Archive for February, 2007

take a bite out of climate change

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Researchers at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting annouced a new game that allows participants to take a wedge out of global environmental problems (Science 23 February 2007: Vol. 315. no. 5815, pp. 1068-1069).

In a darkened ballroom in the Hilton San Francisco, 413 people tap numbers onto slate-gray keypads, each the size of a thick paperback book. Around them, almost 600 others watch as two screens at the front of the room reveal the results of their manipulations: a selection of strategies for taking wedge-shaped bites out of a graph of projected levels of atmospheric carbon over the next 50 years. Their mission: to whittle future CO2 levels down to a plateau in time to avert intolerable greenhouse warming.

The “Wedge Game,” based on “stabilization wedges”–a concept developed by Robert Socolow and Stephen Pacala of Princeton University (Science, 13 August 2004, p. 968)–was part of a town hall-like session for teachers and students at the AAAS Annual Meeting, held here from 15 to 19 February. The game, designed to convey the scale of the effort needed to stabilize carbon emissions and the pros and cons of possible options, was just one of some 200 sessions, ranging from “Addiction and the Brain” to “Education, Learning, and Public Diplomacy in Virtual Worlds.”

Perhaps influenced by Lovins, the Wedge Gamers voted for a deep-green mix of two parts increased efficiency and one part each solar electricity, wind power, driving less, switching from petroleum to natural gas, and “biostorage” (planting forests to absorb CO2). It’s far from current U.S. energy policy, but it reflects much of the thinking on display at many other sessions at this meeting.

More on The Stabilization Wedge, a concept and a game as well as the teachers’ guide. For those not computer inclined, the Wedge game is also available in colourful paper format.

paperless office

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

The Future of Things has written an excellent post on the future of the paperless office and the announcement by Xerox Research Centre of Canada of inkless printing. The printer also features reusable paper which can be printed and erased several times.

the environmental costs of environment meetings

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Attending a convention, workshop, or conference? Here is some information on reducing the environmental impacts.

mobile maps

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

Vodafone is teaming up with Google to develop maps for mobile telephones. I wonder if Google will control all the content or whether it will allow mashups. Also what happens to all those “unverified listings” and user (business) added content. Will mobile phone users demand greater accuracy (e.g., spatial location) than currently available?

99 weiße balloons

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

NYTimes has a video on the use of low cost balloons (only $800US each) to map ozone. It accurately conveys the travails of conducting field research, which doesn’t always proceed as planned. Also it suggests that this field research costs a lot more than $800. The assistants, vehicles (gas, insurance), and supporting hardware (laptops, sensors, tracking devices) adds up quite quickly.

gui heaven

Monday, February 12th, 2007

Found this incredibly easy graphical user interface for Google Earth at atlasgloves. It’s DIY virtual reality gloves made from white LEDs and ping pong balls. The “heavy lifting” is the software that integrates the glove movements via a web cam with the Google Earth software. Happily, atlas gloves has written it and you can download it at their site. They also have a nice demo of the atlas gloves in action.

Here’s a Youtube link done by

3dconnexion’s space navigator is also cool but doesn’t appeal to my geeky sensibility the way the atlas gloves do.

using pixar technology to tell tribal stories

Saturday, February 10th, 2007

In reportedly the first effort of its kind, a US Indian tribe is using 3D animations to pass along their oral traditions.

Until now, members of the Oneida Indian Nation had passed down through oral tradition the story of “The Raccoon and the Crayfish,” a morality lesson about the consequences of lying. Now, the Oneidas plan to share the tale with the public with the same 3-D technology used by Pixar Animation Studios to make hits like “Toy Story.”

“There’s always been a sense of urgency that comes with the fear that we’re losing not only our stories but a lot of other aspects of Oneida tradition,” said Dale Rood, an Oneida who heads the tribe’s four-year-old multimedia studio. “It’s not until recently, with this type of technology, that we’ve had a chance to see how we can preserve them.”

tech for food

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

If you are interested in new technologies for improving agriculture and reducing hunger then you may wish to attend the first International Symposium Tech For Food, which will take place the March 6, 2007, at the International Exhibition of Agriculture in Paris. The Symposium is free in terms of registration but places are limited. The conference and its accompanying site will examine:

all technical means for combating hunger. They are derived from advanced technologies adapted to the agricultural and agribusiness domains: satellite imagery, Internet, wireless communications, portable physical and chemical tests… and others yet to be invented or explored. Aid in land and natural resources management, in the prevention of natural risks, training, information, commercial exchanges: new technologies offer a great many levers for agricultural development and food production, as long as we are able to master their advantages and weaknesses.

More research and development oriented than cell phones for food.

btw, I’m not going anywhere.

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

I’ve had significant downtime in the last month with my servers (it may have been a mistake to host it myself). Only a few minor problems remain and the server/virtual machine problems are largely fixed. Even if the server is down, it doesn’t mean I’ve stopped blogging or shut down the blog. You have us for the duration.


latest IPCC report announced

Friday, February 2nd, 2007

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the pre-eminent group of climate change scientists, has started to release its 4th Assessment Report. This report, which took almost three years, is supposed to be the hardest hitting report on the effects of climate change. Its assessment:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea levels.

And unambiguously, humans are the cause.

Key findings:

  1. Concentrations of greenhouse gases have ‘increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values’;
  2. Understanding of the human impact on climate has greatly improved since the last IPCC report leading to ‘very high confidence’ (at least 90%) that the human activities since 1750 has caused the rise in greenhouse gas emissions
  3. These greenhouse gases are the most significant cause for global warming;
  4. This is based on a wealth of data, both from climate modeling and actual observation (current and historical);
  5. For the next two decades scientists expect a warming of about 0.2°C per decade up to approximately 4°C.
  6. Warming is likely to increase faster in this century than in the last century. Warming will increase even if greenhouse gas emissions are stabilized.

The IPCC produces conservative estimates. Actual effects are likely to be higher.

Download the executive summary for policymakers here.

And for fans of the hockey stick, you’ll see plenty on page 15.

If you’re interested in the current politics of the IPCC the conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and ExxonMobil are giving $10,000US to scientists and economists who can poke holes in the report. This is not how science works.

Virtual and Physical Activism Report to the UNFCCC

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

I’m pleased to announce the final report of the McGill School of Environment’s UNFCCC research team, entitled Influencing Climate Change Policy: Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations Using Virtual and Physical Activism.

The executive summary is provided below. The full report, including details on the methodology, can be downloaded.


This research reports the way Environmental Non-Governmental Organizations (ENGOs) use the tools of virtual and physical activism to influence climate change policies. ENGOs are well-positioned to influence these policies by developing expertise on global warming issues, representing the interests of impacted humans (and non-humans), and providing knowledge and information to decision-makers and the public.

ENGOs accomplish this through a variety of physical and virtual tools. Physical tools (or activities) include paper reports, face-to-face meetings, marches, and conference attendance. Virtual tools range from creating/updating websites to emailing to live webcasting. Virtual activism implies communication via the use of Internet tools; whereas physical activism suggests the tools of in-person communication that have little reliance on virtual means. Activism in this study comprises the advisory and advocacy tools used by ENGOs to transmit information.

With few exceptions, the unique value and contributions of virtual activism has not been considered in research on ENGO influence in policy negotiations; instead, research focuses on strategies and goals, and largely with traditional physical activities. However, nearly all ENGOs employ some form of virtual activism. Many argue that virtual activism embodies characteristics that match the urgency and global scale of climate change. It holds tremendous potential for ENGOs to reach large numbers of people inexpensively and immediately, but at a possible cost of decreased personal relationships and actual impact.

In research, the role of virtual tools and physical tools tends to be explored separately. In practice, an organization does not use one to the exclusion of the other. This research is unique in three ways. First, it explores the way ENGOs use virtual tools to substitute for or complement physical tools. Second, it investigates specific characteristics of tools relative to their application. Lastly, it outlines the relative advantages of implementing these tools to influence climate policy.

Research was conducted in the months preceding and during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change/ 11th Conference of the Parties/ 1st Meeting of the Parties (UNFCCC/ COP-11/ COP/MOP-1), held in Montréal, Quebec, Canada November 28 to December 9, 2005. Researchers conducted interviews with ENGOs communication directors before the meeting and ENGO representatives during the meeting.

Our client was Équiterre, an ENGO based in Montréal. Équiterre coordinated ENGO activities during the 2005 UNFCCC meeting in Montréal. Équiterre was interested in assessing which activism tools are most effective in achieving their ENGO goals and furthering their cause. We were assisted by members of Équiterre in this study. We were further assisted by Barbara Black, NGO liaison officer of the UNFCCC.

We found that physical activism has an overriding importance in establishing personal relationships and networks, which were found to be among the most effective ways to influence decision-makers and gain public and media attention. Virtual tools evince greater potential to facilitate information transmission globally and are commonly employed to enhance physical activism. Specifically,

  • Physical tools are considered to have more impact for the ENGO resources expended and are superior to virtual tools in influencing policy makers, although they are more expensive than most virtual tools
  • The personal contact characteristic of physical activism is essential to influencing climate change; physical tools are perceived to be interactive, engaging, and direct, and they build personal relationships, trust, and commitment
  • Virtual tools allow for greater information availability and accessibility, possess larger scope and scale, and are considered relatively inexpensive in time and cost, although they are less capable of establishing personal contact than most physical activities
  • Virtual tools are possible substitutes for physical tools if personal relations are first built sufficiently with physical tools. Virtual tools may gradually replace physical contact. Virtual tools can substitute for intra-organizational management and inter- ENGO coordination
  • (e.g., webcasts and webconferences including Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), emails to maintain contact with distant policy makers)

  • Virtual tools are possible complements for physical tools if used in tandem, as in supporting online resources or providing support in coordinating physical tools
  • (e.g., webcasts of live events, emails as reminders of prior conversations, wikis for organizing and coordinating physical activities, websites to archive background briefing papers to prepare for conferences)

Based on this research, we recommend that our client choose activism tools on a strategy-specific basis. Strategies involving decision makers require personal interaction afforded by physical tools, although they can be complemented by virtual tools. Indirect strategies, such as generating media attention and public awareness, may allow greater integration of virtual and physical tools.