New Food Revolution

This program was recorded live at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on November 5, 2014.


One more hungry mouth to feed? Try 9.6 billion — that’s the earth’s projected population by 2050, according to a United Nations report.

Dinner was on the table, figuratively speaking, at a recent Climate One event at The Commonwealth Club. It’s estimated the amount of food needed to feed the planet will double by mid-century, so how will we manage the world’s food supply? Is the solution to simply produce more food?

“In a word, no,” says Jonathan Foley, author of National Geographic’s recent cover story A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World. While food production has reached the equivalent of “drill, baby, drill – let’s just get more stuff,” he continues, “we’re now exhausting the ability of our agricultural system to simply produce more and more and more. We’re going to have to be more thoughtful about the food we actually grow today, and the nutrition and opportunity delivers for people around the world.”

Karen Ross, California Food and Agriculture Secretary, agrees that with thoughtful management, “every acre itself can be more productive, without tearing out more land, without using more water, without using more fertilizer.” It’s about optimizing our resources, says Ross, “to get the best crop per drop, best crop per acre, thinking differently about what we grow and how we grow it and maximizing what we have, instead of the traditional way which has been, let’s go tear out another 50 acres of pristine land and irrigate more and add more.”

Climate change is exacerbating the problem, says Foley — but there are two sides to that coin. Many people don’t realize that agriculture contributes more to climate change than the energy or transportation sectors. “It turns out agriculture releases about 30% [of greenhouse gas emissions], mostly from deforestation, methane coming from cattle and rice fields, from nitrous oxide…so on one side climate change is crucial to the future of agriculture, but agriculture is also critical to the future of addressing our climate problems.”

Nurturing a sustainable food system would seem to be one solution. But, asked host Greg Dalton, what exactly does that mean? Jonathan Foley offers this definition: “Agriculture is such a basic human enterprise. It’s about feeding our world, about creating opportunity for farmers and everyone through the supply chain, all the way to the restaurant or who serves the food, and of course about the environment. So I think we have to think about those three dimensions: nutrition, about the economics of agriculture and certainly about the environment. And a sustainable agricultural system would be the one that looks at all three dimensions simultaneously.”

As Bon Appétit’s Director of Google Global Foods, Helene York designs workplace menus and coaches chefs on the definition of “sustainable.” She described the Bon Appétit philosophy: “You start with deliciousness. More and more we’re introducing plant-centric food. And we start our lines in a café line with three different wonderful vegetables. And by the time you’ve filled your purposefully smaller plate, you are mostly full on that plate and you say, wow I have a delicious three colored meal here. I’ll take a little bit meat or fish on the top. It’ll be our garnish.”

Humans don’t need to consume 16 ounces of meat protein a day, she says, but in the United States, we often approach that number. “But if we dial that back, because there’s so much more energy needed to produce proteins, then we leave a lot of resources to provide and grow vegetables that are delicious.”

Food waste is a major problem; according to Foley, the numbers are “astonishing.” Roughly 40 percent of the food produced in the world isn’t consumed, and loss occurs at both ends of the food chain. In richer countries, he says, it centers on the consumer, “in a restaurant, maybe in a cafeteria, maybe in our refrigerators and our Tupperware with lots of good intentions, but it just doesn’t get in our tummies.

“But where we have food loss in a lot of developing countries is near the farmer,” he continues. “They grew the food, but maybe it couldn’t get harvested in time, maybe the insects got to it or maybe it rotted in storage because the trains weren’t on time or the truck didn’t get where it’s supposed to go. So it’s more of an infrastructure problem, not an overconsumption problem.”

And waste, Foley points out, is a purely human invention. “There’s nothing in nature called waste. It doesn’t exist — it’s just food for something else. And so we have to think a lot more in our food system like ecological systems do: what’s not used one place is used somewhere else. Whether it’s repurpose food or repurpose organic matter for energy or for rebuilding the soil. We just got to be smarter than we’ve been. That’s certainly where we have room to grow.”

Host: Greg Dalton

Guests: Karen Ross, California Secretary of Food and Agriculture; former Deputy US Secretary of Agriculture; Jonathan Foley, Executive Director, California Academy of Sciences; Helene York, Director, Google Global Accounts at Bon Appétit Management Company

Climate One: Power Ball: T. Boone Pickens

This program was recorded live at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on March 24, 2015.


You might not expect a billionaire to pick up hitchhikers on his plane, but T. Boone Pickens is no ordinary billionaire. The CEO of BP Capital, who made his first billion in the oil business, recently visited the Commonwealth Club for a discussion on the future of the oil industry.

But first, he had a story to share, one that belies his humble Oklahoma roots. The last time he visited the Commonwealth Club, he remembered, he issued a blanket invitation for anyone in the audience to join him on his plane. Ordinarily his offer has no takers. “You aren’t going to find one or two people to go to Amarillo, Texas,” he laughed, “But then this guy raised his hand.” Turns out, it was the son of an acquaintance of Pickens’ whose mother in Amarillo was ill. “I said, “Yeah, come on. Jump in.”

At age 68, Pickens left the company he founded, Mesa Petroleum, and has since devoted his time to a crusade to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. His “Pickens Plan” advocates for natural gas production and the development of renewable energy sources — including wind power, an industry in which he’s invested millions of dollars.

Over the past ten years Pickens has become known for his uncanny forecasts on the price of oil, leading CNBC to dub him “the Oracle of Oil.” But at The Commonwealth Club, he revealed the secret to his prescience: “That guy that works for the Saudis, Naimi,” he said, referring to their oil minister, Ali Al-Naimi. “I watch what he says, and two weeks later I say the same thing he did.”

Recently he’s gone on record saying that oil prices will climb again, reaching $70 a barrel by the end of this year. In response to a question from the audience, he predicted that prices would reach $100 a barrel by the end of 2016.

In his years in the oil business, Pickens has seen a lot of ups and downs. The current down cycle, he notes, is different from what happened in the 1980’s in one significant way. “This time, the United States is the one that overproduced,” as opposed to the Saudis, “which is incredible.” Saudi control of the oil market, says Pickens, is a thing of the past. “The cartel is not a cartel any longer. OPEC is a trade association, is what it is.”

And the U.S. has the resources to stay on top of the market. “Every place but here has peaked,” Pickens continues. “There are no additions from any other countries except Iraq…if you go back and look at the last five years, you’ve increased demand by seven million barrels a day and the United States has provided five of that. So the rest of the world is pretty well peaked.”

One reason? Oil production in the U.S. has benefited from new extraction techniques, such as fracking and horizontal drilling, that allow for greater production from shale oil fields.

“You have to assume that if you have oil fields, you have source rock,” explained Pickens, who majored in geology at Oklahoma A&M. “Meaning, that’s where the oil and gas were formed. And due to heat and pressure, they were squeezed out and into what we call conventional reservoirs – sandstones, limestones and dolomites.

“We’ve found all the big ones in those conventional reservoirs,” he went on, “and we pretty well have in the United States. But then we showed up with all this shale.”

Despite public opposition to fracking in the state, Pickens believes it’s only a matter of time before California’s Monterey Shale is plundered for its oil – and its profits. “Because those landowners, they will start suing,” he predicts. “If they have a farm or a ranch, the acreage there, if it has Monterey shale under it, it will be productive, and they’ll want income from it.”

Unlike many in the oil business, Pickens has come out publicly on the dangers of climate change. “I’m a believer in global warming,” he says at the beginning of his 2012 TED Talk, in which he advocates for a switch to reliance on natural gas over oil.

At the Commonwealth Club, Pickens confirmed his stance. “Yes, we have done some things to the atmosphere,” he told host Greg Dalton. “We’ve had a lot of emissions out of these vehicles and everything else.”

“We shouldn’t wait until it’s confirmed that we messed it up,” added Pickens, eliciting spontaneous applause from the audience. “Go ahead and start doing something. “

But when pressed by an audience member, the former oil tycoon admitted he’s not ready to close the book on fossil fuels – not just yet.

“Let’s just say that, yes, we start to prepare for climate issues and everything else…I’m ready to do that. But you will decline and deplete on the oil and natural gas. You’re going to have to go to some other form of transportation fuel or whatever in time.

“I would move in that direction. I want to do that,” Pickens continued. “But listen, I’m a patriotic American, I want American fuel. I don’t want OPEC oil. The battery, the wind, the solar — all of it, anything American is what I want. But it just so happens, you’re stuck with fossil fuel right now.”

Host: Greg Dalton

Guest: T. Boone Pickens, Chairman and CEO, BP Capital

Climate One: Climate Denial, Education and Politics

This program was recorded live at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on December 16th, 2014.


Do you believe in climate denial? To hear climate scientists tell it, there is a war being waged on science by government opponents and special interests, designed to fuel skepticism and discredit their work in the eyes of the public. Two of them told their stories recently at The Commonwealth Club.

Ben Santer of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory says that being a climate scientist today feels “a little scary.” He’s been targeted by congress and threatened with referral to the Justice Department; threatening emails from strangers have filled his inbox. Michael Mann, a professor of Meteorology at Penn State who has written on the climate wars, tells of having his emails hacked and used out of context to malign him, his colleagues and climate research. “I see that as a direct assault,” he told the audience.
“Not just on us, but our children and grandchildren, who stand the most to lose if we fail to act in time.”

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Climate One: The Carbon Bubble

This program was recorded live at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on March 12, 2015.


If you’ve got fossil fuel stocks in your retirement account – and most of us do, whether we know it or not – you could be in for a bumpy ride. England’s Central Bank has said that coal, oil and natural gas reserves that determine the future earnings of those companies, and therefore their stock prices, may be overvalued. And as supply grows and global demand decreases, oil prices are dropping by the barrelful.

So how do financial managers and investors plan to ride this one out? Several of them joined host Greg Dalton for a Climate One discussion of what the carbon bubble means to our financial futures.

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Climate One: Clean Cloud

This program was recorded live at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on March 3, 2015.


As the web moves to the cloud, more and more of us are asking what powers the data centers that fuel our browsing. How much carbon is being consumed when you stream from Netflix, surf Youtube or weigh in on “what color is this dress?” And is there a way to take some of the pressure off of the grid – and off of the climate?

Those are questions Greenpeace began asking several years ago, says senior policy analyst Gary Cook. “The IT sector has a huge energy footprint,” says Cook, “and it was growing very rapidly. If you aggregate all the demand of electricity from the cloud, for the data centers and the networks, ranking among countries, we would rank in about 5th or 6th in the world. So it’s quite significant.”

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Climate One: Weather Whiplash

This program was recorded live at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.



Deputy Director, California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research

Director of Strategic Communications, Climate Nexus

Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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Climate One: Cheap Gasoline

This program was recorded live at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on February 27, 2015.


For the past few years, skyrocketing oil prices have had Americans on a gasoline diet. We’re walking more, using public transportation, opting for weekend “stay-cations,” even trading in our gas-guzzlers for hybrids. Ten years ago, the consensus was that oil demand would go up as supply went down, and prices would follow. But as it turns out, the opposite was true. So, what happened? That was the first question host Greg Dalton put to his guests at a recent Climate One forum.

The last five years have seen a significant – and unprecedented — shift in American’s driving habits, says Bill Reilly, a former head of the EPA. “We leveled off in terms of vehicle miles traveled,” he says, “Now, there are more of us, there are more cars that are being sold and manufactured every day, but at the same time we’re driving less.”

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Climate One: Chasing Water

This program was recorded live at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on October 28, 2014.


“We live in a 21st-century climate with a 20th-century infrastructure and 19th-century laws and policies.” That’s how Peter Gleick of The Pacific Institute summed up the issue at hand during a forum at the Commonwealth Club last fall.

Gleick and his fellow panelists were discussing the problem of how to manage “water whiplash.” Climate change has exacerbated the effects of both drought and flood conditions worldwide. California’s lakes and reservoirs are shrinking even as the sea encroaches on its shoreline, while floods and hurricanes plague the Midwest and the Atlantic Coast.

How can countries and communities make sense of a dearth of water, then suddenly too much? What can be done to guarantee water as a basic human right for all, while enacting regulations that encourage conservation? And how to avoid the inevitable conflicts that arise around this precious resource?

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Cilmate One: Cli-Fi 2015

This program was recorded live at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on January 29, 2015.


Novelists and filmmakers have been mining the rich world of science for generations. Throughout the last century, science fiction has turned to real-world threats, such as nuclear war and plague, for its post-apocalyptic scenarios. More recently, environmental issues have moved to front and center in the narrative, in films such as Interstellar, Snowpiercer and Wall-E and best-sellers from Margaret Atwood, Nathaniel Rich and Jennifer Egan.

H.G. Wells foreshadowed this trend in his 1895 novel The Time Machine. But while the prospect of a devastated earth in a far distant future probably didn’t inspire many Victorians to recycle, today’s readers can clearly visualize a much more immediate threat. Climate change is more than a plot device – the signs are all around us. Can Cli-Fi help rally the troops in our battle to save the planet?

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Cilmate One: Energy Efficiency and Building Power

This program was recorded live at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on January 29, 2015.


The American Dream may no longer mean a sprawling house in the suburbs, with heated pool, an endless lawn and two SUVs in the driveway. But that doesn’t mean the dream of home ownership has died. “Hopefully in the years to come, part and parcel of that American dream will be a home that is more energy efficient,” says Julián Castro. “So it’s still I think at its base the same American dream. But we can be smarter about the impacts on our climate when we achieve the American dream.”

US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro stopped by The Commonwealth Club on a recent visit to San Francisco to talk about his plans for bringing energy efficiency to every American household. “Folks tend to think that, well, that’s something for people that have a lot of resources — driving electric cars or installing rooftop solar,” he says. “The fact is that… the declining cost of being energy efficient in general is making that more and more affordable for middle-class Americans and folks of modest means.”

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