Monday, December 03, 2007

Nowhere to surrender

I was at a meeting the other day in London, just off Kensington highstreet. It was raining and cold in the late afternoon. On the pavement there was a young girl crouching, holding a paper cup with the rim chewed up in front of her. If you looked closer at her, she seemed quite out of it, very red around her eyes, looking like she was not even capable of asking for help. Very, very sad, simply.
Lots of people were walking by, including me; busy, used to seeing beggars. She was probably around twenty, not that much older than my own daughter.
For some reason I was very disturbed by this, but I didn’t know what to do, apart from giving her a couple of pounds. I don’t live in London, I feel like a stranger who doesn’t really know what the rules are, and besides, like everyone else, I had an important meeting waiting.

It seemed she ought to be able to contact someone – a police man – and say, I give up, I’m freezing, I’m crying, I’m sick, I’m sitting on the street in an insane world of people that see me, that care for a moment, who don’t want to harm me – but on the hand, never stop and offer a bit of their precious time to help.

The weird thing was that the meeting was with the author of a book describing how business needs to keep creative, changing and adapting in order to stay fit in the evolutionary game of the market place.

And it makes me wonder, if we are entering a paradigm where each of us is supposed to be more responsible and self determining, co-creating and participating in shaping our circumstances – and if evolution culls those that are less fit... where does that leave those that are not creative and able to assume responsibility. The sick, the weaker minds, those in crisis of some sort.
Once the old ideologies of the industrial mass society are discarded – what mechanisms are left to take care of the weakest? Particularly given that the distance between rich and poor in most countries is growing. How far will polarization go this round?

London - The Hayward Center

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The figures of the net

In a podcast from the O’reilly Open Source Conference, Tim o’Reilly rattles off some interesting figures about web 2.0-like services:
- Wikipedia has 5 million articles, written by 100.000 contributors
- Amazon has 10 million reviews written by more than 100.000 reviewers
- has 2.5 million users contributing probably tens of miliions of shared bookmarks
- The 10 million users of Flickr have so far shared 750 millions photos
- There are 122 million Independent websites on the World Wide Web generating 10-20 billion pages.

I can add another piece of statistics:
according to World internet statistics, there are 1,244,449,601 persons on the planet with internet access – 18.9% of the population.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

What’s the mileage on your house?

The price of petrol is one of the most important signals in the climate/environmental discussion. It’s so visible; we can follow the prices rising and falling advertised with big signs along the roads. Most have a pretty good idea of how far their car drives pr. Litre - and of course we do, because we’re confronted with the economic consequences every time we fill our car.
The cost of heating our houses or the price of electricity is a different matter. Very few know the price of a kilowatt hour, or how much it costs to operate their appliances – even though 40% of our energy consumption is spent in our houses, much more than for transportation.
We’re not as aware of whether our house is efficient or not, because we’re not confronted with the information. Experiments have shown that simply installing a gauge that tells the driver what mileage he or she is getting currently improves the fuel economy considerably.
My guess is that if it were more visible, in realtime, how much we’re spending to heat or cool our houses, or to use our devices and appliances, we would save a lot of energy and create a huge demand for energy efficiency in buildings.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Literacies for the networked society

I've been working for years on various iterations of a piece that should describe how the paradigm shift we're living through calls for a rethinking of the skills that we need - and thus also points to the need to rethink our educational curriculum.
So, I've put the latest version on my website - and yes, it's long: 20 pages, but I actually think it is important stuff.
Here's an excerpt, from the beginning:

Society is making its way through a profound change. We are leaving the industrial age and entering a new paradigm - one which we could name the network society.
The main characteristic of this is connectivity. Humans, machines, cultures and economies are connected ever closer, more often, in more detail and across greater distances. Developments in completely different realms are increasingly influencing and interfering with each other.
Acceleration is another characteristic. As each new technical development helps us taking the next step even faster even change itself is accelerating.

The network society offers us countless new opportunities - but at the same time it confronts us with a demand for new competences. Clearly, the type of work that we will be making our living from in a globally connected hi-tech world will be very different from the work which our welfare society was built upon.
We need a new approach, one that's suitable for the new rules of the game. We need a different perception of the mechanisms which drive change - and we need to weed out old concepts and structures that have become irrelevant and which often end up as barriers to necessary change.
All of this implies a deep cultural shift in attitude and understanding of learning, innovation and action - a shift that's needed all the way from kindergartens to retirees.

In primary schools one uses the term ”literacies”, to describe the basic skills that are necessary in order to get by in society. In Denmark the law emphasizes 5 literacies: reading, writing, math, English as second language, and basic IT skills. If you lack one or more of these, you will experience that the doors to further learning are shut.
But what's considered basic literacies obviously changes as the conditions in society change. As we shift from the industrial society to a networked society we will need to acquire a number of new, basic competences to supplement the old literacies.

Put briefly, these new competencies are about understanding the way in which globally connected, complex, dynamic systems work. The internet, international politics, stock markets, or living systems, like our body… These are the sort of complex systems that we need to engage with, and our future welfare will depend on our ability to do so in smart ways.
We will need a completely internalized understanding of the mechanisms that drive such systems. At the moment it may sound very abstract, but concepts like evolution, non-linearity, feedback, self organization and ecology will increasingly be crucial to us in order to asses situations correctly and to act intelligently in relation to the forces that shape our circumstances.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Goodbye sunday paper

A couple of months ago I decided to cancel my sunday newspaper subscription. Somehow it seemed that they never really printed anything in there worth reading anyway. It was nagging me to recieve all of that paper which I basically just wasted time flipping through and discarding. The decisive moment came when they started to deliver the paper wrapped in plastic.

So my life is little bit lighter, and frankly I haven’t missed it at all.

The great carbon cover up, part 2

In Denmark we like to pride ourselves that as a nation we have decoupled economic growth and the use of fossil fuels.
But in fact our C02 emission modesty looks quite different if we include the emissions from the Danish shipping industry. A number of the worlds largest shipping companies are Danish – most notably Maersk.
It turns out that the combined emissions from the Danish fleet of ships amount to 25% of the total Danish emissions. Only the shipping emissions don’t show up in the usual statistics, because fuel for international transport is exempt from the Kyoto protocol – and from taxation.

The great carbon cover up, part 1

In Denmark we are proud to have committed to the Kyoto goals of reducing our emissions. It’s still very much doubtful that we will in fact hit the target, but at least we feel we are doing something.
However, you never hear any discussion of the impacts of our agricultural industry on the greenhouse effect.
There are 5 mio. People living in Denmark, but at any time there is also about 13.5 mio. Pigs. Annually, about 25 mio. Pigs are slaughtered in Denmark.
The Average Danish person emits around 10 tons of carbon dioxide annually. According to The Economist, ”every year the average sow and her piglets produce 9.2 tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent through the methane emissions from their effluent”.
In that case, it seems that the true Danish carbon emissions are about 3 times the official figure.

Apart from the damaging effect of all the methane that these pigs produce, it also takes considerable energy to raise those 25 mio. Pigs annually.
Obviously, you lose a lot of calories when you raise meat, somewhere between a factor 5 to 10, as far as I have been able to research.
Pigs are slaughtered at the age of 4-5 months, when they have reached a weight of about 100 kilo.
Even though Denmark is a wonderfully fertile country we cannot produce enough to feed those pigs, so a considerable part of this is shipped in from Brazil, Argentina and other soy producers. It takes a lot of energy to grow that soy, for fertilizers, machinery and transportation. Fertilizer is produced from natural gas and transportation fuel is almost all fossil as well.
(To make matters worse, the land used for producing soy in Brazil and Argentina is partly forests that have been cleared – and thus no longer help to stabilize the climate.)
Finally, 80% of the meat is exported, adding more transportation and more emissions.

Oh, did I forget cows? Denmark is a big dairy producer. We have 650.000 cows – and cows fart too.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"Bright green" - what does it mean?

I kinda like the term ”bright green” that the folks at use to describe their vision of a sustainable future. One of the problems with words like sustainable or organic is that so many interpretations have been heaped on them. They’re tired, they’ve lost their power to engage, and what’s worse, in many cases they actually turn off people, who may be worried about the environment and wish to turn away from a destructive life style, but don’t want to be part of the sustainability brigade.

But what might ”bright green” mean?
Here’s my list – please add to it.

I see bright green as a a strategy for meeting our needs in a way that makes good use of facts, science and technology. Bright green solutions are robust and they can achieve massive, industrial scale. They have reliable outcomes, documented effects, it’s understood how they work.

They are transparent. They enable users to become participants in optimizing their outcome. They invite users to act in a responsible way – to become co-creators rather than passive consumers.

Obviously, money is not the only value in life, but the spread Bright green products and solutions should be driven by market forces. They have to be attractive and make economical sense. They may be supported by regulation, but basically they should not be chosen out of guilt or good will, but based on competive merits.

Bright green solutions are holistic and complex. They are not discrete, local fixes. They take the larger context into account, and this can be done by using sensors, networks and by approaching reality as an ecosystem of interconnected and interdependent factors. be continued

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Davos highlight

I didn’t get to the World Economic Forum in Davos this year either. But then again, their website is certainly a very good substitute. I can recommend taking a good look around, there is an amazing amount of good information – among them a great deal of very instructive slides prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers that capture a number of central global predicaments in a nutshell.

A good part of the speeches are available as podcasts, although I would say that to me they were not nearly as interesting as the sessions last year.
The one that captured me the most was the closing remarks by Tony Blair. It’s great to hear someone with ten years of experience as one of the top global players who insists on a vision of better world and even manages to stir up some optimism. I realize there’s a lot of Blair-fatigue in the UK, but I found his speech quite constructive.

Here’s a couple of quotes:

“What is really happening is that nations - even the most great - are realising that they cannot pursue their narrow national interests without invoking broader global values. They are obliged to recognise that interdependence is the defining
characteristic of the early 21st century world”.

“Above all, nations find that they need to confront and deal
with challenges that simply do not admit of resolution without powerful alliances of other nations. And every nation, even the most powerful, is obliged to find such alliances or find their own interests buffeted and diminished.
That is why we call it interdependence. It is the ultimate joining together of selfinterest and community interest. Afghanistan was a failed state, its people living in misery and poverty but in days gone by it would have stayed that way without the world much noticing. September 11th brought it to our notice in the most unforeseen but catastrophic way. Look how the world has changed because of it.
We know Africa’s plight is shameful in a world of plenty. But I have never shrunk from confessing another motive. I believe if we let Somalia or Sudan slip further into the abyss, the effect of their fall will not stay within their region never mind their nation. I will argue for the presence of peace in Palestine on its own terms; but there is no question that its absence has consequences on the streets of cities in Britain amongst people who have never been near Gaza or the West Bank.
And, of course, there is climate change. Assume even a possibility of its threat being real. It would be madness not to act to prevent its realisation – just as a precaution. Its challenge is the supreme expression of interdependence. America and China, even if they had no other reason for a relationship and they have many, would need one simply for this alone".

Blair further speaks about his frustrations that often action is hampered not by lack of political will but because the instruments we have to take decisions and act at a global level are inadequate:

"Global purpose, underpinned by global values requires global instruments of effective multilateral action.
A UN Security Council without Germany, Japan, Brazil or India, to say nothing of any African or Muslim nation, will, in time, not merely lose legitimacy in the eyes of the world, but seriously inhibit effective action. By all means let us have some form of bridging mechanism – perhaps semi-permanent status without a veto – to a reformed Council; but get it done. Likewise with reform within the UN – greater power to the Secretary General, merging agencies, one UN organisation incountry. But reform now has to happen.
There is a powerful case for merging the IMF and World Bank and for increasing the influence of the developing countries within them.
The G8 is already well on its way to metamorphosis into G8 +5. At G8 +5, it can be a forum for agreement between the most powerful nations with a true modern global reach.
But sooner or later, the metamorphosis should be complete.
We need to make the regional blocs more effective.
I strongly believe in changing the rules of the EU to build efficacy in Europe'spower. The EU at 27 cannot operate within the system used for an EU of 15 countries.
It would hugely help the cause of Africa if the AU became a strongly and cohesive voice and instrument of Africa's interests".

Friday, February 16, 2007

The World Changing book

This is to recommend that you read ”World Changing – a user’s guide to the 21st. century”. It weighs a massive 1700 grams, and I have just carried it in my backpack for 5 weeks of travelling – but it was worth it.
”World Changing” is not exactly a page turner, it’s more like a catalogue of all the various activities and issues that relate to this vague dream and hope so many of us share of creating what the folks at Worldchanging call a ”bright green future”. In fact, you could easily compare to the good ole Whole Earth catalogue.
Even for professional eco-information analysts this should provide a good deal of information and inspiration.
Obviously it gets outdated at the speed of technology, but just now I can’t think of a better way to an overview of our threats and possibilities. For the latest information you can always visit the worldchanging website, where most of the content of the book originated. These people are doing great and important work!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The incredible morphing toilet paper meme

Here's yet another incarnation of the folded toilet paper meme - this one's from Ideal Beach resort, Mahabalipuram, Southern India.
What's next - origami?


Weird world: The economy is booming, the planet is crashing