This is our 1,000th post. We've got a lot of exciting stuff coming up here on WorldChanging -- a new site design, some great interviews and essays, scenarios of new paths to global sustainability, and some great chances for readers to join in some interesting dialogues -- and you'll be hearing more about all of these over the next month.
We thought we'd use this opportunity to tell you a little more about ourselves. WorldChanging, after all, is an all-volunteer project, and all of our contributors are smart, fun people with interesting day jobs. So, here's a little more about who we are, and what we're up to when we're not blogging...
I just moved back to Seattle. It is, of course, pouring rain at the moment. That said, I'm thrilled to be back, and looking forward to being able to incorporate lots of time here with friends, family and allies into a schedule that's increasingly bursting with cool gigs.
The big project that kept me busy over the last couple months has been my book Bright Green, which explores ways we might build a prosperous sustainable future for every person on the planet over the next two decades. You'll be hearing more on this subject.
I'm also doing a lot of consulting and speaking, mostly about environmental and political issues: working on reframing the debate around environmental issues, exploring how social networking tools might transform activism, leading a panel at PlaNetwork on the future of the environmental movement, working on a scenario project about how to avoid the next use of nuclear weapons, talking with business folks about how they might actually employ some of the ideas I talk about when I talk about the transcommercial enterprise, talking with a new thinktank about how to do public intellectual work in a new way, doing media on the elections (a throw-back to my earlier incarnation as a political columnist and pundit), pitching a new book, planning some international travel for this winter, u.s.w.
Finally, a translation of my essay on the Singularity and its meanings was just reprinted in a German anthology. I had a great evening of fun trying to make sense of the thing armed only with my high school German and a pocket dictionary. The scary thing is, I think it works better in German. In the future, I may write exclusively for translation.
Many of my recent enthusiasms and fascinations have turned up on the pages of WorldChanging, much to no-one's surprise. Emerging technologies, the environment, smart systems, failing systems, and over and over again, the future -- these are the streams which run through my thoughts and spill out onto the screen.
I tend to be somewhat carnivorous with books; I'm working on The River Runs Black now, having just finished KSR's Forty Signs of Rain;previous books now in the done stack include Charlie Stross' Iron Sunrise (the sequel to Singularity Sky),Oliver Morton's Mapping Mars (an exploration of how we've come to think of Mars as a place, and what that suggest for Earth as a place), and Bruce Schneier's Beyond Fear(a systematic approach to understanding security). The latter two will probably end up in book reviews.
I suppose the biggest question I'm ruminating upon at the moment is the implication of the considerable desire I've found in the sustainability, environmental, and smaller non-profit community for useful strategic foresight tools.
For the last several months I've been working with a group of students and artists to develop Windsor, Ontario's Green Corridor project, reimagining 2 km of the road leading up to North America's largest border crossing. Across the river from downtown Detroit, Windsor has suffered from years of rust-belt industry, and is now overcome with diesel fumes from a wall of idling trucks waiting - for miles, and up to three hours - to cross into the States. The stretch of road we've targeted borders customs, the University, and strip-malls, as well as homes and schools. It's an opportunity to transform an area that currently defies our every notion of sustainability. What's exciting is that the project's interdisciplinary nature allows us to work with all the surrounding communities and organizations; by casting a wide net, each element is enhanced when placed in the context of a larger vision. We're collaborating with engineers on design concepts for a green pedestrian overpass, and are developing public sculpture incorporating green roof technology, an innovative energy-generation system, and real-time air and water quality monitoring.
I've been most inspired this week by a couple of books that enliven technical information and design innovation. While meeting other worldchangers out west I finally found Adriaan Beukers and Ed van Hinte's Lightness: The Inevitable Renaissance of Minimum Energy Structures, a book I've been coveting for ages, and the newer Smart Architecture - both of which are teeming with examples of ultra-efficient, high-tech brilliance. I can't recommend them enough - and they made for good antidotes to Margaret Atwood's dystopian Oryx and Crake, and Jane Jacobs' newest, Dark Age Ahead - both of which keep coming back to mind.
Otherwise, I've been designing water-saving shower concepts; I'm also working to establish the Canadian base for the o2 sustainable design network here in Toronto (and please find me if you want to play along). This time of year we try to grab as many chances as we can get to jump into cold lakewater. But once the frost hits...
I have a lot of irons in the fire. My company, Polycot Consulting, helps organizations refine their processes and make the most effective use of technology - specifically web technology. I spend a lot of time thinking about web-based technologies for collaboration, knowledge sharing, and productivity. We also do custom hosting and web development, though I personally focus on architecture and process.
I'm President of a nonprofit, EFF-Austin, that is informally allied with the national Electronic Frontier Foundation. We've been around since 1990 or so. A lot of what we do is ensure that traditional constitutional liberties extend into the digital domain by educating the public about their rights online, and facilitating cyber-rights advocacy in Texas. I'm on the boards of Austin Free-net, one of the oldest and most active community networks in the USA, and Austin Wireless, a wifi advocacy organization that includes Austin Wireless City, which has set up 90 or more free wifi hotspots in Austin, with more to come. I'm webmaster for several web sites, including Viridian Design, Greater Democracy, Austin Wireless Alliance, Austin Clean Energy Initiative, EFF-Austin, Wireless Future, etc. I'm a founder of the new Open Source Business Alliance in Austin, and I've been involved quite a bit in discussions of online activism and Open Source political technology. Mitch Ratcliffe and I have edited an anthology called Extreme Democracy, the current version of which will be posted soon at http://extremedemocracy.com (we invite comments). I'm working with a steering committee to create an Activist Technology Conference sometime after the first of the year.
Aside from WorldChanging, I also blog at Weblogsky (my personal site), Smart Mobs, Viridian Design, Greater Democracy, and ob4 (of, by, and for).
So what to I *really* do? I've been thinking a lot about global system failures, social disruption, environmental instability, etc. I'm also thinking a lot about politics, media, and propaganda, and how neoconservative political forces have taken control of the narrative in the USA and elsewhere. I'm thinking how to bring that narrative back to the pragmatic center, away from the political extremes. hence the focus on political technology - especially political uses of social technology. perhaps we can blog an alternate, more altruistic and collaborative/democratic narrative that will somehow creep into the mainstream psyche.
Last year, I first met the folks at Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, a great group working to restore both working and recreational waterfronts in the NY/NJ metro area. I was struck by how unusual this seemed--a cross-border project here on the Atlantic coast! I've since begun to do some strategic consulting with them, helping to conceptualize and plan the next iteration of their online presence, to better integrate and enhance their program work.
This exposure has led me to think a lot about Atlantic Coast Bioregionalism. What would it take to create Salmon Nation East? Is Pacific Northwest rainforest conceptual thinking -- and action -- transferable to the BosWash Corridor?
I have schemes for realizing Atlantic Bioregionalism, beginning with info sharing, progressing to networks and on into creative action--am researching towards an article, a grant proposal. Need to figure out who else has worked on this, find some passionate collaborators (and not just from the States. Let's talk Atlantic Rim bright green solidarity!). Need to find funding.
I continue to write for BushGreenwatch, a welcome opportunity to apply my aggregate of academic and activist environmentalism, web content experience and journalistic skills on moving this country into a more rational state of being.
There are a lot of stories--about nature, and culture, about globalism and world changing--that need telling well and readably. I aim to do more of that.
My art refuses to be politicized, preferring to channel longer-term explorations that I often don't understand until I'm in the middle of them. Right now it is an exploration of "home." I'm making photographic portraits of friends and family in front of their residences, from a concrete apartment block in Seattle to a kit house in semi-rural western Massachusetts. All living at this same moment, in such different ways, connected by their random acquaintanceship with the artist. I'll be showing some of this work at a Bronx art salon in October.
Three months ago I started working with Generon Consulting (www.generonconsulting.com). Our work involves convening tri-sector partnerships (business, civil society & government) to address stuck, global, systemic problems. The main form these projects take is the Change Lab, which involves bringing together about 35 people, representing a microcosm of the system, who work together for two years to create pilots of systemic solutions. We're planning on running ten Change Labs in the nextfive years - which is both exciting and overwhelming.
The first of these launched in July and is the Sustainable Food Lab, which aims to accelerate the movement of sustainable food from niche to mainstream. Other upcoming Labs include one on child malnutrition in India & South Africa, and one on Aboriginal-white relations in Canada. Accordingly, I've been reading a lot around the issue of food andon aboriginal issues, here's a quick run-down:
Food & Development: Pig Earth - John Berger, Food For All: The Need for a New Agriculture - John Madeley, The Violence of the Green Revolution - Vandana Shiva, Stolen Harvest - Vanada Shiva, Development as Freedom - Amaryta Sen, Shaping Globalisation - Nicanor Perlas, Food Politics - Marion Nestle, Citizenship Papers - Wendell Berry. Aboriginal: Struggle for the Land - Ward Churchill, Ten Little Indians - Sherman Alexie, Reservation Blues - Sherman Alexie, In The Spirit of Crazy Horse - Peter Matthiessen.
Two recent books authored by Generon Partners about our work include: "Solving Tough Problems: An Open way of Talking, Listening and Creating New Realities" by Adam Kahane and "Presence: Human Purpose and the Field by the Future" by Peter Senge, Joseph Jaworksi et al. (www.presence.net)
Most of my time these days is spent working for Chorus Motors, a subsidiary of Borealis. I'm doing some engineering to help them optimize their nascent electric motor technology. It's exciting stuff--their motor can generate 5 times the startup torque of a normal motor, using the same power and weight; this will potentially transform industries with a lot of stop-and-start motion, like electric or
hybrid cars, wind-power, some turbines, etc. (Imagine, for instance, an electric car whose motor was only 1/5 the size it currently needs. It could change the whole playing field.)
I'm also working with Vinay to make the Biomimicry Database for Janine Benyus & Rocky Mountain Institute (see Vinay's blurb). I'm designing it & doing the information architecture, he's coding it (and helping a lot to structure it).
Though I may end up in England by the end of the year for a different Biomimicry gig, I'm currently living in Seattle, the first place I've ever moved to just for the sake of being with great friends. And boy, am I happy I did.
Jeremy and I are working with the Biomimicry Guild and Rocky Mountain Institute to make a public-domain online database of "biomimetic solutions" - it'll be a place where engineers, architects, designers, and others can go to see how organisms in nature solve the problems they're faced with, as well as find researchers/experts who could help them
imitate or implement those solutions. It'll also list existing biomimetic products and will have extensive citations for further research. The database is inspired by open source models, featuring extensive tools for sharing and collaboration, and our main goal is for it to be a tool for green design. The alpha-version prototype of the database will
launch soon, and we hope to see a lot of WorldChanging allies there when we go live!
The most exciting work I know of right now is RMI's work on "Winning the Oil Endgame". Because John Kerry's acceptance speech clearly states his goal of oil independence for America, this seminal work will hopefully rapidly become a cornerstone of national energy policy. And that would, indeed, be WorldChanging.
It has been a crazy 6 months for Architecture for Humanity, the non profit I founded in 1999, with new projects, lecture tours and the usual basic rabble rousing. All in all, getting rowdy and inspiring others to do likewise has been our main mandate. This has included speaking to over 7000 people on a lecture marathon that has taken me around the country from Alabama to Oregon. We even held an auction of snowboarding gear from David Benedek, 2004 'boarder of the year, to raise funds for rebuilding in Bam, Iran.
During my trip in Mississippi and Alabama I met a remarkable woman called Emily Chaffee, who had spent the last year working on community engagement and building social capital. Over the last year former Rural Studio student helped create a place for the community in Greensboro, Alabama. During the process she produced a book that acts as a community space within which 50 citizens participate in a forum of diverse voices and perspectives addressing their community, and gives the people the opportunity to generate dialogue calling for the production of space. The book is called OutsideInand you can click on the link for a copy. I am hoping to find more folks like Emily in the world.
Last month we started a project called Siyathemba, the Zulu word for hope, to build a soccer field/ healthcare facility for young girls (ages 9-14) in Somkhele, an area with one of the highest HIV/AIDS rates in the world. Until October 15th anyone can enter a design and if chosen it will be built next year. Xeni Jardin interviewed us for Wired this week on the project. Last month also brought us to Aspen Colorado to take part in the Fortune Brainstorm Conference. We had been invited to talk about one of our earlier projects which is an initiative to develop mobile HIV/AIDS health clinics for Sub-Saharan Africa. Photos..
The conference was really facinating as Fortune had invited CEOs, government officials, non profits and foundations to discuss everything from tackling poverty through technology to understanding Islam to nanotechnology. The keynote speakers ranged from Queen Noor to Theresa Heinz Kerry to Ted Turner to Paul Wolfowitz. I kind of got into a tussle with Mr. Wolfowitz over the US administrations go back on its word and make a *5pm - Friday evening* decision not to sign onto the treaty to ban landmines. Long story short he said we need them in Korea and we are not giving them up until we can find an alternative. I would suggest not using them as an alternative. On that note I have been looking at different ways of mine detection and clearance and will post a story shortly on everything from Zambian rats to navy trained dolphins to the MIT probe.
The best moments were hanging out with the really nice Fortune staff, having dinner with Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistans' finance minister and briefly chatting with Teresa Heinz Kerry on her husbands plans for the built environment and on the situation in Sudan. I am not convinced the Kerry campaign has thought out their policy details on the built environment - 'we are following the Pittsburgh model' doesn't cut the mustard. If anyone from the Kerry campaign is reading this and are looking for help (and you need it) please email me as we have a roster of 8,000 design professional, including a few mayors and government officials, more than willing to lend their expertise.
so what's next?
In partnership with Miami University we are hosting a design charrette for social justice in Over-the-Rhine in Cinccinnati, Ohio from September 17 19. It is an amazing opportunity to link design advocacy with social movements addressing homelessness, poverty, and civil rights. All are welcome and it is coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Freedom Summer. Members from Architecture for Humanitys' nationwide Meetups will also be there to work alongside local designers and community groups to rethink their neighborhood. I should note that our local meetups have been getting involved in low income housing development, inner-city urban planning and issues surrounding homelessness. At our New York Meetup last night, Scott Heiferman the founder of Meetup.com even stopped by to see what chaos we have been causing.
As of next month I'm going to have nowhere to live as my apartment sold and I haven't got a place to go to - It actually co-oincides nicely with a piece Fortune is doing on us. I'm guessing I'll be the only person in that months issue that a) has no salary and b) no home. All is not lost as this fall I am teaching responsive/humanitarian design workshops at Montana State University in Bozeman, MT and Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona. We are also participating in two exhibitions, Under A Tenner (designs items and products under ten pounds) at the Design Museum in London and The Voting Booth (by reconstructing one of the infamous 'hanging chad' voting booths from the Florida 2000 election) at Parsons in New York City.
2005 includes building the siyathemba soccer field, continuing our support of rebuilding Bam, a project on sustainable development in long term refugee camps and large settlements and hopefully a world where construction is more important than destruction. Hopefully I'll have a home and a salary by then too.
With the summer lull and Paris empty (except the teems of tourists), I'm taking the time to think big thoughts and dream of big moves. So indulge me, if you will. Imagine that crowded cafe in the Left Bank where I'm sitting now, where other notable WorldChangers once sat, and invoke your post-Enlightenment muses. Right now I'm asking these questions: What does the world need right now? What kind of social ingenuity should we be incubating, catalyzing, accelerating? What would the organizational form look like? A next-generation GBN, my former professional playpen?
Early thoughts to these questions are emerging in messy, amorphous blobs, with glimpses of concreteness. And some of these ideas are being influenced by a variety of projects I'm working on. Take this one, for instance. It's called Humanitarian Futures. Domiciled at Kings College London, this is about enhancing the adaptive capacity and resilience of this sector. The irony is that for a sector designed to manage or mitigate human vulnerabilities -- everything from natural disasters, famine to ethnic cleansing -- the system is itself incredibly vulnerable to outside shocks and disruptions. Many learning disabilities exist. Intrinsically crisis-driven and short-term focused, these organizations find planning ahead very difficult (Case in point. The project champion has absconded to Darfur. Randolph, I hope you're okay!) The bottom line is that the humanitarian sector is stuck, jammed between numerous rocky dilemmas: at the highest levels, the ugly realities of selfish, raw power politics amongst nation-states, to the complicated psyches and motivations of relief workers and agencies. Hard stuff but it's pointing out some opportunity spaces.
For starters, what's clearer to me is that we need better social ingenuity to work on these "stuck" global problems and systems. What we may need is an organization, project, network (whatever) that prototypes a "toolbox" -- processes conceptual frameworks, mechanisms, methods, templates-- to work on systemic global problems and issues more effectively. A design methodology to find those accupunture points of change, and enable disparate groups of people to work on them. I have some ideas of what tools we'd start with, and I have some relevant experience already to this end. But what else is there? And how might we aggregate or synthesize the best tools in a high-impact way? Think of this as a recombinant DNA of cutting-edge and transcendent tools.
One of these tools might be a business idea methodology focused on giving clean disruptive innovations life and legs. As the scars from my business model work show, these kinds of innovations will be slowed down without: (a) A tool that helps the money flow more smoothly to the places that need it; most investors are still using narrow risk assessment tools that make it very hard for them to invest in these projects (b) A business idea methodology that transcends the limited scope of most business planning, plans which ignore the political and systemic context in which they live. If you're going to disrupt invested power structures, it's best to rehearse this end game, non? Speaking of which, my dream is to create some disruptive clean businesses in the developing world (that create wealth locally and more equitably) and then have them cross-over -- a reverse leapfrog of sorts -- to the First World. Now that would be a good way to disintermediate "dirty industry" value propositions, don't you think? A naive scenario perhaps, if not downright naughty, but not outrageous nor even unrealistic, especially if you read Clayton Christensen's stuff closely. The conditions for creative destruction are ripe at the Base of the Pyramid. Bottom-up forces are in the ascendent!
With so much going on, the veritable explosion of experiments and social entrepreneurship worldwide, it's hard to get traction on these ideas and questions. The noise to signal ratio is high. So part of my challenge is some savvy sense-making, and I need your help! Clearly, if I'm to make this happen and "sell" this to the potential funders I have a crack at, I'll need to have an offering that solves people's problems, that's practical yet high leverage (big bang for buck), and that's distinctive and stands-out. To this end, I invite any thoughts or inspirations on these ideas and themes. I suspect many WorldChangers are already doing interesting stuff within this broad scope, and are likely collaborators. Until then, I have other distractions and clients to tend to, in particular, a rather "stuck" consumer goods multinational. Hmmm... perhaps I should there first, eh? Wish me luck.
Here in Trinidad and Tobago, I'm still working on formalizing Intellectual Usability, an online book with a Creative Commons license - the inspiration for it being the work we did with the Free Culture Remix. The idea is to translate intellectual artifacts into something not defined by laws, but rather by their usefulness. It's unlikely to become a bestseller, but it's quite fun to toss out intellectual property laws and talk about intellectual artifacts in a completely different light - especially with the effects of it on mankind's collective intelligence.
This past weekend, fate dealt me an interesting hand. I bumbled into a Heroes Convention through some friends, and before I knew it I was speaking at length with a few people from The Heroes Foundation. I've volunteered to help them with a few things related to IT, and we're also trying to set up some meetings with some of the local visually and hearing impaired folks out there. This ties into a lot of discussions I've had related to the Digital Divide on various mailing lists, and may even tie into the very first post I made here on WorldChanging.com. It promises to be interesting, and I hope it will be worthwhile for everyone. The people I've met so far from The Heroes Foundation are quite nice, and the comic books that they are doing are inspiring.
In an interesting twist, it appears that FUNREDES is having a Caribbean Workshop on Cultural Diversity and Information Society later this month, and it looks so far like I will be participating. The Cardicis site is still under construction, and it's not definite that I will be there - but even if I don't attend, it will be something I will be following up on. The Caribbean region is very diverse - all major languages are spoken within the Caribbean, all major religions practiced. Such diversity presents challenges for the area, and it will be interesting to see how this works out.
These days, my company is a network: a small group of professionals scattered around the planet, using tools and methods to speed up and/or generally improve planning, training, and decision-making for sustainability. We have partners now in Japan, SE Asia, Australia, Europe and the US, and we've worked everywhere from high-level international process in Northern Europe (www.baltic21.org), to a UN-sponsored training program in Asia, to helping a prison in Queensland, Australia, reinvent its prison industries to be much closer to zero waste.
My own work involves trying to feed and grow that network of practitioners, while working as a practitioner myself, advising decision-makers on strategy and planning. I also do keynote speeches, lead workshops, and do the occasional musical performance. And as a network, we're constantly developing our tools, looking for new leverage points and entry points, whatever it takes to, well, try to change the world, help make it sustainable.
In content terms, however, my work doesn't change very much from year to year, because the issues we're working on are long-term issues. Fixing climate change, changing the direction of economic development, re-tooling policy signals for healthier outcomes in the economy, community, and nature... such things take time. We're happy when our workshops go well and we get instant positive feedback; we're ecstatic, however, when we talk to a client 5 to 7 years later, and learn that they've implemented the plans we made together, and they actually worked. I hope to live long enough to collect many such moments, and to celebrate success with my colleagues, that is to say, the thousands of people around the world doing similar work.
A comment for Emily Gertz:
I live in Cambridge, MA halfway between MIT and Harvard and have been following bioregionalism from a distance since Planet Drum's first Pacific Rim packet way more years ago than I care to remember. About the only real bioregional activity I know of on the East Coast of the US was some work a few years ago around the Gulf of Maine.
Good luck on getting something started. You might want to talk to Wendy Brawer of GreenMaps. She might have a better handle on the possibilities than I do.
Hope that helps.
gmoke: Thank you for the referral...I will definitely follow it up!
It's nice to have an introduction to you as real people as well as get access to yet more interesting resources, other than those already mentioned on my now favourite site. I wondered though, if there was anywhere examining possible problems embedded within the positive changes that us and others like us are attempting to bring about. For instance, as far as the hydrogen economy is concerned - as I understand it - water would be produced by fuel cells used in cars etc. Surely water is a more potent greenhouse - type pollutant than CO2, even! Is this necessarily a good thing? And the oxygen taken out of the equation in the formation of this water (H2 + O > H2O). On a large scale would this not reduce the oxygen in the atmosphere to possibly undesirable levels? O.k. if the hydrogen used is produced from water and the oxygen released into the atmosphere this is no danger, but if it is produced from reformed gas?
Another example is solar power. If we use too many solar cells will we affect the amount of energy returned by reflected light into the atmosphere, thus altering the greenhouse affect yet again? I'm not trying to put a dampener on things, but I'd like to make sure the world we are engineering has it's safeguards built in. Here's to a long, prosperous, fair, happy and satisfying future to life on this planet!!!!
Hydrogen fuel cells make water through a redox reaction: for every 2 hydrogen molecules you put in (H2) you put in, you get two water molecules (H20), taking up one molecule of O2.
H2 -(catalyst)-> 2H+ (negative emf)
2 H+ + (O2) -> 2 H20 (positive emf
(net 02 reduction = one mol per mol hydrogen)
(net emf/voltage = negative emf - positive emf)
For a combustion reaction using a mixture of hydrocarbons such as gasoline or diesel, every carbon and hydrogen atom in the mixture is intended to break off and recombine with oxygen, creating CO2, a known greenhouse gas, . Gasoline is usually between 6 and 8 carbons, and these are generally saturated hydrocarbons so. . . .
C7H16 + 15 O2 - > 7(CO2) + 8(H20)
(energy is given off in heat and pressure and needs to be converted to do specific work)
which gives you a net loss of 15 mol oxygen per 1 mol. gasoline, AND a gain of 7 mol carbon dioxide. The change in greenhouse gases is several orders of magnitude more negative in old fashioned combustion than a fuel cell.
this is not even getting into the efficiencies ( actual energy gained per mol. of fuel reacted), wherein hydrogen fuel cells have a hands down gain.
reforming hydrogen is a compromise between the two. There are hundreds of ways to do it ( different fuelstocks, methods, catalysts, etc.), some of them good and some of them bad, but the volatile and explosive nature of hydrogen and relative abundance of hydrocarbons as renewable energy sources in our environment just about guarantees it. Taking it out of gasoline or methane doesn't have to be any different from taking it out of ethanol or biomass, but many people would say that carbon sequestered within organic molecules like oil should stay that way until we can figure out the exact dangers of its being released.