From: By Gary Hirshberg for, Green Money Journal, More from this Affiliate
Published August 6, 2007 05:08 PM

I Don't Know What Tomorrow Holds, But I Know Who Holds Tomorrow

There's a line attributed to either Yogi Berra or Dan Quayle: "It's difficult to make predictions, especially about the future."

Actually, despite its absurdity I agree with this statement. None of us knows what the future holds. But one thing is certain, especially in the face of clear and unassailable evidence about the declining condition of our planet - failure to try to influence humans' behavior towards the earth is inexcusable. Or, as a friend of mine says, even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there.

At Stonyfield, our motto has always been that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. And so, in that pathologically optimistic spirit, I pen this essay with an optimistic activist's bias. I will briefly discuss climate, energy and food, the three topics that have defined my last 30 years' work.

Several weeks ago, I heard a presentation by Dr. James McCarthy, President-Elect of the AAAS and Alexander Agassiz, Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University, upon their return from the 4th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Jim relayed that the consensus of the global scientific community is that we have about a decade to "downwardly adjust" the current trajectory of global warming trends from the worst-case "business as usual" path that will yield catastrophic impacts on the natural world in the middle of this century. The scientists believe that if we act swiftly and definitively we can potentially induce a leveling of the greenhouse gas production and coincidental temperature increases to more tolerable and survivable levels.

I believe that awareness of the ecological consequences of climate change will do nothing to wake our species from our fossil fuel stupor. But the clear and growing alarm about the economic consequences of these trends will be the dominant social and economic reality of the next 15 years, as well as the next century.


I studied the causes of climate change and advancing alpine tree line back in the 1970's. Despite the attempts by many activists to sound the alarm since then, we have lost 30 years as a species. We've known what to do, but we've lacked a renewable resource - will power - to act. I believe that the economic realities have finally woken us up, and that we will see dramatic changes in our behaviors and activities in the near future. What does this look like?

First, in general, the next 15 years will be characterized by a national identity crisis as Americans undergo a deep and painful but hopefully "civil" war between two polar worldviews. On one side will be a large segment of actual or "wanna be" affluentials who will be reluctant to shrink, downsize or reduce our homes, cars, gadgets and footprints. This populace will embrace new technology that allows them to maintain the traditional American lifestyle while advocating nuclear over fossil fuels, offsetting vs. actually reducing energy usage, and ultimately paying a premium to maintain the world they were raised to expect.

On the other side will be a large populace who, for mostly economic (as opposed to moral or ecological) reasons, will accept the lower social and environmental risks of downsizing (within reason) but who also treasure security and will be reluctant to embrace the proliferation risks of a nuclear-powered society.

These two worldviews will dominate American political debate starting with the 2012 races.

Here are some other predictions:

Insurance Costs - A variety of tax initiatives will be introduced to move us in stages from taxing income to instead surcharging waste and consumption, but well before these triggers are in force, we will all feel the pinch of rising insurance costs. Indeed, many regions, especially those in low-lying coastal areas, will find that property insurance will become unaffordable and this will force people and businesses to relocate.

Legislation and Commerce - We will soon see a National Emissions Cap and Trade System. Companies large and small will become engaged in a vigorous accounting and trading of greenhouse gas credits. Measurement systems and auditing enterprises will abound, as will a whole new wave of credible but also scam advisory services and technologies to help businesses drive down emissions. Just as mobile phones went from being a fad to a necessity in the last decade, the business of reducing greenhouse gases and climate footprints will transition from being a virtuous "image" building exercise, to a routine business practice.

Unfortunately, few if any politicians will be brave enough to lead a debate about enacting the really necessary fuel tax surcharges on consumers that will be required to make deep dents in America's climate footprints. But a few brave leaders will advocate credible campaigns to fund a national "Apollo-like" investment program funded by surcharges on businesses, and some of these ideas will be enacted. These will of course have the same effect as a consumer tax, and eventually, by the time 15 years have passed, this too will be widely accepted.

Legislatures will be fiercely competing to offer the most attractive incentives to lure renewable energy and organic food businesses to set up shop in their states. And all cities and towns will be required to convert aerobic energy-consuming waste treatment plants to anaerobic digesters that rely on the gas produced to fuel air-compressor pumps for these operations.

Technology - We will shortly see an avalanche of new hardware and software to help businesses and individuals understand and reduce our footprints. Hybrid cars and low-wattage light bulbs are just the start. Motion-sensitive light switches will become the norm. Miles-Per-Gallon meters will be featured on every car's speedometer as will engine kill switches to limit idling at stoplights. Pneumatic, compressed air storage and power systems will obviate the need to convert fuels into electricity to run motors and other mechanical systems. Screen savers will disappear in favor of higher speed shut-off (and turn on) sensors. Just as organic foods "suddenly" showed up in markets everywhere, consumers will suddenly see a rash of super-insulated refrigerators, convective stoves, solar photovoltaic roof panels, insulated window shades, lower wattage appliances, etc.

Energy Choices will of course dramatically change, once the legislative incentives begin to be felt. A new industry will emerge that enables home owners to convert their roofs into utilities - companies will effectively lease your roof space, installing photovoltaic cells on rooftops which trickle flow back into the electric grids, and the homeowners will be charged for the net electricity they use. Wind farms, especially in offshore venues, will sprout. A fierce and highly public debate will take place over the role of nuclear power, but a couple of terrorist scares will quickly put an end to that fight as fears about proliferation win out. New highly efficient fuel cells will become widely available as will tree farms and wood chip gasification utilities.

Food - Consumption in general will become a much more conscious endeavor. New certification groups will emerge who will offer third party climate footprint scoring similar to organic or kosher certifiers today. Readers can get a look at an early version of this type of effort by going to a new NGO funded by Stonyfield called Climate Counts .

Food manufacturers will publish climate ratings on their packaging right next to the nutrition information, and even fruits and vegetables will be rated based on their food miles, and embodied energy. Organic food and fiber products will be ubiquitous, and thanks to both volume efficiencies and the new fossil fuel surcharges, they will cost less than non-organic items. A new 3-star hierarchy will be established in which the organic, local and most nutritious items earn the highest ratings, while the merely organic receive only one star.

Edible and compost-able films that are grown without the use of fossil fuels will now serve the function formerly filled by cellophane or plastic. Organically raised fish will replace meats and poultry as the top choice for protein. And corn-based feeds for dairy and other livestock will be replaced with algal and other lower-on-the-food-chain nutrient sources, which in addition to reducing the energy costs of feed will also dramatically reduce cow flatulence. Dairy barns will have solar powered pumps to inhale the cow gas for recapture and use.

Other packaged goods - packaging weights will plummet as industry and consumers jointly recognize the enormous opportunity posed by source reduction to both dramatically cut the embodied energy of products, but also the fuel required for transportation.

Retailers too will compete to have the lowest carbon footprints.

While clearly this is a somewhat optimistic view of the next 15 years, I am, after all, a businessperson and thus a realist. Thus, I do believe that none of these changes are going to transpire automatically. Regrettably, there will continue to be truth to the adage that "experience is something you don't get until just after you need it," and I fear that each positive step will require considerable economic, ecologic and health pains before they can be manifest. The wild card of course is the question of what degree and level of terrorist activity will result from the chaos of shifting energy priorities and disappearing ecological resources. It is completely conceivable that nations will go to war over, for instance, water, as climate changes impact fresh water supplies in marginal and coastal zones. How we respond to these outbreaks will be as decisive a factor in our social behavior as energy taxes.

In the end, though I have faith in my fellow humans. My favorite philosopher Lily Tomlin says "No Matter How Cynical I Get, its Hard to Keep Up", and while our ostrich-like behaviors over the last decades might give rise to gloom, doom and cynicism, I prefer to think that necessity will be the mother of wonderful invention in the years ahead. My $325 million per year enterprise started 24 years ago with seven cows and a leaky barn, but has grown over 27 percent per year for the last 18 consecutive years. If we can do that, than I guess anything is possible.

Gary Hirshberg is the President and CE-YO of Stonyfield Farm, Inc.

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