New Ecology

Green! Green! everywhere but no smaller footprint in sight?

Going “green” has become as nebulous an idea as “happiness”. 

Twenty first century living has made it fashionable to be “green”, but what does is it really mean?

Does driving a Prius or switching to energy efficient light bulbs make you an environmentalist? Or do you have to be a granola-eating-vegan protesting at an international climate change conference to be one? With so much information and mis-information out there, has all this “green” activity really made a difference to the environment?

As it turns out, not all green is created equal.

Pioneering environmental journalist and founder of WorldChanging.com, Alex Steffen  coined the term “bright green” and what follows is a summary of his brilliant explanation around the evolution of the environmental spectrum.

What if an ice-cream wrapper were a songbird?

Hands down, one of the most inspiring and influential duo in my life have been architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart.

Creaters of the Cradle to Cradle design philosophy, they blew me away with their vision of seeing a “world of abundance, not limits”. I am completely drawn to their maverick idea that “design is a signal of intention” and theirs is to shift the current endlessly destructive model to one that “loves all children, of all species, for all time”.

Rather than making humans feel guilty, the C2C concept celebrates human creativity, culture and productivity, integrating nature’s effective design principles with business and the environment.

Scoffing at the traditional “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra as just a “downcycling” spiral, C2C design focuses on making products such that they enter either the “technical” or “biological” nutrient cycle once their life is over.  This way they can be completely used in another avatar rather than ending up in landfills.

In other words, the goal is to eliminate waste completely and turn it into  food. This is “eco-effectiveness” as opposed to the herd mentality of “eco-efficiency”.

The fastest, largest and most complex movement in the world

Forget about everything you associate with a “movement” or an “-ism” you might know: well defined ideology, central aggregation of power, and (usually) male dominated leadership.

The movement I’m talking about is what author, environmentalist, entrepreneur and the best spokesperson Mother Nature ever hired Paul Hawken brilliantly describes as “humanity’s immune response” to our current ecological and social crises.

The scientist in me loves this analogy. The changemaker in me heaves a sigh of relief (just as Hawken predicts) – the sense of finally dropping the orphaned feeling of having to be out in the trenches with a tiny army; marching with the grand burden of saving the world on my shoulders.

I’m sure you have a basic idea of the human body’s immune system. The good guy antibodies recognizing, attacking and killing the bad guy antigens (viruses, bacteria etc) to keep you healthy.

Hawken replaces this simplistic caricature and reminds us of the jaw dropping reality.

“In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe…..

….So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it……You can feel it. It is called life. This is who you are.

Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules?

Can you tell the Story of Stuff?

In case you’ve been living in seclusion, or just haven’t gotten around to it yet, here’s a treat for you.

Grab a cup of tea and watch The Story of Stuff – an incredibly articulate, funny, and creative description of – well – stuff! You know, everything around us. How does it get to us? What goes into making it? What is all that production and consumption doing to our planet?

Besides the content of this 20 min film, just the energy and passion of author Annie Leonard for environmental health and justice is inspiring.

Move over carbon footprints - Watts are in

magine having a “nutrition” label on all the products you use and activities you engage in daily - from reading the New York Times to using your laptop to drinking a glass of wine.

Except instead of “fat” and “carbohydrate” percentages, it would breakdown the power being used each step of the way.

Though “energy labels” are still a few years away, genius and prolific inventor Saul Griffith has created a method to calculate your current daily energy consumption! 

WattzOn is a free online tool that you can use to calculate and keep track of the power needed to maintain your lifestyle. You can compare it to the world wide average and get tons of fun insights on how to cut back on whatever is sucking up the most energy.

There's something about Ben

May be its his boyish charm and good looks.

May be its his English accent. May be its the fact that in 2004 he trekked solo on foot to the North Pole, becoming the youngest explorer in history to accomplish this feat. May be its his impressive physical fitness – a keen long distance skier, ultramarathoner, mountain biker, and of course, polar explorer.

Mostly I feel connected with the intention behind Ben Saunder’s exploration – to test the limits and push the boundaries of human potential.

300 million unconscious acts, mind-bending art and a Zen koan

The artist statement for American photographer Chris Jordan’s series Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption reads:

“Exploring around our country’s shipping ports and industrial yards, where the accumulated detritus of our consumption is exposed to view like eroded layers in the Grand Canyon, I find evidence of a slow-motion apocalypse in progress……The immense scale of our consumption can appear desolate, macabre, oddly comical and ironic, and even darkly beautiful; for me its consistent feature is a staggering complexity.

The pervasiveness of our consumerism holds a seductive kind of mob mentality. Collectively we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but we each are anonymous and no one is in charge or accountable for the consequences….

As an American consumer myself, I am in no position to finger wag; but I do know that when we reflect on a difficult question in the absence of an answer, our attention can turn inward, and in that space may exist the possibility of some evolution of thought or action.

So my hope is that these photographs can serve as portals to a kind of cultural self-inquiry. It may not be the most comfortable terrain, but I have heard it said that in risking self-awareness, at least we know that we are awake.”

 

A toll on the planet

A few years ago I stumbled upon The Earth From Above [Vu Du Ciel], a collection of aerial photographs by Yann Arthus Bertrand. My jaw dropped to the floor. I was in awe. Not just of Yann’s genius – which is exemplary – but the mind boggling view of the earth I had taken for granted.

More than pretty pictures, these images tell a compelling story of the state of our planet.

To wit: The Eye of Maldives, an atoll [coral reef surrounding a sunken volcanic island] that is at risk from changing tides and temperatures, as well as the ravages of tourism. As a reference point, atoll formation may take  up to 30,000,000 years.

Earth Day Reflections

Did you know that nearly 2.4 million lbs of plastic enter our oceans every minute?

In honor of Earth Day, I’m posting some videos from two of my favorite websites to help you take a moment and reflect on the state of the planet.

Inspired by oceanographer Charles Moore’s discovery of the Pacific Garbage Patch, artist Chris Jordan’s talk at Poptech! 2009 brings the horrific reality of this statistic to light in his characteristically poignant and devastatingly brilliant photographs.

Deranged penguins and professional dreamers

Along with seals that sound like Pink Floyd!

Just a few of the fascinating inhabitants of Antarctica, as captured by Werner Herzog in his documentary Encounters at the End of the World. Though that bizarre world seems remote, its mind boggling to consider the effects of climate change on polar ice – and how intricately our futures are tied to theirs.