Gone, but Not Forgotten, for Three Weeks

I will be away from my computer for the next three weeks. My son, Tom, will be filling on for me occasionally during this period. My wife and I are going to Turkey with a group. We will visit the modern and ancient parts of the country. In preparation for the trip, I have been reading and listening to tape stories of the very long history of the region. Some of the longest periods of empire characterize the area–Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman–reaching from a few centuries after the start of the Common Era virtually to the time of my birth. For each, it was wars that created and brought down… Read More

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Caring Robots–This Really Is an Oxymoron

I started reading an [article in the New Yorker](http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/11/02/091102fa_fact_groopman?currentPage=all) about medical robots just before I went to bed last night and by the time I has finished it was way later than my usual time to turn off the light. I don’t normally remember my dreams in the morning, but I awoke to visions of robots like Wall-E, the central character in that wonderful movie about what happens when the Earth can’t support human life any more. The story told by Jerome Groopman, weaver of many wonderful tales about medicine, focuses on the current development of medical robots, but not the kind that surgeons use to improve the efficacy of… Read More

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Surprise–Is New York the Greenest Place in the US?

[Environmental 360](http://www.e360.yale.edu/), Yale School of Forestry and Enviropnmental Studies online magazine, carried a [story](http://www.e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2203) with this headline, “Greenest Place in the U.S.? It’s Not Where You Think.” The gist of the article is that the urban density of New York creates a smaller ecological footprint than other apparently more pristine places. The author, David Owen, a staff writer for The New Yorker has recently published a book entitled, “Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability.” Hard to buy this line while looking at this iconic photograph of Times Square. His thesis is, after the momentary shock the assertion produces, quite plausible. Two… Read More

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Aspire not to have more, but to be more

This is the headline from an interesting [blog](http://www.citizenrenaissance.com/) from the UK that I have been following for some time. The [post](http://www.citizenrenaissance.com/2009/10/22/aspire-not-to-have-more-but-to-be-more/) echoes the theme of being, not having, central in my book to the critique of modern cultures and to the possibility of breaking out of that mode of living. The post, by Jules Peck, relates to the main theme of the blog, Citizen Renaissance, calling for a shift towards the responsibility column in the civic balance sheet and away from the rights half. **Having** could be seen as perhaps the basic in the free market liberal model of political economy where choice in the marketplace is viewed as the… Read More

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Unintentional Greenwashing

TerraChoice, a green marketing firm, has gotten a lot of press through their 6, now [7 Sins of Greenwashing report](http://sinsofgreenwashing.org/?dl_id=4). They find that 98% of some 2000 products found on the shelves of big box stores have committed at least one of the [7 sins](http://sinsofgreenwashing.org/findings/the-seven-sins/). Here are their categories. You can find descriptions of each at their website, above. – Sin of the Hidden Trade-off – Sin of No Proof – Sin of Vagueness – Sin of Worshiping False Labels – Sin of Irrelevance – Sin of Lesser of Two Evils – Sin of Fibbing Some or all of these might be attributable to intentional efforts to mislead or confuse… Read More

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The Disclosing Power of Art

If you haven’t seen this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=518XP8prwZo) of Kseniya Simonova’s winning sand animation performance, you must go there. It says much more about the world than I ever could, and calls out the absence of sustainability in the world. . .

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What Cannot Go On Forever Will Not

One of the inescapable conclusions I took home from the sustainable consumption conference I spoke about is very simple. The Planet cannot and will not support the material consumption levels of today and certainly not those levels projected as affluence becomes global. Bill Rees, one of the keynoters and developer of the ecological footprint concept, claims our rates of resource utilization are already equal to more than one and a half Earths and we are on the way to three or four. Technology cannot change this. The Nobelist economist, Robert Solow, who once thought that resources was a meaningless term because technology would always find something new as each “resource”… Read More

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The Black Side of Green Shoppers

Having just posted an entry about toilet tissue couture, my attention lit on a story about potential perverse effects of green shopping. The [story in Greenbiz.com](http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2009/10/13/green-products-unethical-shoppers) began with this lede: > We see more than our fair share of green consumer studies around these parts; it’s become one of our favorite bugaboos: This study or the next one finds that customers say they’re 100 percent likely to buy green products 100 percent of the time. > > And yet, when you walk the aisles of your local office supply company, there’s nary a ream of 100 percent post-consumer recycled content paper to be found. What gives? Why the focus on… Read More

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Toilet Paper Couture

A little bit of fun before I return to the serious stuff. The conference on sustainable consumption (even though I don’t like to use sustainable as an adjective) that ran the last few days was very exciting and provocative. The organizers had brought together academics from many disciplines together with a group of NGO representatives. We certainly didn’t get to a single understanding of the roots of the problem of hyper-consumption, but found ways to converse across big gaps in disciplinary language and concepts. I will be writing about what I learned as I reflect a bit more. In the meantime, here’s a bit of lighter substance. I wonder if… Read More

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Off to a Conference on Sustainable Consumption

I am off to attend a conference on sustainable consumption. It is an important event in spite of the oxymoronic sense of the term “sustainable consumption.” It’s the first gathering of academics of all sorts, largely coming from the social sciences, seasoned with some NGO representatives to keep the conversation on point. I’ll be involved until next Monday. I am quite optimistic that we will dwell more on the consumption half of the phrase, seeking to explore why consumption has become such a central feature of our society. For me that is more important than trying to measure our impact on the Earth and set some sort of numerical target… Read More

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