Solutions & sustainability - Mar 13
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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage
'Technology feeds grassroots media'
Dan Gillmor, BBC
It is not an impact on the epic scale of an asteroid smashing into the Earth and killing off the dinosaurs, but the collision of technology and media is having profound effects on a more modern ecosystem.
The tools of production - used to create digital content such as blogs, podcasts, wikis, discussions, multiplayer games, mashups (I'll describe each of those in more detail below) - are increasingly powerful and easy to use, yet decreasingly expensive.
Distribution is also becoming less expensive and easily arranged. The internet is a global platform, and the most important one for the future. But mobile-phone networks are part of the overall communications ecosystem, too, and for many on this planet a primary means of contact.
The democratisation of media is also, fundamentally, about the people we once called mere consumers. Their role is evolving from a passive one to something much more interactive, but they are blessed (or cursed, depending on one's viewpoint) with an unprecedented variety of voices and services.
(9 March 2006)
Thabo Mbeki, Vice-President of South Africa, pointed out in 1995 at a meeting of the G-7 countries devoted to the information society, "there are more telephone lines in Manhattan, New York, than in sub-Saharan Africa". According to WorldVision, more than 70% of the world’s population have never heard a telephone dial tone. -AF
Inviting anarchy into my home
Liz Seymour, New York Times via ZNet
Greensboro, N.C./ On Aug. 1, 2002, I left behind the comfortably roomy semicircle marked "married-couple household" on the Census Bureau pie chart and slipped into an inconspicuous wedge labeled "two or more people, nonfamily." Having separated from my husband of 28 years the day before, I opened our three-bedroom 1927 Colonial Revival house to a group of men and women less than half my age. Overnight, the home I had lived in for 12 years became a seven-person anarchist collective, run by consensus and fueled by punk music, curse-studded conversation and food scavenged from Dumpsters.
...It happened like this ... Now, faced with the prospect of becoming a 52-year-old single mother to a teenage boy and the challenge of supporting us both, I panicked. Trying to imagine how I could make it work, I found my mind turning to a collective house in Oregon where Isabell, my older daughter, had lived the summer before, and to a group of young anarchist artists and musicians in Greensboro whom I knew through both of my daughters.
After Isabell came home from college an anarchist herself, I began to put aside my preconceptions about these people — as disorderly, violent and destructive — and to see them as a community dedicated to replacing hierarchy with consensus and cooperation. (Isabell once described them as Quakers who swear a lot.) Over time I found myself drawn to their hopeful view that people know best what is best for them and to their determination, naïve or not, to build a better world right away. Anarchism, at least as practiced here, seemed to be more about building community gardens and making your own fun than about black bandannas and confrontations with the riot police (although it was about those things, too).
Amid the chaos of my own life I wondered if this approach to living might have something in it for me. Unconventional as it was, I figured it couldn't be any worse than struggling to pay the mortgage and being Justin's mother on my own.
So Justin and I entered a microeconomy in which it is possible to live not just comfortably, but well, on $500 a month. When we pooled our skills in our new household, we found that we had what we needed to design a Web page, paint a ceiling or install a car stereo. Sharing services and tools with people outside the house saved us thousands of dollars a year. If there is a historical model for the way we live, it is not the communes of the 60's or the utopian experiments of the 19th century, but the two-million-year prehistory of our hunting-and-gathering ancestors. Looked at through that lens, the life of our miniature tribe feels a lot like the way people were meant to live.
(10 March 2006)
Manic for organic
Organic produce more nutritious
Editorial, LA Times
Yes, proponents of organic farming have been maintaining for years that conventionally grown produce is neither as tasty nor as nutritious as organic fruits and vegetables. But many of us have been skeptics, perhaps to justify our reluctance to pay up to twice as much for food labeled "organic" and sold at smug yuppie temples to the "natural" lifestyle. Now comes a scientific study that shows that the nutrient content of conventionally grown fruits and vegetables has dropped markedly since the 1950s.
The study comes from the University of Texas, where biochemist Donald R. Davis decided to try to quantify anecdotal reports of a trade-off between crop yields and concentrations of nutrients. He compared historic and current U.S. Department of Agriculture data on 43 garden crops (vegetables, strawberries and melons) and found that the modern produce had lost protein (down an average of 6%), calcium (down 16%), vitamin C (down 20%), riboflavin (down 38%) and phosphorus (down 9%.)
What does this mean? According to the study, it may mean that methods that boost crop yields, such as chemical fertilization, irrigation and genetic breeding, decrease the amount of some nutrients in the crop. The theory is that when plants are made to grow bigger and faster, they are not able to draw as many nutrients from the sun or soil. So those tangerine-sized strawberries may be as devoid of nutrition as they are of taste.
These findings have disturbing implications for the "green revolution" in the developing world, where most agricultural aid is aimed at boosting crop yields by using fertilizer, irrigation and genetically improved crop strains (engineered either through conventional breeding or genetic modification). Are we sacrificing quality for quantity? According to Davis, we don't know. But we should find out.
(10 March 2006)
Lowering electricity demand
Dr. Noushi Rahman, The Daily Star (Bangladesh)
THE gap between demand and supply of electricity nationwide has grown to unmanageable proportions. Every article that I have read on this topic has criticized the inadequate supplies of electricity in Dhaka, as well as the rest of the country. No published article discusses the demand-side factors (i.e., ways to conserve energy). Modifying some of our decades-old habits (albeit somewhat difficult to let go), we can curb our demands to breakeven with the current supplies. Better yet, if we start practicing these conservation tactics now, in the coming summer months the projected gap between demands and supplies would be much less. As the capital city, Dhaka consumes a disproportionately high amount of electricity. Dhaka must lead the rest of the nation by being the leader in energy conservation, rather than being the leader in energy consumption!
...Dress codes: The Japan Government has recently asked its officials to avoid wearing suits and ties in the office. To lead other ministers and officials in this unconventional energy saving approach, Prime Minister Koizumi himself will not wear a suit and tie to the office this summer. The Japanese government identified that tight collars and suits prompted officials to keep air-conditioners running at the highest capacity throughout their working hours. Considering the strong fascination for suits among Japanese executives, this is a landmark approach to reduce air-conditioner usage (and thereby reduce electricity consumption).
...Eco-clubs and energy fairs: Utilizing funds from the USAID, India has established eco-clubs at the school level in Ahmedabad. These voluntary clubs meet weekly after school and discuss ways to make residential and general energy consumption more efficient. Periodically, an energy fair is organized where members of various eco-clubs gather to demonstrate their energy saving approaches. Student members of these clubs not only get the training to grow up as more aware citizens, but also tend to apply energy efficient practices in their own homes. The eco-clubs and energy fairs have successfully curbed residential electricity usage in Ahmedabad.
...Personal habit changes
The following personal habits are common comforts of the most elite groups in our society. They pay fair price for their electricity; when blackouts happen, they use generators run on fuel for which they have paid fair price. The problem with this kind of inconsiderate use of electricity and/or fuel (for generators) is that many others are simply priced out against these elite groups and cannot avail themselves of much needed electricity and/or fuel. Farmers are the classic sufferer of this type. Electricity shortage propels several thousand homes to run their machineries on fuel-run generators. As a result, this very fuel cannot reach farmers who are then unable to irrigate their fields at the appropriate time, resulting in massive destruction of crops nationwide. With summer approaching fast, few voluntary sacrifices could have such a positive overall energy conservation effect as to persuade these groups to limit their use of private generators even on a limited basis.
[The author discusses air conditioners, ironing and electricity-run hot water heaters.]
Noushi Rahman, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Management, Lubin School of Business, Pace University, New York.
(12 March 2006)