Freedom To Roam – Really Saving Grizzlies

Rick Ridgeway, adventurer and author, has been called the real Indiana Jones by Rolling Stone magazine. His latest challenge is trying to get the western states to implement migratory corridors for iconic animals.

Link: Best of Adventure: Adventure Hall of Fame – Rick Ridgeway – National Geographic Adventure Magazine.

Rick Ridgeway

The man who once spent 68 consecutive days above 18,000 feet and more than three months without a bath—has not only cleaned up, but somehow inched his way to the levers of actual power.

Ridgeway, now 59, has embarked on a quest along with the Patagonia clothing company to save North America's iconic wild animals—grizzlies, caribou, wolverines, and others—from extinction. His admittedly ambitious goal is to turn "migratory corridors" into a household expression and in the process fundamentally change the way Americans think about wilderness. "Freedom to Roam is the biggest campaign we've ever tried to pull off," says Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard.

Freedom to Roam is a new type of challenge for Ridgeway, an initiative based on the idea that in order to survive, big animals require hundreds of miles of interconnected, undisturbed habitat. The concept started with Michael Soulé, a professor emeritus of environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Soulé's research, beginning in the '60s, indicated that the sprawling development severing these corridors posed a real threat to many species. But it was a hard sell: More than 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, and when they visit Yellowstone—a Serengeti of moose and elk and bears—it's tough to convince them that a crisis is looming.

But in the bigger continental picture, Yellowstone's 2.2 million acres don't account for much. North America has three major wildlife corridors: the Atlantic from Maine to Georgia, the Continental Divide from the Yukon through the Rockies and into Mexico, and the Pacific, from the Cascades to the Sierras. If we preserve just pockets of habitat, Souléwarned, the historical routes linking species to the north and south will be severed, and migratory species will be unable to adapt. A study issued this October by the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature warned that, due largely to habitat loss, one-quarter of all the planet's mammals are threatened with extinction in the near future. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted equally dire results if animals remain trapped in designated wildlands while their habitats change due to warming temperatures.

In 1991 Souléco-founded the Wildlands Project, a nonprofit in Florida, which began publicizing the idea of wildlife "linkages" through a campaign called Room to Roam. Similar programs sprang up, including American Wildlands in Montana, Yellowstone to Yukon in Alberta, and the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project in Colorado. But they could only do so much. "We were a bunch of scientists," Soulé says. "We had trouble reaching an audience beyond other scientists and environmental groups."

Enter Patagonia and Ridgeway. "What we do in our business is create brands," says Ridgeway. "And we wanted to create a brand for the preservation of big, wild, and connected landscapes."

Freedom to Roam, is bold, quixotic, and maybe even naive, but that's exactly how Ridgeway does things. If saving the moose requires making nice with the suits, so be it. In a life of epic journeys, Ridgeway's path from dirtbag to power broker may prove the grandest of them all.

Read about Ridgeway's adventures at this link: National Geographic Adventure Magazine. He's really lucky to be alive. Maybe he can relate to the big animals he's trying to save.

How US Leaders Have Failed

Ben Stein blasts the policies that have pushed the U.S. into this precarious economic position.

Link: How to Ruin the U.S. Economy by Ben Stein

1) Have a fiscal policy that creates immense deficits in good times and bad, burdening America’s posterity with staggering burdens of repaying the debt.

2) Eliminate regulation of Wall Street and/or fail to enforce the regulations that already exist, instead trusting Wall Street and other money managers and speculators to manage other people’s money with few or no regulations and little oversight.

3) Have an energy policy that disallows producing our own energy and instead requires that we buy energy from abroad, thus making our oil prices highly volatile and creating large balance of payments deficits, lowering the value of the dollar and thus making the problem get progressively worse.

4) Have Congress mandate that banks and other financial entities lend money to persons they know in advance to have poor credit ratings or none at all.

5) Allow investment banks, insurers, and banks to bet their entire net worth and then some on the premise that borrowers known to be improvident will in fact repay those loans.

6) Allow the creation of large betting pools called "hedge funds" that can move markets and control the outcome of trading, thus taking a forum for savings and retirement for families and making it into a rigged casino game that exists primarily to fleece suckers like ordinary working men and women.

7) Have laws that protect corporate officers from being sued for misconduct but at the same time punish lawyers in the private sector who ferret out such misconduct and try to make accountable the people responsible for shareholder and investor losses. If one of those lawyers gets particularly aggressive in protecting stockholders, put him in prison.

8) Appoint as head of the United States Treasury Department a man whose whole life was spent on Wall Street, who became fantastically rich through his peddling of junk bonds at his firm while the firm later sold short those same sorts of bonds.

9) Scare Americans into putting up $750 billion of their hard earned money to bail out the billionaires and their friends who created the market for loans to poor credit risks (The "subprime" market) and the unbelievably large side bets on those loans, promising that such a bailout would save the retirement savings of Americans, then allow the immense hedge funds to make the market crater immediately afterwards.

10) Propose to save the situation by surtaxing the oil industry, which is owned by our fellow Americans, mostly in their retirement plans, thus penalizing Americans for investing in companies that efficiently and legally produce an indispensable product.

11) Insist that the free market requires that banks and insurers with friends of the Secretary of the Treasury be saved but allow other entities not so fortunate to fail, thus creating total uncertainty and terror among financial institutions, and demolishing all of the confidence built up in financial circles since the days of FDR.

12) Then have the Republican candidate say he would keep on the job the Treasury Secretary who facilitated the crisis, failed to protect the nation from the crisis, got the taxpayers to pony up to save his Wall Street buddies, and have the Democratic candidate, as noted, say he would save the day by taxing the stockholders of energy companies.

There, that should do it.

Leadership in the U.S.

Thomas L. Friedman at the NYTimes.com offers some suggestions for McCain and Obama. Excerpts below.

Link: Op-Ed Columnist – No Laughing Matter – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com. Thomas L. Friedman

We have been living on borrowed time and borrowed dimes. President Bush has nothing to offer anymore. So that leaves us with Barack Obama and John McCain. Neither has wowed me with his reaction to the market turmoil. In fairness, though, neither man has any levers of power to pull. But what could they say that would give you confidence that they could lead us out of this rut? My test is simple: Which guy can tell people what they don’t want to hear — especially his own base.

Think how much better off McCain would be today had he nominated Michael Bloomberg as his vice president rather than Sarah Palin. McCain could have said, “I’m not an expert on markets, but I’ve got one of the best on my team.” Instead of a V.P. to re-energize America, McCain went for a V.P. to re-energize the Republican base.

So what would get my attention from McCain? If he said the following: “My fellow Americans, I’ve decided for now not to continue the Bush tax cuts, because the most important thing for our country today is to get the government’s balance sheet in order. We can’t go on cutting taxes and not cutting spending. For too long my party has indulged that nonsense. Second, I intend to have most U.S. troops out of Iraq in 24 months. We have done all we can to midwife democracy there. Iraqis need to take it from here. We need every dollar now for nation-building in America. We will do everything we can to wind down our presence and facilitate the Iraqi elections, but we’re not going to baby-sit Iraqi politicians who don’t have the will or the courage to reconcile their differences — unless they want to pay us for that. In America, baby sitters get paid.”

What would impress me from Obama? How about this: “The Big Three automakers and the United Auto Workers union want a Washington bailout. The only way they will get a dime out of my administration is if the automakers and unions come up with a joint plan to retool their fleets to get an average of 40 miles per gallon by 2015 — instead of the 35 m.p.g. by 2020 that they’ve reluctantly accepted. I am not going to bail out Detroit with taxpayer money, but I will invest in Detroit’s transformation with taxpayer money, provided the management and unions agree to radical change. At the same time, while I will go along with the bailout of the banking system, it will only be on the condition that the institutions that got us into this mess accept sweeping reforms — in terms of transparency and limits on the leverage they can amass — so we don’t go through something like this again. To help me figure this out, I’m going to keep Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson on the job for a while. I am impressed with his handling of this crisis.”

Creative Thinking: Water Windmill

An invention that will very useful if it works, reported by Paul O’Callaghan at the Cleantech blog.

Link: Cleantech Blog: There’s water in dem dar clouds!.

Max Whisson, an energetic septuagenarian inventor, believes he can solve the current water crisis with his Water Windmill invention, a unique technology to extract moisture from the atmosphere. The concept is to use windmills to cool air and extract water directly from the air and was partly inspired from an African beetle, Stenocara, who manages to be completely water sufficient by standing on his head in the desert and using cooling plates on his body to extract water vapor from the air (video below).

The "Whisson Windmill" will make it possible to get adequate water anywhere at any time, drought or no drought" says Dr. Whisson.

U.S. Energy Policy: Stay Addicted

Thomas L. Friedman describes missed opportunities for leadership on energy policy.

Link: Op-Ed Columnist – 9/11 and 4/11 – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com.

President Bush is well on his way to being remembered as the leader who wasted not one but two crises: 9/11 and 4/11. The average price of gasoline in the U.S. last week, according to the Energy Information Administration, was $4.11.

After 9/11, Mr. Bush had the chance to summon the country to a great nation-building project focused on breaking our addiction to oil. Instead, he told us to go shopping. After gasoline prices hit $4.11 last week, he had the chance to summon the country to a great nation-building project focused on clean energy. Instead, he told us to go drilling.

Neither shopping nor drilling is the solution to our problems.

What doesn’t the Bush crowd get? It’s this: We don’t have a “gasoline price problem.” We have an addiction problem. We are addicted to dirty fossil fuels, and this addiction is driving a whole set of toxic trends that are harming our nation and world in many different ways. It is intensifying global warming, creating runaway global demand for oil and gas, weakening our currency by shifting huge amounts of dollars abroad to pay for oil imports, widening “energy poverty” across Africa, destroying plants and animals at record rates and fostering ever-stronger petro-dictatorships in Iran, Russia and Venezuela.

When a person is addicted to crack cocaine, his problem is not that the price of crack is going up. His problem is what that crack addiction is doing to his whole body. The cure is not cheaper crack, which would only perpetuate the addiction and all the problems it is creating. The cure is to break the addiction.

Ditto for us. Our cure is not cheaper gasoline, but a clean energy system. And the key to building that is to keep the price of gasoline and coal — our crack — higher, not lower, so consumers are moved to break their addiction to these dirty fuels and inventors are moved to create clean alternatives.

This moment — $4.11 — represents Bush’s last chance for a legacy. It amazes me how inadequate his response has been. By hectoring the nation to simply drill for more oil, he has profoundly underestimated the challenges we face, misread the scale of the solutions required, underappreciated the American people’s willingness to sacrifice if presented with a real plan, and ignored the greatness that would accrue to our country if we led the world in clean power.

Flashback to July 9, 2000: What if Bush gets elected?

It fooled me. Barry at The Big Picture says this is Satire.

Link: The Big Picture | Pricing in a Bush Presidency.

Pricing in a Bush Presidency?
Wall Street Journal, July 9th 2000

Various Wall Street strategists have expressed concern regarding how a new set of Bush monetary and overseas policies could impact equities.

"My biggest concern is that the promised Bush tax cuts will be in extremely expensive. That would create huge deficits and be extremely inflationary" said Peter Leslie, a trader on the CBOT floor." Governor Bush has promised to reduce captial gains and dividend taxes, and lower the marginal rates on the nation’s biggest earners. He has not explained how these tax cuts will be funded.

Maverick Capital fund manager Henry Carlyle is more concerned with government spending than Tax cuts. The Dallas resident stated "I have followed Governor Bush in Texas, and fiscal discipline is not his strong suit." Cabot expects a big increase in federal spending and budget deficits that will have ramifications for both inflation and an interest rates.

Vanguard chief John Bogle is more concerned with a lax regulatory environment: "A return to the sort of crony capitalism that we’ve seen in the past would wreak havoc with investor confidence. We need a strong SEC to make sure companies are transparent, and report their accounting fully and fairly. We should not throw the individual investor to a wild and woolly free market that is totally lacking in supervision." The Vanguard chief has long been a proponent of a strong regulatory environment for the protection of individual investors. "I do not see that sort of regime under a President Bush."

Robert Rubin, the Treasury Secretary under Presdient Clinton who retired last year to join the Board of Citigroup, focused on the Federal Reserve. "The next president needs to make sure that the Federal Reserve fulfills its obligations as bank supervisor. I am concerned that Governor Bush, as President, would move away from strict regulation of markets for ideological reasons." Rubin, a Democrat, warned of negative repercussions for the housing and financial sectors. "[Since joining Citigroup], I have been looking into the issue of derivatives. This is another area that requires close scrutiny from both the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve. I see Bush lacking expertise in this crucial area."

Goldman Sachs chief investment strategist Robert Hormat, was even blunter in his assessment of a Bush Presidency: "I am looking for a market crash as a reaction to the election of George W. Bush. Investors should brace themselves for losses of 50% or more — and even worse in the Tech sector — should he be elected."

Legendary legendary oil trader T. Boone Pickens is more optimistic. "We should expect several military conflicts in the Middle East under President Bush, and while this may not be great for the economy it will be terrific for my energy holdings."  If Bush gets elected, Pickens plans on opening a new oil based hedge fund, and is forecasting 100% increase in the price of oil to $40. "I’m an Oil, George is an Oil man, and his VP DIck Cheney is an Oil man. I expect energy returns to significantly outperform equity markets over the next eight years" he said.

Oil is the greatest problem of all time

I’ve been hoping that some really smart people would tackle the dependence on oil problem. Silicon Valley and Microsoft helped put PCs in every office and home when it seemed impossible, so why not solar-powered electric cars. I’m fed up with the defeatist attitude so common in the US of … "it will be 50 years before we can get off oil."

Here’s a glimmer of hope, inspired by Shimon Peres, the former Israeli Prime Minister and now President, who said: "I believe Israel should go from oil to solar energy. Oil is the greatest problem of all time—the great polluter and promoter of terror. We should get rid of it." He was addressing his feelings to Shai Agassi, who wants to design a practical and affordable electric car.

Shai Agassi (he lives in Silicon Valley) is the kind of person who might make it happen. Below are some excerpts from a BusinessWeek article about his plans.

Source: The Electric Car Acid Test: Shai Agassi’s audacious effort to end the era of gas-powered autos by Steve Hamm, BusinessWeek, Jan 24, 2008.

On Jan. 21, Agassi, Olmert, Peres, and Ghosn unveiled the novel project, under which Agassi’s Silicon Valley company, Better Place, will sell electric cars and build a network of locations where drivers can charge and replace batteries. Olmert has done his part, too. Israel just boosted the sales tax on gasoline-powered cars to as much as 60% and pledged to buy up old gas cars to get them off the road.

Agassi contends that Israel is just the start. He hopes to expand his business into several other countries over the next few years, with China, France, and Britain among the potential markets. Ultimately, he believes that his company and others like it could shake two pillars of the global economy, the $1.5 trillion-a-year auto industry and the $1.5 trillion-a-year market for gasoline. "If what I’m saying is right, this would be the largest economic dislocation in the history of capitalism," says Agassi.

Yet soaring oil prices and the threat of global warming give Agassi an opening. Governments worldwide, like Israel, are getting more serious about reducing their dependence on oil and are more concerned about the effect of carbon emissions on climate change. And the auto industry is placing large bets on alternative power vehicles like never before.

Agassi does bring a new perspective to the alternative fuel world. The trouble with traditional electric cars is that they can go only 50 or 100 miles and then they need to stop for hours to recharge their batteries. Hybrids overcome the mileage limitations, but only by burning gasoline. One of Agassi’s unconventional ideas is to separate the battery from the car. That will allow drivers to pull into a battery-swapping station, a car-wash-like contraption, and wait for 10 minutes while their spent batteries are lowered from the car and fully charged replacements are hoisted into place. Better Place will build the service stations, as well as hundreds of thousands of charging locations, similar to parking meters.

Agassi’s other unusual idea is for Better Place to operate as something akin to a mobile-phone carrier. He plans to sell electric cars to consumers at a relatively low price and then charge them monthly operating fees. The total cost of owning an electric car, including the up-front price and ongoing operating expenses, is expected to be less than that of a conventional car.

What got Carlos Ghosn (chief executive of Renault and Nissan) excited was Israel’s willingness to slash import taxes for green vehicles and alter domestic sales taxes in ways that would make the economics of the plan work. "This is a unique situation," says Ghosn. "It’s the first mass marketplace for electric cars under conditions that make sense for all the parties." As a result of getting involved, the Nissan-Renault Alliance has made electric autos a top priority. Initially, the companies expect to produce electric cars for Israel and other countries by modifying existing models, but eventually they plan to introduce new models designed from the ground up to run on batteries developed by Nissan.

Immediately after the Davos meetings, Peres urged Agassi to take on Project Better Place as his own business. Agassi was in line for the CEO job at SAP, but Peres challenged him to change course: "In your young life, there’s nothing better you could do." A few days later Hasso Plattner, SAP’s chairman, called Agassi to say CEO Henning Kagermann had signed on for two more years. Since that would push back Agassi’s opportunity to move into the CEO spot, he saw it as a sign that he was free to leave and pursue other career paths. He quit on the spot, though two months went by before his departure was final.

He felt strongly about the need for a peaceful resolution to Middle East conflicts, and he figured that one way to reduce tensions was to reduce dramatically the world’s dependency on oil. He had chosen Project Better Place as the name for his project because of the challenge to the Young Global Leaders a year earlier to try to make the world a better place. He couldn’t think of anything more important he wanted to do.

By spring, Agassi was refining his business ideas. Those years at SAP gave him a unique perspective on overcoming the hurdles to widespread electric vehicle adoption. He saw that the vehicles needed an infrastructure comparable to NetWeaver to make them viable. On a 10-hour flight from Tel Aviv to New York, he laid out the core business model for Better Place.

During the summer, he concentrated on raising money. His big break came during a meeting with Israel Corp.’s Ofer last June. Agassi was in Israel to raise money from the country’s leading industrial families. One of Agassi’s allies, investor Michael Granoff of Maniv Investments, a New York company that concentrates on alternative energy investing, arranged a meeting on June 12 in Ofer’s office on the 23rd floor of the Millennium office tower—with a panoramic view of the coast. Agassi laid out the economic rationale for electric vehicles and explained his business plan. As he wrapped up, Ofer quipped to one of his colleagues: "I guess we’ll have to sell the refineries."

Agassi couldn’t guess where the conversation would go next. He had to rush to a meeting with Peres, but Ofer accompanied him down to the lobby. As they said their goodbyes, Ofer leaned forward and delivered some stunning news: "I’m going to invest in this, and I’m going to be your biggest investor. I’ll put in $100 million." A flabbergasted Agassi didn’t know how real the pledge was, but when the initial round of $200 million in funding for Better Place came together last October, Ofer kept his word. Agassi lined up a wide range of other investors, including investment bank Morgan Stanley (MS).

In December, Agassi saw his dream come one step closer to reality. With his backers in place and the company’s launch scheduled, he took a test drive in a Renault that his employees had converted to run on electricity. The modified Renault Mégane is capable of going from zero to 60 in eight seconds and has a top speed of 130.

Visualizing the Future

Scott Adams, creater of Dilbert, describes his vision of the future as an 11-year old.

Link: The Dilbert Blog: Famous Artist School

I was rejected by the Famous Artists School because I was too young. The cutoff was 12-years old.

At that age, I was quite certain I would someday be a famous cartoonist for newspapers. I imagined it quite clearly. And when my career later took a turn toward cubicles, I woke up surprised every day that I wasn’t already a well-known cartoonist. (That is literally true.)

The Carrying Capacity of the Land

We live in the Atlanta area, where August’s intense heat, with no rain, has turned into beautiful blue skies and low humidity in September through November, with almost no rain. The governor has blamed environmentalists for Atlanta’s main water source drying up and has started leading prayer groups to bring rain. It’s heresy to point out that the rapid residential and commercial development throughout the area has created an insatiable thirst for water that cannot be satisfied by the current water resources.

I’ve included some excerpts on the use of resources below from writer and thinker John Michael Greer. Ignore his message if you don’t use energy or water, or, if you believe that your favored political party will save us. One of the targets of his sharp writing tool is the drought in the Southeast and Atlanta. Click on the link below to enjoy the full flavor of his commentary of the current state of our culture.

Link: The Archdruid Report: Lifeboat Time

As depletion of existing oil fields accelerates, the struggle to prop up the current production plateau promises to become a losing battle against geological reality.

Meanwhile the carbon dioxide generated by the 84 million barrels a day we’re currently pumping and burning, along with equally unimaginable volumes of coal and natural gas, drives changes in climate that only a handful of oil company flacks and free-market fundamentalists still insist aren’t happening. Worried scientists report from Greenland and West Antarctica that for the first time since measurements began, liquid water is pooling under both these huge continental glaciers – the likely precursor to an ice sheet collapse that could put sea levels up 50 to 60 feet worldwide within our lifetimes.

In related news, Atlanta may just be on the verge of edging out New Orleans as the poster child for climate catastrophe. Unless the crippling years-long drought over the southeast United States gives way to heavy rains very soon, Atlanta will run completely out of drinking water sometime in the new year. The city government has had to explain to worried citizens that they are out of options, and there aren’t enough tanker trucks in all of Dixie to meet the daily water needs of a big city. Nobody is willing to talk about what will happen once the last muddy dregs in the Georgia reservoirs are pumped dry, and the drinking fountains, toilet tanks, and fire hydrants of greater metropolitan Atlanta have nothing to fill them but dust.

As Macchiavelli commented in a different context, though, people care more about their finances than their lives, and even the Atlanta papers have seen the drought shoved off the front page now and then by the latest round of implosions in the world of high finance. For those of my readers who haven’t been keeping score, banks and financial firms around the world spent most of the last decade handing out mortgages to anybody with a pulse, packaging up the right to profit from those mortgages into what may just be the most misnamed “securities” in the history of financial markets, and selling them to investors around the world.

On this noticeably unsteady foundation rose the biggest speculative bubble in recorded history, as would-be real estate moguls borrowed dizzying sums to buy up property they were convinced could only go up in value, while investors whose passion for profit blinded them to the risk of loss snapped up a torrent of exotic financial products whose connection to any significant source of value can be safely described as imaginary. All this hallucinated wealth, though, depended on the theory that people with no income, job, or assets could and would pay their mortgage bills on time, and when this didn’t happen, the whole tower of cards began coming apart. Some of the world’s largest banks have already taken billions of dollars in losses, and nobody is even pretending that the economic carnage is over yet.