Al Gore vs Gorvachev: The .eco Domain

August 27, 2009

Those who try to lead the people can only do so by following the mob
~Oscar Wilde

Al Gore and Mikhail Gorbachev are in a battle for the control of the .eco domain. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), the body that oversees the internet’s structure, decided to make available the “green” domain. Gore supports Dot Eco LLC, while Gorbachev is linked to the Canadian Big Room through Green Cross International, the charity that he founded.

Big Room promises to donate a quarter of the sales to environmental and social causes, it is also saying that they will to ensure that it will award a domain name only to groups that provide proof of their green credentials, thus making .eco into a cyber environmental certificate. Dot Eco is promising 50% of their profit to green causes, and it has no defined if they will be vetting any company to get the .eco domain. Note the difference between offering a percentage of sales versus profits.

Of course, Gore and Gorvachev do not mention the amount of money that they expect to make with the .eco domain. The price tag is $100,000 USD, but the Daily Telegraph calculates is worth billions.

The problem I see with this internet news is the bastardization of the words sustainability and green. The word sustainability has been cheapen down in the media to mean “ecologically friendly”, ignoring the economic and social factors inherent to it. I do not want to start raging again the concept of “green” that neohippies all over the world are spewing guised as knowledge. This is the mob I refer to in my quote, the people that promote green business until big business want to go green, then they will cry foul and hypocrisy. The fact that they do not mention the huge profit they can make from the domain also makes me wonder how innocent the business are. It is OK to make loads of money, but is not OK to pretend all you want is a better world; Sustainability is about BOTH, and the fact that they do not recognise it shows how the leaders become the followers of wannabe good-doers.

Who are this companies to decide who is green and who is not? Certain companies are not environmentally friendly by nature, e.g. oil companies, but they are companies like British Petroleum with a CSR and some like Pemex or Shell. A lot of companies, specially organic promoters, lie about the goods of their “green” products. As students of sustainability, we have it hard enough to define which companies are or are not following sustainable practices, we do not need self serving institutions policing the internet, which is the ultimate free expression medium.

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Welcome to BIXI

May 12, 2009

Are we building cities for people or for cars?
~Jane Jacobs

I have never totally agree with Jane Jacobs’s vision of what a city should be: Her vision of high-density, highly concentrated cities is like a living hell to me, and my impression is that, for her, all cities should look like Manhattan; people cramming in high raises.

What I applaud of her vision is the pedestrian city, the city of parks and walkable avenues. I also think that any big city needs to cater to cars, AND public transit, AND pedestrians, AND alternative forms of transportation. There is no need to chose one over another, and I always tough that the cancellation of the Spadina Expressway and its branches was a huge mistake driven entirely by political, but not economical, social, or environmental reasons (Please moderate your hate mail, I have children reading this!).

The mere fact that megacities exist is antinatural. Such high concentration of people cannot be healthy, no matter how much environmental precautions are taken. Toronto likes to call itself a Megacity, but thank God is not, it is a very livable city, 2.5 Million people (aroung 6 in the GTA), with plenty of parks, ravines, rivers, bike lines, a not so good public transit system, and a not so good street/highway grid, BUT you can chose between a very livable downtown, an exciting midtown, and a familiar suburb, after all, Jane Jacobs also said that “the point of cities is multiplicity of choice”.

That is why I am impressed with Montreal’s new program: Today, at 11:00 EST, BIXI kicks off. The program is simple: You go to one of the 300 BIXI stations (BIXI=BIKE+TAXI), pay for a bike (first 30 minutes are free), ride it to your destination, and leave it in the nearest station. With 300 stations and 3,000 bikes just for starters, you would really have options.

bixiYou can also pay an annual fee of $78, taxes included, and ride unlimited. The bike looks cool, feels cool, and surely will improve your health. No more waiting for the bus, no more trying to squeeze in the subway: Take your bike and go!

These kind of simple ideas are what make a city works: To offer options, to let you chose your lifestyle, where you will raise your kids, and cater to your needs. I will be parking my car more often now that I have a choice (My famous bike was donated to one of my wannabe neohippie friends), and I think that is the way to change a city and its environment: person by person, ride by ride.



Earth Day 2009

April 22, 2009

This is our home, We just want to keep it clean.
~Hannah McPhee, Grade 7 student, Toronto, Canada.

There is an increasingly and most welcome pressure to manufacturing companies for reducing the packaging of their products and the dangerous components in their final goods, i.e. in Europe, Apple Computer is required to produce computers without lead. The trend is called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), and I would pair it with the existing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

This is not a bone the companies are throwing at us because they like us, they are being forced to do it by regulations, market expectations, and recent scandals. Last year, Menu Foods had to recall 5,300 products, killed more than 100 pets, and had to paid $42M in damages. Mattel had to recall 21 million toys and lose $30M; some consequences were grimmer: Zhang Shuhong, the head of the company that put lead on the Mattel toy’s paint, committed suicide at a warehouse.

I wrote some weeks ago about Monsanto and the response was a fair skepticism about the organization’s bona fides, but the manufacturers are not really just talking, they need to follow strict standards like SOX, REACH, EHS, ISO 14001, and a long et cetera.

I will celebrate this 2009 year with a new commitment. I was working in a lovely environment in Toronto and for personal reasons I had to move, last week, to Montréal. Now I am working in a company that helps organizations to comply with environmental standards. Companies spend $22B a year in environmental compliance, with $8B going to technology support. Rightist with Heart: You can do your business and still follow a CSR policy and regulations, and Leftist with Brain: You can push for change, make the world greener, and actually have a job.

Happy Earth Day everyone.

earth-heart-in-space-500-gif1


What is you label?

March 2, 2009

Labels are for cans, not people.
~Anthony Rapp

I was having dinner last night with some friends, and the conversation moved to political stances, neo-hippies labels, and driving cars. One of them even told me that he can see who I am referring to when I write in this humble media.

I assure to my rich readers (breaking the 150 a day record!) that I never have someone in mind when writing, unless I actually say so. The interesting part of the conversation was when another friend asked me how do I label me. “I am above labels” I answered, “everybody has a label” she replied.

According to one test I took in Facebook, I am a class-3 liberal. That means nothing when you can be a Class-10 liberal, or even a Class-10 conservative (Horror!). But I find more often than not that lot of  people like to put labels on themselves, and those labels, though providing a sense of belonging, limit their ability to think (note: I stopped talking about my friends here, do not send me hate e-mail!). I find people in the streets that join causes just because they are liberal, or because they are perceived as “just”, without further thinking. Can you be a liberal and a conservative at the same time? Can you be a leftist with a brain, and a rightist with a heart? Let’s ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Can you be pro gay marriage but against abortion?
  • Can you be socially liberal but fiscally conservative?
  • Can you support the efforts in Afghanistan but be against the Iraq campaign?
  • Can you give money to the World Wildlife Foundation while hoping that the guys at Greenpeace get soon real jobs?
  • Do you support welfare programs but are against a big government?
  • Can you drive a car but at the same time be an ecologist?
  • Do you think that a biker that rides on the side walk, run red lights, and go against traffic is actually worse person than a driver that obey the law?
  • Can you support genetically enhanced crops and still think that organic crops have a place on the market?
  • Can you be a meatarian but support vegans?
  • Can you work on Bay St (Canada’s Wall St) and still support the ideals of Mohammed Yunus about banking to the poor?

If you answer to YES to more than three questions, I welcome you to the unease world of thinkers that do not know all the answers, but actually may make a difference. The world is more complex than simple labels make us think!


Earth Day 2008

March 28, 2008

Nobody can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own.
~Sydney J. Harris

April 22th is Earth Day 2008, a day dedicated “to grow and diversify the environmental movement worldwide, and to mobilize it as the most effective vehicle for promoting a healthy, sustainable planet. We pursue these goals through education, politics, events, and consumer activism” (http://ww2.earthday.net/~earthday/about).

Similarly, tomorrow March 29th is Earth Hour, where we are invited to turn the lights off for one hour, between 20:00 and 21:00, with the sole objective of reducing greenhouse gases emissions and to have people talking about what to do to reduce people’s ecological footprint.

The event was born in Sidney, and it came from one of my favourites organizations, WWF. I have sponsored this organization since 1998 (http://mexicanphoto.tripod.com) and have always praise them to the point that I have solicited to work with them several times (they never called me, I sadly confess). In Talking With Perspective I elaborated about this organization and its efforts to make our world a better place. Having said that, I think that Earth Hour is just another feel-good ecological gimmicks.

The interviews of people promoting Earth Hour denote the “fun” part of being without electricity for one hour. They recognise the limited effect on greenhouse gases emissions but they mention that the real objective is having people talking about what can they do for the environment. The idea is amusing, but the problem I have with these events is that people often get a holier-than-thou feeling, talk about the problem, but do nothing more to address the issue.

The futility of such events derivates from the fact that real measures are really painful, no fun. To reduce greenhouse gases emissions we need to reduce consumption in our lives. We need to park the car, to reduce non-recyclable consumptions, to eat locally (no oranges in winter, unless you live in Spain), to stop spending our money in non-sense products. Lighting candles for an hour is fun, but in Canada, where almost our our electricity comes from hydroelectric power plants, lighting candles instead of a light bulb effectively increases greenhouse gases emissions.

What we can do to really have an impact? I propose some ideas in
Organic Versus Local, How to Eat Ethically?, My bulb is Burned, A Real Alternative to Ethanol? I, and A Real Alternative to Ethanol? II.

I will love to hear some of yours!

Seal Hunting. As we speak, several Quebecois seal hunters are heading to the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence for the annual harp seal hunt. Although the Government of Canada defends seal hunting, and despite my usual attitude towards commerce and the invisible hand that leads the markets, I can only regret that we are still pursuing such a barbaric custom, with no use whatsoever; seal products are non-sense idiotic luxury items that have perfectly substitutions. Going there and protest will do better than turning your light off for one hour, I will protest tomorrow in Montrèal, I hope you will too, wherever you are. I will trade you your one-hour with no electricity for one hour in front of a Canadian Embassy or Consulate, or if you live in Canada, write to your MP, or participate in one of the protests. Find more information in http://www.seashepherd.org/.


A Real Alternative to Ethanol? II

August 3, 2007

Ask not what the government can do for you. Ask why it doesn’t.
~Gerhard Kocher

Now, for the second part of what I would suggest as real alternatives to ethanol and other feel good but not efficient solutions to pollutants…

FOR GOVERNMENT

1) Promote the use of smaller cars, tax the Hummer and the nine seats SUV, do something, stop the madness of bigger, gas guzzling transportation.

2) Get Real with Public Transit System. Do not promote it based on good intentions, people won’t wait 45 minutes for the bus, neither will pay big bucks for bad services. Control cost of public transit and maintenance, keep the transit affordable so people will really prefer it over using the car. I had to buy a car because it was taking me two hours each way from home to work, while with the car it took me 35 minutes.

3) Control Suburbia. I do not agree with politic leaders taking about making denser residential areas to reduce the size of the city. For some politics easy street means having everybody living in condos, and then they call it the city of the future. No thank you, if you want your house with a front yard, back yard, side paths and a river close-by, go for it, but stop making suburbia streets looking like a spiderweb. Public transit need straight streets to be viable, and private cars need them for having options when commuting. Suburbia is plagued with thousands of cul-de-sacs that feed over used main roads, that are always in traffic jam because you have one or two options for getting out of the neighbourhood: Can you drive a bus here?

Toronto

What about his pattern?

Merida

Which pattern should we encourage?

4) Stop subsidizing easy solutions, like corn-based ethanol. Promote the use of smaller cars, build efficient roads, spend money in real public traffic needs, not in pleasing greedy unions.

5) Enforce traffic law for automobiles, but also for bicycles and pedestrians. Automobiles running yellow lights and making turns where they can’t create traffic jams, but bicycles running red lights and no making the four-way stop also create traffic jams. Pedestrians abusing the right of way, crossing on already stop-signals create a lot of traffic because the lights are designed to accommodate both pedestrian and automotive traffic; pedestrians abusing the right of way just cause more traffic jams by preventing vehicles’ left and right turns.

All these alternatives are going to affect our lives, but they for sure will create a more green environment where pedestrians, cyclist, and drivers will be better of.


A Real Alternative to Ethanol? I

July 27, 2007

No matter how dark the world becomes, the darkness can never extinguish the light.
~Reza Deghati

I had written two post trying to convince you that corn-based Ethanol will have a huge impact on the way third world people live and eat, and reading some of your comments in this blog and in several forums, I feel compelled to write a final exercise. I had to cut it in two parts because it was quite long, so this is the first part.

I do think that Biofuels may be an alternative to gasoline, but not by using corn-based ethanol, and not by mixing it with gasoline at a 10% ethanol content. Ethanol can come from grass, wood chips, sugar cane, and other non-staple foods; using non corn-based ethanol would not bind food prices to oil’s, and they produce Ethanol with a better energy conversion ratio (Ford Runge and Senauer)

Ethanol is a feel good solution because it allows us to keep our lifestyle. No need to park the Hummer, no need to move closer to work or use the public transit system, no need to carpooling…

The real measures are tougher and harder. It is not enough to save energy, it is necessarily to change our lifestyles. In this first part I present the suggestions for the citizens, and in the second part I will present the suggestions for the government

AS CITIZENS

1) Consume Local Produce. If you live north of parallel 40°, getting all those tropical fruits to your table is burning gasoline and turbosine. Try to discover the local flavours, you do not need to give up your bananas and kiwis, but maybe try the local berries and apples. Buy local tomatoes and potatoes instead of organic, long-hauled products.

2) Park the Car. Enough of driving to the corner store, walk, bike, use public transit if possible. It is not always possible, but if you reduce your car use by merely 10% the effect in traffic and pollution, as well as in your budget, will be noticeable.

3) Recycle, Reuse, Reduce. I know it is wheat grinned, but say not to plastic bag; carry your own bag, c’mon, you know you want people see you carrying that big bag with a photo of Earth and the legend ‘Love it or Leave it’, they sell them in the hippies stores, go get one. If Subway is wrapping your sandwich in more than one layer, stop them and ask them to give you only one, or any, you are going to eat it now anyways.

4) Live Simple. There is a lot of goods and services that you do not need but you do want. That big plasma TV that you are not really watching, those toys for your kids that are having more fun with the box than with the toy, those battery-operated gadgets. Prefer electronics with rechargeable batteries to ones with disposable ones. Prefer manual can-openers to electrical ones. Cook at home from fresh products, reject frozen meats (a home made cheeseburger is delicious and nutritious)

5) You know better than anybody what can you do, so get informed about your situation. If you are already being provided with hydroelectricity, changing your bulbs may have zero impact on the environment. If your town does not provide recycle for metals, try to reuse them. Baby seat is old or in an accident and need to dispose of it? Take it apart, recycle the plastic bulk, reuse the metal parts if possible, and use the fabric as paddings for something, or make a cat toy with them. Almost all non recyclable goods have some recyclable parts.

6) Stop drinking bottled water. It is just silly to pay from $0.80 to $6.00 for a bottle of stalled water that, many times, comes from the municipal source, meaning, bottled tap water. Municipal tap water get tested many times during the day, your bottled water does once, when is bottled, and then let stall. If the flavor of tap water bothers you, get a filter. If the tap water of your town is not potable, buy purified water from those 20 lt, reusable containers, they are cheaper and they do not pollute. In Canada, 85% of water bottles end up in the land field. Bottled water, unless specified from Spring source, comes from municipal sources -tap water-, so you are paying several times for what you get from your sink. Pepsi’s Acuafina is just filtered tap water, as many others. Read Evian backwards, that is what it means to drink this expensive, unnecesary product.

Tomorrow, what should governments do…