Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Google Earth’s gotten even cooler now, and “just got an upgrade to include oceans. Previously, the space between Earth’s recognizable landmasses had flat blue and, well, not all that educational.”


That’s all good for marine life enthusiasts. Being more of a land girl, I wish Google Earth did not stop there. How about adding yet another upgrade that would allow us to “see” water underneath the Earth’s surface. Can you imagine being able to have a peak into water tables, and water delivery networks, and moisture levels at various depths?  And being able to track changes over time. How amazing would that be?

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I can’t quite remember what the ad was about – but I was struck by the images, and mostly what I felt watching. The outdoors, a person reaching out for a fruit, in a tree. My reaction was, sweet! . . . and boredom. It failed to grab me. I stopped to think, and wondered, is that how I feel, genuinely, with nature imbued narrative, usually? And my response was, yes . . . and maybe others are too?

Contrast this with the excitement from my friend, after he had just come from watching the Waste=Food documentary:

When I heard him talk about the Chinese story, and also Nike’s revolutionary process for making eco-friendly shoes, I wanted to learn more.

In the search for a more sustainable world, we humans may be more impressed by stories of  our own ingeniosity, than nature’s goodness. Technology, creativity, and news seem like a potent recipe for effective green communication, worth using over, and over again. Not so, bucolic scenes, and the romanticization of our natural world.

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The folks at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence think they have a better way to organize the creation and consumption of content around complex topics such as global warming. Their new Collaboratorium project aims to fix what they perceive as wrong with current Web collaboration tools such as forums, blogs, emails, IM, and wikis.

It is one thing to create a tool and to throw it out into cyberspace. It is another to get people to use it. As I listened to the video, I asked myself, is the Collaboratorium a place I would choose, to write, comment, and read about climate change solutions? My response is mixed. While I share some of Dr. Klein’s frustrations with the status quo, I am not sure I agree with his solution.

One of the beauty of blogging is the immediacy and creativity that comes with it. Same with wikis. It is precisely because of their loose and imperfect nature, that these tools are so effective. One understandable reaction to such haphazard creation, is a need to control the process. This brings up an interesting tension, that may be best resolved with the offering of a broader range of tools, including other structured collaborative sites besides Wikipedia. Whether Collaboratorium fills that void, only the future will tell . . .

I am curious to hear your thoughts!

Related story: Climate and the web electronic democracy on steroids

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12 by 8. That’s the universe I live in. 12 by 8, inches. Twelve hours a day, glued to my computer screen. I know, I can use my eyes, and my ears, and my mind to visit the world, from that tiny window. Still, that feels pretty limiting. I hadn’t really thought about it that way, until last weekend, when I decided to follow Charlotte’s hint to plant some vegetables in our yard.

In the midst of pulling out some weeds, it hit me big that I hadn’t been out in the world, really out, in a long long time. Out, as in getting down close to the earth. Out, as in getting drunk from forgotten smells, the grasses, the dirt, the air. Out, as in hearing the white noise from the dancing stems. Out, as in seeing the nearly invisible hairs on the tiny leaves . Out as in fighting with the subterranean roots, that threatened to overtake the fertile soil. Three hours later I rose, my body aching, and happy.

Since then, it has come to my attention, that the wonder of the Internet, and more broadly technology, comes at a price. We have shrunk our world to a series of metal boxes and rectangles. Computer, TV, car, plane, it’s all the same. A world that is tasteless, odorless, and cold. A world that filters all the noises and sights from the outside, according to some pre-established programs. A world that takes us further and further away from nature.

No wonder I feel cut off. 12 by 8, inches, that’s the extent of my connection.

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Today, John Tierney writes about ‘The Global Warming Paradox‘, an account of a  surprising research study from three researchers at Texas A&M University. Here is what they found, after interviewing a representative sample of 1,000 adults:

Directly, the more information a person has about global warming, the less responsible he or she feel for it; and indirectly, the more information a person has about global warming, the less concerned he or she is for it.

Results of the whole study appear in the February issue of Risk Analysis. John Tierney joins the chorus of people in the research: ‘I think it’s (global warming) a real risk, but I’m also confident that we’ll cope by adapting to climate change and/or finding ways to minimize it.

I disagree with John Tierney, and unlike him, am not so sure that ‘we’ll cope‘. It is going to take more than technology and science to come even close to a happy resolution. Leadership at the top, business solutions, technology and science yes, financial incentives, individual behavioral changes, community initiatives, a new code of ethics, international diplomacy, population control measures, lots of goodwill at all levels, . . . the problem needs to be attacked from all possible angles. It is monumental in proportions and requires solutions of the same magnitude.

Back to the study itself, it is important to frame the results within the larger context of the research methodology:

It should be noted that the information effects reported in this article are limited to self-reported information. Objective measures of informedness about global warming and climate change might produce different effects. And indeed there is some scholarly evidence to suggest that this might be the case. In their models of mass assessments of the risks of genetically modified foods, Durant and Legge found that self-reported informedness and objective measures of informedness were almost entirely uncorrelated, and that their effects worked in opposite directions.

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Found this morning in my mailbox, a mail from Science Debate 2008, a citizen-led initiative launched in December 2207, and now 10,000 members strong, including some of the most prestigious names in science, technology, and business:

Dear Marguerite,

We are pleased to announce that the world’s largest general scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), has become an official cosponsor of Science Debate 2008. You can read more about it here.

Please expect more major announcements very soon.

In case you missed it, you can hear one of our organizers, Shawn Lawrence Otto, talk with Ira Flatow on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation: Science Friday.

Click here to listen:

Thank you for your help – the ONLY reason we are making this progress is because of your support. Check out the amazing lists of signers here and here, and please – forward this to your friends and colleagues and ask them to join this important initiative.

Finally, we need some help. We have been personally volunteering full time for this effort, and throwing in our own personal funds, and we need to pay for more web hosting, travel, communications, and event organizing. Please consider making an online donation here.

Thank you!

The team at ScienceDebate2008.com

This is a very important initiative. I am hoping you will join me in supporting Science Debate 2008. Just one click!

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Great article in the San Francisco Chronicle, today. ‘Nature Deficit Disorderdiscusses young people’s growing alienation from nature. After reading it, I sat wondering, and very concerned. The article hits close to home. Our children spend hardly any time in nature, although we live minutes from great hiking trails, and only 30′ from the beach, and two hours from the mountains. Shopping, driving to each other’s houses, hanging out, and staring at the computer, have become their way of life. It is not for a lack of an example on our part. Prad and I go for long walks every day. I hike up the trail behind our house. We go to the beach. No, the problem is not there, but rather in a combination of cultural and environmental factors. The article lists five possible factors:

  1. Urbanization: 80% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas, where opportunities to connect with nature are much less.
  2. Virtualization: children 8 to 18 spend an average of 61/2 hours a day with electronic media, either on the computer, in front of the TV, playing video games, or on the phone talking or texting.
  3. Parental fears of letting their children loose in nature: fears fed by sensationalistic reporting of rare occurences.
  4. Overbooked schedules, with heightened pressure to take AP classes and enter prestigious colleges.
  5. Lack of opportunities to connect with nature, in children from lower socio-economic background.

My most favorite childhood memories are of the times I spent in nature. Playing hide and seek in the wheat field near my parents’ house. Summers at my grandparents’ farm. Making necklaces out of grass. Picking up mushrooms in the woods. Eight year old, maybe, and biking alone, along empty roads in the midst of the country, savoring my freedom. With friends, trying to catch fishes with a fork, in the stream outside our village. Picking up red poppies, and making a bouquet for my mother. My first discovery of the beach, I was twelve. Hiking in the French alps. Rolling down the meadows. Looking for snails after the rain. Picking up grapes in my grandfather’s vineyards. Afternoon spent in the fields watching the goats graze, some baguette with butter and pear as my reward. The smell of rain. It all felt so good.

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Amsterdam Picnic ’07 Green Challenge winner is the QBox. A real beauty, that may soon, make all the Green Wannabes, look like ubergreenies. It automatically programs all your appliances for minimal energy usage. That’s the main thing for me, but it also has a whole bunch of other cool features. Check it out!

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How to Save the Planet in Five Easy Paragraphs‘. Now, that’s one catchy headline. No Impact Man‘s done it again. He got me hooked and reading his post, and all the comments below. Could it be that the answer to our big problem, lie in five easy paragraphs? I was hoping. It turns out, it is not so simple. Global warming is a big monster with many heads, all of which need to be dealt with, at the same time. No matter how we look at it, there is lots of work involved, for all parties involved. Scientists need to work like mad to develop groundbreaking technologies, many of them. Businesses need to market the right products. Governments at all levels need to set in place courageous policies. Influencers need to continue spreading the good word. And citizens need to take personal responsibility for their action, and stop consuming like there is no tomorrow. Because of the number of actors and roles involved, the complexity can become mind boggling. And my fantasy of a Super Green Conductor, that we could just follow blindly, has yet to materialize.

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The 11th Hour movie is out. Lots of buzz in the press, including a great article in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle. That’s good, and I also wonder how much more can be accomplished from more great people sharing more great stories, and more images of doom being shown. The article ends on a quote from Leila Conners Peterson, one of the two filmmakers: ‘We live in this kind of bubble of denial, and the consequences are kept from us. I believe when you see the consequences of your behavior, then you adjust your behavior. It’ not about climate change. It’s a human story. It’s about all of us.

While I agree with Conners Peterson, that we live in a bubble of denial, I disagree on her interpretation. Seeing is not believing, and even less so changing behavior. What we are seeing is too removed from our every day experience to make an impression, that is powerful enough to scare us into changing the way we live. That is the biggest part of the problem, in my mind. And I am the first one to attest to it. The link chain between the evidence, and me is just too long. The Arctic is a great metaphor in that respect. What is happening in the Arctic is so far removed from me geographically, that it touches me big time intellectually, but only faintly in my physical core

What I need is a way to experience the problem in a very real way, in my physical surroundings. My hunch is technology may have a role to play there. We are a plugged in society, increasingly relying on the power of the networks. The Web 2.0 revolution may well hold some of the keys to our current predicament, in the same way the industrial revolution got us into it. I am a big believer in the power of technology, bad and good.

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