Friday, October 30, 2009

On Afghan Heroin Farmers and Other Consumption Factoids

I am just back from a trek to Kansas State University in Manhattan (Kansas, not NY), for a workshop on adult learning assessment.  The day has been long. The alarm jangled everyone's nerves at 6 a.m..  I gave myself another five, then pulled myself from the bed.  I let Lucy & Lexie relax while I got ready, but even though they had at least 30 minutes' more sleep than I did, they weren't awake enough to pee on command.  They have internal clocks set to 7:25 a.m.. Hmm... I wonder what happens when we "fall back" for daylight savings time this Sunday.

Finally, I loaded the girls into the car, and 2-plus hours later, dropped them off at a swanky Manhattan doggy day care called "HOWL-A-DAYZ INN."  By that time, they were awake enough to be excited, and Lexie did on the Inn floor what she'd refused to do hours earlier in my back yard.  Lex!  How embarrassing. 

Wishing I was in jeans and boots instead of heels, I made my way across campus to the conference site.  I picked up a tidbit or two at the conference, then lunched with the Poli Sci department chair Jeff Pickering and my lighthouse beacon in a foggy academic world, administrative assistant Cheryl Heverin.  That was followed by tea and conversation with Dr. Krishna Tummala, head of the department's MPA program. It was a lovely, productive and tiring day. Fortunately, the girls were also worn out from their day, and are pretty much leaving me to my typing this evening. My first order of business was to catch up on my reading, starting with my class's discussion board conversation.

To my great delight, my Managing for Sustainability class is engaged in a zig-zaggy conversation about water shortages in China, the ecological and health risks of drinking milk, the reasons for and against glass bottling beverages (recyclable, but heavy to ship, larger carbon footprint, air results in more bacteria) vs. plastic-coated cartons (stay fresh longer, but more trash, plastics leach into product), the woes of overconsumption (and whether it's possible for America to change this problem behavior), fair trade issues around the farmer's cut of the profits, and more.  And, did I mention, they are comedians?  One of my students said, in regard to the last topic, "The Afghan heroin farmers should be getting paid more. It's like a 2 or 3 billion dollar industry and the farmers receive next to nothing from it."  It started me thinking about a sitcom. 

I love my class.  Call me a romantic, but their discussion transports me to a bistro somewhere in Paris, lounging with a table full of expats, earnestly discussing the problems of the world over a bottle of wine, enjoying the camaraderie.  They've posted over 700 posts in the first eight weeks of class.  I am lucky.  They are a smart and passionate crew.  Sometimes I spout off, but usually, if I look before I leap, someone has already offered my thoughts before I've even arrived.  I don't know how much I'm teaching them, versus them teaching each other.  It's a different world, teaching on line.

It's my blog, so I can ramble about my life like that.  But the talk tonight did make me want to google down some additional information about our over-consumptive habits.  There was plenty to choose from, but two of the sites were particularly visual in very different, very dramatic ways, and I want to share both. 

The first site is called, simply, "Global Issues."  A cross between a website and a blog, the author (whomever that may be) found some interesting and stark data showing the disparity in consumption between the world's haves, and have-nots.  I found the above pie chart, created from World Bank statistics, on the site.  The statistics are four years old, but I doubt we've either curtailed or increased our consumption enough to worry that the data is irrelevant. 

There's more, and it's shocking when you put it this way.  E.g., the world spends $8 billion on cosmetics, but $6 billion on education.  Yes, this is what the article says, and here's the citation, (Source: The state of human development, United Nations Human Development Report 1998, Chapter 1, p.37).

I urge you to go to the site and read the rest of the article. It offers very telling statistics.

The second group of images is entirely different.  They are the work of Seattle photographer Chris Jordan, who says about his display, "Running the Numbers,"

"'Running The Numbers' looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month.

This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. Employing themes such as the near versus the far, and the one versus the many, I hope to raise some questions about the roles and responsibilities we each play as individuals in a collective that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming."

I've reproduced below one of his series, and then, to whet your whistle and make sure you make it to his website, I've given you a couple more of the "far" view, hoping you'll want to go see the "near" view.

Now for the whistle-wetters:


PHOTOS FROM ABU GRAIBS (beware, very disturbing)


Thursday, October 29, 2009

World of Good, Worlds of Goods

How could I have missed Ebay's launch of World of, an online community of vendors whose products are fair trade, eco friendly, ethically-sourced.  While it's not clear to me that all of the products are all of those things, Ebay's headed in the right direction.  Check it out!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Natural Capital & Civil Unrest: It's All Good!

Have you heard of Paul Hawken?  If not, let me introduce you.  He's a guy whose thinking is BIG, outside the box, and holds promise for a more sustainable future.  He's the author most recently of a book titled "Blessed Unrest," which paints a picture of the grass roots activism that he believes is reason for optimism for our planet, and before that, "Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution," a seriously important book on the problems with capitalism and how it needs to be reshaped to serve the earth and her inhabitants. 

In this blog post:  An excerpt of an interview with Hawken by Kamal Patel, a YouTube clip of Hawken talking about "Blessed Unrest" at a Bioneers gathering (, and the link to the entire Patel interview, not in that order. You think you don't have time, but this is the kind of reading you really MUST make time for!

Interview excerpt:

PATEL:  Personally, I was a pessimist. It wasn't until I learned about the idea of natural capitalism and heard your speech at Bioneers about "Blessed Unrest", did I connect with optimism. I must admit, that the word capitalism wasn't the easiest word to fit with my understandings of fairness in the world much alone optimism. I've heard you say that you used the word capitalism on purpose. What can you say about people who struggle with the concept or word, capitalism. And could you maybe help them better understand what you mean by "Natural Capitalism?"

HAWKEN:  Three years before the book came out, I had written an article called "Natural Capitalism," and coined the term. And what I was writing about was Natural Capital, and that was (coined) by E. F. Schumacher. And what he was trying to say, as an economist, was (take a) look at this form of capital -- living systems and ecosystems services, what we call resources. We don't put this on the balance sheet of the world. We count it as zero, until we cut it down, extract it, mine it, kill it. And then it has value. But before we do that, it has zero value. That's crazy. It has more value before we touch it.

So, then it goes to Herman Daly, and what Herman Daly was saying is that the limiting factor to human prosperity to the world wasn't human productivity, but the productivity of our resources because we are in a resource restrained world caused by our industrial systems taking so much, so often and for so long. Therefore, when you have an economy and you see what the limiting factors are to development, then you work on maximizing what is limiting. And what is limiting to us isn't people, we have lots of people, too many some may say.

So my reason for writing the piece in Mother Jones, which was written in '96 and published in '97 (and the book in '99), was to say what kind of economy would it be if we were to maximize the production of natural capital, rather than maximizing the capital of people? When you maximize the productivity of people, you use less people. Well we have more people than there are jobs. Basically we are using less and less of what we have more of, and with natural capital, using more and more of what we have less of. And we are using more of it (natural capital) to make people more productive, to use less people. So this is upside down and backwards, we should be using more and more people to use less and less natural capital.

So when it came to titling it for the magazine, we called it Natural Capital -- "ism." It had nothing to do with capitalism, as such. It was actually meant to tweak the Mother Jones readers. And some of them were really mad, and my editor was fired for it. And was fired by people who had not really read the article. They felt like it was just about granola capitalism, or we were justifying capitalism. And it had nothing to do with capitalism, and it still doesn't. Now Amory (Lovins) and Hunter (Lovins) interpret it that way. But as a coiner of the term, and as one of the two authors of the book, I can tell you that "Natural Capitalism" is in no way meant to imply or be a justification or bull work to capitalist systems, which I think, are basically pathological.

I believe in commerce, I believe in entrepreneurship, I believe in business, I mean I want to make it really clear. But capitalism? No. I don't hold trump with that at all. It was meant to be a double entendre. A pun, a pun."


Thursday, October 15, 2009

REAL or HOAX: and the Beat Goes On...

"Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies showing the 1998 El Nino event" from Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA,

Today I received an email from my friend John G.  Mr. G. knows who he is.  John's probably a libertarian at heart, but he's so tied into the Texas Republican machine (the same Republican machine that W is tied into) that over time I have come to doubt his motives before I stop to examine them. Today's email linked to a doubting-Thomas climate story by BBC's "Climate Correspondent," Paul Hudson. The opening volley noted that 1998 was the hottest year on record in the past twelve, as though that proves warming stopped in 1998. I really didn't read further into the article, because it annoyed me that a so-called Climate Correspondent did not know that the 1998 heat blip was a result of El Nino overlaid upon a warming trend.  And that it might not occur to a Climate Correspondent that climate patterns are a lot like stock market trends. They jig up and down, up and down, on their way to wherever they're headed. A one-year spike does not a pattern undo. Or something like that.

Actually though, when I sent a nasty note to this effect back to my friend John, he shot back:

I sent that link to the BBC article on global warming--not to convince you of anything--but because it reported some scientist was presenting a paper in which he believes he has discovered the true manner in which the sun's energy affects the earth and that the effect of sun activity is greater on global warming than previously thought--which, if true, would alter the assumptions and models currently utilized. That is what I thought to be noteworthy--possibly new information on the subject. You might have missed that point, since it was buried somewhat in the middle of the article and you might not have read that far.

To which I responded:

I see that about the scientist, but Hudson couched his story in yet another "this isn't a real phenomenon" context, and of course, that's what I react to.  If it was simply presented (apolitically) as... "scientists offers new model of solar impact that may require recalculation of warming impacts," I might have paid more attention.  And there is no such thing, especially in science, as "true manner." There are just hypotheses that get tested ad naseum until the results are adequately consistent and we say "that's a better theory than the last one."

And the beat goes on. 

Sometimes I marvel that John and I stay friends.  And we are.  Real friends.  This, despite his looking for all the world to me like a billboard marked "Right Wing Illogic Spouted Here."  I find that my tongue becomes unusually sharp, my manner smug to the point of being ashamed of myself - perhaps because we are friends and it hurts to find such balderdash in a friend.  He, by contrast, has an even-tempered, southern gentlemanly sort of temperament, almost always letting my little barbs (and my leftish ways) slide off his back into the forgiving Texas soil.  By the way, my saying all this about a friend, no matter his politics, may seem unkind, but John knows he has the ability to unravel me.  I believe he's far too kind to do it just to see my reaction, but I could be wrong about that.  Just because he's genteel doesn't mean he doesn't enjoy some good fun now and again. 

In fairness to John, although not to "Climate Correspondent" Hudson, this really wasn't one of John's right wing plays.  If Hudson's entree wasn't so inflammatory, I might have noticed that the article contained some interesting new science. Read Hudson's article here, And, while I'm apologizing to John, I should also mention that, to his credit, he holds some redeemingly liberal views on certain private behaviors.  And he faithfully shares his Stratfor Global Intelligence newsletter.  I'll leave it at that.
Today is Blog Action Day... Bloggers, hopefully by the thousands, are all blogging about Climate Change today, in hopes of raising public consciousness.  And so, in honor of John G. (and also in an "in your face, Paul Hudson, BBC 'Climate Correspondent'" sort of way), today I re-run a post I wrote way back in June, "Climate Change: Real or Hoax."   It bears repeating in light of the prolific persistence of nonsense like Hudson's intro paragraph.  If you were reading me in June, I apologize for the repeat, but urge you to tweet the article, or share it to facebook, or by whatever means you can, help me spread the word today, on Blog Action Day.

# # #

Climate Change, Real or Hoax: On Science and Ideology

Just when it felt like everyone had finally jumped on the bandwagon, the climate change deniers are back. Yesterday morning I found a message from my good friend John Martinson. It said, simply, "what's this about:                                                                                   ?"

The webpage John referred me to belongs to the Heartland Institute, a think tank that describes its mission this way: " discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems." Meaning that Heartland prefers market-based solutions for social problems, and would tend to oppose regulatory solutions. Heartland believes that Global Warming is a red herring.

Heartland recently hosted a 3-day conference on the issue of global warming, and the linked website contains presentation data from the conference. Coincidentally, another very bright but non-scientist friend of mine, Avi Davis - open-minded, a bit of a neocon (I only spell that out because ideology is an unavoidable part of this discussion) - attended the conference and was persuaded. So is there anything to it?

Since Congress has before it an energy bill, I suspect that the timing on this is no coincidence. The Institute's ideological preference would be easier to manage if the global warming crisis were overblown, and onset of additional regulation unnecessary.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not accusing the Institute of skewing data to manipulate Congress or "we, the people." Maybe they're seeing what they want to see in a sea of confusing data. Did you know that cognitive scientists believe we fool ourselves when we go about the business of making rational decisions? Rather, they say we subconsciously pick and choose from among the available data whichever pieces support our emotional preferences, see, e.g. Sunstein, C. (2005). Moral heuristics. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28(04), 531-542. Maybe that's what Heartland does. Maybe, by the way, that's what we who believe global warming is real do, too. And for the record, since we're outing ideologies, mine is "pragmatist, left-leaning."

Even so, the fact that Heartland Institute is deeply ideological does not necessarily overcome their data. I need to feel able to tear down their data, not their ideology. While I do not begrudge them their ideology, it's the data that tells us whether or not to act. It's the old adage, "just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean someone's not out to get me" recrafted for the climate change issue, e.g. just because I'm ideologically opposed to climate change doesn't mean my data's wrong.

Even though there's been a scientific consensus about the warming aspects of CO2 for decades, Heartland has some pretty compelling charts that are easy to read and do seem to confound the issue. It's hard to know what to think when confronted by such contrarian information.

I asked some colleagues, some scientists I know from The Nature Conservancy and from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. I also asked a group of environmental ethicists who follow the debate pretty closely. One of the latter group, Dr. Nicholas Webster, University of Utah, put the debate into "rate of change" and anthropomorphic perspective: "The question is not so much whether the earth has been warmer or cooler (within geologic time it has been and always will be fluctuating) the question is the rate of change. Based upon this, the rate of change in climate is unprecedented and does not allow enough time, evolutionarily, for organisms to adapt. Secondly, although the world has been warmer in past geologic epochs, humans did not exist during those geologic epochs. In attempting to ameliorate climate change, we are merely attempting to maintain the climatic conditions conducive to human life."

Dr. Mark Meisner, from NYU-Syracuse, pointed me to an excellent website published by GRIST, a site that describes its mission as environmental journalism: Grist has a page devoted to debunking the debunkers. It takes each of the claims frequently made by the deniers and answers them one-by-one.

Dr. Baylor Johnson at St. Lawrence University, using Grist as a resource, gave me as an example the denier claim that the earth stopped its warming trend in 1998. According to Grist, the claim is based on the fact that no year since has been as hot as 1998 (although there is some conflicting data about the temperatures of 2005). Dr. Johnson says, "It turns out that 1998 was especially hot because according to NASA the most powerful El Nino of the century was superimposed on the longterm warming trend. The claim that global warming stopped in 1998 is simply false. Possibly no year since has been as hot as 1998, but the trendline has continued upward once one compensates for the "noise" of a major El Nino."

I puttered around the Grist site myself, and know you'll find a lot of useful information there. But I want to end with the response from a scientist, my friend Ken Wiley, from The Nature Conservancy's Arizona Chapter. Ken, surprisingly makes a pitch for relying on ideology when science is less than certain. Although he doesn't say it, he is leaning in part on something called "the precautionary principle," the idea that when we cannot know for certain, we make a safer choice. I think his words are worth sharing:

"I'm always skeptical, and think we all should be, when the opposition to something like global warming is rooted in economic impacts and "loss of jobs". That point of view, that argument, has been used as a straw-man excuse for an enormous variety of ideological agendas for the last twenty generations...

I have no doubt that many of those who are champions of global warming also have their roots, to some degree, in ideology. All of us are hugely influenced by ideology. The opinions we each may have about such things as abortion, gay and other human rights, gun laws, sex education, taxes, the defense budget, etc. are little but ideological differences.

The discussion about global warming fits, I think, into a category that is different than those listed in the last sentence. It, ultimately, HAS TO be decided by science, and it certainly, absolutely, beyond a doubt will be.

The key question, essentially your question, is "What do we do now, when we perhaps do not have the definitive answer, or the clear undeniable data to give us the answer, to what is clearly an emerging and potentially extremely important question?" I think the answer, since we do not have the smoking gun evidence, and likely will not ever have it to a degree that will satisfy all of the anti-climate change ideologues until it is too late, is to be found in ideology.

...My ideological leanings are that fossil fuels pollute, cause social disruption, are increasingly expensive, politically dangerous and economically disruptive. We all know, ideology aside, that we need to start finding alternatives. I accept the basic arguments advanced by Thomas Friedman in "Hot, Flat and Crowded" that there are compelling reasons for the development of sustainable energy, sustainable economies, population "control" and, yes, taking an ideological view that defines an alternative future for society, an new approach that transcends arguments solely based on the fear and paranoia related to a doomsday climate change scenario.

"Ideology" is such a charged and polarizing word. During the Bush years, "their" ideology was a very bad thing, smacking of prejudice and ignorance and cruelty and hubris... [By contrast], we were sure that "our" ideology was based on caring and fairness and optimism and hope for the future[!]

As always, almost no matter the situation, "their" (whoever "they" might be) ideology sucks and "ours" (whoever "we" might be) is the right and true thing. We're humans; I don't think we can get away from it. And I don't think we should. Politics is nothing be a constant battle between ideologies. It is the blessing and the curse of the human condition. A blessing because it gives us a choice. And a curse because we seem, based on history, to be such sorry ass, selfish, rank amateurs in the application of "choice". Pathetically, but, beyond much doubt, taking the long view is not our strong point.

So, back to your question. Since we don't KNOW, why shouldn't we choose to envision a wider horizon and make our decisions about the future based on more than global warming with, perhaps, an eye partially focused on the potential seriousness of climate change, as well as applying the gift of consideration to other, related issues? Such an attitude, such an "ideology", may lead us to the same place, a global discussion of global issues of concern that may make life not only better for us all, but simply possible for us all. The issues are bigger than "climate change". The solutions that will help us address climate change, even if it turns out to exist only in the paranoid delusional minds of 100 Nobel Laureates, will contribute to a better and more sustainable world......and my guess is that there actually may be a universal ideology that would agree that a better and more sustainable world is something we should all strive for."

More resources from my colleagues:

Union of Concerned Scientists on "global warming"
Skeptical Science "examining the science of global warming"
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Climate science by climate scientists

Elizabeth Kolbert, 'Fieldnotes from a Catastrophe'
Mark Lynas, 'Six Degrees'

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Something Different: The Swell Season

This duo, The Swell Season, move me. 

I just had to share.  Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova and NPR, thank you!

The music is below.  That's the important part.

Their story here:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Save the World One Pair of Shoes at at Time

Recently my cyber-soul-friend Kim Johnson Morales put out the word that she was collecting shoes for the needy. She asked that everyone clear their closets of all the shoes they haven't worn in ages. I loaded a dozen or so pair of shoes into a box and paid $20 to ship them to Kim. She's in Phoenix. I'm still stuck in KC. It seemed like the right thing to do.

Today I came across something even better. A company called TOMS will give a brand new pair of shoes to someone in need every time I buy a pair for myself. This is a company using the economic model to save the world, one pair of shoes at a time. And I love the casual, comfy look of their shoes.  They have vegan boots, too!   Below is a video telling the TOMS story. Below that is a link to their website store. The shoes are cute, the cause is good. Take a look.

Our Movement - Official Store - TOMS Shoes - A Pair of New Shoes is Given to a Child in Need With Every Pair Purchased - One for One -

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cool Shades for the Earth & Your Eyes

Get the plastics out! All-wooden frames from Shwood, an Oregon sunglasses manufacturer, are way cool!  Check their website for other colors & styles.  Watch the manufacture process in the video clip below.

Shwood Eyewear - Canby Sunglasses

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Children are our Future

I just learned that Michael Pollan has written a version of The Omnivore's Dilemma just for kids, called The Ommivore's Dilemma for Kids: The Secrets Behind What You Eat. The New York Times review said this:

In a smart, compelling format with updated facts, plenty of photos, graphs, and visuals, as well as a new afterword and backmatter, The Omnivore’s Dilemma serves up a bold message to the generation that needs it most: It’s time to take charge of our national eating habits—and it starts with you.

It'll be on my Chanukah and Christmas list for every child I know this holiday season.