Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Helpful Dissent

Freeman Dyson is a well-respected, independent, principled scientific mind.

He's an "Obama-loving, Bush-loathing liberal who has spent his life opposing American wars and fighting for the protection of natural resources."

He has written that “we live on a shrinking and vulnerable planet which our lack of foresight is rapidly turning into a slum.”


He is not afraid of climate change, carbon dioxide, or coal.

He says "that protecting the existing biosphere is not as important as fighting more repugnant evils like war, poverty and unemployment."

He has "tremendous faith in the creative imagination’s ability to invent technologies that would overcome any predicament."

And he "sees coal as the interim kindling of progress," though, "in 'roughly 50 years,' he predicts, solar energy will become cheap and abundant, and 'there are many good reasons for preferring it to coal.'"

He's also 85 years old and an incorrigible breaker of scientific consensus.

Or so says the Nicholas Dawidoff article from this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine.

What it doesn't say, however, and what I want to know, is what the fossil fuel industry and their scientists have to say about Dyson. Do they cite him? How? How does he feel about the way he's represented? And is he skeptical about the reasons for their skepticism?

Dyson's feels to me to be a different strain of climate crisis dissent. It feels refreshingly uncorrupt. Mischievous maybe. Rebellious. A product of the same imagination that expects us to be growing ourselves pet dinosaurs in the not too distant future. But motivated by neither greed nor self-preservation.

And I appreciate that.

I'm not ready to agree with him. I'd much rather err on the side of overestimation of the climate change problem. And I think it's crazy to say it's too soon to make a concerted push for sustainable energy abundance.

But I think it's good to have Dyson's opinions out there. I think they can be, if treated calmly and open-mindedly, points of useful discussion. And I think they provide an enlightening contrast to the opinions of Dyson's vested-interest-funded climate skeptic cousins.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Building a World

Freedom's Plow is a Langston Hughes poem about dreams and work and the foundations of America.

And maybe this piece of that poem, standing alone, is about every visionary and every idea and every movement...

When a man starts to build a world,

He starts first with himself

And the faith that is in his heart-

The strength there,

The will there to build.

First in the heart is the dream-

Then the mind starts seeking a way.

His eyes look out on the world,

On the great wooded world,

On the rich soil of the world,

On the rivers of the world.

The eyes see there materials for building,

See the difficulties, too, and the obstacles.

The mind seeks a way to overcome these obstacles.

The hand seeks tools to cut the wood,

To till the soil, and harness the power of the waters.

Then the hand seeks other hands to help,

A community of hands to help-

Thus the dream becomes not one man's dream alone,

But a community dream.

Not my dream alone, but our dream.

Not my world alone,

But your world and my world,

Belonging to all the hands who build.

Now read the whole thing. It's fun to see how context adjusts the meaning.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Investment, Expectations, and Remembering It All

Went to see one of the Carrot Project investors today, and, as he handed me a check, he told me he was excited and that he expected this deal to put his kids through college.

He was joking, of course, and we laughed, and I was relieved to find out that his oldest is in 7th grade, but there was definitely a little jolt in there.

As of a few months ago, much of what we do is made possible by other people's money.

Granted, it's very small amount of friends and family money, but, still, it's real, and it's my responsibility, and it could disappear forever.

And it's both terrifying and confidence-inspiring that a handful of old colleagues and new friends are willing to bet on this crazy idea.

Anyway, that's all I got. Just noting that moment this afternoon and wondering if other entrepreneurs remember the first few checks they ever collected.

I bet they do. And I'd love to hear the stories.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Anger, Wolves, and Plaxo

Or: Why I Love The Internets (and the blogs that call them home)

Opened up a Plaxo friend request this morning from a name I didn't immediately recognize.

I have only sporadic contact with Plaxo, but, regardless of the network, I always open mysterious friend requests, always check and see if they're from people I should remember or maybe even people I should get to know.

Still didn't recognize the potential friend, but I did like the URL associated with his profile: greensoulshoes.org. So I clicked.

And found a link to his blog. And realized I'm pretty sure I've never met him. And noticed a couple of good post titles. And scrolled down to look at some more.

And found this, On Anger:

There is a Native American parable that goes something like this:

A child came home and told his grandfather how his classmates had ridiculed him and trashed his belongings. Hurt and angry, he told his grandfather how he hated them and wanted to hurt each with all his heart.

The Grandfather held the small boy and said, “I too have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much with little or no remorse. I have struggled with these feelings and it is as if there are two wolves fighting in my heart.”

He continued, “One wolf is noble, loving, and compassionate. He lives in harmony with those around him and is benevolent. The other wolf is vengeful, angry, and violent. He fights everyone because his hate consumes him. It is sometimes hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both are skilled warriors and try to dominate my spirit.”

The boy looked up with quiet tears and asked, “Which wolf wins?”

The grandfather replied, “The one I feed.”

The social internets are that magnetic kind of dangerous. Weeks of our lives disappear in frenzies of tweets and comments and reference links and status updates. But, sometimes, when stars align just right, it takes less than five unintentional minutes to find a totally awesome wolf metaphor (and a new Plaxo friend).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

An Insufficient Pursuit

Last night I read a preliminary business plan for an in-the-works sustainable sandal collaboration between a little European shoe company and not so little American shoe company.

It started with an Ecology of Commerce quote:

Business is an ethical act … The ultimate purpose of business is not, or should not be, simply to make money. Nor is it merely a system of making and selling things. The promise of business is to increase general well-being of humankind through service, creative invention, and ethical philosophy. Making money is, on its own terms, … an insufficient pursuit for the complex and decaying world we live in.

A good sign. And a totally exciting little business plan. Likely more on the details later.

For now, I'm just happy to be looking at those kind of words at the top of that kind of page.

On Straws, Not Milkshakes

Returning to the silliness for a moment, I got a mysterious email from my sis the other day:

do you like drinking through a straw? just curious...

I responded:

Rarely. Well, maybe I do like it, but only when I get the special urge. I'll almost never drink a whole beverage through a straw, for example. But milkshakes might be the exception to that rule. Though, come to think of it, I took the straw out of the the milkshake I had the other day and used a spoon and then drank from the cup. But it was not a good milkshake. Runny and clumpy. And not great ice cream. Ugh. Bummer. I love milkshakes, too. Oh well. Next time.

Milkshakes turned out to be irrelevant. Giuls responded with links. To a glass straw. And a steel straw.

BYOStraws. The future of drive thru drink purchases? The next Nalgene movement? Tools for which we'll all soon have holsters?

More likely a reminder that a straw is one of those plastic objects in our lives that we probably ought to cut out entirely.

Unless we have a broken jaw or something. In which case, give me the glass straw. Steel looks kinda jagged.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Reasons for Lying

Every time I hear about hard core climate change skeptics, these thoughts start haunting me...

Imagine that climate change is absolutely scientifically no question about it real and absolutely scientifically no question about it dangerous. And imagine you know these things. What could drive you to convince people that it isn't real or isn't dangerous? What might you stand to gain by deliberately misleading the whole world into denying climate change and forgoing mitigation, abatement, cultural change, geoengineering, etc?

Now imagine that climate change isn't real. It's absolutely scientifically no question about it either not happening or not dangerous. And imagine you know that. What could drive you to convince people that it is real or is dangerous? What might you stand to gain by deliberately misleading the whole world into believing in climate change, fearing climate change, and thus taking action to mitigate, abate, change cultures, geoengineer, etc?

It's a little bit painful for me to think this way, for I want to trust that people have totally legitimate and non big picture hurtful motives for doing what they do, but chances are, in this case, that someone's lying. Powerful ulterior motives are probably at play.

So I think we'd be smart to think about the incentives, think about what the reasons for lying might be. Might help us figure this conflict out.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Money, Value, and Ambition

This is an article on wealth, exploitation, and a pervasive ambition among the best and brightest young Chinese minds.

I'll try to convince you to read it by quoting a piece of its conclusion. Totally out of context, of course. Sorta going for the mystery thing here, hoping to trick you into clicking through and reading on...

Perhaps America doesn't have as much to fear from foreign competition as we thought.

The point is (or a point is) that we need to make some serious adjustments to the world economy. And we need to make some serious changes to the money and ambition culture that the economy has bred (and bred everywhere).

There are heaps of smart young people in this world. Too many of them want to be investment bankers. And way too many of those that want to be investment bankers want to be investment bankers for the wrong reasons. Way too many want to make money without wanting to create real value.

It's a good article. And a short article. Thanks to Big Dan Shupp for sharing it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cold, the New Hotness

I first learned about cold fusion from Elizabeth Shue in The Saint, but it turns out the technology wasn't actually fully developed in 1997. It was one of those just because the source of cheap, clean, abundant electricity works in the movies doesn't mean it's real/commercially viable yet situations.

That was 12 years ago, however, and Dr. and Mr. Doris Haggis-On-Whey, the authors of the book with the greatest title of all time, have published again. On energy. Nuclear energy. Cold, safe, totally awesome nuclear energy.

In McSweeney's words (whoever McSweeney is):

Cold Fusion must be kept far from the young people in your life. This book reveals the secrets of cold fusion, one of the most controversial scientific pursuits that can be conducted in a bathtub.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Greed and Optimism

I wrote the beginnings of my thoughts about this article last night on the carrot project blog.

I have at least one more...

The article is a celebration of recession as a means of refocusing businesses on the original bottom line.

It's a dismissal of social and environmental responsibility as fluffy distraction.

And, it seems to me, it's a proclamation of faith that single-minded self-interest is THE governing human passion, faith that it's a passion that need not destroy, that it's a passion we can trust to carry us to a sustainable and humane future.

It's cold, robotic laissez faire optimism. It's a bet on greed.

And it feels to me like a dangerous bet.

I mean I'm all for bets on long-term greed. The Carrot Project is a bet on long-term greed.

It's a bet that consumers, if given tools to entertainingly educate themselves, will see that the creation of an abundant future involves supporting the businesses that show commitment to sustaining abundance (and, of course, looking suspiciously at the businesses that seem to grab for the quickest profits and ignore the damage the grabbing does to the world's stores of natural and human capital).

And it's a bet that more and more companies will notice that their year 2100 profits (and maybe even year 2010 profits) will be much much more impressive if they take care of the communities, ecosystems, and economies in which they operate right now.

But the laissez faire bet (at least as articulated in the Financial Times editorial) seems comfortable with short-term greed too. The greed of instant gratification. The greed of borrowing from the future and not making plans to pay it back. The greed that creates the hit and run economics* that plague the developing world.

Anyway, yeah, that article's not sitting well. And I'll stick by my conclusion from late last night...

We need to prove that guy wrong.

*Note: I'm referring here, specifically, to the get rich quick attitude in China, the notion that efficiency standards and pollution codes are economic barriers to profit best hurdled with bribes and quick getaways. Might be good to write more at some point though. I feel like the metaphor is far clearer in my head than I've ever expressed in writing. But maybe it's obvious? I don't know. If I'm confusing anyone, please let me know.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Blog On, Brother

I hope the dude shakes it off and keeps right on writing.

Thank you, Lauren.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Reduce, Reuse, Fix

One of my sister's friends just sent us a link to The Repair Manifesto.

It's considers itself the beginning of a movement. A movement to replace recycling with repairing. When and where possible, of course. Which, hopefully, eventually, will be always and everywhere.

Every time we repair something, we add to its potential, its history, its soul, and its inherent beauty.

Making repairs is good for the imagination.

Even fakes become originals when you repair them.

Makes me think of the AeroCivic. And the fact that The Carrot Project should contribute by helping figure out which glues and tapes and nails are produced most sustainably.

The Manifesto is a Platform 21 creation. Thank you PSFK for telling us about it. And thank you Renegade Futurist for telling PSFK.

Note: I just added PSFK to my Google Reader. Worth a look for sure. Cane-Fired Electricity. Programmable Matter. A Banksy Lottery. Whole Foods and Microfinance. All since yesterday. My kind of multi-voiced blog.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Tale of Two Batteries

I read an article yesterday in defense (and celebration) of lead acid batteries.

Worth a look if you're interested in electricity storage. Extra special worth a look if you're interested in investing in electricity storage. And a total doozy if you're looking for big, ambitious metaphors about energy economics and the market crash.

According to Alt Energy Stocks contributor John Petersen...

Blood is flowing in the streets; the guillotine is en route to Wall Street and the mob is so busy plotting retribution for the excesses of the past that most have no time to consider the future. But as yesterday’s dynasties decay, crumble and fall, a new generation of visionaries is already building on the wreckage of the past.

He reckons the impact of the financial crisis on the world of energy has us living in an early stage French Revolution moment:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

My favorite A Tale of Two Cities character was Jerry Cruncher the graverobber, but I guess that's another story for another day.