Community Capital: Economic Development With a Sense of Place

It’s the economy, stupid.

In 1992, political strategist James Carville coined his catchy admonition ostensibly to keep his staff on message, arguably helping pave the way to Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Carville’s “snowclone” phrase has since been bent and contorted into service across a wide swath of issues.

It’s time to bring the expression home.

“It’s the local economy”

While nuanced in its definition and application, the concept of community capital is fundamentally straighforward: local wealth and resources circulating through the community from which it derives, to the benefit of all within that community.

Typically referring to economic capital, community capital encompasses one of the most common sense examples of the triple bottom line. People, planet (or community), and profit.

Ultimately, any economic activity that does not account for the “Three Ps” is not sustainable, even if wildly successful for a time economically. It won’t last. In the process, people suffer and ecosystems collapse. Needless to say, the business buckles under the weight of its own short-termism.

Like the triple bottom line, community capital is a framework for equitable, sustainable, and conscious capitalism.

It’s the local economy, stupid.



Portland-based Hatch Innovation launched the ComCap conference in 2015 as a one-day “Oregon-only” forum on community capital. In 2016 ComCap expanded into a two-day event hosting experts and business leaders from across the nation.

The City of Monterey, California and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies are co-hosts to this year’s ComCap conference.

In addition to the growing participation and interest in the annual event, ComCap now offers a digital learning library and podcast.

How a community thrives

We’ll be at ComCap September 11–13, talking with innovators, businesspeople, scientists, social advocates, and policy experts. All are passionate, dedicated leaders, working on-the-ground to make their communities better. In the process, they are setting a standard for others to follow.

Among these leaders are:

Community capital puts “community” before “capital” for a reason. It focuses on community resilience through cooperative effort and stewardship. It’s economic development with a sense of place.

The Message of a Better Tomorrow Resonates Across the U.S. (and the globe)

Last month I spoke with Cyril Dion, a French filmmaker, writer, and activist. Dion co-produced the documentary Tomorrow with the actress, director, screenwriter, and musician Melanie Laurent.

Tomorrow won the 2016 French César for Best Documentary. After a successful release in more than 20 countries, the film made its U.S. debut in the Bay Area the weekend of April 14.  When we talked the following Monday, a tired yet determined-looking Dion said he was encouraged by the overwhelming enthusiasm for the film’s message of solutions and empowerment.

That enthusiasm continues. In a nation beleaguered by uncertainty and antagonism, Tomorrow has clearly struck a chord across the U.S.

As of this writing, Tomorrow is held over in  NY, LA, San Diego, San Francisco, among other cities.

The road to Tomorrow

Like any mother, Melanie Laurant wants a better future for her childrenShortly after Laurent gave birth to her first child, she learned of the  2012 Nature article, Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere.  Co-authored by Anthony Barnosky,  a paleobiologist, professor emeritus of integrative biology at UC Berkeley and currently executive director of the Stanford Jasper Ridge Biological Reserve, the paper’s stark warning of a rapidly approaching biological tipping point was an alarming awakening for a new mother in the 21st century.

We can avoid the severely – and suddenly  – altered world that potentially awaits Laurent’s child and the two billion other children expected on the planet by 2050. But the time to act, the article warned, is now. Waiting until after an ecological collapse to find viable solutions will be too late.

Fighting catastrophe fatigue

With that dire message, Laurent, Dion and a crew of four set out to tell a different story. We can imagine a better future for our children. If that sounds improbable, we need only look at what people all over the world are doing right now to shape the future of their families, communities, and the

The film acknowledges the urgent message from Barnosky’s work, and that of many others, but doesn’t dwell on the darkness. Instead, it focuses on active solutions.

Filmmaker Cyril Dion“People feel helpless… that they are too small to do anything about it,” Dion says.

“I really wanted to make a tool to empower people. To show them that we can start where we are and we can also build a movement.”

A better world, the film posits, can rest on four pillars, looking at each one in turn:

    • Agriculture:  For anyone living in the industrialized world and born after 1950, the idea of anything other than industrial farming is an esoteric “niche.” It’s hard to imagine that the exact opposite might be true.

    • Energy: A low carbon energy economy is the right side of history. A continued “business-as-usual” reliance on high-carbon, extractive energy sources is the wrong side of history. Everybody know that. Well, almost everybody.
    • Education: The chances of success for a single individual, and thus an entire society, rests on a good education.

    • Democracy: How we choose our leaders demands an informed and engaged citizenry (see above). Oligarchy is what happens when people don’t know or don’t care, allowing fear and emotion to dictate their decisions.

There are innovative solutions for each. Solutions not only “being tried,” but working and expanding.

People from all walks of life making a better Tomorrow, today

A world reimagined

In another interview yesterday, Barnosky told me he remains optimistic. Messages like the one in Tomorrow are important, he says. It demonstrates  the groundswell of community action globally, suggesting a different narrative for a “global economy.” One that starts with people and communities, connected through a shared belief in their own power to effect change. Not by “saving the world,” but by working in their own communities, their own little plot of land. Think globally, act locally.

But it’s also about being present, here and now, and imagining the kind of future we want.

“If we can imagine the world differently,” says Dion, “it’s going to have an impact on the economic and political structure.”

“We are human beings, so we imagine first. We first need to change the vision, the narrative of the world.”

Tomorrow shows a world reimagined, but real.

Tomorrow – Trailer from Under The Milky Way on Vimeo.

Climate Change Mitigation in Developing Countries

The following reflects course work for the MOOC Climate Change Mitigation in Developing Countries offered by Professor Harald Winkler of the University of Capetown, South Africa

Week 1:
Sustainable consumption patterns – a Super Wicked problem

Week 2:
Awareness and Response : Actions to Reduce Emissions from Personal Energy Use

Week 3:
A Slightly Anomalous American  

Week 4:
A Gap as Wide as the Grand Canyon

Week 5:
Innovation, awareness, and education: making change in America

Week 6:
California cap and trade policy: A framework for change

Sustainable Consumption Patterns – a Super Wicked Problem

Week 1

The other side of the development coin is sustainable consumption. Meeting the basic needs of a growing global population, expected to reach 9.5 billion people by 2050, while ensuring a sustainable development path for emerging economies, requires a concerted and collaborative effort from the developed world to adopt more sustainable patterns of consumption.

Consumption is the foundation of a modern capitalist economy, the largest component of GDP, currently the basic measure of economic health. Many, but certainly not all, have benefited from this meteoric rise in economic growth and consumption. But it is unsustainable. We are embedded in an economic system that cannot be sustained, particularly given the concurrent growth in human population. It is a super-wicked problem.

I consider this super-wicked problem from the perspective of a baby-boomer born in the late 1950s, a decade many characterize as the beginning of the “Great Acceleration,” when consumption of resources, goods and services skyrocketed, particularly in the United States.

The energy source driving this expansion of consumption is fossil fuel. In 1958, the year I was born, the CO2 observatory atop Mauna Loa on the island of Hawaii began taking measurements of atmospheric concentration of CO2. The first measurement of the “Keeling Curve,” named after Dr. Charles Keeling, was approximately 285 parts-per-million (ppm) of CO2. As of this writing the measurement from Mauna Loa is nearly 407 ppm.

The period of my lifetime clearly shows a correlation between consumption, energy use and CO2 in the atmosphere, and with that warming average global temperatures.

While developing countries must adopt a sustainable development path, the developed world must seek out more sustainable patterns of consumption.

There are a number of possible pathways to sustainable consumption, among them:

Sustainable consumption is also addressed in Goal 12 of the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations in 2015.

Awareness and Response : Actions to Reduce Emissions from Personal Energy Use

Week 2

The system

The system I consider for this assignment is residential energy use for a family of two living in an apartment of approximately 1200 square feet in San Francisco, CA. The specific context is consumption of electricity and natural gas within this apartment.

The goal of the proposed intervention in this system is three-fold:

  1. reduce consumption of energy
  2. increase energy efficiency
  3. utilize the regional options available for choosing the source of energy, particularly electrical generation from renewable energy sources.

Actions within the system

The actions of the system encompass the daily patterns of life in an urban center in the United States.

The actions within this system of family energy use include electricity for powering electronics and other appliances, lighting, and heating (space heaters). Natural gas is a primary source of energy generation in California. The state is a net importer of energy.

The resulting greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the system are primarily from the extraction, combustion, and distribution of natural gas. However, consumers in San Francisco have options for choosing the source, or the mix of sources, of electricity generation.


Much of California is a Mediterranean climate, which impacts energy use for heating and cooling. The region has several micro-climates and the coastal climate of San Francisco is characterized as having “natural air conditioning.”

Global Mediterranean climate zones


  • Information:
    The first intervening action is the collection of data. What isn’t measured can’t be managed. Pacific Gas and Electric uses smart metering, which allows consumer access to energy data use over several metrics, including time-of-day and comparative analysis. A benchmark is established with this data. Goals are established against the benchmark for reducing overall energy consumption
  • Behavioral considerations:

    • Time-of-day energy use data is a useful tool for identifying daily patterns of behavior the lead to increased energy consumption. Once identified, these actions can be modified.
    • Despite the best of intentions, common actions within the system can be difficult to modify. Sometimes even impractical within the context of the system. For instance, reducing vampire loads from appliances and electronics that consume power even when “switched off” is cumbersome.  Using technology such as apps to monitor and control specific electrical outlets can Incentivize the habit of turning off sources of “stand-by” power consumption when not needed.

  • Lighting

    The cost of LED has dropped significantly. Currently about 40 percent of the lighting in our apartment uses LED lighting. As older bulbs, either CFL or incandescent, reach the end of their useful life they will be replaced with LED bulbs.

  • Opt-in

    San Francisco residents have available a program called CleanPowerSF. Participating in the program is voluntary, with two tires available, Green provides 35 percent of electricity  consumption from renewable sources; SuperGreen promises 100 percent of consumed electricity from clean energy sources, at a slight premium over basic utility rates. 

  • Reducing emissions

    The cumulative impact of the interventions described here will reduce emissions and creates a systematic process of energy consumption awareness and monitoring.

    Using the SuperGreen program will significantly reduce emissions from electricity consumption. However, it is important to note the issue of the “efficiency paradox,” also known as the Jevons Paradox, which asserts that increased efficiency leads to increased consumption.

A Slightly Anomalous American

Modeling energy consumption and carbon footprint from energy and transportation

The research this week relates to my previous post looking at my personal residential energy use for two people living in an apartment in San Francisco.

To reflect energy use assumptions relevant to the United States I used the EPA carbon footprint calculator to model my Carbon Footprint Calculator _ Climate Change _ US EPA.

I used the EPA’s online calculator and also downloaded the spreadsheet version of the model for use later.

Energy consumption and carbon footprint summary

Monthly average for past 12 months

  • Natural gas: 23 therms – represents 3,370 lbs. annual CO2e, higher than similar homes within PG&E’s dataset
  • Electricity: 203 kWh – represents 1,494 lbs. CO2e, better than average but higher than most efficient similar homes within PG&E’s dataset. As of May 2016 100 percent of electricity is generated from renewable sources under the CleanPowerSF program.


Natural gas

Based on this simple model scenario my carbon footprint is largest due to consumption of natural gas. This may be due to water heating. Inspection of piping and fittings in this nearly century-old building may reveal opportunities to reduce gas consumption.


Electricity generation from 100 percent renewables is based on the accuracy of the information provided by CleanPowerSF. Further individual verification of the generation source is a possible next step.


  • I do not own a car, somewhat rare in the U.S.
  • I travel primarily by walking and public transit.
  • I belong to a car sharing non-profit, using a car a few times a year.
  • I regularly use taxi service (not Uber, etc.)
  • In 2015 I took three domestic flights averaging about 1000 miles each. I took one international trip, four separate flights total roundtrip, from San Francisco to Paris.

These are not included in the model presented here, but will be soon. I estimate the plane travel, and all its ancillary sources of emissions, as the largest source of emissions.

A Gap as Wide as the Grand Canyon

Where we are:

For the past two weeks my context under consideration has been a single urban residential user, a rented flat for a family of two people in San Francisco, CA.

This week we broaden the context to a national focus, the United States.  With the very significant exception of air travel, our carbon footprint is lower than the average American.

The United States is second in aggregate emissions but remains the highest emiting nation per capita.

The U.S. INDC – or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution – pledges reduction of 26-28 percent reduction of emissions over 2005 levels by 2025, with a longterm goal of on 80 percent reduction by mid-century.

The Paris Agreement adopted at the COP21 climate conference last year calls for a “decarbonized” economy by the end of the century.

Development vs. consumption – an economic paradox

The global community is at a crossroads on what is sustainable between development and consumption. For developing countries, the challenge may be right to develop and provide better lives for their citizens, but in context of limits on resources, not imposed on the early growth of developed countries, and costs previously externalized, but now required in the full accounting.  This imposes a different, maybe unknown, path to development.

Here in the developed world, and especially in the United States, the challenge is awareness, curbing excess, reducing consumption and increasing efficiency.

This is a tough sell, I think, mostly due to social and political reasons.

The post World War 2 boom focused the wartime production output on consumers, ushering in the Great Acceleration in the 1950s. I was born in 1958 and I remember when I was a kid gas cost about .29 cents/gallon. The gas stations gave away free glassware to complement the kitchen of the suburban home, made possible by access to cheap, mostly worry-free (at least for a time) energy.

The current US INDC is ambitious, but not ambitious enough. A “decarbonized” economy that includes the developed world is an economy built on a primary energy source other than fossil fuels. What is emitted is captured. Perhaps even technologies will develop and scale to create “negative emissions” by removing carbon from the atmosphere.

The technical challenges, while significant, I believe can be met. The real challenge is political and social will.

Featured image credit: UK Department for International Development, courtesy Flickr

Innovation, awareness, and education: making change in America

As the largest global economy and highest per-capita energy consumer, the United States a unique opportunity, in partnership with other developed countries, to lead the global community toward a low-carbon energy future.  It can be argued that it is also the responsibility of the U.S. to lead.

Discussing the entire scope of possible climate mitigation innovation within the U.S. is beyond the scope of this assignment, but there are two innovative ideas and developments to look at that point to larger issues of change as discussed in week 5 of the course. One focuses on technology, the other on “softer” socio-economic issues.

Energy storage

In my work as a freelance environmental journalist, I covered the Intersolar North America 2016 solar industry trade show in San Francisco this past week.

Energy storage is both a challenge and opportunity for market penetration of renewable energy sources. What I discovered this week is how much of the industry is focused on energy storage development across all applications, from short-duration residential systems to long-duration utility-scale storage.

One particular design of interest is a hybrid iron flow battery developed by ESS (Energy Storage Systems). The main components of the shipping-container-sized battery are iron, salt, and water. This type of battery represents a technical innovation helping to pave the way for  renewable energy  development. The ESS system 100kW/800kWh battery has a 6-8 hour nominal discharge time.

On small island nations, this technology can drastically reduce, perhaps even eliminate, the need for expensive and dirty diesel generation.

In large developed countries, advances in iron flow battery technology address a principle challenge for renewable baseload generation – intermittency.

Education and awareness

The advantages of technical innovation are clear. Just as important is equal innovation for market analysis, information, and education for a new energy economy.  This is true both in the developed and developing world, though obviously, the specific circumstances of each are vastly different.

The developed world must transform its energy infrastructure, and thus the global economy. Emerging economies must balance development with the urgency of climate mitigation.

In the U.S. organizations like The Solar Foundation focus on the “soft costs” of solar, training and worker development, and market transformation.

The latest national solar job census shows continued growth in the U.S. solar market that consistently exceeds expectations.

Along with rapid technical advances, programs aimed at the socio-economic aspects of solar are important innovations for a low carbon economy.

Developing a workforce and educating stakeholders about solar power integration reveals common ground for change

California cap and trade policy: A framework for change

In the U.S., California is a leader in developing and implementing emissions mitigation policy.

The California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32 or “AB32“) passed the state legislature in August of 2006 and was signed into law by then-governor Arnold Schwartzenneger.

The policy calls for a reduction in emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, reflected a 15 percent reduction in emissions by 2020 from a business-as-usual trajectory.

Using a cap-and-trade mechanism as a principal means of mitigation,  AB32 sets a statewide limit on emissions sources responsible for 85 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Scoping plan

AB32 mandates a “Scoping Plan” to map implementation of the policy’s mitigation objectives.

Developed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the  initial scoping plan”  was agreed to in December of 2008 , with regular updates  since that time, the latest being approved in May of 2014.

Based on this update, Governor Jerry Brown issued Executive Order B-30-15 in April 205 establishing a mid-term emissions reduction target of 40 percent over 1990 levels by 2030.  This is the most ambitious GHG reduction target in North America.

California AB32 - the path to 2020

Implementation of emissions cap and trade

A brief timeline of implementation:

  • January 2012:
    Market mechanisms and greenhouse gas rules developed by CARB come into force and are legally binding
  • November 2012:
    The first quarterly auction of emissions allowances is held.
  • January 2013:
    Cap-and-trade program begins for energy generation and industrial facilities emitting 25,000 MTCO2e (metric ton CO2 equivalent) or more annually. Cap is initially set at 2 percent below projected 2012 emissions.
  • September 2013:
    California Air Resources Board issues first carbon offset credits.
  • January 2014:
    Carbon cap declines 2 percent from the initial set cap.
  • In 2014 California links with Quebec, Canada cap-and-trade program.
  • January 2015:
    Carbon cap comes into force for distributors of transportation, natural gas, and other fuels.

    • In 2015 cap declines 3 percent. Set to decline 3 percent from 2015 to 2020.
  • December 31, 2020:
    Deadline for achieving 2020 GHG emissions cap.

Economic implications

Numerous studies on the economic implications of AB32 are available, including the latest economic analysis from the CARB Scoping Plan.

The Union of Concerned Scientists published an analysis in 2009, as did the University of California-Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.

A pathway for change in the developed world

California’s gross state product (GSP) nearly $2.5 trillion dollars in 2015, or 13.7 percent of the U.S. total GDP.

The California economy is the sixth largest in the world. As discussed in the final lecture, addressing climate change must be a global issue. No single state or nation can meet the scale of such a “wicked problem.”

The Global Warming Solutions Act demonstrates a policy that can be linked and modeled as part of the bridge from domestic policy to international contributions.