Wednesday, December 31, 2008

We Are Having a Green Party

Now is the time. Yes, I know, it’s time to party. But on a serious note, I would like to encourage everyone to put environmental awareness and innovation on their list of goals for 2009. Green regulation is no longer good enough. We need green innovation. We need to turn our green party into a green revolution. If not, everyone will suffer in ways that are not known by man. I came to this conclusion after watching The 11th Hour and reading Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Below is a video of Friedman talking about his brilliant book that offers solutions to the biggest problems facing mankind right now.

“It’s really a book about America,” says Friedman. “Why we have lost our groove as a country, and how and why I think we can get it back.”

Friedman’s first example is on a slideshow presentation with a picture of a billboard in South Africa last year, advertising the Daimler Smart Car. Next to a photo of this fuel efficient car, it reads:

German Engineering
Swiss Innovation
American Nothing

The first chapter of Hot, Flat, and Crowded takes place in Istanbul, Turkey in 2003, where Friedman visited the American consulate, which was once located in the heart of the city. It is now in an Istanbul suburb. “It is a maximum security prison,” says Friedman. “San Quetin has nothing on it.” The consulate has 15-foot high walls, barbed-wire guard towers, and it is so secure they don’t even let birds fly there, hence the title of Friedman’s first chapter: Where Birds Don’t Fly.

“Where birds don’t fly, people don’t mix, ideas don’t get exchanged, friendships don’t get forged, collaboration doesn’t happen, freedom doesn’t ring,” says Friedman. “Now do not get me wrong, I understand and those who read me understand that we have real enemies, and unfortunately we do need consulates with high walls today. And we do need metal detectors. I would actually go through 16 metal detectors when I leave here in a couple of hours at the San Francisco airport under one condition. That on the other side of the last metal detector would be a great project worthy of the inspirational prowess and innovative capacity of the United States of America, and not just another metal detector. And that’s really what’s been bothering me these past few years. We are not the United States of fighting terrorism. That’s not who we are. I weep and I truly mourn for everyone who was killed on 9/11. But for me, 9/11 is still just the day between 9/10 and 9/12. My day is the Fourth of July. 9/11 was about them. The Fourth of July is about us. And we need to get back to being the people of the Fourth of July and not the people of post-9/11.”

The third reason why America has lost its groove, Friedman says, is because “our government today cannot solve any big multigenerational problems. And whether it is called energy, environment, health care, social security, it just doesn’t seem to work anymore. It has to do with gerrymandered political districts, money in politics, 24-hour news cycles, and a permanent presidential campaign that have come together in a way to simply gridlock politics in Washington.” He goes on to say that America still has the best and brightest entrepreneurs, but today’s government is not nurturing these incredible ideas.

He goes on to explain how and why government needs leaders who can make green cars and companies mandatory. Why? Because there are so many people in the world living like middle-class Americans that we are in essence killing the human species if we don’t make dramatic changes right now. According to Conservation International, we are now losing one new species every 20 minutes. The level of pollution is growing exponentially because cities like New York are becoming the norm in countries such as China, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. This is simply not sustainable for the next decade or further down the road.

Friedman’s book lists the 5 trends that he believes will be the most vital challenges for the 21st century:

• Energy and Natural Resources Supply and Demand
• Petrodictarship
• Climate Change
• Energy Poverty
• Biodiversity Loss

I believe the biggest circumstance of a hot, flat, crowded world is climate change. Many people call it global warming, but Friedman uses the term “global weirding” because the weather gets weird. Basically the world is getting hotter and wetter and more unpredictable. What is predictable is that the hurricanes, storms, and tornadoes are intensifying. Because we’ve released so much CO2 into the environment, we no longer know whether incidents like Hurricane Katrina where caused by an act of humans or Mother Nature. As Friedman points out, the IPCC study now indicates that all the ice in the Arctic will melt by the summer of 2012. “You will be able to sail right across the Arctic in July in 2012 and never meet a piece of ice,” says Friedman. This will then warm the earth’s oceans, causing environmental changes that are beyond human knowledge. For this reason, Friedman suggested that Al Gore should write a column titled, “I’m Sorry.” Then he suggested the lead should be, “I’m sorry. I apologize. I, Al Gore, completely underestimated climate change.”

Another result of a hot, flat, crowded earth without immediate changes will leave billions of people without sufficient electricity, including the electricity to get online. “If you cannot get to Google, you cannot get to all the world’s knowledge. You cannot get to the 99 things everyone knows in order to invent the one that they don’t know…. That is so much worse than not being able to get to a library. That means you can’t get to all the world’s knowledge. It means you will fall behind exponentially.”

Despite the hole we dug ourselves into, humans still have time to dig ourselves out. Friedman calls the solution to the 5 challenges listed above as Energy Technology (ET). “It is very clear to me that the country that owns ET is going to have the most energy security, national security, economic security, competitive industries, healthy climate, and global respect. That country has to be the United States of America. If it is not, the chance of our kids enjoying our standard of living, I believe, is zero.” Green will no longer be about electric power, but about national power because of the reasons Friedman mentioned above. “Green is the new red, white, and blue,” he says.

Armageddon for the human species is here if we don’t dramatically change. It is no longer about conservatives and liberals. It is about survival of the human species. This is why I am urging everyone to have fun tonight, but to start making an environmental revolution in 2009. I aslo strongly believe in having only two children or less. With the world population rising so fast, a two-baby limit in a hot, flat, crowded world is something all young couples should follow. Most of all, I want to emphasize the power of awareness. Please tell your family, friends, and strangers about the need for massive green innovation, rather than just green regulation. Without it, we may not have many more happy new years.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Coach's Dream

It was the usual dinner break at work. I go downstairs to the hotel’s basement cafeteria where I eat and watch television. These lunch and dinner breaks are the only times I watch television, and usually it reinforces my belief that began in college that I’m not missing much.

Last night was different. I grabbed the remote and flipped to the first basketball game I could find. To my delight my alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, was playing at home against the University of Evansville. No sooner had I turned to the game that the announcer said, “Hansbrough needs one field goal to break the school scoring record….” On the next offensive possession, senior Tyler Hansbrough received a bounce-pass in the low-post. He then turned to his right and banked in a fade-away jumpshot, breaking Phil Ford’s scoring record.

The new mark: 2,291 points and counting.

Because the best college players usually leave school early, I believe Hansbrough’s scoring record will stay intact for many decades. No college basketball player I’ve seen has earned his points more than Hansbrough. He is by no means the most talented player in college basketball, not even the most talented player on his own team, yet no one works harder. He’s a coach’s dream.

In 2006, Hansbrough became the first UNC freshman to be named First-Team All-America. He scored 40 points in a game, setting the Dean Smith Center scoring record. So what did Hansbrough do that summer? He pushed sports utility vehicles around the Smith Center parking lot. Training like this suits his nickname “Psycho T.” He brings this same passion to every play on the court. Some opponents have tried to get into his head by flagrantly fouling him. No one takes a bigger beating in college basketball than Hansbrough, and he has shown a lot of restraint by not retaliating. The most extreme example happened two seasons ago when Duke’s Gerald Henderson broke Hansbrough’s nose with a flagrant elbow. On his desk next to the portraits of his wife and children, UNC coach Roy Williams keeps an 8-by-10 photo of a bloody Hansbrough taken a half hour after the flagrant foul, according to Sports Illustrated. Recalling the memory, Williams says, “He has two cotton swabs up his nose and blood all over his arms and jersey, and he says, ‘How do I look Coach?’” Williams told SI. “What a goofball.”

He may be a goofball who likes jumping off a fraternity balcony into a swimming pool (click here), but I think his dedication to basketball while being a campus celebrity demonstrates his maturity, even if he is pushing an SUV around a parking lot.

Greg Hansbrough overcame a near-death brain tumor and post-surgery paralysis to play high school basketball and run marathons. (Joshua A. Bickel/Missourian)

There is no doubt his oldest brother Greg had a profound effect on Tyler. Greg had a life-threatening brain tumor removed at age 7, which partially paralyzed the left side of his body. Doctors told Greg he would never ride a bike again. Not only did Greg will himself to ride a bike after falling hundreds of times, but he played for his high school’s varsity basketball team, wearing No. 50, which Tyler wears in honor of his brother. Doctors had told Greg he might never walk again. Now he runs marathons. “It’s the fight in Greg that a lot of times has driven me,” Hansbrough told SI. “I just play basketball games. He fought for his life, and his toughness was incredible.”

The Hansbrough brothers, from left: Greg, Tyler, and Ben. Tyler wears No. 50 in honor of Greg, who wore it at Poplar Bluff High School. (Photo courtesy of Greg Hansbrough)

Now you know why I was happy I watched television last night.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Crossing the Line

The sedated patient, his bullet wounds still fresh from a shootout the night before, was lying on a gurney in the intensive care unit of a prestigious private hospital here late last month with intravenous fluids dripping into his arm. Suddenly, steel-faced gunmen barged in and filled him with even more bullets. This time, he was dead for sure.

Above is the lead of a story that appeared on the front page of the New York Times today. Reporter Marc Lacey goes on to explain the situation of Mexican hitman entering emergency rooms in hospitals along the U.S. border, such as the above incident in Tijuana. Sadly, incidents like this (which includes shootouts between police and warring drug cartel members) are becoming more common in Mexican border city hospitals. The main reason for more than 5,000 deaths this year in Mexico, almost double of last year, is due to the increase in violence from drug trafficking.

Mexican doctors and staff met in November 2008 to discuss violence in Tijuana. (New York Times / Eros Hoagland)

Because I am living in a predominantly Mexican-American neighborhood in Chicago, this situation is very disturbing to me. I have always wondered: Why do so many Mexicans risk their lives and leave behind loved ones to live in America working low-wage jobs? Surely it can't just be the countries close proximity to each other. Neither could it only be notions of "the American Dream." There is definitely something not working in Mexico, especially when 170 people were murdered in Tijuana last month. Some critics say that President Felipe Calderón's harsh stance toward drug trafficking has forced the cartels to fight over a decreasing turf.

Nevertheless, the increasing drug violence and kidnappings in Mexico, unlike say in Guinea-Bissau or Venezuela, is something that closely affects the United States. Just last year dozens of drug violence patients were treated at an El Paso hospital. Illegal immigration and the economy are two poignant issues in America, and Mexico will always be a factor, at least in my lifetime. Reading the New York Times story only leaves me with more questions.

Monday, December 1, 2008

First Snowfall

I took this photo looking out my bedroom window at 3 a.m. Although it snowed a bit earlier today, this is the first significant snowfall in Chicago. I am sure the children on my block, South Marshfield Ave., are hoping for no school when they wake up. Luckily, I have the day off from work.