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The Impossible Dream

“To dream the impossible dream To fight the unbeatable foe To bear with unbearable sorrow And to run where the brave dare not go”

The Impossible Dream lyrics by Leigh Mitch & Darion Joseph

Grandma Dot and Grandpa Sam – you would have liked them if you had met them – were our late mother’s parents and they would dote on my sister and I each school holiday after our mother passed at 25. Our Dad would send us off on the old Eastern shuttle from Washington, DC, to New York and we would spend ten days going to theater, restaurants and Radio City Music Hall literally tasting the life of New York City. I remember the theater most of all, every play we ever saw – Fiddler on the Roof with Zero Mostel, Minnie’s Boys about the life of the Marx Brothers, off-Broadway with Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope and on and on.

I remember them all, but the one that is hardwired in my memory is Man of La Mancha in 1965, where we sat maybe six rows back, center stage in the shadow of the only stage prop – a nearly three story tall wood beam structure that could be a dungeon, balcony, stairway, windmill, or any number of other props simply by some trick of the creative set designers. And there was Don Quixote, tilting. I knew at the very first moment I heard, “To Dream the Impossible Dream” that that is who I wanted to be. Tilting at windmills became not just an expression but an inspiration.

Long before I was born, on a May evening in 1924, British cellist Beatrice Harrison – also a pioneer of women’s rights – convinced the nascent BBC (apparently against their better judgment) to try out some new broadcasting equipment – microphones small enough to take outside of the studio and a mile of cables hooked up to a telephone exchange – to broadcast live from her backyard garden, south of London. She played Elgar’s Cello Concerto and also improvised, playing in concert with the nightingales singing from her garden. The nightingales, who have 1500 different sounds and 250 repertoires of phrases, sang with her. It went viral, which in 1924 meant she sold millions of records and 50,000 people wrote letters from around the world, asking the BBC for more performances. The BBC, of course, happily complied.

Nine decades later, when British folk singer, conservationist and film maker Sam Lee made a documentary for the BBC to commemorate her, he realized that the birds sing back, changing their key, frequencies and tone to adapt to the music and collaborate with us. I just find this magical. I have squirrels and deer that come to my window and ask me to fill the bird feeder (again). Two Pileated woodpeckers who announce their thrice daily presence with warning calls, foxes and raccoons that recognize me. A Cooper’s Hawk, a Brown Owl and the annual migrating Hummingbirds who share my yard. But a bird chorus that sings with me? I am no Dr. Doolittle nor Beatrice Harrison, but I know a miracle when I hear one.

I was thinking of miracles when I was speaking with Becky Diffen, a partner at Norton Rose Fulbright, on our daily podcast, In House Warrior, for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal, on the evolution of renewable energy. Becky has been working on traditional – wind and solar – as well as non-traditional renewables for nearly 20 years. She started long before it was “cool” and now is at the forefront of an energy revolution. A force of nature herself, she started the show recognizing that renewable energy is now the cheapest form of power without tax incentives. Nearly 40 years ago when I was in graduate school in natural resources, this was the impossible dream, and here we are. Like most of us, I only thought it was economical if the tax incentives were involved. Oil companies are becoming energy companies, pushed along not only by their own vision, but by the courts and activist investors. Red states are recognizing an economic and jobs boom by the heretofore traditionally Blue state initiative of alternative energy production. Due to a rapidly expanding need, there is a shortage of solar installers and wind technicians.

It is no longer tilting at windmills. Emphasized by Total’s remarkable pace of green energy acquisitions, the stunning victory of Engine No. 1 winning three seats on the Exxon board, the Dutch court ordering Shell to fast-track cutting emissions and Chevron’s leadership and accelerated energy transition, we have passed the tipping point on renewable energy.

Do we win the race in time to avoid the plight of global warming? That’s what keeps Becky up at night.

As Bob Dylan would say,

“The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind The answer is blowin’ in the wind”

Enjoy the listen.

Richard Levick

Listen to the podcast

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