Archive for the 'Environment' Category

Oil is the world’s most important commodity . . .

30 March 2006

. . . until water becomes a problem

This item from The Business Innovation Insider features an interview with Gary White, the founder of WaterPartners International.  They are doing innovative work to bring clean water to the world's poor, especially via microfinance.  Worth checking out.

It's also worthwhile to spare a thought for where our current water-use practices are taking us.  What sort of water future do we want?


Super-hybrid cars.

23 March 2006

Some environmentally minded “hot rodders” have come up with tweaks that make hybrid cars even more fuel-efficient.

Experimental Hybrid Cars Get Up to 250 Mpg

“An Inconvenient Truth”

16 March 2006

This new documentary about Al Gore’s campaign to reverse global warming looks terrific.

An Inconvenient Truth

The K.I.S.S. Principle and environmental change.

10 March 2006

I’m sure Seth Godin isn’t writing the great posts on his blog strictly to give me fodder to talk about environmental issues and how they’re discussed. But his latest entry, “Bite sized”, serves the purpose just as well as his earlier posts about “climate cancer”.


Actually, our behavior as people is pretty easy to predict. We like things that are simple, not complex. Issues where we can take action without changing very much. […] The best problems, as far as a consumer is concerned, are those that can be solved quickly and easily, with few side effects.

Me: It would be great if everyone had the same wish that I do to embrace complexity, seek out change, and grow by leaps and bounds from day to day. But does that describe the world you see around you? It doesn’t even describe my actual experience, only my wishes, and I’m the most gung-ho wisher for huge, positive change you can imagine.

I’d love it if the most powerful environmentalists got their heads together and agreed that, while maintaining their many varied good programs, they were going to collaborate on the one message, a simple message, that would best best serve the earth’s environment. I don’t know if it would target hydrocarbons, or habits of consumption, or what, but I do know it would help if every person in the industrialized world internalized some message like “Let’s keep it safe for our grandkids: Stop polluting now.” Put up billboards with a picture of a cute infant/toddler holding the earth in his or her hands and smiling. Run simple, warm television ads featuring respected, politics-neutral notables saying what they’re personally doing to reduce their output of pollution. Hit every branch of the media in every country. Say it over and over.

Above all, give people something simple they can do right now with minimal pain to address the high-leverage problem. I’m busy and I’m weak-willed–make it easy for me, much less the folks who drive Excursions.

Environmentalism and the poor.

10 March 2006

This article is part of a series from Grist on poverty and the environment. Well worth reading, both for its historical perspective and its view of what should be done today.

Caste from the Past

The environmental movement has achieved great things. Without John Muir or David Brower, there would be fewer national parks and wilderness areas. […] These and other activists deserve the hero label — but we also need to expand our notion of what constitutes nature and who speaks on its behalf. Unless environmentalists take a full reckoning of their past to find other voices to remember and celebrate, the movement may grow ever more narrow and irrelevant. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to find some new heroes.

In my view, it is essential that environmentalists demonstrate to everyone that environmentalism isn’t a fringe avocation, but a way of thinking about the world that benefits everyone. It’s going to require better work than we’ve done so far.

Disposing of Styrofoam.

10 March 2006

Thanks to our friends from the bacterial world, there is hope for recycling the squillions of tons of used polystyrene foam (a.k.a. Styrofoam, which is a trademark) that we use.

Solving the Styrofoam Situation

This article is from Seed, which I’ve been reading more of lately and quite enjoying.

“Atmosphere cancer,” redux.

9 March 2006

Last week I cited Seth Godin on the poor job that’s been done to inform the world of the dangers of global warming. Among other smart observations, Godin made the point that the general public would look at the issue differently if we called the phenomenon “atmosphere cancer” rather than “global warming.”

This interesting item from the “Framing Science” blog uses graphs of Gallup polling data to show just how low global warming rates in the public mind. The blog itself addresses exactly what Godin was talking about, namely the way that scientific issues are portrayed in the media. It’s author, Dr. Matthew Nisbet, teaches communications at Ohio State.

The failure to adequately alarm or motivate the public about global warming raises a timeless organizational issue: who’s responsible? We’ve all had the experience, when working in groups, of deadlines that slipped or tasks that fell by the wayside simply because it wasn’t clear exactly who was responsible for which part of the project. The old saying has as much currency now as ever: “If everyone is responsible, then no one is responsible.”

For macro issues like “atmosphere cancer,” effective responsibility tends to fall to two types of entities: (1) private citizens or groups who take the issue on as a “holy” cause, or (2) governments. In the case of global warming, the former class includes major and minor environmental organizations, professional scientific groups, experts like Prof. Nisbet, and the few concerned citizens who will make this their #1 issue for activism. To start at the head of the list for governments, the Bush administration has been, shall we say, less than zealous in helping the American people to understand the real and pressing threats posed by global warming.

“Global warming” needs better p.r.

1 March 2006

Another typically sensible post from Seth Godin: “The problem with ‘global warming’.” The short version is that the problem hasn’t been presented (or marketed) to the general public in a way that is (1) understandable, and (2) moving. In my view, Godin is absolutely right.

I’ve heard far too many earnest pleas for urgent action from well-meaning people who do not grasp the nature of human communication. They believe that if they just explain it again, slowly enough and passionately enough, their audiences will come to understand the severity of the problem, change their own ways, and then take up the cause themselves.

But guess what? We in the audience are human. We like what we like. We typically don’t like change, especially if it affects things that we enjoy. I don’t want to give up my car. I don’t want to give up my wanton use of electricity. You’re really going to have to convince me — to sell me — to do otherwise.

I say all of this not because I’m dubious about global warming — I used to write an environmental column, for crying out loud — but because I know that I haven’t done a tenth of what I could have to change my own habits for the better in terms of global warming. I’m not trying to be selfish, but my schedule is criminally overbooked and it takes some convincing to get me to eat my spinach in any context. Make it real to me. Convince me. I’m good-hearted but highly conflicted.

This complaint shares the same root with my earlier rant about blocks of prose on PowerPoint slides. Presenters who fill their PowerPoint slides with chunk-o-text bullet points are thinking more about their own needs (making just one slide, easy-importing from their word processor) than about mine (bad eyesight, distraction, a stark lust for pictures).

Don’t do that. Please. I’m weak and needy. If you want to convince me, you’ll have to do better.

Any ideas on how to market the urgency, the right-now-this-instant urgency, of global warming–ahem, “atmosphere cancer”–to the general public?