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January 31, 2005

What's an Acceptable Thesis Question?

What does strategic thinking toward sustainability look like for individuals? What would / could be the results of someone taking a more strategic approach to sustainability? How can the strategic planning model we have been applying for businesses be adapted to be more meaningful and usable for individuals who are asking themselves "but what can I do?"?

Choosing a thesis topic. Something I have certainly never done before. Any advice? I should note that this is not a "real" thesis... it's more like a big project in that we have about a week to decide a topic, and then two months after that to do research, and one more month to get everything analyzed, draw the conclusions, and wrap it up. And based on that, I will have a masters degree. Yipee! I'm gonna be a smarty person from now on!

Anyway, my group and I (oh yeah, it is a group thesis of me and two other students) have been kicking around a few questions for the past few days, trying to decide if they are valid topics, and if there is a valid methodology to base a thesis on.

We know what we want our topic to be about, but, since none of us has done this before, and we have no academic advisor (other than very generous classmates who have already written a thesis in the past), we have been struggling to turn that topic into something that may be accepted as a thesis topic.

What I want to do:

1. One of the reasons I came to this program in the first place is because, in the past few years, I seem to have been undergoing some changes in my thinking and realizations about how my lifestyle (just as an average bastish) was negatively effecting just about everyone and everything else in the world. I had been reading and exploring on my own ways in which I can reduce those negative effects, and coming here to study "sustainability" was more of a personal journey... looking to see what the whole thing is about.

The program itself is based more on business, government, and other larger organizations. A large portion of it has centered around a strategic planning methodology which these organizations could use. It struck me as odd, however, that while we are spending our time learning about how others can become "sustainable", few in our class (including me), not one of the instructors, not one of the lecturers, no one, appear to me to be really moving strategically toward sustainability in our own lifestyles. In fact, I have actually become worse since coming here.

If we , the preachers, can not even take a critical look at our own lives, what hope is there that others would... and what right do we have to ask them to anyway? What keeps us from practicing what we preach?

2. I constantly hear people who realize what we are doing to our very life-support system and are killing themselves over the question... "But what can I do?" All too often, the sustainability advocates give them a list of 10 things to save the environment, and shove them on their way wondering "Why doesn't it make a difference?"

As I help myself get my own life in check, why not help others who want to be helped?

So, what I want to do is to take the strategic plan we have been taught for businesses, and see how that applies to us, the messengers, as well as to the "regular" folk. What needs to be changed to make it more relevant to the individual? What would it's implementation look like? What would the outcome be like? Would it really help anybody to make change in their lifestyle? If so, would that change be deeper than the cosmetic "ten steps to help the environment"? Theoretically, if one was truly thinking strategically, and taking into account the full extent of their actions in every action of their life, it could lead to massive changes. Would it though?

What is an "academic" way to phrase that? As for methodology, is it acceptable to simply find as many people as we can handle in two months (including ourselves, parents, classmates, instructors, and local folk, etc...) and working through the process together, taking a deep, critical look at our lives, identifying what should and can change, and finally, what does change?

* * *

The photos above are from my first semi-professional photo shoot. Not semi-professional in that there was any payment, but rather in that it was the first time (other than my sister's wedding) where anyone had ever made a special request that I take their photo. It's especially flattering because the mother is a professional photographer, and she asked me to take their family portrait. The whole "who cuts the barber's hair?" thing... Anyway, these photos were taken with my camera, but the official portraits were taken with her film camera. I've never used a film camera, so I am just hoping I didn't screw them up too badly (apparently, it costs over $30 to develop a roll here!)

I hope they don't mind having their picture up here on the top page...

January 29, 2005

Too Busy

Once again I am too busy to write on the blog. But this is a good busy. Busy getting started on our thesis (fun because I can do what I want, not what is dictated) Busy planning a hut-to-hut cross country / downhill ski touring trip in Lillehammer, Norway with Tomoe in a few weeks. Busy taking picutres of the fresh snow this morning, and busy reading books I didn't get a chance to read the last few weeks. Life is good.

January 24, 2005

Freedom Comes Again

Ahh.. once again entering the lifestyle I came to know and love a year and a half ago after moving to a contract, work from home basis. For the next four months we have no regular classes, so I never have to force my self to wake up early. I never have to stare out the window on a beautiful calm clear day and lament the fact that by the time I get out of class (or work as the case may be) it will be too dark to kayak, or go for a jog with my camera. Sure I have thesis work to do, and I still have work work to do, but the freedom to trade three working hours in the sun for three working hours at night, or to take a long weekend one week, and make-up for it on my own discretion has spoiled me. The freedom to make what I want to make out of my job or study, instead of being forced to follow someone else's lesson plan or agenda has spoiled me. I don't know if I will ever be able to hold a regular job again. Now I have to decide what to do tomorrow with all this time I have... (other than meet with my project group... arghhh. I'm not as free as I thought.)

January 23, 2005

Addictive Radio

A couple weeks ago someone asked me what ten blogs I read every day. To tell the truth, I don't read any ten blogs on a daily basis. Even with the news reader, I just haven't been able to make the time for myself (although I would like to). Living in Japan, however, I became addicted to radio news programs for my english news. Over the past few years I have scoured the archives of NPR, PRI, and BBC web sites. This is much easier for me than reading blogs or news sites because I can listen as I work on client's web sites, cook, or clean (doesn't happen very often). So, instead of listing my "must read" blogs, I am going to list my "must hear" radio sites (in the order of how addicted I am to them).

Shows I am addicted to:

  • Justice Talking: My newest "favorite show"... "Each weekly program unapologetically tackles tough, provocative issues featuring reports from the field, polling analysis, and compelling debate between the nation’s leading advocates and political opposites. "
  • The Connection: A long time favorite, "The Connection is energetic, edgy, outside-the-beltway American talk. The two-hour program tackles a vast range of topics. From politics to literature, religion to science, and music to medicine, The Connection approaches each with a modern edge." Check out the recent show Disappearing Words about the loss of languages around the world and what it means for history and the future.
  • Fresh Air: "probing questions, revelatory interviews and unusual insights of contemporary arts and issues" My introduction to Public radio many years ago, a drive to the grocery store would take an hour because I didn't want to stop and turn off the radio. Terry Gross is one of the best interviewers I have ever heard. (listen to Dick Gordon of The Connection interview Terry Gross.)
  • The Diane Rehm Show: Another brilliant interviewer talking with interesting guests about the stories of the day. Check out this interview with Jared Diamond, author of the new book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed and best seller Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, or this fascinating program about vocal health.
  • This American Life One of my favorites by far, it takes a humorous look at life in America through audio essays and (sort-of) interviews with authors and / or regular people doing irregular things. It's also always a treat to hear a reading from David Sedaris who is a regular on the show.
  • Living On Earth: A weekly environmental news and information program of news, features, interviews and commentary on a broad range of ecological issues.
  • Live at NPR: A collection of artists performing live in the NPR studio.
  • Democracy Now: Covering the news in ways that the main stream media don't or wont. very "lefty / liberal" or whatever you want to call it...
  • Now: PBS news program with Bill Moyers (until just a few weeks ago when he retired). Videos of past episodes are available.
  • NPR Talk of the Nation A closer look at some of the stories dominating the news. The host, Neal Conan, speaks with a guest knowledgeable in the topic, and listeners call in with comments or questions. Fridays (Science Fridays) have a different host and concentrate on scientific issues that effect us all.
  • The Living World: "A gentle weekend natural history programme, which aims to broadcast the best, most intimate encounters with British wildlife." Everything you ever wanted to know about fungus, birds, bugs, squirrels, and trees. The stuff I never get to learn about because I am sitting behind a computer all day and don't get out.
  • All Songs Considered: More about the music played between stories on NPR's evening news program, All Things Considered. As I don't spend much time searching for new music, this show has been invaluable for introducing me to artists I would otherwise never have heard about.
  • Home Planet: "Home Planet is the environmental programme for which you set the agenda. We tackle your questions and concerns and try and make some sense out of the conflicting opinions which make up the environmental debate." This BBC program is discontinued, but the archives are still available and informative.
  • National Public Radio Of course there is NPR in general. While I will list some specific NPR programs I enjoy later, the main site is a good place to come for unexpected goodies.
  • NPR All Things Considered / NPR Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, The World, Here and Now The best daily / weekly news round-ups I have been able to find.

Shows I check regularly for interesting topics

  • American Radio Works Radio documentaries about todays issues. The kind of stuff you could never imagine getting on network TV. Check out the recent documentary about Wal-Mart
  • Been There/Done That Radio essays about... everything " In one program Marty can take us from Seattle’s Pike Market for a look at "third places" where people gather and create community to a funny conversation with Valerie Harper in New York, from finding an acceptable meal at a greasy spoon to the more serious issues involving saving for retirement, searching for utopia, taking care of body and soul or dealing with aging parents and college bound kids, plus humor, music, film, and more." Check out the recent Jan 10 show, On the Move.
  • The Brian Lehrer Show "It's your neighborhood, your city, your country, your world, and now your website. Brian Lehrer delves into the issues and links them to real life. Enlighten yourself as host Brian Lehrer puts you directly in touch with news makers and gives them a chance to exchange opinions and ideas with call-in listeners. A seasoned moderator, Lehrer directs a "sane alternative" in talk radio. Whether the topic is New York City's education or housing policy, the changing face of welfare, or the expanding Chinese economy, Brian Lehrer puts a human face -- and maybe even your neighbor's voice -- on the issues shaping your life. "
  • Earth & Sky A good source for easy (for people like me) to understand science news. The problem with this site is that the segments are all short and there is no "listen to the entire show" link.
  • Forum Interviews and analyses of various issues in the news. Check out the recent episode about Ecotopia's anniversery
  • Radio Diaries: A great show I depend on to try to understand the world from other people's perspectives, see what they see, feel what they feel, understand how what I do may be effecting other people. It is also a great source to understand history in a way that I would have never learned in school (even if I had payed attention). Check out the most recent show Mandela: An Audio History
  • Radio Expedition: "A collaboration between NPR and the National Geographic Society. The general themes for stories are the natural world and threatened environments, diverse cultures, adventure and exploration and discovery."
  • Sound & Spirit "Sound & Spirit weaves history, myth, and spiritual traditions together with music to take listeners on a journey around the world and through the ages. With subjects ranging from pilgrimage to family relationships, Shakers to Buddhists, and births to funerals, there is always something new to explore."
  • Studio 360: "Current issues, events and trends in art are a jumping off point for an exploration of ideas that aren't necessarily "news," yet are provocative and offer a lens on experience that only art can provide. Studio 360 presents richly textured and emotionally resonant stories that look at art's creative influence and transformative power in everyday life."
  • Tech Nation: A weekly program focusing on the impact of technology on our lives. Check out the December 21, 2004 program about Gorillas Among Us ... My Journey through Autism where the author talks about the emotional life of gorillas, and how they helped her in her challenge with autism.
  • To The Point: "A fast-paced, news based one-hour daily national program that focuses on the hot-button issues of the day"
  • The Infinate Mind: "am.  The national, weekly public radio series focuses on all aspects of mental health, neuroscience, access to care, treatment advances and the mind/body connection." Takes the listener beyond the misconceptions and stereotypes of mental illness, giving us some insight into what life must be like for people suffering from the disorders. Check out the recent show about Synesthesia, the fascinating condition where people can hear colors and taste shapes, or another recent show with stories of Tourette's Syndrome
  • Marketplace: Public radio's daily magazine of business and economics.
  • National Press Club: broadcasting the National Press Club Luncheon Speaker Series creating an opportunity for world leaders, newsmakers and prominent figures (Nikita Khrushchev. Winston Churchill, Madame Chiang Kai Shek, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Charles deGaulle, Boris Yeltsin, Nelson Mandela, and Yasir Arafat) in the realms of finance and culture to share their knowledge and experiences.
  • New Dimensions: "Uncommon wisdom for unconventional times". Maybe a little too "new age" for a lot of people, but it's definitely good for getting a different perspective which you won't find on Fox or All Things Considered. The current show for each week is available for free, but archives require subscription.
  • On The Media: A look at the issues of the day and media's role in shaping it. Podcast also avaialable
  • In Our Time: From the BBC, "The big ideas which form the intellectual agenda of our age are illuminated by some of the best minds. Melvyn Bragg and three guests investigate the history of ideas and debate their application in modern life."

Shows I listen to every once in a while for a break

  • American Routes I listen to this every once in a while for a break from the depressing news. Blues, Jazz, Cajun, interviews and stories about the roots of music in America.
  • The Writer's Almanac: I'm not sophisticated enough to listen to poetry every day (or even every week), but it is nice to tune into every so often when I am feeling too lazy to do anything other than listen.
  • Human Kind: "Stories of remarkable people whose dedication helps to humanize our society." Not all of the programs are available for free, but what they do have is worth checking out.
  • Lost and Found Sound: A collection of All Things Considered stories showcasing sonic artifacts and audio treasures.
  • Third Coast International Audio Festival: "A celebration of the best feature and documentary work heard worldwide on the radio and the Internet."

January 22, 2005

If God wanted man to fly...

Today I attended a presentation about biomimicry. It was a great presentation, interesting, and an overall good introduction to the topic. It left me with some questions / thoughts which I was unable to fully articulate during the QA session.

Wording is important. Although the group (classmates) mentioned that we are living in the system, and talked about using the knowledge we gain in the context of our environment, the wording that it most often used when discussing something like this is "What can we learn from nature?" It may be insignificant, but I truly believe that such small linguistics slips prevent us from recognizing the fact that we are nature. To that end, I would much prefer that we speak of it in terms of "What can we learn from other parts of nature?"

I was happy that the presentation talked not only about what products and innovations we can create based on other parts of nature as a model, but also, what principles and laws we can derive about how our system works, and how we must work as a part of that system. For example, in the rest of nature, one organism's waste is another organism's food. Given that we agree that this aspect of nature is good, and that we should follow this principle, how do we presume to decide that other aspects we find true in the rest of nature are not to be followed. Even in terms of the production related side of biomimicary... do we see other species attempting to artificially "biomimic" a spider-web like substance for their own use? Is there a reason for this? How do we decide what concepts, principles, or laws from nature's model we reject and what we adopt?

Similarly, I asked about the fact that some species eat their young, yet no one (including me) would look at that and say it is OK to eat your young. But the question remains, how can we decide what to adopt and what to reject. When I tried to raise this question in class, the answer was something about using our rational. I think this is a very dangerous concept... that our rational, based just a few thousand years of society (which is failing) and cultureal norms, is somehow able to guide us and tell us that, when it comes to such drastic (in our culture) methods of population control, nature is wrong? How can we be so presumptuous to think that we know better?

I can't stress enough that I am not suggesting that we adopt extermination as a method of population control, simply using this extreme example as a means of questioning our ability to judge what is "good" and what is "bad" in nature based on something so limited as our rational and cultural norms which have told us that the solution to growing population is to simply grow more food by converting wet-lands to farms, or genetically engineering crops to produce higher yield and ridding the earth of biodiversity that "takes up space" such as the low-yield varieties.

I am left with the impression that biomimicary, while in principle is a great idea, can never reach it's full potential, nor help us move toward a "sustainable" society, so long as it is applied in the context of our flawed vision and understanding of ourselves and our relation to the rest of nature.

I always thought that those people who say "If God had intended us to fly, he would have given us wings" were just some wack-jobs with fantasies about living in the woods. Now I am not so sure.

January 21, 2005


If you visited my site previously and saw some boring photos on this post, let me explain. I had intended to submit to the PhotoFriday weekly photo challenge based around this week's challenge was "crowded". As I was sitting in class my mind wandered and I realized that these are my best "crowded" photos so I rushed right home to change them.

The Reactionary Pedestrian

Excerpts from The Reactionary Pedestrian on this weeks Living On Earth

Abner Serd had a simple, if ambitious plan. Walk the Appalachian Trail with a friend. Well, that hike never happened. But Mr. Serd did set out on an alternate route along the nation's highways and byways. The detour turned him into, what he calls, a “reactionary pedestrian.” And his string of audio postcards traces the paving of America, as well as his own alienation and conversion to fanaticism. Or maybe he was always that way. You can draw your own conclusion ....
...Monday morning the 15th of February. Walking on little tiny seashells along the beach in Louisiana. It's kind of sad that people don't walk on the beach anymore. Last night, Valentine's evening, went down to the beach at just about sunset, watching all the Valentine's couples driving back and forth along the beach, driving in their four-wheel drive vehicles. Kind of made me feel like I'd lost, somehow....
...I hear a lot these days about racial profiling. Racial profiling. I don't know how many times I've been stopped and questioned by Officer Friendly, not because I was doing anything wrong, but only because I happened to be passing through town on foot. I wanna tell these guys, look, all the really successful criminals drive cars. I should think that's obvious. In fact, the better the car, the more successful the criminal. You should be stopping people in BMWs!

A man after my own heart. Although my ractionarianism is maybe not so profound, I often annoy Tomoe by not moving out of the way for cars coming up behind me as we walk down the small streets (which I consider walking streets) in Tokyo. I'm not saying the car can't drive there, but I am saying that I am not going to be the one giving up my rights to walk at a reasonable pace without having to crowd onto the shoulder of the road just for some jerk in a car. Tokyo is filled with huge, busy car roads. There is absolutely no reason to be driving on a side street. I have long felt that all non-comercial vehicles should be outlawed within the city limits except for maybe highways passing through. (delivery trucks, busses, and cars for handicapped or elderly are OK)

January 20, 2005

January 19, 2005

Facts and fig... uh.. fig... uh.. whatever.

How can I improve my memory of facts and figures?

Today I had my last "final group presentation" to give. It was an agonizingly presumptuous report about how the International Labor Organization can be improved by doing no less than revising their entire vision, core purpose, core values, and strategic goals to be more in line with a systems view of sustainability. Aside from the fact that our presentation was based only on what was on their web-site, an hour conversation with a part-time contract employee, and pure imagination, it went pretty well. No thanks to my extraordinary ability to forget even the most basic ideas when I have to present them in a certain set order.. not to mention my uncanny ability to retain not only three, not only two, but zero, count them ZERO dates, facts or figures regarding... well, anything. Luckily my group-mates are amazingly adept at recalling impressive sounding numbers and dates. (thanks guys).

Thankfully, it's something I realized quite early in school life (which saved me from a lot of wasted time trying to memorize worthless dates), and it showed in my grades (maybe sixth from the bottom of my high-school class). When I got into university the tests were less rote memory based and more conceptual, so I was able to graduate with a fairly respectable record. In the real world, of course, there are walks of life one can pursue that don't require such a skill, and I have never needed to recall a figure or date for the past six years. I'm not ashamed to say that I lived in my apartment in Tokyo over four years and still had to keep my own phone number written on a cheat sheet in my wallet (I couldn't recite Tomoe's number, but if I have the touch-tone phone I can dial it)

Anyway, I do realize that this inability to recall such ordered, structured, factual information hurts me at some times. Today for example, after the presentation, the other students asked the usual barrage of questions (as if we actually knew anything about the inner workings of the ILO). Even simple questions that we do have the answer for... "How many countries does the ILO have offices in?" Had I been alone, my answer would have had to been "I can't remember the exact figure, but it's a bunch." My capable group-mates however were able to rattle off the number of countries, and an impressive barrage of other facts.

This lack of ability to recall facts manifests itself in my writing for this blog as well. If anyone actually reads the posts, you may notice that I rarely if ever write about any specific facts. This may be a combination of laziness, since with the blog I could , if I wanted to spend the time, look it up, but usually, I simply shy away from topics that would need any kind of factual back-up. Even though I "know" the facts, from my readings or lectures, writing about it on the blog would require me to search through all my notes, or worse yet, an entire book, to find an exact number or two.

Part of me says "hey, logically, we don't all have to be able to remember everything... so long as one of us can." but the other part of me doesn't like sitting there like a dumb stump while the others answer. How can I improve that little weakness?

January 18, 2005

Uncle Kevin?

I don't know if it's bad news or good news, but it looks like there may be an addition to my little family. I don't know what it makes me... father, grandfather, uncle... not really sure, but it looks like Awii and Klee are having a baby (or two). We're trying to decide what we would do with two more cocktails. I think we could handle one more, given the size of the cage, but two might be pushing it, and I don't think the only pet shop we trust in Tokyo would take them.

Right now the birds are staying at Tomoe's mother's house until Tomoe gets back to Japan in February. We have to decide wether or not to have the eggs fried or let them hatch. One of the problems with frying them is that Tomoe's young niece is really excited about the new arrivals, anxiously awaiting them to hatch. I hate to crush her hopes. I also hate the fact that, if we keep them, by the time I get back to Japan they would be fully grown.

January 16, 2005

Separate from nature?

One of the concepts which has tended to form the basis of our studies this year is a set of principles for sustainability. There are four which our curriculum has intorduced. While I agree with them for the most part, there is one which I have been uncomfortable about since the first time I heard it. I finally realize why...

First, the principles. Basically, in order to sustain the systems capacity to keep us and millions of other species alive, we know that the following princples are true:

1. We can not systematically increase concentrations of substances from within the earths crust into the biosphere (were things live). This includes carbon, mercury, etc... Now, people will say that carbon exists naturally in the biosphere, and yes, that is true (thankfully) but the key is the systematic increase at a rate faster than the biosphere can process it. It is quite apparent that we are doing that now with fossil fuels and other junk. It can't keep being increased or we, along with millions of other species, will obviously all die or continue getting really sick.

2. We can not systematically increase concentrations of man-made substances not naturally found in the biosphere. This includes synthetic chemical compounds such as DDT, PCB, endocrine disruptors, synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides, etc... This too is quite obvious and we know the results of introducing these compounds faster than the earth can break them down (many of them wont break down for millions of years). Again, people will say that many dangerous chemical compounds already exist naturally. Again, the point is, if they exist naturally, they exist in quantities which nature is able to handle.

3. We can not cause systematic degradation to nature itself. This means we can't systematically cut down all the natural forests, or wipe out the marshlands or coral reefs, or anyplace else that promotes the bio-diversity we know keeps us alive.

These I agree with. These all have a scientific basis.

Then there is the fourth.

4. We can not systematically undermine human's ability to meet their needs.

Sounds great. I agree with the idea in terms of social policy. It is a great principle to live our lives by, even if it is not scientific. But still, when it is lumped together with the other three, it just bugs me. It doesn't fit. I have tried to rationalize it's place among the "Sustainability Principles", but no matter how close I get, no matter how much my teachers and textbook tell me it fits... it just doesn't.

Today, I realized why.

Basically, I see now that the first three take a whole systems view of the earth as an ecosystem. Everything, living and not living, is a part of that system and is in some way connected. Make a change on one place, and it will have totally unexpected effects on another part of the system. This is what we know is true, and these are scientifically based principles.

By introducing the last principle however, it seems to me that we are once again falling prey to the same old fallacy in which we place humans outside of the system. While this is definitely not saying that humans can do whatever they want without regard for nature, isn't making a special principle for humans somehow imply that humans are not included in principle number 3? We were taught that these principles gain some of their importance because they are non-overlapping... implying that humans are not a part of nature.

Why not make another principle then that says we can not systematically undermine the ability of trees to meet their needs. This is true, and I don't know any scientists that would argue with that statement. This is not saying that trees are sentient beings like people, nor am I making any judgment about trees being more important than people, or vice-versa. I am not calling for "tree-rights". What I am saying is that undermining the ability of trees to meet their needs is just as detrimental to our survival as undermining the ability of people to meet their needs. Perhaps it is even more detrimental.

So why is it in these "non-overlapping" scientific principles, that humans, which are definitely a part of nature (principle 3) have our very own principle? What am I missing here? I'm sure others have thought of this before, so what expelenation do they give?

Certainly there are political pressures to take into consideration, and The Natural Step, the organization that is behind this program, may have bowed to those political pressures in order to advance their ideas. But if that is the case, why not just come clean when they teach it and say "Yeah, although this fourth principle is valid on it's own, and very important to sustain our society, it doesn't really fit with the other, but we put it in there because it makes the whole thing easier to swallow." I could buy that... except that I don't buy the fact that our current society should or can be sustained... at least not without some major changes... one of which being that we stop viewing ourselves separate from nature.

January 14, 2005

An exercize in empathy

I'm in some kind of a depression. Maybe it's because of the jet-lag, or maybe it's because I don't have the will-power to overcome it (I have fallen prey to afternoon napping for three days in a row now). Maybe it's because I feel like crap health-wise after eating so much garbage and drinking so much oh-so-delectible beers in the US. Maybe it's because I lost the momentum and enthusiasm for the projects I am working on. Maybe it's because no matter what I do I can't cut that dang to-do list down (maybe it's because I don't do anything on my to-do list). And finally, maybe it's because my new favorite NPR radio show onle airs once a week, and over the past few weeks I have gone through most of the recent archives.

Justice Talking is award-winning radio that engages listeners in timely, refreshingly honest debates on the current legal battles that capture our nation's attention.

Each weekly program unapologetically tackles tough, provocative issues featuring reports from the field, polling analysis, and compelling debate between the nation’s leading advocates and political opposites.

With knowledge and insight, veteran NPR correspondent Margot Adler leads listeners through a fast-paced hour, peppered with questions from a live studio audience. Justice Talking is an entertaining and enlightening mix of voices and opinions -- tune-in and listen to the sound of democracy.

I love this show. I discovered it durring one of the too-many long drives I made over the break, and now I am adicted. Mainly, I think, because I don't trust most of what I read or hear when people who think like I do depict the views and oppinions of people who think in ways I can't fathom. When I read some of the quotes and ideas attributed to "the other side" on certian issues, they always seem so outlandishly crazy and unfounded that I assume that the author or person telling the story is on "my side"... I always assume that if the "enemy" was giving his/her view in person, it would sound reasonable.

I'm sorry to say that in most cases I am wrong. This show has guests from both sides of an issue debating, and it always amazes me how completely onesided my own views are. In most cases, I can not even understand where the other side came up with the ideas they have. What experiences in their life led them to see the world so differently than I do. It has really become and exercize in empathy. I have been listening ernestly trying to see what they see, trying to understand what could have shaped their point of view... but mostly, trying to listen without thinking "what could have confused them so much? Why are they so screwed up? Can't they see?!!!?"

January 13, 2005

January 12, 2005

Off The Road Again

I'm finally off the road again. Now that I'm sitting back here in my dark little apartment in Karlskrona, I guess it's time to start thinking about the class projects I put off for the past three weeks. These photos are also the last from our road trip to Michigan. Now that I don't have to put up with the 56k dial-up account, I am free to start uploading more photos. Not that I really took that many durring the break, my weekdays were spent locked in Tomoe's apartment working on a client's website, and my weekends were spent skiing in Vermont, where I realized that I will not be an adventure photographer. I was too afraid of breaking the equipment that I couldn't enjoy skiing with the camera.

January 08, 2005


I, like most people it would seem, have a tendency to look for people to blame when things don't go the way I think they should. I look at the world and what needs to change about it, rather than myself, and what needs to change about me. The more I learn about how screwed up things are, the more time I spend looking for the bad guys to blame, and it seems the less time I spend learning to apply what I have learned to my own life .

Last time I wrote about some criteria that could be used to evaluate universities. I attempted to take a look at what it means to me, but upon rereading my post, I see that all I did was complain about how poor a job the schools I have attended did at educating me. This struck me as a little odd, since I can honestly say I never learned much from the curriculum of the schools I attended. It's not as if I learned the wrong things from them... I learned nothing.

This is not to say that no social learning, or learning from observing my surroundings (which happened to be a school) did not happen, but what I mean to say is that I learned little to nothing about the subjects I was taught. Most of what little book smarts I have now was gained after I graduated, or in my own time, between studying for tests. Although I studied Japanese as my major, the Japanese classes I had were worthless (aside from being requirements for the degree which somehow proves that I have value as a human being). I learned all my Japanese outside of class, either talking to Japanese people, or through countless hours of studying on my own. Likewise, I have never had a single class related to computing, programming, or anything else that pays my bills now. Even if I did have a programming class, I can almost guarantee that by the end of it I still would not know how to turn on my browser (just as I didn't when I took my first web-programming job).

The program I am currently enrolled in is a little different. The difference I think (and maybe this is just my perception) is that it is not so much trying to teach me, but rather pointing me in a direction where I should take my own self-learning.

The point being, while it is painfully obvious that the educational system has to be re-designed, taking into account our relationship to nature and the system that keeps us alive, I am in no position to take part in the re-design. I am however in a position to change the way I am learning right now, to ensure that my own self-education is of the quality I would expect from myself, and that I am applying what I am learning. At this point, it is unproductive to complain about how little the schools I attended did to teach me how to live, but it is productive to take a look at myself... and who knows... maybe once I get a better handle on myself, I will be in a better position to change the world.

So, how can I make sure that I am ecologically literate, that I have a basic understanding of how the following play an important role in life:

  • the laws of thermodynamics
  • the basic principles of ecology
  • carrying capacity
  • energetics
  • least-cost, end-use analysis
  • how to live well in a place
  • limits of technology
  • appropriate scale
  • sustainable agriculture and forestry
  • steady-state economics
  • environmental ethics

Likewise, how can I live in a way that is mindful of, and shows comprehension of the differences between the following (also from David W. Orr's Earth in Mind):

  • Optimum vs. Maximum
  • Stocks vs. Flows
  • Design vs. Planning
  • Renewable vs. Non-renewable
  • Dwelling vs. Residing
  • Sufficiency vs. Efficiency
  • Can do vs. Should do
  • Health vs. Disease
  • Development vs. Growth
  • Intelligence vs. Cleverness

If everyone should know this stuff... and I am finally, after thirty years, learning it, how can I apply it in my life?

January 05, 2005


January 04, 2005

Ecological Illiteracy

I find it difficult to explain to people what I am studying in Sweden. If I take the time to explain it, people look confused a bit, then say "Oh, so your in environmental studies?". While it is to some extent true, I hate that. I hate it because labeling myself as a student of environmental studies is actually falling into the very trap I am studying to help people break out of... the idea that the world is so compartmentalized, that I am an environmentalist, and some people are businesspeople, others are programmers, others are doctors, etc... I feel like it perpetuates the idea that so long as there is someone specializing in "the environment" there is no need for everyone to have some basic knowledge about how our ecosystem works.

When asked what I study in lighter, less formal situations, ones where the person asking is not really trying to find out, rather, is simply making conversation, I have begun to answer some variation of "Sustainability... you know, how our way of life effects our future... basically, I am studying about saving the world and stuff..."

I find that that response has actually led to more interesting conversations. If I answer "Environmental studies" people turn off. Maybe it's because it's not part of their field of expertise, they feel it's not their concern, or they are afraid to appear ignorant discussing something they are not "trained" in. When I talk about saving the world, though, everyone has a stake. Everyone has a story, or at least they have heard a story somewhere.

I then follow-up trying to explain how my studies focus on how to help companies, organization, communities, individuals, etc... to make decisions based on a basic framework which we know is imperative to preserving quality of life, or even life itself, for ourselves, others in the world, and future generations. The biggest problem though is that people don't know this most basic framework. People aren't armed with the most basic understanding of how life and ecosystems work.

On the plane over here I was reading from David W. Orr's Earth in Mind. David Orr is a Professor of Environmental Studies, but understands how what he teaches is not something that should be reserved for specialists. In one of his essays, he proposes a college ranking system based not on the average salary of graduates, or how many celebrities it produced, but rather, on how ecologically literate it's graduates are. After all, anything else we study, be it economy, business, medicine, or literature, is dependent first on a healthy natural system to practice those specialties in. No good economy can be built on the ruins of a natural system. He proposes that no student should graduate from any educational institution without a basic comprehension of:

  • the laws of thermodynamics
  • the basic principles of ecology
  • carrying capacity
  • energetics
  • least-cost, end-use analysis
  • how to live well in a place
  • limits of technology
  • appropriate scale
  • sustainable agriculture and forestry
  • steady-state economics
  • environmental ethics

The need for competency in all of these is obvious to me (regardless of my own current competence). I guess that many people feel that their field of study is somehow more "important" or useful than others, that the world would be much better off if everyone knew a little bit about it. I have felt that way about programming in the past. Seeing people waste time doing menial computer tasks that could be easily completed with even the most rudimentary programming knowledge, I have often wondered why everyone doesn't take a basic programming for non-programmers course. But I don't think this is the same thing... in the case of programming, the cost for not learning it is simply a tremendous waste of time. The cost of ecological illiteracy, on the other hand, is death to an ecosystem.

Orr's essay got me thinking about my own educational experience. Should I have been allowed to graduate? Should I be allowed to graduate in the spring with an MSW ( Masters in Saving the World )?

  • the laws of thermodynamics I remember hearing about this in high school, but there was no attempt to make it relevant to my life. I take partial blame for not learning it then, but now that I do understand it, I am amazed that it was not stressed and incorporated into other courses.
  • the basic principles of ecology I never even heard about this until a few years ago, well after graduating from University. Why was creative writing (which I loved ) a requisite for an undergraduate degree, but a basic understanding of how the ecosystem functions not?
  • carrying capacity Again, no mention what so ever that we have exceeded the carrying capacity of the earth, or what would happen if we do.
  • energetics Looks like I have a bit of research to do before I get my masters, because I don't have a clue what this is now.
  • least-cost, end-use analysis
  • how to live well in a place Oh... would it have made my life better to learn about this? Instead, everything I learned was basically that we have to make do with the way things are. Don't rock the boat, play your part to help the economy because only through exponential growth can we overcome the boundaries of growth. Why didn't anyone ever present the idea of living well within those boundaries?
  • limits of technology This is the big one. I can't count the number of people I know who believe (have actually stated) that they are not afraid of the damage they know our lifestyles do, because "someone will invent something to fix it". This goes together with the laws of thermodynamics.
  • appropriate scale Perhaps this is not something that can be "taught" but it is surely something that should have been mentioned by at least one teacher in sixteen years of education.
  • sustainable agriculture and forestry While I don't intend to become a farmer, I realize now that I should have a rudimentary understanding of this... if only to know where my life comes from, and what is and is not possible to sustain.
  • steady-state economics I didn't even have any classes specifically about neoclassical, or any other type of economics, but the neoclassical view was implicit in everything else I learned. I can't even imagine why neoclassical is even taught as a regular course anymore now that we have a better understanding of the natural system economics relies on.
  • environmental ethics

It seems that all of these are things that people used to understand without being explicitly taught. It's really a shame that our education makes us dumber.

Ski Dreams

The last time was ten years ago, and it was nothing like it was this time. In the winter of my junior year of high-school I worked Saturday's at Burger King making enough money to spend Sunday driving two hours north to Caberfae Peaks in Cadillac, Michigan where, to make sure I got my money's worth, I would force myself to ski from the time the lifts opened, until the very last run at night. If I remember correctly, Caberfae has a 470 foot vertical drop. It took about two minutes to get to the top, and thirty seconds to get down.

This weekend Tomoe and I went to Vermont to ski. Try to imagine for yourselves what it must feel like for me to finally ski a trail where I had to actually stop and rest before I reached the bottom.... one where I could not see lift loading point from everywhere on the mountain. It was truly amazing, and this was not even the largest ski area in vermont.

We've scrapped next weekend's plan (to enrich our minds with a trip to historic Boston) in favor of another weekend in Vermont. We've also started planning our European ski trip when Tomoe comes to visit Sweden for a few weeks in February. Anyone have any suggestions for skiing in Switzerland?

The photos above are still from the drive through Pennsylvania. There was little snow on the ground in Vermont, and it caused a little disappointment when, Bolton Valley the place we chose for Saturday only had a few lifts open (none of which went to the top of the mountain) and of the runs that were serviced by those lifts, only a few beginner trails were open - and these were all covered with ice. That day, we left well before closing because we were bored.

Surgarbush, the resort we visited Sunday, had lifts to both of it's summits opened, and they had plenty of terrain that were beyond our ability, and there was enough made-snow to cover all the ice patches. I have never in my life skied on what I hear people refer to as "powder" so I was overjoyed with the less-than-perfect snow conditions Sunday -until, that is, it began raining ice an hour before the lifts were to close. Luckily, we were sufficiently tired and it was no let down to leave an hour early. Hopefully there will be even more trails opened next weekend, with some natural snow.

It makes me wonder if it is such a good idea to ski in Switzerland. After skiing in Vermont this weekend, I am afraid I will never be satisfied to ski someplace like Caberfae again... will Switzerland ruin vermont for me as well?