Building a Green Economy with Global Exchange’s Dr. Kevin Danaher

July 4, 2014

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global-exchange.jpgJOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good. We’re honored to have with us today Doctor Kevin Danaher. He’s the co-founder of Global Exchange and the Green Festivals. Welcome to Green is Good, Kevin. KEVIN DANAHER: Thanks for having me on, John. I really appreciate it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Hey, it’s so great that you’re taking the time with us today, Kevin. You’re doing so much important stuff. Before we get talking about all the great work you’re doing at The Global Exchange and The Green Festivals, can you share a little bit about your backstory, your journey even leading up to what you’re doing today professionally? How did you even get to this position? KEVIN DANAHER: Well, actually, I started out in northern New Jersey, a little town called Oakland, Irish Catholic family, pretty low income. I had my first job when I was 6 years old selling newspapers out on the street, came up a little bit rough. The government tried to send me to Vietnam when I was 18 and I luckily had a high enough IQ to realize that was a bad war and I ended up not going to that through devices of my own development. We’ll leave that as a footnote and then I went to California when I was 21 and started college back when you could- My first two years of college, I paid $21 a year for tuition back when it was affordable out here and started with journalism, did psychology, ended up getting a Ph.D. in sociology, wrote about 10 books about the global economy, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, the big monkey mucks that run the global economy, and then I realized through the last two books about the last 10 or 15 years that I was focused on what’s wrong, a critique of the existing system, and realized no, just focus on the next system and building the next system so my last two books were green economy books because the environment’s being destroyed so the value of all our natural resources, water and everything pretty much, is going to go up in value. We just recently last week had two studies showing that the west Antarctic ice sheet is melting irreversibly. We can’t stop this now. That’s going to raise ocean levels between 6 and 10 feet. That means Miami Beach and Boca Raton, the San Francisco airport, the Oakland airport, Long Beach, California, all sorts of coastal property is going to go under water so now we know that and people say, ‘Oh, but that’s off in the future. Well, we’re talking about our grandchildren,’ so we’re either going to say, ‘Screw our grandchildren,’ or we’re going to do something about this environmental crisis we’re confronting. JOHN SHEGERIAN: First of all, for our listeners that want to follow along on all the great work you’re doing, Kevin, please go to I’m on the website now. There is so much information here and of course Kevin, you’re a very humble guy. You’ve written so many books and I just want to share a couple of them with our readers, our listeners here: The Green Festival Reader; Fresh Ideas for Agents of Change, and Building the Green Economy; Success Stories from the Grassroots, important reads and thank you again for all the great work you do, Kevin. Talk a little bit about what you just said though. We love talking about solutions here and these are bad, bad problems and they are here and they are now and no one really wants to say, ‘Screw our grandchildren’. What can we start doing? What can our listeners in the United States and around the world, because we’ve got listeners around the world, Kevin, what can they start doing to take action and become part of the solution? KEVIN DANAHER: Well, I think a good way to look at this is to think of the different roles you play in their life, if you’re a son, a daughter, a parent, you’re a student or a teacher, you’re a worker, you got your workplace and you’re also a citizen. Hopefully, you research who your candidates are on environmental and social inequality issues so I think in your personal life, little things like don’t run the water when you’re brushing your teeth or when you’re shaving. When you leave a room, turn the lights out and people say, ‘Oh, it takes energy to turn lights on,’ but if you’re leaving the room for more than one second, it makes sense to turn the lights out. There are a lot of places now like in San Francisco where you can sign up to have your electricity be from renewable energy sources. The kind of light bulbs you’ve got , now the thing to do, we went through a whole phase of compact fluorescents. Now the thing to go for is the LEDs. You can get LED lights. They cost a little bit more initially but they last way longer and they sip energy. They’re very, very energy efficient. Caulking your windows and doors, the easiest savings you can make is in an old leaky building plugging the cracks, especially in places like New York and up north when it gets cold. We’re lucky here in California we don’t have to deal with that too much. People should go through their life and think of all the different roles you play. If you have children, are you educating those children, not to scare them, but about the environmental crisis and what can be done about it? Because those kids of today- I do a volunteer teaching of a high school class on urban agriculture and my attitude is if we don’t train these kids up to deal with the environmental crisis that’s looming, shame on us so this is not just about us. It’s about us being good ancestors and thinking many generations down the road, are we going to leave our grandchildren a burnt cinder of a planet with all the coastal cities underwater? The National Geographic of September, the cover story was on ocean levels. If all the ice on the planet melts, which it appears to be doing, it raises ocean levels over 200 feet so you’re talking about most of Manhattan, most of our major cities, Houston. Houston already has problems when it rains hard. The water backs up because it’s so near sea level. I live in San Francisco. Our whole financial district is right on the water so this is going to cost trillions of dollars of investment in ways to cope with this. I’m pushing the idea of eco levies and eco levis would be large mounds of rammed earth with salt water topped with salt water tolerant plants or the oceanside, bike trails, park benches, fruit trees on top and the terraced urban agriculture on the inland side. In permaculture, we talk about stacking of functions so you’d be protecting coastal property, providing recreational space, growing food, et cetera. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I mentioned your book, Building the Green Economy; Success Stories from the Grassroots. Everybody’s definition is different about things. Obviously, our show is called Green is Good. What is your definition and what do you mean by the green economy and where are we going with that? What’s the direction of the green economy as we know it today, Kevin? KEVIN DANAHER: Well, it’s exploding. If you look at all the statistics, solar energy, wind energy, in one year we added more wind energy than was added in the previous five years from coal, fire, and power, which is the main source of electricity in this country. The Obama Administration, the EPA is just going to come out this week with new guidelines around Co2 and energy production pollution and it’s going to put a knife through the heart of the coal industry so maybe your investors listening should short the stock of coal companies if they’re heavily invested in coal. The book that I recommend to people, actually it’s not one of my books. It’s called Cradle to Cradle by William McDonough, the green architect, and in Cradle to Cradle, he and his co-author point out that we have a linear economy. We pull stuff out of the earth, we manufacture it into products, we use it, and then we throw it in the landfill so we’re using up our resources and they say we have to grow from cradle to grave to cradle to cradle. Everything we produce, when we’re done using it, has to either go back into the industrial process as raw material or into the ground as compost and if you look at places like San Francisco, we are now at 80% resource recovery. Eighty percent of our city garbage either goes to recycling or into compost and the city sells that stuff. The compost is sold to wineries and vegetable gardens and golf courses so we’re learning how to eliminate the notion of waste. Waste is a human concept. Nature does not do waste. Everything is somebody else’s lunch. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, eventually, there’ll be no landfills? Waste will become waste to energy or some other type of function but we won’t go back to the legacy of waste to landfills anymore now that this green economy ship is in motion, huh? KEVIN DANAHER: Sure, and you can even take it to (some people would say) the extreme. When we go to the bathroom, we are taking clean water that’s been purified, we’re mixing it with waste, and then sending it away where it has to be purified, spending a lot of money, and then it gets dumped into the ocean semi-purified. That stuff has value. Human urine has more nitrogen than cow manure, pig manure, or horse manure and we’re throwing it away instead of using it in our soil, granted you have to dilute it with water. Our whole concept of waste needs of change and all of these resources, if you look at the data, they’re all running out. In the United States each year, we lose between two billion tons and eight billion tons of topsoil because we do this heavy industrial agriculture, digging deep, pulling the soil up so it blows away, monoculture, where it’s wheat, wheat, wheat for miles and then corn for miles. Nature doesn’t do monoculture. We’re killing off our pollinators. When bees come to a plant to fertilize it in a sense, to do the sex of plants, they pick up little bits of the fungicides and the pesticides, the nicotinoids that are being sprayed on the crops and it messes with their navigation system. They can’t find their way back to their hive and they die out in the middle of nowhere. This is just crazy. We’re messing with nature’s basic DNA but now we’re learning that you’ve got a whole field of biomimetics. Biomimicry is looking at how nature does it and then imitating nature. We’re learning that bees and ants and wolves, social animals, have important lessons to teach us about how to collaborate. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there that just joined us, we’ve got Doctor Kevin Danoher with us today. He’s the co-founder of Global Exchange and The Green Festivals, which we’re going to get to in a moment, but to follow along and learn more about Kevin’s great work and important work, please go to Kevin, talk a little bit about The Green Festivals. They’re the rage now in the United States. They’ve become very successful. How did you start with those and what is the true importance of The Green Festivals today and beyond? KEVIN DANAHER: Well, to tell you the truth, when I came up with the idea about 14 years ago, I was actually trying to devise a real estate model that would be an eco-mall, green mart, not Walmart, where all the products would be super clean, no greenwashing, no sweatshop production, all Fair Trade Certified, all organic certified by the USDA but I realized that I was writing these books about The World Bank and the IMF and The World Trade Organization. I didn’t really know the green economy that well so I figured if we did an event, I would get to know which companies were the good ones and which ones didn’t pay their bills so we started The Green Festivals in San Francisco. It was a huge success. It exploded. We took it to Washington and Chicago and New York and Los Angeles and Seattle and Austin and Denver and we realized there’s a green economy movement out there and the customers who want these products, we’re happy to show you exactly what the ingredients are, where they came from. What was the process? How do the workers get treated? Very, very strict criteria for companies being able to exhibit their goods and services in the show and what you realize is it’s exploding because the more well educated people in the population are the ones who want to know the background of these products they’re using so they’re all involved but also for future generations and it turns out that those well educated people are also higher income people. Education level and income go together so it’s a great market segment. It’s people that can afford to pay a little bit more for a better product. People say, ‘Oh, organic food, yeah, but it costs more.’ Yeah, well a Rolex costs more than a Timex because it’s a better watch. You pay more for things that are better. If you’re driving a Mercedes, that’s going to cost you a lot more than a VW bug so people are starting to wake up and realizing we have a responsibility to the future generations to get this right and make this transition and I might add changes are not going to come from on high. I voted for Obama but he’s not going to fix these problems. The big national and international leaders, they’re responsible to big companies and investors and people with lots of money to throw at them but changes are coming from the grassroots. That’s what we do at The Green Festival and the website is This coming weekend, we have our show in Washington, DC, at the Washington Convention Center. It’s going to be huge. It’s our frontier in Washington, DC, so there’s an awakening going on and I would argue we’re in the beginning of the first ever Green Revolution. Every revolution up until now was a national revolution where the revolutionaries sought to gain control of the capital city and run that country differently. Now we’re in a global values revolution that’s saying instead of having money values rule over the life cycle, we need to have life values rule over the money cycle. We have to subordinate the economy to society and nature instead of subordinating society and nature to the economy. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love it. You know, you’ve coined some great terms and I want to share these with our listeners and I want you then to define some of these great terms you’ve coined so solutionaries: What are solutionaries as we stand today in 2014 and what does that mean to you? KEVIN DANAHER: Solutionaries, this is a term I use teaching my high school urban ag class in San Francisco. I tell the kids, “Look, a solutionary has a totally positive attitude. We recognize all the dangers. We take in all the information about the polar ice caps melting and the glaciers melting and we say, ‘Oh okay, this creates an opportunity for green enterprise.’” The shift to biofuels away from fossil fuels. The U.S. military is throwing tons of money at the biofuels. The air force flew an A 10 Attack aircraft on 100% biofuel from camelina. It’s a weed. They didn’t have to re-engineer the engines. Green building has taken off like a rocket, recycling, composting, permaculture, urban agriculture, all of these things, when you chart their progress it’s like ski slope. They’re taking off like crazy and they’re actually now starting to beat the old models on market terms, just on the financial terms . There’s places in the United States now where it’s cheaper and more profitable to do solar energy or wind energy than to do a coal, fire, and power plant, which is a great thing. Google has a motto, ‘RE less than C,’ renewable energy less than coal. They’re investing hundreds of millions of dollars in renewable energy to make it more profitable to invest that way than to invest in fossil fuel energy production so all of these changes that are taking places, at the Green Festivals we bring it all together. We’ve got more than 300 exhibits of all these goods and services, lots of community action groups, about 150 speakers, a big food court with organic vegetarian food locally sourced, a kid zone, films, just all sorts of stuff that expose people to the next economy, the green sustainable economy, which is where we’re going to end up. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love it and what a great term you’ve created. To me, that should be in every school across America. Become a solutionary. That is beautiful. KEVIN DANAHER: Let me give you one other term and that’s matriotism. Matriotism, as opposed to patriotism, patriotism is loving one little part of the earth and God knows I love this country. I’ve traveled all over the world and I always come back here. I love my country but we have to now start loving the planet, Mother Earth. We all came out of a mother. We call it Mother Earth. We call it Mother Nature so we have to develop the concept of matriotism, loving the entire planet. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love that term and one last one. We’re down to about a minute-and-a-half, Kevin. Green guardians, what do you mean when you talk about green guardians? What do you mean by that term? KEVIN DANAHER: Well, I’m trying to create a model that we can share out to the rest of the world and I’m doing it here with a high school in San Francisco. It’s explaining to young people, particularly teenagers, they’re at that point where they’re starting to think about college, their career, their profession, what kind of job they’re going to do, and we’re focused on things like urban agriculture, recycling, composting, renewable energy, small wind, small solar, soil science, taking up sidewalks to get rainwater into the ground and plant crops. People come buy our sidewalk gardens at Mission High School and they all say, ‘This is beautiful. This is great you’re doing this.’ Some of these kids have never used a shovel. Some of them don’t know what a pickaxe is. They don’t know how the soil functions chemically, biologically, and they get turned on to it and they realize hey, you can make money doing this. I had one kid come up to me the other day when I was working in the garden. He says, ‘Hey, can you make money doing this?’ I said, ‘Yeah, you can make money doing this. You want to find out how?’ and he’s one of my best recruits now. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love it. Kevin, thank you for joining us today, You really are amazing. For our listeners out there, go to The Green Festivals. Support the Green Festivals. It’s really important or go to Kevin’s website at to learn more about his great work. Become a solutionary. Listen to Kevin and become a solutionary and let’s all also become matriots. Kevin, thank you for being an inspirational visionary sustainable leader. You are truly living proof that green is good.

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