Global thoughts

We have likely all seen the bumper sticker or heard the phrase “think globally, act locally” but human nature sometimes makes that difficult. Despite NOAA, NASA, the Japanese Meteorological Agency, and the UK Met Office all stating that 2014 was the warmest year on record, it has been colder than normal where I live as depicted in the picture above. This localized cold sometimes makes conversations about climate change and our warming planet more challenging. In addition, people who live in the upper Midwest of the U.S. sometimes take to the opinion that a few degrees warmer sure would be nice and it is less expensive than moving to Kansas. Ironically, if our planet was just 7 degrees colder those of us in the upper latitudes would be under a mile of ice. Looking at the data above, helps get back to seeing a good depiction of a global problem. While in the upper Midwest we might have been fighting a polar vortex that caused school closings and travel restrictions, many other areas throughout the globe were fighting record heat and drought in 2014.

It is even more important to look at long term trends as depicted in the chart below taken from a data query I did on the NOAA website. It is disheartening to know that every year my children have been alive, global temperatures have been above historical averages. December 2014 was the 358th consecutive month where global temperatures were above average. In addition, 13 of the hottest years on record (since 1880) have been in the last 15 years. The scientific consensus on whether the warming is manmade or not is overwhelming everywhere except the U.S. Senate and the U.S. media. All 38 National Academies of Science agree, the hundreds of AMS organizations all agree, and peer reviewed scientific articles have outnumbered those opposed 500:1 for over 20 years.


What if we change our mindset to align with the former chief economist of the World Bank (Sir Nicholas Stern) and many others who view this problem as a market failure? After all, we typically do not let industries dump their garbage and toxins for free. A market failure is when costs are shifted to non-users and that is precisely what has happened here. In one way or another, everyone is currently paying for carbon regardless of their usage. Typically when markets fail, governments intervene in one of four ways: R&D, Subsidies, Regulation, or Taxes. R&D is great but in reality we already have the technology and knowledge needed though continued improvements in efficiency will help. Subsidies help but they are expensive and not politically viable, with little ROI. Regulation is good by forcing more fuel efficiency and standards on emissions, but that is quite simply not enough to move the needle significantly. And everyone hates to talk about taxes, though that is exactly what is needed here. The Citizens Climate Lobby is advocating a $10 / ton tax on CO2 with that increasing $10 each year for 20 years. To put that in perspective, in year one it would be ~10 cents per gallon at the pump and ~1.2 cents per kWh for electricity. The beauty of their proposal is that it would be 100% revenue neutral, meaning all of the tax revenue would be returned to American households equally without the government keeping anything. Imagine you, me, and Keith Hernandez all getting a monthly dividend check for the same amount. This type of tax would be a light switch moment, immediately shifting behaviors and decisions of consumers. In the past year gay marriage had a light switch moment and though there are a few states with their hand still on the dimmer switch, tremendous progress has been made. Eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels needs a similar moment to give it momentum and move us forward.

So this brings us back to thinking globally and acting locally. If you are reading this, you have much to be grateful for in terms of being born where and when you were and more. Understand that our lifestyle and choices have impacts on the planet as a whole and small iterative changes can have large impacts when multiplied by billions of people. As John Muir said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world”. I encourage you to investigate joining one of the CCL’s weekly intro calls to learn more how you can help our elected leaders respond to our citizens political will.


Sainted and Tainted: Furniture Stores

Sainted: Occasionally Yours – The store front sign says it best; “Our store is full of charming, unusual items that can’t be found in big retail stores.”  But that does not really capture the coolness of this store, they have artists and restoration experts who take beautifully designed, high-quality, sturdy and durable furniture that could last a lifetime, and re-purpose it in a fun and creative way so that it could be handed down to your children or passed on for generations to come.  Pictures and their story are on their website as well as their Facebook site.  It is one of those stores that you could literally spend hours in and leave knowing you likely only saw 75% of the items, not because of the size of the store but because of the overwhelming quantity of creative and unique items.  My wife and I had been looking for a bench at big box and furniture stores on and off for a few months and found one that was of incredible quality and construction for much less money than we had found elsewhere.  While the Mall of America might be a big draw for some, this store which is 10 miles south is worth the trip and there are few things more sustainable than giving new life to something old that was built with quality.

Tainted: IKEA – As most people know IKEA builds relatively easy to transport flat-pack particle-board furniture, usually very cleverly designed and often with some sort of cool product name.  The first core issue with the IKEA approach is that they embrace the discount culture of repetitive consumption; making items of the cheapest construction for the briefest interval the buying public will tolerate.  Even their marketing confirms this with commercials about how furniture does not have feelings and can and should be replaced at any time.  Despite being founded in 1943, when is the last time anyone passed something purchased from IKEA down to a next generation?  This mentality and the acceptance of that approach by our culture has led to the second core issue; IKEA is the third largest consumer of wood in the world.  They harvest the majority of it from Eastern Europe and Russian Siberia, where according to World Bank, half of the logging is illegal.  IKEA’s wholly owned Swedish subsidiary Swedwood has been condemned by multiple organizations for clear-cutting 1,400 acres a year of 200- to 600-year-old forest near the Finnish border.  The IKEA issues along with other consequences of the discount culture are outlined in the Ellen Ruppell Sheel book entitled Cheap.  IKEA has begun to create a plan for being a better steward of the environment but to date most of it appears more for marketing themselves to be a more sustainable company.

The takeaway here is quite simple.  When you are in the market for something new, see if it can be provided by something old or repurposed.  Before throwing something out think if it could have life as something else or to someone else.  It never ceases to amaze me the things other people are willing to take off of your hands.  This holiday season I plan to try and give gifts that are all used or repurposed which I hope will make the shopping season more interesting and make the gifts more personal in nature.