Where’s the green vision?

In a recent post, Joel Makower points to the seemingly missing vision of what a “bright green” future might look like as playing a significant role in the lack of on-the-ground support for sustainability.

There’s long been a fundamental problem with the green world — the myriad companies, activists, evangelists, politicians, clergy, thought leaders, and others who, each in their own way, have prodded us to address our planet’s environmental ills. And it explains why, after four decades of the modern environmental movement, only a relative handful of companies and citizens have joined in, while many more have dragged their heels to slow, or even reverse, environmental progress.

The problem is this: No one has created a vision of what happens if we get things right.

I couldn’t agree more – I think it is something that is sorely lacking. For me, one of the inspirational elements of Cradle to Cradle was it’s appeal to our sense of aspiration for a better life. It presented concrete examples of what a bright green future might look like, that there was an alternative to business as usual that met our aspirational needs without bankrupting the planet.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and I’m more and more convinced of the need to reframe the debate about “growth” and sustainability.

Instead of spreading a message of “less”, we need to appeal to our natural, innate, human sense of aspiration – replacing the aspiration for “more stuff” to focus on what really does constitute a “better life”.

Can we do a judo move (I’m channelling Naomi Klein in No Logo here), to take the weight and momentum of this idea of “growth” and “aspiration” and hurl them towards sustainable goals?

Maybe it’s possible, but to do this we absolutely need a vision of what the future could be like – something to aspire to (rather than away from) – as Joel suggests.

In an earlier TED video, Barry Schwartz talks about the paradox of choice – that as we get more options (which, he points out, is often equated with “freedom”) we are actually less happy.

I think many people recognise that our drive for “more stuff” isn’t working. Certainly in my day-to-day interactions with friends and family we collectively recognise the problems in the banking system, in the corporate payouts for un-performance, in deteriorating public health and education systems, of layoffs following multi-million (if not billion) dollar profit announcements. And of course in the global financial meltdown.

A lot of us intuitively know this is wrong. It grates against our sense of justice, of our ideals of meritocracy and our social values. But we feel trapped – lost without an alternative. If only we had… a compelling alternate vision.

This is a latent force that, I think, has yet to be fully tapped. If we can reframe the debate – from the oppositional framing of “growth vs. sustainability” to the inclusive and aspiration embracing “wellbeing and a better life” – I believe we can go a long way to leveraging this sentiment to achieve significant, and rapid, change in our world.

EP progress/budget

In a previous post I outlined the costs of recording an independent EP, and hinted that with Fuzu‘s second EP we were trying to significantly reduce our costs.

Some friends who read the post found it useful, and I’ve also participated in some further discussions on a related post over at new music strategies.

As we’ve just completed mixing and mastering (i.e. we’re close to finished the project) I thought it might be worthwhile looking at the costs so far…

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The lull

Given how quiet I’ve been around these parts of late, I thought I might post a quick “what’s been happening” post.

  • Fuzu have finished recording and mixing our second EP – tentatively titled “The Point”. We’ll be mastering later this month, and hopefully completing the artwork shortly after. I’ll hopefully have a follow-up to my budget post soon reflecting the actual budget.
  • I’ve been working solidly on two big projects (one for Inspire Foundation, another for UNSW. This has taken up a big chunk of my time (as one might expect) – but I hope to be a little less frantic come February.
  • Thanks mostly to Timo Rissanen, further work has been done on refining the pattern’s for Arketype’s first range, which will be launched for Winter 2010 now, instead of Summer 09/10 (I’ve been a bit too busy with the ‘day job’ and have missed some deadlines). We Buy Your Kids are working on the graphic designs for the range – I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with given the logo treatment Sonny and Biddy, the duo behind WBYK, came up with (more on that front soon).
  • Holidays – I’ve taken 3 weeks off work to visit family in Queensland – which was a wonderful break (that’s not quite over yet…).

Recent reading

I’ve also been doing a lot of reading of more “popular science” accounts of network theory, prompted in part by an ABC doco on the topic, and also economics and the history of money. This was in part prompted when a friend of mine sent me this video on money.

After reading Peter Bernstein’s A Primer on Money, Banking, and Gold it seems that many of the claims in the video are reasonably accurate.

I also recently finished Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody which looks at some of the societal changes being spurred on by networks. Especially interesting to me is the notion of “reduced transaction cost” for organising collective action.

George Soros’ The New Paradigm for Financial Markets was also an interesting read, albeit a bit repetitive. What’s most interesting is that an über-capitalist such as Soros would have such disdain for the models and assumptions underpinning the industry that he profited so well from.

Critical Mass by Philip Ball is a great overview of what he describes as an emerging “physics of society”. The book covers network and game theory, and emphasises the extent to which power laws and “phase transitions” apply to social phenomena. It also weaves into its narrative the ideas of many economic and social thinkers in history – which was fascinating to me as someone who’s not overly familiar with many of their contributions (at least not directly/explicitly).

Continuing the theme I’m currently reading Duncan Watts’ Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age. It delves much deeper into “small world” networks (popularised by the “Kevin Bacon” game) which are covered more lightly in Critical Mass.

Letter to Tanya Plibersek re: Clean Feed

I decided to write to my Federal MP, Tanya Plibersek, about the Government’s plan to introduce an internet filter (which I’ve written about previously).

Over the jump is the letter itself – but I would also recommend checking out the Electronic Frontiers Australia briefing on the issue.

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Daily Tele’s irresponsible reporting

The past few days I noticed that the Daily Telegraph was on an all out campaign against the current NSW Government, with headlines lambasting their mini-budget.

Admittedly, it’s quite a state we’re in. The Government has admitted it’s nearly broke, but the Telegraph would no doubt cry foul if the Government increased taxes. Of course, by cutting the budget, as the Government did, they also get hauled over the coals.

When I read a Telegraph piece on the mini-budget, it a) proposed no alternatives to how the Government would cut expenditure and b) did not actually show any analysis as to where else in the budget where cuts could have been made. How we’re meant to be “informed citizens” from what passes as journalism over there is beyond me.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. I was going to write a blog about how the Telegraph had basically set itself on a campaign to oust the Labor government and that this was irresponsible journalism. I was going to say “just come out with it and call on the premier to quit”, which was obviously what they were aiming for.

Well, at least they had the courage to put their agenda on the front page. That article, however, points out that the Telegraph’s editor is leaving their post. I’m interested in the details: was this because they stepped over the line and were sacked?; or because they felt the direction of the paper was heading in the wrong direction?

In either case, perhaps the change of editors will restore the paper to some semblance of journalism, rather than activism. The Telegraph has, of course, for a long time been less about news and more about headline grabbing and entertainment, but recent events go far beyond what I consider journalism at all.

In my opinion, good journalists report the news, not set out on politically motivated campaigns. Especially so when they continue to pretend that they’re “unbiased” and “have no agenda” as so many journalists do.

In a global credit crisis, with the State nearly broke, we don’t need this kind of bullshit passing as journalism. We need to actually get some analysis and some help understanding how we can realistically get out of this mess.

Sacking the premier and calling an early election (which I’m informed via @neerav on Twitter is wishful thinking) is not the solution.

Not least of which because the opposition is a ridiculous mess – I don’t even know who the opposition leader is, let alone what the Liberal’s policies are and how they plan to get us out of this mess… (The two party preferred system is broken at the best of times, but it’s especially poor with such an appalling group of pollies that this State has.)

*Sigh*

Update: Just a quick clarification: I mention the Liberal leader and policies as I know that, in the end, a swing away from Labor means a win for the Liberals. And this “two horse race” view of political races continues to be propagated by mainstream media, further perpetuating the myth.

With this in mind, even with a significant swing to another dominant party such as the Greens, the preferential system is likely to install either Liberal or Labor into Government.

Personally I vote on the basis of the local candidates’ strengths and approach to things, not on party lines. But I’m aware enough to know that in the current system such a backlash is likely to result in a Liberal win – thus my comments above.

The great firewall of Australia

As most folks know, I’ve long railed against the Chinese government’s internet censorship regime, commonly referred to as the “Great Firewall of China”.

Seems that the fight is about to take off in earnest to stop Australia from introducing a similar scheme.

The Australian Government has announced that they will introduce filtering for all Australians. Ostensibly this is to stop child pornography, but don’t be fooled – this is not what it’s about. Crikey explains it well:

The Government is fond of yelling kiddie p-rn every time anyone disagrees with their censorship policies, but there’s always been a problem with that line: that content is already illegal, and the AFP works with international agencies to target that content at its source, and to target Australians who view it. The real problem with the censorship regime (besides the economic burdens it will cause) is the extent to which the Government wishes to control what Australians can view online, and its chilling effects on free speech.

What the Government has proposed is a blanket censorship regime with no “official” opt-out (these measures are likely easily circumventable using TOR or similar anonymous proxy services). The censorship extends to anything deemed “illegal”.

Need we be reminded of the sedition laws that are in force currently, a result of the alarmist response of the Howard regime to the London bombings. The following excerpt from Sedition Law in Australia published on the Arts Law website:

The classic definition of sedition is that it is a political crime that punishes certain communications critical of the established order. Sedition crimes have been enshrined in state and territory based Australian laws since before federation and inserted into the Commonwealth Crimes Act in 1920. Under the Commonwealth Act, seditious behaviour that intended to: (i) bring the government into hatred or contempt; (ii) excite disaffection against the government, constitution, UK parliament and Kings Dominions; and (iii) bring about change to those institutions unlawfully, was criminalised.

One reading of this suggests that content on this blog, and many others, could be considered “seditious”. Some may argue that this is absurd and that it would never happen.

Supposedly we’re meant to set aside the fact that the “absurdity” of other anti-terrorism laws being used for political purposes was also claimed. Need we mention Hanneef?

The fact is, there should not even be the possibility of free speech being curtailed in such a fashion.

Even if we concede (which I clearly don’t) that we need a filtering mechanism in place, the best place for this is in the home – in a decentralised manner, and by educating parents on how best to protect their kids. The choice is a parental one, not one for the state.

Update: just came across the No Clean Feed site that provides some actions (and a sample letter) if you oppose this legislation.

Is it any wonder MSM is struggling

Mark Day Blog – The Australian – ranting about how the only model for journalism is:

  1. Private sector business
  2. Advertising supported

"By definition this is a job for private enterprise because governments cannot reliably scrutinise themselves. Journalism that reveals information that some people do not want you to know is time-consuming and costly to sustain. Therefore it can be supported only by a profitable business."

"There is only one model I know, or can see, that can do this, and that is the traditional advertiser-supported model that has sustained newspapers for more than a century."

Well here’s a quick drive-by rant of my own: (And FTR: no, I don’t consider my blog “journalism”)

I supposed I don’t need to point out the conflict of interest here? A professional journalist protecting the status quo (and keeping the bosses happy). And the delicious irony, after a bunch of blog bashing, is that Mark published it on his blog. But even putting those aside…

Seems Mark’s got blinkers on – there are other models, and some bright folks are exploring them. Not all of them will work or survive – but one thing’s sure, advertising supported journalism (esp. in traditional print form) is not one of them. Yes, we need to work out other models. Yes, blogging is not the (only) answer – though it certainly has a valuable role to play.

Has he not been watching/listening to Jeff Jarvis, or Jay Rosen, or Seth Godin? There are a bunch of ideas out there for those willing to listen and try them. The problem is the risk involved – either personally (for journalists stepping out on their own) or organisations (who are gunshy to invest in something that might not work).

As an aside, it strikes me that the more money involved, the less good journalism is performed, because entertainment apparently sells better. That’s why I no longer get most of my news through mainstream sources, relying primarily on my social networks (Twitter, blogs and Delicious) to keep perspective on what’s happening in the world. Every time I watch what passes as news on TV, or even read the headlines on news.com.au (SMH is slightly better), I cringe.

This is not an ideological argument, btw – i.e. not a “left vs. right” argument. Good journalism IMO transcends that. It’s not the sway or bias that’s the issue, it’s the fact the content itself is not up to par. Until that changes, payment for the skill of journalism will continue to suffer.

iPhone launch thoughts

Some time ago, when it was first announced the iPhone 3G would be coming to Australia, I quietly (and sometimes publicly) hoped that the 3 network would be the network to launch the iPhone. I thought the only way we’d get decent data charges was if 3 had the phone – given how tremendously awful those charges on other networks are.

As the launch approached, I watched as telco after telco announced that they would be stocking the iPhone: first Vodafone, then Optus, then Telstra.

It’s worse than it appears

As expected, all of them have awful data plans. Optus is by far the most reasonable. Chatting with a friend the other day, they asked “isn’t 500MB enough?” in reference to the Optus plan. Given the pitiful data plans offered by carriers to date, the 500MB option from Optus seems like a good step forward, but I think that for the iPhone this is not enough for all except casual users on a device like the iPhone.

Mark Pesce in a post for the Future of Media blog: iPhail, writes:

“My guesstimate is that the average iPhone user would use somewhere between 2GB and 5GB of mobile data a month – a figure that’s bound to rise as 3G/HSDPA units reach the field.”

Before Mark published his post, I’d come to a similar conclusion. One of the new features of the 3G iPhone is “Mobile Me”, which pushes calendar, contacts and other data to the phone. That will chew up a significant amount of bandwidth. And as Mark points out, that 500MB could pretty easily be chewed up by an avid reader of the SMH.

But I think what has been missed by the telcos is the fact that the iPhone interface, especially the browser and applications (the Apple iPhone App Store also launched yesterda), changes the way iPhone users will use the phone for browsing – increasing it’s use as a truly mobile internet device.

Think about it – using Google Maps on my Sony Ericsson W880i is a “last resort” because of how small the screen is and how difficult it is to input addresses and navigate the maps (I do dig my phone, but that aspect of it is crapful). On the iPhone, I suspect Google Maps will be a “first resort” application – and it will take a fair chunk of data to support that kind of use.

Could Apple have done better?

With the launch of iTunes – which took an enormously long time only to result in a reduced catalogue at higher prices than our U.S. counterparts – Apple Australia demonstrated they had difficulty negotiating the kind of deals that their U.S. compadres could manage.

The inability of Apple to select an exclusive partner (due to legislation restricting the practice) in Australia no doubt didn’t help their cause. But the deals (especially Telstra’s pitiful efforts) are really, really poor – even compared with existing mobile broadband offerings from the same providers. Mark Pesce calls this discrepancy an “Apple tax” – and I think that’s a pretty fair assessment.

So what about 3?

Of course, the glaring omission on that list of telcos is 3. On their blog, 3 claim that Apple are not allowing 3 to carry the iPhone. I find that hard to believe – and I wonder what 3 are asking for that’s holding things up.

But, according to the SMH blogs, word is that Apple and 3 will come to an agreement by August. The general gist of the blog post is “wait” – see what 3 offers. One expects 3’s deal will be stronger than competitors to make up for the fact they missed out on the launch hype. And that, in turn, might apply pressure on other providers to rethink their offerings.

Sounds like good advice to me.

Suckered by the hype

With all this in mind, I’ve been saying to friends for the past few weeks “I’m going to wait a few weeks after the iPhone is launched before I buy one – just to see if there are any issues and to see what 3’s offer is.”

But walking past the lines at the Apple store, Optus and Telstra stores, I got sucked in and decided to at least find out if I could buy an iPhone outright and use it with my current carrier (which is 3).

I went to the Apple store, expecting that as the maker of the device they would be selling the iPhone outright. I waited until the line was a reasonable length and joined in. A friendly Apple staffer was walking the line and asked me “You’re here for the phone?”. Umm, yes. “Do you have 100 points of ID?”. Check. Yep. “OK, so you know we’re not selling the phone outright?”. Umm. No.

I find it quite incredible that Apple are only selling iPhones on plans. But the friendly staffer suggested I try Telstra (across the road) as they were selling it outright.

So across I went, into another line. I get to the (clearly exasperated) staffer. “So what are your plans?”, I ask. He silently hands me a bit of paper (clearly exhausted). Same crap plans. No mention of outright purchase. “So can I buy this outright?” Yes, I’m informed. “But the phone is locked to the Telstra network and we can’t unlock it.” What do you mean, you can’t unlock it? “I don’t know. ‘They’ just said we can’t unlock it. I think it’s something to do with the demand.”

At this point I’d spent enough time in lines to decide I should stick to my original plan and wait for 3’s offering, so I didn’t bother going to Optus and press the issue.

So on the launch day of the iPhone, I was unable to buy one outright… Seems like an odd sales strategy to me. But perhaps, in the end, I’ll be better off being made to wait. One can only hope…

Bad for industry

As an aside, John Allsopp on the Web Directions blog talks about how this affects the web development industry more broadly in iPhone in Australia – now for the bad news.

OK, in the scheme of things, this is not really a huge deal. World hunger is a big deal. But, this is not just the lament of some yuppie who wants a cheaper phone deal. To me this will actually have a huge impact on Australia’s capacity to become a serious player in the next wave of web innovation – mobile web applications and services. People simply won’t use mobile web services (except the “free” access to carriers own services – my bet is that this will come soon enough). Which means little if any incentive for local companies to innovate in this, a space with almost limitless potential. In markets with inexpensive data charges, all the innovation will take place, and when affordable mobile arrives here, those innovators will be ready to swoop on our market, with local companies in no place to play catchup.

I have to agree.

Geo-sequestration mis-reporting

Environmental Leader highlights a Reuters report on the new geo-sequestration plant opening in Victoria.

The basic principle of the “plant” is to pump 100,000 tonnes of CO2 into the ground (and, I suggest, hope that this won’t cause unforseen and/or longer-term issues). I’m dubious about geo-sequestration generally, but that’s not my real gripe with this report. This is the lead:

A geo-sequestration plant, capable of capturing and compressing 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide which is stored two kilometers underground, has opened in Victoria, Australia. Researchers hope the project will help to significantly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

(Emphasis mine.) Whilst, technically, it could be argued that sequestration reduces the emission of greenhouse gases – because it’s funneling the emitted CO2 into the ground – it’s not actually reducing the emissions. Just storing them somewhere else for an indefinite period.

But the corker is when the voiceover of the report says:

… it uses experimental low-emission technology that has the potential to reduce the burning of fossil fuels.

This is patently untrue. In fact, a successful trial is likely to lead to a continuation, or even increase, in the burning of fossil fuels, as it delays the need for investment in truly renewable energy and allows the continuation of use of coal fired power stations and the like.

I’m astounded that an agency like Reuters would get this so wrong in their report…