California Weekly Climate One:

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From Egyptian irrigation systems to Roman aqueducts to the dikes and canals of The Netherlands, the world’s civilizations have long found innovative ways to harness and conserve their water supply. But with California entering the third year of an historic drought, what 21st century technologies are on the horizon to help us deal with an ever-shrinking pool of water?

At the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Greg Dalton explored the topic with the heads of three companies that are finding ways to meet the crisis head-on.

Peter Yolles is the CEO of Watersmart Software, which takes a grass-roots approach to the issue by educating residential and commercial customers on how to reduce water usage. For most residential customers, says Yolles, saving water is part of the social compact. “Research tells us that only 1 out of 10 people will change their behavior to save money.” Yolles says. “Only 1 out of 10 people will change their behavior to save the environment. But 8 out of 10 will do so because of what’s happening around them.” Comparing water usage within a community, he says, is the first step. “That really motivates people to say, “Gosh, I’m using a lot more than my neighbors. What can I do to save water?”

The Watersmart approach is working, reports Yolles. “On average, homes that received our home water reports save 5% of their water use across the first year. They’re also twice as likely to participate in the water conservation programs and twice as likely to rate their utility as excellent at providing on ways to save money and water at home. So it’s really a win-win for the utility and for the customers.”

Tamin Pechet is the Chairman of Imagine H20, which seeks out and funds start-ups in the water industry. He says the need for new ideas is greater than ever. “Over the past couple of decades, the pressures on our water system have increased,” says Pechet. “When we face an acute event, like a drought or…a heavy series of rains that causes more water to enter into our storm and sewer systems, we don’t have the same level of excess capacity to deal with that as we used to. We essentially need a new wave of innovation to address those problems.”

And a new wave of innovators, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are out there, exploring solutions from desalination to wastewater treatment to mining satellite data. One idea, aimed at helping the agricultural sector weather the drought, was developed by mOasis – and it’s deceptively simple. Picture a sponge put into the soil, says CEO Steven Hartmeier. “When water is put in, it absorbs that excess water and stores it to when the plant needs it as the soil is drying out.” Reducing the stress on plants, he adds, results in a healthier crop.

The Commonwealth Club audience included several entrepreneurs who have their own water innovations in mind. And despite dire predictions for California’s reservoirs and rivers, Pechet says the future of water technology is promising.

“There’s a lot of really cool stuff out there,” he told the crowd. “The history of water in civilization is one of innovation. And so just about anything that you dream up, is something that someone could innovate and come up with. If you look hard enough, you can find a company doing it.”

California Weekly Climate One:
Yoram Bauman, “The World’s Only Stand-Up Economist”

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What’s so funny about climate change? Stand-up economist Yoram Bauman uses humor to explain carbon tax, cap and trade and the ‘Five Chinas’ theory.

Yoram Bauman, PhD., Co-author, The Cartoon Introduction to Climate Change (with Grady Klein) (Island Press, 2014)

Jonah Sachs, CEO, Free Range Studios

This program was recorded in front of a live audience at the Commonwealth Club of California on July 8, 2014.

California Weekly Climate One: Ecological Intelligence

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What’s really preventing us from enacting environmental change? Blame our brains, says Daniel Goleman, author of Ecological Intelligence. As he explains it, “The problem comes down to a design flaw in the human brain.” Evolution fine-tuned our brains to protect us from immediate survival threats – lions, tigers and bears. But long-term dangers, such as those that threaten our planet today, don’t register. “The problem is that we don’t perceive, nor are we alarmed by, these changes,” says Goleman. “And so we’re in this dilemma where we can show people, “Well, you know, your carbon footprint is this,” but it doesn’t really register in the same way as “there’s a tiger around the block.” Facts alone aren’t enough, he adds, “We need to find a more powerful way of framing them…a way which will activate the right set of emotions and get us moving.”

George Lakoff, a linguistics professor at U.C. Berkeley, sees the issue as a moral, rather than environmental, crisis: “…the greatest moral crisis we have ever been in. It is the moral issue of our times and it’s seen just as an environmental issue.” But morality can mean different things to different people. This sets up a debate that quickly goes from the political to the personal, as Josh Freedman, author of Inside Change, points out. “When we start saying, “okay, they’re good, and they’re bad,” what happens is we’re actually fueling this threat system that is what’s in the way of us actually solving these problems.”

So what is the solution? How do we retune our primitive brains – and those of our political and business leaders — to focus on a less than clear, less than present danger?

Throughout the discussion, several key avenues rose to the top: economics, education and emotional appeal. If major institutions can be persuaded to divest from environmentally unsound companies, says Lakoff, “then what will happen is that the prices of the stocks will go down for those energy companies. When they go down that way, they stay down…you have an opportunity to shift investment away in a way that has an exponential feedback loop.”

Educating today’s youth was a powerful and recurring theme for all the speakers. “What kids learn and tell their parents is important,” Goleman said. “Schools are a big counterforce that we can do a much better job of deploying in this battle for minds and heart.”
Despite our primitive wiring, the speakers concluded, we humans do have the capacity for the ecological intelligence – and the morality – to effect global change.

“Your morality is what defines who you are as a human being,” says Lakoff, “it’s who you are emotionally and morally as a human being that matters in your life, what you do every day. This isn’t a matter of compromise…we have, like, 35 years to turn this around, period. That’s not long.”

“All change starts on the inside,” says Freedman, “If we can support children and adults to connect with that capability and to develop what’s already there, then things are going to get a lot better.”
Daniel Goleman, Author, Ecological Intelligence: The Hidden Impacts of What We Buy (Crown Business, 2010)

Joshua Freedman, CEO, Six Seconds; Author, Inside Change: Transforming Your Organization With Emotional Intelligence (Six Seconds, 2010)

George Lakoff, Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley and author of many books, including The Political Mind: A Cognitive Scientist’s Guide to Your Brain and Its Politics (Penguin Books, 2009)
This program was recorded in front of a live audience at the Commonwealth Club of California on May 1, 2014.

California Weekly Climate One: Resource Revolution

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Today’s two billion middle class consumers will more than double globally over the next two decades. But while cities in China, India and other developing countries will be teeming with citizens in need of housing, cars and electronic gadgets, natural resources are dwindling. The silver lining? Consumer demand has sparked a third industrial revolution – one that is driving massive innovation, from Teslas to smart meters to less wasteful building methods. How are companies adapting to meet the demands of a changing world?

Matt Rogers co-authored “Resource Revolution: How to Capture the Biggest Business Opportunity in a Century.” “If you see two and a half billion new people entering the middle class, you say, my goodness, we are going to run out of resources,” says Rogers. But in researching the book, he says, they found enormous potential instead. Changing the way we both produce and use resources, Rogers adds, will avert the economic and environmental disasters that seem to threaten us.

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Who Cares

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Four in 10 American adults are family caregivers. They provide for the needs of parents, spouses, children with disabilities, and siblings. It’s a labor of love that takes a toll physically, emotionally, financially. Who cares for the caregivers? How do they care for themselves?

We explore these questions and more through the lives of three caregiving families.

Diary of A Bad Year: A War Correspondent’s Dilemma

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Kelly McEvers. Photo by Glen Carey

Kelly McEvers. Photo by Glen Carey

Among the braver things Kelly McEvers has done is to make this documentary. In 2011, Kelly started to see things in slow motion. She cried unpredictably. She was NPR’s correspondent in the Middle East, at the time of the Arab uprisings. Colleagues and friends were being kidnapped. Some were getting killed.

But still, she went toward the story. The next year, 2012, was the deadliest on record for journalists worldwide. It was a huge hit to the “tribe” of foreign correspondents of which Kelly is a part. Kelly began to wonder, “Why do otherwise intelligent people risk their lives when they don’t have to?” -Jay Allison

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Intelligence Squared Debates:
Death is Not Final

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Illustration by Thomas James

Illustration by Thomas James

If consciousness is just the workings of neurons and synapses, how do we explain the phenomenon of near-death experience? By some accounts, about 3% of the U.S. population has had one: an out-of-body experience often characterized by remarkable visions and feelings of peace and joy, all while the physical body is close to death. To skeptics, there are more plausible, natural explanations, like oxygen deprivation. Is the prospect of an existence after death “real” and provable by science, or a construct of wishful thinking about our own mortality?

State of the ReUnion: Interior Alaska – Frontier Community

Hosted by Al Letson | State of the Re:Union

Interior Alaska can be a forbidding place. The region is largely wilderness, covered with expansive stretches of tundra and towering mountain ranges. Winters are long and dark, with just a few hours of sunlight on the shortest days and temperatures that often plunge to -50F. Because of its isolation and climate, the region has long attracted people drawn to the challenges and opportunities of a wild, remote place. In this episode of SOTRU, we’ll meet a number of athletes, journalists, scientists, and activists who embody the spirit of Interior Alaska through their grit, determination, and iconoclasm. And we’ll explore what it means to live in a frontier community, through the stories of a dog kennel trying to change the culture of sled dog racing, a murder that has long divided the city of Fairbanks, a heated battle over wood burning stoves, and more.

State of the Re:Union:
Hawai’i – The Legacy of Sugar

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For many Americans, Hawai’i is a tropical playground, the place of surf, sun and dream vacations. Behind the tourist façade, though, is one of the most unique multicultural states in the nation, one still dealing with the complicated legacy of the circumstances under which it become part of this country.

And so much of how Hawai’i is now comes back to one game-changing element: sugar. In this episode of SOTRU, we’ll explore the way contemporary Hawai’i is still navigating the legacy of the sugar plantations now in the 21st century.

Intelligence Squared Debates:
The Lecture Hall is Obsolete

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Is the college of the future online? With the popularity of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and the availability of online degree programs at a fraction of their on-campus price, we are experiencing an exciting experiment in higher education. Does the traditional classroom stand a chance? Will online education be the great equalizer, or is a campus-based college experience still necessary?

Brought to you in partnership with the Richard Paul Richman Center for Business, Law, and Public Policy, a joint venture of Columbia Business School and Columbia Law School. The Richman Center fosters dialogue and debate on emerging policy questions where business and markets intersect with the law.