By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
The “voice of God” A.K.A. Morgan Freeman came to Silicon Valley this month, with an entourage of stars – including Alicia Keys, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Dev Patel and Vin Diesel – to add some glitz to the tech community’s “Nobel Prize 2.0.” Silicon Valley is not content to impact our lives through driverless cars, tech gadgets and apps; it wants to change the status of scientists too.
Let’s face it, the Nobel Prize is prestigious but the ceremony itself is rather staid and uninspiring. Just days before this year’s Nobel Prize Ceremony in Stockholm, Silicon Valley hosted its own version, called the “Breakthrough Prize.” They gave huge prizes: $3 Million/each (double that of the Nobel Prize) for math and science breakthroughs that they say will change the world. Organizers hope to inspire a new generation of scientists with two disruptive features: big Junior Challenge prizes ($250,000) for young students in math and science; and the “star power” the celebrities bring to the event. Over 6000 teenagers from around the world were inspired to take part and two young students won this year for their remarkable contributions: Deanna See from Singapore and Antonella Masini from Peru (see below). Now in its fifth year, the prize is funded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sergey Brin, 23andme’s Anne Wojcicki and DST Global’s Yuri Milner.
I talked with Jeremy Irons, Sal Khan, and Vin Diesel about why the glitz matters; the power of technology to change the world; and if they have a message for President Elect, Donald Trump. Vin Diesel had an interesting take on the issue of fake news (see below). Check back soon for my report on Jeremy Irons and California’s Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom’s advice to Trump.
My tech focused report aired on the BBC World Service’s Click Radio on Tuesday. The podcast is available at BBC Click. Here’s a transcript of the report, edited for length and clarity:
Mark Zuckerberg began by explaining the link between science and tech, as he and movie star Vin Diesel presented one of the prizes.
Mark Zuckerberg: Engineers and scientists share this basic mindset that you can take any system, understand it better, then make it much much better than it is today. Scientists look at a problem, break it down, break it into smaller problems, solve, test your ideas, learn from the results, and iterate until you find a better solution. That’s why progress in science is so fast… You might even call it Fast and Furious.
Movie star Vin Diesel – well known from the Fast and Furious film series – told me he wants to highlight heroism of scientists, something we often overlook in pop culture.
Vin Diesel: I have great faith in my friend Mark Zuckerberg who so brilliantly created this global forum for all of us to communicate and to share ideas, namely Facebook. It has allowed the potential for great change.
Alison van Diggelen: But it’s also allowed the propagation of fake news?
Vin Diesel: I think the internet has allowed for the propagation of fake news, but no more so than the writers in the 50s…the world war, the end of the world, the martians coming down.* This was before the internet, before FB. This was journalists. As long as journalism has existed there’s always been the temptation for clickbait.
Alison van Diggelen: I think he’s referring here* to the “War of the Worlds” radio drama, based on HG Wells book of the same name, which first aired in 1938.
This year over 6000 high school students from around the world competed for the quarter of a million dollar “Junior Challenge” Award, and two made it to the red carpet in Silicon Valley. Deanna See and Antonella Masini told me they were inspired by Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy, the free online math and computer science video series.
Sal Khan was jubilant on the red carpet:
Sal Khan: This is the third year we’ve been and we look forward to it. It’s the celebration that science has always deserved…and the food is good.
Alison van Diggelen: why does science deserve this big occasion? It’s been compared to the Nobel prize “with glitz” Why is the glitz important?
Sal Khan: The things that these folks have done are going to change civilization …that’s not an overstatement, it’s an understatement. The glitz is the least it deserves. Also it should inspire a whole new generation of folks to realize that it isn’t an unsung profession, it’s something that no only can change the world, but that we all appreciate, which we do.
What are his ambitions for Silicon Valley’s Khan Academy?
Sal Khan: There’s a long way to go. We kind of imagine a world in the next 10-15 years where anyone on the planet should be able to self educate themselves with a smartphone and prove what they know and get a job…But ideally they have access to a classroom that can be used by teachers, administrators to supercharge what goes on…A lot more personalization. And a lot more enjoyment from a student’s point of view.
Alison van Diggelen: After the ceremony, I spoke with Anton Wahlman, a Silicon Valley tech analyst who commented on the awards’ relatively low profile, even here in Silicon Valley.
He’s rather cynical of the Breakthrough Prize and draws parallels with the lavish parties hosted by billionaires in New York’s financial sector and Hollywood’s film industry.
Anton Wahlman: The new very rich entrepreneurs in SV who are worth not just billions, but in some cases tens of billions of dollars. It shouldn’t be all that surprising that they should want to start doing some of the things that these other people in NY and LA have been doing for the better part of the last century: throw really big parties, award prizes to people, have people come up and flatter them and tell them how wonderful they are and how philanthropic they are. They get a reason to dress up in a tux as opposed to walking around in a hoodie and be photographed with people who come in from Hollywood… and to be seen in a different light than their regular nerdish Monday to Friday environment would typically depict.
Check back soon for my report outlining Jeremy Irons and Gavin Newsom’s advice for Donald Trump.
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
This week, artificial intelligence (AI) reached a significant milestone. For the first time, Google’s DeepMind unit beat the legendary champion of Go, a highly complex board game. Machines are now being built with self-learning mechanisms that simulate the neural network of the human brain. What does this mean for the future of AI and its ability to replace humans in the workplace? The future just got closer.
Sebastian Thrun is well known for being a pioneer in artificial intelligence and autonomous cars, but is now laser focused on making sure online education bridges the skills gap, via his company, Udacity. Here’s what he said recently about AI:
“Udacity is my response to the development of AI. The mission I have to educate everybody is really an attempt to delay what AI will eventually do to us, because I honestly believe people should have a chance.” Sebastian Thrun*
I sat down with Thrun at the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley to explore his grand vision and audacious promises. Last year, Udacity raised $105 million in venture funding, based on a valuation of $1 billion. Is this another overpriced Silicon Valley unicorn or is the value justified?
First, a little back story: In 2012, Thrun was astounded at the massive number of people signing up for his Stanford AI course online course: 160,000 in all, mostly from outside the United States. He quickly realized that online education has the potential to make learning affordable and reach millions globally.
“Nothing has more potential to unlock a billion more brains to solve the world’s biggest problems,” wrote Tom Friedman in 2013. But of course, his and Thrun’s rosy predictions couldn’t happen overnight. The online learning business had some serious teething problems with high drop out rates, and dismal failure rates. But today, the future of online education is looking brighter.
There are now countless online education companies globally. The big three are: Coursera (a Stanford startup) which now boasts 15 million students; EdX (affiliated with MIT and Harvard) with over 5 million users; and Udacity, 4 million.
Since Udacity’s high profile failure at San Jose State, the company has refocused its online courses and recently partnered with Google, AT&T and Amazon to design “nanodegrees” tailored to the needs of tech companies. Thrun is so bullish about the market value of these 4-12 month nanodegrees, which offer project based learning, that he’s offering a money-back job guarantee.
“For certain Nanodegree programs we’re offering all your tuition back unless we or you find yourself a job within the first 6 months of graduation. For the student, the education is basically free. … These are jobs that pay $80,000 or more, maybe $120,000 in Silicon Valley. With the first month’s salary they can recoup all tuition or we just pay them tuition back…“ Sebastian Thrun, CEO Udacity
Here are more highlights from my conversation with Sebastian Thrun:
On Redefining Education
I think education has to shrink: We have to stop thinking of education as a four or six year investment you can only afford once in your life. We have think of education as a lifelong thing, to shrink the size of our degrees and make education a daily habit, the same way we brush our teeth every day. We have to redefine what education really means.
On Access to Education
Elite colleges like Stanford are extremely inaccessible. They’re failing in their mission to provide access. The Udacity recipe is exactly the opposite – we want to reach everyone and have no admission hurdle. We want to be able to educate people. We do this today in Ghana, in Sub Saharan Africa, in Bangladesh, in China, around the world. If we do this, we can have a substantial impact on the world’s GDP because so much talent is under utilized because of lack of education. If we give people in Syria the same chances as kids in America have, it’s going to be spectacular.
On Persuading Skeptics
The question is still open how much a nanodegree will become gold standard…this takes time. But some companies earmark jobs specifically for us, give us preferential treatment. Google even invites the top nanodegree finishers on campus in Mountain View to meet their recruiters, which they don’t do with other universities….
And others are still skeptical. People are hired on conventional credentials and many of our students are career shifters. They don’t have the 20 years of history that a seasoned person has.
Meet Kelly Marchisio
Last year, Marchisio got a promoted from customer service to “web solutions” engineering at Google after completing Udacity’s nanodegree. She said of her 6-month intensive program: “It’s industry relevant, fun…maybe I’m just a nerd but I really enjoy spending my weekends working through programming materials.”
Marchisio adds, “I’d guess there are more women in a Udacity program than there would be in an academic course…an online environment feels more safe…less social pressure. You can try things on your own, make mistakes and not feel embarrassed about it.”
On Udacity’s China Expansion
China has 20 million college students. It’s huge. It has a thriving new middle class and can’t keep up with brick and mortar university buildup to meet the demands of these people.
I want to go there and tell them look: You can become a Silicon Valley trained Android iOS engineer, a data scientist, a cyber security engineer, even a self driving car engineer for almost no money in about half a year.
Note: Udacity currently has an office in China and plans to roll out its learning platform, by replicating Google tools and building its own server farm in the second quarter of 2016.
On his Moonshot, 50 Year Vision
Conventional degrees will be gone. We’ll abandon the idea of education first, and then work.
I see people starting work straight out of high school and bringing experiences, deficiencies, desires back into education. We’ll have a life where education and work is on all the time. The old fashioned – you get born, ed, work, retire and die is obsolete. We have to do all these things at the same time, with the exception of death of course!
We have to learn to play, to get educated. We have think of life as a process, not as an accomplishment, but have a growth mindset for our lives. That will be the case because 50 years from now, things will be moving so insanely fast that to stay current, a college education will expire faster than its course.
In conclusion, it looks like Udacity has found a sustainable business model by focusing on the IT job market. The company currently has about 11,000 students enrolled in its nanodegree programs, each paying approximately $200/month, producing an estimated annual revenue of over $26 million. If Thrun can continue to drive rapid growth, compete effectively against the growing competition and replicate the company’s current success as it expands in China, then perhaps that $1 billion valuation doesn’t look quite so make-believe.
*Interesting to note that although Thrun offers online education as a way to “delay” the massive job losses that AI will eventually produce, Udacity’s top listed nanodegree is…you guessed it: machine learning. Otherwise known as AI.
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Japan is facing a double whammy: shrinking population and massive labor shortages. For some experts, the solution is simple: unleash the power of women.
Tonight on the BBC’s World Service, Jon Bithrey, host of Business Matters aired my report from Japan and we discussed the enormous challenges the country faces.
Prime Minister Abe’s government has been taking baby steps in Womenomics with some success, but in the longer term, what more needs done to change deeply entrenched cultural norms? In August, Japan’s government passed legislation mandating that Japanese companies with over 300 employees disclose their diversity statistics and goals in 2016. The Prime Minister’s ambitious target is for 30% of leadership positions in business and government to be filled by women by 2020.
What is Womenomics and why could it become a template for other Asian countries? I went to Tokyo to investigate for the BBC World Service…
A version of this report aired on the BBC’s Business Matters on December 31, 2015. Listen to the BBC podcast here
Alison van Diggelen: I’m here in Tokyo to explore the promise of Womenomics, Prime Minister Abe’s plan to increase the country’s GDP by up to 15% by tapping its most underutilized resource. That is: Japanese women.
What exactly is Womenomics?
The term was coined by Kathy Matsui in a Goldman Sachs report outlining the economic potential of closing the gender gap. Japan faces a time bomb of a rapidly shrinking and ageing population; and a low female labor participation rate (although it has increased recently, many female workers work only part-time). This year, Prime Minister Abe, perhaps in desperation, is rebooting Womenomics and has set a 30% leadership goal for women in business and government.
[Atmos: Tokyo Metro announcements, doors closing, and passenger hubbub]
My first stop was the Gender Equality Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I asked Rui Matsukawa who’s Director of the Gender Mainstreaming Division: what’s the promise of Womenomics?
Rui Matsukawa: Womenomics’ essence is unleashing the talents of women in quality and quantity and make that help for the prosperous future of Japan. If Japan can change, that’ll be good prospects for the other countries. My conviction is: Japan will change is a very constructive way…where each individual is given the opportunity to fully express his or her own potential.
She points out that diversity is a great source of innovation.
And that’s one of Japan’s biggest challenges today.
Womenomics policy faces an uphill struggle: Japan’s cultural norms, and its male-centered, long and inflexible working hours.
I met with Elizabeth Handover, a Brit who’s lived in Japan for decades. She’s cofounder of the Women’s Leadership Development Center, in Tokyo.
Elizabeth Handover: Japan is struggling right now…some companies are still stuck in a Victorian hierarchy era…It’s that hierarchy that women get trapped in…
Alison van Diggelen: How do you think the PM’s goals will help?
Elizabeth Handover: One thing that’s really powerful in Japan is that companies don’t like to be “shamed and blamed”, so when the appalling statistics come out about how many female managers they’ve got, I think that’ll be a big influence for them to make changes.
I caught up with the former Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten and he shared a global perspective.
[Atmos: breakfast meeting audio]
Chris Patten: I think it’s a very good idea that a PM should be so determined to increase the number of women in leadership positions. It’s not just a problem in Japan… I think it’s a big issue everywhere.
van Diggelen: What do you think is the PM’s greatest challenge? Do you think it’s a societal cultural shift that needs to happen?
Patten: Some of the changes that he has to cope with are common to other societies as well, but plainly, the main issue in Japan – as elsewhere – is the attitude of men.
Yumiko Murakami is Head of the Tokyo Center of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. She cites Akira Matsumoto, the CEO of Calbee, a Japanese snack company, as being a male champion of diversity. She’s hopeful that the mandated release of diversity stats will spur change.
Yumiko Marakami: Japanese society is very a homogeneous society…there is a very strong cultural pressure to follow the herd.
Murakami is concerned about shrinking population and is convinced that Japan’s policy will have global implications.
Yumiko Murakami: Japan is facing this humongous time bomb – companies don’t have enough people to hire, it’s really hurting the bottom line. China is going to face the same future…Korea is exactly the same thing. If we succeed in Japan today, maximizing the talent pool, other countries they are going to get good practice policy lessons.
But some female executives in Japan feel more could be done: like addressing the childcare shortage and changing the existing tax laws, which discourage married women working full time.
[Atmos: Tokyo Metro announcements, doors closing, hubbub]
Before leaving Tokyo, I took the Metro to meet with Aya Usui, a senior consultant at Lumina Learning, a leadership training business. She’s expecting her third child and commutes 4 hours a day.
Alison van Diggelen: Are you encouraged by PM Abe’s commitment to Womenomics?
Aya Usui: To tell the truth…not really…
Alison van Diggelen: What would you like to see him do?
Aya Usui: I’d ask him to invest more money and time to develop female leadership because many females have a lot of talent and a lot of potential, but they’re not used enough…they’re killing their possibility…If we can achieve full potential it’s really a wonderful world this world becomes…
That’s the promise of Womenomics: a wonderful world where everyone achieves their full potential. The world will be watching in 2016 to see if Prime Minister Abe’s shaming and blaming will work.
To learn more about Womenomics and gender equality, listen to the BBC Business Matters Last Podcast of 2015 and check out the Fresh Dialogues Inspiring Women Series.
Many thanks to Elizabeth Handover of Lumina Learning and fellow Scot, Lori Henderson and her team at the British Chamber of Commerce for helping facilitate the interviews in Tokyo.
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
California’s worse drought in decades has spurred everyone to pay close attention to their water use. Farmers are especially thirsty for water saving ideas, so it’s a sector ripe for innovative Ag Tech solutions. On July 10th, I joined Fergus Nicoll of the BBC’s Business Matters to discuss the challenges and opportunities the drought has created. The program also featured an interview I did with California State Water Resources Control Board member Dorene D’Adamo.
Check out the extended transcript of our interview below, in which D’Adamo shares some tips for Ag Tech entrepreneurs. Number one: Get your hands dirty on the farm, talk to farmers…
The conversation starts @42:30 in the BBC World Service podcast. The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Photo caption (above): Alison van Diggelen interviews avocado farmer and drone entrepreneur Jon Tull of Farm Solutions at the Silicon Valley AgTech Conference, May 2015)
Fergus Nicoll: Let’s talk about drought. We’re what…three years now into this prolonged drought in California, Alison?
Alison van Diggelen: This is the 4th year now.
Fergus Nicholl: So what are new incentives that (CA Governor) Jerry Brown has come up with?
Alison van Diggelen: Last April, Jerry Brown made his historic executive order. He mandated a reduction for residential consumers: they have to reduce on average 25% of their water use. He’s carrying a big stick on this. He has the ability to fine water districts up to $10,000 a day and allow water districts to charge surcharges for people who’re not reducing. It really is biting…
Fergus Nicholl: This is being measured presumably?
Alison van Diggelen: This is being measured and in May, Californians were patting themselves on the back…it was just released a couple of weeks ago that in May we actually reduced on average, 29%. So we’re getting there, but depending on which city you look at, some are reducing by up to 40% and some are not doing their fair share, so there is still some rankling.
Fergus Nicholl: So what happens with that? Is it public naming and shaming if you don’t get to 25%?
Alison van Diggelen: Absolutely. Drought shaming is going on and basically, they’re using the price mechanism. People are going to see it on their monthly or bi-monthly water bills and they’re going to feel the pain of using too much water.
Fergus Nicholl: I told you about Alison’s interviews on Fresh Dialogues… Let’s hear from the California State Water Resources Control Board. This board reports directly to the Governor and we’re going to hear from (board member) Dorene D’Adamo.
WHY THIS DROUGHT IS DIFFERENT
Dorene D’Adamo: We’re currently in our third year of drought and it is a very serious situation. We’ve had back to back dry years and of course the soil in many areas of the state is very dry and in addition, we’ve had a very low, dismal snow pack. In fact less than 5% (of the average) snowpack.
We also have a different situation than last time we had a serious drought, which was 1977. Our State has grown in population significantly. We also have a hardened demand (for water) because we have a lot of permanent crops that have been planted (e.g. fruit and nut trees). We also have a healthy respect for the environment, so we have redirected some of our supplies to environmental protection, to protect fish and wildlife.
Alison van Diggelen: What do you say to people who complain – urban dwellers – who complain that farmers are using 80% of the (State’s) water…we’re having to cut back and not water our lawns etc.?
Dorene D’Adamo: Well, we all need to be part of the solution and without a doubt, agriculture has vastly improved its irrigation efficiency over the last decades but it’s possible for them to do more and it’s also possible for the urban sector to do more. This 80% of agriculture supply…others will say it’s 40%. The number is probably not as important as is the fact that we all have to do our fair share. Agriculture and urban dwellers can do more which is why we recently called up on implementing the Governor’s Executive Order that Californians state-wide reduce their use by 25% for urban uses.
ADVICE FOR ENTREPRENEURS
Alison van Diggelen: We’re here in Silicon Valley, and of course it’s full of entrepreneurs with lots of hot tech ideas. Are there any particular tech ideas you’ve seen today…and can you comment on drones?
Dorene D’Adamo: Now that we have this new groundwater legislation in California, local entities will be called upon to put together a groundwater sustainability plan…to determine how much is being taken out of their aquifers, going into their aquifers. The question I have for this (AgTech) group is this: What technology…satellite or drone technology can be used?
Alison van Diggelen: Were there any other technologies you saw here that you feel have potential?
Dorene D’Adamo: What we’re looking for is assistance with monitoring…groundwater, contaminants, and also monitoring (water) use. There’s so much the Silicon Valley has to offer not just in terms of monitoring but data…putting together the data and the analysis. And I would encourage this industry to be looking at water supply and water quality much in the way they have in the energy sector. We have gone a long way addressing the greenhouse gas emission targets in California, in large part because of the innovative ideas that have come from Silicon Valley. This (water) area is ripe for investment and if we saw the investment in water quality and supply that we have did in the air quality and energy sector, in years to come, we’d see a huge improvement in both areas.
Alison van Diggelen: For young entrepreneurs who have ideas…what advice would you give them for making their idea a reality?
Dorene D’Adamo: Get out on the farm, get your hands dirty…go out and meet with farmers; learn from them directly as to the challenges they face. Even when there are these smart systems (soil probes, precision irrigation etc) implemented on farms, sometimes they’re not used properly, so I think the tech industry needs to better understand the needs of the farmer and that would help them put systems in place that would be used effectively.
Read more about Tech and the CA Drought at Fresh Dialogues (From “BBC Letter from Silicon Valley” archives)
Find out more about the potential of Ag Tech here
More from the WSJ’s Ilan Brat
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
Malala Yousafzai is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. An advocate for girls’ right to education via The Malala Fund, her name is now synonymous with courage, passion and hope after after a gunman shot her in the face; and she didn’t back down. In her short 17 years, she’s done more than most to change the world, and her remarkable life is the subject of a new documentary “He Named Me Malala” to be released in October.
On Friday, she joined her favorite author, Khaled Hosseini (of Kite Runner fame) at San Jose State University in Silicon Valley for a hard hitting conversation about Islam, education, and her dream of one day becoming Prime Minister of Pakistan. In his eloquent introduction, Hosseini described how the gunman boarded Malala’s school bus in 2012 and “shot the wrong girl.”
“Technically he shot the girl he was meant to shoot, but in every other way, he shot the wrong girl. The girl he shot at age 11 was already a fierce advocate for girls’ right to education. If the gunman thought he was going to quiet her with his bullet, then he was wrong. His victim became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. But what he was most wrong about was the apparent belief that human beings aught to settle their differences with bullets. Malala would school him later when she said, you must not treat others with cruelty but through peace, and through dialogue and through education.” Khaled Hosseini
Here are highlights of the conversation:
On why Malala is motivated to keep speaking out
If you want to change your society, if you want to see the change, then you have to step forward to bring the change. It was my duty to speak up. Either we just had to remain silent and live in that situation of terrorism forever or fight for our rights and try to bring the change. I felt I had a mission and had to continue. There was this feeling in my mind that something can happen to me, but I thought: the Taliban are cruel, but how would they take an 11 year old girl? Malala
On Islamic religion and culture
Cultures, traditions are not sent by God to us. They are not being written by him and saying, ‘these are the things you that you have to follow.’ We humans create them, so then we should have the right to change them…The traditions that go against basic human rights should not be protected and should be clearly denied. (For example) education is every child’s right, but the Taliban want to stop women being educated. They fear that if you allow girls to go to school, girls will become out of control. Some Pakistani scholars think girls like me are infidels, they don’t know I read the Koran. Malala
Hosseini points out that the Koran begins with a mandate for literacy:
The first word is ‘read.’ That Islam says the Koran is against girls being educated is perverse. Hosseini
On critics who say she’s being used by the West against Islam
There’s a lot of hopelessness, tragedy (in Pakistan) They’ve seen a lot of dishonest politicians, corruption…People lose hope. It’s a small minority who are critics. Pakistan has already supported me. When I was attacked they raised the banners “I am Malala.” They were speaking out (saying) “Shame on the Taliban” which was never ever said before. And people started their activism and to speak out for education.
Keeping my courage and ambitions strong…the support from Pakistan and all over the world overcomes all this hatred… it becomes “like nothing.” I have to stay strong and believe in myself and know that what I’m doing is right: it’s for the education of girls. Malala
Our own people are our harshest critics. Hosseini
On the violence of her gunman
I have forgiven him. That boy, he was only 15. The terrorists did not believe in the freedom of women, they did not believe in women’s rights, to get an education… They’ve been radicalized…they need some education so they can be helped… know the real value of Islam and justice, know that Islam is not about killing. Islam is used to support Jihad. When they’re told “it’s God’s message” people will obey. Malala
On the Malala Fund & Her 10 year Goals
I’m hopeful I will have gone back to my home in Pakistan… I’m hopeful The Malala fund will have educated hundreds of thousands of girls by then – in Nigeria, in Kenya, in Jordan (for Syrian refugees), in Pakistan….I’m hopeful through your support we can achieve these goals. It’s when we all come together, we make our voices stronger…We will do it together: see that every child will be getting quality education. Malala
On Becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan
When I met the (Pakistan) Prime Minister, I was frustrated by his ‘talk talk’ I wanted to have his power… If I get an opportunity to help my country through politics I will. It’s good to have big dreams. Malala
More coverage of Malala’s visit to Silicon Valley
Report and video from KGO’s Cheryl Jennings
Article from Katie Nelson of the Mercury News
Article and slideshow from Vicki Thompson of the SV Business Journal
Check out Fresh Dialogues Inspiring Women Series
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
As news broke about Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandatory water restrictions in California, I joined Roger Hearing on the BBC’s Business Matters program to discuss the state’s historic drought and the governor’s slow response.
“We are standing on dry grass, and we should be standing on five feet of snow,” Mr. Brown said. “We are in an historic drought… a new era…The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day, those days are past.”
Although the governor’s mandate calls for a 25% water use reduction, it probably won’t go into effect until June and will barely impact the farming community, which accounts for 80% of the state’s water use (almond farmers alone use 10%). According to a report by Lisa Krieger, the CA Department of Water Resources confirms that agriculture water use has already been heavily restricted, however the new rules will not restrict groundwater pumping.
Experts at NPR’s KQED say the most worrying part is that this crisis is a glimpse of the future: the low rainfall and high temperatures we’ve experienced in the last four years are now the “new normal,” thanks to climate change.
Here’s an extract of our discussion that starts at 29:00 in the BBC podcast:
Hearing: We know California is sunny…but it’s rather too sunny and not quite rainy enough…and for the first time in the state’s history you have mandatory water restrictions. How does it affect your life and what’s going on there?
van Diggelen: Yes, this is big news here. Governor Brown went up into the Sierra this morning and he stood where normally there would be about five foot of snow and he was on grass. It was such a powerful image to relay to people the extent of the problem: 2013 was the driest on record in the state, 2014 was the warmest. It was like a one-two punch for the environment and finally he’s getting round to doing something. A lot of people, myself included, are asking: Why didn’t you start something a year ago? We saw this coming…(A recent San Jose Mercury News editorial describes Brown’s action to date as “lame.”)
Hearing: What’s it actually look like? Do you notice the lakes ebbing away, the rivers drying up?
van Diggelen: There are a lot of reservoirs in the south San Francisco Bay area that are completely dry or close to being dry. A lot of locals are letting their grass go brown. There are a lot of visible ways of seeing this, however you’re also seeing beautiful verdant grass on golf courses, so you could say there is a cover up going on. This is long overdue, there really needed to have been mandates before this, but at least there is something happening now. Gov. Brown is calling for reduction in water use of 25% for the next year.
Hearing: But he can’t make rain. Is there any sign of it coming?
van Diggelen: Our rainy season is almost over. We’re now in April and the majority of our rain falls between September and March, so it’s not looking likely. We may get one or two light showers, but the experts are saying the window of opportunity for a big storm has passed.
Hearing: It’s going to be a long hot summer.
Toward the end of the program (at 48:45 in the podcast), Don McLean fans will be interested to learn that we discussed the “American Pie” manuscript, which goes to auction on April 7th. I couldn’t help remarking how relevant the classic contemporary song is to California today:
“I drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.”
Sadly, as climate change progresses, dry levees, lakes and rivers are going to be a widespread sight in California. Indeed, that and brown lawns are going to become “the new normal.”
So bye-bye verdant green lawns…
It’s been nice knowing you.