A quadrillion lives are in your hands. We often hear people talk of “protecting future generations”,and there is certainly a lot of value in thinking of your children and grandchildren when thinking about the future – it makes it personal.
But there is an additional way of thinking about this, which carries equal moral authority – that of existential risk at a human-extinction level.
If you use a pan-generational lens, the lives of all of the potential future generations are at stake.
Think about that idea for a moment. The future of human history.
You can also contextualise this by thinking of the differences between (a) peace, (b) 99% extinction, and (c) 100% extinction. What are the relative differences between (a), (b), and (c)?
Arguably the Manhattan Project was the first time we’d formally assessed the potential for omnicide – the study looked at whether a nuclear blast would create a chain reaction in our atmosphere, potentially destroying all life.
With an economic lens, we could consider our current financial markets as a “flawed realization” – we may have reached a technological maturity, but our financial infrastructure may be dismally and irremediably flawed: and a systems change needed to remedy it. It certainly has succeeded in ephemeral realization – but this spike of value is countered by our global consciousness of our bounded condition and is degrading rapidly.
The image of our island Earth has taken a generation to kick in.
Humanities “production possibility” frontier depends on the resources available at any point in time, but the amount of accessible free energy is finite and bounded. Whether we are 1 billion or 10 billion.
The distance between the reality of physics and the reality of our economic and social structures are so great, that it’s hard to envisage any material solution.
When we look at facts, such as the fact we have lost four fifths of arctic ice volume since 1980, that cleantech is already a $trillion dollar industry (about 1% of planetery GDP), or that PWC think that there might be some kind of “business as usual” scenario in a 6C world we know one thing: we have to change. Typically change doesn’t happen slowly: it waits a long time, then happens much faster than anyone expects. We need to remember that to create the problems of an industrialised world, we spent *multiples* (not fractions) of our GDP. While this has created many kinds of wealth, the systems-cost, the existential risks, are still struggling to be truly taken on-board.
I wonder, now, what change we will see in our generation, and if we will even be in a position to reflect on what was needed to make a meaningful difference.
I view environmental sustainability (including but not limited to climate change) as an existential risk. In the systems design of our economic, resource-scarce, finite and bounded ecosystem, there is a desperate need to create meaningful mechanisms to engage, at scale and in the mainstream, that enable people to discuss, understand and act on their environmental impact.
In an age of fiduciary, evidence-based decision-making, our balance-sheets are missing volumes of data.
We have tried to create laws, processes and standards (e.g. Kyoto, Climate Acts, ISO), and ratings (e.g. green scores) but none have managed yet to scale to hundreds of millions of people and businesses and dozens of countries in any meaningful way.
There are many, many reasons for this, but looking forward, we have new tools (the web, open data, new currencies, pervasive networks), and new ways to drive collaboration. In order to catalyse engagement, we can now create different starting points: the rest is down to collaborative (p2p) engagement between people with the absolute minimum of hassle (e.g. understanding methodologies, zero or low financial costs of change, and minimal time and effort) to improve our insight. We then need to automate everything, so the lowest barrier to entry is to do nothing at all (we’re all busy and/or lazy to change unless confronted).
One question is “how can we influence our Treasuries?”. I wonder who will be the first to truly bring change here – governments in the EU, China, or the USA? or Kickstarter and BitTorrent? Or who will be the first to join up our global data-ecologies to reveal the health benefits of energy efficiency, the true financial impacts of education, or the social benefits of codified law.
To catalyse change needs many forcing-functions: policy has a role and will play a greater role over time, but until then we will continue to rely on the goodwill and foresight of the small number of inventors, innovators, influencers that have actively engaged in trying to make a difference. We need to build more success stories, based on evidence, and redirect our collective energies at scale. And fast.Continue Reading »
I described some of AMEE’s journey: through open data aggregation and distribution, accessibility, provenance, and structure. But better data isn’t enough – no one (well, a few) really cares about the science or the technology. We need to engage with stakeholders to provide meaningful insight and relevance to their business. AMEE will be launching a new initiative this year to create an environmental score for every company in the UK.Continue Reading »
I’ve been tracking Arctic sea ice melt for over 5 years – we now seem to have broken the 2007 record. There are a few week left in the melt season, so this isn’t the minimum yet….
More from the USA National Snow and Ice Data Center
Opinion from The Guardian
Note the grey bar, indicating the +/- 2 standard deviations range.Continue Reading »
Since AMEE’s inception in 2005, we have recognised that the emerging sets of data needed for carbon calculation and energy assessment present huge privacy issues.
Combined with the automation of data capture through smart-meters, mobiles, purchases and other “digital identity” sources there is a real need to address some fundamental issues.
As we help to glue together the instrumented world, what are the outcomes and what are the risks?
Energy Identity = The digital embodiment of
your physical consumption
(from slide 32 of my eTech presentation)
This concept applies to everything from individuals to businesses to countries, a product to a supply-chain, a home to a bank.
- Data ownership
- Data privacy
- Data portability (sharing) and control
The good news is that we’ve “seen this movie before”. In the 1990s we stumbled online, throwing our digital identity information all over the place, in an unstructured manner, and didn’t consider these points until it was too late. Initiatives such as OpenID and OAuth are only now trying to re-invent control mechanisms to address what we all need.
With energy, we have an opportunity to pre-emptively declare the rules of engagement. Some activity is already evident in this space (e.g. Google Powermeter testifing to congress). In the UK, since we have the UK Government as a client, I was able to seed some of these ideas some time ago (the UK is also gifted with the presence of MySociety).
To summarise, the issues include:
1. Data ownership
This should really default to you/your business (i.e. the source of the consumption).
The EULA of your service provider should ensure that you own your data and have expressly given permission to use it. Standard stuff really, but we’re a long way from that in this emerging dataverse.
From AMEE’s perspective, when we hold your data it’s subject to the EULA of the provider you are coming through (e.g. Dopplr) and defaults to you otherwise.
2. Data privacy
As with other services, the default should be to use a series of seperate silos.
AMEE holds each client’s data in separate silos (e.g. Google in one silo, Morgan Stanley in another). This allows for both digital separation and, if required, physical separation. AMEE can shard to enable this.
Further we anonymise the data on the way in – in fact we insist that clients don’t use AMEE to store e-mail addresses etc, and just use the anonymous key AMEE provides to link their user data. This key is held in their user database and points to the anonymized “AMEE Profile”. Given how much personal data is stored about businesses and individuals in AMEE we wanted to pre-emptively push away this risk, and instill confidence in our clients that even if AMEE were compromised, their users would remain anonymous.
3. Data portability (sharing) and control
Having established that ownership and privacy are the two foundation stones, we can then acknowledge that the ability to share information is extremely important. To do so opens a lot of issues, which we’ve been working on for a long time now, but we are confident that AMEE’s model enables extremely rich data portability without compromising ownership and privacy, by pushing control back to the data owners.
Thanks to effective anonymisation and security, we also believe that data mining and interpretation can be carried out without compromising privacy. Because AMEE has an effective security strategy in place, we can interpret and analyse the Energy Identities of, and on behalf of, our clients, and their clients, in an aggregate fashion, without becoming a “big green brother”.
The results of this research can be used to track the impact of policies regarding energy generation, distribution and use; and to confirm and develop carbon accounting protocols.
Thankfully most of the these issues are recognisable trends in the online development.
The challenge, and more importantly, the opportunity is to pre-emptively address these issues as we move to a deeper interconnected world.
The potential is for all of us to become involved in the development of our low-carbon economy, the democratization of energy and sustainability and, we hope, to avoid mass extinctions.Continue Reading »
Two pieces really struck me today. I think we can expect to see this form of direct action increasing. The issues (control of resource, environmental sustainability, and social sustainability) are intrinsically linked, but the shift that appears to be happening is of awareness, urgency, and engagement in direct action.
Chomsky’s piece in the Guardian is “what next for Occupy“;
“Coverage of Occupy has been mixed. At first it was dismissive, making fun of people involved as if they were just silly kids playing games and so on. But coverage changed. In fact, one of the really remarkable and almost spectacular successes of the Occupy movement is that it has simply changed the entire framework of discussion of many issues.”
The other was NASA’s James Hansen & Co. starting direct action against the distribution of coal – below is an open letter that Hansen has sent to Warren Buffet (I’ve copied as his website seems to be offline at the moment).
Sent By Mail:
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
3555 Farnam Street
Omaha, NE USA 68131
Dear Mr. Buffett:
We want to inform you that on Saturday, May 5th, from midnight to midnight, we intend to prevent BNSF coal trains from passing through White Rock, British Columbia to deliver their coal to our coastal ports for export to Asia. We have chosen May 5th to take this action because it has been designated an International day of action by 350.org, with the theme “Connecting the Dots.” We can’t think of a more important connection to emphasize than the one between burning coal and putting our collective future at risk.
Who we are and why we are prepared to engage in civil disobedience to stop your coal trains:
We are a group of citizens in British Columbia, Canada who are deeply concerned about the risk of runaway climate change. There is a broad scientific consensus that we must begin to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions this decade to avoid climate change becoming irreversible. At the same time, governments and industry are eager to increase the production and export of fossil fuels, the very things that will ensure climate change does get worse.
These two things are irreconcilable, and since we can’t dispute the scientific findings or change the laws of nature, those of us who care about the future must do what we can to reduce the production, export and burning of fossil fuels – especially coal.
Since we know what is at stake we feel a moral obligation to do what we can to help prevent this looming disaster. On Saturday May 5th that means stopping your coal trains from reaching our ports.
Our actions will be peaceful, non-violent, and respectful of others. There will be no property destruction. We are striving to be the best citizens we can. We will stand up for what we believe is right and conduct ourselves with dignity.
Why we are involving you:
We know that you have canceled plans to have your utilities build coal fired power plants. Like us, we are sure you know that coal is the dirtiest of fossil fuels; when burned it produces the most global warming pollution per unit of energy. We assume you are familiar with the growing number of scientists – including NASA’s Dr James Hansen, and IPCC member Dr Andrew Weaver – who warn us that if we burn the world’s accessible coal reserves we will destroy the benign and hospitable climate that has allowed human civilization to flourish.
What we can’t understand is why you allow your railway, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, to continue shipping vast amounts of US coal out of Canadian ports to be burned in Asia. No matter where this coal is burned, it brings us closer to a climatic point of no return.
Mr Buffett, you have spoken eloquently about the need for shared sacrifice. But with all respect sir, when it comes to climate change it appears that other people are doing all the suffering while you profit from the very causes of the problem. That’s not fair, and we urge you to apply the same moral reasoning to the climate crisis as you have to the problem of economic inequality in your country.
You are in many ways an important figure of conscience in the world. We appeal to you to seize this opportunity and make a bold decision on coal. With your support we can ensure a healthy future for our children and people around the world.
We acknowledge that this action is taking place on unceded Coast Salish territory.
British Columbians for Climate Action
Chief Willard Cook, Semiahmoo First Nation (sent by fax)
Andrew Weaver, University of Victoria
James Hansen, Columbia University
Bill McKibben, 350.org
Specific details on our intention to stop your coal trains on May 5th:
For 24 hrs on May 5th we are prepared to stop all loaded coal trains traveling west/north that approach mile 122 (White Rock pier) on the New Westminster Subdivision, Northwest Division, of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. From dawn to dusk on May 5th we will also stop all unloaded coal trains traveling east/south approaching mile 122.
We will not interfere with other freight trains using this line on May 5th, nor will we interfere with the movement of Amtrak Trains using the New Westminster Subdivision on that day:
- Cascades # 513, passing mile 122 at approximately 7:40 a.m. en route to Bellingham;
- Cascades # 510, passing mile 122 at approximately 10:30 a.m. en route to Vancouver;
- Cascades # 517, passing mile 122 at approximately 6:45 p.m. en route to Bellingham; and
- Cascades # 516, passing mile 122 at approximately 9:50 p.m. en route to Vancouver.
We will step off the tracks well in advance of the arrival of Amtrak service. Our spotters to the south and north will give us notice of the approach of any freight traffic, and we will step away for these trains as well. A 21 MPH speed restriction is in place for some distance both sides of mile 122 of the New Westminster Subdivision, which is the site of a well used foot crossing that is safe and familiar to both pedestrians and train crews.We are confident that we can safely remove ourselves from the tracks to allow the passage of Amtrak service and freight trains.
Our spotters in the USA and Canada will provide us with notice well in advance if coal trains are moving anywhere on the New Westminster Subdivision on May 5th. We ask you to stand down all coal traffic on this day in order to avoid a confrontation at mile 122 and potential disruption of passenger rail service.Continue Reading »
Calling Virgin Galactic: “if we could get our political leaders to have a summit meeting in space, life on Earth would be markedly different”
Alex Evans reflects “during a break in an all-day meeting of senior policymakers at the United Nations, on the subject of ‘global sustainability’. Know what? The room had no windows”
On this excellent snippet from and interview with Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell:
“Every two minutes, a picture of the Earth, Moon and Sun, and a 360 degree panorama of the heavens, appeared in the spacecraft window as I looked. And from my training in astronomy at Harvard and MIT, I realized that the matter in our universe was created in star systems, and thus the molecules in my body, and in the spacecraft, and in my partners’ bodies were prototyped or manufacted in some ancient generation of stars. And I had the recognition that we’re all part of the same stuff, we’re all one. Now in modern quantum physics you’d call that interconnectedness. It triggered this experience of saying wow, those are my stars, my body is connected to those stars. And it was accompanied by a deep ecstatic experience, which continued every time I looked out of the window, all the way home.”Continue Reading »
A tragic and untimely loss.
David is still a huge inspiration, his thinking, consideration and actions have touched so many people. I am glad we had the opportunity to share ideas, conversation, and a beer.
Cheers to you David, and thank you.
For those who didn’t know him, I strongly recommend reading and distributing his works.
In particular, his contributions available via:
David was a co-founder of the Green Party in the UK, and amongst many things, developed the idea that we might have a personal carbon budget…
Others have already written far better than I can here:Continue Reading »
Building on this
1) add the cyclic patterns for every form of centralisation->decentralisation
technology | politics | finance | energy | cosmology | art | religion | etc…
2) look to see if there’s a damping factor
Are we dealing with periodicity that has diminishing amplitude?
ie. thinking in a political/government sense: do we “normalise” into the status quo – and then need a revolution to introduce a new disruptive signal?
How quickly do we get to the “right” cloud-edge balance?
Can we map the damping factor to accelerate change? (ie. reduce wastage)
If we use a large pile of sand, could we get expectations towards “sustainability”(1) moving faster?
Or am I trying to invent (another) negative entropy machine?
Or is it all just about gravity?
(1) Sustainability being defined as “measuring the rate of change of the right thing”.Continue Reading »
Science, data, internet, ontology, work and non-work themes converging – my post on O’Reilly RadarContinue Reading »
- “digital inheritance”
(e.g. what if you could inherit your grandfather’s iPod?)
(digital products and products transforming into services)
- desiring what we need
(as opposed to the consumer movement that drove us from a needs-based culture to a desire-based culture)
- modelling flow rather than inflation
- and change and adaptation in an elastic society
(to redefine the notion of “growth”)
Far, far too much to try and summarise here, but hopefully good springboards for discussion. A recurring theme is the transformation from products to services (eg. the instant car rental schemes where you can rent for 30 mins). Digital music has already dematerialised the physical product of music to replace CDs.
Inspired by the powers of ten, I’ve been wondering how in the world might make the 90% reduction in CO2/GHGs that’s required to address climate change. This is an order-of-magnitude change in the way we currently live.
We need to all make “powers of ten” changes to our lives, from the CO2 intensity of our power production, to the way we relate to products and services.
So, to my latest call to action…
“Turn every product into a service for 10 people”
In fact, maybe Delta Ten should be an add-on to Six Sigma?
“Delta Ten seeks to improve the sustainability of process outputs by identifying and removing the causes of inefficiencies (errors) and variation in manufacturing and business processes, and extends this to usage patterns (e.g. resource sharing and re-use), consumption and waste, by using strong reductionist techniques to diminish the use of energy and materials by a factor of ten.”
- delta 1 = 10% efficiency increase (10% reduction in materials, increase in energy efficiency, or energy consumption through re-use)
- delta 9 = 90% efficiency increase (90% reduction in materials, increase in energy efficiency, or energy consumption through re-use)
- delta 10 = The process is rendered wholly and demonstrably sustainable through the effective and credible management of resources (e.g. renewable energy, managed forestry, effective waste management, and cradle-to-cradle/biomimetics).
A delta 10 means you have created an environmentally-intelligent service, not a product.
Anyone like to help?Continue Reading »