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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?