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Book Review: The Decarbonization Imperative

It’s easy to write a post on social media that says we should reduce greenhouse gas emissions then add a hashtag like #ActOnClimate. What’s harder is knowing what greenhouse gases are at work across the economy and the steps required to reduce them. The upcoming book by Michael Lenox and Rebecca Duff is here to help.

The Decarbonization Imperative: Transforming the Global Economy by 2050 takes “a deep dive into the challenge of climate change and the need to effectively reduce net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.”

When the authors say “deep dive” that means the book doesn’t read like your parent’s latest mystery novel. It is packed with details and examples, along with questions about whether society can make the transition to a decarbonized economy effectively and in time to avert the worst effects of climate change. The authors remain positive about the prospects even if their narrative presents a bleak answer to both questions. The book welcomes a reader already engaged in how to combat climate change. It takes them beyond generalities.

“The challenge before the world is overwhelming, requiring a profound shift in so many large economic sectors over the course of a few decades. But try we must,” wrote Lenox and Duff. They present five sectors of the economy for review: Energy, Transportation, Industrials, Buildings and Agriculture.

Running throughout the book is the theme of electrification as a way of economic decarbonization. Energy, or electricity generation more specifically, is a key consideration. The other four sectors depend to varying extents upon the energy sector, according to the authors.

Lenox and Duff name all the carbon-free operating methods for generating electricity and point to solar as the one with the most promising capability to disrupt current patterns toward decarbonization of the economy. The narrative is familiar: solar technology is effective, it is currently inexpensive, and costs continue to decline. “Utility-scale solar is now competitive with fossil fuels,” wrote the authors.

Nuclear power is mentioned multiple times in the book as a potential solution to decarbonize electricity generation. Readers of this blog know my skepticism about building new nuclear power generating stations. Like many, I point to the failures at Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011). According to the nuclear regulatory commission, “Today, the Three Mile Island-2 reactor is permanently shut down and 99 percent of its fuel has been removed. The reactor coolant system is fully drained and the radioactive water decontaminated and evaporated.” The other two disasters remain ongoing.

Lenox and Duff acknowledge the high cost of current nuclear reactor technology. They also mention Bill Gates’ nuclear project. In his 2021 book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need, Gates wrote, “I put several hundred million dollars into starting a company to design a next-generation nuclear plant that would generate clean electricity and very little nuclear waste.” While Lenox and Duff acknowledge new nuclear power is too expensive for economically disruptive potential by 2050, Gates’ investment is of the kind for which they advocate throughout the book. If Gates’ company resolves issues with nuclear power, as is its stated goal, it may be worth another look.

The authors emphasize no sector of the economy is without challenges in getting to decarbonization. The benefit of reading the book is its broad overview of these challenges.

There is a lot to absorb in The Decarbonization Imperative. Unless advocates are willing to do the work to understand this narrative, what’s the point? I recommend the book for its analysis by sector and for the ways each sector is connected with others. Climate advocates often focus on electricity generation and electrification of transportation yet to decarbonize the economy, all sectors must be addressed. Zero emissions will be a tough nut to crack, especially when zero means zero.

The Decarbonization Imperative: Transforming the Global Economy by 2050 by Michael Lenox and Rebecca Duff is scheduled for release from Stanford University Press on Oct. 29, 2021. Click here to go to the book’s page at Stanford University Press.

About the authors

Michael Lenox is the Tayloe Murphy Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He is the coauthor of Can Business Save the Earth? Innovating Our Way to Sustainability (Stanford, 2018) and The Strategist’s Toolkit (Darden, 2013).

Rebecca Duff is Senior Research Associate with the Batten Institute at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. She also serves as the managing director for Darden’s Business Innovation and Climate Change Initiative.

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Book Review: The Hidden History of American Healthcare

In The Hidden History of American Healthcare: Why Sickness Bankrupts You and Makes Others Insanely Rich, author Thom Hartmann returns to familiar themes of greed, racism and oligarchic corruption. He applies them to a system of healthcare that profits the wealthy and provides marginal healthcare to Americans. A proponent of Medicare for all, Hartmann dives into what’s wrong with American for-profit healthcare and how changing it to a single payer system would be better for citizens.

Describing the overall theme of the series of Hidden History books, Hartmann lays out the challenge:

Americans must now prepare politically for 2024, and that starts by picking candidates and promoting policies that will beat oligarchy at both the presidential and congressional levels.

But most urgently, the entire country must laser-focus on stripping the oligarchic and fascistic elements that have crept into our republic since the Powell Memo, multiple Supreme Court interventions, and the Patriot Act with the war crimes and torture it has already facilitated.

Preface, The Hidden History of American Healthcare by Thom Hartmann

Anyone who bought health insurance through an employer or privately knows the issues with the American system: health insurance premiums are expensive and subject to high annual increases; there are co-pays that vary depending upon what type of coverage is purchased; preexisting conditions affect premium amount and can exclude people from some types of coverage; rather than visit a clinic close to home, an insured must visit medical professionals within the network of the insurance company or face higher costs. This system led to health care costs representing 24 percent of GDP. Countries like Taiwan have a healthcare cost of six percent of GDP, according to Hartmann.

Thom Hartmann

There is a better, less expensive way of providing healthcare. The trouble is, Hartmann said, “(it) would cut off the hundred of millions of dollars that health care industry executives take home every month.”

Hartmann seeks to put healthcare into historical context. He recounts the first single-payer healthcare system in 1884 Germany. He takes us through the creation of Medicare from John F. Kennedy’s initial proposal to passage into law under LBJ, and through the Republican dissent over the program. Hartmann describes Republican efforts to privatize Medicare through what is called Medicare Advantage implemented by President George W. Bush. That section of the book alone makes it worth the reading.

Like previous books in the series, Hartmann’s book is readable and familiar. It is divided into four sections: How bad things are in America regarding healthcare; the origins of America’s sickness-for-profit system; the modern fight for a human right to healthcare; and saving lives with a real healthcare system. The last section proposes solutions to our healthcare system problems.

The Hidden History of Healthcare in America takes us through the history to make the critical point: “It is time for America to join every industrialized country in the world and make health a right, not a privilege.”

Because the subject of the book is so familiar, it renders a complicated process to bare essentials with concrete proposals for action to fix the healthcare system. I highly recommend the book, which is scheduled to be released Sept. 7, 2021.

~ Written for and first published at Blog for Iowa.

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Book Review: Equity

The challenge of creating work places that have inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility is everywhere. In her new book, Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives, Minal Bopaiah outlines how to turn lip-service about equity into a real world success story.

“Equality is when everyone has the same thing,” Bopaiah said. “Equity is when everyone has what they need to thrive and participate fully. Equity does not fault people for being different; it makes room for difference and then leverages it.”

The book covers a range of organizations, including for-profit companies and non-profit, non-governmental organizations. She has experience with both and leverages it to strip away buzzwords and conventions often used by management consultants. She reduces the narrative to easily understandable, succinct, and usable language.

Bopaiah introduces us to leaders who have overcome obstacles to equity and led transformative change: 

Minal Bopaiah
  • Managing partners at a consulting firm who learn to retell their story of success by crediting the system that supports them. 
  • News managers at National Public Radio who discover how they can create systemic support for diversifying sources on the air. 
  • A philanthropic foundation that collaborates with grantees to better communicate the importance of equity in healthcare to policy-makers. 
  • And creative professionals who have begun weaving inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility into the content they create, thereby transforming how customers and audiences view the world.

As a person who spent a career in business with a company experiencing dramatic growth, I found Bopaiah’s discussion of the myth of “rugged individualism” particularly engaging. She defines rugged individualism as “the belief that individuals are independent and unaffected by the system, time, or context in which they live and that their success is the sole result of their hard work and no other factors.”

One truth about organizations, businesses, and society more generally is the “system” can have a tremendous effect on dividing people and promoting more privileged members among them. As Bopaiah wrote regarding her Indian-American parents, the myth of rugged individualism can cast us “as characters in some kind of Horatio Alger tale in which the world is fair and everyone can succeed if they work hard enough.” Our systems favor the rich and privileged. Bopaiah’s concept of equity provides a way to address what can be a false narrative that suppresses an individual’s ability to participate in an organization equally with others.

Time spent reading Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives will pay dividends in understanding how organizations in which we participate can be better through inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility. It is a fast read and moves along quickly to key points of Bopaiah’s narrative. Highly recommended for its brevity and focus.

Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives is scheduled for release on Sept. 7, 2021.

Don’t have time to read Equity? Here’s a brief video in which Bopaiah explains one of the basic concepts of the book, IDEA: Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility.

Minal Bopaiah is the author of Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives. She is the founder of Brevity & Wita strategy + design firm that combines human-centered design, behavior change science and the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility to help organizations transform themselves and the world. Bopaiah has written for the Stanford Social Innovation Review and The Hill and has been a featured guest on numerous podcasts and shows. She has also been a keynote speaker for many conferences, inspiring thousands with her credible, authentic, and engaging talks. For more information, please visit https://theequitybook.com

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Book Review: Demystifying Shariah

We moved to the Southeast side of Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1985 to be closer to my work. My daily commute was still long and it took me past a number of churches and the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids. I recognized the Islamic Center was different from the other religious edifices I passed, although I didn’t pay it much attention. The nearby Mother Mosque was the first mosque built in North America and Islam has a long, rich history here. In Iowa most of us are used to the valuable contributions of Muslims in the community.

That was before anti-Muslim sentiment rose to prominence in the United States, changing everything.

In her recently released book, Demystifying Shariah: What it is, How it Works, and Why it’s not Taking Over Our Country, author Sumbul Ali-Karamali writes about the recent change.

Between 9/11 and 2010, hate crimes against Muslims had actually declined in the United States. But in 2010 they spiked, for no easily discernible reason–no terrorist attacks by Muslims, no ISIS horror stories. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies two causes for the increase in hate crimes: (a) the deliberately engineered controversy about an Islamic cultural center, modeled on Jewish Community Centers, in New York, and (b) a report by lawyer and anti-Muslim propagandist David Yerushalmi and others asserting that Muslims were trying to impose shariah in American criminal courts.

Demystifying Shariah, Sumbul Ali-Karamali, pp. 189-190.

Ali-Karamali explained the “Islamophobia industry,” a network of individuals and organizations who disseminate anti-Muslim propaganda into the public discourse. At its center was claims “shariah law” was creeping into U.S. society and given time would impose Islam on hapless Americans. The phrase “shariah law” reflects a lack of understanding of what shariah is.

“Shariah itself mandates that Muslims follow the law of the land in which they live, whether the land is “Islamic” or not.

Why, then, have the last several years seen the rise of ominous new concepts like “creeping shariah: and “shariah takeover”? Amazingly enough, the current shariah scare, groundless and vituperative, is due largely to one man (David Yerushalmi).

Demystifying Shariah, Sumbul Ali-Karamali, page 189.
Sumbul Ali-Karamali

Demystifying Shariah covers the history of Islam from the birth of Muhammad around 570 CE to the present. For Americans who know Islam exists, yet know little about a religion with more than 1.8 billion world-wide members, it is a great way to learn more about shariah and Muslim-American communities. Knowledge is the best defense when right wingers attempt to scare us for political motivation. Ali-Karamali draws on scholarship and her degree in Islamic law to explain how shariah operates in the lives of Muslims and what it means in terms of law. As the title suggests, shariah is not taking over our country.

The book is organized into three major parts: the basics and foundations of shariah, including the birth of Islam; the story of shariah which addresses the scary stuff (like amputation and stoning) perpetuated by the Islamophobia industry; and recognizing Islamophobia and the causes of Muslim stereotypes.

Whether readers know a little or a lot about Islam or shariah, this book is worth reading. Ali-Karamali presents well-researched and useful information about the history of Islam and the rising consequences of Islamophobia in America after 2010.

A Star Trek fan, Ali-Karamali grew up in California answering questions on Islam because she was one of few Muslims in her schools and community. She’s still answering those questions. To learn more about her and her work, check out her website, https://subulalikaramali.com.

~ First published on Blog for Iowa

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Book Review: Our Time Is Now

If one needs a palate cleansing after the bitter taste of the Trump years, Stacey Abrams’ Our Time is Now is just the book to read.

I didn’t know what to expect going in. I knew of her close Georgia gubernatorial race in 2018. I followed the Georgia U.S. Senate runoff elections last month and knew she played a role in voter turnout after declining to be a candidate herself. If anything surprised me about the book, it was how timely is Abrams’ message as the Biden-Harris administration gets to work.

There are some key takeaways:

She emphasizes the importance of counting everyone during the U.S. Census. Undercounting the poor, persons of color, and other disenfranchised U.S. residents serves to further disenfranchise them. President Trump attempted to politicize the U.S. Census. President Biden reversed Trump’s executive actions and seeks to give the Census Bureau needed time to make the best count possible. That means a delay in states receiving information required for their decennial re-districting process. Biden knows what Abrams suggested: the U.S. Census is important to restoring political power to people.

Abrams emphasizes that people should vote. She also criticized the voter targeting methods use in the 2016 and 2018 Democratic campaigns. Voter registration continues to play a key role in citizens gaining political power. It goes without saying voting does as well. The conclusion I drew from the book was that no voter should be ignored during campaigns.

The book refreshes our collective memory about voter suppression efforts by Republican lawmakers. Abrams’ story was she overcame systemic voter suppression during her Georgia gubernatorial campaign by the sheer number of new voters they activated. The permanent solution is for voters to take control of the electoral process by electing more Democrats at every level. With Democratic control of state legislatures, it is less likely voters will be suppressed.

As a child I learned the importance of civic engagement. Unlike most Americans today, I study the issues and candidates, and vote in every election. I don’t know what happened yet we need to return to that basic tenant of governance. If we seek to retain government by the people, participation is required. That is Abrams’ message.

I read a lot of political books and Abrams’ book is well-written and relatable. If we seek to move our country forward, elect more Democrats. Stacey Abrams has provided a roadmap in Our Time is Now.

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Book Review: The Hidden History of American Oligarchy

In The Hidden History of American Oligarchy: Reclaiming Our Democracy from the Ruling Class, Thom Hartmann recounts three periods of increased hegemony of oligarchs in American society. He posits that with the inauguration of Joe Biden as president on Jan. 20, 2021, we citizens have work to do to reclaim our democracy from the control of wealthy Americans.

The history of increased influence of wealth in the United States is becoming well known. Stories about it appear frequently in newsletters, on radio and television, and in books and other publications. In this book, Hartmann adds a needed layer of historical context to the discussion.

Readers may be familiar with the Powell Memo, Citizens United, the rise of dark money interests coordinated by Charles and David Koch, and the power they wielded to take control of our government, including the judicial, legislative and executive branches. Donald J. Trump’s presidency is a logical extension of these influences. We left democracy behind and become an oligarchy ruled of, by and for the rich, Hartmann said. The next step is tyranny if democratic values don’t return to dominance.

“The United States was born in a struggle against the oligarchs of the British aristocracy,” Hartmann wrote. “Ever since then the history of America has been one of dynamic tension between democracy and oligarchy. And much like the shock of the 1929 crash woke America up to glaring inequality and the ongoing theft of democracy by that generation’s oligarchs, the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has laid bare how extensively oligarchs have looted our nation’s economic system, gutted governmental institutions, and stolen the wealth of the former middle class.”

Hartmann lays out his argument in plain, easy to understand terms and gets to the crux of it quoting former President Jimmy Carter, “So now we’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors, who want and expect and sometimes get favors for themselves after the election is over…. The incumbents, Democrats and Republicans, look upon this unlimited money as a great benefit to themselves. Somebody who’s already in Congress has a lot more to sell to an avid contributor than somebody who’s just a challenger.”

More simply put, Al Gore said in his 2013 book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change, “American Democracy has been hacked.”

The book quickly works through the origins of oligarchy in America from the invention and wide use of the cotton gin, the rise of industrial robber barons, and the Reagan revolution. Hartmann’s focus is not only on reminding us of history.

In the final section Hartmann details a dozen ways to break the hegemony of the oligarchy. They include addressing media, taxing the rich, restoring election integrity, and rebuilding a progressive Democratic Party. While readers can’t do everything alone, the book serves as a roadmap for where progressives can go from here to combat the oligarchy.

Like Hartmann’s other Hidden History books, this one is a quick but important read for people who are engaged in progressive politics and seek a change from the power of moneyed interests and concentration of wealth among the richest Americans. The Hidden History of American Oligarchy is a must read. It will be released on Feb. 1, 2021.

~ First published on Blog for Iowa

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Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1917. Public Domain Photograph

The copyright of The Great Gatsby expired yesterday and a flurry of news articles spammed the channels. If Gatsby is the great American novel, like the country, it is far from perfect.

It remains a good book to read at the onset of summer, as I did for many years. It takes a certain experience of what summer meant in Midwestern culture to appreciate the book. That culture of my youth faded years ago. I no longer read the book annually although I keep a copy where I can find it.

What impressed me most about F. Scott Fitzgerald was seeing an 8 by 10 photograph of him at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas during a reunion with fellow Army officers. Organizers of the event were attending the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. The future author of The Great Gatsby was stationed at Leavenworth and the photo commemorated his stay. As we know, Fitzgerald was not a good soldier. He worried he would die in the world war without publishing anything. He later regretted not serving in combat. Such worries being part of what characterized his short life.

Upon reflection, it occurred to me Fitzgerald was not much different in his humanity. While I haven’t the drive or interest in being published he did, the army is a great equalizer and created a bond with him that was no abstraction.

I know The Great Gatsby well. Now that it’s in the public domain others are latching onto it, to revise or rewrite it. As someone suggested, there may be a Muppet version of the novel. The truth I increasingly face is whatever summer meant 50 years ago doesn’t exist any longer. There is no going back. This renders Fitzgerald’s fiction less relevant than it once may have been.

That people write about this copyright expiration with so many words is a sign that nothing like Fitzgerald exists in contemporary fiction. Writers are more like Gatsby himself not realizing what was important about the book is rooted in a time now gone. There is no green light at the end of the dock toward which to reach. It’s just us in the dark, craving something more than the commerce of society, yet not knowing what that might be.

I think I’ll read The Great Gatsby again this year and consider how to soldier on. Maybe I’ll learn something this time.

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Wildland Sentinel

Wildland Sentinel: Field Notes from an Iowa Conservation Officer

By Erika Billerbeck

Wildland Sentinel is a well-written account of Erika Billerbeck’s experiences as a conservation officer in the state park and wilderness refuge adjacent to where I live.

While I was well aware of the diversity of experiences in the area, the author provided a perspective I would not otherwise have had. Her descriptions of being a female conservation officer in a male dominated profession seem archetypal. She showed the other side of stories I read in the newspaper. She explained the other half of conversations I’ve had with friends and associates about what it means to go camping outside state park camp grounds.

Besides the excellent writing, the book is recommended as a primer of what the job of conservation officer entails. I look forward to seeing what else Billerbeck writes.

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Favorite Movies

Morning in Iowa.

Someone asked, “What is your favorite movie and why?”

I had to think. After considering some options I answered, “The Lion King because of the music.”

I’m not sure that was completely right.

I’m also not sure which movie was the last I saw on television or in a theater. In the time of the coronavirus I watch movies on my desktop computer, either from a disk or streaming. I do keep track of what I watch. The last was on line, Public Trust: The Fight for America’s Lands.

When our daughter visited in December 2014 we watched a video cassette recording of Christmas in Connecticut together, part of a series of “dinner and a movie” events we discontinued as a regular thing. In 2017 I watched The Brainwashing of My Dad from a disk on my desktop. It was a powerful story of a family where the father got caught up in right wing media hegemony to his detriment, and then came out of it — a happy ending. I also watched The Princess Bride (for the first time) on Amazon May 31, 2013. Too many cultural references to avoid it forever. Since 2012, I watched about 20 movies, not many.

When we talk about “favorite movies” what does that mean? For me it means films seen long ago, the memory of which persists. The Lion King fits that description and I would view it again. I’d listen to the CD of the soundtrack more. There are about a dozen movies that mean something to me.

Blade Runner: We saw this at a theater the first time Jacque and I did something together outside of work where we met.

Out of Africa: Because of the cinematography. It’s a gorgeous film and I don’t use the “g” word often.

The Conformist: Few films of that era stick with me the way this one does.

The Matrix: How could someone with a Cartesian outlook not love this movie?

In a Year of 13 Moons: I was obsessed with Rainer Werner Fassbinder the way he was obsessed with subjects and themes in this movie.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy: I recall my argument with Father Harasyn as a freshman in high school about whether J.R.R. Tolkien’s books were literature. I lost the argument and was not given credit for reading them. The movie is a faithful rendering of the book.

The 400 Blows: I was enamored of Francois Truffaut during graduate school. Not as much now, but still.

The Tree of Wooden Clogs: I could easily have been one of the peasants in this film. The cinematography of Ermanno Olmi was unlike anything I’d seen.

Apocalypse Now: The first film I saw in a theater after returning stateside from Germany. It alone launched an interest in movies that persisted for the following five or six years.

Patton: The go-to film for soldiers maneuvering in the Fulda Gap. We would show it on a film projector run by a diesel generator. I knew to carry several replacement bulbs for the projector when we left garrison.

The Sound of Music: Grandmother insisted our family see this together and she paid for the tickets. She would have been the Maria Rainer character if life had been kinder to her.

There are others yet few recent ones. As the holidays draw near, and we contemplate the events of 2020, there are worse things to do than consider things we love. Movies have been part of my life in society as they are for many.

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Book Review: What Unites Us

What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism by Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner.

Because of Dan Rather’s long tenure at CBS News he reported on events that were important in my life and formative of a national consciousness such as one existed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. His reflections on patriotism are staples of a certain view of the United States, one that is rapidly fading from sight. Rather’s framing of patriotism had hegemony for a long span. Such dominance is coming to an end. The frame has been broken.

There is a certain comfort in reading these essays. It is a false comfort because the United States has changed. We’ve entered a realm where, as Rather writes, what used to be valued no longer is. He asserts his view of patriotism is enduring. I remain skeptical.

We are a more diverse country where societal norms have broken down, resulting in an individualist, short-sighted view of what’s important. It’s everyone for themselves, exploitation of the commons on steroids, and wanton disregard for science that could prevent degradation of the environment.

In the crazy year 2020 has been with the coronavirus pandemic, ill-conceived foreign affairs, climate catastrophe, social unrest, and lack of proper governance, we need hope and Rather provides that. Yet it is not the hope we need. Looking forward our needs are more basic: survival is everything and our future survival as dominant species on the planet is in doubt.

In the maelstrom that is contemporary affairs What Unites Us is a fine meditation, a reminder of what once was. Reflection is important and useful, yet only if it spurs us into action to take care of ourselves and then work together with others in an increasingly integrated global society to improve our lot.