Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Beyond inconvenient truths

Sustainability Conference to hold three days of informational events

Express Staff Writer

Michael Shellenberger and Ted Norhaus are the keynote speakers at the Sustainability Conference on Friday evening. Photo by

It's all well and good for people to be told to live sustainably. But most folks, even elected officials, may not know exactly what that entails and how it can positively affect an entire community.

The Sun Valley Sustainability Conference was started to create awareness about the issues of sustainability and the green movement. It's aimed at officials, planners, architects, real estate agents, developers, builders, attorneys, landscape architects, educators, homeowners and other interested citizens.

Hosted by Developing Green LLC, Citizens for Smart Growth and the Environmental Resource Center, the three-day conference will run from Thursday, Oct. 23. to Saturday, Oct. 25. in the Sun Valley Inn. The conference aims to educate about green building practices, renewable energy options and the necessity of smart growth.

Badges are needed each day except Saturday when the Exhibit hall and panel discussions will be open to the public for free.

Keynote speakers Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus are busy working to bring the U.S., the green movement and the government up to speed for the 21st century. Together they urge people to look beyond the inconvenient truths to a larger picture.

They will speak at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, in the Continental Room at the Sun Valley Inn. Keynote address tickets are $25.

Recognized by Time magazine as among the 2008 Environmental Heroes of the Year, they have made waves, been called the bad boys of environmentalism and ultimately been noticed for their prescient ideas.

In 2003, they founded The Breakthrough Institute in San Francisco.

"It's basically a small think tank," Shellenberger said. "Mostly we see ourselves as trying to change the old paradigms. The U.S is no longer an industrial economy. Basically we need to be pro- technology."

For instance, in 2005, Breakthrough co-created "Health Care for Hybrids," a policy initiative to achieve energy independence as well as revitalize the country's flawed auto industry. Funded by the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and jointly crafted with the Center for American Progress, Health Care for Hybrids was introduced into the Senate by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and into the House by Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash. It was endorsed by the United Auto Workers and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

They also co-founded the Apollo Alliance, an umbrella organization that seeks to achieve energy independence, increase economic competitiveness and overcome global warming.

In 2004, they really broke through when they penned "The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World," which triggered a national debate about the future of environmentalism and interest-group liberalism.

Here's the thing: They are environmentalists and have enough serious credibility to prove it, but they argue that while it's important to work locally and regionally on conservation and environmental clean-up, the larger picture of global climate change must be dealt with by creating new policy.

"I strongly support local efforts for pollution abatements and conservation but we have to be pretty clear eyed on what we have to do," Shellenberger said. "The last few years in the green bubble people went crazy. We already have a built system—roads, schools, sewer systems—but in China and India they are building those things by using cheap fuel like coal to do it.

"One of the fundamental principles of the green movement is understanding our connectedness with all these problems. You can't deal with climate issues unless you understand how it trickles down."

Shellenberger believes the government needs to stop arguing about whether or not there is global warming and invest in technological innovations like pollution control.

"Political action usually follows technology innovations," he said. "The government's role is in enabling infrastructure. And there's education—we don't have the engineers that we need. What makes it tricky is you really have to start building stuff in the real world, like wind turbines. They had to build a lot of little ones before getting it right. We're getting clearer about that. We learn by doing. The old environmental politics were politics of limits—humans had gone too far, we were out of control and had to be reined in.

But you actually have to create stuff and develop whole new industries. There are major engineering projects. So instead of controlling humans they must be unleashed. It goes to adapting to a much hotter world."

Besides planting gardens, eating locally and riding bikes, what can the average person do?

Go to the Sustainability Conference for ideas. And vote.

For more information, times and other speakers visit

Public Fair

What: Free panel discussions at Sun Valley Inn.

When: Saturday, Oct. 25.

· 10-11 a.m. "State of the Valley: What progress are our cities making towards sustainability goals?"

· 11 a.m.- noon, "Stories from the trenches: Builders and homeowners share pleasures and pitfalls of building green homes."

· 1-2 p.m. "Greening your Business."

· 1-5:30 p.m. Tour of Homes-Visit examples of green homes and businesses throughout the valley.

What: Exhibit Hall-More than 50 booths showcase the latest in green building technology, sustainable products, and other related items.

When: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24, and Saturday, Oct. 25.

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