Carlos Rymer

Sustainability, Life, and More…

An Alternative to Banning Sugary Drinks in NYC

Recently, NYC’s Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, announced a plan to enact a ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters, and street cars. This is great news because of the obesity epidemic, which is incurring a huge toll on society, especially children. The Mayor made the case by showing how much sugar a regular bottle of soda contains, and arguing that this ban would go a long way in helping reduce obesity in NYC.

Now, while this is a great step forward, I think it’s fair to ask a question: is a ban the best way to reduce obesity? I would argue that it is not. First of all, preventing people from getting sugary drinks will look like certain freedoms are being taken away, and in addition we will be losing economic activity created by the sales of sugary drinks from this ban. In addition, we’ll be denying sugary drinks to people who lead very healthy lifestyles and actually drink these occasionally.

I think a better way to do this, as discussed in the comments to a post of the original NYTimes article on Google+, is to tax these drinks. If NYC were to instead tax sugary drinks heavily, to the point where it’s cheaper to, say, purchase instead healthier options, then we would be doing two things at once: reducing obesity rates while increasing tax revenues. We could use the tax revenues to do another thing that would help reduce obesity: give people greater access to exercise opportunities. The government could provide incentives to build more gyms, give people with low-income credit to access gyms, build more public courts, create more bike paths, and even subsidize healthier drinks. This approach would go farther in reducing obesity without keeping sugary drinks away from people who may occasionally drink them.

Whether NYC would do this or not is another question. I think the idea of a tax would immediately make the politicians promoting the ban scared of the politics of the matter, even though it can be framed in a way that actually gains political points as well. Maybe some other city will follow up with a better approach that taxes instead of bans.


The Media’s Manipulation of Public Opinion

With today’s jobs report from the U.S. Department of Labor, I can’t help but point out one obvious reason why democracy is so superficial these days. Today is a perfect example of how mainstream media aims to manipulate public opinion and attention in the name of profits. This morning, the government’s job report was released, estimating that the U.S. economy added 69,000 jobs in May. Immediately, every major news outlet seized on the much-anticipated report to grab people’s attention and drive consumption of news.

There’s nothing wrong with reporting news on a timely basis, but creating headlines that incite panic and make outright assumptions of the future without more information is wrong. Obviously, when people read headlines like “Jobs Forecast Shifts Electoral Outlook,” “Worst US Job Data in a Year Signals Stalling Recovery,” “World Growth at Risk as US Employment Stumbles,”  and “Total Mess: Dow Jones Suffers Losses For Year After Bleak May Jobs Report,” they immediately think that the economy is headed in the wrong direction and that the person responsible for it is the President, in this case Barack Obama (check out the screenshot from the Huffington Post; it’s absolutely ridiculous). Not one article or TV outlet mentioned the fact that the main reason why the economy is slowing is because of the GOP’s obsession with ensuring that government does nothing in the short-term to boost the economy, a strategy designed to do just what it is doing: scare people and hurt President Barack Obama. The headlines simply point to Obama’s chances in the 2012 election given the slowing economy, not the fact that the GOP is responsible for the slowdown in the economy.

How can we have democracy when the media is interested in always seizing opportunities like these to distort and hide the truth? The vast majority of people get scared when they read or listen to headlines like these, and few demand an explanation for why the economy is slowing. It should be the media’s job to provide that explanation in an unbiased way, not to scare people. Scaring people in this way simply causes them to do exactly what is counterproductive to the economy: spend less, invest less, and hire less.

Today’s jobs report is indeed bad news. But even worse news is the fact that the media wants to capitalize on it to scare people and further divide public opinion to have a more contested and less predictable presidential election. In the end, that’s what makes them money in the short term, even if it hurts them in the long term.



Just Lead on Climate Change and They Will Follow

It is 2012, and international negotiations on climate change are still at an impasse largely because the world’s two largest economies and emitters (the United States and China) are demanding greater commitment from each other. Domestically, the United States is deeply gridlocked in politics over other issues to the point where climate change is no longer a priority to Congress. Meanwhile, China is moving ahead in securing dominance in the clean energy market. Previously, I argued that if the 2012 U.S. elections aren’t positive in terms of getting enough elected officials who understand the gravity of the issue, we may as well just turn to handing over the clean energy market entirely to the fossil fuel industry in its current form through specific economic incentives. Now, I want to answer the question of whether that’s truly necessary. Does the fate of the climate truly rest on the United States alone?

While it is largely believed that without the U.S. the international community cannot truly address climate change, current economic conditions point to the fact that this may not be entirely true. Yes, the U.S. is still the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, and yes China is reluctant to commit to serious greenhouse gas emission reductions without a fair commitment from the U.S. Yet everything points to the fact that regardless of climate change as an issue, clean energy, energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, and everything else that can help address climate change are engines of economic growth that cannot and are not being ignored. This is why President Barack Obama so often claims that the nation “that leads on clean energy” will “win the future.” It’s no longer about whether this needs to be done; it’s becoming an issue of who is doing it the best and the fastest.

The U.S., while still uncommitted to tough greenhouse gas reductions, is leading in investments in clean energy just as other nations like Germany and China are gearing up to claim market share. Just as recently as 2010, China led the world in clean energy investments. The U.S., thanks to the Obama administration, has also seen investments rise to the point where it surpassed China in 2011. Pressure is clearly building to prevent clean energy jobs from being created elsewhere. It’s arguable that if other nations keep pushing, the U.S. would have no choice other than to follow through on making hard commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It is this fact that gives fuel to the argument that the U.S. isn’t necessarily the decision-maker on climate change.

China, along with other countries, are arguably poised to lead the clean energy market. The challenge would be to not just lead in clean energy, but to make hard commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to send a signal to their markets and the world that they are ready to claim a large share of a market that promises jobs and energy security. If China and other countries suddenly became manufacturing centers that supplied the their own markets and the rest of the world for a host of technologies ranging from solar, wind, geothermal, and even carbon capture, political pressure would lead the U.S. to do what it isn’t doing yet to ensure it doesn’t slip through the cracks in this 21st century opportunity to “win the future.”

It is up to China and other countries to leave behind the argument that they need a strong commitment from the U.S. to begin making hard commitments. If the U.S. decides to stay on technologies of the 20th century, that only helps them in winning the future and eventually making the U.S. a market for instead of a supplier of new technologies. There is in fact a way forward without U.S. gridlock, and it is up for grabs. Some countries are already aware, but they need to move faster and more aggressively if they want to truly claim the front seat of this wave of innovation and growth.

Urban Sustainability: Creating Lasting Prosperity in an Age of Transition

In 2008, humanity reached an important milestone that speaks to an ongoing trend. For the first time, more people lived in urban areas than lived in rural areas. This is important for various reasons, among them that cities can promise greater opportunities for people and help reduce people’s impact on the planet. It also presents key challenges. We have seen what lack of planning can do to large cities, including widespread sprawl and reduced quality of life for people. So, if the vast majority of people will eventually live in urban centers later this century, we have to make sure that we build cities to guarantee the highest quality of life for their residents while also minimizing the impact on their surroundings and the rest of the planet. How do we do that?

While there isn’t one clear way to guarantee that this happens, every city can work towards finding the right ingredients that will spur increased quality of life for people and lower per capita ecological footprint. As a goal, sustainability, or the ability for populations to endure for long periods of time while improving themselves, is the key to ensuring that every city guarantees the best quality of life for its residents while safeguarding the planet. Sustainability can lead to greater innovation, better-paying jobs, an improved urban environment, and lower resource intensity.

Throughout the world, many major cities are embracing the goal of sustainability through specific action plans drawn up by coalitions of government agencies, businesses, non-profit organizations, and individuals. In such action plans, everything that can help increase quality of life while minimizing the city’s impact is on the table. This includes replacing fossil fuels with clean energy, improving overall health of residents, increasing pedestrian-friendliness, building more energy efficient and livable buildings and neighborhoods, creating new and improving existing recreational opportunities, improving transportation, preventing urban sprawl through zoning, reducing waste, enhancing educational and job opportunities, and much more. All of these things not only help reduce a city’s ecological footprint, but also increase the quality of life of its residents through improved social conditions, greater outdoor opportunities, and enhanced economic growth.

One example of such an action plan is New York City’s PlanNYC, which not only initially set a host of specific goals to be achieved in the short term, but also sets long term ambitions to the year 2030. The plan is ever-evolving to align with technological improvements, economic conditions, and experiences. In addition, many of its goals include specific legislative provisions, economic incentives, and public engagement. It covers eighteen specific areas, among them Housing and Neighborhoods, Parks and Public Spaces, Public Health, Transportation, and Climate Change. It is a holistic plan that clearly states what the city will look like in 2030 and specifies how it will get there. It clearly understands the city’s challenges and impediments, and realizes that it needs to constantly evolve and engage politicians, businesses, and the public.

Over the coming decades, it is important for cities large and small to draft such comprehensive and inclusive sustainability action plans. Not only is this important because it can lead to innovation due to the uniqueness of most cities, but also because it will ensure lasting growth. We cannot continue to allow models where urban centers grow outwards into suburbs, leading to decreased quality of life, increased infrastructure costs and pollution, and greater ecological footprints. We need cities to lead in this wave and engage other cities in sharing what they have learned along the way. Sustainability needs to be taken seriously at every level by governments, businesses, and the public. And it needs to be seen as the way forward, not as a political tool or simply a nice thing to do.

As the human population increases and people continue to move towards cities, it is imperative that we act now before it is too late. We can do this through public engagement, city to city engagement, national policy, or international accords, but in the end it must be done if we are to reach sustainable levels of resource use that can guarantee better opportunities for future generations. Urban sustainability needs to become a bigger topic in the international public debate, not just in international conferences, but in mainstream media, government action, business outreach, and public advocacy. We now have enough examples throughout the world of how this can be done, and it is time for cities everywhere to take sustainability as their key to the future.

To Save the Climate, Give ‘Em What They Want

In 1997, the international community came together to approve the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The goal was simple: to get started on the task to slow and eventually reverse climate change as the international community continued to discuss how to make further cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Four years later, in 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush announced that the United States, then the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, would not participate in the treaty, deciding instead to encourage voluntary cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. It was that action that gave rise to the climate movement in the U.S., leading to strong reactions by businesses, colleges and universities, municipalities, and states to address global warming.

Fast forward to 2012, and things have changed quite a bit. From a technological perspective, we have made significant improvements in producing more fuel efficient vehicles, cutting the cost of solar power, making households and buildings more energy efficient, and increasing the capacity of wind, among other positive accomplishments. The international community has built an incredible movement fueled by people power, and many governments have decided to move forward on climate change on their own. Yet 2011 saw not just another record year for the global average temperature, but also another record year for greenhouse gas emissions globally. With developing countries continuing to grow fast, fossil fuels are being burned as fast as we can extract them from the Earth. We have seen what 1 degrees Celsius is already doing to the planet, from record warm weather in the Arctic to dust bowl like droughts. In spite of these realities, the international community has failed, year after year, to come up with a binding treaty that will get the job done.

Now, one source of hope is the technological revolution happening in the clean energy sector, especially in countries that have recently entered the clean energy race. Solar, for example, has seen its average cost drop by about 40% in the last few years as technologies have improved and supplies increased. Wind energy is becoming even more mature as output per turbine increases. Many countries are investing so heavily in clean energy that it is hard to argue that clean energy isn’t the future. Even the United States, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, understands that clean energy is a clear source of competitiveness that will determine “who will win the future.” Today, in spite of the global recession that dragged climate change outside of mainstream public debate, we are in a better position to do something about climate change. Yet we seem to be so far away from doing anything truly significant.

The reality is that the world will not take the necessary action to slow down and eventually reverse climate change unless the United States signs on with some significant weight. That clearly may not happen any time soon if Republicans continue to have it their way, even with Barack Obama in the White House. So time is running out, and we have to ask ourselves what else can we do to ensure that less fortunate people, countless other species, and future generations don’t pay the price that the fossil fuel industry is already incurring and will continue to incur as a result of human-induced climate change. Do we continue to wait until the right leadership is in place? Or do we think about what it is that the fossil fuel industry truly wants and is the reason why real action isn’t happening?

First, let me be clear about something I deeply believe in. I believe that most people want real action on climate change, and that over the years people have made themselves heard loud and clear. I also believe we have the capability to turn things around rather quickly, and that tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year, something big could happen that would sound a loud alarm across the globe and spur the international community to action on climate change. I still have strong hopes that we can come together and take on what is the biggest challenge facing humanity. But I have been this hopeful now for nearly a decade, and if trends tell the future, I’d rather not put the pain of the less fortunate, the diversity of species on Earth, and the opportunities of future generations on the line on hope alone. In the end, I think we have to do whatever it takes to prevent all of these things from happening.

So, do we wait or do we give ’em what they want? I think we can wait until the outcome of this year’s presidential elections in the United States, but if the outcome isn’t good, we need to think about alternatives. In my opinion, the only reason the fossil fuel industry has used it’s financial muscle to prevent action on climate change is because it wants to keep generating the large and rising sums of profit it generates today. As a clearly government-protected industry, it doesn’t want any competition. The few large businesses operating in the industry want to keep the energy market largely to themselves. So, if that’s it, could we consider as a last option to give them all the incentives necessary to transition them away from coal, natural gas, and oil and towards clean energy sources while keeping them as the majority shareholders of the energy market?

This sounds completely anti-competitive and unfair, and it is. It’s not the right thing to do at all. But at least it would ensure that we lessen the pain of the less fortunate, prevent massive extinction, and pass on a better planet to future generations. Personally, I don’t want to wait until 2020 and know that greenhouse gas emissions are still rising. At that point, it just may be too late. We can always make this first step strategically, and then focus on making sure that the energy market is truly competitive and fair. If we can do the latter now, I would be for doing so. But we haven’t been able to in the last couple of decades with everything we know we’ve done, and while still hopeful, I really think the 2012 elections will be a make or break moment on climate change. Let’s continue to work harder every day on doing what’s right, but let’s not forget that we still have an option when all else fails.

Could Mitt Romney Really Be A Free Enterprise President?

The 2012 Presidential race is on in the U.S., and Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, has escalated his attacks on President Barack Obama, claiming that the President has undermined free enterprise and expanded the role of government in the life of every U.S. citizen over the last three and a half years. According to Romney, the U.S. economy needs a leader who will put in place policies that encourage free enterprise in order to grow faster and put people back to work. The problem with this is that Mitt Romney is misleading people into believing that he will support all free enterprises, while the reality is that, like his party, he will focus aggressively on supporting existing free enterprises that have gamed U.S. democracy and undermined free markets.

To understand why Mitt Romney’s message may sound good in theory, it’s important to understand the difference between the theoretical U.S. economic model and the economic model actually in place. While it’s largely assumed that capitalism, a model under which competition among private enterprises maximizes wealth creation, is in full practice in the U.S., it turns out that the reality is very different.

Under completely free markets, private enterprises compete to generate the best products and services at the lowest possible costs. Competition keeps private enterprises from controlling the market and therefore dictating prices. In theory, this actually does lead to greater economic benefits, and there are countries where, in practice, this actually takes place to a significant degree. In the U.S., the economic model in place is actually one where special interests have gamed politics to the point where government has been significantly influenced to protect specific corporate interests, ranging from food & drinks to minerals to energy to pharmaceuticals. This economic model based on corporate power, big corporate players work hand in hand with the government to prevent free enterprises from competing against them. This is why corporations like Exxon, which seems to earn record profits every single year, still receives government subsidies. It is also why other countries with less entrepreneurial and technological capacity are now beating the U.S. in clean energy as its government refuses to provide the same level of support it provides to fossil fuels.

Corporate power is dangerous not only because it discourages free enterprise, but because it undermines democracy by creating the illusion that government intervention in regulating any market is against free enterprise, even when it is to discourage oligopolies and to encourage entry to market by new enterprises. And this is exactly the illusion that Mitt Romney is betting on, telling U.S. voters that his policies will encourage free enterprises to create jobs and spur faster economic growth. In the coming months, Mitt Romney will raise hundreds of millions of dollars from special interests, including Super PACs supported by the likes of the Koch Brothers, to tell U.S. voters that he will be different from the incumbent because he will weed out government intervention in markets to allow free enterprises to thrive. It is misleading and wrong.

The reality is that in the last three and a half years, new enterprises have been getting a better shot at making it than in the eight years that came before the President was elected. The vast majority of jobs are being created in more competitive markets where enterprises don’t largely control the market they are in. What’s more, the President has prudently used government to do its rightful job, which is to intervene where free markets fail and where markets incur high social and environmental costs not reflected in market prices. The President has fought against insurers and pharmaceuticals to ensure prices don’t keep rampantly growing (which they shouldn’t in a truly free market), has worked hard to ensure that enterprises don’t create more problems than the benefits they provide, and has given tax incentives to small businesses that create the vast majority of jobs, not big enterprises that create relatively fewer jobs per unit of output.

Mitt Romney’s campaign will spend hundreds of millions of dollars claiming he’s for free enterprise, but if he’s elected, he will support the same kind of enterprises that will help him win the White House: those that have for many years undermined democracy by abusing corporate spending power to buy elected officials. If U.S. voters really want to encourage more free enterprise, they should know that the President has cut taxes for small businesses several times, reduced corporate abuses in the health and financial markets, helped bring back the Auto industry, and directed government agencies to implement a host of recommendations made by the business community to encourage free enterprise. It’s no coincidence that after the greatest recession since the Great Depression, the U.S. economy has come back largely because employers have added jobs even as the government is shedding them. Mitt Romney’s theory of helping some free enterprises wouldn’t have led to the kind of recovery the U.S. is experiencing. It would have led to the same hole we are just coming out of.

So, to answer the question, yes Mitt Romney could be a free enterprise president. But the free enterprises he would be supportive of already exist, and they’re huge, dangerous, and deceitful. We need a President who’s supportive of all enterprises, not just those who have bought Washington to keep control of the markets.

Candidatos Buscan La Presidencia Sin Ofrecer Soluciones

Con los candidatos presidenciales ya elegidos para los principales partidos políticos de la República Dominicana, la campaña para las elecciones del 2012 ha arrancado. Basado en los problemas nacionales que la administración de Leonel Fernández no ha podido solucionar — como la desigualdad, la falta de empleo y competitividad, y la debilidad que se percibe en las instituciones publicas — los candidatos han lanzado plataformas basadas en confrontar problemas complejos y de gran importancia. Danilo Medina ha propuesto un compromiso con la inversión social y el fortalecimiento de instituciones publicas; Hipolito Mejia promete eliminar la “corrupción general” que se percibe en la administración de Leonel Fernandez; Carlos Morales Troncoso tiene como prioridad fortalecer el PRSC; y Guillermo Moreno promete un cambio a las políticas de los partidos tradicionales para que existe honestidad e inclusión popular.

Para cada uno de estos candidatos, existe un gran respaldo dentro de los círculos que los respaldan. Fuera de las encuestas, existen los(as) que ven a Danilo Medina como un líder honesto que puede seguir las políticas consideradas exitosas de la administración de Leonel Fernandez; los(as) que ven a Hipolito Mejia como una alternativa a la corrupción percibida en la administración de Leonel Fernandez; los(as) que ven a Carlos Morales Troncoso como alguien que puede fortalecer el PRSC y convertirlo en un partido significativo nuevamente; y los(as) que ven a Guillermo Moreno como alguien con una visión de un país que puede solucionar todos los problemas que los partidos tradicionales no han podido solucionar. Cada candidato ofrece un mensaje que gusta a diversas partes de la población, desde los jóvenes que quieren una alternativa significativa como la que promete ofrecer Guillermo Moreno a las comunidades más vulnerables que ven a Hipólito Mejía como alguien que tendrá mas atención a los problemas básicos de la población.

Mientras las diversas partes de la población se sienten conforme con su candidato preferido, la realidad es que ningún candidato ha ofrecido un plan sensible para solucionar los problemas críticos que enfrenta la República Dominicana. Por ejemplo, recientemente los candidatos se comprometieron a asegurar que el 4% del PIB sea destinado a la educación, pero ninguno ofreció detalles explicando cuales gastos gubernamentales serán recortados o cuales impuestos serán creados para lograr tal compromiso. Ningún candidato ha ofrecido detalles sobre como el país puede combatir la inflación — la cual en gran parte depende de los mercados internacionales — así como la corrupción, la delincuencia, y la desigualdad. Ningún candidato a ofrecido un plan de como se generaran empleos, especialmente para la juventud, ni como trabajaran con las generadoras eléctricas y la CDEEE para continuar el progreso hacia un sistema eléctrico que ofrezca energía asequible y constante a toda la población.

Si en realidad queremos un cambio en República Dominicana, no basta apoyar un candidato que tenga un mensaje que guste a un punto de vista popular. Hay que demandar de los candidatos que ofrescan detalles de como solucionaran los problemas que enfrenta el país, y luego ser críticos de tales detalles para asegurar que en realidad son validos y conformen a un plan realista que pueda sacar al país de los problemas que mas preocupan a la población, como el desempleo, la delincuencia, y la corrupción.

Por mas que veamos a los candidatos como opciones para un cambio, resultaran en lo mismo que han resultado administraciones anteriores, las cuales han logrado crecimiento en la economía pero no han logrado eliminar problemas críticos como el desempleo, la desigualdad, la baja calidad de la educación, y la competitividad. Es hora de que la población reflexione si es aceptable que los candidatos ofrezcan un mensaje en blanco, sin ningún tipo de análisis ni planificación de como aseguraran que sus promesas se hagan realidad.

Why Leaders Ought to Communicate Frequently

Frequent CommunicationOne of the most difficult tasks for any leader — whether of a large organization or a small group — is to communicate frequently and effectively. Communication is not just important because it helps shape debates that lead to important decisions being made, but also because organizations need a sense of direction to keep the engine going. Leaders who don’t communicate frequently and effectively probably outnumber those who do. This is very noticeable when you take entire societies as an organized group, where the people are typically in constant distrust of their leaders because such leaders fail to communicate frequently and effectively.

Over the past two years, the importance of constant and effective communication has become so noticeable to me as I’ve witnessed different leaders employ very different strategies to communicate to the public. I want to focus exclusively on two very good government leaders to whom I can relate and whom I believe have very different strategies of engaging with those whom they represent. While I strongly believe frequent and effective communication is important for any leader, whether at the corporate, civic, or governmental level, I chose to compare two government leaders because of the impact their strategies have in shaping a nation.

The first leader, if you already guessed correctly, is President Barack Obama of the United States. Aside from having a highly successful electoral campaign in which records were set in terms of engagement, President Obama has made it a priority for his administration to communicate frequently and effectively to the public. Not only is he in constant communication with the public — from constant appearances on TV to town halls to news conferences to videotaped weekly addresses to Twitter updates — but his entire cabinet is fully engaged with the public through social media, conferences, and public appearances. It is arguable that this has been the most engaging administration in U.S. history, in spite of the anger some may feel regarding agenda items that have yet to be accomplished.

The Obama administration’s frequent and effective communication has not just helped achieve the most productive legislative Congress in many years, but has also helped rally a nation into debating issues previous administrations largely ignored. Although I feel some anger at the fact that the President has consistently taken a centrist approach towards many issues when they fully deserve and warrant a more aggressive approach, I admire how President Obama has used messaging — messaging that a majority of people can appreciate and understand — as a tool to achieve key goals. While words don’t necessarily translate into deeds, I think many people can agree that President Obama’s frequent and effective communication has helped his administration achieve quite a lot over the past two years.

Now, on the other end of the spectrum, we have President Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic, my country of origin. Here we have a leader who not only understands how to keep an economy growing and is very capable of designing effective policies, but who has been elected three times in the last 15 years (1996, 2004, and 2008). While a majority of Dominicans agree that President Fernandez is one of the best leaders the country has witnessed, a majority of them will also say that they disagree with the way President Fernandez is handling the government. A sweeping 2010 election where the majority party (Partido de la Liberacion Dominicana) took almost full control of government can be used as evidence of the President’s popularity, but it doesn’t deny the fact that most Dominicans disapprove of President Fernandez, precisely a result of how infrequently and ineffectively he communicates to the people about issues that matter to them.

Unlike President Obama, President Fernandez only speaks to the public on rare occasions, such as for his annual address to Congress or updates on emergency actions. As a result, the people don’t feel like they need to follow their leader to get a sense of direction of where the country is going and what they should strive to accomplish. When President Fernandez does speak directly to the public, he does so in such language that people do not understand or feel interested in what he’s talking about, often focusing on statistics rather than telling a story to which people can relate. Not only is this a bad way to negatively impact what is in fact good leadership, but it’s also a waste of power, as President Fernandez squanders all the opportunities he has to get people to think and behave in ways that could help his nation race for a better future.

Good leadership is not just based on how well you can manage a team, but also on how well you can communicate to that team so it knows what it must do to accomplish its goals. All too often leaders fail to understand how valuable a position they’re in, where they can easily grab an audience’s attention and shape a debate, a decision, a common cultural problem, or even behavior. Clearly, some leaders tend to achieve goals from the top down regardless of who is alienated at the bottom or in the middle. Yet oftentimes it is better to achieve goals by having all people on board the ship rowing forward. Leaders who want to become better at what they do should understand the importance of frequent and effective communication if they want to add further momentum to their organization’s engine.

“Unworkable” Climate Treaty Not An Option

With all the news about President Obama’s deal to reduce this year’s federal budget by $38 billion and his proposal to reduce total deficits by $4 trillion over the next 12 years, it is easy to bypass the Administration’s promise to finally act boldly on climate change and help the U.S. unleash a wave of innovation in clean energy, smarter transportation, and energy efficiency. The budget deal alone signals that the U.S. will reduce its investments in clean energy, high-speed rail, and energy efficiency at a time when countries like China and Germany are moving ahead at full speed to capture a market that will be worth trillions of dollars in the next several years.

Today, the Obama Administration’s commitment became even clearer when Todd Stern, the Administration’s climate envoy to the United Nations climate negotiations, declared that a climate treaty was “unworkable.” In Stern’s own words, “it’s [not] necessary that there be [an] internationally binding emission caps as long as you’ve got national laws and regulations. What I am saying is it’s not doable.” In effect, Stern is stating the Obama Administration’s position is that to move forward on climate change, countries will have to simply do whatever they can on their own. This clearly shows the level of urgency the Obama administration has placed on climate change, basically declaring that solving climate change is a luxury rather than a real global emergency similar to nuclear proliferation.

If it were true that we could solve climate change and avoid the trillions in costs it will bring by the end of the century by simply allowing countries to draw up their own plans (by the way, this is not very different from what the Bush administration proposed in their “voluntary scheme”), then it would also be true that we did not need the New START or any other non-proliferation treaties because countries could draw up their own plans voluntarily and address the issue the best way they could (regardless of how long it would take them or how much they could do).

This approach is well-known to be a recipe for failure, and if as a society we believe that risking failure to act boldly on climate change is an acceptable result, then we are accepting endangering future generations’ livelihoods and creating conditions that will be catastrophically damaging to the global environment and economy. I agree that circumstance is causing the Obama administration to put a lot of important issues aside, but how can anybody who understands climate change agree that a President who has so frequently called for bold action now sends his climate envoy to negotiations saying that a treaty is not and will not be possible?

If Obama was really committed, he would come out and set the record straight to let the world know that a treaty is not only still possible, but that it is in fact a requirement to ensuring that we will not give future generations a planet that is so damaged that it can no longer support productive economies. What we saw today from Todd Stern is just another sign that Obama is now less willing to stand strongly for anything, much less employ his political capital to get things done. I hope the President knows what he’s doing and won’t end up being ashamed of not acting when he could years down the road.

Are We Already Practically Cooked?

These days, it feels as if the climate debate has entirely fallen off the agenda (even Obama is not allowed to say “climate” anymore). So much has the debate shifted that it feels like we’re already practically cooked, waiting for the climate to warm up to levels that will simply reorganize Earth in a way that won’t be very comforting for anybody. We have gone from the days of Texas mega wind farm Ads on TV and the constant mention of climate and energy in the presidential campaign to a time where climate change is no longer in the agenda of U.S. politics. Obviously, this has thrown people off even as a global movement to address climate change has grown to record levels.

At the same time, we have experienced early warnings of the catastrophic effects severe climate change will bring to society. From floods of biblical proportions in Pakistan, Brazil, and Australia to massive snowstorms in the U.S. and Europe to record low winter sea ice extent in January, we are coming to grips with the reality of climate change. It is becoming all too clear that climate change is already affecting us directly in many ways, from rising food prices causing social instability to massive property losses due to increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

Given these realities, can we say that we are practically cooked? An optimist will rightly say we have to keep hoping, while a pessimist would say there’s nothing we can do. Yet the reality is very different from both of these views. While it may look hopeless, the fact is that a revolution is cooking. The world is realizing that clean energy technologies are not just good because they help fight climate change, but also because they provide real market stability, jobs, and hard currency. In spite of real economic problems, both advanced and emerging nations are joining a race that is set to intensify this decade. And if you’ve heard the trade debate lately, it has a lot to do with just that.

Nations are betting that whoever is the best at developing high-end clean energy products will win precious advantage this decade. That is why emerging nations like China are throwing a lot of money at clean energy and why the Obama administration opened an investigation into the matter, why Secretary Steven Chu wants the cost of solar energy to drop 75% by the end of the decade and Vice President Biden announced over $50 billion for new and improved high-speed rail lines, and why investments by major corporate players are now focusing a lot more on innovations that will change how we move around and use energy. From surging wind and solar manufacturing in China to the big bets automakers are making on EVs and plug-in hybrids, the race is clearly on.

My personal bet is that this race is set to intensify in dramatic ways, with investments surging over the next few years and game-changing innovations driving a shift away from fossil fuels and energy waste. While the question of whether this will be enough to slow and reverse climate change remains, it is clear that we aren’t practically cooked yet. In addition to this race, we will need to find ways to actually remove carbon from the atmosphere or adapt to a significantly warmer world, and my hope is that the fruits of this global race will create enough capacity for us to figure out how to do that in a way that is beneficial and does not change global ecological stability. In five years, we will know whether in fact we won’t be cooked by a fast warming planet in the future. Stay tuned for those news.

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