Sunday, March 30, 2008
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Friday, March 7, 2008
Posted: 05 Mar 2008 02:10 PM CST
A few weeks ago, my school embarked on a grand experiment entitled mini-term. Rather than have 6 classes per day, rather than divide learning into 45 minute blocks, we opened the schedule and challenged teachers to engage students in their passion. The experiment was, for most, a success and provided students wonderful opportunities to learn about and explore topics off the path of the normal curriculum as well as complete projects that could not be handled in a traditional classroom setting.
The Hard Details
Mini-terms were taught by teams of two or three teachers. These teachers were encouraged to teach their passion and were free to design their courses around topics of their choosing, with an emphasis on cross-departmental work. The only guidelines for teachers were broad such as a required reading and writing component. The classes ranged from 18 to 25 students each from all four grade levels and met all day, every day for a four-day week. Students selected their top 6 choices, and were sorted into classes accordingly. Teachers were encouraged to take field trips, and engage in hands on projects.
The class I participated in was called “Zen and the Art of Furniture Design”, it was taught my a science teacher (Mr. Skinner) with an independent passion for carpentry and an art teacher (Mr. Huber) with years of experience in scenic design and construction. Our class was one big project: design, build, and paint an Adirondack chair, bench and table. Our class was split into two groups of nine to each build one set of furniture.
The first day was spent on the design phase: modifying the stock chair design and planning paint schemes. For the design of the chair, the two groups took different approaches. The other group drew their modifications on the teacher provided plans and then built a scale model of their design. My group took advantage of my CAD skills to modify the original design and produce new drawings and renderings. For paint, each group was required to choose an artist and paint the furniture to resemble that artist. Part of my group spent the day researching and picking an artist, finding work by that artist, and finally tracing that work onto a scale plan.
As we were working through the process, we found many opportunities for incidental learning. One student taught another student drafting skills that were learned in our architecture course so that the original plans could be annotated. Another student experimented on the Wacom tablets in the art computer lab, learning how to control pen size in Photoshop using pressure, then tracing printed artwork into the computer. This learning was spontaneous, not assessed and in some cases not even visible in the final project, but it was learning through doing and the students left with a new skill.
The next day we moved into the shop and began the actual construction. This included ripping lumber, cutting boards to the correct length (and determining those lengths from the plans our group produced), sanding the boards, and assembling them into actual furniture. Due to my technical theatre background, I was right at home in the shop, but still I saw something that surprised me: 18 students all working — no breaks, no “we don’t have anything to do”, no “watch and criticize”, but 18 students all working towards common goals, and enjoying themselves at the same time. It was a truly breathtaking sight, students who had never touched a power tool in their lives were ripping lumber on a table saw and screwing boards together.
Finally, we were able to get dirty and begin painting. The artists in the group went to work tracing the outlines onto the furniture so that we could paint them in. With three students to a piece, we were all busy turning bare wood into a tribute to our artists, and learning about those artists at the same time by both reproducing their work and studying it to produce our color pallet.
We finished with about an hour left in the day. Just enough time to admire our work. After three days of hard work in the shop, we were all tired. But, I have never seen a prouder group of students. We moved the product of our hard work into the chosen spots on campus, and patted ourselves on the back for a job well done.
Why Mini-Term Was Powerful
I can honestly say that I have never had a more immersive learning experience in school. By allowing students to only focus on this one project they weren’t distracted and were well rested. The students were able to enjoy the Zen of the project - the beautiful, in the moment, experience of hard, dedicated work.
By giving students one overarching project, learning was able to happen through experience. Some of us learned about different artists while researching our paint scheme. Some of us learned about paint mixing and color pallets. We all learned how to solve the problems the project presented and the skills to face those problems in the future.
There was no grade, there was no homework, there was no test — the assessments were thrown out of the window. But, it was a stronger experience because of that. Students didn’t fear failure, they weren’t scared to learn something for the experience of learning. There was however a final product, and one that the students could be proud of. Every day, I experience the immense pleasure of seeing students sitting on the chair and bench that I helped build. And, that is something that I can be proud of. How often do our students get to be proud of their school work?
What I Would Change
I was fortunate to be in of the most successful mini-terms. The less successful classes seemed to be those that didn’t embrace the new format and attempted to fill the time with traditional classroom instruction. Students simply can’t sit at a desk for 6 hours a day learning about the same subject matter. Those mini-terms that realized this and used project-based learning to keep students involved provided the best learning experiences. I would work to ensure that this was the case across the board.
I would also include students in the planning and teaching of the mini-terms. One of the best things about my mini-term was that once the initial instructions were given, a large portion of the learning was student-to-student. Each student was able to bring their own skill set to the table — whether it be in design, drawing, CAD, painting, or construction — and students taught these skills to each other. I would work to encourage student involvement in instruction earlier in the process. Students with an interest in teaching and passion for a topic could be provided the opportunity to work with their teachers on the design and execution of a mini-term.
Finally, and this is the smallest issue by far, I would work with teachers to eliminate the pre-break crunch that occurred before mini-term. With students over-burdened the week prior, they entered mini-term tired and resentful. While no other homework was assigned that week, fear over losing their students for a week caused many teachers to assign stealth homework in the form of overdue assignments created by the crunch.
Mini-term was a powerful experience for students and while many of them may not realize it yet, they will be able to build off of their experiences for the rest of their lives. The project truly embraced the kind of experiential and project-based learning we need to produce 21st century students who can think creatively.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Posted: 24 Feb 2008 10:30 PM CST
Last month I attended Educon 2.0 in Philadelphia, an “unconference” that grew out of a grass roots movement by many educators who blog and work with Web 2.0 tools. In my opinion, it was a spectacular success, not just because 250 educators showed up on a wintery weekend in Philadelphia, most on their own dime, but because of the showcase it provided for the Science Leadership Academy - especially the teachers and students.
While it was terrific to meet the people behind the avatars and screen names, it was even more impressive to get a chance to see what a well-designed, well-executed progressive school looks like up close.
It looks like teachers.
Sure, I could go on and on about how the principal, Chris Lehmann, has shaped this school based on an “ethic of care” — meaning you teach kids before you teach subjects. The idea is so simple it’s almost startling. Brilliant leaders excel at making the simple, powerful truths concrete. Of course, caring about kids is not a secret, and Chris would be the first to admit that he stands on the shoulders of giants as he guides this school.
And the kids, of course, the kids were fabulous. Smart, friendly, look-you-in-the-eye teens who got up early on a weekend morning to make this event work. And not just help, but participate. These teens waded into discussions and spoke their minds. They facilitated discussions of diverse educational issues, sharing their opinions and experiences with people they’d never met before. It’s obvious these young adults are being listened to and know they can share their voice.
But when I get discouraged about the future of this thing we call school, and whether it can make systemic changes needed to survive and serve our society well, I’m going to have a new vision to call on. And it will be these SLA teachers who painted this picture for me more clearly than ever.
In one session in particular, four SLA teachers presented their experience of their first year. Learning to Teach: First Year Teaching in a Progressive School - Jillian Gierke, Melissa Yarborough, Matt Kay, and Kenneth Rochester. They discussed what they learned, what they tried, what worked and what didn’t. It was a fabulous session. There is a video and handouts online, but there would be no way to capture the energy of the room as we moved to various centers, each run by one teacher who shared their classroom experiences with us. We tried our hand at designing a lesson using the Understanding by Design method, and found that 1) it was hard fun and 2) different groups came up with some really interesting yet completely different approaches.
One teacher shared the lesson he learned over the year - “less is more,” he quietly said. And you could see the conviction in his eyes that this wasn’t the third bullet on a list of rules he’d been handed. He’d lived it and learned it. Another teacher shared how her ongoing discussions with other faculty shaped her classroom style, and how she planned to continue this as new faculty joined the SLA.
But finally, one teacher wrapped it up for me, “I’m the luckiest teacher in Philadelphia,” she said with a smile. She looked around at the chaos of voices, papers, computers, backpacks and jackets littering the room and continued, “I can’t imagine being anywhere else.” The ethic of care at this school obviously includes the teachers, and that makes all the difference.
The truth is, great leaders have to do more than lead, they have to transfer their leadership abilities to everyone in their sphere of influence. And everyone has to accept that gift. Kids can, and will do it easily, given encouragement and consistent support. Adults are harder. Their habits are set, their expectations are lower, and their life lessons ring in their ears, drowning out the voice of hope. But it is possible.
Sometimes, when I visit a great school, I wish I was a student there. At SLA, I wished I was a teacher.
Last week sometime (I don’t keep track of days), I video-Skyped with the Korean Project Global Cooling club. PGC is the brain child of Clay Burell, with the aid of Bill Farren (who made the Did You Ever Wonder video). Their goal, in the words of Christopher Watson (the teacher helping coordinate PGC Hawaii), is to mobilize a global network of students to report on the efforts for sustainability in their communities, and also to connect them for further work together. The idea for the concert is to bring attention to the website and all the work and resources that will be posted there. We’ll be having a Hawaii-based concert for the cause in April. I was amazed at how easy it was to connect with people half-way around the world. True, their time zone maybe be a day and a half ahead of me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t come to their Project Global Cooling meetings.
What I really hope this connection between people all over the world evolves into is a place where teachers won’t have to do the connecting for the students. When we talk about a sustainable future, we don’t just mean environmentally. Places like Nervousness.org (an art project forum) are self-sustaining home bases where projects are formed between like-minded artists. There is no third party that sets them up, nor are there painfully difficult organizational problems to deal with. The artists do the art, exchange addresses, send the art, and then one person puts it all together. I see no reason why there can’t be somewhere for students to gather, talk, and create with their contemporaries (sans teacher).
We’ve all talked about how it’s time to stop underestimating kids, how it’s time to give us a voice. Out on the blogosphere front, things are definitely improving. But I look at things like Twitter (where the student population would be considered “endangered” at best), and, like Sean, I wonder why students haven’t all taken to the web. The answer is simple: where would they go? There is no single place for global student collaboration.
That’s why I created two places that I think will help students to self-connect.
The first place is a Twitter account called YouthNet. This Twitter account is a tool for students to find other students on Twitter. They can also use it to introduce themselves to the student network. For example, this would be my tweet: “@YouthNet I’m Lindsea, 16 years old, Hawaii. Interested in art, writing, photography, music, sustainability, film. skype=sonicyouthgurl”. In these 140 characters or less, I’m able to introduce myself, say where I’m from, and mention the areas in which I’m interested in starting projects. YouthNet would follow only students, so actually finding other students on Twitter wouldn’t be difficult. Student Twitterers are then able to advertise their projects (school-related or not) to other students.
The second place is a Wikispace wiki. The wiki is similar to the Twitter account in that it is a tool for starting projects and forming connections with similarly passioned people. There’s a page called World Connection where people list their name, blog address, Skype screen name, Twitter account, e-mail address, and interests. This is the starting point for networking. Then there is the “Talk” page, which basically serves as a place for discussion (obviously), and a very chillaxed forum for either casual or serious conversation. If the students choose, they can use Talk as the starting place for their projects. For brainstorming, collaborating, and swapping ideas, this is the place.
In the video chat I had with PGC in Korea, one of Clay’s students, Soojin, gives the example of a World Geography project. Let’s see how this project would work using YouthNet tools: So person X is assigned a World Geography project of her choosing. She decides to do it on exploring the anthropology of young people in different countries. Using YouthNet, she would first post the thesis of her project on the Talk page. Interested parties would then reply with their own input. She could also look through the World Connection page and contact the students interested in writing. She’d send out a mass email to all students interested, telling them in more detail what the parameters of the project are and the deadline. The students would write about their lives in the various countries all over the world, send her a couple pictures, and then person X would write a summary, and then self-publish the original stories and pictures on lulu.com.
This place that I’m creating is for students, first and foremost. It is platform for self-directed collaboration with fellow students all over the world, and it is the epitome of unschooliness and passion-based learning. The best part about this is that once it’s created and all the details are worked out, the project will be sustainable. That is, once it’s up and running, there will be no central leader. The students would have complete control. My youthful idealism has complete faith in my fellow students’ ability to lead themselves with world consciousness and integrity. I know that we’re capable of utilizing something like this to take the technological emphasis out of Internet collaboration, and use these tools only as a medium to crystallize all of our amazing potential.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Posted: 22 Feb 2008 10:12 PM CST
Public School, Rural America; 12:30 pm
One by one, we file past the teacher-turned-prison-guard. As each of us passed, she engages us in a confirmation ritual. “Work?” “Check.” “Book?” “Check.” That is the last word uttered for one and a half hours. For this period, we must sit silently with heads in books and work, where our mouths are conveniently positioned to be incapable of questioning. We cannot leave—even to seek the help of a teacher. In the only time during the day when most students actually work, we are treated like convicts. We must work (not learn) in the most efficient way possible. We are widgets in the machine of school. We are unwillingly being conscripted into a hostile intervention.
Interventions also happen behind other closed doors—in the justice system:
Intervention: Programs or services that are intended to disrupt the delinquency process and prevent a youth from penetrating further into the juvenile justice system. ~Kentucky Juvenile Justice Advisory Board
For me, this represents the epitome of what it is wrong in public school education—learning is seen as a laborious activity which students must literally be locked into doing. When one intervenes in something, one alters the direction it is heading in. Therefore, the assumption when students are put into intervention is that their learning direction must be altered. This would be fine (many of my peers do need to have intervention in their life/learning direction), except the course is required. No matter the direction of your learning or how well you are doing, you are forced into a silent study period. See where I am going with this? Before I even start school, I am scheduled for an intervention in my learning. The equivalent would be signing up your baby girl for drug rehab 16 years in advance.
Step back and consider the way education is approached in the majority of classrooms: as a dreaded task. Complicated assessment patterns are devised to be carrots for students to
do their work. Meanwhile, sticks of punishment are given to those who do not
do their job. Forced study halls are created in order to ensure we all keep our noses in books, where our voices are conveniently stifled. Of course, this is all done under the principal that students need to be forced to learn.
Wait. There is something wrong with the picture here. Frankly, I think schools are becoming far too business-like. Many of my peers often think of school as unpaid work. Of course, professionalism is continually emphasized as the highest principle for which students must strive. Schools even use the same reward/punishment system as the workplace: good grades = good job = $$$ and failing school = unemployment ≠ $$$. I think this is the core of what is wrong with schools: all students are expected to be professional students. That is, it is expected that we will only learn if we are forced to do so either because we desire the reward (grades) or fear the punishment (failing). In fact, this is setting up students to hate learning.
That might be a dangerous accusation, but I think it is an ultimately true one. After all, students are treated as if they already do hate learning. Grades, forced study times, detentions, and graduation requirements are all safeguards built to force students into learning. My philosophy is that if you treat a problem, there will soon be a problem; this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. By treating students as if we hate and will avoid learning at all costs, we will hate and avoid learning at all costs.
Naturally, the alternative is to encourage amateur learning: learning which is done for the love of it rather than for some distant paycheck. The argument against this is that students will not learn the skills they need to be successful citizens. I vastly disagree for the simple reason that every young child wants to grow up to be a successful citizen. Nobody is born hating learning—they grow to hate it through successively being treated as if they should hate it. No child is born thinking
I am bad at math—they think that after being told it many times (in different words). Think of it like this: there is only so much education which can be packed into 12 years of school. What if instead of trying to build students the perfect toolbox, schools taught students to make their own tools? If students are never taught to hate/fear learning, they will not shy away from learning opportunities. The teachers and resources are available for life-long, anytime learning; students must simply have their original love of learning preserved.
Imagine: Peter is a student in a self-directed learning environment. In the primary grades, he takes a wide mix of classes, primarily due to peer pressure and recommendations from friends/family. In these classes, he learns the basics: reading, mathematics fundamentals, grammar, and how to research. As he moves up in the grades, he narrows his focus upon writing, eventually phasing out mathematics classes. Throughout the process, no class or work is forced upon him: he is given the options and selects the choices for himself. Consequently, since learning is never treated as a hated activity, he never learns to hate learning but instead preserves the innate love of it. Down the line, Peter has written a best-selling novel and is trying to invest the money he earned. As any intelligent person would, he is trying to figure out the best option from the choices banks have presented him with. To be clear, Peter never learned about exponential equations or compound interest in school. However, because he still loves to learn he simply taps into Google and finds the resources necessary for him to evaluate the choices. Due to Peter being an amateur learner, he actively seeks out opportunities to learn, even though nobody is forcing him to.
The rational for not encouraging self directed learning is that simply packing students with as much knowledge possible (no matter the cost) is most efficient. However, the problem arises with the information that students do not get into their memory: since most of them will end up fearing/despising learning they will not add anything to it after school. Meanwhile, students who pursue learning on their own terms may well know less information on their exit from formal schooling. However, that information is not static: they are readily adding to it through additional learning. The traditional model has been to treat students like hard drives: packing them with 12 TB of knowledge before all cables are cut. I’d rather get out of school with only 1 GB of knowledge and a connection to the internet&mdashl;at least then I can continually add to that store. Schools must make a choice: do they want to try to stuff as much learning as possible down students’ throats or do they want to give students a hunger for learning?
I don’t want to be a professional student; I want to be an amateur learner.
Friday, February 22, 2008
By Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach
February 15, 2008
from Technology & Learning
Digital technologies have opened up unimagined environments for teachers and students. We take a look at best practices representing systemic change.
Studies show that students using new media are more engaged in the classroom.
The speedy evolution of technology over the past 30 years has often outpaced our ability to use it to transform teaching and learning in real and meaningful ways. Much of that time we just tried to keep up, with new technologies often simply bolted onto traditional curriculum practices. However, today, with three decades of digital experience under our belt, the time is ripe to begin instituting true change.
George Hall Elementary
Inner-city George Hall Elementary, in Mobile, Alabama, is one of the state's 40 schools participating in the Alabama Best Practices Center's 21st Century Learning Project. The project helps teachers gain the skills needed to prepare students for a world dominated by digital technologies.
At George Hall, where almost 100 percent of students qualify for free lunch, Principal Terri Tomlinson estimates that less than 15 percent have high-speed Internet access at home. "If our kids are going to learn these 21st-century skills, they are going to need to get it here in our building," says Tomlinson.
While many educators still see technology and the Internet as just ways to obtain or manage information, Tomlinson sees it as a lot more. "It's about whole new ways to work and think and learn, to conduct your business and your life," says Tomlinson. She knows that the first responsibility of teachers at George Hall is to ensure children have the basic math and literacy skills they need to become self-learners. But like many educators involved in remaking struggling high-needs schools into high-performing learning communities, she and her faculty also want their kids to have the same chance to compete in an innovation-based economy as children from the most privileged public schools in Alabama have.
With the right support and leadership, Tomlinson says, teachers can have the best of both worlds: they can build strong literacy skills while using technology to push students into higher levels of learning. For example, George Hall's many field trips not only expose children (many of whom have never ventured beyond their neighborhood) to the larger world, but also are carefully integrated into the reading and writing curriculum. After each field trip, students create Webcasts documenting what they have seen and learned during their travels. "That's where these 21st-century tools can help us with our basic teaching and learning mission here at George Hall," Tomlinson says. "The children are actually talking about where they've been and what they've learned, using new vocabulary in authentic contexts." She continues, "Our kids are doing podcasting, blogging, reporting, and narrating. I think what we're finding out is that if you expose them to it, they are much more ready to do these things than we think."
The New Digital Divide
While traditional access and availability issues remain at the heart of creating equity, some experts say an emergent type of social divide is surfacing. Howard Rheingold, in his recent book Smart Mobs, asserts that "a new kind of digital divide exists, one that 10 years from now will separate those who know how to use new media to band together online from those who don't."
Creating ongoing Internet collaboration projects between classrooms is one way to address this new equity issue. Clarence Fisher, a middle school teacher at Joseph H. Kerr School in rural Snow Lake, Manitoba, Canada, has teamed with Barbara Barreda, an administrator at the independent St. Elisabeth School, in the suburbs of Los Angeles, to create the ThinWalls Classroom project, which is based on connectedness, networking, and learning beyond the classroom walls.
Through his blog "Remote Access," Fisher launched the call for "a classroom interested in beginning a year-long collaboration toward becoming truly globalized." His criteria for partnership included access at school to wikis, blogs, ThinkFree, YackPack, and Moodle, as well as to VOIP tools such as Skype to exchange videos, photos, and more.
The next steps for the ThinWalls Classroom project will include validating the communication channels for safety and privacy, but Fisher and Barreda are predicting an explosion of communication between the two classes. According to Fisher, "It will not be on 'official' channels and much of it will be 'under our radar' and on their own time. But this will change the relationships and deepen them between our classes. And more important, it changes our role as teachers and leaders of student learning."
Fisher and Barreda are being open-minded in terms of the expected outcomes from this project, "Most of the goals of the ThinWalls Classroom do not revolve around learning specific content. Instead, they circle around ideas of international collaboration and communication. While this collaboration is certainly grounded in the content we are required by our jurisdictions to work with, we are using these ideas as basics only, wanting to move far beyond them. We want our students to learn to manage their own networks, and begin to understand the power of connectivity."
A New Kind of Student
Studies show that by their senior year, barely one-fourth of today's students agree that school is meaningful or their courses are interesting—and less than half believe what they learn in school will have any bearing on their success in life. However, evidence also shows that by engaging students through participatory media, we can turn these statistics around.
Inspired by the recent K12Online Conference, Marsha Ratzel, a 6th-grade math and science teacher at suburban Leawood Middle School in Kansas's Blue Valley School District, began to consider how she might give the new student-centered strategies a try. In one project, she helped her students brainstorm all sorts of questions around weathering and erosion, and then allowed them to research the answers independently, using new tools. Ratzel recalls, "We used Flickr to find evidence of erosion, Google Maps to plot out tours of places you'd find mass movement, erosion, glacial action, or water erosion, and Photo Story to publish an online magazine about their questions and findings." After days of discussion, sharing, and peer feedback, Ratzel began to notice a new voice emerging from her students: instead of just being on task, they were enthralled.
Ratzel describes it in this way:
"They didn't just read about alluvial fans, they actually 'visited' them using Google Maps. They knew what plucking looked like because of some unbelievable licensed pictures from Flickr. One student in particular created time-intensive animations to demonstrate his personal learning process.
"Days later, when we started our Comparing Soils labs, students demanded that I give them back the digital cameras. They wanted to do Photo Story lab reports instead of what they described as 'your boring ones.' They wanted their audience to see all the amazing differences and similarities between our soil samples garnered from the network connections students had across the country."
A New Kind of Teacher
What then is the teacher's role in a world where students have instant access to information and no longer have to rely solely upon a teacher to read and judge their scholarship, ideas, or opinions?
Darren Kuropatwa, a high school mathematics teacher who blogs at "A Difference," argues that while 21st-century teachers may no longer serve as dispensers of information and ideas, they will continue to provide the most essential service of professional educators: creating learning opportunities that help students develop the skills and motivation that result in success throughout life.
Kuropatwa's AP Math classes are taught in a hybrid format, with both face-to-face and online components. A class blog supports learning by giving students a voice and an audience, and compiled posts become a student-authored textbook for the course. Additional motivation comes from the opportunity for outstanding posters to be inducted into The Scribe Post Hall of Fame wiki.
Connecting Learning to Social Change
Another important shift in teaching and learning in the 21st century is finding ways of using the new participatory media to teach students about citizenship. Brian Crosby, a blogger at "Learning is Messy," and elementary teacher at Agnes Risley Elementary School in Sparks, Nevada, is using many Web 2.0 tools such as Skype, Flickr, blogs, and wikis to infuse character education into his classroom. "Many of my students do not have consistent access to 20th-century tools much less 21st-century tools," he says.
In a recent presentation, Crosby tells of how the new communication tools have enabled his elementary students to use their creativity and voice to send a message of hope to the rest of the world. "Digital video is a powerful, transformational tool. When students participate in video projects, they practice all their academic skills in a productive, real-world context." Recently, after viewing a student-created clip on bullying and conflict resolution, the local PBS station contacted Crosby to commission his students to do another piece on race and diversity issues. In addition to being featured on the Apple Web site, his students' digital media creations have won many awards.
The Digital Classroom
If we want to remain relevant in the lives of students, then we must use strategies and materials—such as global networking—that fit the learning styles of the digital native. Classrooms in the 21st century need to be collaborative spaces where student-centered knowledge development and risk taking are accepted as the norm and where an ecology of learning develops and thrives.
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach speaks on leadership and virtual community building.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Monday, February 18, 2008
Big high schools hinder learning, some teachers say
Granholm proposal would cut enrollments to 400
February 18, 2008
BY LORI HIGGINS
FREE PRESS EDUCATION WRITER
Dozens of high schools -- including 43 in metro Detroit -- could be chopped into pieces in coming years as a movement to break their big populations into smaller chunks gains steam in Michigan.
It's a practice already seen from Huron Valley Schools in Oakland County to Chippewa Valley Schools in Macomb County, where school districts are finding ways to turn large, impersonal high schools into smaller communities.
And now Gov. Jennifer Granholm wants the Legislature to endorse a plan she announced last month to create the 21st Century Schools Fund, which would allow schools that enroll more than 800 students and fail to meet goals of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law for two years or more to create small high schools of 400 students.
But are small schools the answer? Research has been mixed on an increasingly popular way to achieve the small-school effect -- by creating schools within schools -- with many findings showing that simply going smaller is not a panacea.
Yet John Telford, a teacher and curriculum leader at Finney High School in Detroit Public Schools, says he believes it can save urban schools.
"Is this the way to go? There's no question. This is the answer," Telford said.
But he doesn't have to look far to find dissent. Dominique Harris, a Finney junior, is unconvinced. Though Finney would be eligible for the money, she doesn't like the idea of breaking up her school's population of nearly 1,000 students.
"I don't think they should do that. It's not going to change anything. It's just going to make a whole bunch of little schools," with the same problems as the big schools, Dominique said.
And just last year, University of Michigan education professor Valerie E. Lee coauthored a book that tells a cautionary tale about the method of breaking large high schools into schools-within-schools.
"People are grasping at straws," said Lee, who also is a faculty associate with U-M's Survey Research Center. "Schools within schools is seen as the new magic bullet that's going to save large urban high schools. Maybe so. But not in the way that most people are going to do it."
Teaching is the focus
Many school districts in metro Detroit already have invested time and money into creating smaller, more personal high school environments.
Advocates say smaller schools allow students to have better relationships with their teachers, staff to have more support, administrators to have autonomy and the focus to be on discipline and teaching that is relevant to what will matter in the real world.
Southfield Public Schools is opening a new small high school next fall that will focus on math, science, technology and engineering. The district already has five academies at its two high schools -- each with separate themes such as arts and communications, medicine and natural sciences, and engineering and manufacturing -- in an effort to not only expose students to careers but to create smaller learning environments.
Southfield High enrolls 1,400 students, but it doesn't feel that way to Malcolm Hayes, a senior. He's enrolled in the engineering academy, and though he takes core classes such as language arts and math with students from across the school, the rest are with his peers in the academy.
"We share a lot in common," said Malcolm, 17, of Southfield. "We're able to connect more than with students I have in my English classes. We share interests."
At Lakeland High School in White Lake Township, the district created ninth-grade teams several years ago, in which students are divided into groups of about 90 students and paired with three teachers who teach core classes such as math, language arts and science within a three-hour block.
Shannon Schwarb, a Lakeland math teacher, likes sharing the same group of students with her colleagues. If she notices a student struggling, she can talk to her teammates to see if they're noticing the same difficulties.
And with high school graduation standards getting tougher, students need to have better relationships with their teachers, she said.
"That's why the teams are important, because it gives them that extra support. It makes them feel more comfortable."
Lakeland also has divided its school into two sections, with freshmen and sophomores occupying one side of the building and the upper-class students occupying the other side, another effort at creating smaller environments for kids.
The efforts seem to be paying off. Lakeland Principal Bob Behnke said the school's ACT composite scores have increased faster than the state and national averages.
Although Lakeland's ninth-grade teams share a building with older students, Chippewa Valley Schools is taking a different approach. Two ninth-grade academies are opening in September, one adjacent to Dakota High School and the other next to Chippewa Valley High.
Both academies are expected to enroll 600 students, reducing the population at Dakota from 2,500 and Chippewa Valley from 2,200, said Ed Skiba, executive director of secondary education.
"We're trying to create a separate culture that tells kids that we're all in this together," Skiba said.
Making school more personal
The small-school method is working for Jules Cooch of Pinckney, an 18-year-old who attends a small school of 330 students.
"It's one-on-one; it's really personalized. Someone is actually saying to you ... that you matter," said Cooch, a senior at the Washtenaw Technical Middle College, where students can graduate with not only a high school diploma, but a technical certificate or an associate's degree, in four years.
Programs like the one Cooch attends were touted by Granholm as examples of small schools that work.
Fifteen high schools in Detroit and about 28 other schools in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties would be eligible for the funds Granholm wants to make available, though the priority would be on the nearly two dozen schools with serious academic troubles.
Those pushing for the small schools say they'll keep kids in school and produce graduates who are prepared for postsecondary education, whether that be a 4-year university, community college or trade program.
"If you can make school more personal and have kids have ongoing relationships with teachers in smaller settings, you really tap into their motivation, their willingness to stay in school," said State Superintendent Mike Flanagan.
Contact LORI HIGGINS at 248-351-3694 or email@example.com.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Dumb and Dumber: Are Americans Hostile to Knowledge?
A popular video on YouTube shows Kellie Pickler, the adorable platinum blonde from “American Idol,” appearing on the Fox game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” during celebrity week. Selected from a third-grade geography curriculum, the $25,000 question asked: “Budapest is the capital of what European country?”
Ms. Pickler threw up both hands and looked at the large blackboard perplexed. “I thought Europe was a country,” she said. Playing it safe, she chose to copy the answer offered by one of the genuine fifth graders: Hungary. “Hungry?” she said, eyes widening in disbelief. “That’s a country? I’ve heard of Turkey. But Hungry? I’ve never heard of it.”
Such, uh, lack of global awareness is the kind of thing that drives Susan Jacoby, author of “The Age of American Unreason,” up a wall. Ms. Jacoby is one of a number of writers with new books that bemoan the state of American culture.
Joining the circle of curmudgeons this season is Eric G. Wilson, whose “Against Happiness” warns that the “American obsession with happiness” could “well lead to a sudden extinction of the creative impulse, that could result in an extermination as horrible as those foreshadowed by global warming and environmental crisis and nuclear proliferation.”
Then there is Lee Siegel’s “Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob,” which inveighs against the Internet for encouraging solipsism, debased discourse and arrant commercialization. Mr. Siegel, one might remember, was suspended by The New Republic for using a fake online persona in order to trash critics of his blog (“you couldn’t tie Siegel’s shoelaces”) and to praise himself (“brave, brilliant”).
Ms. Jacoby, whose book came out on Tuesday, doesn’t zero in on a particular technology or emotion, but rather on what she feels is a generalized hostility to knowledge. She is well aware that some may tag her a crank. “I expect to get bashed,” said Ms. Jacoby, 62, either as an older person who upbraids the young for plummeting standards and values, or as a secularist whose defense of scientific rationalism is a way to disparage religion.
Ms. Jacoby, however, is quick to point out that her indictment is not limited by age or ideology. Yes, she knows that eggheads, nerds, bookworms, longhairs, pointy heads, highbrows and know-it-alls have been mocked and dismissed throughout American history. And liberal and conservative writers, from Richard Hofstadter to Allan Bloom, have regularly analyzed the phenomenon and offered advice.
T. J. Jackson Lears, a cultural historian who edits the quarterly review Raritan, said, “The tendency to this sort of lamentation is perennial in American history,” adding that in periods “when political problems seem intractable or somehow frozen, there is a turn toward cultural issues.”
But now, Ms. Jacoby said, something different is happening: anti-intellectualism (the attitude that “too much learning can be a dangerous thing”) and anti-rationalism (“the idea that there is no such things as evidence or fact, just opinion”) have fused in a particularly insidious way.
Not only are citizens ignorant about essential scientific, civic and cultural knowledge, she said, but they also don’t think it matters.
She pointed to a 2006 National Geographic poll that found nearly half of 18- to 24-year-olds don’t think it is necessary or important to know where countries in the news are located. So more than three years into the Iraq war, only 23 percent of those with some college could locate Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel on a map.
Ms. Jacoby, dressed in a bright red turtleneck with lipstick to match, was sitting, appropriately, in that temple of knowledge, the New York Public Library’s majestic Beaux Arts building on Fifth Avenue. The author of seven other books, she was a fellow at the library when she first got the idea for this book back in 2001, on 9/11.
Walking home to her Upper East Side apartment, she said, overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day’s horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II:
“This is just like Pearl Harbor,” one of the men said.
The other asked, “What is Pearl Harbor?”
“That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War,” the first man replied.
At that moment, Ms. Jacoby said, “I decided to write this book.”
Ms. Jacoby doesn’t expect to revolutionize the nation’s educational system or cause millions of Americans to switch off “American Idol” and pick up Schopenhauer. But she would like to start a conversation about why the United States seems particularly vulnerable to such a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism. After all, “the empire of infotainment doesn’t stop at the American border,” she said, yet students in many other countries consistently outperform American students in science, math and reading on comparative tests.
In part, she lays the blame on a failing educational system. “Although people are going to school more and more years, there’s no evidence that they know more,” she said.
Ms. Jacoby also blames religious fundamentalism’s antipathy toward science, as she grieves over surveys that show that nearly two-thirds of Americans want creationism to be taught along with evolution.
Ms. Jacoby doesn’t leave liberals out of her analysis, mentioning the New Left’s attacks on universities in the 1960s, the decision to consign African-American and women’s studies to an “academic ghetto” instead of integrating them into the core curriculum, ponderous musings on rock music and pop culture courses on everything from sitcoms to fat that trivialize college-level learning.
Avoiding the liberal or conservative label in this particular argument, she prefers to call herself a “cultural conservationist.”
For all her scholarly interests, though, Ms. Jacoby said she recognized just how hard it is to tune out the 24/7 entertainment culture. A few years ago she participated in the annual campaign to turn off the television for a week. “I was stunned at how difficult it was for me,” she said.
The surprise at her own dependency on electronic and visual media made her realize just how pervasive the culture of distraction is and how susceptible everyone is — even curmudgeons.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Local, Global, or Glocal?
I've been struggling a lot with the concept of classrooms and schools collaborating and connecting globally. In fact, the question "is networking and collaborating outside of school central or supplementary" was raised at Educon and I was instantly immersed into an internal battle over my position. What I've realized is that I am not really debating whether or not we should immerse our classrooms globally; instead, I'm struggling with the starting point for establishing a global classroom and school.
When in the classroom, my focus was on leveraging the power of a global audience. We opened our wired discussions to other schools. We blogged to the outside world. We leapt at every opportunity to connect and collaborate with the outside world. Sadly, I look back and realize that the primary reason it couldn't sustain itself was the lack of a school climate and culture that was supportive of the systemic acceptance of school as a learning community.
Today, my interest is in creating sustained, systemic changes where every classroom is empowered for the 21st Century, not the proliferation of isolated classrooms and small pockets of change that are based more on the individual teacher than the culture as a whole. While I understand the excitement about collaborating and networking outside of the school as well as the need, I find it just as important if not even more important to discuss what is happening within the culture of the school itself: is it a collaborative environment? is it a learning environment? is networking occurring? is literacy a focus in all classrooms?
Thus, my answer to the question about networking and collaborating outside of school is that we need to "Think Globally, Act Locally". In other words, my focus is on being Glocal: 'starting from within the local community and spreading globally (Hicks).
Leverage Local Connections
At the classroom level, a great starting point is bridging gaps between your own classrooms. If you teach three sections of the same subject such as Chemistry, are your classes collaborating and connecting or are these functioning as isolated sections? By creating an environment where all your sections are collaborating, communicating, and connecting, the collective knowledge is widening and students are beginning to experience a community of practice within the school.
From there, this type of learning environment can expand to others teaching the same subject (or grade level for k-8) so that it is now about a collective approach to American Literature not just each American Literature teacher functioning in isolation. Through discussion forums, wikis, webcasts, and live broadcasts, the framework for collaboration becomes relatively simple yet the importance of creating such an environment is a critical step for learning for students and adults: "educators who are building a professional learning community recognize that they must work together to achieve their collective purpose of learning for all. Therefore, they create structures to promote a collaborative culture" (Dufour, 2005, p.36).
It doesn't stop there. As the students and teachers become immersed in a learning community, the skills in collaborating, communicating, and connecting continue to grow so that the community, network, and audience can expand its boundaries across departments, sister schools, and onward to a truly global classroom. The key, however, is that the environment is allowed to grow naturally and the foundation of such a learning community that much stronger where students are able to scaffold their skills and teachers are able to best understand how to leverage participatory media and the global audience:
There are those kids -- just like there are those teachers -- who will take to the idea of writing to an unknown audience and seeing what happens. But hoping and wishing for the serendipitous moment makes for bad teacher planning, and over the long haul I think it won't get the vast majority of our students publishing their voices to the world. If we want to see kids embrace the power of communication technologies like blogs and wikis and podcasts, we need to be good teacher-planners. We need to give them reasons to publish. We need to help them see their audience... whether it is using a blogging platform for and art classroom exhibition that other students will critique or bringing in a group of math majors from a college to work with our math students, kids need to understand why they should share their work with the world, and then -- once they do -- we allow for all the serendipitous moments that so many of us in the edu-blog world have benefited from to occur (Lehmann)
An Example Worth Discussing
Blogging is a perfect example of what I'm discussing here. Right now, there are a lot of isolated blogs within schools where students are blogging for a specific course and that is it. When the student leaves that teacher, the blogging essentially ends unless the student chooses to continue writing. In theory, the blog has a global audience but even in cases where this is true, the length of time students have with the blog is too short in most cases. While these educators and students are undoubtedly doing wonderful things, the question of sustainability and systemic change raise questions about the long term impact of such endeavors.
What if students were given a learning space as soon as they entered the school, including a blog space, and this was used
across courses and grade levels? In other words, the student owns their space and grows with them -- a sort of blogging across the curriculum. By creating such a space, the process could be scaffolded where early grades are learning what it means to engage in transformative blogging and beginning the process of creating their network locally while thinking globally. Here is an rough example of what this might look like within a high school:
9th Grade: all students receive their learning space; students begin blogging in a central space with a focus on learning the process with an audience of their peers
10th Grade: students begin to expand their network to the entire school; the concept of connecting and communicating with a wider audience begins to form as students continue to build their skills.
11th Grade: The network continues to expand and reach out to a wider audience in an organic way. Students understand what transformative blogging represents and what it means to write for a local and global audience
12th Grade: The hope is that students have reached a point where blogging is a natural part of their personal and professional learning environment. Students are writing in a natural and fluid environment that will sustain itself long past formal schooling
While very rough and by no means perfect, this is the type of environment I believe allows for the perfect blend of local and global so that 21st Century skills are not only taught but learned and that a learning community is built from within in order "to promote the qualities and dispositions of insatiable, lifelong learning in every member of the school community -- young people and adults alike -- so that when the school experience concludes, learning will not" (Barth).
The Ripple Effect
Many of us are excited about Global possibilities but sometimes at the expense of local. As Christian Long recently stated in his blog, "perhaps whether there is something to be said for NOT going global just because we can, especially if it serves our kids better in the process. Maybe we need to talk about concentric circles of local scale first. And global pitches second." If the belief is that all classrooms should be collaborating and connecting with the outside world, we need to develop learning community within our own walls before moving outside to a global community. Systemic change is difficult when it come from a few exceptional teachers -- pebbles tossed into the lake. It comes from the entire school functioning as a learning community and creating a powerful ripple effect that rocks the whole lake and branches the community out organically.
So, is it global, local, or glocal? I'm thinking Glocal*!
Barth, R. (2007). Turning Book Burners into Lifelong Learners. Published in Educational Leadership 2nd Edition. Wiley & Sons.
Boyd, D. (2005). Why Web 2.0 Matters: Preparing for Glocalization.
Dufour, R. (2005). What is a Professional Learning Community? National Educational Services.
Hicks, D. (n/a). Towards a glocal language curriculum: 2000 and beyond. Cambridge University Press.
Lehmann, C. (2007). When to Publish.
Long, C. (2007). The Global vs. Local Connection.
*Glocal has a number of definitions and uses that I'm obviously not employing here. Basically, my point is that we need to think both globally and locally, so the term, in this context, is just the merging of the two terms.
Posted by Ryan Bretag on February 2, 2008 10:15 PM | Permalink
Monday, February 11, 2008
The Power of Green
One day Iraq, our post-9/11 trauma and the divisiveness of the Bush years will all be behind us — and America will need, and want, to get its groove back. We will need to find a way to reknit America at home, reconnect America abroad and restore America to its natural place in the global order — as the beacon of progress, hope and inspiration. I have an idea how. It’s called “green.”
In the world of ideas, to name something is to own it. If you can name an issue, you can own the issue. One thing that always struck me about the term “green” was the degree to which, for so many years, it was defined by its opponents — by the people who wanted to disparage it. And they defined it as “liberal,” “tree-hugging,” “sissy,” “girlie-man,” “unpatriotic,” “vaguely French.”
Well, I want to rename “green.” I want to rename it geostrategic, geoeconomic, capitalistic and patriotic. I want to do that because I think that living, working, designing, manufacturing and projecting America in a green way can be the basis of a new unifying political movement for the 21st century. A redefined, broader and more muscular green ideology is not meant to trump the traditional Republican and Democratic agendas but rather to bridge them when it comes to addressing the three major issues facing every American today: jobs, temperature and terrorism.
How do our kids compete in a flatter world? How do they thrive in a warmer world? How do they survive in a more dangerous world? Those are, in a nutshell, the big questions facing America at the dawn of the 21st century. But these problems are so large in scale that they can only be effectively addressed by an America with 50 green states — not an America divided between red and blue states.
Because a new green ideology, properly defined, has the power to mobilize liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and atheists, big business and environmentalists around an agenda that can both pull us together and propel us forward. That’s why I say: We don’t just need the first black president. We need the first green president. We don’t just need the first woman president. We need the first environmental president. We don’t just need a president who has been toughened by years as a prisoner of war but a president who is tough enough to level with the American people about the profound economic, geopolitical and climate threats posed by our addiction to oil — and to offer a real plan to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
VideoMore Video »
After World War II, President Eisenhower responded to the threat of Communism and the “red menace” with massive spending on an interstate highway system to tie America together, in large part so that we could better move weapons in the event of a war with the Soviets. That highway system, though, helped to enshrine America’s car culture (atrophying our railroads) and to lock in suburban sprawl and low-density housing, which all combined to get America addicted to cheap fossil fuels, particularly oil. Many in the world followed our model.
Today, we are paying the accumulated economic, geopolitical and climate prices for that kind of America. I am not proposing that we radically alter our lifestyles. We are who we are — including a car culture. But if we want to continue to be who we are, enjoy the benefits and be able to pass them on to our children, we do need to fuel our future in a cleaner, greener way. Eisenhower rallied us with the red menace. The next president will have to rally us with a green patriotism. Hence my motto: “Green is the new red, white and blue.”
The good news is that after traveling around America this past year, looking at how we use energy and the emerging alternatives, I can report that green really has gone Main Street — thanks to the perfect storm created by 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the Internet revolution. The first flattened the twin towers, the second flattened New Orleans and the third flattened the global economic playing field. The convergence of all three has turned many of our previous assumptions about “green” upside down in a very short period of time, making it much more compelling to many more Americans.
But here’s the bad news: While green has hit Main Street — more Americans than ever now identify themselves as greens, or what I call “Geo-Greens” to differentiate their more muscular and strategic green ideology — green has not gone very far down Main Street. It certainly has not gone anywhere near the distance required to preserve our lifestyle. The dirty little secret is that we’re fooling ourselves. We in America talk like we’re already “the greenest generation,” as the business writer Dan Pink once called it. But here’s the really inconvenient truth: We have not even begun to be serious about the costs, the effort and the scale of change that will be required to shift our country, and eventually the world, to a largely emissions-free energy infrastructure over the next 50 years.
A few weeks after American forces invaded Afghanistan, I visited the Pakistani frontier town of Peshawar, a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. On the way, I stopped at the famous Darul Uloom Haqqania, the biggest madrasa, or Islamic school, in Pakistan, with 2,800 live-in students. The Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar attended this madrasa as a younger man. My Pakistani friend and I were allowed to observe a class of young boys who sat on the floor, practicing their rote learning of the Koran from texts perched on wooden holders. The air in the Koran class was so thick and stale it felt as if you could have cut it into blocks. The teacher asked an 8-year-old boy to chant a Koranic verse for us, which he did with the elegance of an experienced muezzin. I asked another student, an Afghan refugee, Rahim Kunduz, age 12, what his reaction was to the Sept. 11 attacks, and he said: “Most likely the attack came from Americans inside America. I am pleased that America has had to face pain, because the rest of the world has tasted its pain.” A framed sign on the wall said this room was “A gift of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
Sometime after 9/11 — an unprovoked mass murder perpetrated by 19 men, 15 of whom were Saudis — green went geostrategic, as Americans started to realize we were financing both sides in the war on terrorism. We were financing the U.S. military with our tax dollars; and we were financing a transformation of Islam, in favor of its most intolerant strand, with our gasoline purchases. How stupid is that?
Islam has always been practiced in different forms. Some are more embracing of modernity, reinterpretation of the Koran and tolerance of other faiths, like Sufi Islam or the populist Islam of Egypt, Ottoman Turkey and Indonesia. Some strands, like Salafi Islam — followed by the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia and by Al Qaeda — believe Islam should be returned to an austere form practiced in the time of the Prophet Muhammad, a form hostile to modernity, science, “infidels” and women’s rights. By enriching the Saudi and Iranian treasuries via our gasoline purchases, we are financing the export of the Saudi puritanical brand of Sunni Islam and the Iranian fundamentalist brand of Shiite Islam, tilting the Muslim world in a more intolerant direction. At the Muslim fringe, this creates more recruits for the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Sunni suicide bomb squads of Iraq; at the Muslim center, it creates a much bigger constituency of people who applaud suicide bombers as martyrs.
The Saudi Islamic export drive first went into high gear after extreme fundamentalists challenged the Muslim credentials of the Saudi ruling family by taking over the Grand Mosque of Mecca in 1979 — a year that coincided with the Iranian revolution and a huge rise in oil prices. The attack on the Grand Mosque by these Koran-and-rifle-wielding Islamic militants shook the Saudi ruling family to its core. The al-Sauds responded to this challenge to their religious bona fides by becoming outwardly more religious. They gave their official Wahhabi religious establishment even more power to impose Islam on public life. Awash in cash thanks to the spike in oil prices, the Saudi government and charities also spent hundreds of millions of dollars endowing mosques, youth clubs and Muslim schools all over the world, ensuring that Wahhabi imams, teachers and textbooks would preach Saudi-style Islam. Eventually, notes Lawrence Wright in “The Looming Tower,” his history of Al Qaeda, “Saudi Arabia, which constitutes only 1 percent of the world Muslim population, would support 90 percent of the expenses of the entire faith, overriding other traditions of Islam.”
Saudi mosques and wealthy donors have also funneled cash to the Sunni insurgents in Iraq. The Associated Press reported from Cairo in December: “Several drivers interviewed by the A.P. in Middle East capitals said Saudis have been using religious events, like the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and a smaller pilgrimage, as cover for illicit money transfers. Some money, they said, is carried into Iraq on buses with returning pilgrims. ‘They sent boxes full of dollars and asked me to deliver them to certain addresses in Iraq,’ said one driver. ... ‘I know it is being sent to the resistance, and if I don’t take it with me, they will kill me.’ ”
No wonder more Americans have concluded that conserving oil to put less money in the hands of hostile forces is now a geostrategic imperative. President Bush’s refusal to do anything meaningful after 9/11 to reduce our gasoline usage really amounts to a policy of “No Mullah Left Behind.” James Woolsey, the former C.I.A. director, minces no words: “We are funding the rope for the hanging of ourselves.”
No, I don’t want to bankrupt Saudi Arabia or trigger an Islamist revolt there. Its leadership is more moderate and pro-Western than its people. But the way the Saudi ruling family has bought off its religious establishment, in order to stay in power, is not healthy. Cutting the price of oil in half would help change that. In the 1990s, dwindling oil income sparked a Saudi debate about less Koran and more science in Saudi schools, even experimentation with local elections. But the recent oil windfall has stilled all talk of reform.
That is because of what I call the First Law of Petropolitics: The price of oil and the pace of freedom always move in opposite directions in states that are highly dependent on oil exports for their income and have weak institutions or outright authoritarian governments. And this is another reason that green has become geostrategic. Soaring oil prices are poisoning the international system by strengthening antidemocratic regimes around the globe.
Look what’s happened: We thought the fall of the Berlin Wall was going to unleash an unstoppable tide of free markets and free people, and for about a decade it did just that. But those years coincided with oil in the $10-to-$30-a-barrel range. As the price of oil surged into the $30-to-$70 range in the early 2000s, it triggered a countertide — a tide of petroauthoritarianism — manifested in Russia, Iran, Nigeria, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Egypt, Chad, Angola, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. The elected or self-appointed elites running these states have used their oil windfalls to ensconce themselves in power, buy off opponents and counter the fall-of-the-Berlin-Wall tide. If we continue to finance them with our oil purchases, they will reshape the world in their image, around Putin-like values.
You can illustrate the First Law of Petropolitics with a simple graph. On one line chart the price of oil from 1979 to the present; on another line chart the Freedom House or Fraser Institute freedom indexes for Russia, Nigeria, Iran and Venezuela for the same years. When you put these two lines on the same graph you see something striking: the price of oil and the pace of freedom are inversely correlated. As oil prices went down in the early 1990s, competition, transparency, political participation and accountability of those in office all tended to go up in these countries — as measured by free elections held, newspapers opened, reformers elected, economic reform projects started and companies privatized. That’s because their petroauthoritarian regimes had to open themselves to foreign investment and educate and empower their people more in order to earn income. But as oil prices went up around 2000, free speech, free press, fair elections and freedom to form political parties and NGOs all eroded in these countries.
The motto of the American Revolution was “no taxation without representation.” The motto of the petroauthoritarians is “no representation without taxation”: If I don’t have to tax you, because I can get all the money I need from oil wells, I don’t have to listen to you.
It is no accident that when oil prices were low in the 1990s, Iran elected a reformist Parliament and a president who called for a “dialogue of civilizations.” And when oil prices soared to $70 a barrel, Iran’s conservatives pushed out the reformers and ensconced a president who says the Holocaust is a myth. (I promise you, if oil prices drop to $25 a barrel, the Holocaust won’t be a myth anymore.) And it is no accident that the first Arab Gulf state to start running out of oil, Bahrain, is also the first Arab Gulf state to have held a free and fair election in which women could run and vote, the first Arab Gulf state to overhaul its labor laws to make more of its own people employable and the first Arab Gulf state to sign a free-trade agreement with America.
People change when they have to — not when we tell them to — and falling oil prices make them have to. That is why if we are looking for a Plan B for Iraq — a way of pressing for political reform in the Middle East without going to war again — there is no better tool than bringing down the price of oil. When it comes to fostering democracy among petroauthoritarians, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a neocon or a radical lib. If you’re not also a Geo-Green, you won’t succeed.
The notion that conserving energy is a geostrategic imperative has also moved into the Pentagon, for slightly different reasons. Generals are realizing that the more energy they save in the heat of battle, the more power they can project. The Pentagon has been looking to improve its energy efficiency for several years now to save money. But the Iraq war has given birth to a new movement in the U.S. military: the “Green Hawks.”
As Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, who has been working with the Pentagon, put it to me: The Iraq war forced the U.S. military to think much more seriously about how to “eat its tail” — to shorten its energy supply lines by becoming more energy efficient. According to Dan Nolan, who oversees energy projects for the U.S. Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, it started last year when a Marine major general in Anbar Province told the Pentagon he wanted alternative energy sources that would reduce fuel consumption in the Iraqi desert. Why? His air-conditioners were being run off mobile generators, and the generators ran on diesel, and the diesel had to be trucked in, and the insurgents were blowing up the trucks.
“When we began the analysis of his request, it was really about the fact that his soldiers were being attacked on the roads bringing fuel and water,” Nolan said. So eating their tail meant “taking those things that are brought into the unit and trying to generate them on-site.” To that end Nolan’s team is now experimenting with everything from new kinds of tents that need 40 percent less air-conditioning to new kinds of fuel cells that produce water as a byproduct.
Pay attention: When the U.S. Army desegregated, the country really desegregated; when the Army goes green, the country could really go green.
“Energy independence is a national security issue,” Nolan said. “It’s the right business for us to be in. ... We are not trying to change the whole Army. Our job is to focus on that battalion out there and give those commanders the technological innovations they need to deal with today’s mission. But when they start coming home, they are going to bring those things with them.”
The second big reason green has gone Main Street is because global warming has. A decade ago, it was mostly experts who worried that climate change was real, largely brought about by humans and likely to lead to species loss and environmental crises. Now Main Street is starting to worry because people are seeing things they’ve never seen before in their own front yards and reading things they’ve never read before in their papers — like the recent draft report by the United Nations’s 2,000-expert Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which concluded that “changes in climate are now affecting physical and biological systems on every continent.”
I went to Montana in January and Gov. Brian Schweitzer told me: “We don’t get as much snow in the high country as we used to, and the runoff starts sooner in the spring. The river I’ve been fishing over the last 50 years is now warmer in July by five degrees than 50 years ago, and it is hard on our trout population.” I went to Moscow in February, and my friends told me they just celebrated the first Moscow Christmas in their memory with no snow. I stopped in London on the way home, and I didn’t need an overcoat. In 2006, the average temperature in central England was the highest ever recorded since the Central England Temperature (C.E.T.) series began in 1659.
Yes, no one knows exactly what will happen. But ever fewer people want to do nothing. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California summed up the new climate around climate when he said to me recently: “If 98 doctors say my son is ill and needs medication and two say ‘No, he doesn’t, he is fine,’ I will go with the 98. It’s common sense — the same with global warming. We go with the majority, the large majority. ... The key thing now is that since we know this industrial age has created it, let’s get our act together and do everything we can to roll it back.”
But how? Now we arrive at the first big roadblock to green going down Main Street. Most people have no clue — no clue — how huge an industrial project is required to blunt climate change. Here are two people who do: Robert Socolow, an engineering professor, and Stephen Pacala, an ecology professor, who together lead the Carbon Mitigation Initiative at Princeton, a consortium designing scalable solutions for the climate issue.
They first argued in a paper published by the journal Science in August 2004 that human beings can emit only so much carbon into the atmosphere before the buildup of carbon dioxide (CO2) reaches a level unknown in recent geologic history and the earth’s climate system starts to go “haywire.” The scientific consensus, they note, is that the risk of things going haywire — weather patterns getting violently unstable, glaciers melting, prolonged droughts — grows rapidly as CO2 levels “approach a doubling” of the concentration of CO2 that was in the atmosphere before the Industrial Revolution.
“Think of the climate change issue as a closet, and behind the door are lurking all kinds of monsters — and there’s a long list of them,” Pacala said. “All of our scientific work says the most damaging monsters start to come out from behind that door when you hit the doubling of CO2 levels.” As Bill Collins, who led the development of a model used worldwide for simulating climate change, put it to me: “We’re running an uncontrolled experiment on the only home we have.”
So here is our challenge, according to Pacala: If we basically do nothing, and global CO2 emissions continue to grow at the pace of the last 30 years for the next 50 years, we will pass the doubling level — an atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide of 560 parts per million — around midcentury. To avoid that — and still leave room for developed countries to grow, using less carbon, and for countries like India and China to grow, emitting double or triple their current carbon levels, until they climb out of poverty and are able to become more energy efficient — will require a huge global industrial energy project.
To convey the scale involved, Socolow and Pacala have created a pie chart with 15 different wedges. Some wedges represent carbon-free or carbon-diminishing power-generating technologies; other wedges represent efficiency programs that could conserve large amounts of energy and prevent CO2 emissions. They argue that the world needs to deploy any 7 of these 15 wedges, or sufficient amounts of all 15, to have enough conservation, and enough carbon-free energy, to increase the world economy and still avoid the doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere. Each wedge, when phased in over 50 years, would avoid the release of 25 billion tons of carbon, for a total of 175 billion tons of carbon avoided between now and 2056.
Here are seven wedges we could chose from: “Replace 1,400 large coal-fired plants with gas-fired plants; increase the fuel economy of two billion cars from 30 to 60 miles per gallon; add twice today’s nuclear output to displace coal; drive two billion cars on ethanol, using one-sixth of the world’s cropland; increase solar power 700-fold to displace coal; cut electricity use in homes, offices and stores by 25 percent; install carbon capture and sequestration capacity at 800 large coal-fired plants.” And the other eight aren’t any easier. They include halting all cutting and burning of forests, since deforestation causes about 20 percent of the world’s annual CO2 emissions.
“There has never been a deliberate industrial project in history as big as this,” Pacala said. Through a combination of clean power technology and conservation, “we have to get rid of 175 billion tons of carbon over the next 50 years — and still keep growing. It is possible to accomplish this if we start today. But every year that we delay, the job becomes more difficult — and if we delay a decade or two, avoiding the doubling or more may well become impossible.”
In November, I flew from Shanghai to Beijing on Air China. As we landed in Beijing and taxied to the terminal, the Chinese air hostess came on the P.A. and said: “We’ve just landed in Beijing. The temperature is 8 degrees Celsius, 46 degrees Fahrenheit and the sky is clear.”
I almost burst out laughing. Outside my window the smog was so thick you could not see the end of the terminal building. When I got into Beijing, though, friends told me the air was better than usual. Why? China had been host of a summit meeting of 48 African leaders. Time magazine reported that Beijing officials had “ordered half a million official cars off the roads and said another 400,000 drivers had ‘volunteered’ to refrain from using their vehicles” in order to clean up the air for their African guests. As soon as they left, the cars returned, and Beijing’s air went back to “unhealthy.”
Green has also gone Main Street because the end of Communism, the rise of the personal computer and the diffusion of the Internet have opened the global economic playing field to so many more people, all coming with their own versions of the American dream — a house, a car, a toaster, a microwave and a refrigerator. It is a blessing to see so many people growing out of poverty. But when three billion people move from “low-impact” to “high-impact” lifestyles, Jared Diamond wrote in “Collapse,” it makes it urgent that we find cleaner ways to fuel their dreams. According to Lester Brown, the founder of the Earth Policy Institute, if China keeps growing at 8 percent a year, by 2031 the per-capita income of 1.45 billion Chinese will be the same as America’s in 2004. China currently has only one car for every 100 people, but Brown projects that as it reaches American income levels, if it copies American consumption, it will have three cars for every four people, or 1.1 billion vehicles. The total world fleet today is 800 million vehicles!
That’s why McKinsey Global Institute forecasts that developing countries will generate nearly 80 percent of the growth in world energy demand between now and 2020, with China representing 32 percent and the Middle East 10 percent. So if Red China doesn’t become Green China there is no chance we will keep the climate monsters behind the door. On some days, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, almost 25 percent of the polluting matter in the air above Los Angeles comes from China’s coal-fired power plants and factories, as well as fumes from China’s cars and dust kicked up by droughts and deforestation around Asia.
The good news is that China knows it has to grow green — or it won’t grow at all. On Sept. 8, 2006, a Chinese newspaper reported that China’s E.P.A. and its National Bureau of Statistics had re-examined China’s 2004 G.D.P. number. They concluded that the health problems, environmental degradation and lost workdays from pollution had actually cost China $64 billion, or 3.05 percent of its total economic output for 2004. Some experts believe the real number is closer to 10 percent.
Thus China has a strong motivation to clean up the worst pollutants in its air. Those are the nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and mercury that produce acid rain, smog and haze — much of which come from burning coal. But cleaning up is easier said than done. The Communist Party’s legitimacy and the stability of the whole country depend heavily on Beijing’s ability to provide rising living standards for more and more Chinese.
So, if you’re a Chinese mayor and have to choose between growing jobs and cutting pollution, you will invariably choose jobs: coughing workers are much less politically dangerous than unemployed workers. That’s a key reason why China’s 10th five-year plan, which began in 2000, called for a 10 percent reduction in sulfur dioxide in China’s air — and when that plan concluded in 2005, sulfur dioxide pollution in China had increased by 27 percent.
But if China is having a hard time cleaning up its nitrogen and sulfur oxides — which can be done relatively cheaply by adding scrubbers to the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants — imagine what will happen when it comes to asking China to curb its CO2, of which China is now the world’s second-largest emitter, after America. To build a coal-fired power plant that captures, separates and safely sequesters the CO2 into the ground before it goes up the smokestack requires either an expensive retrofit or a whole new system. That new system would cost about 40 percent more to build and operate — and would produce 20 percent less electricity, according to a recent M.I.T. study, “The Future of Coal.”
China — which is constructing the equivalent of two 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants every week — is not going to pay that now. Remember: CO2 is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas. Yes, it causes global warming — but it doesn’t hurt anyone in China today, and getting rid of it is costly and has no economic payoff. China’s strategy right now is to say that CO2 is the West’s problem. “It must be pointed out that climate change has been caused by the long-term historic emissions of developed countries and their high per-capita emissions,” Jiang Yu, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, declared in February. “Developed countries bear an unshirkable responsibility.”
So now we come to the nub of the issue: Green will not go down Main Street America unless it also goes down Main Street China, India and Brazil. And for green to go Main Street in these big developing countries, the prices of clean power alternatives — wind, biofuels, nuclear, solar or coal sequestration — have to fall to the “China price.” The China price is basically the price China pays for coal-fired electricity today because China is not prepared to pay a premium now, and sacrifice growth and stability, just to get rid of the CO2 that comes from burning coal.
“The ‘China price’ is the fundamental benchmark that everyone is looking to satisfy,” said Curtis Carlson, C.E.O. of SRI International, which is developing alternative energy technologies. “Because if the Chinese have to pay 10 percent more for energy, when they have tens of millions of people living under $1,000 a year, it is not going to happen.” Carlson went on to say: “We have an enormous amount of new innovation we must put in place before we can get to a price that China and India will be able to pay. But this is also an opportunity.”
The only way we are going to get innovations that drive energy costs down to the China price — innovations in energy-saving appliances, lights and building materials and in non-CO2-emitting power plants and fuels — is by mobilizing free-market capitalism. The only thing as powerful as Mother Nature is Father Greed. To a degree, the market is already at work on this project — because some venture capitalists and companies understand that clean-tech is going to be the next great global industry. Take Wal-Mart. The world’s biggest retailer woke up several years ago, its C.E.O. Lee Scott told me, and realized that with regard to the environment its customers “had higher expectations for us than we had for ourselves.” So Scott hired a sustainability expert, Jib Ellison, to tutor the company. The first lesson Ellison preached was that going green was a whole new way for Wal-Mart to cut costs and drive its profits. As Scott recalled it, Ellison said to him, “Lee, the thing you have to think of is all this stuff that people don’t want you to put into the environment is waste — and you’re paying for it!”
So Scott initiated a program to work with Wal-Mart’s suppliers to reduce the sizes and materials used for all its packaging by five percent by 2013. The reductions they have made are already paying off in savings to the company. “We created teams to work across the organization,” Scott said. “It was voluntary — then you had the first person who eliminated some packaging, and someone else started showing how we could recycle more plastic, and all of a sudden it’s $1 million a quarter.” Wal-Mart operates 7,000 huge Class 8 trucks that get about 6 miles per gallon. It has told its truck makers that by 2015, it wants to double the efficiency of the fleet. Wal-Mart is the China of companies, so, explained Scott, “if we place one order we can create a market” for energy innovation.
For instance, Wal-Mart has used its shelves to create a huge, low-cost market for compact fluorescent bulbs, which use about a quarter of the energy of incandescent bulbs to produce the same light and last 10 times as long. “Just by doing what it does best — saving customers money and cutting costs,” said Glenn Prickett of Conservation International, a Wal-Mart adviser, “Wal-Mart can have a revolutionary impact on the market for green technologies. If every one of their 100 million customers in the U.S. bought just one energy-saving compact fluorescent lamp, instead of a traditional incandescent bulb, they could cut CO2 emissions by 45 billion pounds and save more than $3 billion.”
Those savings highlight something that often gets lost: The quickest way to get to the China price for clean power is by becoming more energy efficient. The cheapest, cleanest, nonemitting power plant in the world is the one you don’t build. Helping China adopt some of the breakthrough efficiency programs that California has adopted, for instance — like rewarding electrical utilities for how much energy they get their customers to save rather than to use — could have a huge impact. Some experts estimate that China could cut its need for new power plants in half with aggressive investments in efficiency.
Yet another force driving us to the China price is Chinese entrepreneurs, who understand that while Beijing may not be ready to impose CO2 restraints, developed countries are, so this is going to be a global business — and they want a slice. Let me introduce the man identified last year by Forbes Magazine as the seventh-richest man in China, with a fortune now estimated at $2.2 billion. His name is Shi Zhengrong and he is China’s leading manufacturer of silicon solar panels, which convert sunlight into electricity.
“People at all levels in China have become more aware of this environment issue and alternative energy,” said Shi, whose company, Suntech Power Holdings, is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. “Five years ago, when I started the company, people said: ‘Why do we need solar? We have a surplus of coal-powered electricity.’ Now it is different; now people realize that solar has a bright future. But it is still too expensive. ... We have to reduce the cost as quickly as possible — our real competitors are coal and nuclear power.”
Shi does most of his manufacturing in China, but sells roughly 90 percent of his products outside China, because today they are too expensive for his domestic market. But the more he can get the price down, and start to grow his business inside China, the more he can use that to become a dominant global player. Thanks to Suntech’s success, in China “there is a rush of business people entering this sector, even though we still don’t have a market here,” Shi added. “Many government people now say, ‘This is an industry!’ ” And if it takes off, China could do for solar panels what it did for tennis shoes — bring the price down so far that everyone can afford a pair.
All that sounds great — but remember those seven wedges? To reach the necessary scale of emissions-free energy will require big clean coal or nuclear power stations, wind farms and solar farms, all connected to a national transmission grid, not to mention clean fuels for our cars and trucks. And the market alone, as presently constructed in the U.S., will not get us those alternatives at the scale we need — at the China price — fast enough.
Prof. Nate Lewis, Caltech’s noted chemist and energy expert, explained why with an analogy. “Let’s say you invented the first cellphone,” he said. “You could charge people $1,000 for each one because lots of people would be ready to pay lots of money to have a phone they could carry in their pocket.” With those profits, you, the inventor, could pay back your shareholders and plow more into research, so you keep selling better and cheaper cellphones.
But energy is different, Lewis explained: “If I come to you and say, ‘Today your house lights are being powered by dirty coal, but tomorrow, if you pay me $100 more a month, I will power your house lights with solar,’ you are most likely to say: ‘Sorry, Nate, but I don’t really care how my lights go on, I just care that they go on. I won’t pay an extra $100 a month for sun power. A new cellphone improves my life. A different way to power my lights does nothing.’
“So building an emissions-free energy infrastructure is not like sending a man to the moon,” Lewis went on. “With the moon shot, money was no object — and all we had to do was get there. But today, we already have cheap energy from coal, gas and oil. So getting people to pay more to shift to clean fuels is like trying to get funding for NASA to build a spaceship to the moon — when Southwest Airlines already flies there and gives away free peanuts! I already have a cheap ride to the moon, and a ride is a ride. For most people, electricity is electricity, no matter how it is generated.”
If we were running out of coal or oil, the market would steadily push the prices up, which would stimulate innovation in alternatives. Eventually there would be a crossover, and the alternatives would kick in, start to scale and come down in price. But what has happened in energy over the last 35 years is that the oil price goes up, stimulating government subsidies and some investments in alternatives, and then the price goes down, the government loses interest, the subsidies expire and the investors in alternatives get wiped out.
The only way to stimulate the scale of sustained investment in research and development of non-CO2 emitting power at the China price is if the developed countries, who can afford to do so, force their people to pay the full climate, economic and geopolitical costs of using gasoline and dirty coal. Those countries that have signed the Kyoto Protocol are starting to do that. But America is not.
Up to now, said Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, we as a society “have been behaving just like Enron the company at the height of its folly.” We rack up stunning profits and G.D.P. numbers every year, and they look great on paper “because we’ve been hiding some of the costs off the books.” If we don’t put a price on the CO2 we’re building up or on our addiction to oil, we’ll never nurture the innovation we need.
Jeffrey Immelt, the chairman of General Electric, has worked for G.E. for 25 years. In that time, he told me, he has seen seven generations of innovation in G.E.’s medical equipment business — in devices like M.R.I.s or CT scans — because health care market incentives drove the innovation. In power, it’s just the opposite. “Today, on the power side,” he said, “we’re still selling the same basic coal-fired power plants we had when I arrived. They’re a little cleaner and more efficient now, but basically the same.”
The one clean power area where G.E. is now into a third generation is wind turbines, “thanks to the European Union,” Immelt said. Countries like Denmark, Spain and Germany imposed standards for wind power on their utilities and offered sustained subsidies, creating a big market for wind-turbine manufacturers in Europe in the 1980s, when America abandoned wind because the price of oil fell. “We grew our wind business in Europe,” Immelt said.
As things stand now in America, Immelt said, “the market does not work in energy.” The multibillion-dollar scale of investment that a company like G.E. is being asked to make in order to develop new clean-power technologies or that a utility is being asked to make in order to build coal sequestration facilities or nuclear plants is not going to happen at scale — unless they know that coal and oil are going to be priced high enough for long enough that new investments will not be undercut in a few years by falling fossil fuel prices. “Carbon has to have a value,” Immelt emphasized. “Today in the U.S. and China it has no value.”
I recently visited the infamous Three Mile Island nuclear plant with Christopher Crane, president of Exelon Nuclear, which owns the facility. He said that if Exelon wanted to start a nuclear plant today, the licensing, design, planning and building requirements are so extensive it would not open until 2015 at the earliest. But even if Exelon got all the approvals, it could not start building “because the cost of capital for a nuclear plant today is prohibitive.”
That’s because the interest rate that any commercial bank would charge on a loan for a nuclear facility would be so high — because of all the risks of lawsuits or cost overruns — that it would be impossible for Exelon to proceed. A standard nuclear plant today costs about $3 billion per unit. The only way to stimulate more nuclear power innovation, Crane said, would be federal loan guarantees that would lower the cost of capital for anyone willing to build a new nuclear plant.
The 2005 energy bill created such loan guarantees, but the details still have not been worked out. “We would need a robust loan guarantee program to jump-start the nuclear industry,” Crane said — an industry that has basically been frozen since the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. With cheaper money, added Crane, CO2-free nuclear power could be “very competitive” with CO2-emitting pulverized coal.
Think about the implications. Three Mile Island had two reactors, TMI-2, which shut down because of the 1979 accident, and TMI-1, which is still operating today, providing clean electricity with virtually no CO2 emissions for 800,000 homes. Had the TMI-2 accident not happened, it too would have been providing clean electricity for 800,000 homes for the last 28 years. Instead, that energy came from CO2-emitting coal, which, by the way, still generates 50 percent of America’s electricity.
Similar calculations apply to ethanol production. “We have about 100 scientists working on cellulosic ethanol,” Chad Holliday, the C.E.O. of DuPont, told me. “My guess is that we could double the number and add another 50 to start working on how to commercialize it. It would probably cost us less than $100 million to scale up. But I am not ready to do that. I can guess what it will cost me to make it and what the price will be, but is the market going to be there? What are the regulations going to be? Is the ethanol subsidy going to be reduced? Will we put a tax on oil to keep ethanol competitive? If I know that, it gives me a price target to go after. Without that, I don’t know what the market is and my shareholders don’t know how to value what I am doing. ... You need some certainty on the incentives side and on the market side, because we are talking about multiyear investments, billions of dollars, that will take a long time to take off, and we won’t hit on everything.”
Summing up the problem, Immelt of G.E. said the big energy players are being asked “to take a 15-minute market signal and make a 40-year decision and that just doesn’t work. ... The U.S. government should decide: What do we want to have happen? How much clean coal, how much nuclear and what is the most efficient way to incentivize people to get there?”
He’s dead right. The market alone won’t work. Government’s job is to set high standards, let the market reach them and then raise the standards more. That’s how you get scale innovation at the China price. Government can do this by imposing steadily rising efficiency standards for buildings and appliances and by stipulating that utilities generate a certain amount of electricity from renewables — like wind or solar. Or it can impose steadily rising mileage standards for cars or a steadily tightening cap-and-trade system for the amount of CO2 any factory or power plant can emit. Or it can offer loan guarantees and fast-track licensing for anyone who wants to build a nuclear plant. Or — my preference and the simplest option — it can impose a carbon tax that will stimulate the market to move away from fuels that emit high levels of CO2 and invest in those that don’t. Ideally, it will do all of these things. But whichever options we choose, they will only work if they are transparent, simple and long-term — with zero fudging allowed and with regulatory oversight and stiff financial penalties for violators.
The politician who actually proved just how effective this can be was a guy named George W. Bush, when he was governor of Texas. He pushed for and signed a renewable energy portfolio mandate in 1999. The mandate stipulated that Texas power companies had to produce 2,000 new megawatts of electricity from renewables, mostly wind, by 2009. What happened? A dozen new companies jumped into the Texas market and built wind turbines to meet the mandate, so many that the 2,000-megawatt goal was reached in 2005. So the Texas Legislature has upped the mandate to 5,000 megawatts by 2015, and everyone knows they will beat that too because of how quickly wind in Texas is becoming competitive with coal. Today, thanks to Governor Bush’s market intervention, Texas is the biggest wind state in America.
President Bush, though, is no Governor Bush. (The Dick Cheney effect?) President Bush claims he’s protecting American companies by not imposing tough mileage, conservation or clean power standards, but he’s actually helping them lose the race for the next great global industry. Japan has some of the world’s highest gasoline taxes and stringent energy efficiency standards for vehicles — and it has the world’s most profitable and innovative car company, Toyota. That’s no accident.
The politicians who best understand this are America’s governors, some of whom have started to just ignore Washington, set their own energy standards and reap the benefits for their states. As Schwarzenegger told me, “We have seen in California so many companies that have been created that work just on things that have do with clean environment.” California’s state-imposed efficiency standards have resulted in per-capita energy consumption in California remaining almost flat for the last 30 years, while in the rest of the country it has gone up 50 percent. “There are a lot of industries that are exploding right now because of setting these new standards,” he said.
John Dineen runs G.E. Transportation, which makes locomotives. His factory is in Erie, Pa., and employs 4,500 people. When it comes to the challenges from cheap labor markets, Dineen likes to say, “Our little town has trade surpluses with China and Mexico.”
Now how could that be? China makes locomotives that are 30 percent cheaper than G.E.’s, but it turns out that G.E.’s are the most energy efficient in the world, with the lowest emissions and best mileage per ton pulled — “and they don’t stop on the tracks,” Dineen added. So China is also buying from Erie — and so are Brazil, Mexico and Kazakhstan. What’s the secret? The China price.
“We made it very easy for them,” said Dineen. “By producing engines with lower emissions in the classic sense (NOx [nitrogen oxides]) and lower emissions in the future sense (CO2) and then coupling it with better fuel efficiency and reliability, we lowered the total life-cycle cost.”
The West can’t impose its climate or pollution standards on China, Dineen explained, but when a company like G.E. makes an engine that gets great mileage, cuts pollution and, by the way, emits less CO2, China will be a buyer. “If we were just trying to export lower-emission units, and they did not have the fuel benefits, we would lose,” Dineen said. “But when green is made green — improved fuel economies coupled with emissions reductions — we see very quick adoption rates.”
One reason G.E. Transportation got so efficient was the old U.S. standard it had to meet on NOx pollution, Dineen said. It did that through technological innovation. And as oil prices went up, it leveraged more technology to get better mileage. The result was a cleaner, more efficient, more exportable locomotive. Dineen describes his factory as a “technology campus” because, he explains, “it looks like a 100-year-old industrial site, but inside those 100-year-old buildings are world-class engineers working on the next generation’s technologies.” He also notes that workers in his factory make nearly twice the average in Erie — by selling to China!
The bottom line is this: Clean-tech plays to America’s strength because making things like locomotives lighter and smarter takes a lot of knowledge — not cheap labor. That’s why embedding clean-tech into everything we design and manufacture is a way to revive America as a manufacturing power.
“Whatever you are making, if you can add a green dimension to it — making it more efficient, healthier and more sustainable for future generations — you have a product that can’t just be made cheaper in India or China,” said Andrew Shapiro, founder of GreenOrder, an environmental business-strategy group. “If you just create a green ghetto in your company, you miss it. You have to figure out how to integrate green into the DNA of your whole business.”
Ditto for our country, which is why we need a Green New Deal — one in which government’s role is not funding projects, as in the original New Deal, but seeding basic research, providing loan guarantees where needed and setting standards, taxes and incentives that will spawn 1,000 G.E. Transportations for all kinds of clean power.
Bush won’t lead a Green New Deal, but his successor must if America is going to maintain its leadership and living standard. Unfortunately, today’s presidential hopefuls are largely full of hot air on the climate-energy issue. Not one of them is proposing anything hard, like a carbon or gasoline tax, and if you think we can deal with these huge problems without asking the American people to do anything hard, you’re a fool or a fraud.
Being serious starts with reframing the whole issue — helping Americans understand, as the Carnegie Fellow David Rothkopf puts it, “that we’re not ‘post-Cold War’ anymore — we’re pre-something totally new.” I’d say we’re in the “pre-climate war era.” Unless we create a more carbon-free world, we will not preserve the free world. Intensifying climate change, energy wars and petroauthoritarianism will curtail our life choices and our children’s opportunities every bit as much as Communism once did for half the planet.
Equally important, presidential candidates need to help Americans understand that green is not about cutting back. It’s about creating a new cornucopia of abundance for the next generation by inventing a whole new industry. It’s about getting our best brains out of hedge funds and into innovations that will not only give us the clean-power industrial assets to preserve our American dream but also give us the technologies that billions of others need to realize their own dreams without destroying the planet. It’s about making America safer by breaking our addiction to a fuel that is powering regimes deeply hostile to our values. And, finally, it’s about making America the global environmental leader, instead of laggard, which as Schwarzenegger argues would “create a very powerful side product.” Those who dislike America because of Iraq, he explained, would at least be able to say, “Well, I don’t like them for the war, but I do like them because they show such unbelievable leadership — not just with their blue jeans and hamburgers but with the environment. People will love us for that. That’s not existing right now.”
In sum, as John Hennessy, the president of Stanford, taught me: Confronting this climate-energy issue is the epitome of what John Gardner, the founder of Common Cause, once described as “a series of great opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.”
Am I optimistic? I want to be. But I am also old-fashioned. I don’t believe the world will effectively address the climate-energy challenge without America, its president, its government, its industry, its markets and its people all leading the parade. Green has to become part of America’s DNA. We’re getting there. Green has hit Main Street — it’s now more than a hobby — but it’s still less than a new way of life.
Why? Because big transformations — women’s suffrage, for instance — usually happen when a lot of aggrieved people take to the streets, the politicians react and laws get changed. But the climate-energy debate is more muted and slow-moving. Why? Because the people who will be most harmed by the climate-energy crisis haven’t been born yet.
“This issue doesn’t pit haves versus have-nots,” notes the Johns Hopkins foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum, “but the present versus the future — today’s generation versus its kids and unborn grandchildren.” Once the Geo-Green interest group comes of age, especially if it is after another 9/11 or Katrina, Mandelbaum said, “it will be the biggest interest group in history — but by then it could be too late.”
An unusual situation like this calls for the ethic of stewardship. Stewardship is what parents do for their kids: think about the long term, so they can have a better future. It is much easier to get families to do that than whole societies, but that is our challenge. In many ways, our parents rose to such a challenge in World War II — when an entire generation mobilized to preserve our way of life. That is why they were called the Greatest Generation. Our kids will only call us the Greatest Generation if we rise to our challenge and become the Greenest Generation.
Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times specializing in foreign affairs.