Needed: A Tidal Wave Of Innovation

Japan’s tragedy points the way to a safer future – if we learn its lesson.

By Carl Safina

Japan’s tsunami is a horrific tragedy of staggering human and economic proportions. It is also as natural a disaster as humanity can still suffer. Its cause is shifting plates in Earth’s crust. It has nothing to do with greenhouse gases or global warming, which now casts suspicion on whether weather-related disasters are entirely natural or partially human-caused (Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico, or the more recent droughts that have helped push up food prices, may reflect humanly influenced atmospheric change).

Natural or not, the tsunami will, however, force reevaluation of energy options that have implications for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Atomic energy is probably the most scaled-up, ready-to-go alternative to conventional combustion-based technologies requiring petroleum or coal.

That’s old news, of course. And that’s the problem.

Decades after we saw the need for alternative fuels – we have scant options. More than anywhere else, Japan’s engineers build with earthquakes in mind. In the case of the earthquake-induced problems at its nuclear reactors, no one is really at fault. Sometimes someone is at fault, as with last year’s Gulf of Mexico BP oil well blowout. In the latter case, fault lies with the bad judgment of the people involved. In Japan’s case, the fault is a geological one.

What these two very different circumstances – faultiness and faultlessness – have in common is: accidents happen.

So for me the way I’ve been thinking of it is that among the many reasons we need to transition to a clean-energy economy is the magnitude of inherent risks. Not the frequency of accidents, which are rather rare, but the severity of inevitable accidents.

The nuclear-energy risks are quite dangerous. As are the increasing risks from oil as we go to deeper waters where controlling blowouts is extremely difficult and takes months. Fracking for natural gas has been called safe, but its safety is increasingly being challenged by indications that it can pollute drinking water supplies, including New York City’s. Coal is putting mercury in fish, largely changing the heat balance of the planet and acidifying the ocean.

Clean energies like sunlight, tides, heat from the Earth, wind and algae actually power the whole planet. But also, they can’t explode, can’t be spilled and can’t be used by terrorists. They cannot be “unleashed” by earthquakes.

Those are some of the reasons we need to transition to a clean-energy economy. What are the other reasons? You don’t have to ask; you already know. Here are a few:

  • Petro-dictators. Imagine how sweet it would be if we no longer threw cash to corporate giants and terrorists each time we filled our car or our home’s burner went on.
  • Price, reliability and self-sustainability. Right now we’re subject to oil shocks caused by political events and foreign price-fixing. When we build the smart grid of the future, it can distribute electricity generated by any means, whether it’s coal or free, clean energy from wind and sunlight and geo-thermal sources.
  • Price competition between biomass fuel and food made from the same crops. We can go back to eating food, rather than burning it. The hungry and poor will thankful.
  • Peak oil. It won’t last forever. Can we finally start planning for the inevitable?
  • Despoliation. Coal companies are still blowing up mountains in a country where children are taught to sing “America The Beautiful.”
  • Other pollution. Fossil fuels, wood and other biomass create smog, lung and breathing problems. Nuclear energy creates dangerous waste.
  • Jobs. American jobs. Sure other people benefit from getting jobs formerly held by Americans. But why are we doing everything we can to build the economy of the biggest, most anti-democratic, most oppressive government in the world? Why do we tolerate it?
  • Leadership. Who builds the energy future will own the future and will sell it to the world. Will it be the United States or China? China knows its answer. We don’t. While China dreams big, America sleepwalks.

So as the horrors in Japan prompt a global reevaluation of the risks of nuclear energy, let’s really work toward a safer energy future.

About Carl Safina

Carl Safina is a MacArthur fellow, Pew fellow, and Guggenheim fellow, he is adjunct professor at Stony Brook University and president of Blue Ocean Institute. His books include Song for the Blue Ocean, The View From Lazy Point and A Sea in Flames, his book abut the 2010 Gulf blowout, among others. He is host of Saving the Ocean on PBS television. www.blueocean.org | www.carlsafina.org 

Talkback Readers: What are your thoughts on the do’s and don’ts of promoting truly clean energy? Share your thoughts on innovation with Talkback!

03:21 pm by csrwiretalkback[16 notes]

Unconventional Philanthropy in Haiti

What keeps Haiti in the minds and hearts of philanthropists?

By Gerald McSwiggan and Taryn Bird

What is it about Haiti that keeps philanthropists and investors alike coming back? 

One year after the devastating earthquake, Haiti still captivates the interest of many in the United States. Outside of Hurricane Katrina, this is rare for disasters. 

An Unconventional Disaster Response

The typical disaster giving cycle lasts a few months, if that long. That window of time is even smaller when another disaster happens shortly afterward. For example, Nashville was hit by extreme flooding in May 2010, but was quickly overshadowed by the Gulf oil spill. The flooding, one of the worst disasters in recent memory, was largely overlooked by donors.

Haiti is a different story. Even with a major earthquake in Chile happening a little over a month later, people remained interested in Haiti’s ability to rebound from the terrible disaster. Remember, these disasters occurred at a time when the U.S. economy was extremely unstable and companies were slashing philanthropic budgets left and right. So why the unconventional continued interest in Haiti?  

Though Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, donors and investors still see reasons to pay attention. Maybe it’s the close proximity to the United States – neighbor helping neighbor. Maybe it’s human nature to not be able to look the other way in the face of a still-unfolding tragedy. Maybe it’s the spirit of hope and resiliency so noticeable on the faces of the Haitians who appear in our news outlets.

And maybe the allure of better things to come has us wanting a seat at the table.

The Nexus of CSR and Core Business Investment

While short-term philanthropic solutions were appropriate in the immediate months following the earthquake – and then again to relieve the cholera epidemic – the game-changers in Haiti’s future are jobs and private-sector investment. Corporate citizenship and CSR professionals for years have attempted to find the perfect linkage between giving and investing, business and philanthropy. 

An immense amount of human capital exists in Haiti – we’ve experienced it when we toured IDP (internally displaced persons) camps and spoke to residents and authorities about what they viewed as “up next” for their country. If this human capital fused with private-sector tools and investment, an untapped market potential and thousands of new jobs in Port-au-Prince could be unleashed, simultaneously offering SMEs and large businesses alike the opportunity to flourish. 

Now, this all sounds idealistic. We know the challenges are immense and working in-country is rather difficult. But consider this story as an indicator of Haiti’s potential: CHOOSE HAITI has employed 1,400 people through the production and sale of a bracelet made in Haiti, by displaced Haitians living in tent camps. The bracelet is 100% recycled, using newspaper and water bottles donated by the U.S. consumer and then collected from the streets of Port-au-Prince. Bracelets are sold for $10 at retailers ranging from Forever 21 to Lady Foot Locker.

Good Will, Good Markets?

The second year after the earthquake will be pivotal. Will people continue to invest in Haiti’s future, or will good will and human interest dry up?

It is obvious many things need to change in Haiti before a true economic tipping point can occur. Better infrastructure, more trust in government and an educated workforce to name a few. 

But a seed has been planted. We want to build on what’s right in Haiti. We hope NGOs, companies and government officials ban together to build a new Haiti.

At the Haiti One Year Later forum at the Chamber yesterday, Michael Webster from The Dow Chemical Company emphasized the untapped opportunity for Haiti’s marketplace to become globally differentiated through a focus on green/recycled products. What other great ideas are out there?

While we can’t get back the 250,000 souls lost in the terrible earthquake, maybe their deaths will not be in vain. Maybe Haiti will one day be the place about which people say, “We can’t afford not to invest there.”

Additional Resources

About Gerald McSwiggan and Taryn Bird

McSwiggan is the head of the U.S. Chamber BCLC Disaster Assistance and Recovery Program. Bird is the head of the Global Corporate Citizenship Program.

Talkback Readers: Why do you think there has been such an interest in Haiti’s recovery efforts? Can sustainable business enterprises help the country thrive in the coming year(s)? Share your thoughts on Talkback!

03:07 pm by csrwiretalkback[3 notes]



CSRwire is the leading source of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability news, reports, events and information.

CSRwire Talkback is hosted by Francesca Rheannon, Managing Editor, and Sarah Peyok, Director of Editorial.


Talkback brings thought leaders and readers together to discuss many topics in these two areas:

Corporate Social Responsibility - business ethics, shareholder activism, corporate governance and public policy

Sustainability - green living, human rights, the environment and social enterprise

CSRwire on Twitter

    via Twitter

    Most Recent Posts