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19 October 2010

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE...NOT!


It started out simple enough with a middle-of-the-night request…”Dad!...can I have a drink of water?” came a small, half awake voice from my son’s room…”Sure” I said as I got outta bed and trudged down the hall to the kitchen. As I leaned over the sink in the light of the moon streaming in through the kitchen window, I let the water run for a moment, it struck me what a wondrous thing this was to be able to go to the tap and get a cool and clean glass of water in the middle of the night. It never would have accrued to me that it would not come out of the wall or that I would have to be concerned with the quality of the water.
It has always been there…as a kid, I remember that there was no greater treat than drinking from the garden hose on a hot summer day. In America, we take water for granted…24/7, drinking water is always a few steps away as if it was an inalienable right…like life, liberty and guaranteed clean water. I took my son his water and we sat and talked a little about what a miracle it really was to be able to get a glass of water…and like that say…out of the mouths of babes…he drop the question…”Doesn’t everyone have water?”…I got him back to sleep, but the thought of accessible water kept gnawing at the back of my brain for the remainder of night.

Not being able to sleep…I started researching my son’s question…being an active environmentalist for over 40 years…I had a vague understanding about global water issues, but after a few clicks, an email and a couple of texts…I had a new awakening to a crisis of global implication.

It is hard to believe that in this day of age that, according to UN figures, over 2.6 billion people live without safe drinking water. In the hospitals of Sub-Saharan Africa, more than half of the beds are occupied by patients suffering from sanitation and water related diseases. UN studies have shown that many diseases could be prevented simply by improving local water supplies. Children are the highest at risk with over 4000 dieing daily from preventable water related diseases, killing more than HIV/AIDS, malaria and measles combined.

As we all know, we live on the big, blue ball, Earth the water planet. The problem is that 97% of the Earth’s water is salt water, leaving a meager 3% of freshwater to sustain life for humans, other living creatures as well as plants and agriculture for a hungry planet. It is not unthinkable that in the not-so-far future, competition for water in an overpopulated world could lead to major border disputes and outright war over water resources.


SO WHAT ARE THE KEY POINTS OF THE GLOBAL WATER CRISIS?
• Inadequate access to safe drinking water for about 884 million people
• Inadequate access to water for sanitation and waste disposal for 2.5 billion people
• Excessive use of groundwater leading to diminished agricultural yields
• Overuse and pollution of water resources harming biodiversity
• Regional conflicts over scarce water resources sometimes resulting in warfare

Growing up in post-war America, I was always amused and a little perplexed by my Mothers mantra at the close of the evenings meal with…”be sure and clean your plate because there are starving children in Europe”…and I would think to myself how could finishing my broccoli help some poor kid a million miles away…I did voice this observation once to the full force of my Mothers indignation. Years later as an adult, I realized what my Mother’s point, totally lost on a broccoli hating eight year old, was one of appreciation…too “appreciate” the food we had in front of us and to think of those less fortunate than ourselves. Now I find myself thinking of others once again every time I pour a glass water at 2 am or while I’m taking a longer than normal hot shower or as I watch my sprinklers in action during a down-pour.

I have begun to address each of my short comings regarding water usage in my own home. We all, including my teenage daughter, now take shorter and timed showers. We have replaced our clothes and dishwasher with water-saving and energy efficient new models and until I can convince my wife that replacing our lawn with indigenous plants that use and need less water, I have replaced my sprinkler timer that now turns it’s self off when it rains. We have also joined several groups to help educate others about water usage and the crisis at hand as well as to raise money to help build wells and filtration systems where they are truly needed.

Like my Mother, I want my children to appreciate the bounty before them that they now, like most Americans, take for granted. We are truly blessed to live in the greatest country on the planet with our wealth of natural resources, technology and freedoms, but in most cases we are here only by an accident of birth…I didn’t choose to be an American, I was just lucky enough to be born an American and I shudder to think that if the dice had rolled in another direction, I could have been the one living in the Sudan, not to be awaken at 2 am by my son’s request for a glass of water, but to the screams of a sick child dieing from the water she drank because her thirst outweighed her thoughts of caution.

I encourage you to find out more about the Global Water Crisis and what you can do to help. Please visit the following links for information, participation and donations.

The UN Works



29 August 2010

The Perils of Modern Living

With chips and sensors as well as voice and face recognition programs being added to almost all household appliances these days; it will be just a matter of time before these machines begin to guide us through our day. There are refrigerators that scan the contents inside and make menu suggestions as well as wine pairings. Dishwashers that will suggest that you run at a later time or even wait for another plate or two. I am surprised that my microwave hasn’t asked if I really wanted that bag of popcorn after communicating with my bathroom scale.

We are surrounded by smart devices already; we have our iPhone, iPad and iPod at the ready 24/7, just waiting for us to ask them for advice or directions or to entertain us. They let us know if the dishwasher has sprung a leak, they tell us we are overdrawn at the bank and ask if we would like to transfer funds to avoid an overdraft charge. The will lets us know that it is raining and would we like to cancel the sprinklers. And don’t forget to lift your feet, here comes the Roomba robot vacuum. It is just a matter of time before we will live in an iHouse and drive an iCar.

The US military has been developing software to recognize stress under battle conditions and to offer suggestions and possible alternatives to an otherwise shaken up officer under attack…not to make the decision for him, but to help him understand the situation and the options available. This program will recognize voice variation, increase in heart beat and breathing as well as facial cues as well as past outcomes of similar situations and all with a soothing and calm voice...it may even tell a joke to lighten the situation.

While traveling across Florida a few months back, I had the opportunity to experience the GPS that came with my rented car and I am convinced that it had some how been programmed with one of these new military smart chips.

Having traveled across Florida many times and for many years, I felt I knew my way around the state like a native, but once I turned on the device that had been taunting me for several hours on the road, it was like crack cocaine...I was hooked...there was no turning back.

I gave up everything to my new friend, I trusted her completely and without question with my welfare, even when I knew she was taking me in the wrong direction.

Maybe it was the long drive across the pan-handle in the middle of the night, maybe it was the hypnotic effect of the passing white line on a long stretch of Florida back road, but at some point we began to bond, The boundary between man and machine began to blur, I found myself having full length conversations, as well as deep discussion on life, including issues regarding my wife and children. Her voice was soothing, confident and so self-assured, but then like all relationships, things began to break down and as quick as it was to fall in love, it was as quick to end.

Around 2:00 am in the morning, in the middle of no where, it happened. We lost the satellite feed, how was that even possible? And then the misdirection’s and wrong turns began and started to ask myself, “where is she taking me and why?”

I knew it was over when she began to mock me. I had missed my turn, even though she had given me plenty of warning, and there it was, a tone. She said “You missed your exit…re-calibrating”. You could hear it in her voice and that was it, neither of us spoke for the rest of the trip to the airport. I even went so far as to turn the volume down and followed the signs to the rental drop off. On the shuttle bus to the airport, I began to think that I may have been a little too hard on her as I began to miss her voice and guidance and come to think of it, her advice about the kids was pretty right-on.

We are living in amazing times and talking to my GPS or arguing with the microwave about the popcorn may sound odd and it may take sometime to get use too, but on the other hand, how many of us talk to our pets or plants as if they understood.

12 August 2010

THE LAST ENVIRONMENTALIST

In October of 2009, I was invited to attend the Governors Conference on Climate Change, the Road to Copenhagen in Los Angeles, California. This was the final gathering the troops, so to speak, before the Conference on Climate Change at Copenhagen in December of that same year.
The event was attended by Governors of other states, UN delegates, international media, scientists and engineers as well as non-profit organizations and corporate leaders…and all on the same page regarding Climate Change. All those attending were there for one purpose…to find solutions to a problem of global proportions.

I left the conference re-born with a new vigor as well as a new commitment towards the future. No matter what the talking heads on TV may say, it was clear that Climate Change is real and that a clear path on both a local as well as global level had been defined and that through our individual, as well as collective actions, we could make a difference.

About two weeks before the conference in Copenhagen was to begin, the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, announced that climate change is a real threat to the planet as well as all life forms and that it was being driven by human activity. A simple statement, with global implications and coming from a US Government agency as a statement of fact could alter the vote of global delegates attending the conference.

And then like a pack of rabid dogs, the attacks on the agency and it proclamation began from all sides, first with outright challenges to the findings as “bogus” and “pseudo-science” and then the real war began with the leaking of private communications among various scientists about undisclosed errors in the 2007 IPCC Assessment Report. The final blow came in the form of select leaked e-mails from the Hadley Climatic Research Unit at Britain‘s University of East Anglia. This “smoking gun” appeared to vindicate climate change skeptics by suggesting scientists were deleting information that contradicted climate change.

This media “blitzkrieg” completely derailed the conference, forcing complete delegations to back down or not vote at all and the majority of the conference was left to defend the data and the reputations of thought-leaders and leading scientists. The fallout was devastating…the Kyoto Accord failed to pass, scientists, educators and environmental leaders were fired or quit under a cloud of shame. This coordinated action, by persons unknown, countered the Gore-effect and set the movement back almost 30 years.

Now, not nearly a year later, the EPA has announced that the allegations made against their original findings were not substantial enough to outweigh the decades of evidence the EPA had amassed that clearly indicated that: greenhouses gases have risen to unprecedented levels; that the accumulation of these gases is warming the planet; and that climate change is visible through shrinking Arctic ice, rising oceans and rising temperatures. It also restated that the rate of climate change is increasing and that greenhouse gases are the driving force behind this increase. It is a sad commentary on our society that not one word about these new and reaffirmed findings made the evening news.

So…now what? Like a bad call at a ball game, where the winning runner was later determined “out” after reviewing the tape…the game is over and score is in the books to be forever debated. It is easy to all “foul”, but the crowd has moved on and gone home. We now need to pick our selves up and dust ourselves off and regroup and rethink our next move.

It has become clear to me that we most rethink the whole concept of environmental activism. As a species, we have had a direct impact on the planet since we first climbed down out of the trees and then turned around and burn them for warmth. It has taken generations upon generations to accomplish the damage we have done to our home. Today, there are few, if any, locations on the planet that have avoided the effects of man. We need to take an even larger global view than ever before…as someone once said, “one mans endangered species is another mans dinner”.

There are two types of environmentalists, those who wish to live in harmony and balance with nature and those who wish to dominate and control nature. I believe that as there are certain aspects of climate change that are beyond our control and that in many ways, I fear, “the train as left the station”. It is no longer about control or change…it is now about survival of the species. The new environmentalist must bridge the ground between the two schools of thoughts, one of control verses harmony and man over nature as well as to seek new paths to a more sustainable, eco-centric and bio-diverse world.

Evolution is at hand, and as it has been throughout the history of our movement, there are those who hunt, those who prepare and those who just eat. Where will you fit in?

21 June 2010

IN THE SHADOW OF GIANTS

In late 2009, a kitchen that I collaberated on for Bazzèo was awarded the GOLD medal for “Innovation in Design”, from the British publication DESIGNER. Shortly after the announcement, I received an invitation from CISCO BROTHERS to be a special guest at a dinner they were hosting for the Sustainable Furniture Council during the High Point Furniture Market. I was honored to be recognized for my work as well as the opportunity to represent Bazzèo.

When I arrived at the venue for the evening’s event, I was informed, by the press assistant for CISCO BROTHERS, that the other guest of honor was Vladimir Kagan, the iconic, mid-century furniture designer that I have idolized since my youth. And then, like a ton of bricks, the immensity of the evening struck me full force. Who was I to share the spotlight with a GOD? What would I say, how do I act? How do you speak with giants? For the first time in my adult life…I had sweaty palms.

About an hour before dinner, something changed…you could feel it in the air…the very atmosphere was alive with noise…”he’s here...he’s here!” And there he was, with two canes and an assistant to help him up the stairs…it was hard at first to see the young, handsome man from the photographs the sixties that I had grown up with, and then, there it was, that classic Kagan smile and that glint in his eye as he surveyed the room.
Shortly thereafter, Vladimir and I were introduced and we sat to have a drink before the evenings event was to begin. “So young man" he said as though I was a nine year boy..." what do you do?” “I am a designer” I said…”That’s wonderful…me too” he replyed. I spent the evening listening to his life story, from his boyhood in pre-war Germany to is arrival in 1938 to the US and his early love for architecture and his passion for design and at no point in the conversation did his 83 years of life seem to weigh upon him…his voice, his eyes, the excitement in sharing thoughts and ideas was that of a young man, full of “piss and vinegar” and ready to take on the world.

During the course of the evening he shared with me that he was at an interesting point in his life…on one hand a new book on his
life and collected works had just been released and the other he was just about to launch a new collection for Ralph Pucci in New York. Here he was at an age when most, if not all of his contemporaries were either retired or dead, and now at 83 he was still creating new products for a new generation.

As a practitioner of sustainable design, I asked Vladimir his thoughts in this regard…he become very serious and quite as he thought and after a minute or so he said…”You wont like this, but my new collection for Pucci has a fiberglass foundation…not very green”…he said and in almost the same breath he went on to say “Sustainability is more than materials, it is about longevity, but mostly it is about design. If something is designed well and made well, it will be kept and used for years, if not generations”.

As he was preparing to leave the dinner for another party, I reflected on the evening and felt a little star-struck and very pleased that my boyhood adoration for my hero had not been diminished by actually meeting him. And as we stood together for a press photo, he shook my had and said to me, in a voice reserved for nine year old boys, ”Keep designing” and as I released his hand, I realized that giants indeed are very real and that they still walk among us.