman does other tasks (say shopping and raising children); and equal relations where both the man and the women pursue the same tasks (say careers, shopping, and raising children). For centuries, Japan has favored the complementary type of relationships and thus its society has been structured to facilitate it. The newer, equal relationship has had some negative consequences: some women chased their careers and now find themselves alone; or in some cases, raising children and pursuing a career has just proven untenable in Japanese society. As my friend put it, women's expectations and goals have changed and they are therefore reassessing what fairness means between the sexes.

Does this mean the drive for gender equality has failed in Japan? Was the push for women to chase careers misguided? It is too soon to tell. But all of this raises a subtle question. Equity, equality, fairness, and well-being are all virtuous goals for a society. Equality between the sexes and the dream of raising children in a happy home are reasonable goals. But as the Japanese case shows, they can be mutually exclusive.

Unfortunately, these trade offs are not unique to Japan either. In a recent phone call back home, I learned about the struggles of Washington's career women in their 30s. Loneliness has driven them to use the dreaded match-making websites. Is this a unavoidable byproduct of modern living?

(Photo by Devin Stewart)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Mieko Nakabayashi: Japan Must Stop Wasting Money

(Posted Aug. 18, 2009; photos by Devin Stewart)

I just saw my old friend and former colleague Mieko Nakabayashi. She is now a bright star in the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) who is running to represent Kanagawa's first district in Japan's lower house in the Aug. 30 national election. In many ways, she epitomizes Japan's opposition the DPJ: She is hard-working, innovative, and conservative on budget issues.

Mieko was doing "yuudachi" (evening campaigning at subway stations, targeting people coming home from work). This aspect of Japanese elections is the core of democracy here; the candidate and her staff burst on to the public squares near commuter railway stations to make the case for their candidacy. A DPJ politician who introduced Mieko harshly criticized former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi's deceptive administration, which he said only focused on postal reform. Today is the first official day of Mieko's campaign and she is working from 6am to 9pm each day to get her message out:

True to her unique background working on budget issues at the U.S. Senate years ago, she is a blue dog (in fact, her campaign color is marine blue, a link to Yokohama's maritime culture), fiscal conservative. In line with the top pillar of the DPJ platform, her key message is, Japan must stop wasting money. It is already the most in debt rich country in the world. Like the GOP in the United States, Mieko compared Japan's budget to a household, asking passersby whether they would feel OK with running a household with such high levels of debt (to income).

Mieko said that in this election, the Japanese people will truly have a choice and that choice will allow for a thorough review of the budget. By reviewing budget priorities, Japan will be better able to afford social services like job training--a line that reminded me of the Obama campaign. While the DPJ has campaigned against graft and excess, it has been attacked by ruling party LDP for suggesting the need for new social service.

When Mieko and I worked at a Japanese think tank years ago, a common theme was the need for a competition of ideas and policies---a marketplace of ideas, in the parlance of Washington think tanks. Mieko used this kind of thinking to advocate for a real competition between political parties to bring about competitive policies for Japan. All in all, Mieko struck me as showing a lot of integrity, humility, and sincerity, resembling the colleague I knew years ago. And the people in the Yokohama suburban neighborhood seemed to embrace her as such with many people from all walks of life stopping to shake her hand and read her literature.

Given some of the alarm in Washington about the prospect of having a new party in power in Tokyo (the LDP has been in power almost consistently since 1955), I asked Mieko what her approach to the U.S. alliance would be. Not to worry (no surprise for me), for Japan, "the U.S. relationship is the most important in the world."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Campaign Secrets from Ichiro Ozawa

I am in Japan this week, and everyone is talking about the upcoming national election. What new policies will it bring? How will it alter the policy-making process? What will it mean for the U.S.-Japan alliance?

The opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), is expected to win, upsetting the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP) nearly consistent grip on power since 1955. The strategist behind a lot of the DPJ's success is Ichiro Ozawa, who was previously a member of the LDP.

The latest issue (Aug. 17, 2009) of the Asahi Shimbun Weekly (AERA) spells out Ozawa's campaign secrets. Here are his top eight pointers for winning an election:

1. Small speeches in the countryside are more effective than large ones in the city.
2. Give small speeches at least 50 times a day.
3. These small speeches should be done in 1 to 5 minute stretches around local vicinities.
4. Longer (10 to 15 minute) speeches should include two personal failure stories.
5. When you bow, you should do so properly by keeping your legs straight.
6. When you receive a business card, examine it carefully (don't simply stick it in your pocket).
7. When you visit houses, you should always go in pairs (to avoid becoming lazy) and target 200 households per day.
8. If support is strong in a town, you should campaign hard there. If the support is weak, you should campaign less hard (as it warrants).

Good luck with your campaign!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

NYU Students: U.S. Should Lead by Example

This week I facilitated a class debate on U.S. foreign policy toward East Asia for a course I am teaching at NYU called Inside East Asia. At the Woolworth Building campus downtown, we critiqued George W. Bush's National Security and created our own priorities given the realities of the world today.

The big news was that the students felt the need to end tyranny and fight terrorism was overstated during the Bush administration and that the United States instead should lead by example. To repair U.S. image abroad, the students emphasized the need for fairer global institutions and a more equitable global economy.

Below are the impressions of student Shira Levine, who participated in the debate.

Debate: U.S. Policy toward East Asia at New York University

It took exactly 44 minutes for the Inside East Asia class at NYU's Summer Institute to determine the U.S.'s overall national security strategy. Our class led by Devin Stewart represented four East Asian regions: China, Japan, North and South Korea, and ASEAN.

Professor Stewart had us go over America's National Security Strategy issued by former President George W. Bush in 2006 and do a bit of prioritizing.

We reviewed the Bush administration's strategy and its order of importance because as Stewart told us, policymakers like to list things in order of what they like or prefer first. Here are Bush's priorities:

Human dignity
Alliances to defeat terrorism
Defuse regional conflict
Addressing weapons of mass destruction, etc
Economic opportunity
Increase and expand economic development
Cooperative action
Transform American national security institutions
Engage and confront challenges of globalization

It was quite clear that the order for Bush 2 didn't quite gel with our progressive thinking so we reprioritized and got... well it wasn't so easy. That took an hour alone to determine but chances are good it took us less time then the paid policymakers do.

First we started with repairing the image of the United States as the first on the to do list. Some classmates said this goal should be the top priority because people need to have trust the U.S. again. Plus, we unanimously recognized the kind of sway soft power garners.

The class was a bit divided on where to begin. Our Canadian comrade suggested it was to "engage globalization by creating more balanced trade agreements." He was pushing for "fairer" and "smarter" soft power diplomacy. By a fairer trader agreement, he wanted agreements that were balanced and where both parties receive true mutual gain.

Another classmate said, "Hey, it's not so easy. The interest groups are in control and need to change their goals to help." A Chinese American classmate then brought up the notion of reducing military spending since the U.S. has the biggest military budget. He felt reducing the military budget should be a priority.

A Coloradan classmate agreed and said, "Lets close the bases!" But our Iraqi war veteran classmate immediately spoke up and said, no way to closing bases--that there were a lot of jobs and livelihoods at stake. Why not instead get rid of F-22s she suggested.

Another classmate brought up how history is repeating itself, as Fareed Zakaria has argued. The U.S. was repeating all the mistakes Britain made before it fell. Our Mongolian classmate was understanding of U.S. mentality. In a debate over whether the U.S. should accept that it's not a global superpower, the class was divided. Surrender to the rest rising or stick to the history the U.S. has fought for? Bottom line says our Mongolian friend: The U.S. isn't actually in any danger. Where is the threat to America?

We spoke about restructuring global institutions as a key list topper too. An Indian classmate coined the phrase "a la carte coalitions." Another said: "Let's make a four-year checklist for what the U.S. wants for its future. Let's retool and reposition the U.S." A South Korean classmate was prepared to end tyranny with donuts. She brought in a box of the delectable treats for the debate. (If only that worked with Kim Jung Il!)

Ultimately, we decided the goal for the U.S. in East Asia was for the U.S. to exercise a form of global accountability that was best described as "leading by example" or "exemplarism."

So with examplarism the overall policy list changed to:

Examplarism, leading by example
Engage the opportunities and confront the challenges of globalization.
Transform America's national security institutions to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century
Economic development
Green development

So what is the U.S. goal in Asia? To maintain U.S. influence or relationships. We want economic growth and good relations.

So, the U.S. doesn't want to lose its stake in Asia. The U.S. wants to maintain influence. Meanwhile our Chinese classmate suggested the U.S. find a way to back off and give these countries space. An Australian classmate said let everyone do it on their own. But another said the U.S. should help when possible. The class wondered, what the consequences would be if the U.S. left the region. Would the region destabilize?

One classmate said keep the trade relations, secure the waters, and probe in that way but beyond that leave Asia alone. A Korean classmate said that the military is really important to Korea despite some emotional challenges. So the order the class listed the relationships in by importance was:


South Korea



We asked the question: Is Japan the cornerstone for U.S. Asia policy? We battled over saying which country was more important: Japan or China and left Japan first. Japan has a sensitivity issue and everyone knows China is important. It's smart to leave Japan our ally first, and place China last since everyone knows China really isn't last.

1. Japan – the pedestal nation light years ahead of China in democratic values. Japan can lead by example in Asia.

2. South Korea without a mention of DPRK because we determined we only work with allies.

3. ASEAN and talk about increasing military exercises with COBRA GOLD.

4. We discussed the idea of taking Australia out of the East Asian category and bringing in India, but even our Indian classmates ultimately said no, that it would be too hard.

5. China we say is a responsible stakeholder. We like Bob Zoellick's idea that China should feel that it has a stake in the status quo. As Stewart said, America's diplomacy is bipolar toward China: It is to persuade China to be peaceful and to dissuade China from being aggressive. We should take a hedging posture and use inclusive tactics with China in order to garner some transparency.

Who knows? Our Chinese classmate advised the U.S. to leave China alone and that China will never improve its transparency--not even 1,000 years from now.

Photo "Woolworth Building" by laverrue.