Tag Archives: environment

Just One Word: Plastics

Recently there have been a couple of tweets about plastic use that got my attention

@PlasticLess Now look at me – I’m the man that your man could smell like if he didn’t use plastic bottles of bodywash

@ PlasticLess WRT Comic-Con – Take home memories, NOT memorabilia. Reduce demand for crap like this http://bit.ly/9Xjndd

The sheer smugness of these posts make me want to cram an PET bottle down flipper’s blow hole out of spite. Is @Plasticless really concerned about plastic use, or is he just trying stroke the egos of his converts? So the Comic-con exclusive toys are all going to end up in a landfill. Really? Not the thousands upon thousands of single-use plastic water bottles consumed at every convention in the country? The tweets employ a technique I’ve seen used before by far right Christian organizations and animal rights groups. They start by taking something that’s popular and well-liked and dumping all over it and anyone who likes said something. Then, like magic, those smelly unenlightened plebes will see the error of their ways and embrace Jesus/fruitarianism/the use of the word person-hole. This never happens.

The book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath talks a lot about this. Attacking elements of a group identity like the rare toys found at Comic-con is the last thing you want to do when you are trying to affect change. However, if you use group identity to your advantage, it can be a powerful ally.

Instead of decrying the plastic found in the toys, how about we encourage cosplayers to incorporate canteens or hip flasks into their costumes? Like any other fans, cosplayers are perfectionists who will do anything to make their ensemble look more authentic. It wouldn’t just work for characters who drink either. A metal water bottle that’s been worked into a prop or carefully hidden in a racy costume is the kind of makeshift construction challenge that all cosplayers crave. Thousands of  Pictures would hit the internet featuring people’s favorite characters eschewing a bottle of evian for their own snazzy container, ensuring the spread of the idea.

Reducing plastic use is not just a matter of nagging people until they stop. It’s a serious and complex problem that will require a refactoring of thousands of industrial and commercial processes. The change will need ingenuity way beyond the ability to snark. If we work with people and focus on ideas, we will be up to the challenge.

Stimulus Package: Everybody’s Broke

trillion_dollars

Call it the Credit Crunch, Depression 2.0, or whatever. The fact is, due to a set of cascading financial circumstances, businesses all over the world are now dealing with the problem of no money. It’s not that labour and capital are too expensive, there is just no money to pay for it all. Since I belong to a relatively high turn-over industry, I’ve been watching out for the stimulus packages that are being passed to get the world’s industries humming again.

The Canadian government’s plans did not produce much in the way of debate. The Liberals and Conservatives simply agreed to disagree and Jack Layton was left alone with a torch and pitchfork in his hands and a stunned expression on his face. Granted, with the regulatory environment our banks have, there seems to be much less at stake in Canada. In America, the numbers are bigger, the stakes are higher, and the tempers shorter.

I understand the debate as the gross generalization that I am about do describe. We have one side in favor of the stimulus package. They want the 800 billion to go into projects that will pay workers who will in turn spend that money again in the general economy. This way of thinking subscribes to the Keynesian school of economics. The other side is against government spending of any kind, and states that such a package will bankrupt the country and they’ll all be cleaning trillion dollar bills out of the gutter by the year’s end. The people saying this proudly say they hail from the Austrian school of economics.

I find the Austrian Solution for the problem very interesting because it seems to consist of the following:

Stage 1: Let Companies Fail.

Stage 2: ???

Stage 3: Profit.

Of course, that’s not the whole plan, but out on the internet I heard a lot about of the doom-saying about runaway inflation and not much in the way of an alternative plan. It turns out that many followers of the Austrian School of economics are supporters of Republican Congressman Ron Paul, who has come up with what I suppose is the vision for their philosophy. This includes abolishing of many government institutions, including the Federal Reserve. Military bases would be closed all over the world, and the US would pull out of the UN and NATO. Drug regulation would be turned over to the states, who could legalize and criminalize as they pleased.

While that leaves out the interesting question of the power vacuum that would be left behind if the US Military were to take its ball and go home, I can see this strategy’s appeal. It certainly is different, and it challenges many assumptions of value in the US structure of power. However, it completely enshrines the idea that government never does anything right, spends taxpayer’s money on hookers and blow, and kicks puppies for good measure. As a product of a government-run medical system, I have a problem reconciling that with the successes of government institutions around the world. It would be destruction for its own sake if the stimulus packages aren’t passed and unemployment is just allowed to increase. Furthermore, these packages include projects like roads and bridges that the market depends on, but can’t reasonably benefit from in the short run. Radical ideas are attractive because they encourage debate and lead up to things that are truly creative. However, we have to be aware that we sometimes cling to these ideas simply because they allow us to believe that we are right and everyone else is wrong.

The Canadian Election, Same As It Ever Was

After a month of salacious tv ads, accusations from all sides, and 300 million dollars we have achieved…absolutely nothing! Actually I think everyone got what they wanted in this election. The Conservatives have more seats, but still a minority which is what most of Canada wants anyway. I don’t think the Conservatives have themselves to congratulate for their 19 new seats. The Liberal party’s media presence, at least in the west, was next to nothing. I think many people voted for their Conservative MP candidate just so Harper would get out of that goofy sweater vest and stop attempting to smile. However, it’s more likely that the Liberals have done nothing to shake the image that they only care about Ontario and Quebec. Not only that, if you have a place like BC with bad memories of a provincial NDP government, we are left with no centrist alternative to vote for.

Now, I’m not saying that Canada is going through a new phase of Reaganomics, Thatcherism, or any other variation “Big government=Bad, No taxes=Good” philosophy. It’s just nice to know that we can pay for the kind of services we expect from the government without burdening future generations. We love the idea that we can get our medicine, military and employment insurance without running a deficit. The Conservatives bring this ideal to the table, but it doesn’t cover other issues that Canadians are concerned about, like the environment or poverty. The other parties were very passionate about these issues, but offered little information as to how their strategies would work without bankrupting the country.

The Liberals “Green Shift” plan that cost them so much seats could have been a blessing if they had simply published some data on how it would work. It could have created jobs and spurred innovation in many industry sectors, but we wouldn’t have known that because the other parties had control of the plan’s image. The average commercial webserver can send out the equivalent of the library of congress in a matter of hours. It shouldn’t be a stretch publish white papers, datasets, or bill drafts of any kind.. The Liberals chose to respond by repeating themselves rather than provide more detail, like they were guarding the plans for the atom bomb. The rumour mills provided by the NDP and Conservatives were able to build on that uncertainty until both parties had gained seats in the election.

I want to point out a recent article in the Boston Globe about the nature of rumours. Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology studied over 280 internet discussion groups to find out how rumours were born, spread, and killed. They found that rumours are based on a genuine attempt to find the truth. If you want to fight a rumour, first you cannot deny it if it’s true, and if it’s not true, make sure the truth is more vivid than the lie. The Democrats in the US are unwittingly putting these conclusions to the test in the forthcoming presidential election. Some Republican supporters have literally accused Barack Obama of being the Anti-christ. The website fightthesmears.com, along with the shear volume of information being published about the Democratic candidate are strategies dedicated to producing that more vivid truth. Forget the man’s stance on international trade. If he wins in two weeks, this will be a new chapter on how to use media to in politics. The internet has shrunk the costs of communication by exponential factors. No one will be interested in a repeated lie when the truth can be repeated just as easily. Candidates no longer be able to win elections based on hearsay and conjecture, but by communicating the most comprehensive vision of prosperity for all of their voters.

Wall-E, Al Gore, and the Fate of Civilization


Sara and I finally used our Famous Players gift certificates to catch “Wall-E” just now, but with all the pandemonium surrounding “Batman: The Dark Knight” we probably could have snuck in for free. The film was, in a word, wonderful. Sure, the robots were cute, but the force of the ideas in that movie was something you would expect to find in a classic hard science fiction novel rather than a Disney blockbuster.

When the movie came out everyone wondered whether the conservative hate machine was going to go on a rampage the way they did with “Happy Feet”. There were those who passed off the film as leftist propaganda. But strangely, Wall-E started to become a hit among other conservative bloggers who were won over by the little guy’s crusade against a large oppressive organization and (even stranger) his love of showtunes. In fact, some left wing bloggers decided that they were really clever and decided to bash the film for the plastic merchandise that it generates or its linkage of obesity with environmental problems.

The director, Andrew Stanton, did a lovely job of sidestepping the issue in an interview with New York Magazine.

“I knew that I was going into territory that was basically the same stuff, but I don’t have a political bent or ecological message to push. I don’t mind that it supports that kind of view — it’s certainly a good-citizen kind of way to be — but everything I wanted to do was based on the film’s love story, the last robot on Earth, the sentence that we first came up with in 1994. I said, ‘I have to get everybody off the planet, and do it in a way that audiences get it without any dialogue.’ So trash did that. You look at it, you just get it. It’s a dump, you’ve gotta move it — even a little kid understands that.”

Classy stuff, but he’s not fooling anyone. Nor should he have to.

In British Columbia we’re a little more cognizant of the climate change issue than say, a place like Arizona. We have swathes of dead trees where the Winter has failed to kill off the pine beetle. The glaciers we like to ski on so much are shrinking. Stanley Park looked like a war zone after the wind storms of 2006. From our perspective, the time for being classy about the environment has passed. It’s not a controversy, it’s a real problem.

Yesterday Al Gore threw down a challenge for the United States to get off Carbon Fuels within 10 years. Sure, it seems like it’s on the border of daring and daft, but I would rather see the US fail at something like this than keep going on its present course. However in the comments section of every article on this issue there seems to be a league of twits pointing and laughing at Gore because he was a Democrat or his house sucks up enough juice to power Bangladesh. On the other side there’s the the “Gee-Whiz Mr. Gore, I’d love to help” articles where the commentator gleefully whips out a bunch of statistics about why it can’t be done.

I have had enough of people who would rather feed their own smug egos than do what must be done. People like the Wall-E animators make the case about why we should help the environment. People like Al Gore come up with plans on how to save it. I subscribe to their beliefs because the only constant I have lived with in my adult life is change. My life, and the life of everyone else on that planet will change over time because that’s how the whole concept of time works. In the past five years alone I’ve graduated University, worked for many companies, got another diploma and got married. Even their predictions don’t come true, it’s still not as foolhardy as pretending there is such thing as a status quo.

You can find out more about Al Gore’s Green Challenge Here: Link

2007: A Year In Review

2007 started off for me in Bellevue, where Sara and I enjoyed a rosing blow-out at our friend Sandy’s. Explosions of party-poppers and the drunk-dialing of loved ones abounded as the last incandescent new year ball dropped. I had no idea that I had passed all my courses at BCIT and Sara was wondering why I was waxing poetic because for her, the year had started back in September. I was still working my way through a GIS diploma, and even though I had a practicum all set and ready, the jury was still out as to whether I would have a job at the end of it all. The nuts and bolts section of the course had finished, so we were now studying more specific subjects like photogrammetry and object-oriented programming, and more holistic areas like presentations and proposal writing. No sooner did my final exams end did I move on to my practicum at Environmental Criminal Research Incorporated. I spent two months working out of a loft office on beautiful Granville island. Although it was unpaid, it was my first job where I was NOT an entry-level mook interchangeable with thousands of other random hipsters in the city. It was almost like I was being paid to think. I liked it.

I completed all of my development targets and pretty soon ECRI had a serial criminal detector that would automatically load up map files. I also gained the distinction of having worked on software that had military applications, which was unfortunate because I had no desire to use it to pick up chicks. When the District of Maple Ridge called me back saying I had won a 6-month contract with them, high fives were had by all. Not only was I now getting paid to think, but they also provided me with Bose noise-cancelling headphones! Can you believe that? Of course, their purpose was to drown out the rack of servers set up behind me, but Bose Headphones! The District has become my favorite place to work so far. I got to make maps, scripts and data models for departments all over the city. When I got out of school, I was afraid of getting into a specialized discipline and having to perform the same tasks over and over again. Luckily for me, GIS is a generalist’s discipline, and will remain so as long as the world keeps changing and evolving.

I could’ve spent the next 20 years working at DMR, but alas for now it is not the case. Last Friday my contract ended and once again I’m out there looking for a patron to fund my calling. It’s odd though, after 4 contracts with some very diverse companies, unemployment feels like coming home after a long vacation. Work has piled up on my desk and I’m ready to approach it with a new resolve. I don’t have any more doubts about if I’ll find work, it’s more a question of where and when. All told, this year is ending on an up note. I’ve got a host of new skills and I am better able to work on projects on my own. My family is also doing well across the board. My sister is moving in with her boyfriend in Dawson Creek, and is looking forward to a new job there. My brother Jon still has plenty of video work, his wife Amber is still making the world’s printers run, and Hannah, my niece is figuring out preschool. Sara’s sister Megan is on a part-time contract teaching kindergarten, and her boyfriend Ryan is starting a new program at BCIT. Jen is finishing her fourth year at UCFV, and her boyfriend which we call “Other Ryan” is an assistant manager at Milestones. Sara, my Fiancee, is balancing her grade 7’s at Clayburn Middle with our upcoming wedding in March, but thankfully I’m now at home with her to help. As for myself, we’ll just have to see. Happy New Year, and God bless.