Wednesday Dec 23, 2020
Wednesday Dec 23, 2020
Welcome to the podcast Find Your Sustain Ability, where we discuss active solutions to some of the world's toughest problems related to climate change, social justice and sustainability. My name is Lee Ball, and I am your host. On the podcast today, I have an old friend, the honorable Senator Heinrich from New Mexico. Senator Heinrich is no stranger to environmental and sustainability issues. An avid conservationist, he has worked for decades on behalf of the environment and the people of his home state of New Mexico. Now, as an acting U.S. senator, he continues this work, and much more, on behalf of our country. Senator Heinrich, welcome to the podcast. It is a real pleasure to speak with you after all these years.
Yeah, it's great to be with you, Lee.
So we first met in Albuquerque while I was working on my master's in environmental education at the University of New Mexico. At the time, I remember being hopeful that we're slowly, slowly starting to get a handle on the environmental crisis. Fast forward 25 years and the environmental crisis is exponentially worse, coupled with a climate crisis of unimaginable proportions. The majority of the state has warmed at least 1 degree over the last century. There are more fires, droughts, floods, extreme heat, pests, decreased snowpack, changing landscapes and even desertification. As someone who's spent decades actively working on these problems, what's really troubling you about these issues in your home state right now?
You know, I think when you and I first met there was a growing awareness of the problem. But I think in our generation, we were more the exception than the rule in choosing to really focus on these issues with our life's work. And I see that differently today in this rising generation. It seems that the entirety of the generation really sees these challenges very clearly and they expect not just, you know, words, they expect action for changing the myriad of challenges that we face. They expect us to fix the climate crisis. They expect us to do something about biodiversity. And I think the political power in that is really going to open up a flood gate of action. And the reality is that this kind of change does not happen in a linear way. There's a lot of effort that goes in for a long time before you really get to see anything but incremental change.
And then all of a sudden, the curve bends and things happen quickly. And so, as frustrating as it has been to spend my entire adult life fully aware of the changing climate and seeing very little action, now we're reaching a point of dramatic action, and technology is changing very, very quickly because they're not on a linear path either. And so I have more hope about doing something right now that I've had for most of my life. And I'm hopeful, in part, because you know, when I was in college, we didn't have all the solutions to these things. We have the technology to fix the climate crisis today. We have the agricultural practices, but what we need is mass implementation. And what we need is to bring down the costs of some of those solutions, but we can see a path and that wasn't true in the past. And we just need to, you know, across the board, we need action and we need cooperation with the rest of the world. And as we've all seen, that's been a real challenge in the last four years, shall we say.
I'm glad you shared that perspective. That really takes me back, you know, back when I was really thinking about what I wanted to do when I grew up. I thought that spreading awareness was really important at the time. I did feel like there was, you know, a lot of momentum back in the '90s. You know, fast forward to today, we don't spend any time in our work trying to convince people that climate change is real. We're actually working with these youth that you mentioned, they're telling us we're not doing it fast enough. And so that's a great problem to have. I'm so happy that there's a ground swelling support that has spread across the globe amongst the youth and others, obviously, and other generations. This does seem like the time for us to take action. We clearly don't have a lot of time. And I realize that that's a big part of why this has all emerged at the moment.
I really think, you know, if we don't act with urgency, this generation is going to push us out of the way and rightfully so.
I agree. I recently read about how the iconic pinyon pine habitats and chili pepper crops were being affected by climate change in your home state. What are the ramifications of inaction and what are some of the social environmental risks associated with this?
Well, you start messing with the New Mexican's chili, and you'll get their attention really fast. You know, this stuff is coming home to roost in a way that really is motivating people because the very foundation and the sense of place of home that is so unique in my state. You know, New Mexico is not "anywhere USA." It's not a place where you get dropped into a small town and there's an Applebee's on one corner and a Starbucks on the other and a McDonald's across the street. It is deeply unique in culture and history and things like chili and pinyon are sort of baked into who we are. So, when you start to see things that are foundational to you change and change rapidly and be threatened, it is part of the motivation that has us acting much more urgently than we have in the past.
Our state actually just passed a law, the Energy Transition Act, in the last legislature, to say that we want to be carbon zero in all of our electric generation by 2045. Since then, we've actually worked with the state's largest utility and they've committed to do that by 2040. So, all these timelines that people said couldn't be met in the past are actually getting shorter, and the urgency of losing things that we care so deeply about, or, in my case, you know, when I have free time, I spend it on our public lands and I know the state really intimately. And I know these places that are such a central part of who I am, and I have seen places that are just really near and dear to me change dramatically in the last 20 years. And that is really motivational, because when you are rooted to a place and a sense of place, and then you see that change, it's very hard not to be motivated to act.
Yeah. I feel the same, you know, here in Western North Carolina the mountains are unbelievably beautiful and when we see real changes beginning to happen, it just really hits home at a place that is, you know, uniquely different from really anything a lot of us have ever experienced. So farmers are feeling this and the recreation industry is feeling this and, you know, fortunately there's this broadened awareness and those industries where people are starting to lend a hand. So it's unfortunate that we've had to really tap a wide variety of interest groups. It would be great if we could just solve these problems without engaging them, but now people are literally rising up because it's just, you know, it's affecting their livelihoods at a deep level. When I first moved to New Mexico, I taught in the McKinley County Schools System on and off the Navajo or Diné Nation as they like to call themselves. And many of these communities were deeply and desperately struggling back then, in addition to the obvious, most pressing COVID-related needs, what other lifelines do tribal communities need now to help them deal with the accelerating effects of climate change?
You know, I think there's a lot of parallels between COVID and climate. COVID is very urgent and very quick and right in front of us and climate is slower, but every bit as urgent and even bigger. No one has felt the impacts of COVID harder than tribal communities. I've had mentors and friends of mine in tribal communities who have who've passed away from COVID. And I think one of the only silver linings is that I've been able to get the attention of my colleagues to understand just how urgent these issues are in tribal communities. And I think what tribal communities need more than anything else is the basic infrastructure that the rest of the country takes for granted. And so, my hope is that in 2021, we can shift towards getting serious about infrastructure in particular and make the kind of commitments to building out infrastructure in tribal communities that we made for rural electrification back in the 1930s. We need electricity; we need sanitation; we need water; we need broadband. That's what tribal communities need to be able to compete on a level playing field with the rest of the country, because they have the human capital and they have these amazing young leaders that I have enormous faith in, but they're not playing on a level playing field because they don't have those things. In many cases, you go out to a pueblo and what you'll see is a bunch of kids around the community center or around the library so that they can get the broadband to do their homework. I just think that if we're going to address some of the fundamental inequities in our country, we have to address the fact that tribal communities never got the fair shake when it came to basic infrastructure that the rest of the nation just expects as a matter of course.
I really appreciate your experience and knowledge of the struggles that our nation's tribal communities really go through because there aren't many senators that are, you know, as close as you are to these communities and you're right. I never imagined until I lived in New Mexico and then in Minnesota how much infrastructure, you know, that we had, the typical American has that we take for granted. The failing infrastructure that I witnessed just in my kind of brief exposure to these tribal communities was appalling. I just didn't really understand all the reasons and the history behind that. So, just thanks for being an advocate. You're one of the strongest advocates on the Senate. And I know that a lot of people really are cognizant of that and appreciate it.
No, thanks, Lee. And I think we can learn, too, from the solutions to these challenges. And they're very analogous to the solutions that we have to find all over the world with the differences in income and between North and South. The fact is if we're going to solve these things, a lot of the solutions we need to bring to bear now also need to be distributed solutions. The centralized solutions of the past, whether we're talking about energy or other things, I think are really changing and are becoming more distributed. And if you work on a place like the Navajo Nation, there are going to be a lot of homes where it just doesn't make sense to send a power line, where it's going to be much, much cheaper to power that home right from its location, rather than spending tens of thousands of dollars to extend transmission or distribution lines. I think, in addition to the necessity of meeting these challenges in tribal communities, there's a lot we can learn that scales to the rest of the world and puts basic things that should be in the hands of all of humanity closer to reality.
A great example where resiliency strategies and climate action strategies are really go hand in hand when you're thinking about a distributed system in a very remote place like the Navajo Nation, you know. Because a lot of our climate action solutions, you know, that people have kind of held up as silver bullets are not always distributed. When some people think that this is going to make a really big impact to decarbonize something, you know, it still might marginalize a community somewhere. And so we're really trying to think deeply about that and understand the ramifications of our actions. Even when we think like, you know, a solar field is going to make sense somewhere, it might not always.
Oh, absolutely. One of the reasons why I think solar has been so successful in bringing down costs is because it is truly a distributed resource and it can be created in such small increments. If you look at the differences between solar and nuclear, for example, the reason why the costs have never been sort of as advertised with nuclear is because they're such huge, giant projects. And when you can take something like a solar panel and it can be as small as on your phone or as big as a solar field, or it can be the solar panels on your house, it's been that increment that has allowed us to reduce the cost per watt from like, oh $75 to $80 just a few decades ago down to, you know, pennies today. And that has, you know, that has completely changed the economics of electricity in a way that, ironically, other generation sources just never saw coming because they couldn't imagine that those declines could be so precipitous. I think that speaks to how we think as humans. We tend to think in straight lines and when we're dealing with lines that are not straight, that are exponential in nature, humans really struggle with that, but it was completely predictable from the 1970s on that we would reach these really low electricity prices that are going to allow us to, I think, fully decarbonize our grid and then shift other sources of emissions, like transportation, over to clean technologies through electrification.
Yeah. We're starting to see a lot of headway in that with electric buses right now, all over the country. We just got a grant for our first electric bus in our community and a charger. We're super excited about it. I wonder if DC (direct current) technology might play a role here, especially in places where battery storage might have limitations or it might be expensive for households or communities. What are your thoughts on that?
I'm not an expert in DC, but I do think, especially for remote locations that oftentimes we've seen that it makes a lot more sense where you're not necessarily attached to the grid and so you're not in a net sort of situation.
Yeah, exactly. That's kind of what made me think of it, where I've seen people experimenting with, you know, trying to at least provide lighting and, you know, even refrigeration. So, let's change gears here just a little bit. So, Senator Heinrich, you're an engineer. And are you the only engineer on the Senate currently?
I believe that Senator Daines of Montana has an engineering degree as well, maybe chemical.
OK. Well, you know, I have a feeling that it serves you well with the complex problems that you're tasked with trying to solve every day and you know, kind of using a systems approach probably is, I would assume, how you're wired in a lot of ways. One thing that I realized that I did not know that we have in common is that you, when you were at the University of Missouri, you were on the Missouri S&T Solar Car Team, and here at Appalachian State, we have a solar race car team that is called Team Sunergy. How cool is that? I really did not know that about us.
It's amazing that we didn't put that together, but that was a really formative part of my youth and of my thinking around all these issues around sustainability.
Solar car racing, if you look at the old pictures and really even some of the cars today you know, there's a global solar racing community. I remember, you know, seeing some of the old cars when I was younger and it looked like the Jetsons and their little spaceships and, you know, some of them even look like that still today. But, you know, from my experience, the solar car team is managed under our office, and so I'm deeply involved with this. And I've been able to participate in two American Solar Challenge races. And I was invited to be a guest on a Chilean team in the World Solar Challenge, where we race across Australia ... from Darwin to Adelaide. And so I've had a little experience and I will say that the students that primarily drive these programs and these race teams are just incredible. They're often a mixture of engineers and communicators and business students, and they take problem-solving to a level that I had never really experienced. A lot of the teams now, especially, you know, and in the late 2000s leading up to today, they're really focusing on how can our efforts influence some of the world's most difficult problems in sustainable transportation and solar energy. What was the feeling or the vibe back in the early 1990s when you were on S&T's team? Where y'all out there thinking you're going to save the world, too?
You know, I think we really weren't. I think there was much more of an approach of this is sort of a constrained situation where you have to be really creative. And that was a lot of the point. I think the technology has actually moved a lot further than any of us at that time in the early 1990s could have imagined. And for me at the time, it taught me a couple of things. One, it taught me that renewable energy was real and that it was going to change rapidly and come down in cost and scale and be distributed. But it also taught me how wasteful we were with energy. And I grew up in a household where my dad was a lineman for the utility company. So I've been thinking about electricity my entire life. I quickly realized how much energy we were just wasting at the time and how to be efficient in that envelope of the limitations that our solar array created, that a lot of the solutions were about not using energy in the first place.
When you start realizing how incredibly wasteful internal combustion engines are, you realize why we have the climate challenges we do today. We came up with solutions at the time that now are just baked into solutions at scale in the economy. Things like regenerative breaking that made the Prius such a unique car when it first came out, we were doing that to recharge our batteries to, you know, make sure that the brakes put that energy back into the batteries instead of burning it off as heat, using LEDs, which were really not known at the time to do all of our signal lights on the car, using materials like carbon fiber. So much, I think of the solution is finding the places where you don't need to use that energy in the first place, rather than try to overcompensate in your generation. And then today, I think today's teams are just light-years ahead of where we were. They realize that the whole point of this racing technology is to drive change and to change what's possible.
Yeah, I agree. These students are really amazing and, you know, we're using physics students and computer programmers and sustainable technology students and business students and communication students. They really do have this this goal that's greater than just trying to solve a technical problem. So it's so amazing to hear that you're one of the pioneers on S&T's Solar Car Team. We may have competed. I know we competed in a race together with App State's Team Sunergy in the past. And gosh, I hope that we could find ourselves at a finish line someday in the future as kind of a reunion that would be great.
That would be a lot of fun.
I would like to talk about the Great American Outdoors Act for a moment. The opportunity to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and restore our national parks is exciting for so many reasons. As you know, this will provide funding to infrastructure and repair projects that have been neglected for a really long time. What other long-term impacts will this have on these precious resources and how will this legislation support the communities where these parks are located?
You know, the infrastructure on our public lands, and as much as I love our national parks, one of my roles in that legislation was to broaden the investment in infrastructure to other public plans, to include our national forests and our national wildlife refuges and our Bureau of Land Management lands. And this is in the changing rural economy in America today one of the biggest, fastest-growing driving forces in rural economies is the use of our public lands for outdoor recreation. And whether that's hunting and fishing or mountain biking or camping, or all the other things that go on on our public lands, they are a huge driver of rural economies today, and a huge source of sustainability within those economies. And so there's been this giant shift in a century from rural economies being completely dependent on resource extraction or commodities to today's economy.
And this legislation is really the first time that we've made investments that recognize that. And I think it's an enormous opportunity, and it's also an opportunity to realize, my goodness like, public lands and wildlife are some of the only things that we've been able to come together around in this very divided time in our country's history. And having gone through, you know, stay-at-home orders and quarantines and all the things associated with COVID. I mean, I know I personally realized how critical time in the outdoors is to my own personal health and mental well-being. And I think a lot of my colleagues came to that same conclusion and that created an opportunity to pass something that wasn't just incremental change, but was a sort of generational opportunity for investment and created a tool that is really a very, very broad tool, the land and water conservation fund. That's what we're going to use to make sure that every kid has a park within walking distance. And yet it's the same tool that we can use to protect ecosystems and to address the biodiversity crisis and to protect the landscapes. So I really think this legislation, as much as it's a product of the moment, will be looked back on as one of the greatest conservation accomplishments of this century.
So I'm fascinated by the dynamic that since COVID, we have seen so many people go to these spaces, to a point where they're, they've been overwhelmed. So, you know, there's certainly a negative aspect to that, but you know, the positive as a sustainability educator, you know, people are getting into nature, you know, it is so good for their health and well-being. And also, I think, that gives them a stronger connection to these spaces. And I think that they'll fight for these spaces.
And Lee, I think it's really important to realize that we can turn that negative into a positive. Because, like we've all seen, the people who, frankly, have not been in these spaces historically show up, who don't have the same, you know, decades of experience and leave no trace ethics. And we need to teach that and we need to use it as a teachable moment, because there are spaces that are being impacted enormously right now by people who don't have the tools to treat those places with the respect that they deserve. But this is also our moment, as you said, to turn those folks into advocates for those places. And I think that's the opportunity here.
Will this fund and support some environmental education to combat those problems?
This legislation does not. And I think, you know, we've really been in dialogue with the Outdoor Industry Association and other recreational interests to figure out ways to do that sort of education. I think the overwhelming sort of response to COVID and the use of our public lands really caught all of us by surprise. You know, in New Mexico, I'm pretty used to being out in many of these places by myself, then we just saw that change dramatically. So we're still coming up with the solutions to that challenge, but a lot of really creative people are at the table. And I do think it's an opportunity to broaden the constituency for our public lands. And one of the things that we're, I'm really proud of our state is that, at the state level, we now have an outdoor equity fund that is designed to get communities and kids who have not had the ability to sort of access their public lands tools to be able to do that in communities that are less affluent. And that is something I think we need to learn from at the national level and try to scale to make sure that all of our communities have responsible access to our public lands.
You mentioned bipartisan success during a time of this very unprecedented divisiveness in our country. In addition to our two North Carolina senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, were co-sponsors on the bill. Can you talk about the importance of finding an opportunity to collaborate together on something within this highly toxic environment?
Success breeds more success, and when you can work together across party lines to get something done, what it does is it builds trust. A lot of that trust used to be baked in to Washington, D.C., because families would come back here and would, you know, play baseball together. And the commuter Congress has really sort of destroyed that. So, you know, when Newt Gingrich really changed the way that the House, in particular, was run and expected all of his members to travel every week, it disrupted the fabric that allowed people to really know each other well. And so for a couple of decades now, we've really struggled with a level of partisanship that is indicative of people not knowing and trusting each other. And when you can find ways to work together, you rebuild that. I'm really proud of the fact that when I came to Washington, D.C., as a member of the House of Representatives back in January of 2009, public lands and wildlife were partisan, and there were, you know, what I call faux think tanks here in Washington, D.C., that were really driving an anti-public land, sell off public land narrative that many Republican members of Congress embraced.
You had people like Rob Bishop and others who were making that the dominant narrative in the Republican Party. And that is totally shifted in a period of 10 years. And we've realized that these are the places that bring us together. They're not the antithesis of democracy. They're actually one of the greatest accomplishments of democracy. And it turns out that, you know, Republicans like to hunt and hike and fish and do all those things just as much as Democrats do. And so that's brought us together in a way that very few issues have. And it's departisanized this issue to the point where we've been able to get done in one Congress what we couldn't get done in a decade before. The Great American Outdoors Act is not the only piece of public land and wildlife legislation that we've been able to move in this Congress.
We actually passed the John Dingell Act that, you know, in New Mexico, we protected I think 240,000 acres of wilderness in places like the Oregon Mountains- Desert Peaks National Monument, places I've been working on for decades. And today we're getting ready to pass the ACE act, which is a piece of legislation that bundles together a number of different wildlife programs, one of which is my legislation for the North American Wetlands Conservation Act that will help us address the crisis in biodiversity and the fact that many of our wildlife species are imperiled right now. And we've been able to do those three bills in one Congress. And I've never seen that kind of progress in a single Congress before. So boy, if we could departisanize climate change the way we have public lands and wildlife, we'd be able to solve some of these problems.
I really appreciate your work on these issues and really reaching across the aisle and finding that common ground because, you know, it's a great model and hopefully we can do this with climate change. I'm seeing traction here in our state. We take a very similar effort as far as trying to build relationships and trust. It's just so important. And, you know, my friends that have different backgrounds, it doesn't really matter as long as we can, you know, agree that a lot of these decisions are going to be extremely good for the state and for our economy and for the people and for the environment — there's all these mutualisms that we can identify and, you know, politics aside, work together to, you know, to really help, you know, our state or country and the world. So I just really appreciate you just being out there, willing to reach across the aisle and do this work. It means a lot.
Well, and once we build, you know, real job bases in these clean industries and solar is a great example of that, onshore wind is a great example of that in many places, then it does departisanize issue. Because when your neighbor or your cousin works and has a job and is able to put food on the table and really believes in their career, then you know, those communities organize around protecting that. And I've seen that with solar in terms of my advocacy at the federal energy, at the FERC — the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. I would be testifying next to the Republican governor of South Carolina, for example, who also got that there were jobs associated with this stuff. So, you know, I do think as soon as you can create a really viable job base and many of these jobs are going to be in deep red states. I mean, you look where wind is creating sustainable jobs in my state, and it's not an Albuquerque. You're not going to put a wind turbine up in the biggest city in the state. It's in small communities like Corona, where they haven't had that level of investment since the railroad showed up. And so, you know, when you start to add seats in classrooms because of that industry and add tax base and be able to invest again in the community. Boy, that just changes everything.
So let's expand on this a little bit. You know, the climate crisis is arguably one of the most important issues of our time. You serve on the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, which recently published "The Case for Climate Action: Building a Clean Economy for the American People." The report outlines how we can work together to reduce carbon in the atmosphere while also providing lifelines to communities. How do you think climate action at this scale will contribute to building a stronger and more resilient economy in the United States? Just kind of building on what you said, this can be really transformational for us.
Yeah, I think it's the future foundation of our economy in many ways. I think sustainable energy is going to create electricity that is so much cheaper than we ever could have imagined. We're still seeing declines in the cost of these distributed generation. That's going to open up opportunities. I think that, you know, just the distributed nature of many of these solutions means opportunities in places that didn't have opportunities before. So I really think that if you look at where investment is moving in the economy today, there is a nascent recognition that these are the opportunities for economic well-being and growth. And you're seeing capital move from traditional solutions that we now know are causing many of the problems we have to solutions that are really focused on being clean from the start. And I think that's encouraging. You know, we're going to have to ... I think businesses are starting to realize that there is no throwing anything away — not into the atmosphere, not the plastic that we now know ...
We all consume every week because we're throwing away so much plastic that all of these things have to be a closed loop. And even within agriculture, the growing understanding that we've got to stop treating our soil like dirt and start treating it like an ecosystem again, that that's part of the solution to climate change and to sequestering carbon dioxide out of the air and getting that carbon into living matter in our soils, and money and investment are following those ideas. And so, if we have investment, then we can scale those ideas. And that makes me hopeful that maybe my kids will inherit the kind of economy and the kind of planet that they really deserve.
I would love to spend a whole other podcast talking about circular economies and the difference between soil and dirt. Healthy soil is certainly going to be one of the solutions to our climate crisis. The debate on Tuesday night spent more time on the climate crisis than any previous presidential debate in history. These issues are extremely important to first-time voters, as we've talked about. Do you think other generations are starting to feel a similar sense of urgency? I mean, Chris Wallace didn't even intend to talk about it and he is not a young first-time voter, and, on the fly, he thought it was an important thing to bring up.
Well, I think that's a good indication, but I will say that I don't think that Chris Wallace's generation, or even your and my generation, have the urgency broadly that we need. And it's no,t once again, that that urgency is not linear. The closer you get, the younger you get, the more passionate people are about demanding change and the speed of that change. We need to really recognize that this is the single most critical issue that we face. And it's not in front of us the way that COVID is every day, but if we don't deal with it now, this is one of those challenges that can run away with, to where you can't get to the solutions fast enough. So I really think that this is the challenge of our time, and we have to rise to meet that. And I hope that you and I both get exposed to young people who I have complete faith in being able to solve these solutions, but our generations also need to solve them now, so that we don't wait too long. So that those young people can inherit enough runway to get this done.
Yeah. And that's part of their frustration because, you know, they, for whatever reason, quickly understood what ecological overshoot means and where so many others don't really ... did not, cannot grasp that. But they're not necessarily all in positions of power or they're not, they don't have jobs where they are decision-makers. They're looking to us to be able to, you know, work on these issues and integrate these solutions into what we do every day. And I understand their frustration. It's, you know, it's difficult from where they sit. They do a good job, you know, being loud and they do a good job, you know, trying to do the best they can to work their way into, you know, these rooms where decisions are being made and I applaud that effort. But, at the end of the day, you know, a lot of the people that have the ability to make these complex solution strategies don't have the literacy that they do. And and they're frustrated. I'm frustrated. I spend a lot of time focusing on sustainability leadership among decision-makers. I feel like that's a good leverage point at the moment. But again, you know, it takes a while and we don't have a while. And again, I think that's what fuels a lot of their frustration and anger.
Yeah. And I think the more we can channel that and give them productive outlets where they can see the results of change, to make that generation realize that in their own home, they have likely a parent or two parents that they can work on to become those sustainability leaders. And that immediately they begin to have impact because they don't have to wait to work on the people around them, to be better about coming up with these solutions. They can educate the people in their own family who have that power right now, and it just builds their capacity to have more and more change as they come up through their education and get into their professional careers.
So, we've made it to the end of our podcast. I'd love to talk to you all day. I know that you, you know, have a pretty big job to do and have a lot on your agenda today. So, really in closing here, in addition to, you know, the youth and all their passion and urgency, what are you really excited about these days? And as you look towards the future, is there anything that encourages you encourages you to think that there might be more bipartisan support for climate action?
Yeah. I think one of the things that gives me hope for the future is that right now the Republican Party is looking for a way to get right on climate. And because they've been historically so dependent on financial support from fossil industries, that's a real struggle for them. And they haven't quite figured it out, but it's a big change from the denial that we had just four years ago. And so you see a lot of members right now trying to find ways to find places where they can be for climate change action without endangering their, you know, their very existence in a position of leadership. And that's a hard place to be for them, but it's so much healthier than just where they were four years ago. And I think there are a lot of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who want to get to a place where they can work on these issues much more intensively. And we just need to find those leaders who are willing to stand up and be willing to work with them and create the incentives so that they don't, you know, don't lose their job for doing the right thing.
Yeah. I imagine the money is shifting too. I mean, you know, now that clean energy is starting to, you know, literally make millions of billions of dollars. You know, I doubt they're entirely supporting Democrats.
No. And in many of the places where those industries work, the political structure is Republican. I mean, many of the places that are producing the enormous amount of wind generation that we see in the United States right now, most of that is in states like Wyoming and Iowa and, you know, the Dakotas. And so it is, you know, we're seeing that shift from this being an ideological issue to being more of a representation of where the economics are, but it can't happen quickly enough. And we need more willingness to recognize just how big the changes that we're going to have to make are, and we're going to have to get together and work together to make it happen.
Well, Senator Heinrich, thank you so much for your hard work, dedication and tenacity on behalf of our country's people in magnificent places. It was really special to have you on the program and to hear all about the great things you're doing for this country. Take care, be well and stay safe.
Thanks so much for having me, Lee.
Wednesday Sep 30, 2020
Wednesday Sep 30, 2020
Wednesday Sep 30, 2020
Appalachian's Chief Sustainability Officer Dr. Lee Ball is joined by David Karlsgodt, Brailsford and Dunlavey’s director of management advisory services and host of the Campus Energy and Sustainability Podcast. Topics covered include the future of sustainability on college campuses; how the pandemic is impacting, and will continue to impact, sustainable practices in higher education; and jazz music.
Yeah. So today we're with Dave Karlsgodt, and he is the director of energy advisory services for Brailsford & Dunlavey Inc. And you know, David, we've been trying to get you on this podcast for quite some time and, you know, welcome.
Well, thanks, Lee. It's really nice to be on the show.
Yeah. This is my "Find Your Sustain Ability" podcast and you and I have talked a long time about getting you on my podcast since you had me on yours, I think, over two years ago. So, it's been a long time coming.
Yeah, it's kinda hard to believe it's been that long. But yeah, I had hoped to come out to see you this summer, but I don't think that's going to happen.
No, that's not going to happen. We'll talk about the pandemic a little bit later. I definitely have, you know, I'm curious to get your feedback and little insight on what you've been thinking and what you've learned.
Well, I'm glad to be there virtually, if not physically.
Yeah. So Dave, you're the director of energy advisory services with Brailsford & Dunlavey Inc. and, you know, you had a career with Fovea before that. And I like to start a lot of my podcasts by asking a little more personal stories of my guests, just to find out how you got on your path to helping in the sustainability space and climate action. So, if you don't mind, just tell us a little bit about your personal story, and how'd you get into this work, and why do you care so deeply about sustainability and climate action?
Absolutely. Well, I suppose like lots of people in sustainability, I have a nonlinear path to get here. I'd like to say it's unique in the sense of, you know, not having a traditional path, but I don't think a lot of people have a traditional path in sustainability. I actually grew up in Western Montana in a little town south of Missoula called Hamilton. You know, surrounded by mountains, ranches, wilderness, you know, it was a pretty idyllic childhood in many, many ways. So, I certainly gained an appreciation for the environment and just the natural world when growing up. But I really didn't appreciate it either because it was all I had ever known at that point. I went off to college at the University of North Texas to study jazz, which was an amazing school for music and ... but I did really miss Montana quite a bit and learned quickly that the urban sprawl of Dallas was not, sort of my native environment anymore. But I had a great time learning music. As I was wrapping up college, I spent some time working on cruise ships and kind of got to see the world. And also kind of got to see the world economy. We always called the cruise ships sort of the world economy in a tin can. And that gave me some perspective on, you know, just how the world works, both good and bad, and I got to see some amazing places. And I also saw some fairly nasty parts of humanity as well, you know, just kind of the waste and the sort of inequities in the world. So I suppose all of that kind of added up to maybe where I've landed today, but before I became a sustainability professional, I was working as a software developer, which I always joke was my ... the way I got out of poverty after being a musician for a while. And then through that work, I was introduced to, I think my first big project was with the King County Housing Authority, which gave me a chance to work with large public institutions and kind of learn that world a little bit. You know, spent a lot of time doing the more traditional marketing — sales, support, software, things like that. So, things that were technically interesting but not necessarily fulfilling. And as time went on, I was looking for something a little bit more interesting. I had a software business with about 14 people working for me and a business partner. And about 2010, my family took a kind of a hiatus and we took a trip to Costa Rica for three months when the kids were really small. And after I came back, a friend of mine introduced me to my business partners at the time or, you know, soon-to-be business partners. I didn't know that yet ... who were just starting to work with universities on climate action planning and utility master planning. They were having some good success, but they were struggling in the sense that they were having to reinvent things every time. So they were doing some fairly technical things with a lot of information, a lot of data. This is about the time that the term big data started becoming used in the lexicon. So they had high aspirations for being able to visualize all this information. And the premise was, if you could show people what was going on, then you could make big change. So, they were working with Michigan State, I think it was the first big client that we were working with. And I was brought in for my software development skills, really, to help automate some of the work that they were doing, which is really kind of how I got started. And from there, I just had to learn and learn and learn to try to keep up with all the engineering and the finance and the, you know, the politics of universities and all of that was fairly new to me at the time.
Well, all right. So I've never met one sustainably professional that has the same story, which is always fascinating. I'm seriously thinking about scrapping all the rest of the questions and talking about jazz for the rest of the show. That would be fun. So, I am going to have to ask you a question about it. So, what was your instrument or instruments?
Well, I started as a saxophone player and, as a jazz musician, you also have to learn how to play flute, clarinet. Later I got into composition and arranging, so my degree ended up being in jazz arranging. So my final for my school was writing an entire concert of big-band music, which I just found the other day when we were in Montana, visiting my parents, which was kind of fun to listen to after all these years.
Are you still playing some music? Have you picked it back up during the pandemic?
Yeah, I have been focusing more on piano, mostly because it's something I can get off a conference call, walk upstairs and play for five minutes, you know, grab some coffee, come back downstairs. I don't have to get a reed wet or, you know, form a band. I can just kind of play by myself for a few minutes. So it's more of a mental break for me now, where, you know, back in the day when I was focused on it 24/7, it was, you know, it got to be a job at some point, which is part of the reason I got out of it. But, I've been able to find the joy in it again, which is great.
A lot of people have been, seems like, collecting hobbies during the pandemic. And I played percussion for years, but I've never had a drum kit. It's always been a dream. And, for my birthday, I was able to acquire a drum kit. And so, that's been keeping me busy the last, you know, since March 1st, this long pandemic we've been experiencing. So, but I'll gravitate towards jazz.
How's the family dealing with that drum kit?
It was made very clear that it was highly encouraged from the very start. So, yeah, I, you know, I definitely find myself playing soft sometimes. And then, you know, with jazz is, you know, comfortable in that space playing soft, but you know, when I know there's no one around and I can close the windows from the neighbors, that's when I tend to, you know, rock it out a little bit. But yeah, you know, I think it's, you know, it's jazz that allows me to just kind of go with the flow and improvise and, you know, it's fun and it keeps me engaged and interested instead of just like playing like a rock beat by myself or something, you know, with nobody else.
Yeah. I do miss that interaction of being able to play with other folks.
Lee Ball: My son is a good songwriter and singer, and we've been able to collaborate some, so that's been great.
Lee Ball: So I have multiple questions after, you know, after that. I'm really curious about people's connection to sustainability, just because, we're in the business of trying to get people to care more, a lot of the times as sustainability educators. And so I've really soul searched as to how I ended up in this profession. And I'm always curious how others ended up in this profession, and it never ceases to amaze me how often someone like yourself grew up surrounded by nature, and you had this innate connection that really never went away. And so many other people, you know, unfortunately, they may grow up in a very urban environment that is devoid of the ability to have those connections and they just don't have them, and I feel very privileged in that regard. And then you've, you know ... also interested in how people maintain it over time. So you clearly have, you know, maintained that connection over time.
Yeah, no, it's taken me a while to really appreciate the gift that I had growing up where I did, you know, just the experiences I had as a young kid and the ability to go home to Montana for Christmas or summer vacation. We just got back from spending a couple of weeks out at my parents' cabin on Flathead Lake, which is one of the most beautiful places in the world in my opinion. So absolutely, I think that's true. One of the things that I've realized though, more recently in an interesting trend, I think not disconnected from some of the changes we're seeing around us, you know, since the George Floyd incident has been the nexus of that natural world connection, which I think, you know, is very much a lot of people are privileged to have that experience when you do, but there are a lot of parts of the world that just don't have that experience. And so seeing those two kind of threads coming together, that combination of social justice and the natural world, I think is super exciting. And it's something that I think for me, personally, has taken a while to really fully appreciate.
Yeah. Yeah, I agree. I was actually talking about this yesterday with someone, you know, we have this deep need to have connections to people. We evolved with connections to nature and people, and so, it really needs to be combined. I think that we're missing something if we're just with people or we're just with nature, we need to bring it all together.
Yeah, absolutely. I've I think I really appreciated, like, so I went from Montana to Dallas and I really did not like the sprawl, I know, sort of the endless freeways and that aspect of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. And at the time I was there it was growing like crazy, like every little bit, there was a new strip mall or a new kind of ring of a freeway that was going in. But then I did spend kind of off and on through that period of time, a lot of time in New York City. And, you know, while that's even, of course, one of the most urban places in the world, I really appreciated that for the community aspect of it too. And I think, for me, I, you know, in the back of my mind, I had this kind of appreciation for the beauty of the urban and the beauty of the rural, where I grew up. And it was kind of bouncing back and forth between the two of those things, which is part of the reason I ended up in Seattle, which I think has kind of the balance of those two things much more than most cities do.
I hope the future of cities, you know, pay more attention to biophilic design and biomimicry, can really weave those together. Because I think that humanity would greatly benefit from that. So Dave, you have a podcast as well. You've been doing it for quite some time. Can you tell us a little bit about your show?
Yeah, absolutely. It's called the Campus Energy and Sustainability Podcast, and I think I started the first episode in 2017, so we're starting our 3rd full year. Originally, it was Rob and I, my business partner at the time, were looking for something just to, you know, it was really just marketing that we were trying to find a way to get the word out there about the work we were doing. You'd read all these business books and they'd say, oh, hey, you know, write articles or, you know, send email newsletters. And all of that felt a little bit empty to me. So that basic premise of the podcast was, "Hey, I was not a trained professional. I didn't, you know, I hadn't gone to engineering school and I hadn't gone to, you know, study science or what you would think more of a traditional background for what I was doing. So the podcast became a way of me really just kind of learning as I went and being able to interview folks to really dig into a particular topic. The show's essentially a long-form interview format. We'll pick a topic. It's a pretty wide-ranging group. I mean, it just has to have something to do with campuses and something to do with energy or sustainability and not necessarily all three at the same time. So through that lens, I've been able to interview folks as focused on things as like a small project in Iowa, looking at landfill gas, or I talked with a retired Marine colonel who had worked at the national level on a strategic plan for the country, not a sustainability plan, but like a strategic plan. So kind of everything in between. Most recently, we did an episode series called "Changing the Climate for Women." So I had two interns that worked for me last summer, two women that were young journalists, and they were able to interview four different sustainability professionals and kind of get their stories. So, it's ranging from engineering topics to, you know, social justice topics to, you know, strategic design or even, you know, finance or anything in between. So it's been a lot of fun for me because I get to just kind of follow what's interesting to me, where I see the trends going, try to align it to my work as best I can, but sometimes it pushes me into new directions I would never have expected.
Yeah. Great. Yeah, they're are a lot of fun. I feel like I'm just kind of barely getting started and you know, people like you that came before me have learned a lot, your professional approach I really appreciate. Dave, what was the first college or university you worked with? You mentioned Michigan State. But there might be others. I'm interested in what you've learned from those early experiences and how those lessons might be relevant now.
Yeah, absolutely. When I first was introduced to Rob McKenna, my business partner and Mike Walters, who was the other one that had started up the company that I joined at the time. They were working with Michigan State and they had been working through like a long-range planning exercise for them. So it was kind of a combination of a climate action plan and a utility master plan. So I got brought in on one of the larger universities in the country. So fairly complex technical system, definitely a complex political dynamic, just the number of people, the number of apartments, the scale, I mean just the size of it; it's basically its own little city in East Lansing. So I, you know, the good part about that was I got to really dig in and spend probably, you know, the better part of a year, just thinking about one really complex system and learning it inside and out. The downside of that is because their system is so unique to them, a lot of my assumptions about how things worked and how universities operated was colored by the way that Michigan State ran, which is, you know, there was a lot of similarities when we went to other places, but it wasn't necessarily the same approach. But that said, you know, it was a real gift. We were working through the CFO's office, which was great because when we asked for things, you know, everybody said yes, because everything ran through through his office. He was the one that, that essentially controlled the operations on campus. So we got to do some great things, including helping getting them off of coal. You know, we did a lot of the early planning that led to that step. They were looking at renewable energy back when, you know, way before the prices had come down to what we know today. So they had gotten into anaerobic digesters and they were looking at wind and solar. And so I got to spend a lot of time just thinking through how do you make the case for those different technologies? How do you, how do you think about layering in new ways of doing business within a complex organization? We did lots of work on energy efficiency. They were even putting in a particle accelerator at the time. So, you know, kind of a huge energy load to run electrons through a giant refrigerator to do cutting-edge science. So we had, you know, major reliability issues. So it was like everything you could ask for as a model or cutting your teeth on something interesting.
They've since installed quite a bit of solar on campus, photovoltaics.
Yeah. They, I think at the time it was one of the largest on-site installations of a solar carport system. And I think that ASU (Arizona State University) may have beaten them now on some on-site solar, but, you know, that's great. That's exactly what we want to see. You know, from when we started, it was a matter of could they afford to get off coal and, you know, talking to them now it's night and day. I mean, it's amazing. There's the old expression change happens slowly and then all at once. And I remember that there was a point at which there was a meeting that I can remember being in where you could tell that the entire leadership team just realized, "Oh, we've got to make these big changes." And they saw a way to make it happen. And the next thing you know, they have a completely different system than they did before.
So you mentioned, how schools are uniquely different with operations and politics. And, you know, you just also mentioned ASU, which is not to be confused with App State.
I guess I should be careful with my acronyms here!
We're officially App State here, Appalachian State, but you know, you and I have talked a lot about climate action here at App State. What do you think our biggest challenge is?
You know, I think for most universities at this point, especially those that are not in the, you know, very warm parts of the Sunbelt, it's thermal energy. And even in the Sunbelt, I think that's true to some extent. We've got at least a solution set now that's viable for electricity. I mean, there are a variety of ways you can clean up your electricity. What we haven't really solved, at least, well, we've solved it, but a lot of places haven't implemented ways of dealing with their thermal energy. So we're right now, most campuses, they burn things to make steam and then they use electricity to cool off things at the same time. So you're wasting energy twice. And the real change I see is campuses that are moving more from a steam system to a hot water-based system, which both greatly improves your efficiency, but it also allows you to use a bunch of different technologies that are not possible when you're trying to heat things up to the level of steam. I think we're just at the very beginnings of that. There are a handful of campuses that have made that switch. I think, you know, Stanford was sort of the classic that people have been talking about now for years, but was always kind of poo-pooed as this big, giant expensive thing that only Stanford could afford to do. But, you're seeing campuses like Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. I mean, I would not say that's a state that's known for its liberal overspending on systems or whatever. I mean, this is a very much a place that they're making a business case to do something for a variety of reasons. But I think it's the thermal energy is the simple answer.
Right. When I sent you the questions I almost put in parentheses, hint, hint, our steam plant. And I actually deleted it because I was like, I want to see if he keys in on that. And obviously you did because of your vast experience in our conversations, but you're right. We're a mountain campus. And regardless of being in the mountains, you know, even in Charlotte, it's a big challenge for the other universities within the state. You know, as I think about solutions for climate action, I can imagine, you know, a solution for purchasing electricity, for transportation. Although there are challenges, it's more difficult to imagine how to decarbonize our steam infrastructure. We currently burn natural gas, but we're, you know, we're looking at, we recently did a small study to look into opportunities and yeah, we'll see if electric boilers are an option someday and we can switch everything to electric and continue to decarbonize our electric portfolio. That would be great.
Yeah. And you know, and it's not really electric boilers that are the answer, and I think that's a little bit of a misnomer. What dropping the temperature allows you to do is trade heat. I think that's the one that people forget about if you're cooling buildings and heating buildings simultaneously, moving heat from one place to another is way more efficient than it is making it twice. That can handle, say 20%, 30% of your load in a climate like Boone, which is, you know ... why are we wasting? We're, you know, we're wasting that much energy itself. Systems that you're using today are even more than that. The other options are, you know, you have ground source heating, which really uses electricity to move heat from the ground. So same idea. But then you also can do things like thermal storage. So that allows you to have a, you know, time shift things. So you can use electricity when it's cheaper at certain times of the day to either cool or heat, which you can't do in a steam system because you need things at a certain temperature. But I think the more interesting piece of that is just how much more efficient your buildings work, how much better the buildings feel. Like I know in my own house I've put in a heat pump recently and just the consistency of the heat ... just it's a better, it feels better. You don't, like, before I would wake up and I'd have an oil furnace that would blast heat in the morning and then it would shut off and then it would get cold and it turns on and it blasts. And it's just a better way, a better operating system to work from.
Yeah. I go electric boilers in my mind because I think of all the infrastructure that might have to change, that would be just like an easy switch, but you know, nothing is easy in this world. Yeah. Have you ever walked, I'm sure you've walked into, you've been in buildings that have true thermal heating, like in-floor heating or, you know, in a wall somewhere, some sort of a radiator. And it's always so comfortable. It's such an even way to heat a building.
Yeah, and I think that this idea of there being a simple switch, like the electric boiler that we're going to find in our ... I know biofuels has been kind of touted as that like, "Oh, we just need to switch out whatever our traditional system is, switch out the heating or the fuel source and we'll have kind of the silver bullet solution." And I think, if anything I've learned after 10 years or so of working in this space is that nothing is easy. And usually what it is is it's, you've got to pile up like 15 different reasons to do the right thing. And typically the reason that you started with is not the reason that will make the decision. You know, lowering carbon emissions for Michigan State was certainly one of their goals. And it was certainly something that our leadership team was thinking about. But ultimately the reason they made the decision was because it was less risky. It was, you know, they had operators and, you know, and like people retiring and just like systematic change that was happening all around them, that it was just a better decision for where they were at the time. Where carbon emissions, for example, where it's just a piece of it. So I think this idea of getting off of steam, it opens Pandora's box of all these different questions that you need to answer. Usually it gets into like how are you maintaining your buildings? How are you dealing with your deferred maintenance? When you're building new spaces, are you thinking about how they'll talk to the other buildings? Are you building a network of buildings that are adding to the ability for your system to get better over time, or are you just adding more sprawl — the Dallas-Fort Worth area in the '90s kind of concept? And we need to be thinking systematically. And so I think that's, again, one thing I've really learned working through all these different college campuses.
So you really identified that space we work in and try to identify this mutual opportunities. You know, mutualism is sustainability professionals, you know, I think ace in their back pocket so that, you know, we can, you know, "Oh yeah, there's a business case too." And it probably could be even stronger than some other case we're trying to make.
Absolutely. I mean, if one thing I think we've really been having to hone as a skill set for our team right now is because we're promoting these ideas that require pretty significant amounts of capital to switch out systems, you have to be able to make a business case that aligns it with the institutional mission. If you don't do that, nobody cares. I mean, people just won't even, they'll just laugh at you or just kind of roll their eyes or they may say, "OK, well, I really think climate change is important, so we better do this, but we can't afford it right now. We can afford it maybe in 10 years." And so they'll put a plan in place, kick the can down the road and leave it for the next person to kick the can down the road. And I think what I'm learning now is we need to frame these problems as solutions to a whole bunch of things that can't just be to do less bad. They have to be, to build a better future that people want to be a part of.
Yeah. Just a more generous future ... I liked your analogy. I was thinking we need to pick up the can and turn it into something and recycle it.
There you go. Exactly. Yeah, instead of just keep kicking it because we've been kicking the can for a long time now. It's been, our whole society is based on this idea of kind of extracting and building out and sprawling out and extracting more and more. And we just have hit the limit. We can't do that anymore.
So we're clearly at a very crucial time right now, you know, with a very short amount of time to get the climate crisis steered in a different direction. But now we found ourselves in the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, so we have this collection of crises. And so let's talk about the pandemic a little bit. Do you see this as an opportunity for climate action and higher ed and how is it also affecting your work at the moment?
Yeah, as you would expect it's mixed. I think one thing I've realized is it's at a different timescale than climate change. You know, the pandemic, as long as we've all been in our houses, it feels like it's going on forever. In the grand scheme of things, it's a relatively short blip on the historical map. So I think that's one element that's different, but I think what it did, at least what I'm observing, is it woke people up to all sorts of things that we had been ignoring, in some cases for centuries. Some of the social justice action that you've seen, I think came out of that because people had a chance to sort of sit and ponder and think and get out of the business of their day-to-day life. So I think that aspect of it has kind of opened up opportunity, whether or not we seize it, I think is to be determined. I think the thing that I am most concerned about for higher ed is I think there will be a lot of institutions that don't survive it. They were not set up to deal with not having revenue for a year or even having a drop of 20% of revenue for a year, let alone shutting down all together. So I think you're going to see a lot of smaller colleges and universities that weren't really set up for the long haul really struggle, but maybe that's OK. I mean, I think the idea that we have an educational system that was based on going home in the summer to work on the farm, which there are people that do that and I grew up in a community where people did actually do that, but I think in the majority of the U.S., at least, that's not really how we operate any more. So, why are we still using this business model that predates the country, really, now? I think the pandemic in a lot of ways is bringing some of those trends that were already underway. I mean, colleges and universities were already trying to reinvent their business models. This is just forcing it to happen much faster than I think it would have otherwise.
Yeah, I've really appreciated the reconciliation that seems to be happening since George Floyd was murdered on the streets in front of the world, essentially. And we have an opportunity now to not only reconcile, but to bring a more diverse perspective into our work. Because I mean, as you know, the sustainability movement has largely been white and not a lot of people of color, and we need everyone's perspectives that we can get because there are brilliant people out in the world. And I feel like we have such a small amount of time and if we can just get more people interested in sustainability, I think it will help. I think a lot of people are realizing that sustainability has been intertwined with social justice from the beginning. Obviously, social justice movements came first, but ever since the '80s, when the sustainability movement emerged, social justice has always been a very strong part of it. I think now, though, more people are realizing that.
Yeah, it's hard to ignore. It's also just completely shattered preconceived notions about what's possible. Right? I mean, just the speed at which everyone's had to adjust to a new reality. I mean, who would have thought, you know, that we would have clean air in certain places just like overnight? I mean, that's always been this idea of, well, it's not possible because we need industry. We need these things. So yeah, people are suffering, but you know, we have to have it because progress requires it. And I think the pandemic has shown us, in a very short order, "Hey, there can be a different world." And I think that's pretty early days. I think the idea that we're going to go back and bounce back to the way things were, I don't believe that at all. I think this is our, the equivalent of, you know, I think of my grandmother went through the depression and World War II and sort of how those events in her life completely shaped the way she saw the world and approached things. That, I think, will be for our collective generations. You know, with all those that live through this, we won't see the world the same way that we used to. That's not a bad thing. We were not really on a good path. We had not achieved a space where the world was working for the majority of humans. I mean, certainly some people were doing just fine, but you know, that said, I mean, I guess I'm, I'm excited for what comes next. I think we'll probably still have lots of things to grapple with and problems to deal with. And I think that's always true, but I think we'll have an opportunity to sort of rethink the way that we want to build things.
I agree. I'm very hopeful. I am an optimist, I will admit, but I see a lot of other people that are hopeful as well. This is an opportunity to seize upon, you know, especially with our campus infrastructure. Currently, obviously, few of us are on campus in these buildings, but when we do return, I think that the way we return is going to be smarter. We're going to use the spaces more efficiently. We're not going to keep buildings on just for one event. We may see that teleworking sticks as well. And we just may not need to have as much infrastructure and we can hopefully focus some of our resources to support faculty and student learning.
I think, we've been talking a lot about the concept of asset utilization, which is maybe not the most exciting term, but the idea that we have built these spaces that really only get used maybe nine months out of the year. And even at that, they're not fully utilized throughout their time, maybe four days a week. So that's a lot of material, a lot of energy, a lot of stuff that we have in place just for this experience. On the other hand, I think you're seeing people really miss that in person experience and, you know, campuses in particular are these magical places where people come together and it can form a community, at least for a portion of their life. I think that's invaluable. I think back to my own experience as a musician at the University of North Texas and the people I met and the experiences I had, and I could not have done that remotely. You know what I mean? So there is something there. It's not like I think everybody's just going to telecommute and we're all gonna Zoom call our way into the future and live in our own little compounds. But at the same time, I think you're right in that we don't necessarily need to get on an airplane every time we need to talk to somebody. We don't necessarily need everybody to have all that square footage just to use some portion of the year. I think you're going to see people have to be a lot smarter about it, initially, for just resource constraint perspective. But I think once we've seen what's possible, you know, we can rethink how we want to structure things.
I agree. And App State is a special place surrounded by mountains and it, you know, people come here for a reason. So, I am confident that people will keep coming here for many decades come.
Yeah, absolutely. And that's what's fun about working with campuses, right? Is that universities in general ... it's they can talk about what do they look like in a hundred years because they probably will be around in hundred years and most of them that were around a hundred years ago. Unlike, you know, working for for-profit companies, they have a bad quarter or they may not be around or they may get absorbed by somebody else. So it definitely gives you a long-term type of thinking at least I find really fascinating to live within.
If only we were able to build and design with 100 years in mind.
Exactly. Well, I think, you know, you're starting to see the financial industry realize this too. I mean, you're starting to see people looking for ways to invest money into college campuses over 50 year timeframes. You know, this is, they see that, right? That's a good investment. You want people that are building things for the long haul. Like we're hitting that limit, in all of our systems where the short-termism just doesn't get you anywhere. So, you know, that's another aspect of working with colleges that I've had to really come to appreciate, it's just that long scale. It can be really, really frustrating because they're very, very slow to make decisions, colleges. They pride themselves on being these beds of innovation and thinking, and within their walls, they are, like there's a lot of smart people thinking of a lot of great ideas, but they don't apply it necessarily to themselves. You know, we were talking about steam systems, the industrial revolution was built on steam. And we're still using that technology as our core. That is not innovative, right? That is very much a legacy technology. But again, you know, some of the newer ways of thinking, came out of universities too. So they have this kind of dichotomy of thinking that can be kind of frustrating to work in at times because you see the answer, you see a step forward, but there's a lot of risk aversion to try to keep that institution around for the next hundred years, which is also justified. Right? So it's, you can't fault those in leadership for having that perspective.
You've mentioned some innovative technologies and kind of district heating with hot water and smarter buildings and kind of systems thinking related to the design of multiple buildings. What are some other innovative technologies that you're following at the moment?
Yeah. Well, I guess one that I'm, one that I think may be coming down the road, which probably is not so much on college campuses, but maybe in the macro economy would be the use of hydrogen. I think that's actually coming around this time. I think, you know, back in the George Bush administration that was an idea that was very much a, well in 10 years we'll have hydrogen, but it's always 10 years away. I'm feeling a little bit more confident that that's actually coming now, given that we're starting to solve some of the easier problems as I mentioned before, and we have ways of getting electricity produced cheaply, renewably. I mean, most parts of the country, new solar and wind are way cheaper than any other source. Even just to run a coal plant, it's cheaper to build new wind than to run a coal plant right now. So I think those types of technologies that can concentrate energy based off renewable energy, that's probably where things are going. Some of the other things that I'm seeing are just business model innovation, which does not sound that exciting. Like we have the technology today to solve these problems. It's not like we need a new flux capacitor to be invented. We just need to figure out ways to buy the things we already have. And unfortunately, since most of the technologies that are lower carbon, higher reliability, you know, have this, this kind of long-term thinking embedded into them, they're capital intensive. Usually they're like wind and solar, you pay for them upfront and then you get energy for free forever, more or less. I mean, there's some operational costs and things like that, but you need financial innovation to sort of help with that. I'm seeing campuses get smarter about it. You know, just internally, they don't necessarily need to bring in a third party to deal with that. They just need to change their own financial structures. But that's, that's again, that's slow. That's not the kind of thing that universities do quickly. But you're starting to see a lot of other industry come in and look at ways of bringing capital to these problems because they want to invest. These are good deals that they want to find. They can't find them anywhere else because, you know, oil used to be where you put your money. But that's not a good investment right now. So, you know, so figuring out how to channel all that capital, the money that wants to find a stable home and figure out a way to invest it into campuses. So it's not so much the technology aspect of it. It's not like you need this magic invention. You really just need different structures, ways of doing business, different ways of monitoring what you're already doing, different ways of charging for what you're doing. You know, so energy is not just considered to be free out of sight out of mind, but that there's, you know, there's an association with both its utility, like it's important. Do you need it to do what you need to do? But also that it has a cost and that somebody needs to pay for it and you need to keep reinvesting in it.
Yeah. I'm glad you brought that up because, you know, up until now, we've been chipping away at climate action, you know, carbon reductions on campuses by installing a small, renewable energy system there and doing a small energy efficiency project here, but bringing in a different financial model mechanism to fund deep impacts seems to be where we're seeing campuses actually make some achievable strides. Until recently, most schools that have pretty much reached their climate action goals or even reached neutrality have been very small. Right? And so we're starting to see like Arizona State and a few others that are trying to solve their problems really through very creative financial mechanisms.
Yeah. It's kind of silly though, isn't it? It's like we can find money for a new building that has a donor associated with it to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in some cases, but to make those scales of investment for the entire system to get better, it's just kind of unthinkable for some reason. I guess I understand why. I mean, if, if you're a donor, you don't want to put your name plate on the steam system or I guess the new hot water system that's replacing the steam system. I mean, it's just not sexy. It's out of sight out of mind, as I mentioned. But as organizations get more complex, and especially these higher ed institutions are going to be around for the next hundred years, it just baffles me on why it's so difficult to think that way. But again, I think the reason is that I've had to come to, is it has to align with the mission. And that's the challenge of our industry is to come with how does this connect to making students' education better? How does this help the research of the institution for the long haul? I mean, if you don't frame it in those terms, the people that are in charge of making the financial procurement decisions, they just don't care and they shouldn't because that's not what they're there to do. It's been one of those cases where I started being frustrated, but I'm coming around to realizing, wow, I guess the problem is one that I am here to solve. I'm here to help try to figure that out and try to help tell that story. And so, you know, I think the story that I'm landing on is we have the technology today. We don't need new inventions. We just need to get more creative about how we do the accounting for it, how we think about the long-term investment, how we build a system that's reinvesting over time and how we build a system that gets better the more you invest in it. Now we have a system where we build a new building and it makes the system more fragile, harder to use because now you're putting more load on it and there's more risk of something breaking. What if we can build a system that gets better the more you add to it and the more you connect it together? And so I'm very excited about that. And again, back to your original question, if I remember where we started this kind of thread, was the COVID. It has kind of broken the spell of what's possible. So I think people are more open to those kind of big systematic changes than they were before.
I agree. And you know, the academic in me wants to bring the College of Business into these conversations and let their students and their faculty have an understanding of how we were able to create these models and have our building scientists on campus, and be able to study, you know, the deep efficiency that we're investing in and truly develop a campus as a laboratory like many of us dream to do.
Absolutely. It's a matter of building a place that's worthy of that kind of learning, right? I mean, you don't want your students coming to a campus where they're being told, this is what we need for the future, but that what they see around them are buildings that are being underinvested, that are falling apart, that don't really work very well all the time. Or they're not healthy. They're not breathing clean air. You don't feel safe sending your children back to the college because you're not sure whether or not they're going to catch a virus because of the way that the air handling systems are set up. I mean, we have an opportunity now to sort of rethink what it means to have a world-class institution. It probably means there'll be less of them. I mean, it probably means that we're going to have to grow and redevelop what's already there rather than just, you know, sprawl it out and keep expanding. You know, I think the days of just endless footprint increase of the campus is probably coming to an end at most places. But I guess we'll see.
Yeah. Most of us have a finite amount of area to develop on anyway. So ...
I guess that's true.
A lot of times we redevelop or we retrofit or tear down and build better. So, Dave, I really appreciate your time. This has been great. You left me a lot to stew on, and I have a lot of people I want to share our podcast with here, internally. It's just always a pleasure to talk to you. And I really look forward to where we could shake hands and hang out in the pub after the conference again.
Oh, I look forward to it, Lee. Maybe bring the drum sticks and the travel set and we'll have a little jam session.
That sounds perfect. Yeah. I'd like to reconvene in Montana sometime.
Oh yeah, anytime. It's a gorgeous place if you've never visited. I, you know, I think I mentioned to you last time, North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware and Alabama are the only states I have yet to visit. So I definitely need to come visit you guys out in Boone sooner than later.
Well, we're hoping for the 2021 Appalachian Energy Summit right here in Boone.
A shameless plug well placed! Well done.
Thank you, Dave. We really appreciate it.
Thanks, Lee. It was a pleasure.
Monday Jan 27, 2020
Monday Jan 27, 2020
Monday Jan 27, 2020
Host Dr. Lee F. Ball visits with climate scientist and Appalachian geography and planning professor Dr. Baker Perry. Perry shares details about his recent trip to Mount Everest to install the world's highest weather station, the applications of the data being collected at the station and even a little about his time playing basketball under Duke's coach K.
Announcer: Define sustainability. Odds are your definition is completely different from the next person's. Appalachian State University's Director of Sustainability, Dr. Lee Ball, sits down with his guest to explore the many ways in which sustainability affects our lives. This is Find Your Sustainability.
Lee Ball: On today's podcast I'm here with Baker Perry. Baker is a professor in the Department of Geography and Planning here at Appalachian State University. I invited Baker to today's podcast because I'm really interested in you hearing about his work in climate science related to tropical glaciers in South America, and more recently his adventure to the Himalayas, installing a weather station on the highest mountain in world, Mt. Everest.
Lee Ball: Thank you so much for being here.
Baker Perry: Well, it's a real pleasure to be here, Lee. Thank you for the invitation.
Lee Ball: Baker, you've spent a whole career working in climate science, in that realm, working on glacier research in far-flung places around the world. And most recently you were on an adventure on Mt. Everest. What I'd love for you to share with our listeners is just a quick summary of how you get invited to be a part of that team, and how long you were there. And then I just have a few more questions to follow up.
Baker Perry: No, great question. Looking back, this all happened relatively quickly. It was about a year ago that the official invitation came about from National Geographic and this happened in conjunction with a close colleague, Paul Majewski, who we had here on campus about a year and a half ago, and he's somebody that I had been collaborating with the last couple of years on ice core paleoclimate research project in Peru. And he was tasked by National Geographic to lead the expedition, be the science lead for it.
Baker Perry: And so as a result of that, he had a little bit of latitude on people he could invite to participate, and obviously that had to be cleared by National Geographic. But based on our experience working together and in particular my role in installing and maintaining a network of weather stations in Peru and Bolivia, there was an opportunity for me to join the team and really take a lead on the planning and the installation of the weather station network on Mt. Everest. And so this was a bit of an unanticipated move, perhaps, from the Andes where I've spent so much of my career, and even life before my professional career to the Himalayas.
Baker Perry: But it was a region that I was not entirely unfamiliar with either. I had been to the Everest region, to Nepal about 20 years ago when I was a graduate student, so I had some familiarity with it. And of course, there's, you know, for a lot of us that study the highest mountains and weather processes, extreme weather and snow and ice, there's always a certain degree of fascination with the Himalayas, and in particularly Everest. And so the opportunity to participate in an interdisciplinary scientific expedition with National Geographic was pretty exciting to say the least.
Lee Ball: I'm guessing that the data that will be retrieved, that this weather station's going to be used in a wide variety of ways.
Baker Perry: They are. The data have lots of applications. We're working on several publications right now with direct applications on improving the forecasting on Mt. Everest. The models, what we found are pretty good up there, especially in the short term, but we can make them better and we can improve those forecasts and so we're demonstrating that.
Baker Perry: We're also improving the data that go into the glacier ablation models or the melt models, that are used to predict future glacier extent in the region and water resources. And so that's a direct application.
Baker Perry: And over the longer term we hope to have a much better understanding of the subtropical jet stream. This is one of the few places in the world where the surface interacts with the jet stream. And so that's a unique opportunity to study its behavior. Clearly there are other data sources that are available too, from weather balloons and aircraft flying in them but this is a unique dataset that's right from the surface of some of the highest places in the world.
Baker Perry: And then ultimately our team also recovered an ice core from the South Col in the highest ice core in the world. And so we really think that the weather stations will help us in the interpretation of the ice core as well.
Lee Ball: Prior to this, where was the highest comparable weather station and/or ice core?
Baker Perry: There've been a number of weather stations that have operated intermittently in the past. And the highest weather station was actually on the South Col. The Italians installed the station, I believe it was in 2008. They were successful in collecting some data there, but it was not a continuous record and it had a number of problems with small rocks being picked up by the wind and damaging, impacting the station and damaging the solar panels and the sensors. And so that was a major downfall.
Baker Perry: Other locations have been Sajama, Bolivia. A team from the university of Massachusetts had a station on top of Sajama. And this is over 21,000 feet. At that time it was the highest weather station in the world in the 1990s. Before we went up this year, the highest weather station was really nearby Mt. Everest at a place called Mera Peak. If I get my conversions to feet correctly, just under 21,000 feet or so, maintained by a French scientist with collaborators from Nepal.
Baker Perry: The Italian station has not been operational for many years now and so there was an opportunity to reestablish a station near where they had it, and then possibly get higher. And so when we installed the station at Camp 2, which was at 21,200 feet or thereabouts, it was the highest operating weather station in the world. We got back down to base camp and were informed by Paul Majewski, that our Chinese colleagues on the other side had just installed one a little bit higher. And so we had the world record for a little bit, then went back down to base camp and the Chinese, they broke the record which is great to see the activity, the science, the research taking place on the north side.
Baker Perry: And then when we went back up to the South Col, we made sure to go a little bit higher than where the Italian station was, not only to try to get up a little higher, but also to get out of some of that loose rock, potentially. And it's hard to say whether we're completely out of it, but we feel a little bit better about the site being a little bit higher and perhaps less prone to having that picked up. And then of course when we went up to the Balcony, both the South Col and the Balcony stations were world records for highest weather stations ever installed and that was pretty cool to be part of.
Baker Perry: In terms of ice cores, I'm not exactly sure. I think the highest ice core was probably on a mountain called Shishapangma, in Tibet. I'm not positive on that, but I think that was where the highest previous ice core was found.
Lee Ball: So I heard you had a bit of a MacGyver moment upon the mountain, with duct tape and a shovel. I was trying to imagine what you're up to and how... Was that right? Duct tape and-
Baker Perry: And so the story there was that, we had two stations to install up at the South Col and then of course above that at the Balcony or even higher if we were able to get up there. At camp two we had to divide the loads because our Sherpa team made the carries up to the South Col several days before we went up there as our whole team. And so things had to be packaged and sent up several days before our team went up. And there's multiple people carrying these loads so it's not like you put everything in a bag and one person carries it up because each station weighed about 110 pounds and so it's way too much for a single person to carry. And so different components were split up among different Sherpas, and then those loads get dumped at the South Col campsite, at Camp 4, and then repacked with other items that end up up there.
Baker Perry: So it's not like we have a dedicated tent or even a duffle bag, necessarily, for just each station. It's complicated. And so we ended up having everything we needed for the South Col station. And I mean it was only a 15 minute walk probably from camp and so it was relatively straight forward to sort that out. And if we were missing something, it would have been easy to go back to camp to find it.
Baker Perry: And then after that installation was complete, we went back to camp and we had basically about eight hours before we were to depart for the summit. And so we had a number of things to do, which included melting snow to have water to drink and water to rehydrate our food or our dehydrated food meals. And we needed to rest some. We needed to check on oxygen, get personal equipment ready for the summit push. And then I also was tasked with going out to collect some soil samples for some colleagues to analyze. Because this is a pretty extreme place and to see what kind of life forms are actually in the soil was an interesting question.
Baker Perry: So yeah, we had all those things going on and then the Sherpa team is trying to prepare the loads for the next day and we assumed everything was in order just because everything had made it up to the South Col. But in retrospect I think we didn't fully inventory and check over everything that was being packed.
Baker Perry: And so we end up at the Balcony up there and the station is up. The tripods up, all the sensors are pretty-much up and the last thing to put on are the two wind sensors. And we're looking around, realizing, "Oh no. We don't have the mounts that go into the crossarm that the wind sensors actually sit on." They had just gotten mixed up with the other equipment that came down from the South Col and just were not there. And so we're beating our heads against the wall, not so much against the wall but against our hands and just frustrated because this is really the most important variable that we want to measure up there, is the wind speed and wind direction.
Baker Perry: So, fortunately we had a shovel, I started looking at the handle, and I almost brought it today, I should have brought it. And the handle was about the same diameter as that pipe, at least eyeballing it. And so sure enough, we tried to put it on there and it was reasonably good. The handle was just a bit of an oval and so we needed to shape it out a little bit and then thicken the diameter just a hair. And that's where the duct tape came in, just to thicken the diameter and then that went on.
Baker Perry: But you know, I'll tell you that working with our folks here in the machine shop, Mike Hughes and Dana Green. Those guys have taught me so many things over the years and especially the ways to be creative and improvise. I can really thank them for some of that training and working on these other systems we've had.
Lee Ball: Yeah. Mike and Dana are great. They've helped us a lot with the solar vehicle team. We wouldn't be as successful without them, for sure.
Lee Ball: So it was a really busy year up on the mountain this year. I know that it made a lot of headlines. What was that like? Did that get in your way? Is it something that you had to prepare for?
Baker Perry: I'd certainly followed some of the news reports over the years about Everest and the crowding that has occurred at times, and the traffic jams. And so that was a real concern in the back of my mind. And on the one hand, a lot of that was kind of out of my direct control because I was just one member of a large team and a large group. Our planning as to when we went up to the different camps and also to the summit, depended on a lot of factors, related to health of team members, to the weather windows. And a lot of that was just out of our control.
Baker Perry: And unfortunately what happened this year was that the early weather windows that typically open in early May just did not open. The jet stream just stayed over the region and the winds remained way too high for the Sherpa team to fix the ropes to the summit. And so that meant that it just backed everything up. We were already planning on a later summit window to hopefully allow the first wave of climbers to push through, and then perhaps it would be less crowded then. But what happened is that all that got delayed and then we started running into the end of May and concerned about the monsoon coming in and just greater instability in the ice fall. And so everyone was compressed in this just a few day window of favorable weather and that made the crowding much, much worse than it otherwise would have been.
Baker Perry: There were two times that really stood out and impacted our team. One was moving up through the ice fall, going to Camp 2 on our summit rotation as we were working up and we came to two ladders, vertical ladders going up the side of a serac. And there's a line of 60 or 70 people there waiting for them. I'm like, "Whoa!" Yeah and we were there for at least an hour waiting on people. And all it takes is one person who's just not comfortable or not familiar with clipping in and out and just uncomfortable, to bog everything down and that's what happened. And then that was a bit of an omen for what we saw in our summit push too, was we started out in the middle of the night. We made good time for the first couple hours and then encountered the back of a traffic jam again. And we're just moving at a snail's pace.
Baker Perry: That was a major factor in why we couldn't continue to the summit or go a little higher to install that upper weather station. It's just the pace was too slow and what normally would be a 10 or 12 hour round trip for a summit push for people that continued on was turning into a 16, 18, 20 hour day. People were running out of oxygen, suffering frostbite and exhaustion and that definitely contributed to some of the fatalities that were up there. And fortunately our Sherpa leadership team and our group made the decision not to push on. And yeah, we might've been able to make it up, but with the crowds, we would have been severely challenged in doing any science up there and installing a weather station or getting an ice core from higher up. So I fully agree that it was the best decision from a safety perspective.
Lee Ball: What's the plan to return so that you can check on the station, take more samples?
Baker Perry: That's a great question. That's very much in flux. We're watching the stations currently. They have been transmitting, the upper stations, the Balcony and the South Col for the past few months. There've been a few breaks with snow build-up on the solar panels dropping battery voltage. But so far they seem to be working as designed, which is a very positive, encouraging development. The big unknown is what's going to happen when the jet stream moves back. And especially as we get into November, December and January where we're going to probably be seeing 200 mile an hour winds moving through there, and if they survive. So we're not sure what's even going to be left up there at the end of the winter. And that's going to be a factor in the decision making process. We're actively working with colleagues in Nepal, both from the Khumbu Climbing Center in Phortse, on a longer term strategy to maintain and service the stations. And also with the government of Nepal with their Department of Hydrology and Meteorology. So there are a number of options on the table.
Baker Perry: We have the immediate short-term needs just to make sure stations are operational and any immediate needs arise, that somebody is available to go up, if there's a longer term need as well. And so we're trying to work on both of those in conjunction with one another. And obviously, even if something does happen in the next few months with the highest, Camp 2, the Balcony, South Col, nobody's going to be able to go up there. The window would not open until May, till the spring climbing season. There may be some people going up. There's sometimes a few exhibitions that do try to make a fall attempt. But I don't know that we would have a team member that's available to go up. But at the very least we might get some pictures back from people that are going up and that could help inform some of our strategy.
Lee Ball: Did you design the solar panel locations, thinking about maybe the wind would help clear it off during high winds, maybe the sun would help melt any snow that was fixated on the panel?
Baker Perry: Yeah, so we spent a lot of time just considering options and scenarios, and then second guessing ourselves and revisiting things. And what we ultimately decided to do, and this is what I've done in the Andes too, is to have multiple solar panels as opposed to just a single one. And so at both the Balcony, the highest station, and at the South Col, we have one panel that is basically oriented due south but it's still a decent inclination so that snow can shed off of it a little more effectively. And then we have the other panel, more of a southeast orientation. Again, the premise there being that typically we have less cloud cover in the mornings and that morning sun is more effective than the afternoon sun would be with building cloud cover.
Baker Perry: It's been a bit surprising just how light the winds have been in the monsoon. I mean it looks like a pretty tranquil time to be up there. It's cold and temperatures around 0 Fahrenheit at the Upper Station and a little warmer, 10 degrees or so, 5 to 10 degrees at the Lower Station. But it's snowing a lot and with light winds it means that snow doesn't always get cleared off of the panels. And so that's been a bit of a, perhaps surprise just how light the winds are. But they're definitely starting to pick up and that should help clear things.
Lee Ball: We've all heard about changing climate, obviously. And I'm going to ask you a few questions about your experience in South America. But I'm curious about some of the stories that you may have heard from the Sherpas when you were in the Himalayas. And what are people saying on the ground? What's the word on the street? The word on the glacier?
Baker Perry: The word on the street and in the Everest region with the Sherpas is that they've seen profound changes in their lifetimes. Glaciers that used to extend farther down valley are no longer there. Smaller glaciers have disappeared. There's just less snow up on the mountains. And so these are changes that they've seen in their lifetimes and they recognize that this is having impacts on the water resources in the region, on their livelihoods. Even in the town of Phortse where we were based a good part of the spring and where our Sherpa team is from, they were having water supply issues in the month of May. And they said that's not something they've typically had to deal with.
Baker Perry: And I saw a lot of commonalities with the stories that you and I both have heard from Peru. And in both of the Himalayas in this part of Nepal, and in the Andes, climate change is not some abstract idea. It's direct. It's observable and it's something that people are very concerned about. Because it's had direct impacts on their livelihoods, through the water, through their livestock, through their crops and ability to irrigate. And also it's made some of the climbing routes less safe, and that's certainly been a continued source of concern for the Khumbu Icefall. And as more and more of the hanging glaciers on the upper slopes begin to melt out and be impacted by climate change, they're more at risk for collapse. And so that has a direct impact on loss of life for Sherpas and also other climbers that are in the region.
Lee Ball: Baker, you've spent decades now working in South America, studying the tropical glaciers of South America. And you're kind enough to share a lot of contacts and resources with me and multiple trips that I've taken to the Sacred Valley and in and around the Cusco region of Peru. I had never really before thought too much about tropical glaciers. And like many people, when you hear about Machu Picchu, people assume that this giant mountain on top of the world... And what was fascinating to learn for me after visiting that place for the first time was that it was lower than Cusco and it's where the rainforest, the Amazon literally reaches up into the Andes and it's just a fascinating and beautiful place. But you spend your time many thousand meters above Machu Picchu, and could you explain a little bit about tropical glaciers because people don't think about glaciers in the tropics?
Baker Perry: No, it's a weird combination of words. And the reality is, is that if you go to high enough elevations, that temperatures are low enough to support the formation of glaciers. And this is the case from Venezuela, Columbia, down through Ecuador and certainly in through Peru and Bolivia. In fact, Peru has the greatest concentration of tropical glaciers of anywhere in the world. And these are rising right out of the Amazon rainforest in many cases. And so there's this incredible altitudinal gradient and temperature that is evident. Vegetation patterns follow that and it's spectacular to see, as you've been there.
Baker Perry: But the interesting thing about tropical glaciers is that the climatological processes are different than what we see in the middle latitudes and the polar regions. And one of the major differences is that on a tropical glacier in Peru, the summer, which is the warm season, is also when it's snowing and accumulation is occurring. So, there's melting occurring during that period, but there's also accumulation occurring. And so those two seasons coincide, which is very different from the middle attitude and polar regions because the glaciers receive their inputs from snowfall primarily in the winter months. And then in the summer months it really doesn't snow. It may rain some, especially on the glaciers in the Cascades and in the northwest. And that's when you're losing mass. So they're clearly defined seasons and we don't, and that's a major difference with what we see in the tropics.
Baker Perry: And so that points to the huge significance of cloud cover and precipitation. And so that's where a lot of my work has focused the last five years, has been on understanding the atmospheric processes associated with the precipitation formation which is the snow up high, and the cloud cover, and looking at the changes to the onset of the wet season, and the ending of the wet season and how that may be changing over time. And what are some of the atmospheric factors that are influencing it? And then how does that tie into the amount of snow that's falling and accumulating on the glacier surface, and ultimately it's the glacier behavior.
Baker Perry: So they are, they're fascinating. And I think what we recognized both in the tropical glaciers of Peru, and Bolivia in particular, there's some similarities with what we're seeing in the Himalayas in the subtropical glaciers of Nepal, and that they're very sensitive to solar radiation. And so if there's a reduction in precipitation, which is snowfall up high that changes the reflectivity and allows the surface to absorb more solar radiation and that can accelerate glacier retreat. The cloud cover's a very important factor as well. And so because the sun is so high in these parts of the world, the influence of the solar radiation changes in solar radiation and the reflectivity of the surface, which we call albedo, are particularly important, perhaps more important than we see in the higher latitudes.
Lee Ball: So I've experienced where locals have told me that they've noticed a big difference with glacier retreat, but this is an area that you've measured for many, many years now. Can you speak to that a little bit?
Baker Perry: Our team is not made direct measurements of glacier changes. We've worked some with satellite imagery and we've had some students do that over the years, but we've not made direct field-based measurements of the glacier retreat.
Baker Perry: There's one place that we took students... Actually the first study abroad trip that Mike Mayfield and I led back in 1999 to the Andes, went to Laguna Glasiar, this glacial lake at 16,000 feet in Bolivia. And at that time it was this massive glacier coming down into a lake, a huge calving front right there, very healthy. It had retreated some from where it had been in the '80s, we'd noticed with satellite images. I didn't have a chance to go back there until 2017, two years ago. And returning, I was just shocked at what I saw. I mean, these are changes that I was able to see just in my lifetime. The glacier had largely disappeared and had retreated way upslope. What was left was just exposed rock. What had been literally hundreds of feet of ice was not there anymore. To see that at a personal level was pretty sobering.
Baker Perry: Certainly, we were bombarded with all the facts of climate change and the changes, an increase in temperature and the statistics that we see from the scientific community and a lot of that's reported in the media. But this was a little different for me. And I've seen plenty of repeat photos from glacier regions around the world, but this was a relatively short period within my professional lifetime. You know, I guess I'm getting older, but I'm not that old. And to see that was pretty profound.
Lee Ball: Have you noticed the same on some of the approaches to some of the sites in Peru?
Baker Perry: I've been going to Peru pretty consistently in the Cordillera Vilcanota for about 10 years now. And there certainly are some changes that I'm seeing, but it hasn't been quite as dramatic yet. And I think I say "yet." We've done some work with satellite imagery and have identified plenty of glaciers that have retreated and some that have disappeared. And then my close colleague, Anton Simon, who's been working on a project. He has access to these aerial photos from the 1930s from the Smithsonian Expedition that flew looking for lost Incan cities. And they happened to see this enormous mountain range with lots of snow and ice on it. And so they took just a number of high resolution, super high quality photos. And so on the basis of that they may be able to reconstruct the glacier history and create some animations that are just really stunning and sobering too, showing the degree of ice loss going back to the 1930s.
Lee Ball: It must be quite a different world up there. Do you have plans to take students again in 2020?
Baker Perry: In 2020? I don't have immediate plans. Dr. Derek Martin from the Department of Geography and Planning has taken over the study abroad course. He took students this year in 2019, because I was obviously tied up in the Himalayas and he had a fantastic experience and plans to keep that trip going.
Baker Perry: So, my plans are a bit up in the air. There's several opportunities. We have a proposal actually under review right now to install a weather station on top of Asangati, the high peak in the Vilcanota and do some snow sampling. We're also looking at possibilities to go back to Quelccaya and drill a new ice core all the way to bedrock. And so that's in the works for next year. And so-
Lee Ball: How far is that?
Baker Perry: It's, depending on where exactly you are, it could be anywhere from 1 to 200 meters of ice. A year ago I was part of an expedition that had a ground penetrating radar. And so fortunately I have a pretty good ice thickness map and that will be something we'll be looking at. There was a upper core of the firn layer of the old snow that our team from the University of Maine and from the Brazilian Antarctic Institute was able to acquire last year but they were not able to go all the way to bedrock. And so there's some interest in doing that. So I don't know, I think there's a number of opportunities, but no plans to be a part of the study abroad as of now. And I think Dr. Martin is fully capable of taking that over.
Lee Ball: That's great.
Lee Ball: I know that you've made a lot of personal connections and relationships in the Sacred Valley in Peru and also in Bolivia. I know the science, and that inquiry brings you back. Is there another element that keeps bringing you back to that part of the world?
Baker Perry: Absolutely. This is a part of the world that I spent several years of my childhood in. And so when I was seven years-old, my family moved to Peru and lived for several months in Arequipa, which is not far from Cusco, it's there in Southern Peru. And then we moved to Bolivia and lived at 13,000 feet on the Altiplano and I went to school there and we took family outings up as high as 18,000 feet. And so that was a very formative experience. I was the perfect age to soak that up and made connections with my friends and certainly the places, the mountain ranges. And in many respects, when I go back to Peru and Bolivia it does feel like going home to a place that's been very important to me for quite some time.
Baker Perry: And then in the context of the work that we've done with our study abroad and the research projects, we've made these fantastic relationships. Places like Chinchero with our close friends, Roxanna and her family. And then our support staff on the truck and the research expeditions we do. The Crispin family. And then the same sort of close colleagues in Bolivia.
Lee Ball: In Atlanta.
Baker Perry: Atlanta and Cusco, yeah, you all have developed great relationships with them. Our UNSAACC partners, Nilton, Maxwell. It's a big family. And when you learn and study about Andean history and especially the cultural anthropology of the region, these networks of friendship and reciprocity are incredibly important and are essential for the type of work that we're doing. And it truly is, we learn so much from these people and they're incredibly helpful in what we do. There's a deep commitment and understanding and mutual respect, I think for one another.
Lee Ball: So you spent a lot of your childhood in South America, in football, soccer country. But you ended up being a little bit of a basketball star here in the states and you spent some time playing with Duke University and Coach K. And some great players: Jeff Capel, Chris Collins and Ricky Price. I totally remember that team. I'm curious, what do you take away from that experience that really sticks with you today?
Baker Perry: Well I guess, first a correction. I wouldn't use the word "star." I was a bench warmer. You know, and the cheerleader there on the Duke team for one year.
Lee Ball: But you were a star somewhere to be there.
Baker Perry: I played some in Bolivia, actually. So I did play some semi-professional ball there. And those were good memories.
Baker Perry: But no, it was a terrific experience to be part of that Duke team. We weren't national champions or didn't have huge success. I think we got beat in the first round of the NCAA tournament as an eight seed. But it was such a tremendous experience and it was a lifelong dream for me to be part of that program and to be in the midst of the ACC season and with Coach K and such an incredible program.
Baker Perry: And things that I've taken away from that, I mean, Coach K just has such high expectations and just brings incredible energy and intensity to what he does. And that really stood out to me as one item. Another is that he really valued his family and found ways to bring his kids on some of our away games and involve them in what he was doing. And so that is in a sense a bit of a model for me in involving my kids in some of our study abroad activities and some of my field work. And so I really valued that.
Baker Perry: And I've stayed in touch with Coach K over the years and I sent him a note when we got back from Everest and shared some of the accomplishments that our team made. And it's amazing how he's able to find the time to keep up with people and to even provide short responses to notes that he receives. And so he's still this kind of larger than life figure in a sense, even in my own life. He's somebody that I have looked up to and respected over the years.
Lee Ball: Well, thank you so much for sharing that. Thank you for coming into the podcast today and spending your time. You have such a busy schedule and busy doing research, busy teaching and making yourself available to your students. Thank you so much, Baker.
Baker Perry: Well, thank you, Lee. It was a pleasure to be here and I look forward to continuing the conversation.
Wednesday Nov 27, 2019
Wednesday Nov 27, 2019
On this Find Your Sustain Ability, Appalachian's chief sustainability officer, Dr. Lee F. Ball, welcomes who he calls “one of the country’s foremost leaders in renewable energy and energy efficiency” — Amory Lovins. Lovins is chairman emeritus and chief scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), a nonprofit with a mission to “transform global energy use to create a clean, prosperous and secure low-carbon future.”
Announcer: Define sustainability. Odds are your definition is completely different from the next person's. Appalachian State University's director of sustainability, Dr. Lee Ball, sits down with his guest to explore the many ways in which sustainability affects our lives. This is Find Your Sustain Ability.
Lee Ball: Welcome everyone. My name is Lee Ball and I am your host of Find Your Sustain Ability. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with The Rocky Mountain Institute's chief scientist Amory Lovins. We've had the pleasure of knowing Amory Lovins for the past eight years through our relationship with The Rocky mountain Institute. Amory Lovins is one of the country's foremost leaders in renewable energy and energy efficiency. We sat down with him to talk about potential challenges and solutions in renewable energy and I hope you enjoy the podcast.
LB: So we're here today with Amory Lovins. Amory, thank you so much for taking your time to come to Appalachia State and to join me on my podcast that we call Find Your Sustain Ability.
Amory Lovins: Nice title. Thanks for having me.
LB: So what's keeping you busy these days? Are you still traveling a lot?
AL: Yeah. I'm just back from almost a month travel in East Asia and West Asia. And working on some interesting bits of research. One is on how to save most of the cement and steel and other energy-intensive materials we use. And another's how to make an integrative design the general practice instead of rare. That means you're designing buildings, vehicles, factories, as whole systems rather than as a pile of parts. And if you make the parts work together rather than against each other, you get several fold bigger energy savings at a lot lower cost. So I'd like to make that come out of the water faucets.
LB: So that reminds me of what Wendell Berry used to call solving for pattern.
AL: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Same idea. And in fact, I love Wendell and his work. And I use that concept all the time. If I want to help you design a car better, I might talk about my house, where I grow bananas up in the Rockies, down to minus 47 F with no furnace. But it's cheaper to build that way because I save more construction cost leaving out the heating system than I pay extra for the stuff that gets rid of the heating system.
AL: So if you wanted to design a really good car, we take out a lot of weight and then you need less propulsion system to haul it around. And that gets cheaper and pays for the lightweighting. In fact, I a car that does that, it's a carbon fiber electric car. And people thought carbon fiber costs too much, but guess what? It's paid for by needing fewer batteries. And then they recharge faster and everything gets better.
LB: So Amory, you've often mentioned that we have, a lot of the technologies that we need, you refer to them as off-the-shelf technologies. Can you speak a little bit about that?
AL: Yeah. The technologies we had in 2010 were enough to save three quarters of our electricity at about a 10th the cost we pay for it. Most of the rest of the energy we use, a lot cheaper than buying it. And that technology keeps improving. Although actually what's improving even faster is design, the way we choose and combine technologies.
AL: So give you a little example from big office buildings. In 2010, when we led the retrofit of the Empire State Building, we saved 38% of the energy. They'd already saved some. And that paid for itself in three years and that was thought pretty good at the time. But then three years later, in a big federal complex in Denver, we saved 70% cost effectively and made that half-century-old difficult building more efficient than what was then the best new office in the country. Which in turn is only half as efficient as our new office. And now there's a German building using three fifths less energy than ours. This isn't because a lot of whizzbang new technologies got invented. It's because we got better at picking which ones to use and how to put them together in what order and matter and proportions, like a good recipe.
LB: So integrated design played a strong role in that, I assume?
AL: Yes. And it's starting to get pretty widely known that you can do that with buildings of all kinds. What is not so obvious is you can do the same thing in vehicles like my 124 mile-a-gallon equivalent car. Or in industry where we get much bigger, cheaper savings than other practitioners. And part of that is because we're redesigning the process and equipment in a holistic way.
AL: We're not just looking at the different parts of it separately. Part also is because we're picking up some big savings that had been overlooked. For example, three fifths of the world's electricity runs motors. They're mainly in industry, the rest in buildings. And half the motor power is to run pumps and fans, to move things like air and water around through pipes and ducts.
AL: Now it turns out if you make the pipes and ducts, which people hadn't paid that much attention to, fat, short, and straight, rather than the normal skinny, long, and crooked, you can cut the friction 80 or 90%. Therefore the energy used by the fans and pumps and the size of the fans and pumps and the motors that run them. And that makes the capital cost lower. But the energy savings are so big that if everybody did this around the world, hypothetically, you would save about a fifth of the world's electricity. That's half the coal fired electricity.
AL: And we find an industry, you typically get your money back by doing this in less than a year if you're fixing up an old factory or instantly if you're making a new one. So why isn't this generally done? Well, for starters, it's not in any engineering textbook, with a tiny exception from our buddies in Australia. It's not in any government study, industry forecast, climate model. Why not? Because it's not a technology, it's a design method. And people don't normally think of design as a way to make things go big, fast.
LB: Yeah, I'm intrigued by the gestalt theory that talks about the sum of the parts being greater than the whole.
AL: Aristotle said that a long time ago.
LB: Yeah, and that, the greater part really intrigues me. I just spent the last, I spent three days this week with Janine Benyus from Biomimicry 3.8 and she said to say hello, by the way.
AL: Lucky you.
LB: I've told her that I was going to be with you. And we were focusing on the notion of generous design. Her work is really trying to figure out how, through design like you were just mentioning, we can be generous and abundant with the built environment. What are your thoughts on that?
AL: Well, as usual, she's absolutely on target. Buildings ought to create delight when entered and satisfaction, health, happiness, productivity when occupied. Regret when departed. They ought to look like they grew there. They ought to, Dre Anderson said, "Take nothing, waste nothing, do no harm." And we're figuring out how to do this by losing some old ideas. That's the hard part. So you can have new ideas to go in their place.
AL: Of course a lot of traditional architecture already did all this. We just forgot and we got too specialized. We chopped it up so that it wasn't all in one head anymore. Now we even have different architects for the inside and outside of the building. And then a gaggle of engineers and specialists each doing one little part of it. So of course they don't work together properly.
AL: But as we learn to put the parts back together again into an integrated whole, guess what? The building gets a lot better and simpler and cheaper and works better. Once you're in it, it's kind of like magic. You instantly realize you're in a different kind of building that you'd normally have to endure.
LB: I felt like that when I was at your headquarters in Colorado.
AL: Yeah. Wandering through the banana jungle.
LB: Right, right, and in your house.
AL: Yeah, we're on crop 76 right now. And I got guavas coming out and we're about to harvest some limes and babacos.
LB: I mean your house, especially, is an example of just off-the-shelf technology.
AL: Yeah, a 1983 state of the shelf. Although we've improved windows and other things some more since then as they evolve. Yeah, there's nothing exotic in there. What's more important is what we left out. Furnace, ducts, fans, pipes, pumps, wires, controls, fuel supply arrangements. We don't burn stuff. That's so 20th century.
LB: So let me ask you a question about the electrification of all things. Are you finding that we're making some headway or are we going in the right direction?
AL: Yes. Although it's not quite all things. There's a lot of industrial heat, for example, that will work better with direct renewable heat. And also don't forget about hydrogen. And maybe for marine shipping, ammonia is a good alternative fuel as well with no carbon. And you can make the hydrogen out of renewable electricity now that it's getting so ridiculously cheap. So you don't need to reform it from natural gas and put carbon in the air.
AL: But most functions should be indeed electrified. That's going well. And in fact, Britain and Holland, both of which had big conversions to natural gas decades ago when they discovered a bunch off shore there, they're now going back the other way and switching off natural gas. Berkeley was just the first city in the US to stop new gas hookups and say we're going to convert off gas.
AL: It's good for a lot of reasons to do that. Indoor air quality, safety, public health, especially as our old infrastructure deteriorates. And also climate. And it's not just burning the gas but all the methane that dribbles out all the way from the wellhead to the pipes in your walls that we're never going to tear the walls apart to get at and fix.
AL: And in fact, I was just with one of the ministers in an Asian country who said, "In our country, we got really rugged topography. And when we build houses like this 5 million new house program we're just starting, it's very expensive to run that gas pipe over all this rough country alongside the electricity. If you're saying we can make the buildings really efficient so it's economical and attractive to do it with just electricity and maybe make that right on the roof, heck, we can stop piping the gas, save a whole lot of money and put that into paying for the efficiency." That's a great idea.
LB: So speaking of efficiency, I mean those of us that have been studying building science and the built environment realize the importance of energy efficiency. Again, off-the-shelf technology, improving technologies, or making it easier and easier for us to save energy in our wall systems and floor system and roof systems. Why do you think that we are still, after all these years, challenged with barriers to people accepting that it's wise and prudent to make deep investments in energy efficiency?
AL: Force of habit. Probably not having experienced what a great building can be. A lot of people find it more comfortable just to do what they're good at and have done for a long time rather than doing something different. There's a lot of human nature like that. But our species is also got where it is by adapting to new needs, taking up new challenges, having new ideas, getting rid of some old ideas that served us well but they're not right anymore.
AL: And the word is spreading. And I think market competition will do a lot of that job for us. I remember when people started building early super insulated and often passive solar houses in cold places like say Montana. It seemed a pretty weird idea until one developer said, "You buy my house, I'll pay the utilities the first five years, no questions asked." And he soon had a waiting list from three counties away.
AL: There's a developer in Palatine, Illinois, Perry Bigelow, who built roughly a thousand tight and well insulated, ordinary stick built houses. And every year, if you send him your utility bills, you'd be entered in a drawing to get a free vacation in the islands in the winter. But he would then go over the bills and whoever had the lowest bills would get a prize of some value. And his deal was that, depending on how big your house was, he would cap your energy bills at 50 or a hundred or $200 a year. And he only had to pay up twice when somebody probably left the door open all winter or something like that.
AL: And his houses sold very well and people were delighted with them. Well of course now there's hundreds of thousands of passive houses in Europe. It's spreading all over the world, including the US. They are so much healthier and nicer to be in. There's no drafts. You'll always feel comfortable. And you don't really care if the electric or gas system outside fails because your house will work normally anyway.
LB: It seems like we've become complacent and almost comfortable being uncomfortable in the built environment and just assume that that's the way it always has been and the way it is inside of our buildings.
AL: Well. That's why it's quite a eyeopener for people to experience a good building and why it's important for anybody that doesn't know why this is a wonderful opportunity for them and for this whole society to go visit some great buildings. First 10 years we were in our banana farm near Aspen, we had over 100,000 visitors and we probably had about as many against since then.
LB: Wow. So you often talk about beginner's mind, and I'm always fascinated to hear you speak about beginner's mind and what that is and the advantages of it. Can you speak to that a little bit?
AL: Yeah. There's a long tradition in many Asian cultures about don't forget original mind. Sometimes it's called child mind, beginner's mind, and it's a state in which you're not captive to your assumptions and preconceptions. It's like a clean slate and you can actually see what is and have new ideas without there having to displace old ones first.
AL: There's a famous old story about this, about a Zen master named Nanin who received one day and imperious visitor, accounts differ whether it was a businessman or a government official, who insisted on being taught Zen. So Nanin smiled and poured tea and kept pouring, and kept pouring, and the tea overflowed the cup and spilled on the table and onto the visitors robes. The visitor got quite agitated. He said, "Stop, stop. Don't you see it's full? No more will go in." And Nanin stopped pouring and said, "Well, you come here wanting to learn Zen. How can you learn unless you have first emptied your cup?"
LB: Awesome. That's great. So I've noticed that you, when we visited RMI in Basalt, you had a lot of millennials and young people working on your team. Is that one of the reasons? Having that beginner mind? Less experience?
AL: Yeah. But wonderful talent. We're so blessed with the people that we've managed to attract. Many are young, with all of the advantages of not knowing too much about how things are supposed to be done. And they often have wonderfully original ideas. So I think that's one of the keys to our success.
LB: but we can cultivate that, too, no matter how old we are, right?
LB: Just by studying a new discipline or topic that we're not familiar with.
AL: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And being quite disciplined about asking as you learn something new, okay, how does that fit with what I thought I knew? Is it contradicting something that now it's time to lay to rest and go with the new better understanding? Also, we tend to be unduly influenced by these artificial boundaries and barriers that come out of academic tribalism.
AL: I dropped out of two great universities that wanted me to specialize too much. And the specialization of course was in academic departments, but in disciplines and categories that are artificial. They don't really exist. Knowledge is seamless and boundless and boundaryless. So I encourage students to jump the fences, walk on the grass, learn anything you think you need. And if your advisor raises eyebrows looking at your course of study and says, "I don't see how this relates to that," you're probably on the right track.
AL: And I think, well, if you want to read more about that, you can search online for an article called Wonder in the Bewilderness, which is a little essay I did for Harvard Magazine. That's one of the places I dropped out of. And they asked Bill Gates and me and one other dropout and seven graduates what were our hopes for this university when it got to be 400 years old?
AL: And my hope was that anybody, at any level, anywhere in the university, could study anything they want. After all, it's a university, isn't it? Well, the administrators didn't see it that way. And in my time, would have been class of '64, that's 1964, they said, "Well, we can't really let you study anything you want because most of the time when we've let people do that, it's worked out badly. So we have to protect you from your exuberantly transdisciplinary impulses." I said, "I don't see why. It's my time and my money. They're both scarce resources. I'm willing to take the risk. Why won't you let me do that?" And they weren't very helpful. So I left for Oxford.
LB: Well we've been imagining how to create such an environment here that is truly transdisciplinary and collaborative in nature. Some of us are calling it The Unsiloed Project, really to be incentivized also to work together.
AL: Yeah, well, Lee, this was popping up in a lot more places. I ran into the president recently of a Midwestern liberal arts college and his dream is that one day, a nice sunny day, he calls all the faculty out onto the big lawn in front of the academic buildings and says, "As of this moment, your departments are abolished. Mix, talk to each other, and figure out stuff you have juice for doing together. And I'll be sitting here. And when you have a team together, come on up and we'll write down who's on your team and what you want to do together. And the more departments you come from, the higher priority I'm going to give you at budget time."
AL: I don't know if he's done it yet, but I thought it was a really neat idea.
LB: Very, very, very great idea. I would love to do the same thing here. Let me ask you one more question because I know you're busy and we've got a big day ahead of us. What are you excited about in your work that really gives you hope for the future?
AL: Well I do live and work in a spirit we call applied hope, which is not mere theoretical hope or glandular optimism because it comes from doing each day what it takes to create a world that's worth being hopeful about. If you want to know about that, go to rmi.org, search on Berkeley, and you'll find my talk on applied hope for commencement.
AL: I am interested in a lot of things, as you may gather. But I think the next big thing I want to really make happen is integrative design. Because it makes energy efficiency as a resource several fold bigger and cheaper than had been thought and often gives it increasing returns. Just like modern renewable energy, the more you buy, the cheaper it gets so you buy more so it gets cheaper. And that makes it a runaway winner. Of course, there are many important things to do besides energy efficiency, but that's kind of a master key to many, many other problems in the world. And it has analogies in water efficiency and many other kinds of efficiency. Just bringing more work out of the resources we have so we can take less, waste less, pay less, and live better.
LB: Great. Well, Amory Lovins, thank you so much for joining me on today's podcast. We look forward to hearing your remarks during the Appalachia Energy Summit this evening. And that's a wrap.
AL: Thank you.
Wednesday Oct 09, 2019
Wednesday Oct 09, 2019
Before most people even knew what the S-word was all about, David Orr was pioneering the field of sustainability education. His groundbreaking work in the '90s led to the construction of one of the greenest buildings in North America. On this podcast, Orr discusses The Oberlin Project's mission to reduce carbon emissions and create a new, sustainable base for economic and community development. He also shares his thoughts on sustainability politics and what he calls a "dramatic shift" in our capacity to protect the environment.
Intro: Define sustainability. Odds are your definition is completely different from the next person's. Appalachian State University's Director of Sustainability, Dr. Lee Ball, sits down with his guest to explore the many ways in which sustainability affects our lives. This is Find Your Sustain Ability.
Lee Ball: Welcome, everybody. I am Lee Ball, and I'm your host of Find Your Sustain Ability. Today's podcast is a conversation that I had with David Orr. David Orr is Emeritus faculty at Oberlin College. And David is one of the country's foremost leaders in sustainability education. David pioneered the field of sustainability education before most people even knew what the "S" word was even about. Because of David's insights and his deep perspective on campus sustainability and political science and the politics of sustainability, we've asked him to join us in our podcast today. And I hope you enjoy it.
Lee Ball: David Orr, thank you so much for coming back to Boone and joining me in our podcast. We call this Find Your Sustain Ability.
David Orr: Well, thanks for having me. This is a great place to be. And your work is really great. So thanks to you for doing what you're doing.
Lee Ball: Yeah. This is your eighth Appalachian Energy Summit that you've attended. And we're extremely lucky to have you to be a part of the Appalachian family. Again, thank you for taking the journey from Oberlin, Ohio down to Boone.
David Orr: Well, Lee, thank you for all the leadership and the work that you do here and the excitement and creation of alternatives within higher education. That's critically important. And you're carrying that on, so thanks to you.
Lee Ball: You're welcome. I understand you have some family in the area?
David Orr: We do. My roots of both my mother and father's family go back in North Carolina for two centuries. And mostly dirt farmers and hell raisers around Charlotte. I think they're part of the Mecklenburg crowd back in the 17 whatever it was, but yeah, North Carolinian by lineage. Yeah.
Lee Ball: Yeah. That's fantastic. So having a sense of our place is so important to the work that we do. I know that you feel the same, especially with your work in Oberlin and the Oberlin Project. I know that that place is a big part of what you focus on.
David Orr: Oberlin is interesting. Like Boone and Appalachian State, there's a legacy that builds up over the years. And in the case of Oberlin, it was the first college to accept African Americans and women and graduate them. That goes back into the 1830s. That was part of the DNA of the institution. It wasn't as wonderful as it sounds. There were real conflicts. The board votes to accept African-Americans were close calls, but it happened. And it marked the institution and it's carried that commitment into the present.
David Orr: What we tried to do in the past, in my roughly 30 years in town, most of that, 27 years on the faculty or in the administration, is to begin to broaden that sense of commitment to include environment. What good is a great college if you don't have a decent planet to put it on, to paraphrase Thoreau. That's been our attempt to see environment and climate and energy issues as flip sides of a coin that involve equity, fairness, decency and justice. That's the role. But Oberlin has been a great place to live because of that commitment.
Lee Ball: What do you think was special about Oberlin to create a space where there was tolerance and more acceptance than other places?
David Orr: Well, I think part of it is simply the legacy, the history of the place. Having African Americans and women there, they mixed in the student body and became a... You knew people. And they were friends and they were classmates and so forth. I think over the years it broke down this barrier that had begun a long time ago. Slavery and racism are separate kinds of issues as part of the darker legacy of the United States. They're not the same thing.
David Orr: Racism was a different thing than simply slavery. It was a denigration of the personhood. That breaks down in situations where you know people. They're your neighbors, they're your friends, they're your roommate down the hall. I think it was that personal contact. It's harder to be a racist if you know African Americans or Asian Americans or Native Americans. I think it was just the years of contact plus the institutional commitment to work at that level.
Lee Ball: How do you think that contributed to Oberlin being a campus that also focuses on the environment and cultivating a citizenry that cares about the environment?
David Orr: It's a great question. In the case of Oberlin, the environmental studies program that I chaired from 1990 off and on until I retired, it was started by a group of students in the January term back in 1979 or 1980, long before I got there. It was a student-led initiative that drove the program. When I went there, what I did, the college had no facilities, capital plant for environmental studies. And I got permission to build an environmental studies center. That was at the start of the green building movement was beginning.
David Orr: Sim Van der Ryn's work in California and other people, John Lyle's work in Southern California. There were people beginning to ask these kinds of questions about the built environment. So we organized an effort. I had to go raise money independent of the college to fund it. It was about a roughly seven and a half million dollar project. We eventually raised over 10 for it. But the result was an initiative that was very environmental. It was the first substantially green building on a US college campus.
David Orr: It still generates, thanks in part to the App State alum, Sean Hayes. It still generates more energy than it uses by a large margin. It's 40 to 50% more every year than it actually uses from solar energy. But we made that an environmental class project. Had about 250 students work on that project along with a great design team that include Amory Lovins, and RMI, and people from NASA and The Bill McDonough Firm and Carol Franklin's landscape architecture firm.
David Orr: So we put together an incredible group of people who were thinking about design in the '90s with students. And that was one of the requirements. And so what happened was, at a scale you can get your head around, this is a 14,200 square foot building powered entirely by sunshine. No toxic materials in the building and so forth. It was a Platinum building before there was a rating system. But what that did was to give us something tangible.
David Orr: You can see it. And we're visual creatures. Something like 80% of our sensory apparatus is in our eyes. So we privilege what we see. And all of a sudden green design was you something you see. It's the, oh that building over there. And Oh by the way, it's powered entirely by sunshine. And that's in a state where sunshine is still kind of a theory. It's cloudy in terms of degree days and so forth as say the city of Seattle. But you can do it. It's a zero discharge building. There's no waste product comes in. It's drinking water in, drinking water out.
David Orr: So what we did was to take the state of the art at that time in the '90s, pulled together an incredible design team at that point. That was the A team of ecological design in the US and probably the world. We put that together and with students and it became a learning project.
David Orr: So one of the things I've always worried about is kids in this age bracket. Well actually from like five years to PhD, what they see is a world coming undone. And whether it's climate change or species extinction, ocean acidification, or soil loss or whatever, they're looking at these graphs that go up sharply or down sharply and they see their future disintegrating.
David Orr: But if you reduce the scale to something the size of a building, you can get your head around that. And you put them to work doing material safety data sheets, all this stuff about toxicity or climate or the technological possibilities. And it turned out that even in the '90s, so as we were in a process designing this building, yeah, you could design entirely solar-powered buildings in a place where sunshine was a theory. Dark, cloudy places a good bit at the time.
David Orr: So the last project before I retired in November of 2017 was a solar-powered hotel. The college has a 105,000 square foot hotel conference center with commercial space and a jazz club and so forth entirely powered by sunshine. It's an off-site array about a quarter of a mile distant. But it is rated as a USGBC Platinum building.
David Orr: And so what we did was to make what is possible visible. In both cases. The hotel project is lacking only the final touch, Maya Lin, a great designer, is doing the landscape design as one of three projects in the hotel and around the hotel. So I think making these things as you've done here, I mean what you do at Appalachian State, you galvanized a lot of this throughout the state at other institutions in this state's system. And making these things visible, it's the normal thing to do and it's the easy thing to do. That's the challenge.
David Orr: So that takes your real quickly into politics. You have to change the regulations, you have to get a lot of stuff out of the way to make what is the right thing to do and the economically smart thing to do and the ethically just thing to do. You have to make that easy to do.
Lee Ball: Well, we really appreciate your leadership with those projects. I mean, you were so ahead of your time in the '90s. And we, I mean really many of us were struggling to do these very things today. And another thing that impresses me is the fact that in in the '90s, you imagined a building that was beyond net zero. As net positive. And so it's a generous building. And that's how we need to be thinking today. I know it wasn't easy and it took a lot of brain power. But we like to say it's not rocket science, it's building science. We had the tools, it just took some leadership to get it done, on your part and the institution's part, and I'm sure you're board.
David Orr: Truth be told, this was really a collective collaborative project. We had an incredible design team. We had 22 different firms and organizations working on the design. We had a group of great students. What you're doing, or what we were doing in that, what you do here, is it's partly internal education. So the buildings are educational that you do. They're designed to be pedagogical instruments, to use that awkward word. But as teaching tools. They're designed to stretch kids sense of what is possible. Their are ecological imagination and possibilities that extend past the the current generation.
David Orr: And then internally what you're also doing here and what we were doing there and on every campus is trying to educate a board and administration. Here is the right way to do this, these kinds of things. And it's sometimes hard for them because they have fiscal responsibilities that are tough. They've got to make sure the payroll is met every month and so forth. And the endowment is sound and the number of students come in. Colleges and universities are not easy places to run. And in places like you ... People like you and me come in and say, "Hey, well you could do this a little bit better," and so forth, it takes a bit to get open minded administrators willing to risk a little bit of their career.
David Orr: But the right thing to do here is also the smart thing, economically, to do. I mean that's been one of the gifts that Amory Lovins has given us to understand that this is not only something you should do, but it's also something that is the smart thing to do. So there's this historic convergence of these two things that humans have to reckon with. What's the short-term smart and long-term smart and so forth.
David Orr: And one of the things that came through in our building, which I think was very useful, was to say we want to design so well and so artfully that we cause no injustice upstream, both human and ecological, or downstream. And so you're talking about a different kind of building. If we're just seeing the building in this larger context of the flow of materials and energy from source to eventual consequence. But that was educational for the board. And it was interesting. The Lewis Center was occupied January of 2000. When it came time to do the hotel project, the board just assumed, oh, it would have a living machine. And they just assumed it would be solar powered. So the the needle had moved in terms of board aspirations and what they thought was possible to do.
Lee Ball: Right. So in a sense what you've done with the Environmental Center has created another faculty member, a colleague in the building that you've been able to have on staff for all these years. And you continue to learn from and the students and everyone that's researching that space will be learning from that built environment until it's not there anymore.
David Orr: That's a great way to put it. I hadn't thought of it in that term, but that's a great way to put it. And one that can't go on strike or cause trouble unless you maintain it. Yeah.
Lee Ball: Exactly. I'd like to ask you a personal question, David. What's your earliest memory of the natural environment?
David Orr: Oh wow. Well I was born in Des Moines, Iowa. So my earliest memories are as a kid up to age five, were snow storms and Iowa heat and so forth. I think the earliest memories I have pertinent to this conversation are growing up in Western Pennsylvania. My dad was president of a college in a town called New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. A beautiful rolling country, Amish country, rolling hills. And then he had a place up on the Allegheny River, about a mile back from the river in a deep hemlock forest. And beautiful rock formations. And it had been occupied and cut over in part, but this was still a virgin portion of that forest. Never been cut.
David Orr: And so long before I could articulate anything environmental, there was this kind of biophilic sense growing. And the smells of the hemlock forest and the mosses and the waters and so forth. That became embedded pretty quickly. So for me, when we were there, which was a good bit of the summer times, and actually a good bit of the year all around, the day was out in the woods playing. And that play time was really critically important. And so trying to take that forward, I think that's an important part of this whole movement of ecological design. To build contact points between young people, all people, but certainly at the younger ages, and the natural world. Whether it's city parks or river walks or whatever.
David Orr: And I think one of the great inspiring things for me is the rise of biophilic cities where this becomes part of the way cities are designed. And then again, there's this convergence of what's the right thing to do, which is to associate young people with nature in the world in which they grew up. And then the smart thing to do because you find that property values go up where there are trees and green spaces and so forth.
David Orr: So this, I think the environment represents this historic convergence of two things that humans always wrestled with. What's the smart thing to do and what's the right thing to do? It turns out in this case they're often the same thing. But for me, that started early in in life at ages five, six, seven, eight and never went away. And later when I read, when I went to graduate school and I read people like Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold and folks like that. You had this sense that I though that, but I never said that. And the sense of being part of the natural world, not apart from it, but part of the natural world.
Lee Ball: That's what I love about biophilic design. It really kind of thrusts us together with the natural world. I mean, we're natural beings and many of us have been disconnected in urban environments and even suburban environments. And when you design with nature in mind, there really is no disconnect. And we crave as human beings, as animals, we crave our connection back to nature. And I feel fortunate like you to have grown up in the woods and have been surrounded by the natural world. I feel very lucky in it.
Lee Ball: I'm always curious about people like us, why did we come to this work? And so that's another question I have for you is was there a time that you realized that you wanted to dedicate your career towards helping make the world a better place?
David Orr: I think I was part of the Vietnam generation and was in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania in the Political Science Department. But Ian McHarg, great landscape architect who wrote Design with Nature, came out first in 1969. And we just had a 50th anniversary of the publication of that book at the University of Pennsylvania. And McHarg was one of these larger than life people who changed the way we see our methods of inhabiting the land.
David Orr: And it was biophilic long before there was, E.O. Wilson had coined that word and made it popular. I think that's really where it started. But I was at this point where I would go around a campus and find the best teachers around at Penn. And there were a lot of them at the University of Pennsylvania. Renny Deuvose from Rockefeller University was a regular lecturer and Lauren [Isley 00:17:38] was on the campus at that time.
David Orr: I would sit in on lectures of some of these people. And it began to galvanize a sense of what I wanted to do in the world like putting a compass on the table. It told me which way was magnetic north, but it wasn't an itinerary. It wasn't a map. I didn't have a career plan. I had a career direction.
David Orr: And the other part of this was in a politics department at Penn. I began to read people like William Ophuls' writings and Herman Daly, the economist, and so forth. And began to see that everything environmental really is political. If you go into the politics department ask what is political? They say it has to do with who gets what, when, and how. And if the what involves air and water and land and fossil fuels and wildlife diversity and so forth, then you begin to see this is really all political. Which just for me is a segue into current work in democracy. And we're witnessing the decay of democratic institutions and rapid collapse of these in Europe and Hungary and Poland and possibly Germany and France and England and now in the United States.
David Orr: We thought that would never happen, but it is happening. And so one of the fundamental challenges going forward is to understand ... And this is not an argument for conservatism or liberalism, it's simply to say that these are political issues. And if we value the role of democracy, the public engagement in the public business, then we have to begin to understand the ways in which environment plays out politically.
David Orr: And this has a lot of nuts and bolts issues to moral issues. And the nuts and bolts level, the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, was created in 1969 out of a hodgepodge of other federal agencies that didn't fit very well together. But there was no, what was called an organic statue. A law that said this is what the agency does and anchored it to a specific set of purposes. And so the EPA blows in a winds, the political winds, so a hardcore left-wing person comes in and does this and Trump comes in and does this.
David Orr: We're witnessing a shift in our capacity to protect the environment that is dramatic. The pull back from Paris Accords was probably the most visible thing that the Trump administration has done. But this gets into politics. It need not be conservative or liberal because you can be either one and be a very good environmentalist. Back in our history, Teddy Roosevelt and people like Nat Reed in the Interior Department were staunch Republicans but really good on environment.
David Orr: And so you can use the market, you can use political instruments, but the market always exists within a political context. So what happens in our politics affects a good bit of what happens in the market. Markets are where we say I, me, and mine, but politics are we say we, and us, and ours. And that pronoun works out a decidedly different way to do things. But again, they're not opposing things. They're flip sides of the same coin.
David Orr: So back on the question, what I began to see was how do we adjudicate the human role in the natural world? And the sense that we ought to is the biophilic sense. The sense of how do we do this involves politics and markets and ethics and so forth. And so the current work we're involved in is the democracy initiative. We have a book that comes out early 2020 from the New Press. It's called The Democracy Unchained. I've got 32 contributors to the book that include people like Bill McKibben and Jessica Tuchman Mathews. But it's a full spectrum of issues that pertain to human survival or capacity to get through this particular era.
David Orr: And the good news in the book in a way is that good many of the market things have already happened. We're not suffering from lack of technology as Amory has pointed out for decades. If we used off-the-shelf technology, we'd use a fraction of the energy we now use. And that takes a lot of the heat, no pun intended, off our political systems and so forth. That's the good news in this. And the bad news is we haven't yet put this all together as a systematic climate energy policy that is transparent and fair, works for future generations, and all those larger things.
David Orr: So the goal is to begin in this whole project with the book and then the 14 events we're planning around the country. And starting with one at the national cathedral in Washington on the spiritual foundations of democracy. To events in Boston, Washington, New York, San Francisco, Denver, Los Angeles, and so forth, 14 in total. And the goal is to start a broad-based conversation. And that conversation was implicit in early years at Penn. As I was taking classes over in the politics department and wandering around the campus and taking in Ian McHarg's classes and so forth. There's this larger dialogue about how humans make their place in the world in a way that's decent, fair, and durable, or sustainable in the language.
Lee Ball: So that intrigued me because I felt like we were making a lot of headway, even when you were in school. Fast forward to the '70s and '80s and even the mid-'90s, and then here we are today. I'm sitting with, you're one of the founders of the sustainability education movement. You started this work before we even had the word sustainability in the lexicon. And then you've written about it for many, many years. But here we are in 2019 and those of us who are sustainability educators are struggling more than ever to really get people to care. And we feel like we've used every tool in our toolbox and every trick that we can imagine to try to get people to care and to connect. And so where do you think we're failing? Or what opportunities you know still exist?
David Orr: I'm not sure that we're failing. I've come to this, and this is an opinion and it's off the cuff and I haven't prepared specific thoughts about this. But if I look at public opinion poll data across a whole sampling of issues, and by different pollsters, Gallup on an up or down, the public is with us. I think to a great extent we won. And it's hard to go anywhere without having somebody, anybody. You go down to the local truck stop, you can go to the local ADA meeting, and people care about the environment. They'll say it differently, but nobody wants to breathe dirty air, drink foul water, and so forth and so on.
David Orr: People want their kids out there on their hunting grounds or fishing, they want them in parks and so forth. So they, if you look at their aspirations for the next generation, it's a lot about environment. And so I think that in many ways we won the battle for people's hearts and minds. No political candidate anywhere can come out as a barbarian and win very long or stay in office very long for the most part across the country. There are a few exceptions.
David Orr: But what happened was, if you think about this as two sides of the Grand Canyon, on one side you had public opinion. And it was I think largely with us. On the other side you had the laws, rules, regulations, and so forth that we got. The policies that we actually got. And the bridge that connects those two got broken or better yet turned into kind of a toll bridge. So you had to have a lot of money to get across. And so every, from the political science profession, when you study people's role in governance, you find out very quickly it doesn't matter what the people down at the truck stop think or the people in the local school think or the people on main street think. It's what lobbyists want.
David Orr: We just had a House bill, got a lot publicity around the country in Ohio, House Bill Six. Dave Roberts at Vox described it as the worst piece of environment energy legislation he had seen in the 21st century, maybe ever. And what they did, what the Ohio legislature did, with a lot of dark money came into this, and a lot of big corporate money came in. It was a giveaway to First Energy. And it revived or subsidize two nuclear plants and a couple of coal-fired power plants. And the rate payers pay. It's an awful bill. And even the business community was against it, but it passed.
David Orr: So what happened in between was a lot of what Jane Mayer, the writer for New Yorker, calls dark money came in. Unaccountable money. Which is according to Supreme court legal. And so this is a way of saying I think we won the battle for the most part, for hearts and minds. Not everywhere, not always any one place. But I think by and large we won it.
David Orr: And so where did we fail? I think we failed politically. So while we were, to put it this way, while we were holding great meetings and writing great books and doing great research and so forth, they were taking over school boards and city councils and state legislatures and governors offices in 36 States and the House of Representatives until the last election, the Senate, the court system, and the presidency.
David Orr: So they were doing politics, we were doing environmental stuff. And we didn't do the work we should have been doing at extending our message, which was right. I think in most cases, as you know from the summit, you can measure results of the summit last night at dinner, you're on track to save a billion dollars that would otherwise have been wasted in 10 years. That is incredible.
David Orr: So while you're doing those things that they're measurable, for the most part, we missed the boat on defending our collective capacity to defend our collective environment. And that is political. We got outspent by a lot of money. But that's a long winded answer to say I think maybe we won, but we lost in the political arena.
Lee Ball: So I've got one more question for you. What is giving you hope these days?
David Orr: Well, I'll tell you. Hope takes some defining. But in short, I've said that hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up. And hope comes from actually being engaged in the world. But it also comes from hanging out with people like you and people that will be at the summit today and tomorrow and so forth. And people actually doing stuff in the world. People that just will not be beaten. They're going to be there. And they're there for their kids and their future generations. They're there because they love their colleagues. They're there partly because it's fun to do this stuff.
David Orr: And we're setting out a major challenge. It's kind of a moonshot for us and for our generation. But can you make a sustainable, just, fair, decent, and prosperous, a shared prosperous world? And I think the answer is yes. I take my hope from just the work that we all do. And the doing of the work is what generates hope.
Lee Ball: Well, David Orr, thank you very much for joining me today on Find Your Sustain Ability. We're so thrilled to have you on campus again and look forward to many more summits with you.
David Orr: Well, Lee, thank you. Thank you for the good work you're doing.
Monday Jul 08, 2019
Monday Jul 08, 2019
Host Dr. Lee F. Ball, Appalachian's chief sustainability officer, interviews Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi. Satyarthi has spent 40 years freeing 80,000 children from slavery. Listen to his journey and his advice to App State students on the latest "Find Your Sustain Ability."
Dr. Lee Ball: Kailash Satyarthi has spent his whole career saving the lives of children who are working as laborers around the world. Kailash was on our campus today, he actually flew over from Delhi, India, and he's leaving our campus to go straight to London, England. He was here today speaking and meeting students. He spoke to a full house in our Schaefer Center of over 1,000 people and had the opportunity to meet a lot of people. He stayed for a long time and shook hands and took pictures and people were extremely moved by his talk. Kailash was kind enough to stop by the studio. He had a lot to share about his organization and about the plight of child slaves and young laborers all around the world. There's a lot more information about Kailash's organization in our show notes. If you're interested in learning more, please check it out. We'll switch to his conversation now and I hope you enjoy.
L. Ball: Kailash Satyarthi, I want to thank you for coming here at Appalachian State. It's an honor to meet you and I welcome you to Boone, North Carolina.
Kailash Satyarthi: Thank you, Lee.
L. Ball: So for those who don't know, you've spent almost 40 years freeing over 80,000 children from slavery and unimaginable working conditions in India and around the world. You and your family and your colleagues have risked your lives countless times doing this work. You're like a modern day superhero.
K. Satyarthi: Not really.
L. Ball: Yeah. But unfortunately you can't solve these problems alone. I recognize that. There are over still 150 million children working in these conditions around the globe. My work here at the university with sustainability overlaps with yours because we cannot create a sustainable world on the backs of our children. So if we're going to ever find a way to create a sustainable future for the planet and its people, then we must end child slavery around the world that supports the desire for inexpensive goods, where the costs are externalized and subsidized by children. So because of your dedication to children around the world, you were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. But first of all, congratulations, and thank you for this very important work. Secondly, has this attention of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize benefited your work trying to end child slavery around the world?
K. Satyarthi: Thank you, Lee, for this opportunity. First of all let me tell you that I am not a superhero. Superheroes can do the things on their own, but I always believed in togetherness, building coalitions, partnerships and mobilizing ordinary people for this sustainable change in the society to end child slavery and child labor. Though I had been working across the world, almost 150 countries for the last 20 years, with local partnerships and organizations to fight child slavery, we could not move much as I was expecting that people should recognize that it's serious evil that must end. It should have the political priority at local level and global level too. But after the Nobel Prize, it helped definitely. Because for the first time when the Nobel Peace Prize has been conferred to this cause through me. In their 100 years of history, they did not link the need of eradication of slavery and protecting children from it for a sustainable peace in the world.
K. Satyarthi: But they did it, so it was helpful. In fact, I kept fighting that this should be included in the Millennium Development Goals when they were being formulated in 1998, 99. In 2000, I did my best for the demand, organized some demonstrations and parallel meetings at the U.N., But it did not work. There was no mention of child labor or child slavery in MDGs. Then for sustainable development goals, I started the campaign globally, again with the help of many antislavery organizations and child rights groups. We collected millions of signatures and sent it to U.N. secretary-general and so on. In 2014 when I was spearheading this campaign, Nobel Peace Prize was announced. I did not miss this chance. I thought that I should meet the U.N. secretary-general and the governments of the world. Secretary-general was very pleased and convinced that this should be incorporated.
K. Satyarthi: My argument was that we cannot achieve most of the development goals without ending child labor. If, say 152, that time, 200 million children were working in child labor, we can never achieve the education for all goals. If 200 million children are working at the cost of adults' jobs, almost equal number of adults were jobless. Most of the times, these jobless adults were none but the very parents of these children. So my argument was clear that every child is working at the cost of one adult's job. So we cannot achieve that goal of reducing unemployment in the world. In 2014 when I met secretary-general, he was convinced and he suggested that it would be better to find some strong political champions, some presidents or prime ministers. So I immediately used this advice with none other than President Obama. I had a very good conversation with him.
K. Satyarthi: He was convinced and he said that, yes, I'm going to support it. He immediately agreed. So was the case of President Hollande of France and several other prime ministers and president and head of that nations and government. So I was able to gather strong support that child labor, child slavery, child trafficking, these issues should be the part of SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals. And it happened. I succeeded in 2015. So in goal 8.7, all these things were included in the broader framework of the business solutions or employment generations, poverty elevations and so on. Now we have clear agenda and clear commitment for the eradication of child labor, slavery, trafficking. We also have a very clear goal for eradication of violence against children in all its forms, apart from ensuring good quality education for children and not only in primary but also in secondary schools and so many other things.
K. Satyarthi: So that was one of the significant successes after the Nobel Prize. But also in India, I have been able to ask the government and the government has changed the laws against child labor. They have also ratified the international conventions against child slavery and child labor. I fought for strong laws against child sexual abuse and rape of children in India and that was also successful. We worked with the governments in Sweden or in Germany and many other countries that they should increase or at least maintain their overseas development aid for education. That has been done. So in a way, it has given a very strong edge to advance my cause.
L. Ball: I'm very glad it happened for you and for all the children around the world. A lot of people here and around the world have no idea how many children are exploited. Children are in many cases treated worse than animals. I know that these are very complex issues. Can you explain how education has been playing a role in your work?
K. Satyarthi: Well, I have been advocating right from the beginning of my work in 1981 when I started. I learned even without any proper research or any study or evidences, but through the practice, through the practical work, I realized there is a very direct correlation between three things: child labor, poverty and illiteracy. This is a vicious triangle. We have to break it. Each of these things are cause and consequences of each other. If you continue child labor then the illiteracy will remain there. But if we are not able to ensure quality, free public education for every child, then the child labor will continue, at least in the poor countries and poor communities. So that has direct relations. Similarly, if the children remain child laborer and denied education, then they will remain poor for rest of their lives and their next generation will also remain poor and illiterate.
K. Satyarthi: That is intergenerational poverty and illiteracy through child labor. Slowly, people have started listening to that argument. Then we collected some evidences and some studies were done, and not by my organization only, but the World Bank, the UNESCO. ILO did such a studies and this relationship of triangular paradigm has been established. Now it's very clear that we cannot educate all children without eradication of child labor and we can not eradicate child labor without ensuring quality education for all children. There is a relation. We live in the world, which is basically the knowledge-driven world, or knowledge economy. We cannot think of sustainable economy growth in any country or poverty reduction or ending household poverty without an education and without knowledge today. But child labor is the biggest impediment in achieving this. So it is necessary that we have to invest both on education as well as on eradication of child labor.
K. Satyarthi: We are talking about 152 million children who are in full-time jobs. But we're also talking about 60 million children who have never seen the school doors, and another 200 million children dropped out from the schools because of the pull factor of child labor and also because of the pushback through poverty or other things, the family issues or social cultural issues and so on. That makes a vicious circle, that on one hand between 200 and 210 million adults are jobless in the world. One hundred and fifty-two million children are in full-time jobs and 260 million children who have to be in the schools in primary and secondary classes they are not there. That is the problem. There was one study done by World Bank and ILO that if you invest $1 on eradication of child labor, the return would be $7 over the next 20 years. So you can understand that it has a very strong economic imperative.
K. Satyarthi: Then the second thing is that if you invest on education for a child in developing country, then the return would be $15 over the next 20 years. So the best investment for economic growth and sustainability and poverty alleviation or justice, economic justice and equality in society is to invest in education. So that is the relation between all these factors.
L. Ball: So in addition to educating children in these impoverished areas, you also have a campaign, the 100 Million Campaign, did it focus on consumer education as well. Can you speak to that a little bit? Maybe give us an update on how it's going.
K. Satyarthi: Well, while working with children, youth, politicians, faith institutions, academicians in all my life, I have learned the power of youth should be channelized to solve this problem. That is largely untapped for this course. So my idea was that when 100 million, approximately, or a little more, 100 million young people are facing violence. That includes child labor, slavery, trafficking, child prostitution, use of children as child soldiers, or denial of education, health care. This is one scenario. On the other hand, hundreds of millions of young people are willing to take up challenges. They're ready to do something good for the society. So I thought that why can't at least 200 million young people should become the change makers for the lives of those 100 million young people who are deprived of childhood freedom, education, everything. So let 100 million youth should champion this cause.
K. Satyarthi: In this way, while I am addressing 200 million people, young people, simultaneously, 100 million who are deprived will get a strong voice from university students, college students and so on, well-off young people and children. On the other hand, those who are looking for some purpose and passion, those who wanted to prove themself, they could not find a space while studying in universities and their minds are sometimes narrowed down and their purposes and aims of lives have narrowed down for good scoring and better career and more learning and so on. Nothing is bad in it, but that it don't going to make this world a sustainable place. We can not save humanity. We can not save planet and people this way because if you make young people a tool or a lubricant or say part of a machine, this growth engine, then they will feel happy about it that they are the part of growth.
K. Satyarthi: But they do not remain human being with human soul. This is needed in this growth story. So this way, once they start thinking and working using the social media power, they can use internet, they can use other things to be the voices of other children, that will be good for them. They are also big consumers of most of the products which are made by child laborers and child slaves. So if the young people come to know that the shoes they're wearing or the shirt or chocolate they're eating, it is made by child slaves, I'm sure that they would be the first to change it and challenge it. Most of them, I'm not talking about all, but most of them will feel bad about it and they can use their power. So as conscious consumer they can make a difference for the sustainability of businesses and so on.
L. Ball: Child labor exists here in the United States. Can you describe what you know about this?
K. Satyarthi: Of course, I have been working on this issue in the United States for several decades, directly and indirectly through my partner organizations and so on. I know that how children are working not only in agriculture, the largest number of children, child laborers, in USA are engaged in agriculture sector, but also in sweatshops and sometimes the minor victims of trafficking and prostitution and so on. These things are not uncommon. There's a big fight. One of the issues which we ... many organizations and I have been fighting for is for a strong law to prohibit child labor in agriculture in USA. Because 20, 30 or 40 years ago, the agriculture work for children was not so dangerous because the use of pesticides and insecticides and machines and electricity was not so rampant, which is today is a serious problem. I've come across many examples where the young girls and boys are suffering diseases due to inhaling of those toxic chemicals. Sometimes, they are killed while working, operating a machine or electricity.
K. Satyarthi: That is an issue. Now we wanted to focus on one major area, and that is the employment of children in tobacco farms. It's an irony or one cannot give any argument that a young person is not allowed to smoke up to the age of 18, but a young person is allowed to work in tobacco fields at the age of 12 or 10 or 13, they're working in those situations. There is no justification for it. We wanted to focus on this through this 100 million campaign, that young people should raise this voice, that children must not be employed in any form, but to begin with, there should be complete revision of child labor in tobacco farming.
L. Ball: This is a big tobacco state, North Carolina, and especially in the eastern part of the state, there's a lot of tobacco still grown and it's a long history of children working in tobacco fields. In addition to educating children and their families and people around the world, what other strategies do you rely on that makes a difference in your work?
K. Satyarthi: Well, we have been fighting because we believe that investment in education through higher budget reallocation by the government is the key. That should also go with child-friendly education systems. So teachers training, investment on teachers, motivated teachers and so on. That should also be the part of it. So education is the key to many things, including development and social and economic justice, gender justice and poverty eradication. This is the strategy to ensure education ... investment in education for children. That requires social mobilization where people should demand that their children must be receiving good quality, free education, public education. That is also another reason.
L. Ball: Are there programs in place to educate families who are susceptible to the traffickers?
K. Satyarthi: Well, traffickers normally choose those areas which are less developed, uneducated families, deprived people, social deprivation also the part of the social cultural deprivation. For example, the entire Francophone Africa, the western African region, or some parts of South Asia or Southeast Asia, trafficking is quite rampant and in most cases, either the parents are not educated or the children do not have opportunity for education, so they are more susceptible for that. Only in few cases, in terms of the volume of trafficking in the world, some educated people are also lured away on false promises. They are shown some rosy dreams and told that their life would become like heaven and so on. So they are lured away like that and they don't know that they will end up in prostitution or forced labor.
L. Ball: Besides prosecution, what else is being done to prevent the factory owners from exploiting and abusing children?
K. Satyarthi: Well, I would say that child labor is an evil, social evil. It's a mindset issue. A lot of work has to be done to change the mindset of society, that people should feel their child labor is an evil, it causes poverty, it causes illness and it jeopardize education. So social awareness is needed to stop this as an evil. The second thing is it's the crime. So crime has to be dealt through law and order, through judiciary, through prosecution and conviction of the offenders. This is one part. That also requires the well oiled machinery for the prosecution, accountability in the entire system from the reporting to prosecution to conviction so it should reach to some conclusion. Then it is a development disaster. Until and unless we as society, international community, ensure basic things for the parents, social protection programs, permanent jobs, the minimum wages as prescribed under the law, these things are equally important.
K. Satyarthi: Then the accessibility to education. So schools have to be there in the villages and countrysides, teachers should be there in adequate numbers. Development factors play important role. Just the law or the prosecution won't work. The combination of all factors have to be there. So when I'm saying that it's a social awareness, it's equally important that the work has to be done in partnership with the companies. Those days are gone when we considered ... we meaning many of the civil society organizations, considered businesses and corporations as their enemy No. 1. They were culprits according to them. But this is not the case. Now the nature and character and role and power of corporate has changed and one should learn how to build mutual trust. The mutual trust between state, corporate and civil society is very much needed to solve this problem and many other problems in the world.
K. Satyarthi: So the corporations are not, in my opinion, just money making machines. They are also change-makers, knowingly or unknowingly. If they do it consciously for the betterment of people and planet, then they are the real change-maker for good. But if they just ignore those things, then it becomes disaster. But I see more and more corporations are coming forward, the industry leaders are coming forward to solve such problems. That is a good sign. This is also needed. So only prosecution won't work. The consumer should also feel responsible that instead of just calling for the boycott, they should demand certified and guaranteed quotes, which are free of child labor. The combination of these factors will definitely work.
L. Ball: Very holistic approach.
K. Satyarthi: Yeah, holistic approach.
L. Ball: Your wife's been by your side helping you all these years? First of all, how's she doing and how important has her support been to you?
K. Satyarthi: Oh, she has been a strong partner right from the beginning when nobody was convinced that I should give up my career as electrical engineer and I should embark upon this issue which was a nonissue in the minds of people. She was the only one who was convinced. Not only that, but she fought against it with all her efforts. She's good. She's fine. I spoke to her this morning and she was, enjoying with the group of children our Ashram. We had three rehabilitation come education and leadership building centers for the free child slaves and child labors. So she has been learning those centers for many, many years. Decades in fact. She is the mother of thousands of children who have gone through education and learning from those centers and also otherwise won't be freed from slavery. So that is good.
L. Ball: How many children are at the Ashrams at any given time?
K. Satyarthi: We have about 100 boys, 80, 90 to 100 normally and 30 girls in the girls center, 30, 35. Then we have another Ashram, Mukti Ashram, which is in outskirts of Delhi. That is used as the transit home. The children who are freed, they are brought over there and all the bureaucracy and legal work is done during that time. Then the repatriation, reintegration processes begin. Sometimes there are 150 children, 100 children. Even now there are about 100 children in the transit home, about 100 children in the long-term rehabilitation centers and 30 girls.
L. Ball: I can only imagine how stressful and emotional your work is. How do you take care of yourself and manage your work-life balance and make yourself more resilient?
K. Satyarthi: I don't see any distinction or difference in work and life. My personal life is my work and my work is my personal life. I can't recall that we could ... as family we could ever find some time for personal leisures or things like that, because we enjoy being with children, freeing children. That is much more rewarding than going to a leisure place for sightseeing and others. Once in a while we do, but it's hard.
L. Ball: Yeah. Well, you seem very happy. What message do you have for our students here at Appalachian State University?
K. Satyarthi: I enjoyed being with the young people today and also with little bit elderly people since yesterday and today both. They were filled with excitement and the emotions and energy. I could feel that energy inside the hall where I was speaking. I could tell that ... and that I normally say to many young people to transform into three D's, not that 3D cinema picture, but different kind of three D's. So my first D is, dream. If you're allowed to dream, dream big, dream bigger, dream biggest, dream as big as you can. If you are allowed to dream and you want to become a teacher, why don't you become the secretary of education? Why don't you become the vice chancellor or president of university? Dream big. So that's one. But those who dream for themselves and do not dream for others, for society and humanity, they never leave any footprint in the history.
K. Satyarthi: They cannot make the history. They are not shaped the history for the betterment. So dream big and dream for betterment. So that is one D. My second D is discover. Discover the inner power. Everybody is born with tremendous inner power. The power of greed, the power of resilience, the power of love, the power of compassion, the power of kindness, gratitude, all those powers should be ignited and used. Discover your inner power. Also discover opportunities outside. The world is full with opportunities, the world is full with beauty. We have to embrace that beauty of the world and positivity. That is my second D. The third D is, if you are able to dream, if you are able to discover then whom are you waiting for? Do. My third D is, do. Act now. Dream, discover and do.
L. Ball: Nice. Thank you very much. My last question: What inspires you and gives you hope to continue your work right now in this moment?
K. Satyarthi: My inspiration is my purpose and my purpose of life, my mission of life is very simple, that every child should be free to be a child. Every child should be free to laugh and cry and jump and play and make mistakes and learn and dream. So I have learned to celebrate every small success, to remain inspired. There is a reason to celebrate every day because the success ... there are successes smaller, bigger, medium. We should respect those successes. So even if one single child is freed, if one single child is enrolled in school, if one single child is passing out from a school through my effort, I feel the worth. That inspires me.
L. Ball: Kailash, thank you so much for coming today and coming all the way across the Atlantic Ocean. You came here from ...
K. Satyarthi: From India, from Delhi.
L. Ball: Oh, from Delhi!
K. Satyarthi: Yeah.
L. Ball: Then now you're going to London?
K. Satyarthi: Yeah.
L. Ball: So a few oceans. It's a real honor to have you here at the university and safe travels to you.
K. Satyarthi: Thank you. Thank you, Lee.
L. Ball: Thank you again for all of your work.
K. Satyarthi: Lovely. Thank you, Lee.
Friday Jan 12, 2018
Friday Jan 12, 2018
Friday Jan 12, 2018
Understanding and addressing food insecurity, social determinants of health and quality of life in the rural Appalachia region of North Carolina
Wednesday Jul 26, 2017
Wednesday Jul 26, 2017
Wednesday Jul 26, 2017
Whether she's turning a landfill into an award-winning 3 million-dollar park, or transforming a neglected streetscape into a picturesque, Parisian-cafe inspired greenspace, Majora Carter's vision and drive for sustainable, local living is potent and compelling.
Meet the host
Lee F. Ball Jr. has a doctorate in Sustainability Education, a master's degree in Environmental Education, and a bachelor’s degree in Natural Science. Lee is currently the Chief Sustainability Officer at Appalachian State University. Prior to this, he spent fourteen years teaching sustainable building design in Appalachian State University's Department of Sustainable Technologies and the Built Environment. Lee’s scholarly and professional interests focus on nature-based solutions, sustainability leadership, sustainability literacy, resilience, biophilic design, regenerative design, decarbonization, climate justice, and change agency related to community engagement. He is the chair of Appalachian State’s campus wide strategic planning committee, and is an integral part of the university’s leadership. He is also active globally and has led international programs to Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, Scotland, and Russia. In addition, Lee is heavily involved with numerous local and regional sustainability organizations.