Saturday, October 3, 2009

Healing Fragmented Cities

This is a re-posting of a guest post I submitted for my friend Leland Cheung's campaign page. He is currently running for Cambridge City Council.

Many people would rightly recognize that Cambridge is a fragmented city. Walking along the Charles River past the campuses of Harvard or MIT gives no hint of the default economic segregation you would find in East Cambridge or Central Square. But how can local government work to help heal these divides? What difference can a city official hope to accomplish against such entrenched structures and beliefs?

I spent the summer of 2009 working for the start-up (and largely experimental) California Fisheries Fund. Engaging with a diverse group of small fishing businesses, environmental NGOs, and local government representation, I saw first hand the tremendous societal value that can be created in a small community through collaboration. Examining my experience in light of Leland Cheung’s candidacy for the Cambridge City Council, I see many parallels between what I witnessed first hand in Morro Bay, CA, and Leland’s vision he is bringing to this campaign.

The city of Morro Bay, CA is small in comparison to the other cities along the Central Coast, but has a history filled with character and success. Once a thriving commercial fishing port, it has seen its fish landings (and economy) implode in the wake of misguided regulation mismanagement of key species. Fishermen stood at loggerheads with regulators, environmental groups pushing for wholesale restoration of the local ecology clashed daily with economic planners, and the results of this conflict proved disastrous. Some studies have shown a 75%-80% drop in commercial activity, and the loss of many once-profitable businesses with that decline.

But now things seem to be moving in a different direction. NGOs with strict environmental missions have begun to embrace market forces as a powerful tool for reform and change. Hardy, independent fishermen are beginning to see enhanced value for fish that are harvested in a more sustainable manner, and are considering working together for the first time memory to ensure the catch of future generations. Local government officials are beginning to see the spark of economic revival through this unique collaborative effort, and hope for this sleepy little town is on the rise once again. The local harbormaster and mayor’s office have begun to embrace a plan to invigorate the local economy: a comprehensive plan built on environmentally sound fishing practices and innovative product marketing jointly created by all involved parties.

All of this because groups once committed to opposite extremes have begun to talk to each other, to find value in engagement, and have begun to focus on what is possible tomorrow, not on what has transpired in the past. Commercial landings are on the rise again, and a handful of businesses have arisen, driven by thoughtful, local entrepreneurs, to create and keep this new value in the community. Again, all possible because groups once aligned against each other have begun to listen and work for the sake of their combined fate.

Such engagement is what Leland dreams about for the city of Cambridge. This is without a doubt a fragmented city. Standing alongside the economic and knowledge engines that are Harvard and MIT we have entire populations of people who are clearly being left behind, segregated by old prejudices existing between city and university. Bridging this gap is not going to be easy, but I have to believe it is possible. If a ruggedly individualistic fisherman can sit down and listen to an MIT educated businessman who has never been on a fishing boat, finding value in the conversation that directly applies to the community’s well-being, I am confident that the same type of thing can happen here. It only needs a nudge, a push in the right direction. Electing Leland Cheung and giving him a chance to represent the interests of all of Cambridge will certainly be a step towards that end.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act

I just wrote an opinion piece for my hometown paper in West Virginia on behalf of Operation Free and future West Virginians.

On December 4th, 2007, I stood among a crowd of uniformed US Army officers, and watched as my fellow West Virginian and West Point classmate Ben Tiffner was lowered into the ground at Arlington National Cemetery. Ben was killed in action a month earlier, in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack on his Humvee in Iraq. As my friends and I left the cemetery, we reflected on Ben’s life as well as on the lives of too many other soldiers who gave the last full measure of devotion for our great Nation.

If you haven’t been to see one of our national cemeteries, you need to. The endless rows of white headstones open up into a new section, constantly growing, devoted to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice in today’s War on Terror. Remembering my own time in Iraq leading an infantry mortar platoon, and the dangers we struggled through, I know our military fights a hard, long war. And due to our addiction to cheap fossil fuels, the long war is going to get longer. This is why I choose to fight a better fight, here at home, for cheap, clean energy independence. Our national security depends on it. The lives of soldiers such as Ben’s depend on it. And the lives of our children depend on it. For these reasons we, the people of West Virginia, need the US Congress to pass strong energy and national security legislation this fall.

To be sure, I know the economy of West Virginia has been built on coal. I also know that many people dispute the truthfulness behind the science of climate change. And while I have in fact studied a bit of the science myself, I do not write to you as a climate scientist. Instead, I write to you based on my own experience as a United States soldier. On the battlefield, a soldier doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for 100% certainty before acting. Too often, waiting for certainty results in bad things happening and soldiers dying unnecessarily. We must act when we are sure enough, and the benefits of action outweigh the costs of inaction.

Climate change offers us a similar situation. The world’s top scientific minds agree with 95% certainty that climate change is going to drastically alter the way we live, and that much of climate change is man-made. I’d take that bet any day of the week, especially when my soldiers’ lives are on the line.

Which takes me back to my main point. Assume dry parts of the world dry up even more, and wars over precious drinking water become even more prevalent. Slight sea level increases force the coastal populations of the world’s poorest regions to flee as climate refugees. Instability opens up more holes for extremists preaching anti-American terror to step in and take control. Who is going to have to respond to these threats? China? India? No! We will: American fighting men and women. It is the American soldier who will bear the brunt of inaction. And that will cost us dearly.

We stand at a crossroads. We can choose to do nothing, and be confident that other brave West Virginians such as Ben Tiffner will see their way into our most hallowed of grounds, all because we could not summon the courage to act when needed. Or, we can make an investment in our future today, and reap the benefits for decades to come.

The time for investment is now. On September 30th, the US Senate began consideration of a bill that can and will offer just the added incentives we need to avert the worst of climate change. Such a bill has no chance of knocking out the coal industry overnight -- nor is it intended to. Instead, this bill will spur innovation that will make coal technology cleaner, and will bring better quality jobs to West Virginia. By creating economic incentives for coal users to reduce their carbon emissions, we will unleash an American power just as mighty as any our military possesses: the power of the American entrepreneur. New markets will open up where the hard-working and industrious people of the Mountain State can make the fortunes of tomorrow. And just as importantly, it is going to keep our fighting men and women safer, and our great Nation more secure. We cannot let these benefits pass us by.

Call our Senators and ask for their support today!