Working on a Cool Documentary Project for Audi

Last week, I published several photos and social updates indicating that I had visited a landfill in the Salt Lake City metro area to help document Audi’s carbon offset program for the new A3 e-tron launch this fall. The hybrid car is a game changer for Audi, but perhaps what is most impressive is the company’s commitment to do more than just produce a sustainable car. The offset program addresses the carbon produced during the manufacturing process and the first 50,000 gas powered miles driven in an e-tron.

That brings me to the Trans-Jordan Landfill. It was an incredible experience seeing how a landfill that produces toxic methane gas – which is 25x worse for the environment than CO2 according to the EPA – turns that gas into a clean energy source.

Geoff Selfie in Landfill

I won’t lie, it smelled really bad. And the setting between two beautiful Rocky Mountain ridges was surreal, especially with seagulls flocking to peck away at the garbage. I wore a clear poncho to avoid getting pooped on by the thousands of birds. But it was in this bizarre setting that something special happens.

18194715979_9e07007e15_k

These orange cones mark wells, places where parts of the landfill are full with trash and the methane is pumped out of the land. They move the gas to a facility maintained by Granger Energy on site where massive turbines turn the gas into electricity for 4500 homes in nearby Murray, UT. While toxic, the methane can be turned into a profitable source of alternative energy and help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

18426898576_04a08be5e5_h

In addition to the methane program, the Trans-Jordan Landfill employs Esther Davis (pictured below). Esther was our guide during the trip, and she helped educate us about the landfill, how it recycles, and the methane to energy program.

18455116010_d01df54ce2_h

Part of Esther’s job is to educate local school children. We attended a couple of the classes and watched the kids go crazy as a few larger items of trash were destroyed by bulldozers.

18456627559_a48354b22f_h

These kids were pretty amazed to learn how their trash is turned into energy, and also how little their community recycles. It’s good to see a general concern for the environment in today’s youth. The sentiment provides hope for the future, particularly with my daughter Soleil. At four years old she is already concerned about the environment and wants to protect pollinators. I look forward to explaining the Trans-Jordan Landfill methane-to-energy process to her when she gets a little older.

17772260484_c8449f1649_k (2)

All in all, it was really quite amazing to see this story unfold in person. Just starting out with the Utah sunrise coming through the gas pumps on top of the landfill was incredible. Then watching the seagulls fly into the landfill to pick at the refuse while children watched the bulldozers manage our waste was esoteric to say the least. Finally, the tremendous sound of the massive turbines working to turn toxic gas into alternative energy was powerful.

The Trans-Jordan Landfill trip was part of a larger documentary film being produced by VIVA Creative on behalf of Audi. This will also include a trip to Kenya, Africa later this month to document a second project in the carbon offset program. It’s definitely an honor to be part of the team, and producing the secondary content for the effort. More to come.

One Year Later: BP Still Hasn’t Learned Ethics

Communications from BP in recent weeks claim the oil company has reversed the damage from the Deep Horizon oil spill, both environmentally and economically. This communications effort flies in the face of factual reality of dead wildlife, decimated fishing careers, and the ongoing economic hardship felt throughout the Gulf region. The unfactual, dishonest communications campaign once again demonstrates BP’s lack of ethical integrity. Worse, it is occurring as the globe moves to celebrate Earth Day this Friday, adding insult to injury.

Last year throughout the oil spill, BP consistently lied to the public about its actions and the damages sustained by the Gulf. The transgressions were in direct conflict with basic communications ethics, and represented one of the worst cover-ups in modern history. It demonstrated BP’s true lack of corporate citizenship, and a willingness to through entire ecologies under the bus all in the name of shareholder value.

Complicit in its lack of action, the Obama Administration only brought pressure to bear on BP after significant public anger was expressed. It took the likes of @BPGlobalPR on Twitter lampooning BP’s slimy communications and citizen journalists showing the damages on closed public (and policed) beaches, to inspire the incredible amounts of negative media pressure.

The ensuing call to the carpet caused bumbling yachtsman and BP America CEO Tony Hayward to step down from his job. It cost BP $20 billion is damages before a single liability trial began. It caused a leadership shake-up in the EPA’s Mines Minerals Service. All for naught.

One year later, the Gulf still suffers. BP is still lying through its public teeth, more worried about its public image than doing the right thing. And the Obama Administration claims to be holding BP accountable, whistling in the dark about what may really happen as the 2012 election looms.

It has been and remains evident that the only thing that can help the Gulf is us. Citizen action (see this current Ushahidi map) alone can help because the responsible parties simply won’t. If you want to help the Gulf, this Earth Day please consider donating to the Surfrider Foundation or the Ocean Conservancy.

What do you think about BP and the Obama Administration one year after Deep Horizon?

Oahu: A Reminder of the Beauty We Fight For

Honolulu

I’m in Oahu to speak at the NextLevel conference, my second Hawai’ian island trip in all (I visited the Big Island in 2001). When one lands in Honolulu, the first place you go to is your hotel, usually in Waikiki. While it’s certainly beautiful with scenic island decor, you feel enveloped by tourism and civilization… The high rises remind you that this is Hawaii’s most populated island, and the 11th largest metro area in the United States.

Waimanalo Bay IV

But only a half hour drive in any direction, and you find yourself surrounded by gorgeous natural beauty. It’s a jaw dropping stark reminder that our cement and steel worlds are built at the expense of such beauty.

Nu'uanu Valley 2

Like all lands, Oahu and the other Hawai’ian islands suffer from environmental damage (see Environment Hawai’i). While Hawai’i has come along way, new issues like plastic bottle ridden beaches continue to threaten the islands. Mass tourism also endangers the ecological wonders.

Waimea Bay

Being here reminds me of why I blog here every week. Why I continue to be active for the environment. We have so much to fight for, so much to preserve. If only we would all take a little more responsibility, and take little steps every day to positively impact our environment. But until mass conscious approaches to the environment occur throughout our society, I’ll continue my efforts.

Sandy Beach

Full Oahu photo set is here.

Geoff Livingston is a regular contributor to the Live Earth blog.

How Much Give Can You Get?

Issues Day - St. Mary's Hall Empty Theater

Triple Pundit reviewed a study that shows altruism amongst green product purchasers declines rapidly. In the write up, author BC Upham says, “The study suggests people who have spent money on things they perceive to benefit society as a whole may feel they have “done their good deed for the day” and thus are more likely to choose less altruistically when presented with other ethical quandaries.”

The University of Toronto study goes on to say in the new global ethic that the larger world seems to be espousing, people reactively give out of guilt. “This implies that virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviors.” Then the study says, “Because purchasing green products affirms individuals’ values of social responsibility and ethical consciousness, we predict that purchasing green products will establish moral credentials, ironically licensing selfish and morally questionable behavior.”

Ironically, I think the study, while on target with its findings, has missed a critical component of the social change idea market: Cause fatigue. God knows all of us concerned with social change — green or not — certainly feel tons of pressure from many directions to help society. From local homelessness and domestic issues to global poverty and the environmental crisis, there’s an endless amount of nonprofits and social enterprises begging for our attention.

But how much give can the marketplace get? This study assumes that people will become “selfish” after acting green.

I wonder if that’s the case, or if people only have so much give in them, and when they give to any cause, they’ve taken a step towards meeting their quota. So then this study is wrong in that it implies that people need to do justify badness with goodness. Instead, they have fulfilled their capacity to give and have cause fatigue.

There’s definitely a corollary. Consider how much Haiti got, and then in comparison how little aid Chile received, in spite of a much larger earthquake. Yes, there’s a difference in economic wealth between the two countries, but it doesn’t account for this kind of disparity.

Sooner or later, people need to replenish their charitable spirit by taking care of themselves. Families matter, too, and so does personal welfare. You can’t get water from an empty bucket. Nor should people get a brow beating for doing that. Replenishment is a faith agnostic spiritual axiom.

The end message to successful change organizations is congratulations on your effectiveness. Do what you must to keep these people interested in your cause because loyalty and continued attention will be harder and harder to maintain. Effectiveness will continue to evolve, but in my mind, it includes understanding that there’s only so much give you can get.

Geoff Livingston is a regular contributor to the Live Earth blog.

Copenhagen: Empty Gestures or Real Action?

Walking Uphill

The UN Copenhagen Conference to negotiate a new global environment treaty begins today. And my mind wonders north and east across the entirety of the Atlantic Ocean. I imagine these political types gathering, making great statements and pronouncing real hope. However, as CNN reported this weekend, the gathering is unlikely to yield a new world pact.

While every person in attendance at Copenhagen will surely admit the severe nature of the environmental crisis, few will be empowered to act. That includes Obama. Politically speaking, economic prosperity and “defense” still outweigh eco-initiatives in most every country. Individually, we have not brought enough pressure to bear on our governments to cause movement.

I recently saw Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh speak about Copenhagen, and he had an interesting perspective. From the politician’s point of view, it would take great courage to take strong measures. It would mean acting against the general will of the people. For while we are aware of the problem, people don’t want to stop consuming. In the U.S.A. we consume well beyond our needs, while throughout the world in developing countries like India, Brazil and China, people strive to match our consumption.

The environmental problem remains second to our individual welfare. Instead, economic prosperity and national defense – protecting our well being – comes first. The environment is a weak cousin we choose to pay attention to when its convenient for us.

We have not awaken to the terrible impact our consumption is having on the world. With 6.8 billion people consuming as Americans do, we need five earths to match our current consumption… Imagine how much we will need in 30 years when there are 9.2 billion of us?

Yet, these things need not be disparate. Imagine if we invested more in green technologies and transitioned to sustainable, renewable energy sources. Just ¼ of our defense monies reallocated in this fashion would make a huge impact on carbon emissions. In the U.S. consider all of the actions we are currently engaged in… What would make a better contribution to world peace, sustained action in Iraq or investment in next generation renewable energy technologies?

What if we reviewed our Western eating habits and moved towards more mindful consumption of our land resources, reducing carbon producing industrial poultry and beef centers and ate more vegetarian? I’m not suggesting abstinence, just moderation. Do we really need to eat meat at every meal?

Yes, to act in such a fashion at Copenhagen would be courageous. Perhaps, its simply too much to hope for… At least until we as individuals across the globe wake up to the severity of this issue and start making changes within our own lives.

Today, I am leaving Buenos Aires for El Calafate in Patagonia. There I will begin a two-week ecotour. Every time I am out in nature, I see beautiful things that just astound me. And increasingly, I see the signs of climate change on our most precious resources making the trips somewhat bittersweet.

When I return, the Copenhagen conference will have ended. I will be curious to see how things turned out, and what lies next for the environmental movement. I will never be a George Washington Hayduke, preferring nonviolent action and pressures. May the politicians negotiating our environmental future have the courage and the heart to act before we realize how much general public and personal apathy has hurt our collective future.

Hopenhagen Tries to Seal the Deal

hopenhagen.jpg

Cross-published on the Live Earth blog.

More than 190 countries will gather at the UN Climate Change Conference this December 7-18 in Copenhagen to determine the environmental fate of our planet (see the Guardian’s ongoing coverage for baseline facts). With less than 40 days remaining before the Copenhagen conference, a new effort –Hopenhagen — seeks to unite citizens across the world in political action.

The Hopenhagen site features a petition, which will be delivered to the conference. The goal: Get participating countries to seal the deal and sign an effective climate pact. More than 340,000 people have already signed the petition.

There is a mandatory Hopenhagen Facebook fan page. In one of the more interesting Facebook applications I have seen in a while, the Hopenhagen app seeks to create word of mouth engagement by giving people a Passport to Hopenhagen. To get passport points one must agree to tell friends or participate in sustainable activities (all of which are conveniently posted to your wall).

I like this app because it shows people some of the activities they can engage in to make their own contribution to the environment. Gaming and education will become an increasingly important part of the sustainability and general environmental movement. Most citizens don’t understand how their own carbon footprint affects energy demand. So more and more applications like this one and sites like Chevron’s willyoujoinus.com will endeavor to educate the general public and change citizen behavior.

Self described as a movement, Hopenhagen was created with the support of numerous corporate partners. The site lists other environmental campaigns such as 350 that interested parties can engage in.

Hopenhagen is also on Twitter. Get on board today and spread the hope!