From my personal Facebook page today:
As you know, lately I’ve been investing a lot of my time on raising ocean awareness (together with many thousands of other people). My firm sponsored the “Out to Sea” exhibit on ocean plastics (also known as the Plastic Garbage Project). We launched SDG14.net. I keynoted European Maritime Day. And we’ve been supporting WWF on its Blue Economy and related ocean strategies. I’d like to believe, on this World Oceans Day, in the middle of the UN Ocean Conference now happening in NY, that it’s all having a positive effect — that all our actions in concert, including the big pushes by some governments (like Sweden & Fiji), the work of countless NGOs, and a growing number of folks like us have started to lift the oceans up to greater visibility.
Continued action on this is essential. I keep repeating “Ocean is the new climate,” but really it’s more than that. The atmospheric climate system is an essential, fateful thing, but it is inanimate. The oceans are full of life, they are the *cradle* of life, and that life is literally dying away. When we say, “save the planet,” usually half ironically, what we really mean is, save and protect the Earth’s living systems, and the non-living systems that are essential to all of us. #SaveOurOcean as the hashtag goes, but also, save life on land, save the life-sustaining balance of gases in our atmosphere, save the possibility for everyone, everywhere to have what they need. And in this, there is no room for modern irony. It really must be done, in all seriousness and earnestness. Sometimes this involves a confrontation with grief. But also, the work can bring a satisfying sense of joy and purpose.
Which is why I can close with a heartfelt: Happy World Oceans Day.
Welcome to my website. If you are looking for a bio and background on my work, click here.
I work as a consultant and advisor on sustainable development. That work takes many different forms, from giving keynote speeches, to facilitating or moderating large events, to developing strategic plans, to managing small teams of researchers to produce reports. The topics I focus on change as the priorities of the global sustainability movement evolve. I always aim to work on the leading edge of that movement — and help accelerate that movement as a positive “wave of change”. For me personally, building knowledge and expertise on the science, economics, and politics of sustainability is tightly linked to work on change, strategic planning — and inspiring people to engage with this work and to persevere. For me, sustainable development is the greatest challenge of our generation.
Here is a review of some of the topics I am actively working on, right now, either with clients, or as part of internal AtKisson Group projects:
Promoting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Promoting the SDGs is currently at the core of everything I do, because the SDGs are now at the core of the global sustainability transition. Within AtKisson Group, I manage the 17Goals partnership, which runs a website and social media channel providing news and free resources on the SDGs. In the coming months I will be doing a number of keynotes and presentations where the SDGs (Better Cotton Initiative, European Maritime Day, Club of Rome Europe, Design Management Institute, CSR Greenland …). All of my talks and keynotes have some kind of link to the SDGs. As does the rest of this list.
Raising the profile of the oceans in the global sustainability movement. I’m working on this topic through several different initiatives, in partnership with many other people and organizations. “Ocean is the new climate,” I keep telling people (I keynoted European Maritime Day using that title, and published an article about this general topic here). The ocean is just as important, just as global — and its sustainability just as threatened. Current projects include:
Working with WWF on their strategies to promote a more sustainable approach to the ocean economy, also known as the “Blue Economy“. I’ve also been helping them develop an initiative around ocean investments.
Raising awareness on the urgent, enormous problem of plastics in the ocean, through our globally crowdfunded exhibition in Stockholm “Out to Sea“. We are also running a number of evening programs in Stockholm, in connection with that exhibition.
Building a web and social media channel, SDG14.net, to help promote and support the coming UN Ocean Conference (which is the first summit of its kind) on 5-9 June. The aim of that conference is to advance “Global Goal” (SDG) #14, to conserve the oceans and ensure that we are using them in a sustainable way.
Supporting the United Nations secretariat as they work on helping developing countries build their capacity to implement the SDGs. I’ve been working in this area for a few years, since before the SDGs were even formally agreed. Working with the UN — specifically its Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UNDESA, in New York, but also other pieces of the UN, like the UNECE in Geneva — seems especially important now, with political winds blowing as they are. UNDESA, which is comprised of numerous divisions (such as Sustainable Development, Statistics, Policy & Analysis, Population, Forests and more), is increasingly focused on advancing a more integrated approach to policy making. I am happy that I can play a role in facilitating that process.
I pursue a similar goal in my work with Niras, a company that has a large contract with Sweden’s development agency, SIDA. As a guest lecturer and occasional advisor to the program, I work on helping to train officials from governments in Africa and Asia in sustainable development, systems thinking, integrated planning, and how to be better agents of change.
Assisting the countries around the Baltic Sea find new ways to collaborate on the SDGs. The Baltic 2030 initiative, which is part of the Council of the Baltic Sea States (a kind of “mini-UN” for northern Europe), used to be called Baltic 21. Baltic 21 was my first client in this region, many years ago, and has been a client numerous other times over the years. It’s a privilege to be helping the international officials, national officers and experts frame a new way forward together on the SDGs.
Helping people see the Arctic in a new way, and respond to its rapidly changing circumstances with sustainable economic solutions. This relates to a project I’ve been working on with colleagues and clients in WWF’s Arctic program for over a year now — a report on the “Blue Economy” of the Arctic. Since 2/3 of the Arctic is ocean, and so much of the accessible land is coastal, The Blue (marine-based) Economy is a huge piece of the overall Arctic economy. As the region melts (faster than anyone thought possible), larege investments are moving in, and larger ones are expected over time. Is the region ready for that? What will it take to guide economic development in the Arctic in the direction of increasing sustainability and resilience — economically, socially, and ecologically?
Helping designers and architects embrace the SDGs as a design challenge. This is an internal project, connected to our 17Goals initiative (above). And we have a wonderful partner in that work: Design and Architecture Norway, a government agency that is the main sponsor of the Oslo Manifesto, a document that translates the SDGs into design language. The SDGS need to speak to designers, and engage them. The Oslo Manifesto document (which people and institutions can sign), and the accompanying inspirational web platform, together with the strong position of DOGA in the global design community, are helping to spread the word about the SDGs into a crucial professional community.
Working with leading companies to help them refine, advance, or develop their sustainability strategies. Most of this work happens within the boundaries of confidentiality agreements, but all of it remains closely tied to the science of sustainability, and to the promotion of the global consensus on the world’s future which we call the SDGs.
Promoting books to empower change agents. As an author, promoting books is a necessary part of my job. But like most authors, it’s not the part I do best. The most recent little book I wrote, together with my friend and business partner, Axel Klimek, is called Parachuting Cats into Borneo. It is full of tips, tools, advice and experience related to making systemic change happen, especially in large organizations. The reviews and endorsements have been excellent, but we want the book to reach more people. So here comes the promotional part: Please read this book, tell your friends, write a review on Amazon, order a box for a class or training group …
Making music continues to be an integral part of my work. Sometimes, I still add a song or two into a presentation (the informal presentations, anyway). Sometimes, I even put on a whole musical show. But I’m pleased to report that other people are now using my music, in their work. For example, my pop song and music video about the SDGs (“We Love the SDGs“) now has a choral arrangement which was first performed by a choral group at Arizona State University, as part of their Sustainability Solutions Festival. They have made the sheet music available to choirs and other vocal music groups (click here for more info).
Finally, if you are interested in how I think about the work I do, you can hear me talking about it (and singing a bit) in this live stage interview with GreenBiz founder Joel Makower. And you can follow my regular column about sustainability issues on the GreenBiz platform, North Star.
In January, I launched a “lightning challenge” crowdfunding campaign to bring a noted international exhibition on plastic garbage in the seas to Stockholm. It was successful, and the exhibit will open this week. Here is the letter I just sent to everyone who contributed, in amounts that ranged from $10 to $3,000. You can get the full background here.
Dear friends and colleagues who became “Crowdfunders” for Out to Sea in Stockholm,
First, a very big THANK YOU again for choosing to invest in our little initiative. As you know, if you have followed our social media, we succeeded in funding the exhibition OUT TO SEA on ocean plastics, and it will open in Stockholm on March 22 (and to the public on Mar 23).
Your funding triggered, in turn, a wave of funding from others — The Swedish government, the City of Stockholm, WWF, and a few other organizations saw that this was a “happening thing” … and they jumped on the bandwagon to fill in our financial gaps.
Crowdfunding donations covered about 40% of our total budget. A few larger sponsors (AtKisson Group is one of these) covered the rest of the “essential” budget (exhibition fees, insurance, that kind of thing), and others came in to support the educational programming.
Let me tell you more about the impact of your donation below, but first some basics:
There is a website in English about the exhibition in Stockholm here:
The main website for the global project that created this traveling exhibition is here:
And there is a main Facebook page associated with the exhibition, where notes from the Stockholm showing will be posted regularly:
But there is more. Because of your support, the local version of the exhibition in Stockholm is starting to do what I hoped it would do: raise more awareness to this issue both locally, and globally.
We already know that we will get TV coverage etc. to the opening here in Stockholm. But also, thanks to you again, the exhibition has been noticed by the United Nations. It was too late to bring the exhibit to the UN Ocean Conference for June of this year … but the exhibit will keep going for several years after this, in an updated form. And it is now on the UN “radar” thanks to the Swedish government (which told the UN about it). We’ll see what happens there, maybe it will be brought into the next major oceans meeting.
Also, we (my firm) have decided to launch a new website/blog/social media channel, partly to help amplify the message of this exhibition, but also to just promote attention and action related to the oceans, the UN goal for the oceans (SDG14), and upcoming UN Ocean Conference. We are just building this channel now, but you can already see it — and follow the social media — at the links below.
So .. your investment is already multiplying.
If you would like to be more directly involved with us in our efforts to promote SDG14 and ocean awareness through these various channels — as a content contributor, a continuing funder, and connection-maker, whatever — please let me know.
And again … thank you. I yelled for help with short notice, for something that wasn’t obviously relevant to people in other parts of the world, and you responded, with great generosity. That matters a lot to me personally, and won’t be forgotten.
We need your help. I’ve never tried crowdfunding before, or asking for donations for a project. But now I am.
As I wrote earlier on FB, we tried hard to find corporate sponsors in Sweden. Shockingly, not a single one said yes. (Yet.) Our friends in government, NGOs, and small sustainability firms are now scraping their budgets, but money is tight. That’s why we are also coming to you.
We need to raise SEK 300 000, which is about $33,000, in a week. Otherwise, the exhibition is off.
Are you willing to help? So that we can give this monumental problem the attention it deserves? Any amount welcome, we are seeking contributors & sponsors from all over the world (including Sweden of course!).
Three ways to do it:
For Global Sponsors, you can make your sponsorship contribution via PayPal, here:
If you are in Sweden, you can SWISH a donation:
123 024 63 06
Please put “OUT TO SEA” in the message line.
Hemsida på svenska:
If you can and want to make a larger contribution, contact me. There are nice benefits for large sponsors. (Corporate sponsors are still welcome, even those who said no before.)
Everyone who contributes will be warmly invited to the opening! And publicly thanked as well (unless you wish to remain anonymous).
Note: If you pay by PayPal, you will be purchasing a “Sponsor packet”. In Sweden, if you want to purchase a sponsorship (instead of just making a contribution) let me know, we can invoice you.
We’re not a charity, so it’s not a tax-deductible donation we are asking for. It’s an investment … in a remarkable public event.
Here’s the link again for info and to make a contribution.
And … thank you. If you’ve read this far, at least I know you care! Likes and shares will also help.
In hope, and with gratitude in advance,
For the exhibition team
This is the original Facebook post from Jan 9, 2017, that made us realize we should try crowdfunding for our exhibit on ocean plastic waste. UPDATE 25 JAN 2017: WE ARE HALF WAY THERE! THANKS TO SWEDISH, JAPANESE, USA AND OTHER SPONSORS. Can you help? Click here to read more and contribute …
[Translation of original post in Swedish] Right now, I am feeling very disappointed with Swedish business. Not a single company has agreed to sponsor an exhibit that we are trying to bring here, to Stockholm, about plastic garbage in the oceans. Not a single one! I won’t name any names but we have asked many of the most well known, including those who have profiled themselves on this question.
The problem is huge. The opportunity is also huge. Sweden’s government has stepped forward and sponsored the world’s first UN summit meeting on the oceans and SDG 14 [on the sustainability of the oceans and seas], in June 2017 in NY. The exhibit — which is very dramatic and educational — would be timed with World Water Day and would raise the profile of ocean issues in Sweden. Government agencies and others were ready to help with content for seminars etc. But the corporate sponsors we approached said, “We can’t prioritize that right now,” or “We don’t have the resources,” and such.
You know me. I don’t usually complain. I am, at bottom, an optimist. But this is truly a deep disappointment. This wasn’t huge money we were after. I expected more from Sweden’s private sector, as a land of sustainability leadership.
If you know someone with resources (company, foundation, private individual) who could imagine sponsoring a fantastic exhibit on how we can save our seas from the plague of plastic, please get in touch with me. [Time is of the essence, the window is closing.]
Thanks for reading this letter of complaint, Facebook friends!
I spend a lot of professional time reading about the Arctic (for an upcoming WWF report that my firm is developing). Conclusion: the media is practically ignoring one of the biggest stories on the planet.
Consider the first graph, and the red line at the bottom, which combines the data for all of 2016 on global sea ice (Arctic + Antarctic). The second graph is the size of the temperature anomaly in the Arctic year on year. This is “graphic” evidence that 2016 was the weirdest of weird years. And yet, as documented by a blogger (!), major English-language newspapers were still publishing articles in 2016 talking about a “hiatus” in global warming. (See links at the end of this post.)
Frankly, it’s far too late to stop the melting of the Arctic sea ice, or the northward shift of fish species, or the opening of newly ice-free zones to ship traffic, or the new mining or tourism development. And also, frankly, many people living in the Arctic (e.g. on Greenland) welcome the new opportunities. So the report we are working on will focus on how to steer the inevitable economic development in the Arctic Ocean more sustainably.
But this does not mean we should give up on reducing CO2 emissions: quite the opposite. The melting of the Arctic tells us that truly anything is possible — including, for example, the spreading of deserts northward, the deadly acidifcation of the oceans, the creation of a truly hot world. We have come to grips with this, seeing the Paris Agreement of 2015 not as the last word, but as the first hopeful step in a process of continuous and increasingly ambitious action.
We also need to get serious about removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Greens often don’t like this fact, but when you run the math, there is no way easily around it: we need to do everything we can, from drawing down emissions (Paul Hawken & colleagues have a great book on “Drawdown” coming out in April) to cleaning up our already-tossed-out atmospheric garbage (I support the work of Klaus Lackner & others on this).
For people like me, and those senior to me, who have been working in this field a long time, this moment is looking more and more like the “day of reckoning.” The Arctic is doing just what was predicted decades ago, but it’s doing it faster than even the most dour analysts thought possible.
And hardly anyone seems to be paying attention, because it’s barely getting reported. Where are the big headlines?
Follow the links below to check the data, the sources, and to start building this story for yourself. Especially if you are a journalist, or someone with access to an audience of people who need to know.
Because everyone needs to know.
Original data from National Snow and Ice Data Center:
The website of Wipneus, the researcher who graphed this data:
The blogger (Tamino) who documented media mis-reporting that painted a picture of a “hiatus” in global warming in 2016:
New York Times story on spiking temperatures (21 Dec 2016) — covers sea ice, but buried in the article:
New York Times story (30 Dec 2016) on northward moving fish species — focuses on the economic challenge this creates for US fisherman:
Paul Hawken’s forthcoming book, Drawdown, is previewed here:
The Center for Negative Carbon Emissions, run by Prof Klaus Lackner (who invented the concept 20 years ago):
Five minutes, please watch, and feel welcome to comment.
It was a pleasure to be interviewed by Natalie & Mikkel of Thought Leader Global. They do an excellent job of bringing out deeper issues in a gentle way that works well in modern video format.
Here’s their recent interview of me (from Nov 2016 at the “Framtanker” conference):
Check out their channel, Thought Leader TV, http://www.thoughtleader.global/
Happy 2017 everyone … an evolutionary eye-blink, but an important one for all of us here on planet Earth.
In 2002, before the Age of Social Media, I wrote a regular column called “Find/Replace.” The following “Letter to Santa” went sort-of-viral, which means it got copied and sent out on various people’s email lists (including science fiction writer Bruce Sterling’s list, which was an important list at the time).
I thought about that article today when catching up on the latest news from the North Pole, which has been 20 degrees C, or 36 degrees F, warmer than usual. Those temperatures are not a mistake. Read them again. The Washington Post called the numbers “insane“.
Unfortunately, this was exactly the future I asked Santa to help us avoid, when I first wrote to him 14 years ago. But there’s still a grain of hope, because maybe — just maybe — Santa might finally be giving me the present I asked for.
Here is the 2002 original article (which was also published in my essay collection Because We Believe in the Future), followed by a new 2016 “P.S.” that reflects on what we actually got … and what we still need.
Dear Santa, I Hear the North Pole is Melting
© 2002 by Alan AtKisson; new “P.S.” © 2016
Permission granted to turn this into an email virus. [2016 update: share on social media.]
This year, unlike certain previous years in my life, I have been a relatively ‘good boy.’ Starting a family will do that to a person. I’m betting that I’ve made your list for a pretty good present.
However, I’m afraid that what I really want for Christmas this year, you can’t give me: a new energy system for planet Earth. A stabilization in our emission of greenhouse gasses. The avoidance of global climate catastrophe.
I’m betting that no amount of patient, no-complaints baby care gets me that big a pile of chips to play in the old Christmas Casino. You can’t cash in your karma on miracles.
But Santa, you know, global warming is a lot more real than you are.
You know as well as I do that Nature does what it does, regardless of whether certain political leaders and automobile advertisers might like to pretend to the contrary.
In fact, you know the immutability of Nature’s laws better than I do, since you’re sitting up there on a melting sheet of ice that’s thinned 40% since the 1970s.
By midcentury, Santa, you’ll need a summer houseboat – for you, the elves, and several thousand homeless polar bears.
And apparently, there’s not a snowball’s chance in Bangladesh that we humans are going to do much about it. Did you see the news from India, Santa, about the latest international climate negotiations conference?
‘Experts espousing the views of industry were thrilled with the shift in New Delhi,’ said the New York Times on November 3, 2002. The ‘shift’ was this: the world is basically giving up on trying to stop or slow down global warming. ‘Industry’ (not all industry – some industry makes the ‘Nice’ list) was thrilled because they won’t have to invest in innovation, pay carbon taxes, reinvent their products, convert to zero-emissions energy systems.
All the serious talk now, said the Times, is about adapting to the inevitable.
Santa, I know climate change is inevitable, because it is already happening. I try to read the science journals, in between diaper changes: I know that hundreds if not thousands of indicators, from the pole-ward migration of warmer-climate species, to the increase in devastating El Niños, are ‘consistent with the expected effects of an increase in global temperatures.’ Because I’ve been patiently taught, I know – unlike about two-thirds of MIT graduate students tested on this question! – that even if we stopped emitting CO2 and other greenhouse gasses today, global temperatures would continue to rise for years.
It’s called ‘a delay in the system.’ It is going to happen, for the same reason that summer days keep getting hotter even when they’re getting shorter (after June 21, for you and me, who both live in the northern hemisphere).
You know all about delays in the system, Santa. That’s why after you make your lists, you check them twice, in case some naughtiness or niceness got reported late.
But delay or not, I’m not willing to just give up, and watch my favorite Andean glaciers or Swedish ski areas disappear. I don’t like the idea of New Orleans vanishing under 20 feet of water when the next global-warming- enhanced hurricane goes partying on Bourbon Street. (People usually drink ‘Hurricanes’ on Bourbon Street; this Hurricane could drink them.)
Santa, I know it is unseemly for a grown man to come begging and pleading to a fictitious troll in a red polyester suit. But I’m writing to you, rather than to our World Leader types, because the World Leaders have essentially tossed in their monogrammed towels. You – the great dispenser of unexpected gifts for the often barely deserving – seem to be our only hope.
So, Santa, please give us something to replace the burning of fossil fuels.
You’ve got to give it to us quick, and it’s got to be relatively cheap and easy to spread around – because let’s face it, Santa, everybody wants energy. And food (grown with energy). And water (transported with energy). And transport (powered by energy). But we’ve got, well, bad energy right now. Energy is our major need, and our major problem. Major change is in order.
For instance, if we’re really going to do something about global warming, all our cars need different motors. All our coal-fired power plants need to be converted to some space-age hydrogen fuel cell array, or maybe some wacky Tesla coil device, harvesting the warps and woofs of space itself.
I don’t know if you’ve got something like that for us in that slick, reindeer-powered, zero-emissions sled of yours, Santa, but you better have something. We’re about to go to war over this stuff, again – just in time for Christmas.
But I’m not giving up hope. We may be a kooky species who, when it comes to planetary management, is still a little slow on the uptake. But we try to be good. We deserve to be on the ‘Nice’ list, even if some of us are being a little naughty with our corporate accounting practices.
Santa, please, give us a new energy system. Give us climate stability. Give our great-grandchildren the gift of a white, icicle-y, Frosty-the-Snowman Christmas. Or better yet – give us the guts to do it ourselves.
P.S. Santa, I’m re-sending you this letter in December 2016, with an update on my 2002 wish list.
First, thanks for starting to stabilize our CO2 emissions. That’s really nice, and I really love all those new windmills and solar panels. But it was a little late in coming, and maybe I didn’t ask precisely enough. Here’s an updated wish: instead of stopping at stabilization, please give us emissions reduction. Eventually, to net-zero. Otherwise our goose is cooked. Literally.
Second, a big thank you for Al Gore’s 2006 film, all those IPCC reports, and most especially, the Paris Agreement of 2015. Back in 2002, that Agreement seemed absolutely impossible. Now, even India — where that 2002 “world gives up” meeting happened — is on board. Not bad, Santa. But once again, just a little slower than I’d been hoping. (Plus, I’m a little worried about that new guy in the White House. Try to convince him to get onto your ‘Nice’ list too. The world needs it.)
Third, just to be clear: when I wrote in 2002 about New Orleans eventually getting flooded by a hurricane, I was expressing a big worry, not a wish. Not to say I blame you for Hurricane Katrina three years later. I just want to make sure you had not misread my letter. No more killer hurricanes, please!
Fourth, when I wrote about all cars needing new motors, that reference to a “wacky Tesla coil” was just a joke. But I guess you understood that, because you gave us the very un-wacky Tesla electric car instead. Fantastic. Now, could you just speed up that global car-motor conversion process, like, a lot? And throw in lots of fast-charging stations? (I drive a Nissan Leaf now, and it’s really great. But you can give me a Tesla if you want.)
Finally, Santa, let me just go ahead and ask you for a miracle.
We’re not supposed to want miracles. We’re supposed to just work really hard. But you know, we could really use some help here.
Current climate debates seem to be split between the optimistic techno-fix types, and the melancholy preachers of a drastic drawdown in consumer consumption behavior. Frankly, we probably need both, but either of them would probably be a miracle. So I guess I’m asking for two.
Plus, please throw in anything else you’ve got in that magic bag of yours — anything that can result in rapid reductions in emissions and even the removal of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
I’m getting the feeling that maybe you don’t think we deserve a bunch of miracles. I understand your skepticism. But we’ll be really good.
After reflecting on the US presidential election, the Brexit vote and other recent political events, I put my thoughts into an open letter, published on my company website. You can read it here.