Tag Archives: change

My Manifesto – the Zeitgeist of sustainability

This will be the fifth manifesto I’ve written. And every one of them has had a noble goal and ambitious hopes. I like to shoot for the stars and see where I end up.

My goal is to be the Zeitgeist of sustainability.

Zeitgeist - “the spirit of the times” or “the spirit of the age.”

- the defining spirit of a particular period as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.

I want to create a spirit of sustainability that spreads across this country. An idea that people can believe in and feel proud of. And this goes beyond Republican or Democratic differences. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Texan in a drought or a New Englander in a Prius. We can all agree on sustainability.

But we don’t agree and that’s the problem. There are too many messages out there and each one points in a different direction. Leaving us in a state of confusion, unsure of what to do but wanting to do something.

And I know this is true. I talk to many people and all of them want to do something. They agree with the principles of sustainability, but none of them agree on global warming, climate change, organic, energy, etc.

And they don’t need to. It’s all for the same cause. We just need to keep the focus on sustainability. That is where the Zeitgeist comes into play. A German word that is almost mystical in how it happens – millions of people coming together because they feel the same way about something. It doesn’t happen often, especially without war, but it is happening here.

We just need someone to write about it. To say what everyone is thinking and make it so well known that it becomes the new way to do things.

That is my job and I have spent years studying and learning about sustainability. I’ve been to the White House for discussions and into people’s garbage. Surprisingly, the whole thing breaks down into four topics:

  • Overcoming obesity
  • Living zero waste
  • Strong local economies
  • Clean air

The first one, obesity, is the most important of them all. It is impossible to be healthy and pollute the planet. And that’s the message I want to convey. This isn’t about sacrifice and loss, nor hard choices and spending money. All that is noise pollution and marketing.

The truth is that when you improve your life, you improve the planet. And this blog will teach you how to do so. With all the relevant facts and personal stories – plus the bigger picture to let you know you are affecting the world.

And all you have to do is make your life better.

The EPA is screwing up the discussion on global warming

The EPA is reporting the wrong information on global warming and I want them to get it right. The information they publish becomes the gold standard and is reported in the media, covered on TV, and published all across the web. It reaches the eyes and ears of a majority of Americans, and so why are they screwing it up?

The first problem is in using economic terms over plain language. The average person has a hard time understanding the meaning of ‘by economic sector’ or ‘end user emissions’. And nowhere in their mission statement does it say they should be communicating like college professors:

The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.

Neither does it say they should communicate clearly, but that’s covered in the Plain Writing Act of 2010.

Another problem they face is choosing what data to report. Again, they seem to be focusing on macroeconomic data sets instead of what will help the average person. Here is the data set spread out across 20 pages on the EPA website and reported many thousand times over in the press:

 

Emissions by Economic Sector

  • Electricity generation – 34%
  • Transportation – 27%
  • Industry – 21%
  • Agriculture – 7%
  • Commercial & Residential – 11%

 

Very helpful for the big picture and if you’re writing policy, but worthy of ignoring by the common person. What are they supposed to do about electricity, buy a wind turbine? For transportation, go out and buy a new car? What does industry even mean?

For those steeped in the economics of global warming this makes total sense. Our energy is slowly moving towards renewables, cars are becoming electric, homes and business can similarly electrify, and that would make 61-90% of our emissions from electricity. Yes, it is vital we pick up renewables.

But that stymies any discussion about what individuals can do. Here is another data set left to gather dust, buried 200 pages deep in the EPA’s most important report:

 

Emissions by End User

  • Manufacturing – 30%
  • Homes – 18%
  • Business – 17%
  • Personal Cars – 17%
  • Farming – 8%
  • Freight Trucks – 6%
  • Airplanes – 2%

 

End user is an economic term for you bought it you own it. Meaning the person who drives the car is responsible for the emissions, not General Motors. From this perspective the story changes entirely. Transportation moves down into a tie for third most important. The three ahead of it – manufacturing, homes, business – all represent places where the average person has a significant impact.

Individuals could buy less or switch to recycled products, in simple ways, like buying recycled toilet paper. At home they could lower the thermostat or send less to the landfill. At work they could accept normal temperatures for the A/C and support any green company policies.

It is strange that this data, which places the responsibility on individuals and can easily encourage a change in behavior, is buried in favor of the economic report. It would seem like the EPA is purposely avoiding the issue of responsibility, or letting the economists control the marketing. Either way it’s unacceptable and screwing up the discussion on global warming.

Come on EPA get your head in the game!

 

 

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How change.org was turned into the internets biggest tool for social change

“The idea was to build every possible tool for nonprofits, social fundraising, skills based volunteerism, a blog network…really big, unobtainable objectives,” said Ben Rattray who, at 22-years-old, founded Change.org. “We failed.”

Rather than giving up, he pivoted. Instead of attempting to provide every technological service to anyone trying to make an impact, the business narrowed its focus, developing on online platform for concerned citizens to start petitions. And he started to see real changes.

Bank of America dropped its $5 debit card fee after more than 300,000 people signed a petition started by a 22-year-old Molly Katchpole. The Sanford neighborhood watchman who allegedly shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was arrested and charged after his parents gathered more than 2 million signatures. South Africa convened a task force to address rapes meant to turn lesbians straight after citizens organized to protest and collected 171,000 signatures.

 

Source: Fast Company - The Pivot That Changed The World

 

 

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A refreshing look at climate change in America – what are we doing about it?

A refreshing, well-balanced look at climate change in America.

 

You don’t have to be a climate scientist these days to know that the climate has problems. You just have to step outside.

The United States is now enduring its warmest year on record…Meanwhile, the country often seems to be moving further away from doing something about climate change, with the issue having all but fallen out of the national debate.

Behind the scenes, however, a somewhat different story is starting to emerge — one that offers reason for optimism to anyone worried about the planet. The world’s largest economies may now be in the process of creating a climate-change response that does not depend on the politically painful process of raising the price of dirty energy. The response is not guaranteed to work, given the scale of the problem. But the early successes have been notable.

Over the last several years, the governments of the United States, Europe and China have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on clean-energy research and deployment. And despite some high-profile flops, like ethanol and Solyndra, the investments seem to be succeeding more than they are failing.

 

Keep reading: N.Y. Times - There’s Still Hope for the Planet

 

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La Niña leaves on Thursday – El Niño could be coming

Changes are brewing in the equatorial Pacific, and they could profoundly affect weather across the U.S. and much of the globe next winter and spring.

La Nina, which has held sway since last fall, will be officially declared a goner Thursday, an official at the Climate Prediction Center in Maryland told InsideClimate News. And while nobody is quite certain what will happen next, some long-range forecast models are pointing to the possible emergence of the opposite phenomenon: El Nino.

Climate scientists are still trying to determine what role climate change plays in the La Nina/El Nino cycle. One study by scientists with NASA and the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle suggests global warming may already be affecting the intensity and impacts of El Nino.

Regardless of climate change’s role, a shift away from this year’s La Nina could dramatically alter temperature, precipitation and extreme-weather patterns.

…keep readingAdios, La Nina. Hola, El Nino?

 

// Photo – Vinoth Chandar

Climate Change in California means heats waves…lots of them

In the past 60 years, California has experienced two heatwaves – in 1955 and 2006 – in which temperatures in its urban centers were greater than 37.8 degrees C (100 degrees F) for three or more consecutive days.

A new analysis prepared by other Scripps researchers indicates that by century’s end, those kinds of heatwaves will be the norm. Scripps climate researcher David Pierce said the new data will be assimilated into a major climate report scheduled for release in 2013.

“We’ll start getting these kinds of heatwaves more frequently by 2020 and by 2070, they’ll become common,” Pierce said.

…in all scenarios, not only do episodes of 100-degree-plus temperatures happen more frequently (several times a decade), but events in which temperatures top 100 for seven or more days begin happening at least once a decade by 2060 in all the models.

via Scripps Institute of Oceanography

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Are cars causing Global Warming?

I often hear folks complain about cars and the pollution they cause. This seemed a little off so I did some investigating.

Out of all the ways to go green, including reducing energy use, buying green products, and driving less…

 

Which one is the best for the environment?

 

The EPA keeps a tally of these things on their Climate Change page and in an Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions (pdf).

The results are astounding. Cars account for only 17% of all emissions. While 80% comes from home use, business, and food.

 

[box type="shadow"]

2009 US Greenhouse Gas Emissions

  • Business — 35.6%
  • Electricity — 33%
  • Personal vehicles — 17.8%
  • Agriculture — 7%
  • Residential — 5%
  • US territories — 1%

* Business = factories, business vehicles, office buildings
** Residential = gas heating
*** Includes CO2 and all other gasses 

[/box]

 

To put it another way. If you buy a recycled product or reduce your energy use, that has 2x greater impact than driving less does.

This means things like hang drying your clothes, buying recycled toilet paper, reusing floss, and turning off the A/C, are much more important than biking to work.

I know, I know, this just doesn’t seem right.

The numbers don’t lie…so next time you get in the car think, instead, about how you can reduce your energy use or buy a sustainably created product.

 

More on the Numbers

 

If you think about driving, most of the recommendations are for health concerns instead of pollution problems. Things like biking to work and reducing traffic congestion. Or, it is about geopolitics and our reliance on other countries for oil.

The thing is, most of the car industry is green and even innovative. There are smog checks, 40 mpg cars, engine filters galore, a huge used car industries (i.e. reuse), and awesome junkyards (recycle).

From the top, where the rich subsidize the innovations like electric cars. To the bottom, where the middle and poor buy used to save money. The entire industry appears to have itself aligned in an environmental way.

Compare that to the energy industry and green product market where that alignment isn’t quite there yet. Buying a used car saves money and helps the entire industry, and it is considered cool/smart. Whereas, buying recycled or hang drying your clothes makes you kind of extreme, and not all locations offer products.

Not to mention the incentives are tiny. The pennies and dimes I save in electricity use make me to question the extra effort. The only thing that keeps me going is “think of the kids”, lol.

This may be a good place for smart government. A good example would be the car industry, where those who drive a lot or purchase low MPG cars pay much more at the pump. They also pay more taxes and if you look at how much tax is loaded into each gallon, it’s a lot.

Perhaps there could be an extra tax on those who use more electricity. Make those who own big houses or a million appliances pay more. Use that money to fund clean energy projects.

I’m seeing this happen in a few regions but not at the scale where it needs to be. I say tax the hell out of wasters and over-users otherwise it makes all my reductions inconsequential.

Plus, it sure would be nice to get rid of these coal and gas power plants…

 

Which one would you rather have in your backyard?

 

2 Very Strong Words for Peter Corbett

After attending Thursday night’s 7th Ignite DC, I have two very strong words for Peter Corbett:

THANK YOU.

Closing the evening as the final talk, Peter reminded me and the other 300-some tech and innovation enthusiasts in the room that while DC may be, in Peter’s words, “the scrappiest mother fucking town,” we get shit done…we make things happen. It was one one of those talks that left you thinking, “I’ll have what he’s having.” It was inspiring.

Did he drink a Red Bull? Or chug a can of lentil soup? Who knows. If you weren’t there, you’ll have to wait until the talk is posted to understand (although you can check out the slides now). But even then, you might not understand, because Peter’s talk really wasn’t about what he was saying or how he was saying it, but who he was saying it to…a room, and more importantly, a community of people doing great things. Inspiring things. Things that are changing the world.

What Peter didn’t mention, although I know he knows exactly what I’m talking about, is success doesn’t happen over night. The road to it, in fact, is paved with No’s. And whole lot of blood, sweat and tears.

Sometimes it’s easy to give heed to the naysayers and the status-quo’ters. Sometime it feels like those chains aren’t moving fast enough. Sometimes doubt rears its ugly head at the most pivotal points in time.

And that’s when we need a jolt of enthusiasm, a shot of energy, a 5-minute talk of evangelism to remind us, we’re not crazy. Because the things we are facing as a community and more importantly as a society and civilization are going to require some big, crazy solutions and a lot of community support and action.

Peter’s talk was a much needed reminder that if others don’t think we’re crazy for doing what we’re doing, we’re not thinking big enough. The things that need to happen in the world require each of us doing our biggest, our best, our craziest…together.

So DC: What will you do? What are you waiting for? Who will tell your story?

And Peter, THANK YOU.

 

Wikipedia: Gateway Platform to More Girls in Tech?

Ever since the Wikimedia Foundation announced its goal to raise the share of female contributors to Wikipedia 25 percent by 2015, I’ve had it in my head to make sure my 11-year old niece is adding her voice to the collective knowledge of the world.

It was with this goal of lighting the next generation’s torch that I ventured over to my brother’s house to hang out with the little genius who happened to be working on a homework assignment on her computer when I arrived. The assignment was to research and write a report on an invasive species – and she had selected the “mitten crab” – a species introduced to the Chesapeake Bay in 2005 and is currently being evaluated for its impact on the native Chesapeake Blue Crab.

As she was searching and culling the internet for information, I asked if she was allowed to use Wikipedia – she said yes. Then I asked if she had ever edited Wikipedia – she said no.  That’s when I gave her her first lesson in editing Wikipedia. We had fun, for over an hour, and it went off exactly how I first learned to edit Wikipedia back in 2006 when I was an instructor for Intellipedia.

The mitten crab Wikipedia page was the perfect page to launch her learning. Why? Because the number one reason people avoid contributing to Wikipedia is the feeling that they don’t have anything or enough information to contribute (per the 2010 survey conducted by the Wikimedia Foundation).

My niece and I quickly noticed we had something to add. The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center just announced it’s seeking reports of mitten crab sighting and collections. But this wasn’t mentioned anywhere in Wikipedia article – and we believed it belonged there.

To get her going I started with the basics – how to edit sections (versus the entire page), wiki-markup for things like links, bullet points, and bold text, the importance of including an edit summary. She picked it up effortlessly like the little sponge-brain she is.

In fact, her hand was on the mouse clicking “edit” faster than I could say “Whoa, Tonto!” First thing the following morning, she was reporting on the status of the page. It had been edited by a “crustacean nerd” (my niece’s words, not mine) but the bulk of our contribution was still there, including the line we added in the first sentence: named for its furry claws that look like mittens.

I don’t think doubling the number of females contributing to Wikipedia by 2015 is a difficult mark to hit. In fact, I think it should be much higher since the barriers to contributing are pretty easy to address. My experience this weekend proved just how easy it can be.

While wiki markup is just a syntax (similar to using Word), I can’t help but think that learning it could encourage girls to learn to program – as a gateway language so to speak – by showing them how fun it is to build and create something, moving them from consumers of information, to creators and builders.

If every Wikipedian took just one hour of their life to teach a girl how to contribute, the future of Wikipedia would be forever changed. Diversity is the key to survival and Wikipedia needs more of it – not simply to survive, but to thrive. Maybe there should be a pledge to sign – teach a girl to wiki. Or free classes led by Wikipedian volunteers. I don’t know, but I don’t think females aren’t contributing to Wikipedia because they lack desire or don’t have the time. I think there’s a barrier (albeit a small one) in education and awareness that once addressed will create a stronger, better Wikipedia, and in the process, perhaps will create a more technologically capable generation of women who can build the future they want to live in.

A Guide to DC's Environmental Film Festival

Kieran Timberlake: The Loblolly House

I love movies. The only thing better than movies is a film festival full of them. In the last few years I’ve become a regular film festival attendee (see my Sundance Festival Guide).

It was with some surprise then to learn that DC has its very own film festival. A major event that is possibly the best of its kind in the world, the Environmental Film Festival.

It runs from March 15-27 and presents 150 films at 60 venues, with an expected attendance of 26,000 filmgoers.

What makes any festival interesting is the sense of discovery where you find yourself watching a movie you would never otherwise see. And, that film will most likely never again be in your local theater or even on Netflix. They are works of art that while good enough to be selected at film festivals, will never make it into the studio circuit of big budgets, posters, and red carpets.

Being in DC is uniquely special as well since the city produces a huge amount of documentaries. I once heard a friend at the DC Film Institute joke that we are not Hollywood but Docu-wood.

The subject of this year’s festival is Energy, but I noticed several other topics just as interesting: the chesapeake bay, architecture, lectures by professors, nuclear waste, short films, and adventures in cold places.

Where Whales Sing

After looking through the list of films I quickly realized that I want to see them all. With over 60 movies making the first cut as “must-sees”. My festival instincts kicked in as I reminded myself that every movie was chosen because it is worth seeing.

The wise option then is to choose my absolute favorites:

The next step is to plan out my 12 day schedule. This process helped me a bit to narrow down my schedule to just 21 movies. Leaving room for a day job and food but little else.

Here is the full list (with links). I hope a few of these tickle your fancy and you end up attending one or two. Leave a comment about your experiences or if you need someone to go with (because I sure do!).

Vincent Scully: An Art Historian Among Architects

—-

Mar 15

Wasteland and Wilderness: Lecture by Peter L. Galison – 5:30pm

The Polar Explorer – 8pm

Mar 16

Mission Blue – 7:30pm

Oil Rocks – City Above The Sea – 7pm

Mar 17

Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie – 7pm

Mar 18

El Muro – 6:30pm

Mar 19

Into Eternity – 1pm

Mar 20

Kieran Timberlake: Loblolly House – 1pm

Countdown To Zero – 6:30pm

Mar 21

World Water Day: Global Water and Population Films and Panels – 6pm

Vincent Scully: An Art Historian Among Architects – 7pm

Mar 22

Where Whales Sing – 10:30am

An Evening With Chris Palmer – 7pm

Mar 23

Short Films on the Chesapeake: The Last Boat Out, The Runoff Dilemma, Watermen, & Sturgeon: Eggs To Die For – 6pm

Mar 24

Planeat – 7:30pm

Mar 25

We Still Live Here: As Nutayunean – 7pm

Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air – 7pm

Mar 26

I.M. Pei – Building Modern China - 2pm

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga – 3pm

Mar 27

Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization – 3pm

A Murder of Crows – 1pm

Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie