February 21, 2007
September 28, 2006
I’m working on a project designing a green computer for school right now, so I was stoked to come across this greenpeace campaign.
September 27, 2006
more on this later hopefully, but bruce sterling came to speak at school this eveing, and I wanted to share a few brief quotes, culled from rapidfire notetaking during the talk:
“we [humans] are made out of time”
“as long as we have something to eat, we can always sprout theories”
“[we might be] to committed to obsolete and dangerous way of making things [to survive]”
obviously there was more sterling wisdom in the talk than this might suggest but before I go to bed, let me just say that I was much more convinced by his argument for an ‘internet of things’ seeing him in person than reading his writing. anybody know where his accent comes from?
September 10, 2006
Stewart Brand is one of my biggest heroes. He has his hands on so many cool projects, from the whole earth catalog to the long now foundation and global business network, he’s a mover and a shaker when it comes to highly effective social and environmental projects. Plus, it’s impossible not ot admire a guy who’s been squatting on a houseboat in Sausilto for twenty years.
Anyway, I recently stumbled across City Planet (pdf), an article Stewart wrote on the future of population growth and demographics. Like a lot of folks who are concerned about the future of humanity on the planet, unchecked population growth is a pet concern of mine, but this article moves that conversation in a whole new direction.
Just a decade ago, experts agreed that we were facing unlimited exponential population growth. Combined with a ever-rising standard of living and it’s accompanying environmental costs, runaway population growth presented a vision of a world where humanity grossly overshot earth’s carrying capacity, creating widespread famine and environmental destruction. This is what I was taught in my environmental science classes, so I’m used to thinking about curbing population growth (especially in developing countries) as an essential issue.
Stewart is writing about new findings in the past few years that suggest “The growth of cities has led to demographic trends exactly the opposite of what many experts have predicted.” In moving to cities, people who were formerly poor peasants with high birthrates become upwardly-mobile slum dwellers, and their birthrates drop dramatically.
“Having just experienced the first doubling of world population in a single lifetime (from 3.3 billion in 1962 to 6.5 billion now), we now are discovering it is the last doubling.” Furthermore, as birthrates drop worldwide, they will fall below the replacement rate (2.1) and lead to projected population decline by 2050.
If you have an hour to sit still and listen, go download this talk by Stewart Brand as part of the Seminars on Long Term Thinking organised by the Long Now Foundation, about cities and the future growth of cities. [google video available in the SALT archive.]
Some highlights from that talk: Every week a million new people show up in cities worldwide. Stewart ends up talking about squatter settlements quite a bit – he also describes how people are moving out of poverty; there’s high turnover in the these urban slums.
These projections are on the one hand heartening; they suggest that future may bring a circumventing of the emergency of exceeding Earth’s carrying capacity. On the other hand, as Stewart points out, these projections imply a future urbanization of the world that raises new questions about how we manage rural land and how we build cities that are livable and efficient enough to house dramatically increasing populations. We also need to start thinking about how we integrate the newly urban poor.
September 1, 2006
Last night I went to a talk in Palo Alto, it was Bob Adams, who coordinates design and sustainability at IDEO. It was a simple talk on sustainable design, to my mind geared towards folks outside the world of sustainability or design. It was the last talk (and the only one I caught) connected to the Palo Alto Art Center’s exhibition IDEO: prototyping the future. (podcast audio/video of other talks form the series, and presumable Bob’s talk at some point, available here.)
The exhibition itself was quite an inspiration. I’d seen and heard about quite a few of the projects before, but it was interesting to see a collection of all these prototypes in one place, from the first mouse prototype for apple, to cellphone prototypes that address some of the more social aspects of design. The exhibition itself was light on sustainable prototypes, but I did get a few interesting insights out of Bob’s talk.
The highlight for me was a diagram Bob showed of role of design in the flow of materials and energy, from raw materials to waste, illustrating the unique leverage that designers have in the process. I’ve recreated and enhanced his diagram some:
[thanks to alcor, creator of quicksilver, for the cube object.]
Designers are in a powerful place, because they have the ability to take this linear/tree shaped system and bend it back on itself, or at the very least, minimize environmental damage throughout the system.
The process diagram can be a metaphor, too: strip the labels and we have a diagram of simple cause and effect that illustrates the leverage we all have, through lifestyle and market choices, to affect what’s upstream, and the power to influence what happens downstream.
There are a couple points from the talk (like the idea that creating sustainable solutions is hard, non-intuitive, or a series of complex trade-offs – it’s a matter of perspective) that I would take issue with, but in all, I feel like Bob has a interesting and powerful perspective on how sustainability and design are related.
August 31, 2006
Lately I’ve been re-reading Paul Hawken’s Ecology of Commerce. It was a book that had a profound effect on me when I first read it – the book introduced me to the idea that change was possible from within the system, at a time when I was feeling discouraged by activist avenues to accomplishing change. Anyway, rereading it, I came accross Hawken’s (somewhat ironic at the time – 1993) definition of buisness:
The ultimate purpose of buisness is not, or should not be, simply to make money. Nor is it simply a system of making and selling things. The pormise of buisness is to increase the gerneral well-being of mankind through service, a creative invention and ethical philosophy. Making money is, on its own terms, totally meaningless, an insufficient pursuit for the complex and decaying world we live in.
I feel like this definition is moving more and more into the popular consciousness, which is exciting to someone like me, who believes that business can be a benevolent venture, rather than strictly profit-driven.
According to a new report by SIRAN (Social Investment Research Analyst Network), more top companies are including an account of social responsibility in their reporting of their own activities. Wether this is the result of demand from shareholders and customers or a top-level decision doesn’t much matter to me, I’m excited that the climate is changing for top corporations. The growing consciousness of the triple bottom line may just pave the way for not only more responsible corporations, but more responsible products, like nokia’s quick-to-disassemble protoype.