The Ultimate Bet An Authors Wager

In the end, we bet that the new Apollo energy project will succeed. We bet that the innovators we have met in these pages will, as a group, change the world. We bet that the next few years will change our perception of what we can be as a society. We place these bets based on the fact that during the months this book was written, new technologies, new political constituencies, and new inventors kept popping up like desert wildflowers after an Arizona rain. And state governors and legislatures, presidential candidates, and even the U.S. Congress began to awaken to the urgency of climate change.

We did not live when fire was first harnessed. But the period we enjoy now is another time of massive human creativity in energy. Geographically, we live in the epicenter of that creative hurricane: the United States. Geologically, we live in a period of the planet's history that is most in need of that innovative talent. It is a perfect match of global challenge and national solution.

It is always a good bet to bet on the power of human intellect. It is always a good bet to bet on America.

It is always a good bet to bet on hope.

Lessons of the Mimosa Tree

Jay Inslee

It was the sound that got me. All else was quiet as I lay on the grass in the yard of our island home near Seattle. It was just a dry rattle from up in our mimosa tree, formed by the combination of a few stubborn seed pods of this graceful tree and an unbelievably warm March wind blowing down Puget Sound.

It was not a loud or abrasive sound, just the slight staccato vibration of scores of dry, five-inch seed pods bouncing their little seeds when they swayed against the elegant branches of the tree under which our son and daughter-in-law had been married two years earlier. But I had never heard it before. So it fascinated me, like the unusual object in the pasture that draws the attention of the cow. It fascinated me because of its pleasantly rustic sound and what seemed to be a message encoded in the natural tune.

Lying under that tree on a gloriously sunny day overlooking one of America's great estuaries, Puget Sound, I was not seeking to decipher a Morse code from tree shakings. But as I lay immobile, in that dozing-on-and-off mode that defines the perfect Sunday afternoon, those rattling seed pods began to seem like a coda, a coda defining something else secretly going on in my little local environment that day.

It was an unusual day, to be sure. On Bainbridge Island, Washington, a typical March day involves a solid gray, overcast sky emitting a temperate drizzle onto the salt waters of the Sound. The day starts dark gray, brightens to a light gray at noon, and steadily recedes to its original, clinically depressing, navy ship gray by five o'clock. On such a day, either you become resigned to being moist all day, or you stay inside. This island is the alpha and omega of drizzle.

The heavenly spray goes somewhere, of course. Often it collects in our cellar, where a small stream, capable of supporting spawning salmon, runs directly underneath our living room. It is one way to keep the dust down.

But the rains' earthbound ramblings make some pleasantness as well. Just downhill there flows a quiet little creek that feeds the cattails and willows of a peaceful pocket marsh, a haven for the best singer on Bainbridge, the red-winged blackbird, and an occasional wigeon who stops by for company. The creek is insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but without it there would be no marsh, no song of the red-winged blackbird to come home to, and no drink for the graceful cattails that lace the air with their cottony down in the fall.

The little creek is like one's home, a place of no worldly renown but loved by those who know it.

Now, as I listened to the wind-driven music of the mimosa, some strangeness started to become apparent about the day—nothing as startling as the blaze of the meteor that shot across the sky the night before, but a bit unnerving nonetheless. First, I remembered that as my wife and I walked to the beach that morning, we noticed that there was no water moving in the little creek bed through the marsh, a unique enough event that my wife commented on it. Second, the night before, I had noticed that the buds on our apple tree were about to burst open, an event fully two weeks earlier than we were used to. Third, our first rufous-throated hummingbird had buzzed in from his latest flight back from Costa Rica, or whatever Club Med he frequents in the winter, one week before—again, well before he had ever made his spectacularly green appearance before. Fourth, I noticed that I was sitting outside and was not soaking wet.

Finally, I noticed that way off in the southerly sky was a brilliantly blazing ball of fusing hydrogen whose heat I could feel on my skin from fully 93 million miles away. It was beautiful! It produced a sort of natural rapture known only to Mexican lizards that sun themselves on warm rocks on cool mornings and Washingtonians who have spent their winter wringing out their socks.

The water was blue, not gray! The sailboat hulls were white, not gray! The white caps on the water were white and no longer had to be demoted to "gray caps"! How these colors had been so well hidden for so long was beyond my understanding but not beyond my appreciation.

So there I sat, warm in body and entertained in eye. Given the beauty about me, the sunrays above me, I should have been entirely content, happy as a cat at a mouse show.

But the rattling of the mimosa somehow seemed like a warning, and for reasons that defy logic made me think more of the strangeness of the day than its pleasantness. The warning tone of the rattle began to make sense. After all, within a three-minute walk from my kitchen I could see tangible evidence of the changes going on all over the world. It was not just my little creek that had dried up; it was a seven-year drought that had parched the whole western United States. It wasn't just the life cycle of my rufous-throated hummingbird that had changed, but the life cycle of the guillemots that had literally disappeared from the Orkney Islands due to a massive movement of fish stocks to the North Sea. It was not just the radically spectacular appearance of the sun in March in Seattle; it was the heating of the entire globe.

It was a tiny little rattle on a hugely glorious day. But sometimes that is how the voice of conscience works—subtly, so as not to seem to nag, not to scare away the target. That is, I concluded, what the sound in the mimosa was, a voice of conscience reminding me that amid the pleasures of such a lovely day were inklings of global warming, profound changes in our whole natural system that forms the land I love.

In that, it was a welcome voice. As I luxuriated in the sun, it was easy to see why there is a siren quality to the warming we see around us. It is reminiscent of home, warm blankets, warm milk, and warm beaches. Perhaps that is why so many otherwise thinking people have subconsciously developed ways to keep global warming locked in a little closet in their minds, never to let it out lest it become too disturbing and tough to deal with. Maybe the reptilian attraction to the sun is somewhere buried deep in our genetic makeup, making it difficult for our species to ever think of more sun as a bad thing. There is a chance that the same solar lust that drives us to the beach drives us away from facing the threat of global warming.

If so, it struck me as I lay under that tree that there are really two things we need to whip global warming.

First, we need eyes to see the concrete, visual, and recognizable incidents of global warming beneath our feet. We now have evidence all over the world. Global warming may seem to some no more than a theory, but a dried-up creek is a fact, one in a disturbing litany.

Second, it struck me that we need a vision of how to build a new energy economy. We have tried through the stories of the people in this book to offer a down payment on such a vision, and now that vision must be picked up by each one of us. For me, it is all thanks to that whispering mimosa tree and the power of nature to slowly wake us from our dreamy sleep, no longer divorced from the natural world.

What is your story of awakening to a bolder vision and new solutions? What will be the quiet voice of conscience that moves our country as a whole onto a better path?

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