EPIBuilding a Sustainable Future
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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A group of 22 scientists recently published their findings in Nature (486 June 07) revealing that we are approaching a “state shift” in Earth’s biosphere. That’s a gentle way of saying that we’re headed for trouble. We are pressing against, likely have even pressed past, the limits of what our planet can sustain. (Watch a video clip in this article by David Robert of Grist in which the lead author Anthony Barnosky of the University of California at Berkeley summarizes the study´s results.)

This month from June 20-22, the United Nations is holding the Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It has been dubbed Rio+20 because it is taking place 20 years after the first Earth Summit was held there in 1992. I remember that Summit 20 years ago and all of the optimism we had for what would come out of it—and the disappointment afterwards.

We and the planet need Rio+20 to result in positive, unified goals for heading us onto a sustainable path. But if this does not happen, we can still work for positive, concrete actions in order to avoid the environmental tipping point that Barnosky and his colleagues, and so many others, have warned us about.

A global online mobilization took place on Twitter yesterday to grab the attention of the world leaders gathered in Rio who still remain divided over proposals to phase out the provision of public funds to carbon dioxide polluters. The campaign, supported by Stephen Fry, Robert Redford, actor Mark Ruffalo, politicians and environmentalists, took the hash tag #endfossilfuelsubsidies up to number one in the ranking of trending topics in the United States and number two globally. Of this event, Bill McKibben of 350.org wrote today: "But most importantly, the message was spread by all of you -- and now it's too big to ignore. The simple call to #EndFossilFuelSubsidies is cutting through the noise at the Rio Earth Summit in Brazil. Already, we're getting reports that the issue now sits squarely at the center of the world's agenda. We don't yet know how it's all going to turn out, but it's safe to say that the TwitterStorm made a positive outcome in Rio a bit more likely."

At Earth Policy Institute, we have developed Plan B as a way to shift the world onto a more sustainable footing. It requires stabilizing population, reducing carbon emissions, stabilizing population, and restoring the economy’s soils, aquifers, forests, and other natural support systems. These are ambitious goals, but they can be done using the technologies currently available.

For instance, despite a lack of unity, some countries have taken positive steps toward this goal. Scotland has committed to getting 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Germany, which gets much less sunlight than the United States, recently covered nearly half of its midday energy needs by producing 22 gigawatts of electricity from solar power, a world record in solar power generation. In addition, four states in Germany routinely get 40 to 60 percent of their electricity from wind. For Denmark, it is 25 percent. Two U.S. states, Iowa and South Dakota, now get 20 percent of their electricity from wind farms.

In the United States, a powerful climate movement has emerged opposing the construction of new coal-fired power plants.

And there are many other steps being taken. But it does require getting involved. As we say here at the Institute, pick an issue and get to work on it. Perhaps it is getting a world-class recycling center operating in your community. Or it might be writing and talking to political leaders about the need for a carbon tax. Our People in Action page gives some examples of what people have done. 

Yours for positive action,

Reah Janise Kauffman

Posted by Reah Janise on 06/19 at 08:00 AM

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Wednesday, June 06, 2012

John and Blondeen GravelySaturday, Lester and I attended the funeral for Blondeen and John Gravely. It was an especially sad time for Lester as he and Blondeen had begun working together when he was at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the 1960s. Fresh from graduating valedictorian of her high school, Blondeen moved to Washington and began doing clerical work for the USDA.When Lester was brought into Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman’s staff, he needed administrative support and Blondeen was transferred to him. They hit it off from the start. Her quick mind and cheerful, upbeat nature, along with her secretarial skills made her a perfect assistant for Lester. She had a flair for clothing, sewing all of her clothes, which often evoked admiration from others.

When Lester moved to head the International Development Agency, he brought Blondeen along to support the Deputy Administrator, Lyle Schertz. Lester and Blondeen were the youngest people in the Agency!

A year after helping James Grant found the Overseas Development Council (ODC) in 1969, Lester convinced Blondeen to join them.

Blondeen’s typing skills (non-correcting typewriters!!) were legendary. She typed so fast and accurately that people would gather around her desk just to watch her! And with the books Lester produced while at the ODC, her fingers were kept very busy. The two were a terrific team.

So it was natural for him to bring Blondeen along when he founded Worldwatch Institute in 1974. Along with Lester and Erik Eckholm, Blondeen was one of the Institute’s three incorporators. While Lester was finishing up his commitments at the Overseas Development Council, Blondeen did all of the administrative work to get the new Institute up and running. She was a central figure in both the creation and evolution of the Institute, initially as administrative officer and assistant treasurer and, later, as vice president for administration and treasurer.  That she simultaneously held two key offices in the Institute was itself a tribute to her capacities and to her contribution.Blondeen's Farewell 1996

Blondeen loved to travel and in the early years of Worldwatch accompanied Lester on a few of his trips, especially to Ethiopia, where they took time to sightsee and hike in the mountains.

Although she took early retirement due to a disability in 1996, we kept in touch, regularly inviting her and her husband John to special events and celebrations. At our last lunch together, Blondeen and Lester talked about the two books he was working on, one of which is his autobiography. They laughed over many shared memories.

So it was a very sad day when we learned that John and Blondeen were in a horrific car accident. John died instantly and Blondeen followed shortly thereafter.

As Lester noted in his testimony for Blondeen on Saturday, she was an important part of his life for 32 years and will remain so.


Reah Janise Kauffman

Posted by Reah Janise on 06/06 at 08:00 AM


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