Rare Earthtones

January 4, 2008

By Adam Brock

At one point last spring, I became obsessed with finding a recording of a bird call that I could use as a ringtone… and gave up after a couple hours of coming across bad recordings and paywalls. But now my search has finally come to an end: the Center for Biological Diversity has come out with Rare Earthtones, a collection of free ringtones of the sounds of rare and endangered North American animals.

After perusing their selection for a couple minutes, I ended up springing for something even better than a bird call: a killer whale.

Three Times the Signs

December 17, 2007

By Adam Brock

Three recent articles from the New York Times are WGYworthy in their Forest Green implications. Let’s connect the dots:

Tom Friedman, of all people, finally seems to be catching on to the fact that we’ll have to seriously retool the economy to save our species. With Bali more or less a wash thanks to the Bush Administration’s anti-diplomacy, Freidman seems to have decided that market forces are more powerful at raping the planet than any kind of diplomacy can be at saving it:

Indeed, today’s global economy has become like a monster truck with the gas pedal stuck, and we’ve lost the key — so no one can stop it from wiping out more and more of the natural world, no matter what the global plan.

And this from globalization’s prime hype man… perhaps there’s a downside to all that world-flattening, after all.

In the Magazine, meanwhile, Michael Pollan weighs in on the overuse of the term “sustainable” and the inherent fragility of mass-produced monocultures. The MRSA scare and Colony Collapse Disorder, he explains, are symptoms of the same impulse: treating living things like machines in an effort to widen those profit margins just a little bit more. The last couple lines say it all:

…whatever we may gain in industrial efficiency, we sacrifice in biological resilience. The question is not whether systems this brittle will break down, but when and how, and whether when they do, we’ll be prepared to treat the whole idea of sustainability as something more than a nice word.

Finally, on a somewhat more encouraging note, consumer critic Rob Walker has a lengthy piece on the revival of craft culture as self-conscious antidote to soulless consumerism. Thanks in large part to Etsy, an ebay of sorts for crafty types, tinkerers worldwide are able to connect, trade entrepreneurial tips and hone their artistic skills.

To sum up: a free-trade cheerleader admits that globalization is destroying the earth, the hero of sustainable agriculture points to signs of the industrial food system nearing collapse, and the internet is being leveraged to launch a mass movement against mass production. Sounds like the first rumblings of a paradigm shift to me.

Taking Multi-Tasking to Task

December 12, 2007

by Nelson Harvey


If you’re listening to music, eating, writing a paper, chatting online, or talking on the phone as you read this post, take heed. Odds are that multi-tasking manifests itself in your life in one form or another, but that may mean bad news for your quality of life and your intelligence. That’s what novelist and critic Walter Kirn argues in the November issue of the Atlantic Monthly, in a truly illuminating piece titled “The Autumn of the Multi-Taskers.”

Kirn is truly one of the sharpest writers out there today, in my view, and the piece is worth a read if you can get it. He cites new research showing that when we multi-task, we employ the part of our brains involved with “visual processing and physical coordination,” while appearing to neglect “some of the higher areas related to memory and learning.” As he puts it, we concentrate on concentrating, rather than on what we’re doing.

So what’s the connection to environmental issues? The idea of moving toward “sustainability” is about getting back to the things that really matter, in our economic, political and personal lives. But we’ll never stop to think about what those things are if we’re constantly thumbing away on the Blackberry.

To me, one thing that really matters is what we mean when we use the word “freedom.” Kirn describes how when Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) like the Blackberry and Palm Pilot were first released, they came clothed in the language of freedom. Of course, what advertisers were really selling was efficiency, convenience and mobility packaged as freedom. Freedom, they said, meant giving us the world at our fingertips, wherever we were. In so doing, they made every spare moment a potential working moment. Time off-line became wasted time, and “being ‘here’ and ‘living’ suddenly became being ‘nowhere’ and doing ‘nothing,’” as Kirn puts it. If this technology offered freedom, it was freedom from the present, and from the geographical and social contexts in which we exist. It’s hard to see how such freedom could be beneficial for personal and community life.

Freedom, to me, means the freedom to unplug, as we’ve discussed here before. Given that many of us spend so much time at the keys (and I’m not talking ivories), we should take heed at Kirn’s definition of multi-tasking. To wit:

“Multitasking, a definiton: the attempt by human beings to operate like computers, often with the assistance of computers.”

Photo credit: Evilangelica

Carbon Dioxide = Food

December 7, 2007

By Adam Brock

Ecodesign is all about figuring out a way to make linear processes into cycles: transforming what’s leftover when we’re done creating something into the raw materials of something else. These “leftovers” are conventionally called pollution – but in the regeneration, they’ll be increasingly seen as valuable resources.

These days, the most pernicious leftover is the one that’s contributing to climate change. Since it looks like we’ll be stuck with emitting CO2 for the short term, it makes sense to start thinking about how we can transform it into something valuable (rather than try and stuff it underground and hope it doesn’t leak).

Sustainable Design Update reports that Cornell’s Geoffrey Coates and his start-up Novomer is developing a plastic that uses CO2 and Carbon Monoxide as a feedstock. They’ve received $6.6 million in venture capital so far, and expect their products to be cost-competitive with oil-based plastics. Sounds right on so far… but is it compostable?

By Adam Brock

Hot on the heels of Real Costs comes CO2 Stats, a blog widget that calculates emissions from the time you spend online and offsets them through Sustainable Travel International. Developed by Tim Sullivan and Alex Wissner-Gross, two PhD students at Harvard and Yale, CO2 Stats has the ambitious goal of “making the entire internet carbon neutral”.

I’m a little skeptical that that’ll happen anytime soon (especially given the questionable effectiveness of carbon offsets), but Sullivan and Gross’ early success is impressive: a week after its official launch, CO2 stats reaches 170,000 users per month. Now if I could just figure out a way to install the plugins on WGY, I just might become a proud CO2 Statistician.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.