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Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

I got a sneak preview of Scientific American‘s Earth 3.0 special issue on ‘Solutions for Sustainable Progress’. Mostly great stuff, with the exception of one article, that prompted me to write this rebuttal.

In ‘Learning from the Internet’, Robert M. Metcalfe, venture capitalist and Internet pioneer,  expands on the dangerous idea that, 

I don’t think for a moment that we’re going to conserve our way out of the energy crisis. Internet history shows that prosperity depends on abundant bandwidth. Prosperity (gross domestic product, per capita) is proportional to energy use. We are not going to lower per capita consumptionof energy in the U.S. We are going to enable the rest of the world to be as prosperous by using not less but more energy. We need to make energy cheap, clean and therefore abundant – really abundant, for a really long time. 

Sounds familiar? This is the same kind of thinking endorsed in an earlier McKinsey study, and also to a lesser extent, by Al Gore in his Moon Shot Challenge speech.

Makes me mad. The average citizen is already confused enough. The last thing we need is more tenors in green tech and green biz to lull us into thinking that technology will get us out of our mess. Besides, I do not see what climate change has to do with the Internet. 

We need to get out of this pervasive either-or thinking. Energy conservation and new energy technologies are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they are meant to work together. One without the other will not work. It’s a matter of simple maths, and of mitigating our risks, in the unlikely event that technology does not deliver on all its promises. 

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Exciting news this morning, on the water front. GreenBiz just published a report on WaterOrg, IBM’s ambitious idea regarding:

“an educational and perhaps advocacy organization focused on establishing the value of applying advanced sensing, information technology and modeling to water management in the USA.”

Peter Williams, Chief Technology Officer of IBM’s Big Green Innovations, and the brain behind WaterOrg, must have heard my earlier call . . . 🙂

I urge you all to read the detailed IBM proposal, and to contribute any ideas you may have on how to take this project to the next level. Personally, I can’t help but see a convergence between WaterOrg, and some of the broader efforts to organize and centralize sustainability solutions, such as discussed in our earlier thread on green wikis.

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Sustainability wikis such as Wikia Green or Appropedia have an important role to play, in the gathering of solutions for a sustainable future. The big challenge of course, is how to engage contributors into volunteering free content. As a content creator in the sustainability field, with hundreds of articles to my credit, all on blogs, I yet have to contribute to a collaborative platform. I started sharing some of my reasons in previous posts, here and here. In a nutshell:

  • I am comfortable with blogging. It is what I know, and past the initial hurdle of setting up a blog, which by the way is very low, it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
  • I like the feeling of being in control, and of having all my stuff in one place.
  • When I contribute to other blogs, it is usually a boost for my recognition and helps enlarge my audience.
  • Contributing to other blogs is a no brainer; hardly any setup is required, and I usually do a slight rewrite to address issue of duplicate content.
  • I love the creative freedom of writing whatever I want whenever I want.
  • My blog is also a social place to meet cyberfriends I have made along the way, and who keep coming back for more discussions.
  • I get tremendous satisfaction from direct feedback from readers, particularly when something they read on my blog, either from me or other readers, is making an impact on their thinking or behaviors.
  • There is lots of reciprocity going on amongst bloggers, thanks to linking, trackbacks, and pingbacks. As a result, the give and take feels very fair.
  • Although I am very familiar with wikis, have consulted for wiki startups, and have started several private wikis of my own, I find making the move from blogging to contributing to public wiki platforms a huge step.
  • First, there is the issue of time. If I could somehow export content that’s already on my blog, automatically, I would consider it.
  • Second, is the problem of attribution, and ownership of content. Although, I am not one to hang on to my creative product with steel claws, it is very important to me that I be given credit for it.
  • Third, is the issue of duplicate content, and how that might affect ranking of original content with search engines.  If content is going to be exported automatically, and frequently, I would not have the time to do rewrites to avoid duplicate content problem.
  • My blog is not my only source of content either. There are quite a few projects I have been working on, that are sitting either in some files on my desktop, or in Google groups discussions, and that I wouldn’t mind sharing, if I could just turn those over with one click.

The bottom line is, if you want my content, make it super easy for me, and make sure I get credit for it.

There is a huge pool of potential content providers like myself, scattered all over the Internet, and elsewhere, who could share their knowledge, under the right conditions:

Marguerite Manteau-Rao)

Sustainability Wikis - Contributors' Engagement Map (Marguerite Manteau-Rao)

I will end by sharing my dream of the perfect sustainability wiki. Imagine a place where you can find nearly all that has been published about sustainable solutions all over the world. Imagine that contributors would not have to worry about adapting their content to the specific wiki requirements. Wiki editors could take care of that chore. Imagine that contributors could get credited each time, with ample linkage back to their original websites. Imagine a widget that would allow contributors to send their content automatically to the wiki in one click. Imagine that getting my content on the wiki would be all benefit for me, in addition to the reward from helping the greater community. Imagine . . .

Maybe this discussion can be continued at the upcoming Open Sustainability Network Camp that will take place in October, in San Francisco?

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From Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.‘s speech at the Democratic National Convention, in Denver, last night:

“The well being of the “We” depends on the well being of the “He” and the “She”.”

How about the other way around also? The well being of the “I” depends on the well being of the “We”. This is especially true for the global environmental crisis facing us.

Lately, I have been giving lots of thoughts to this:

"I" and "We" Zone

The “I” triangle is inspired from Maslow‘s. I just added a ‘want’ layer on top. This is to account for the fact that much of our Western behaviors are not so much influenced by needs, as by wants.

The “We” circle covers the world’s needs we need to address collectively.

The conventional wisdom states that individual interests are at odds with those global needs. While that may be true to a large extent, let us not forget the space where the “I” and the “We” overlap. This is where I think we should focus our attention. Translating global needs into desired individual behaviors, and see which ones amongst those, can be immediately matched with existing individual wants and needs.

In my next post I will explore what that common space looks like, and what it means for behavioral solutions to climate change and other global sustainability crisis.

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I saw the few raisins left behind, in their original Whole Foods plastic bag. Flashed to Green Guru, and imagined him going through the pain of retrieving each one, so that none would go to waste. Nah! Why bother? A few raisins in the garbage, did not measure up with the inconvenience of separating the plastic folds, unsticking the raisins, one at a time, and sliding them from the bag, into the jar. Out of sight, out of mind. The little raisins went into garbage oblivion.

The next day, I watched without saying a word, as Green Guru pulled out the dirty bag, and collected every single one of the five raisins I had forsaken, and sprinkled them on top of his breakfast.


I have been thinking about the five little raisins. Green Guru and I have different value sets, when it comes to managing resources.

My values: resources are abundant, my time is precious

Green Guru’s values: resources are scarce, someone else is hungry who could be eating those raisins

His come from being raised in India, a poverty stricken country. I, on the other hand come from France where food supply was never an issue.

As more and more people in the world, start competing for limited resources, it is clear that we, the folks in developed countries need to align more with Green Guru‘s values. Next, comes the question of how to make that shift?

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Yesterday, in response to the picture I posted of my grandfather on the farm, Jeff asked,

When you have time, could you tell us more of the story of your grandfather and his family? Where in France was the picture taken? What did he farm? What would he have thought about all this climate change problem that we’ve created?

I lost my grandfather when I was 5. To this day, ‘Pepe Marcel‘ still looms tall in my memory. I realize I owe it to him to care so much for nature, and what’s happening currently. Times on the farm with my him are some of the most precious items in my green memory bank. Like my French blogging sister, Nadine, much of what I write is informed by these early moments.

I started writing a sappy response to Jeff’s question. A romantic interpretation of what I thought ‘Pepe Marcel‘ would be telling me now. Imbued with nostalgia about the old days, without cars, and planes, and supermarkets. Times when his old village was still very much a real community, and seasons dictated the rhythm of people’s daily lives. When organic was a word that did not exist, and yet everything we ate was organic. When tractors had not yet replaced the horse led ploughs in the fields, and the plots were still small and not cultivated to excess. When the bread we ate tasted like the real thing, and was not whitened artificially to make it ‘more enticing’.

Soon, my grandfather’s real voice came through, and it whispered a very different message. If I was living now, you can be sure I would be living just like you and your friends. I would drive a car and shop to Neuville at the supermarket. I would ride a tractor, so I could be home sooner. Actually, I am not even sure I would be a farmer still. Life on the farm is hard. May work instead as a cook in a restaurant  in Poitiers, and drive the 50 kilometers commute every day. I would have upgraded the farm, so that we have all the modern conveniences and your grandmother did not have to do laundry in the big old boiler, and hang it on the lines. I am sure we would have a TV. We may still have a vegetable garden and fruit orchard in the back, but I am not even sure. It’s so convenient getting that stuff at the store. For vacations, we would go on cruises, or fly to America, like all the neighbors. 

That’s when I realized there is no stopping ‘progress’, whether here, or in China, or India, or anywhere else. Moving forward means imagining new ways to live sustainably again, that may appear almost similar to the old. But the motivations, and the awareness are on a different level. Jungian analyst Aldo Carotenuto‘ s image of ‘The Spiral Way‘ comes to mind:

Book Cover for The Spiral Way

Book Cover for The Spiral Way

This time applied to healing not just one woman, but the whole world. 

PS- Jeff, to finish answering your question. My grandfather came from a long line of farmers in the Poitou region of France. The farm is in Champigny, a small village where I spent every summer when I was a child. Pepe Marcel cultivated about 40 acres, most of it in wheat and vineyards. After he died, we farmed it out to other farmers. Now there are only three farmers left in the whole village, and their farms are more akin to industrial enterprises. 

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In “Green, a Dead End for Social Networks?”, I continue to question the legitimacy of green social networks, even going as far as suggesting that they be abandoned altogether. Instead I propose a non direct approach to go around the ‘nice to have, but don’t need’ problem of green social media in general. One example could be a site that helps people manage their personal resources more effectively as food and gas prices continue to rise. Conservation and efficiency measures would obviously be featured prominently on such a site, but always first as a way to maximize personal resources, and only secondarily as feel-good green measures.

Another alternative is to treat green as what it is, a qualifier for all aspects of people’s lives. This is in sync with growing green narrative: green economy, green revolution, green jobs, green media, green homes, green cars, green living, etc. It is also aligned with the psychology of most people, for whom green is only a secondary benefit. Using that logic, it makes sense to not have separate green social networks, but instead green applications that come as a layer on top of existing mainstream networks. Imagine if you had the option of going green on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Craigslist, eBay . . . seamlessly, at your discretion?

At the heart of both approaches, “roundabout green network”, and “green layered network”, is the recognition of green as a global necessity of the highest order, to be reconciled with the fact that it is only a secondary benefit on the personal level.

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Faced with rising food prices, and shrinking wallets, citizens are becoming increasingly resourceful. Sunday’s Washington Post has an article on the unprecedented growth of home gardening in America. A $20 return in produce, for every dollar spent on seeds, is a hard number to ignore. Even I, whose nature did not bless with a green thumb, discovered the marvel of the homegrown vegetable patch.

Hubby Prad, also sometimes called Green Guru, tempers my enthusiasm with his usual cynicism. Prad thinks home gardening is not enough. And shares what he saw at the Honolulu Safeway yesterday. A family, obviously not rich, pushing a shopping cart filled with bottled water. That mother is just throwing away her already scarce resources on regular tap water, made to pass as a high price commodity. Shopping smart is an acquired skill, that many Americans lack. Knowing what to put and not put on one’s grocery list is as essential as looking for the best deals and clipping coupons.

We already knew Americans need to downsize, and not throw away their food. Now add to the list: home gardening, and ‘smart grocery listing‘.

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T. Boone Pickens has generated a lot of press lately, with his plan:

After watching Grist, TreeHugger, World Changing, Huffington Post, Climate Progress, and New York Times, all weigh in, it seems that the old man’s got some things right, and others not:

RIGHT ON: going crazy with wind power.

WRONG: natural gas vehicles

As with Al Gore, my main issue with Pickens‘ plan is the flagrant omission of conservation as a necessary part of the answer. It is one thing to propose some solutions. It is another to suggest an all encompassing plan, when in fact it fails to include a measure as critical as conservation efforts. 

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Yesterday I gave up on my original idea to take the train and then BART,  to my meeting with the folks from Lucid Design Group. One thing led to the next, and before you know it, I had only one hour left before my appointment. Driving was the only way I could make it on time. To be honest, I was not too keen on this elaborate public transit scheme.  I am ok with just taking the train, but ask me to transfer to another mode, and my interest drops!

Today, no such excuse. I had planned to bike to my hairdresser’s appointment. Several hours working, then swimming, and lounging around reading the paper, once again, I cut it too close. Driving the three miles became the only option, if I wanted to make my 4.15 date at La Belle salon. 

What has happened to my green resolutions? Before I left on vacations, I wrote enthusiastically about my biking escapades. Since I came back two weeks ago, I have fallen off track. Rhythm, interrupted. Old habits, not dead, got the best of me, again. 

More telling than all the green consumers’ surveys, is the reality of my tenuous commitment. Symptomatic of a much broader ill, I believe. While away in France and in Italy, I witnessed the same spectacle: never ending flows of cars covering up the freeways, just like in the US. We the people on planet Earth, have not yet reached the tipping point when our collective consciousness will dictate another way of living. 

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