Justice Sonia Sotomayor at Stanford

This March Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke at Stanford University. Answering questions from the Law School Dean and students, Justice Sotomayor offered advice and told us about her life through her stories. While answering student questions, she wandered through the audience shaking hands and taking photos with the students without pausing. I came away thrilled by her accomplishments, lessons, wisdom and accessibility.

Continue reading Justice Sonia Sotomayor at Stanford


Stanford Roundtable – Climate Change

On October 24, Stanford University hosted a roundtable discussion on climate change. Leslie Stahl of 60 MInutes was the moderator, and the panelists were mostly Stanford faculty, with a Tesla co-founder and Obama’s former advisor on climate change.

The panel said that there is evidence of climate change, but this hasn’t been proven scientifically. But the changes we’re seeing are catastrophic. Therefore, as stewards of the world, we should take action without scientific proof, as we did with ozone depletion. Groundwater is being depleted in California and the rest of the world, and rising temperatures will make this worse by reducing the snowpack and increasing evaporation. The panel would like to see a carbon tax to mitigate carbon dioxide being dumped into the air.

There is evidence of climate change: the earth is 1.5 degrees warmer; the oceans have absorbed even more heat that that; glaciers around the world are melting. The high pressure ridge holding back rain from California is four times more likely now than before, according to a Stanford study.

But there is no 100% scientific proof that all this is caused by human actions. Climate change is complex and more like medicine, where doctors deal with probabilities, trying one medicine to see if it works, then trying another if it doesn’t.

But if climate change is caused by human action, the consequences — global warming and sea level rise — are severe. In management, the CEO doesn’t risk the whole enterprise if there’s a 95% chance of that occurring. Instead management buys insurance to guard against that risk. Similarly, we should purchase insurance for climate change.

There is inertia in the climate so we should start early. A low-cost action today is to increase the efficiency of water transport. If we have a level playing field that includes the cost of carbon dioxide, then the marketplace can solve the problem.

Costa Rica passed a 3.5% tax on gasoline to pay for reforestation. The law has not been changed by later administrations, and deforestation in Costa Rica has been reversed. 90% of the electricity comes from renewable sources. Action is possible without breaking the economy.

Ozone is a success story that can be emulated. If the ozone layer had been depleted, there would have been catastrophic harm to animals and plants. Instead, nations agreed on an insurance policy, Dupont developed a solution, and the agreement was codified in the Montreal Protocol. The solution worked, just in time. George Shultz advocates 1) government support for energy research and development, which will spur private investment, and 2) putting a price on carbon that is revenue neutral, so that it’s not viewed as a tax.

JB Straubel, the Tesla co-founder, sees gradual breakthroughs, especially in energy storage, such as batteries.

Microsoft and Disney has incorporated a price for carbon in their business decisions. Throughout the world, 90 companies make 2/3 of the world’s emissions. Making the new Apple iPhone creates 110 kg of carbon, which would cost a few dollars to offset.

The polluter should pay for the pollution. Everyone adds carbon dioxide to the air because it’s easy and cheapest. But we don’t dump our garbage on our neighbor’s front yard, even though that’s cheapest.

The energy grid  is susceptible to terrorism. We should pursue large-scale storage and small-scale solar power generation.

People generally agree with climate change arguments, but they don’t rank climate change high enough to be spurred to action. There’s not enough impact to people around them. To make people care, it has to be put into local and human terms. For action now, we need to put it in terms of doing it for ourselves, not future generations.

Does religion play a role in opposing climate change? People of all religious believe in stewardship and care for the most vulnerable. Our appeal should be based on being stewards of the earth and being respectful of the most vulnerable people of the planet.

Two satellites observing changes in the earth gravitational field have found significant aquifer drawdown in California. (Not discussed in the roundtable, the two GRACE satellites found that since 2011 four trillion gallons of water have been pumped from California aquifers each year, far more water than California’s 38 million residents consume in a year.) Groundwater is being reduced worldwide.

Climate change will reduce California’s water: reducing snowpack and that water storage, and increasing evaporation. 80% of California’s water is used for agriculture, with a complicated legal and regulatory framework.

We all need water, so water is an equity issue. Hillsborough residents use three times as much water as East Palo Alto residents. We can’t price water so that the poor can’t afford it. 60 Minutes will air a segment about San Diego treated water and pumping it into the aquifer.

Schultz pitched Game Changers, a free book by Stanford and MIT on energy.

The panel agreed that technology can help solve or mitigate climate change, but the government must prime the pump by taxing carbon emissions.


Stanford University Roundtable on Happiness

We enjoyed the live webcast of an excellent Stanford University roundtable on happiness last week. Moderated by Katie Couric, a noted American television interviewer, the panel of mostly Stanford professors talked about happiness. Stanford posted the video to YouTube; the roundtable starts after 13 minutes.

Here are some things we got from the roundtable, but please watch the video to see for yourself or share with a meaningful other.

What is happiness?  Finding pleasures and meanings. What you think, say, and do is in harmony. Feeling that life is good — positive emotions that you want to continue doing. Being present and having fun. Finding meaning or a higher purpose.

Are some people happier than other people? Yes, people have their own set points, the level of happiness that a person returns to over time. The set point is a product of genetics and environment.

How does stress affect happiness? Stress can be good in a situation where you have to perform or experience fight or flight, provided the duration is short and there’s enough down time in between stressful situations. Stress can be bad if the duration is too long. Quoting Yoda, fear is the path to the dark side. Fear can lead to anger, which can lead to hate, which can lead to suffering. People are in between most of the time.

Pleasure vs. meaningful. A person faced with a terminal illness looks for the meaningful. You make deals with God (which you might not keep later). You ask what’s fun for me, what’s important for me, what am I on earth for. Pleasure seekers are takers; meaningful people are givers. Grandparents with grandkids is pleasure without taking. Meaning feels good.

Happiness from being creative. Many students don’t feel creative. Leading students through series of successes enhances creative. With confidence, people take on more difficult problems and stick to problems in order to solve them. Insecurity is the opposite of confidence.

Are we more depressed than before? Yes, higher rates of depression with earlier onset than before. Don’t know why.

Are expectations of happiness too high?  Culture demands happiness, so people sometimes closet unhappiness. We can’t be happy all the time; it’s okay to feel bad sometimes. Stressors are good. Grieving is normal, not a psychiatric disorder.

Can money buy happiness? Money is related to happiness, but as long as the basic needs (food, shelter, security) are met, money doesn’t add much. Buying experiences yields happier results than buying things. Would you engage in an experience if you could tell no one about it?

What’s the role of technology? Connecting people is good, but there’s some damage due to reduced interaction — fewer facial clues, less empathetic. Pros: when focused goal bigger than yourself and others share it, tech can help; if a person is shy or has a rare interest, technology can ease connecting with similar people. Social support can buffer stressors, and technology can harness social support. Interaction must be genuine and authentic. Cons: seeing other people happy increases fear of missing out; Facebook time makes people feel negative.

Does having children increase happiness? Parents are a little happier than non-parents, but parents have more meaning. Children go off and do their own thing.

What about over-parenting? Parents say they want their children to be happy. Parents can be too protective, having difficulty letting their children fail. Protecting children can lead to less resilience, so they don’t learn to cope with stress and failure.

Happiness as a function of age. Happiness is high through the 30s, declines in the 40s, then increases from 50 to 70. On the average, a 45-year-old woman with children is the least happy. The meaning of happiness shifts with age: it starts with excitement for 18-20, satisfaction, pursuit of goals, balance, juggling goals, savor what created in life, and contentment.

Hedonic adaption. People adapt to happiness, so that happiness dissipates in 2 years, on average. We’re not satisfied for long with new things: relationship, job, car, phone. Instead, pursue meaningful life goals.

Takeaways important for happiness:

  • Meaning

  • Giver rather than taker

  • Support system

  • Your actions are meaningful to the people around you

  • Sleep may be biggest restorative factor

  • Autonomy (sense of control in life), personal growth, relationships

  • Gratitude. When authentic, one is more humble, connected, and happier.

  • Appreciating what you have combats hedonic adaptation

  • Be present and mindful when something good happens. Celebrate positives. Positive thinking is real, the bedrock of treatment for emotional disorders

  • How you spend time. Getting the to-do list done is a treadmill. Are you present with people in relationships, giving to others?

  • Authenticity and genuineness

  • Everyone has tough times. Identify when you need help, then request and accept it. Give when asked.

  • Generosity

  • Deep, meaningful relationships. At a funeral, why didn’t I take time to learn about more about this person?

  • Live your life as if you will move far away in a month. Spend more time with family and friends, favorite experiences and places. That’s what older people do.

  • At a meeting, check in (share what’s going on) at beginning, to build relationships.

  • Did Thomas Jefferson get the Declaration of independence wrong about pursuit of happiness being a right? Wouldn’t meaningfulness be better? In those days, happiness meant material happiness.

The roundtable concluded with hugs for all. 🙂