If necessary one can live without an accountant, a lawyer, and a great many other service providers, but how long do you think you would last without a farmer? Check out the Know Your Farmer website from the USDA. The videos are pretty awesome too.
Archive for the ‘Global Warming’ Category
Last week Cambridge University published their list of the 50 Most Influential Books on Sustainability. This list was compiled by soliciting the favorite book from over 2000 of the leading experts on sustainability on the planet, then a shortlist was compiled.
I was a little disappointed to see only one book on the list by Buckminster Fuller. That book was, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth.
In an excerpt from Time Magazine, Vol.83 no.2, January 10, 1964, Buckminster Fuller was described as:
“He has been called “the first poet of technology,” “the greatest living genius of industrial-technical realization in building,“ “an anticipator of the world to come–which is different from being a prophet,” “a seminal thinker,” and “an inspired child.” But all these encomiums are fairly recent. For most of his life, R. Buckminster Fuller was known simply as a crackpot.
He is also something more than the mere sum of his praise and criticism. He is a throwback to the classic American individualist, a mold which produced Thomas Edison and Thoreau–men with the fresh eye that sees and questions everything anew, and the crotchety mind that refuses to believe there is anything that cannot be done. What Fuller sees excites him with the vision of man’s potentialities, and he has made it his mission to help man realize them. Says he: “Man knows so much and does so little.”
So while the Cambridge list is magnificent and I have gone through it checking off the books I have read and noted the ones yet to be read, I wish to offer a list of some of my favorite Buckminster Fuller books. Anyone who could see where we were headed in the 1940s and still pigheadedly insist that we could use technology to turn it all around deserves his own book list. Crackpot or not. So here is my offshoot to the Cambridge 50 Most Influential Books on Sustainablity a la Buckminster Fuller:
1) Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth
2) And It Came to Pass – Not to Stay
3) Critical Path
4) Grunch of Giants
What books on ecology, sustainability, conservation and keeping the planet and humanity going have influenced you?
In the early 1990s I was a part of a project for NASA called EOS. EOS stands for Earth Observing System. Unlike the Hubble project, whose goal was to look out as far as possible into space and map that distance, EOS was tasked with gathering as much data on the state of this little blue marble that we call home. EOS was, and still is, a coordinated series of polar orbiting and low inclination satellites for long term observations of our planet. EOS monitors and records the state of land surface, the biosphere, the atmosphere and the oceans 24/7.
In the early 1990s the engineers and scientists that I worked with on EOS imagined that we would be downloading as much as a terabyte of data a day. At that time this was a mind-boggling concept that very few people could wrap their heads around, including those of us building the system. Today I have several hard drives sitting around my house that are a terabyte or more. Who knew that our thirst for data would be so great? But the question that haunts me, as an engineer is … “If we have all this data, what are we doing with it?”
In the last 10 to 15 years scientists have published innumerable papers sighting mountains of data regarding the threat that global warming is and will have on our planet and yet there is still debate as to whether or not the threat exists, especially in the United States. 187 countries have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol aimed at combating global warming. The only country that has stated no intention to ratify the Protocol is the same country that designed and built EOS, the United States. Pretty weird, huh? The country with the most technologically advanced system for monitoring the planet refuses to ratify a Protocol intended to reduce carbon emissions and protect the planet from global warming. I have a theory about why this is…
According to a University of California, San Diego study the average American consumes 34 GB of data daily, including 100,000 words of information. We are literally drowning in data. Data flows over us and around us via cell phones, computers, blackberries, iPods, gaming systems, you name it. But I think we have lost the ability to think critically about what to do with the data. What data is truly useful and what is noise. In most cases, I think we go with the more-is-better mode and hope that at some critical tipping point when we have “enough” data the solution to any given problem will magically be revealed to us. The problem with that idea is usually the “enough” point rarely comes and we continue to wait for more or better data. Hence, the government (or other authority body) calling for more studies on global warming (or other life/planet threatening issue). Meanwhile, the problems get worse while we wait for more/better data.
So being a person trained to prototype first, correct, and prototype again. I say, “Enough already! Let’s just get to it!” Let’s pull out all the ideas and dump them on the table. Yes, ALL of them. The crazy ones, the weird ones, the ones nobody thinks will ever work. Yes, even the really dorky ones. We can’t afford to play it safe any more if we are going to save the planet and we can’t afford to sit on our hands and give up. We can’t afford not to be optimistic. We can’t afford not to find a way. If we can’t find the answers here on planet Earth, inside each of us, then I doubt seriously looking out into the universe is going to reveal them to us. So what do you think? Ready to give it a go?
John Muir once wrote, “We go out into the wilderness to find ourselves.” Today I was reading an article in The New York Times about the upcoming battle in Congress over the Waxman-Markey act, which if it becomes law would sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions in this country. According to the writer of the article, the recent hysteria over health care reform may look like a tempest in a teapot compared to this storm. That lead, in a circular way, to my thinking about John Muir and the battles he fought to protect Yosemite National Park, even before it was a National Park. I’ve been thinking that Muir’s battles were a sort of microcosm, a preview of the struggles we now face to protect not a few thousand acres of pristine land, but the entire planet that has suffered at the hands of humanities unbridled “industry”.
In Muir’s time, even after Yosemite had been declared a National Park, no one really knew what that meant or how it was going to work, but almost immediately industrious men with ideas on how to profit from the beauty and majesty of the land moved in to “improve” the park. They cut trees, built hotels, shoot wildlife for food and sport, introduced domestic animals, and generally upgraded the neighborhood. In some cases they even diverted some of the hot springs to heat their new hotels. Like I said, being industrious.
Americans have always valued our industrious natures. It is a real point of pride with a lot of Americans that you could drop an American on a desert island with nothing more than a pocket knife and a Q-Tip, go away for six months and return to discover that a shopping mall had been built in your absence. The problem is, do we need a shopping mall? Just because we can do a thing does that mean we should do it? And what’s up with this obsessive-compulsive need to improve everything on the planet?
My current working theory is that if we run around like crazy people “improving” everything we don’t have to notice we are killing off the only ecosystem we’ve got. I think we don’t go into the woods because we are afraid the “us” we will meet will be a cross between Darth Vader, Sweeney Todd, and Kali. So we stay on the hedonistic treadmill being industrious, buying things that don’t make us happy for more than microseconds, but poison the planet for eons.
Personally I think there are just some things past tinkering with. A sunset on the beach in Maui. A sunrise as it first strikes Half Dome. For me, in those moments, I would prefer to pull up a chair, grab a drink and toast Nature with a sincere “Well Done” and leave it alone.