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.


6th August 1945

August 6, 2009

Violence is the last resource of the Incompetent.
~Isaac Asimov

On August 6th, 1945, the city of Hiroshima, and 90,000 persons, ceased to exist.

By December, the number would rise to 140,000.

Lest We Forget.


Nationalism, Multiculturalism, Assimilation, and Patriotism

August 5, 2009

Could I have someone to relate to? See, I’ve been travellin’, travellin’ forever, and now that I found a home, feels like I’m in Heaven.
~Hans Zimmer (The Traveling Song)

Anybody that has been in this planet the last fifteen years have heard how the world is getting smaller: Globalisation, global citizenship, the global village, and the flat world. Pundits are announcing the end of the nation-state, the end of the local community, and the upcoming era of the global person. They claim that nationalism is dead, and that ethnicity will only matter in history books. Nicholas Negroponte went as far as stating that nationalism is a disease. There are voices claiming that “The debate on national identities has become obsolete”.

I’ve been around the world in the pourin’ rain,
Feelin’ out of place, really fellin’ strange,
Take me to a place where they know my name,
Cuz I ain’t met nobody that looks the same

As a student of sustainability, it is very important to understand the social fabric of a given society. We target three bottom lines: Economic, Ecological, and Social, and you cannot target the social bottom line with a “one size fit all” culture that the Western in general, and the United States in particular, pretend to impose. Legions of immigrants come to Europe and Angloamerica, and they integrate, and they prosper, and for some, nationalism is a matter of the past, since they want to belong to their new home. But for every successful immigrant, there may be another ten who did not prosper, and there are thousands who are still in the homeland, keeping their own culture alive.

The United States still possesses the unique ability to assimilate new citizens of every race, religion, and culture into the fabric of its national and economic life, but the United States is not the world. Jerry Z. Muller declares:

Americans also find ethnonationalism discomfiting both intellectually and morally. Social scientists go to great lengths to demonstrate that it is a product not of nature but of culture, often deliberately constructed. And ethicists scorn value systems based on narrow group identities rather than cosmopolitanism. But none of this will make ethnonationalism go away. Immigrants to the United States usually arrive with a willingness to fit into their new country and reshape their identities accordingly. But for those who remain behind in lands where their ancestors have lived for generations, if not centuries, political identities often take ethnic form, producing competing communal claims to political power. The creation of a peaceful regional order of nation-states has usually been the product of a violent process of ethnic separation. In areas where that separation has not yet occurred, politics is apt to remain ugly.

I’m a fish out of water, Lion out of the jungle,
(He a fish out of water, loin out of the jungle)
I need my peoples, my peoples, take me to my peoples,
(He got jungle fever, show him some love, show him love)

Nationalism leads to wars. In Europe, after the conflicts of 1914 and 1939, a web of transnationals institutions were created, first to integrate Germany in a trade-dependent Europe, then to resist Soviet pressure, and finally to become a supra-state. Educated Europeans and North Americans like to think that nationalism is behind and that the globe is now a village. However, for the thousands of Latin Americans, Asians, and Africans who die every year trying to reach the promise land, the frontiers are not so open.

Just gotta have someone, gotta have someone, to relate to, to relate to,
(I found a brand new home)

In 1900 there were many states in Europe without a dominant nationality, by 2007 there were only two: Belgium is close to break up, and Switzerland, where the domestic ethnic balance of power is protected by strict citizenship laws. We also have Canada, where the ethnic division between French and English is a constant burden to Canadians.

Ethnonationalism has played a larger role in modern history than is commonly understood. Look at the post cold-war conflicts: Yugoslavia, Rwanda, the partition of Czech and Slovaks… Some places inside the Francophony only welcome francophone immigrants, and even in cities like Toronto, they are huge areas where people from one ethnicity dwell.

There are two ways of thinking about national identity. One is that all people who live within a country’s borders are part of the nation, no matter their origins. The other one is ethnonationalism, which defines a nation as a shared heritage, a common language, a common faith, and a common ethnic ancestry. Québec was recently recognised as a nation by the Prime Minister of Canada. Ethnonationalism draws much of its emotive power from the idea that the members of a nation are part of an extended family, ultimately united by ties of blood. It is the subjective belief in the reality of a common “We” that counts.

The end of the British mandate of Palestine created Israel, where two ethnics, Jews and Palestinians. Israel has been unable to live in peace for 61 years. The independence of Algeria saw the end of the Algerian-European ethnic, which was forced to go back to Spain and France. In Sudan, a civil war between the Islamic North and the Black South is still hot.

We, as promoters of sustainability, need to take the idea that nationalism is dead into serious consideration. The worlds elite, that probably includes all my readers (Westerns with access to internet and an interest about social issues) and fellow bloggers, belongs indeed to a supranational, non-ethnic world, but for each of us there are thousands and thousands who still believe that they only be home when everybody look like them.

Travelin’ the world like a tourin’ man,
Been around the planet in a foreign land,
I’ve seen things that I thought I’d never see,
Take me to a place where they look like me.


New Comic

July 31, 2009

The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best – and therefore never scrutinize or question.
~Stephen Jay Gould

I decided to go all the way and create a comic strip about sustainability. Since my favourite characters are the neohippies, I would like you to introduce Wann Abe and Hippe Te. He is a PhD student from UBC, she is a rich, alternative artist, and both live, where else? in Vancouver.

More Characters coming soon! Click on the image to go to Socialist!

socialist090731

Any resemblance to any real character is pure vengeance.


Economic Development and Women Freedom

July 22, 2009

I would rather trust a woman’s instinct than a man’s reason.
~Stanley Baldwin

I am giving up. I have been reading, for about one month, literature about the relationship between the wealth of a country and the participation of women in that society.

I wanted to find whether there is a relationship between the wealth of a country and the freedom that woman enjoy (or exert). Furthermore, I wanted to find which precedes what, under the “green” (or politically correct?) assumption that the more freedom women enjoy, the wealthier the country is.

According to a 2007 PriceWaterhouseCoopers Women Economic Participation:

It is apparent that any success in promoting gender diversity in the workforce will have a tangible positive impact on economic growth in both the developed and the developing worlds, and that continued focus on this area is therefore warranted

The study compares data from Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Spain, Sweden, and the United States. Furthermore, The Economist declares that women contribute more to the GNP that new technology or emergent economies (“The Importance of Sex,” April 12 2006).

There are several indicators about women welfare: government legislation, access to education, availability of child care, good business practices, and positive societal perceptions, but the one we have stats for is participation in the workforce, and we can argue that the participation in the workforce is reflection on how easily women can get in the workforce and how easily they can remain there (benefits, equal payment, maternity leave, etc). I am then comparing data from 1980 to 2005 to see the relationship between working women and the wealth of a nation, as measured as GNP per capita. Sadly, after a month of efforts I cannot prove the thesis and, if any, I have found controversial results.

Let see a map relating the % of women in the workforce and the GNP per capita of all the countries in the world, first from 1980, then for 2007. The data is available at gapminder.org.

In 1980, the wealthiest countries in the world are the Oil-rich Arab states (in green) where women rights are very limited, and the participation of women in the workforce is small. In contrast, the poorest countries in the world have a high participation of women in the workforce, arguably for the need of two incomes in these countries’ families.

1980

25 years later, the difference is not much, except that the Oil-rich countries have less income and more women labour force.

2005

With this evidence I venture that the premise that a rich nation will give its women more freedom (measuring as the % of labour participation) is not completely correct. What about the more accepted view that the more women in the workforce make a nation wealthier? Since the poorer the country, the more participation of women due to economic needs, we need to isolate countries and put them on a time line. Does the condition of the country improve as more women participate on the market force? The results are extremely confusing, let’s look at the eight countries form the PWC report:

8study

The DEVELOPED countries increase women participation AND increase level of income. China gets richer but women stay in home, India gets also richer but sends women home, and Brazil manages to stay as poor as 25 years ago despite the steep increase of women in the workforce. Since the PWC study excludes Africa and the Arab countries, let’s see what happened around the world.

Chile, Canada, and Austria pretty much increase participation of women and level of income…

ChCanAus

Mauritius and India increase income but send women home.

MauInd

Vietnam and Uganda started with pretty much equally in gender in the workforce and then increase the income…

VieUga

And some Latin American and Arab countries increase the participation of women but remain in the same income bracket.

rest

So, it is in developed and western societies where we can appreciate the relation between women participation and level of income. These societies usually are very open and protective to women’s right, and they keep increasing their level of income, but we have examples when participation of women remains low and the income still increase. The subject is too complex to be analysed here, and surely will continue to generate rivers of digital ink in the coming years.


A Brave New Iran

June 22, 2009

Fight till the last gasp
~William Shakespeare

Courage, my friends from Iran; The world prayers are with you.

Fight for your liberty, fight for your people, fight for your sons, and the great Persian Culture we all respect and admire.

آزادی آزادی خدا بزرگ است

آزادی آزادی خدا بزرگ است!

آزادی آزادی خدا بزرگ است!


Of Pollution, Growing Up, General Motors, and Why I Miss the Bomb

June 16, 2009

 Why do people move to suburbia? To have kids! So no wonder it seemed boring and sterile. The whole place was a giant nursery, an artificial town created explicitly for the purpose of breeding children.
~Paul Graham
 

I am a little concern about reading all the news about the dead of the car. Fiat buying Chrysler and General Motors closing the Pontiac line and declaring bankruptcy is given enough stimulus and energy to some neohippie pundits to go all the month without food or water. A refreshing reading on the matter is the right-wing Driving Like Crazy from P. J. O’Rourke. He is a huge car lover, and the reading of his book’s subtitle can explain his points of view. I do not agree on half of what he says, but it is certainly a entretaining lecture.

A lot of people feel a natural hate for cars, which is as logical as hating a blender or a toaster, since car are mere appliance. This hate is even harder to understand since cars pollute so little today. 30 years ago you could smell the sunset, now the cars run so efficiently that the pollutants are going down every year:

Cars produced 1997- Hydrocarbons 0.26 grams/Km
  Carbon monoxide 2.1 grams/Km
  Oxides of nitrogen 0.63 gram/Km
Cars produced 96-86 Hydrocarbons 0.93 grams/Km
  Carbon monoxide 9.3 grams/Km
  Oxides of nitrogen 1.93 grams/Km

The problem is not only cars. Cows produce half a pound of methane a day, and methane traps 20 times more heat than CO2. Industry pollution, deforestation, the fact that some of us live in places that require a lot of energy just to keep us alive, all these factors are as important as cars when considering polluting and greenhouse gases emissions, but cars are an easy target because they are pervasive, because they are apparently politically incorrect, and because most car bashers do not own cars.

I do not blame the cars, I blame the cities.

Yes, the cities.

More specifically, city zoning in Residential, Commercial, and Industrial.

50 years ago everybody lived either in a farm or in a city. Not a city as we understand it today, but a close array of diverse buildings, neighbourhoods, and a mix use of soil. Farms were right outside the city, they fed the city, keep the air (somewhat) clean, and were an escape for the weekends. After World War II, in North America, and in a lesser extend in Europe, the city planners decided to create highways and suburbs. Gone were the neighbourhoods, the mix use of soil, and the liveable city. People of the likes of Robert Moses decided that cities must be divided in residential, commercial, and industrial areas, effectively separating people from the places they worked and shopped. The car became an appliance.

As the developers focused in Suburbia, the cities core languished. No main street could compete against the gigantic Shopping Centres from Suburbia. The price of downtown properties either plumbed and attracted the poorest people, or skyrocket and attracted banks and highly capitalized companies. There was not place for the middle class left in the city, and people moved to suburbs because they want to have their families in a better environment. Nowadays, people do not live in the cities, just students, bankers, very rich guys can afford live in the nice areas of the average North American city, while the rest is left to poor immigrants and commercial areas. Normal people live in suburbs, as much as they may hate it. Suburbs are designed to keep away people who do not live there, so everything is 40 kilometres of everything. You need to drive everywhere, and the windy roads keep public transit restricted to a few areas. Paul Graham makes an excellent read in Why Nerds are Unpopular, and the effect of suburbia and modern life in North American kids.

The car enables people to get out of the city and live in these places “as fake as a Twinkie”. If in a society you cannot get up, at least you can get out, and the car help you do so. We need to work in making our cities liveable again, but, contrary to Jane Jacobs who though that we all should live in high-raised buildings, I still think that you can live in a small house close to downtown and walk, bike, use the public transit, or why not, drive. To accomplish this, there are two major, major shifts on urban paradigms that need to happen:

1) Stop zoning. Houston is one example on how you can have certain urban restrictions (no slaughterhouse in a primary residential area) while keeping your neighbourhoods walkable. Midtown Toronto is also an example where residential areas all have a main street that can serve all the residents needs.

2) Decentralise. Megacities will be always problem-prone. Why so many people live in cities? Because they offer options that small towns do not; but a city does not need to be Tokio or Los Angeles to offer a reasonable amount of restaurant variety, theatre, festivals, and other cultural attractions. The middle city needs to be profit from. Places like Winnipeg, Austin, or Morelia are cities located in what could be boom areas in a future if we stop clustering all the services and companies in the same cities.

I understand that cluster happens and that they may be economically reasonable, but why we have clusters of clusters like in L.A. or Mexico City? A national policy should be created to populate areas outside the big cities to ease the impact on environment and the need of suburbs and one-hour commutes.

Suburbs have a negative impact on transit, on economy, on children development, and force us to live in our cars. They are boring places to live and to growth. Yes, they are safer for our children, but I remember growing up in a city, with all the excitement and the challenges, and still coming back to a small house with a backyard and a tower of tires that were used by a myriad of cats to sleep in. There is not need to chose between an apartment in downtown or a huge house, identical to the next huge house, 30 kilometres away from were your best friend lives.