5 Questions For 5 Green Heavyweights: What I'd Want to Talk About Over Drinks


photo: Martin

I don't know about you but, as a writer and someone who likes to make lists, I keep a checklist of people who I'd just love to sit down with and not necessarily do an interview, but simply chat with about mutual interests. In the case of the following people, that interest would of course be the environment.

So here they are, the five people in the green movement whom I'd just love to have a couple of drinks with while chatting about the environment: Al Gore, Richard Branson, James Howard Kunstler, Vandana Shiva, and Prince Charles.

Al Gore


So Al Gore's a biggie and probably needs no background introduction. Earlier in the summer though he gave a speech outlining his vision of a United States powered solely through renewable energy, which even some people in the renewable energy industry thought was a stretch, at least in terms of the time scale Gore presented. My question for him is this:

How Would You Make a Renewable Energy Future a Reality?
"If you were in a position to do so at the federal level, what do you think would be the best ways to actually transform your vision in the generational challenge to repower America speech into practical reality? Would you support a federal feed-in-tariff? Would you establish a federal renewable portfolio standard, overriding state standards? How would you sell this to the citizens of the United States, in particular ones who favor limited government?"

Richard Branson


I've said before that while I'm not pining to physically cuddle up with Richard Branson any time soon, I am nevertheless in love with him. This is based off my first fling on Virgin Atlantic airlines flying from London to Delhi, where the presentation, service and overall experience was so above other airlines that I very nearly applied for a job on landing, just to be a part of something done so well. I've had some less stellar experiences on Virgin since then, but my general admiration remains.

You may be wondering though why I'm placing Branson on this list, as aviation is one of the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, but as Branson has been heavily involved in efforts to develop an aviation biofuel and has show genuine drive in attempting to combat climate change it seemed appropriate.

What I want Richard Branson to answer is this:

Will We Ever Be Able to Make Enough Aviation Biofuel?
"While there a number of firms which are working on aviation biofuel, and a spokesperson for Boeing recently said that they expected biofuels to be normal in aviation in perhaps five years, do you truly think that a large enough quantity of aviation biofuel can be made in a sustainable manner and in a way which is truly carbon neutral?"

James Howard Kunstler


While I don't always agree with every point of James Kunstler's analysis, and have to confess that his latest novel, "World Made by Hand", might not go down in history as a work of great fiction (as interesting as it is in concept), I really admire the entirely unapologetic and unrelenting way in which he expresses himself.

I owe a debt to JHK for both articulating the source the malaise I felt growing up surrounded by suburbia as being directly related to the built environment ("Geography of Nowhere") and for opening my eyes to the potentially devastating effects of peak oil ("The Long Emergency"). So the one question I would like James Howard Kunstler (I'll wait to call him Jim until I know him):

How Do We Get People Out of Their Cars and Onto Public Transit?
"In the Long Emergency you describe how at one point you could travel from New England to Chicago on local trolley systems (save for a small gap in New York state, I believe) and obviously believe that private car travel as the cultural default is a dead end philosophically and practically.

Given the US love affair with the automobile, what would you recommend be done at the state and federal level to get people out of their cars and reinvigorate rail travel, and public transit in general, in the United States?"

Vandana Shiva


While the main thrust of the environmental movement, particularly as popularly represented in the US at least, continues to embrace the faith that technological fixes will allow us to transmute our current patterns of living into a greener and more sustainable but essentially similar form, Vandana Shiva is representative of a broader view of the green movement, encompassing social justice and cultural issues as well.

In particular, through her organization Navdanya, she has tirelessly advocated for greater awareness of the issues regarding organic agriculture, peasants rights, water rights and corporate attempts to patent traditional natural remedies, essentially stealing traditional cultural knowledge. Here's Dr Shiva's question:

How Do We Best Support Alternative Development in Poorer Nations?
"What do you think is the best way that those of us living in wealthier countries can support movements in poorer nations which aim to promote a different development model than one which simply emulates the destructive development patterns we've seen heretofore? What can we do in our own lives to help?"

Prince Charles


Prince Charles is a perfect example of a person who seems to get better and better with age. If you told me when I was young, watching his wedding to Princess Diana on television, that he would go on to be someone whose thought and actions I truly and deeply admired I wouldn't have believed you. (At least in part because I was in primary school at the time, but that's besides the point...)

Whether it's through organisations like the Prince's Rainforest Projects, the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture & Urbanism, or through his commitment to organic agriculture (Duchy Originals being the commercial example of this) , Prince Charles' work touches on many areas which I believe are at the heart of creating a sustainable and durable society, both environmentally and culturally. Here's my question for Prince Charles:

Can Organic Agriculture Really Feed the World?
"On many occasions you've spoken out very plainly on the issue of GMOs, saying that further adoption of their use would be a great environmental tragedy. I tend to agree with that point, but it is one far from the norm in public policy circles.

How do supporters of organic, small-to-medium scale agriculture convince the world that a return to this sort of cultivation will 1) be able to provide enough food for everyone, and 2) not just be a return to more physical drudgery for a large proportion of a country's population?"

photo credits, Prince Charles: official POW website; Al Gore: World Economic Forum; Vandana Shiva: Matthias Muehlbradt ; James Howard Kunstler: Kunstler.com
More on These 5 Green Heavyweights
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James Howard Kunstler Takes on Stephen Colbert
Quote of the Day: Prince Charles on Modern 'Green' Architecture
Prince Charles Thinks Financial Ecosystem Markets Best Bet to Stop Deforestation
Virgin Atlantic to Demo Biofuel Flight, But Not Quite There Yet
Vandana Shiva & Why We Need More Trees (exclusive video footage)
Slow Food Nation Event Addresses Healthy Food, Agriculture in San Francisco
'A Generational Challenge to Repower America': Al Gore's Energy & Climate Moon Shot Speech
Al Gore Readies Sequel to 'An Inconvenient Truth'

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