Thursday, March 06, 2008

TED Saturday: Thank You For Being Here

This is my final post on TED 2008. If you've made it this far, thank you for being here.

Oxford economist Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion, offered some clear advice on how to help developing nations transform natural resources into long-lasting social benefits. Obviously some nations have squandered their windfalls of oil, diamonds, copper, etc. while others have managed to leverage their advantages into broad, robust economies. The distinguishing factor is, according to Collier, the establishment of checks and balances in the nation's systems of governance. Populations will rise to the occasion if given the chance, as happened in Nigeria when a freed press led to skyrocketing newspaper sales. This advice is timely for Uganda, which just discovered oil, and Angola, which now sells about $50 billion a year of oil.

Collier's prescription is to establish a global agency that monitors and rates nations for best practices, in the same way, I guess, that Institutional Shareholder Services rates corporations for their governance practices. One example of a best practice is to sell national resources (oil rights, mining rights, frequency spectrum, etc.) through verified auctions rather than secret deals cut by the finance minister.

Vice-President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore was next. In a sure sign that he is NOT running for president, he blew a kiss to the flamboyant and flirtatious Tom Reilly. Gore's message was all about the need for civic activism. "I'm a big advocate of changing the light bulbs, but it's more important to change the laws." (I suppose this message justifies Gore's regular use of private jets.)

As we have come to expect, Big Al had some compelling slides with him:

  • The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.half the polar ice cap has melted in the past 25 years, and the rate of loss is increasing. Last year the ice caps lost an area the size of the eastern U.S.
  • 68% of Americans believe that human activity causes significant global warming, and yet they rank global warming near the bottom of the 20 most important political issues.
  • In the last year, the reporters from CNN, NBC, ABC, FOX and CBS were each televised asking the presidential candidates 956, 844, 601, 481, and 319 questions, respectively. For each network, no more than two of those questions related to global warming.
  • Now that Australia has ratified Kyoto (responding to severe droughts), the US stands alone in opposition to the global treaty.

Al's final call was to put a price on carbon consumption. No brainer.

Chris Anderson: "Does it hurt that you're not in a political position to effect this yourself?"

Al: "You have no idea."

Jonathan Haidt, who claims an expertise in happiness and morality, spoke of conservatism and liberalism as the yin and yang. He cautioned us not to get too worked up in our opposition to the other side. What a wimp. Skip this talk.

Saturday's best speaker is a banjo player, watercolor artist, founder of, and writer of Coast Guard oil spill regulations...

One day, at the age of 27, John Francis decided to take a break from talking. He was surprised at how much he learned that day. He decided not talk another day. And another... (This continued for 17 years). In 1971, the day two oil tankers collided and spilled half a million gallons into the San Francisco Bay, John Francis resolved to stop driving and riding in motor vehicles.
So he quietly walked to Ashland, Oregon and registered to study for a 2-year environmental degree. When he graduated, Dad said "You're gong to have to talk and ride in cars now." But instead he walked to another school in Montana. He had no money to register, so the Dean himself paid the $150 needed for one credit, and told John he could take the remaining courses and have the grades escrowed until he can pay for them. John got his master's degree there, and even taught a class by gesticulating and writing on the board.

John walked to Wisconsin where he got a PhD and wrote a lot about oil spills. When the Exxon Valdes spilled its charge, John's expertise was needed so he walked to the east coast. Later, when he worked for the UN, he sailed to Venezuela and walked the countryside to visit the prison town El Dorado. You can get a feel for John's unique story in this video.

In 1990, on the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Day, he resumed talking, to a crowd gathered in Washington, DC. Here's what he said to them: "Thank you for being here."

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  1. Behind, catching up...

    Sarkozy is discussing the idea punitive taxation might be appropriate to those who refuse to sign Kyoto. Heavy-handed but demonstrates that Sarkozy is not a US puppet.

  2. Although normally I side with you on many issues, this one I consider to be similar to Airborne. I have always viewed the environmental movement, as it relates to global warming, to be nothing short of a scam.