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Archive for December, 2007

Ever since I read the New York Times article on Anarchists in the Toy Aisles? Stores Offer Unwitting Stage, my mind has been percolating with subversive ideas. Nothing concrete yet. Give me a little more time.

I am referring to the practice of ‘shopdropping‘, defined by its originator, the artist Ryan Watkins-Hughes, as:

SHOPDROP: To covertly place merchandise on display in a store. A form of “culture jamming” s. reverse shoplift, droplift.

SHOPDROPPING is an ongoing project in which I alter the packaging of canned goods and then shopdrop the items back onto grocery store shelves. I replace the packaging with labels created using my photographs. The shopdropped works act as a series of art objects that people can purchase from the grocery store. Because the barcodes and price tags are left intact purchasing the cans before they are discovered and removed is possible. In one instance the shopdropped cans were even restocked to a new aisle based on the barcode information.

SHOPDROPPING strives to take back a share of the visual space we encounter on daily basis. Similar to the way street art stakes a claim to public space for self expression, my shopdropping project subverts commercial space for artistic use in an attempt to disrupt the mundane commercial process with a purely artistic moment. The photographs act as a visual journal of my travels over the past few years. Displayed in nonlinear combinations the images remix the traditional narrative of the passing of time. The vibrant individuality of each image is a stark contrast to the repetitive, functional, package design that is replaced. Shopdropping gives voice to the pervasive disillusionment from our increasingly commercial society. A voice that is, paradoxically, made possible only by commercial technological advancements.’

I got a real kick out of this video by Californian artist Packard Gennings, another shopdropper enthusiast:

Ryan, Packard, and all the folks at the Anti-Advertising Agency, I think you are doing some awesome work. Is it legal? Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, said in the New York Times article, ‘he was not sure if shopdropping was illegal but that some forms of it could raise safety concerns because the items left on store shelves might not abide by labeling requirements and federal safety standards.’

Legal or not, count me as your definite fan, and soon to be active member of your collective. I am thinking T-Shirts, stickers on shopping carts and women’s clothes labels, pamphlets, with funny messages about consumption, carbon emissions, global warming, daily green actions, etc.

Any of you interested in joining, please drop me a note.

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Today’s a Dark Day
The darkness, outside, draws me into a future scenario of doom. What if we never saw day again? Would we have to watch old movies to re-experience the joy of light? How would we cope? Maybe make love and get lost when light does not matter? I drive home. Turn on the radio. ‘Today is the darkest day of the year’. Winter Solstice.

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Last month, the Center for Strategic and International Studies released an important report on ‘The Age of Consequences: The Foreign Policy and National Security Implications of Global Climate Change‘, the result of months long conversations between ‘nationally recognized leaders in the fields of climate science, foreign policy, political science, oceanography, history, and national security. The CSIS report takes the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report one step further, and paints likely scenarios for the “age of consequences”, one that will increasingly be defined by the intersection of climate change and the security of nations.’

According to the report, the world should be prepared for the following ‘10 highly consequential implications of climate change‘:

1) Soft power and North-South tensions will increase.

‘A failure of the developed nations to assist developing countries to manage the climate change challenge will almost certainly cause a further spike in north-south tensions.

2) Migration and immigration will rise, producing a strong backlash.

‘A profound increase in the movement of people will cause greater tensions and perhaps violent conflicts between and within countries over uncontrolled immigration issues.’

3) Public health problems will grow.

‘Climate change will also have profoundly negative consequences for global health, especially in poorer regions of the world.’

4) Resource conflicts and vulnerabilities will intensify.

‘Over the next three decades, climate change-exacerbated water scarcity could well contribute to instability in many regions of the world.’

‘Climate change could also affect the international politics of energy production and consumption.

5) Nuclear activity will increase, with attendant risks.

‘many developing countries will begin operating their own commercial nuclear reactors during the next few decades. This would increase the total number of nuclear reactors around the world, including those under the control of nations that may lack the experience to safely conduct these operation. The threat of global climate change also provides governments interested in acquiring nuclear weapons yet another justification to pursue nuclear-related research and nuclear technologies.’

6) Challenges to global governance will intensify.

‘the United Nations and other existing international institutions will have great difficulty managing the full range of adverse consequences. The implication of new international alignments driven by environmental factors are uncertain, but the complex and inherently divisive nature of climate change is likely to impede collective responses.

7) Domestic political repercussions and state failure will occur.

‘Political authorities unable to manage climate-induced challenges might well lose necessary public support. National leaders professing authoritarian ideologies could become more attractive if liberal democratic systems fail to marshal sufficient political will to manage the climate challenge. In some instances people might resort to violent means-especially when opportunities to change leaders through elections are circumscribed-to remove existing governments. In a few places people might turn to non-state actors, including religious movements or terrorist groups for comfort or to effect more dramatic change. Moreover, under conditions of severe global climate change, environmental factors may push already failed states deeper into the abyss of ungovernability, while driving other states toward the brink.’

8) The balance of power will shift in unpredictable ways.

‘Over the long term, the very divergent regional effects of climate change could affect the evolving global distribution of power with unpredictable consequences for international security.’

9) China’s role will be critical.

‘Many members of the international community are calling on Beijing to adopt more rigorous policies to limit the growth of China’s carbon emissions to reflect the country’s status as an emerging global stakeholder sharing the burdens of world leadership. Some of these appeals have been less than effective as China’s reasoning that the United States is not showing itself to be serious still holds. According to the World Bank, 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities are in China.’

10) The United States must come to terms with climate change.

‘the unique character of the American people, with the depths of optimism and penchant for practicality, will be a major asset.’

If there is one thing to take away from this report, it is the need for a systems approach to the climate change solution. One cannot stress enough the pivotal role to be played by the United State within the world system of nations.

The report ends on a positive note:

‘While all those who collaborated in this study completed the process with a profound sense of urgency, we also collectively are encouraged that there is still time for the United States and the international community to plan an effective response to prevent, mitigate, and where possible adapt, to global climate change.’

To be tempered by Machiavelli’s cautionary wisdom, as quoted in the report’s preface:

“The Romans did in these instances what all prudent princes ought to do, who have to regard not only present troubles, but also future ones, for which they must prepare with every energy, because, when foreseen, it is easy to remedy them; but if you wait until they approach, the medicine is no longer in time because the malady has become incurable; for it happens in this, as the physicians say it happens in hectic fever, that in the beginning of the malady it is easy to cure but difficult to detect, but in the course of time not having been either detected or treated in the beginning, it becomes easy to detect but difficult to cure. Thus it happens in affairs of state, for when the evil that arise have be3n foreseen (which it is only given to a wise man to see), they can be quickly redressed, but when, through not having been foreseen, they have been permitted to grow in a way that every one can see them, there is no longer a remedy.”

For more on The Age of Consequences report, I suggest you go to Real Climate, and read David’s post there.

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The results of AOL Hot Searches for 2007 just came out. And with it, the surprise of global warming making it to the top 10 list of most searched news items:

  1. Chris Benoit (wrestling)
  2. Phentermine (weight loss)
  3. Pet food recall (pets)
  4. Global warming
  5. Virginia Tech
  6. Iraq
  7. Juanita Bynum
  8. Iran
  9. Immigration
  10. Don Imus

That’s progress, compared to the 2006 list:

  1. Gas prices
  2. Steve Irwin
  3. Immigration
  4. Bird flu
  5. Iraq
  6. Natalee Holloway
  7. Debra Lafave
  8. Rush Limbaugh
  9. Lebanon
  10. Hurricane Katrina

For a more accurate picture, one needs to also look at the two leading search engines, Google (54%) and Yahoo (23%).

According to Google Zeitgeist for 2007, Google News Most Popular Searches worldwide are:

  1. American Idol
  2. Youtube
  3. Britney Spears
  4. 2007 Cricket World Cup
  5. Chris Benoit
  6. iPhone
  7. Anna Nicole Smith
  8. Paris Hilton
  9. Iran
  10. Vanessa Hudgens

The world cares most about celebrities, sports, gadgets and politics, not global warming. That’s the truth. This is confirmed by Yahoo list of 2007 Top 10 Queries:

  1. Britney Spears
  2. WWE
  3. Paris Hilton
  4. Naruto
  5. Beyonce
  6. Lindsay Lohan
  7. Rune Scape
  8. Fantasy Football
  9. Fergie
  10. Jessica Alba

The young set – kids 7-12 – gives us some reasons to hope, however, as evidenced by the Top 10 Searches on Yahoo! Kids:

  1. Games
  2. Animals
  3. Dinosaurs
  4. Math
  5. Hannah Montana
  6. Solar System
  7. George Washington
  8. Halloween
  9. Sally Ride
  10. Global Warming

Yahoo also compiled a list of Yahoo 2007 Top 10 Environmental Searches:

  1. Recycling
  2. Global Warming
  3. Freecycle
  4. Earth
  5. Pollution
  6. Al Gore
  7. Environmental Protection Agency
  8. Live Earth
  9. Hybrid Cars
  10. Solar Energy

Recycling leads the top of the list, not just as a generic segment in the Environment category, but also with Freecycle, the only green venture to make it in list. Recycling is one green behavior people are interested in, thanks to years of public education. Think Reduce-Reuse-Recycle.

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The Day Before Christmas:

Last night, all my resolutions of not giving into the pressure, vanished. The deadline was becoming near, and there was no escaping. Twenty three family members were going to be present at our Christmas Eve dinner tonight, and I was not going to let them down with no gifts. 11pm, and I was still working on a list. The years before had been easy. This time, the looming reality of global warming added a new level of complexity.

In the end, I decided to hold a White Elephant party after dinner. This way, everybody would have a ‘gift’. For the children and close family members, I went out this morning and got green gifts to please my green conscience: massage certificates, recycled Patagonia fleece top, Ugg slippers, leather gloves, wool scarves, sweaters, gift certificates for iTunes and books at Borders. For all the women, I got ceramic Peace pendants from a local artisan.

Christmas Day:

Hardly any cars in the streets. I wondered why for a second. Prad reminded me that all the stores were closed. All of America was staying home to celebrate Christmas with their families.

Flashback to my youth, back in France. When each Sunday was just like today. A day when all the stores were closed, except for bakeries and pastry shops. Sunday was a day for the family to gather around the kitchen table, and enjoy a sumptuous lunch that my mother had prepared. Followed by a long walk to help us digest all that rich food.

Sure, it was a pain sometimes. We had to plan and make sure we were all set for Sunday. Otherwise we would have to make do with what we had. Or we would go borrow from our neighbors.

Back to the house, I overhear the children bitching, that ‘Everything is closed. That sucks. I want to shop.

The Day After Christmas:

Time to return presents. One of my relatives thought I would like a multicolored purse from Talbot’s. The thing is still in its box, half wrapped into its original plastic, and with its tag on. I can’t wait to dispose of it. It will not let it sit on my dresser one day longer.

The cars are back in the streets, and the mall’s parking lot. Transporting hordes of shoppers, anxious to catch the best After Christmas sales.

Green Girl Wannabe’s Christmas Chronicle

I feel almost relieved from this Not So Green Exposure. Life is back to normal, and there is something strangely comforting about this flurry of activity.

Talbot’s would not give me money back. Instead, I got a store credit. $33. I walked out happy from feeling so light. Better a tiny gift card than a big ugly bag.

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Nelson Harvey is the other person behind Wild Green Yonder, one of my absolute favorite green blogs. Nelson surprised me on Christmas Day with an offer to guest post on La Marguerite. In his own words, Nelson ‘is particularly interested in finding new psychological and economic approaches to achieving sustainability.’ When not blogging, Nelson is a student at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, focusing on environmental studies and writing. He is the co-author of Greening The Urban Campus, a sustainability assessment of NYU. He is also a former employee of the NYU Recycling Shop, a member of NYU’s Green Action Plan Task Force, and an aspiring drummer, looking for connections between natural and human rhythms. So here is a new post in the BlogAct series:

I’ve been pretty down on Christmas lately. I’ve seen exhausted fathers on the subway toting massive boxes full of the latest must-have plastic toy. I’ve heard my own younger siblings pester my parents about the loot that they expect. And I’ve heard 3560 versions of the song “Jingle Bell Rock” on the radio.Why, then, did I catch myself glancing at the clock at 11 pm on Christmas Eve and counting the hours until morning? As a child, I would lie awake on that night and dream of tearing wrapping paper, hoping that my parents had gotten me the things I’d asked for. These days, I often find myself wishing for less stuff, not more, so my anticipation seemed strange.

Second Thoughts on Christmas

What was it that had me watching the clock? Everything about Christmas morning, except the stuff. I love sitting in the living room with my family, making breakfast, and seeing people happy about what they’re getting or giving. I look forward to these things, even though a central part of Christmas –getting heaps of stuff– has lost some of its luster for me.

As I see it, re-conceiving Christmas requires the same approach as dealing with environmental issues like global warming. It’s less about changing the things we desire than it is about finding out what those things really are, then discovering more environmentally sensitive ways to obtain them. Renewable energy technologies can satisfy our basic needs (heat, light, etc) with a fraction of the impact of fossil fuels.

We need a parallel solution for our higher order needs, like satisfaction, belonging and community. When we open gifts on Christmas morning, I think it is these things, rather than more stuff, that we really hope to find.

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In keeping with the holiday spirit, I was thinking, how can I express my love and gratitude for all the people who have supported this blog throughout the year, and who have given so generously of their time, intelligence, and knowledge? Now familiar names who surprise me everyday with their comments and emails. And have transformed La Marguerite from a one person effort, into a rich community of passionate environmentalists. What better way than a symbolic gathering on this page, with a link to each one?

Darmok at Ancaro Imparo, Kyle at Green With a Gun, Mary at In Women We Trust, Nadine at Greenadine, Karen at Mother Earth, Richard at Artist As Citizen, Cowrin at Suitably Despairing, Steve at Groovy Green, Cass at Seacat, Jason at Scream To Be Green, Mac at Brave New Leaf, Rob at Sustainable Casa, Amy at Gift of Green, Daryl at Verda Vivo, Beth at Green Stew, Amanda at Enviroblog, Jonathan at Wasted Food, Abby at Urban Sprouts, Kate at Make-A-(Green)Plan, Jenyum at Tacomamama, Jenifer at Product of Compression, Marta at California4Gore, Bill at Algalita, Matt at Environment Debate, Otis at the Thought Kitchen, Courtney at Courtney Watson, Giorgio at Bogianen, Murph at CommonMonkey Flower, Jane at Live the Solution, Mental Mosaic, Stacy at Not Just a Pretty Face, Kamo at Viral SEO, Chris at Marketgreener, Dan at Treebankinginc, Tom at Two-Heel Drive, Mark at Swaptree, Franke James at My Green Conscience, Alina at Closet Environmentalist, Saul at Save Our Environment, Sue at Mobile Technology, Chris at Lighter Footstep, David at Planet Thoughts, Brian at The Daily Green, Ian at Switchboard NRDC, Jonathan at the Nature Conservancy, Crunchy Chicken, Jeff at Obligations of Reason, Meryn Stol, Danny Bloom, Robby at Village Green, Prof. Goose at The Oil Drum, Renee at Enviromom, Carrie at Seconhand Nation, Maria at Maria Energia, Ayomide at Green Clean and Proud, Michael at WiserEarth, Fritz at Cycle-licious, Beth on Life on Avenue Z, Marty at Egg, Dawn at Kaiser Alex, Jean at Farther Faster, John at Why Democracy?, Kendra at Green Dimes, Rebekka at Bek’s Blog, Green Sexy, Kevin at DeSmogBlog, Camphor, Amanda at Amanda’s Tea Room, Aronil, Naught101 at Eco101, Social Scientist at Free Public Transit, Kristina at Kristina’s World, Patricia at Patricia Singleton, Joanne at Nourished Magazine, Random Girl at LinseyMom, Alllison at Rock, Water and Light, Chris and Brea, Alvaro at Sharp Brains, Proletariat, Crafty Green Poet, So Far So Good, Hazel at Law of Attraction, Chani at ChaniBlog, Kathleen at Fashion-Incubator, The Green Miles, Iced Moka, Neal at CleanTech Blog, Scott at Green Bark, Carol at Life is an Ongoing Process, The Healthy Cookie, Lorivillareal, Gift of Green, Dave at Balneus.

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Third day of Not So Green Exposure Project. I open the Business Section of my daily paper and I read this:

With just a few days left before Christmas, the nation’s retailers are in a lather to attract last-minute shoppers to salvage what has been a mediocre December.

Department-store operator Macy’s Inc. has slashed prices on everything from clothing to jewelry, while Toys “R” Us is offering price cuts of up to 75 percent this weekend. At stake are retailers’ profits for the year and perhaps even the strength of the economy.

While consumers jammed stores at the start of the season for big discounts and shopped early for Nintendo Co.’s hard-to-find Wii game console, popular video games like “Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock” and Australian sheepskin UGG boots, they waited until the end for most everything else, to take advantage of the best deals amid a challenging economy.

The biggest disappointment comes from women’s apparel, extending a downturn that’s grown deeper in recent months and serving as an ominous sign for the health of retailing in general. Women do the primary shopping for the family, so analysts say it’s troubling that they are spending less time in the stores.

“I have no money or time to shop,” said Tina Morabito, who just started her holiday shopping on Friday morning at the Providence Place Mall, in Providence, R.I. She was buying some greeting cards and mint chocolates, but didn’t plan to buy clothing.

“There’s been a malaise” among women’s clothing sales and “it has spread to other areas,” said Dan Hess, chief executive of Merchant Forecast, a New York-based research firm. “The panic button has been pushed, particularly in department stores.”

And even with an expected sales surge this weekend, which traditionally accounts for about 10 percent of holiday sales, Lazard Capital Markets analyst Todd Slater expects that the last-minute spending will be “too little, too late” to save Christmas.

“When people think they are in a recession, they spend like they are in a recession,” Slater said.

A series of snowstorms hampered spending in recent days, but clearly, economic worries – particularly higher gas prices, an escalating credit crisis and a slumping housing market – weighed on shoppers’ minds.

According to ShopperTrak RCT Corp., a research company that tracks total sales at more than 50,000 retail outlets, business for the week ended Saturday slipped 0.4 percent compared to the same week in 2006. Total U.S. traffic for the same period slumped 8.9 percent from a year ago.

The apparel market was hit even harder because there was nothing new that wowed shoppers. The new style – cropped jackets with bell sleeves – failed to generate a lot of buzz, says research analyst Jennifer Black.

Hess estimated that discounts at department stores are about 10 percent to 15 percent higher than a year ago, a worrisome sign for profits. Price-cutting at specialty clothing stores, which had better control of their inventories, were at the same level as a year ago.

Slater said that he estimates that large department stores are missing their sales plan by as much as 10 percent so far in December.

Slater noted that even gift card sales have been disappointing; in some cases, the gift card business may be “even down,” based on spot checks with retailers. Gift card sales have been a bright spot in recent years though they mute pre-Christmas business because sales are not recorded until recipients redeem them.

The toy industry is expected to match last year’s sales, at best. In addition to a challenging economy, the industry was hurt by a slew of recalls of Chinese-made products that made some shoppers cautious.

Online retailers, which have had an uneven season, are ending with a strong finish. According to comScore Inc., consumers spent almost $25 billion online from Nov. 1 through Dec. 18, a 19 percent increase, though a bit below its 20 percent forecast.

While it’s hard to discern how much of the discounting in the final hours is unplanned, stores are clearly slashing prices to eke out sales wherever they can. Toys “R” Us stores are staying open till midnight every night until Christmas Eve. Beginning Friday at 7 a.m., several of Macy’s stores in the New York metropolitan area, including its flagship store in Manhattan, won’t close until 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

At Macy’s Herald Square store, the entire inventory seemed to be on sale. Plenty of women’s career apparel was discounted by 50 percent, for example.

“I usually do all my shopping on Black Friday. But I missed it. So I waited for the deals,” said Goednee Coteland, of Manhattan, who was leaving Macy’s Herald Square store Thursday night carrying bags of clothing marked down 50 percent.

Subtle, but powerful. Our whole economic language is imbued with capitalistic values. Consumer spending needs to be up, and so do profits. At stake is a ‘strong’ economy. The signal I get as a consumer, is that spending is good for my country. Not a single mention of the associated environmental costs in greenhouse gases emissions. Spending would be good if it took into account those costs. Really, I am all for free market capitalism. But there’s got to be a new way of looking at and talking about consumer spending. I have heard it best described by Robert Kennedy Jr. Listen to his words – and forget the lousy image quality, this is the only video I could find that fully captures his views on free market capitalism – :

The common financial and economic language needs to make room for words like, green, carbon, environment. It needs to reflect a shift in the way our economy views and incorporates the external costs of greenhouse gas emissions. It also needs to make the distinction between goods and services that make a positive contributions to the environment, versus the ones that don’t.

 

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Every French kid knows the story of The Grasshopper and the Ant, one of La Fontaine‘s most popular fables. I remember reciting it to my third grade class:

The Grasshopper having sung
All summer long,
Found herself lacking food
When the North Wind began its song.
Not a single little piece
Of fly or grub did she have to eat.

She went complaining of famine
To the Ant’s home, her neighbor,
Begging her to loan her
A few grains to subsist
Until the new season,
“I shall pay you,” she said
“Both interest and principal,
Before next August, on my word as an animal.”

The Ant was not so inclined:
this not being one of her faults.
“What did you do all summer?
Said she to the grasshopper.
“Night and day I sang,
I hope that does not displease you.”
“You sang? I am so pleased.
Very well! Go ahead and dance now.”

Are Americans like the Grasshopper in La Fontaine’s Fable?

La Fontaine‘s wisdom is more relevant than ever. How much longer are we going to keep on singing, and dancing, without worrying about the consequences of our irresponsible behavior? Merry Christmas is right around the corner, and the malls are full, the cars are out in force, and the light decorations are on every house. One day when the party is over, will we be like the grasshopper? Feeling sorry for ourselves, for not having planned and acted as better stewards of our resources?

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The latest Pew Report confirms earlier data from a New York Times/CBS News Poll: that the American public still has not awakened to the reality of global warming as an urgent matter:

Global warming became a much more visible issue in 2007. Former Vice President Al Gore‘s crusade against what he calls a “planetary emergency” won him an Academy Award and a Nobel Prize. Yet the American public is not fully persuaded that global climate change is an imminent problem. Fewer than half rate global warming as a “very serious” problem; among those who view it as a problem, only a modest majority (55%) says it requires immediate government action. For liberal Democrats, at least, the environment is a top tier issue in the 2008 campaign. But it rates as far less important for other voting groups, including conservative and moderate Democrats. However, the 47-nation Global Attitudes poll found rising concern about environmental and pollution problems around the world, with many nations blaming the United States for these heightened global threats.

What this says: the message about global warming is not getting through to Americans. This is in contrast to the public in other countries. Environmental bloggers and environmentalists in general tend to live in a green bubble, and fail to realize the reality of the Not So Green Exposure problem that impacts the majority of the American public. Although, it may seems that the media are getting saturated with more and more dire warnings about global warming, the share of voice for the green message is still ridiculously small. Major contributor to the problem is the substantial amount of disinformation spread by conservatives and our leadership. There needs to be a more thought out green media campaign. In his post today, Andrew Revkin asks his readers for suggestions regarding ‘elevator pitch’ for global warming message. It’s a start.

Any ad agency willing to take on the global warming challenge as pro bono account? I am willing to pitch in, for free. Actually, I may even start to write an advertising strategy brief, just like that.

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