Michael McCullough

Michael McCullough

Michael McCullough is studying sustainable development, environmental management and politics at the University of Pennsylvania. He has a special interest in natural resource economics and resource management. He was the recipient of a University Scholars Grant to study nutrient cycling and microrhyzal symbiosis in the mountain forests of Chiloe Island, off Chile’s central coast. He was the recipient of the Montgomery Raiser Fellowship to conduct a field-study on Russian Orthodox Christianity’s Post-Soviet resurgence in St. Petersburg and the Russian Republic of Karelia. Recently, Michael represented Penn, the Philadelphia Global Water Initiative (PGWI) and Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) on a trip to India and Sri Lanka. Michael has worked as a member of U.S. Senator Robert Casey’s personal staff. He has also worked with small and VC-funded clean technology, alternative energy and food and agricultural companies at a Washington, DC lobbying firm. An enthusiastic writer and occasional journalist, Michael has covered the DC music scene for DC Style Magazine. Michael is an active outdoorsman and an Eagle Scout. He is also a life-long alpine skier and former collegiate ski racer. He is a Junior National medalist and former nationally ranked competitive ice dancer.

Recent Posts

Clinton Global Initiative 2012 Draws Big Names, Focuses on Design

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The Clinton Global Initiative’s 2012 Annual Meeting kicked off at noon on Sunday.  The event, which follows the highly publicized Rio+20 Conference held in Brazil two months earlier, holds an easy claim to the heavy weight champion title for all conferences focused on social and environmental challenges.  Taking place over three days, CGI 2012 includes plenary sessions complimented by smaller, issue-based breakout sessions with Heads of State, business leaders and nonprofit directors from around the world.  The roster of participants reads like a who’s who of world leaders and global change-makers and speaks volumes to former President Clinton’s continued influence.  Both Pres. Barak Obama and challenger, Mitt Romney are slated to speak.  The newly elected presidents of Libya and Egypt are in attendance as are media heavyweights Piers Morgan and Fareed Zakaria.  The ever-ebullient former New York governor-turned cable news anchor, Elliot Spitzer hustled through the pressroom early Sunday morning, shortly after the doors opened.  Lloyd Blankfein, chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs is scheduled for a Monday panel. UN Sec. General, Ban Key Moon, World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, Walmart CEO, Michael Duke, and Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan accompanied Clinton on an opening panel, which centered on the this year’s theme: “designing for impact.”  Topics related to health, scaling up good ideas to achieve meaningful impact, education and youth employment dominated the conversation. Clinton famously started CGI in 2005 “to help turn good intentions into real action and results.”  The Initiative’s aim is to convene global leaders for the purpose of implementing innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. According to CGI, their meetings have brought together more than 150 heads of state, 20 Nobel Prize laureates, and hundreds of leading CEOs, heads of foundations and NGOs, major philanthropists, and members of the media.

Business Schools Not Ready for Prime Time

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Not Ready for Prime Time. Sustainability education in business schools is not ready for prime time. For two days, university faculty, eco-conscientious business executives and NGOs from around the world rubbed elbows at the posh Windsor Park Hotel in Rio de Janeiro and mulled over the problem of introducing environmental and social sustainability education into the curricula of business schools worldwide.  The UN’s third Global Forum for Responsible Management Education (PRME) coincided with the larger Rio+20 Summit preparations happening at RioCentro on the other side of town.  During the event, organizers and participants acknowledged that corporations are already taking a leadership role in the field of sustainability and that business schools have been too slow to adapt to this change.  Over the course of the event, no consensus among the participants emerged as to why management education programs are not embracing sustainability education.  The event seemed to be a confused, albeit well-intentioned call to action, ending in the inspiring but non sequitur launch of he “50+20 Management Education for the World” side-project with its own emotionally evocative call to action. 50+20

The aggressively creative and amorphous 50+20 was billed as a collaborative initiative between GRLI, WBSCSB and RRME.  John Cimino, one of the principle founders of 50+20 and a professional opera performer, sang an operatic rendition of Robert William Service’s “The Call” at the start of the group’s launch.  Cimino, who is also CEO of Creative Leaps Inc, a consulting company that trains business leaders and politicians in deeply divided places, stressed that the group’s primary objective was to “broaden the scope of what management education really means.”  Cimino and 50+20 plan to use creative and performing arts to “promote learning as a transformative experience…to nurture the leader in the human being and the human being in the leader.”  While PRME and the UN’s Global Compact have produced documents and mission statements with “many virtures,” Cimino says that 50+20 has a plan for action that is “bolder and goes farther.”  He sees the new group’s role as a “kick in the pants.”  This kick start is something the process sorely needs, but moving poetry and slickly edited launch videos may not be enough. Supply and Demand.

Updates – Civil Society Groups Stage Protest, Walk Out of RioCentro

Members from civil society groups staged a major sit-in style protest outside of Pavilion 3 at the RioCentro convention center on Thursday before marching out en-mass, carrying banners and chanting the slogan “The future we want….is not here!”  In a symbolic rejection of the negotiating text of the Rio+20 declaration, participants turned in their badges to UN security before boarding a bus for the People’s Summit in the Flamingo Park neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro.  Civil society protesters were angered by what they perceived as an abandonment of environmental and social equity principles in favor of an economy-focused agenda. Interview conducted by Michael McCullough. The staged civil disobedience, which organizers advertised as a “People’s Plenary,” was in violation of the Rio+20 rules, which require a permit for every major event held at the Summit.  However, Rio+20 organizers and security were reluctant to disperse the crowd, which was thronged by a swarm of media reporting for major news outlets. The sit-in ran intermittently from roughly 1:00 PM until the group’s departure shortly after 4:00PM.  The protest was spearheaded by youth climate leaders and also included members of civil society groups representing women and indigenous communities.  During the sit-in, leaders read a mock text entitled “The Future we Bought,” as a satirical jab at the conference’s trademark slogan, “The Future we Want.” Interview conducted by Nikolaj Fischer.

David Zetland is Brash, Outspoken and Unapologetic… and He’s Usually Right.

David Zetland has an argument that he'd like you to hear.

When I meet up with David Zetland, he’s chatting up two Forum attendees over complimentary drinks and light hors d’ouvres from the Brazilian Pavilion at Parc Chanot’s Palais Phoceen. Usually the center of attention by virtue of a lightning quick wit and polymathic knowledge, Zetland is skewering a newly-formed NGO designed to help investment banks and other financiers assess risks associated with climate change… “Which makes perfect sense,” proclaims a sardonic Zetland, “because NGO’s are so adept at evaluating investment risks and investment banks have no idea.” (more…)

The Grand Dame of Water: Maude Barlow is Controversial and Charming

Maude Barlow dons a banner from a recent Italian protest

By all accounts, Maude Barlow is one of the preeminent international firebrands championing the rights to water for both humanity and nature.  She sat down with me on March 16 at the Alternative World Water Forum in Marseilles to enjoy some Mariachi and to talk some frank talk about water rights and why the market-based, private-sector argument is wrong-headed. (Audio of the interview available for listening at the bottom of this post.)

Barlow has been called the ‘Ralph Nader of Canada’ and the ‘Al Gore of Water,’ but neither of these titles really seem to do her growing international stature and her undeniable charisma  much justice.  Barlow is a figure in her own right and a dynamo that might leave these American counterparts in the dust at just about any forum of Congressional hearing.  The title of this article proposes an alternative moniker – the Grand Dame of Water. Barlow, one of the driving forces behind the recent UN declaration on the human right to water, turned down the opportunity to debate World Water Council President, Loic Fauchon.  She says that it’s an “old debate and they know where I stand.”  By going to the World Water Forum, she believes she would have legitimized what she denounces as little more than a “trade show” backed by the World Bank.  While Barlow felt the WWF-6 to was hollow and empty, the cross-town Alternative Forum had an undeniably vibrant energy. Barlow, a Canadian, opposes the Keystone-XL Pipeline, which if built, could run from her home country through the Ogallala Aquifer in the United States.  She is even more opposed to the alternate route, which would “punch a hole through Rockies” and bring bitumen from the tar sands to Canada’s western coast for export to Asia.  “There is no pipeline that you can build that isn’t going to leak at some point…the beginning part of the XL Pipeline has already leaked in Michigan,” she said. Barlow believes that pipelines are like arteries to tar sands development, which both feed the development process and require more extraction for infrastructure finance.  She believes that the best solution is to “cut the arteries…and starve the beast.”
She is completely opposed to the idea of market mechanisms playing a role in the development and management of water resources.  “It’s a dangerous development and I think the move to put a price tag on nature is insane,” she says.

Does the World Water Forum Need More Conflict?

Serge Lepeltier favors coordination (credit: http://www.pdu-agglobourges.fr/)

The Sixth World Water Forum has largely been an exercise in polite agreement. As a fly on the wall of any auditorium on the grounds of Parc Chanot, you would see a new combination of grey-faced experts shuffle in every two hours to expound upon the virtues of “good governance” or the importance of a stable regulatory environment to encourage financing. Bespectacled grey faces would nod in agreement. Serge Lepeltier favors coordination (credit: http://www.pdu-agglobourges.fr/)

With the departure of most firebrand activists to the Alternative Water Forum across town — set up to protest the supposed corporatization of water on display at WWF6 — avoidance of conflict has been the unwritten rule of engagement here. This hyper-aversion to conflict is confusing and dampening the effectiveness of the dialogue. Senior Water Economist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and WWF6 panelist, David Zetland has diagnosed the conference with “multiple priority disorder.” Dr. Zetland suggests that a passive, non-confrontational deadlock is created by organizers’ and participants’ aversion to conflict and their subsequent declaration of “co-equal goals”. “…And that’s just as retarded as having co-equal winners in the Super Bowl.  Here they have a dozen goals, so they have way more than just two winners.” Prioritization of goals is necessary, however, given limited resources and time.

Water in India and the “Curse of Democracy”: a Conversation with Asit Biswas

Asit Biswas takles the water sector (credit: Outlook India)

I was lucky enough to sit down over lunch with renowned environmental scientist, professor and political commentator, Asit Biswas. We discussed the state of water management in India, his home country. India is facing a huge water and sanitation shortfall, which will become more severe in the near future as pressures from population growth and climate change surmount.  The federal system is beset by inter-state conflicts over trans-boundary river waters.  Farmers engage in unsustainable mining of groundwater even as aquifers in the western part of the country begin to dry up.  In areas that do experience heavy rainfall, floods cause widespread destruction. Biswas said that India’s democracy, which he argued is the developing world’s most robust despite its tumultuous character, makes managing water nearly impossible.  He proposed a plan to overcome this obstacle. The current state of Indian politics is lamentable, says Biswas, because increasingly fragile multiparty coalitions govern not just the central government, but also many of the states.  Water management entails the coordination of multiple stakeholders.  This is difficult in the Indian political system, which has often been characterized as decidedly adversarial. Under these conditions, it is nearly impossible to address water quality and coverage.  Multiparty coalitions are often an assemblage of a diverse set of stakeholder groups;  they are often barely large enough to maintain parliamentary power.  When issues arise that require the delineation of winners and losers, any coalition group that would lose out on the deal will play spoiler and threaten to bring down government unless the terms are changed.  Thus, water issues, which often require some stakeholders to sacrifice, are rarely resolved. There are some highlights of strong governance within India, however.

Village of Solutions: Highlights from the WWC Press Tour

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Yesterday the World Water Council (WWC), parent organization of the World Water Forum, led members of the press on a tour of the Forum’s “Village of Solutions.”  The Village represents an innovative new platform that highlights the central theme of the sixth Forum – solutions.  After the tour, WWC President Loic Fauchon was kind enough to speak with me about making the Village a reality at the Sixth Forum. A set of low, white structures lining a wood deck thoroughfare, the Village sits at the thematic and spatial center of the forum.  It consists of seven sheltered exhibits: Library, Bank, City Hall, Factory, School, Slum and Agora.  Each one represents a different element of a solution-oriented approach to thinking about the world’s water. The Village is populated by a set of 70 solutions, chosen from several thousand entries submitted to the globally-oriented and newly created online water solutions platform: solutionsforwater.org.  The solutions represented at the conference are concrete, obviously workable and easily-replicated while producing measurable gains, explains Sonia Birki from the WWC President’s office. In keeping with the ancient traditions of the Mediterranean, the Agora sits at the center of the Village with an open-air town square and a coffee shop.  Visitors mingle and meet to discuss their opinions.  Large screens in the coffee shop display information from the various exhibits in the Village. Potted palms dot Main Street and define seating areas in front of and around the Agora.  A line of dry toilets stands across from the Agora provides an opportunity for coffee drinkers to experience one more solution first hand.

Bodies in Motion: A Celebration of Water

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I struggled through a number of ballet classes during my athletic career and consequently developed a healthy respect, if not an aversion, towards this physically demanding art. While living briefly in Russia, I had the privilege of witnessing Swan Lake at the Mussorgsky Ballet.  After a few shots of Russian Standard as my aperitif, Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece was my entree.  I was enthralled by lithe, agile bodies and engaging choreography.  The dancers were performing for a discerning Russian audience, and their performance seemed to reflect the standards of the crowd.  I was hooked. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to attend the World Premier of Ballet d’Europe’s H2O: Memories De L’eau, led by renowned choreographer, Jean-Charles Gil.  Ballet d’Europe presented an astonishing, challenging and provocative production.  Gil artfully fused the rough break-dance acrobatics of SisQuo and his team from Tangiers with the technical excellence of Ballet d’Europe. Set to the abstract and repetitive music of Laurent Perrier, the performance opened with hooded jumpsuit-clad dancers sliding onto the stage on lying flat on their backs.  Their motions were abrupt and sharp, evoking the idea of something primitive and elemental.  The anchored and halting motions of the Tangier break dancers stood in sharp separation to the vertical body language of the dancers of Ballet d’Europe, who soon entered. Gil explains that the heavy movements of the break-dancers symbolize oxygen atoms.  These grounded motions contrast with the lighter hydrogen represented by the movements of ballet.  As the first part progressed, the two distinct sets of dancers began to interact.  Often three dancers moved together, representing the formation of water.  These pairings would break apart and recombine with new combinations of dancers.