Tiffany Shlain’s stunning autobiographical film

Connected the FilmOn Sunday I invited my daughter to the Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley for the opening weekend of Tiffany Shlain’s latest film Connected. Since we both work at Cisco, and the movie trailer promised a discussion of internet and connectivity, I thought we’d both find it interesting and relevant to our day jobs. “It’ll be a nice Father-Daughter afternoon out,” I mentioned to Emily.

I had no idea.

Tiffany Shlain is the daughter of Dr. Leonard Shlain, a Renaissance man who was a surgeon, inventor and author. In May 2009 he passed away after a two-year battle with brain cancer. This film is an emotionally raw account of her father’s life and death; of his influence on her and the ideas on language and the brain he developed in his book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image; of
her own struggle to conceive a second child and of her eldest child’s brush with a life-threatening medical emergency.

She started work on the film five years ago, at that time her Dad was one of her principal advisers on the script. His passing both challenged her ability to complete the film and offered an opportunity to make her autobiography a point of departure for a wide-ranging consideration of the effect of the internet, connectivity and collaboration on society today.

Tiffany has been involved in the promotion of the web as the founder of the “Webby Awards” as well as an early proponent of distance learning.

The film uses animated timelines to span developments in science, technology and innovation from the Big Bang to the present day. She focuses on historical figures such as Einstein, Marie Curie and James Lovelock to detail the evolution of ideas from the era of the printing press to the web. The decline of the honeybee is seen as a leitmotif for the many threats to the planet that patriarchal, left-brained thinking has led to.

However, Tiffany takes an optimistic view of the potential for the interconnected world we inhabit to discover a way out of the crisis. By focusing less on linear text and more on pattern recognition and images, she suggests the Web might begin to undo the centuries exaltation of the masculine, left-brained approach to problems.

As Adi Da Samraj has written in Not-Two Is Peace, Only everybody-all-at-once can change the current chaos. Tiffany’s stunning autobiographical film holds hope that the interconnectivity made possible by the network will indeed become a platform for a sensible resolution to the challenges we all face.

Coming to Theaters

Connected is currently playing at selected theaters in San Francisco, Berkeley and Mill Valley, CA. Over the next six weeks it opens in Portland, OR; Monterey, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Seattle, WA; New York, NY and Denver, CO.

Guest Posting: The Global Crisis is Deadly, Dangerous – and it can be Overcome

Dennis Bumstead was General Manager of, and is now an adviser to, the Global Cooperation Project. He is an adviser to new initiatives, Four Years Go and the Green Tea Party, and a seed group member of his local Transitions Town initiative in Lake County, California. After teaching, at M.I.T., and at London and Antioch Universities; consulting to Fortune 500 corporations and working for The World Bank, for the past decade he has been recovering, by, amongst other things, working in the non-profit world – since 2006 with the Global Cooperation Project, promoting the ideas in Not-Two Is Peace by Adi Da.

The Global Crisis is Deadly, Dangerous – and it can be Overcome
by Dennis Bumstead, PhD

“The future is either going to be catastrophic disaster, or it is going to be the turnabout moment in human history, in which humankind will step out of its dark ages of “tribalism” into a new mode of human cooperative order.” Adi Da, Not-Two Is Peace, The Ordinary People’s Way of Global Cooperative Order.

While there are many encouraging grass roots efforts to change the monstrous trundling to destruction of the old global order, (take Avaaz, for just one), as yet there is still no widespread, really full consideration of our seriously threatening situation. Nothing seems to address the global totality of the escalating crises we are in.

Even thoughtful economist critics, such as Krugman, Stiglitz, Roubini and Sachs, who indicate that proposed economic solutions are not enough, confine most of their proposals to the economic and political sub-sectors of the total system.

We need change which is economic and political, but also social, and cultural, and psychological and spiritual. Truly transformative change.

The dire situation in the Third World

For those in the Third World, the escalating global crisis comes on top of system-endemic depredations of poverty, malnutrition and environmental degradation. Some two billion people are trying to survive on just two dollars a day. They also suffer the effects of the many wars which are conducted, sponsored or ignored (and always armed) by the so-called “developed” nations. Globally, we are making the absurd decision to let a third of humanity starve, if wars or preventable diseases don’t get them first. This is the great civilization, which we tell each other and our kids in school, has been “evolving” magnificently since the Renaissance!

The establishment global institutions, the corporate / governmental / military and “security” apparatus, the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, and big media obviously do useful and even many well intentioned things. But essentially they sustain the status quo, and its accruing benefits to the “developed” nations, and principally to the 2% who own and run these institutions. There is far more reporting on the “shape” of the recession (flat, double dip, etc.) than on the daily fact that under present rules of the game, the recession is a death sentence for millions of people in the Third World. These are people who would not need to die if the global system were managed for the benefit of all, instead of for the few.

Al Gore has been a sustained and effective communicative voice for environmental change. But that is only part of the problem and environmental challenges are not soluble without radical change in other arenas. Many alternative writers and activists like Hazel Henderson and David Korten likewise address critical sub-sets of the issues. Paul Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest suggested some years ago that there is a mostly invisible movement already tackling many of the issues. That is encouraging. But most of us who have been part of that world for years or even decades know how frustrating and difficult it is to move on to the level of change needed.

A full alternative: The Ordinary People’s Way of Global Cooperative Order

In Not-Two Is Peace Adi Da addresses the issues comprehensively.

The book spells out:

  • what the problems are
  • why the existing global system cannot and will not continue
  • that it will be determined, by our understandings and actions, “in the next handful of years” whether catastrophe or regeneration ensues
  • a proposal for the formation of a Global Cooperative Forum, functioning on the basis of “prior unity” and managing the globe for the benefit of all instead of the few.

(The book does not spell out a detailed action program. That must come from intelligent, creative and necessarily cooperative response and action.)

Adi Da points out that the world’s political economy simply cannot continue, built as it is on a model of growth for the developed and depletion for the “developing”. The system as is simply unsustainable, as more and more nation-”tribes” try to get in on the so-called “good life”.

These ideas make sense to “early adopters” – those who are already have noticed that attempting to reinstall the status quo is not working and who are already exploring and engaging real alternatives.

The book is fundamentally very clear. But its offers plenty of challenges to us all – because it calls for change we all fear is impossible and it addresses the way-deep conventions of global life that we all carry into the fray.

“Something new must emerge”

Adi Da spoke and wrote about these issues all his life. Beginning with a speech on prejudice and tolerance that he gave in high school in the 1950s, in various books, and summarily in Not-Two Is Peace. He spoke about the seriousness and urgency of the global situation on the last day of his earthly life, November 27, 2008. What he said was recorded and appears as the last chapter in the current edition of Not-Two Is Peace. These are the last paragraphs :

Civilization is in crisis. The human world altogether is in crisis. The notions of security, longevity, freedom from need, and enjoyment of life are showing themselves to be illusions–very tentative, and able to be enjoyed by only a relative few. And the relative few who enjoy such life-conditions do so at the expense of others–and, in fact, on the basis of the suffering and exploitation of others.

Something new must emerge. That something new is not going to emerge from the pattern of nation-states, or even from the gathering of nation-states (in the form of the United Nations). That something new can only emerge from everybody-all-at-once–the power of humankind as a totality.

Humankind as a totality must relinquish the old civilization. It must accept that the old civilization is dead, the old civilization is gone, useless, non-productive. The old civilization can no longer provide security, longevity, freedom from need, and life-enjoyment for people. Less and less can the old civilization do anything useful at all. The old civilization is now profoundly degraded, and will only get worse with time.

A new mode of social contract must emerge–a mode of social contract not founded on egoity. There must now be an egoless mode of social contract–based on cooperation, tolerance, and universal participation and accountability. Such is the nature of the necessary global cooperative order.

In order for such a global cooperative order to come into being, there must be a core institution based on the universal participation and accountability of everybody-all-at-once. I call that core institution the Global Cooperative Forum. The Global Cooperative Forum is the necessary transformative movement on Earth. (pp307-8)


We have some time – a few years – and we need to act, boldly. Immediate global catastrophe (as predicted frequently in the blogosphere) is not likely – in the short term. For just “a handful of years”, we will see continuing economic recession together with “moderate or localized disasters” (oil spills, local wars etc.) not in the least moderate for those directly affected, of course, but not yet the complete local and global catastrophe. For now, since the South American economic crisis of ’97 and on other occasions including the global crisis of ’08, the powers-that-be have demonstrated some significant, if last minute, capacity to prevent total global meltdown and sustain some functionality, in the interests of …. the illusory status quo.

Of course, it’s true that “in the long run, we are all dead” as Mr Keynes famously said, (and as Buddhists and other wise traditions have been saying for 2,500 years or so), but if the Global Cooperative Forum, as proposed in Not-Two Is Peace, is launched within a few years, significant improvements in global functionality can be made including some, like climate management, which will take an extended time for effective reversal of damaged systems.

There are thousands of large and small efforts underway, all working for global change. Efforts like Transition Towns, to give just one example. Many of them are collected together on Hawken’s Wiser Earth site. These efforts can come into effective cooperation through a Global Cooperative Forum. No utopias are to be expected, but there are much better ways than business as usual! If we take such cooperative action the planet can reach a state of equanimity so all of us can begin to live truly human lives.

What better to do with the next couple of years?

Not-Two Is Peace: The Ordinary People’s Way of Global Cooperative Order, by Adi Da can be read on-line at

Knickers to the Red, White & Blue

Visiting my home town in the UK last week, I experienced a new perspective on some of the cultural oddities of these United States. For instance, people in England, as elsewhere across the planet, hang their washing to dry outside on clear days. This obvious solution to the final stage of the laundry cycle – drying clothes en plein air – is anathema to most Americans, who see clotheslines as a symbol of poverty and despair.

Matthew Engel writes in the Weekend Financial Times about one woman’s fight to air her dirty laundry, highlighting key aspects of the oddly American prohibition on hanging washing outside. Neighbors are quick to complain that “trailer trash” inhabit a home where the clothes dry outside. Like Victorians who insisted on demure skirting around piano legs, they object to seeing the neighbor’s knickers. In many upscale communities there are strictly enforced laws banning outside clotheslines. The gas or electric tumble dryer is fired up even on the warmest of days.

Engel identifies the historical origins of the uniquely American obsession with burning carbon fuels in order to dry laundry in tumble driers, come rain or shine:

This one is just a very strange and very American prejudice, which is at odds with some of the country’s other priorities: far greater piety than is now normal in Europe (surely sun and wind are part of God’s benison?) and the right to do what the hell you want on your own property. As Ms Froehlich said: “If my husband has a right to have guns in the house, I have a right to hang laundry.”

This seems, however, to clash with two other American traits: the puritan tradition, lingering from the 17th century, and an unshakeable faith in technology, lingering from the 1950s. So now battle is joined between the anti-hangers and environmentalists who accuse driers of being responsible for 6 per cent of domestic US electricity consumption.

Hills Hoist An increasing number of environmentally aware citizens are pointing out the ecological advantages of the humble clothesline. Project Laundry List is a pressure group attempting to communicate the common-sense values and benefits to the planet of hanging laundry outside. I would encourage anyone interested in a sensible alternative to the foolish use of tumble dryers on warm and sunny days to join. My own family clothes are hung out on the Hills Hoist we purchased from the Australian supplier over ten years ago. And yes, those are my underpants (above) hanging out in the California sunshine.

Guest Posting: We Won’t Be Fueled Again! Or, An Inconvenient Arrogance

An open letter to GM, Ford and Chrysler (Mostly GM!)

By Betsy Rosenberg
Creator, Host – EcoTalk Radio
Founder – Don’t Be Fueled! Mothers For Clean and Safe Vehicles

Betsy Rosenberg
Dear Big Three Automakers;

So there you are in Washington DC with your hands outstretched and your hats out, speaking truth to power. “We’re in trouble Mr. Treasury.” “Please bail us out Uncle Sam.” “Please don’t let us die, don’chya know we’re too big to fail?”

Those are the plaintive cries echoing in the nation’s capitol chambers from the mouths of once powerful and almighty Titans of the SUV Age. And just like their gas-guzzling former darlings on wheels, these men – and they ARE mostly men – suddenly seem old, tired and of a bygone era. Good riddance gentlemen, your vehicles were just too big to succeed!

Somewhere in the depths of your gas-filled gut, you must have known judgment day was coming. All those years you made 10 to15 thousand dollars profit on each giant guzzler you sold, such a large mark-up that your sales teams were trained to push the biggest and the baddest models onto unsuspecting consumers. Car buyers looking for a 2 or 4 door sedan would drive off the lots feeling high and mighty about the great deal they got, until they filled up at a gas station. That’s when the gloating went into idle.

While there is some smug satisfaction to be felt by environmental activists and gasroots groups like the one I co-founded in 2002 called Don’t Be Fueled! Mothers for Clean and Safe Vehicles, the “we told you so’s” wont last long. They cannot because there’s so much work to be done to get our economy and environment out of the ditch, and darkness is fast approaching. That’s why there will be little reveling and no joy in Motown’s demise. If if the Big 3 go down, the negative ripples will be felt all the way to both coasts. That’s why we can no longer tolerate the dragging of wheels.

Reading about GM chief Rick Wagoner’s impassioned pleas for government intervention, I had to do a double take – almost gave me whiplash! Is this the same executive and company that has fought, with tens of millions in advertising dollars, to stave off government regulations that would tighten fuel economy standards and restrict tailpipe emissions in California and beyond? Is this the same Robert Lutz who proclaimed the dip in SUV sales a year ago was just a blip, and predicted gas would fall below two dollars per gallon again? (Well he was right about that one but surely cheaper gas is just a blip). Please excuse me Mr. Lutz, but with each passing day, you are looking more and more, like a putz!

I wonder what you’ve all been drinking – leaded gasoline perhaps? The u-turn in your change of tune, and fortunes, is staggering and surreal. And yet…this is precisely the scenario that a small group of Bay Area mothers predicted six years ago, and took that warning to GM!

I recall the meeting held with two of us from Don’t Be Fueled! and Dave Barthmuss, Group Manager for General Motors’ Western Region, Environment & Energy Communications team, who was in San Francisco in 2004 to meet with “stakeholders” to discuss GM’s green future. After thanking Bill Shireman (Global Futures) for arranging the intimate gathering, we proceeded to tell Mr. Barthmuss – in very plain Mom’s English – that the company was wasting its time and money talking to school kids about the hydrogen future. Presumably they were trying to get a jump on brand loyalty from the next generation of American drivers, but they were also carefully crafting a greener image than the Hummer was providing in those high-on-gas-fumes salad days.

We mothers, backed by thousands of other outraged moms – or so we said – were demanding U.S. carmakers give us more fuel efficient family-friendly vehicles, like hybrid minivans and SUVs. We were soccer moms, not anarchists, and we spoke in calm but firm tones. To his credit, Mr. Barthmuss listened intently when we told him they would be seen as greenwashers if GM, and other automakers (absent Honda which took the high road on this), continued to litigate, rather than innovate. We also scolded him, in our firm but gentle motherly manner, for ignoring hybrid technology available today, in favor of a hydrogen future that may or may not ever materialize. We told them if they didn’t get on the hybrid bandwagon they’d become dinosaurs and die an untimely death.

Several years later, at a future green car expo, Dave Barthmuss conceded to me, in hushed tones, that our conversation in that downtown SF conference room, had indeed, made an impact on him, but clearly he doesn’t run the company. The next time we spoke was on my national radio program, EcoTalk, a few years later when GM was rounding up the last of its EV-1 electric cars – to the great upset of many of its lessees who loved the groundbreaking vehicle.

At that time, General Motors was forcibly removing cars and trucking the new age wheels to the desert in Mesa, Arizona where they were crushed to death in the darkness of night. This was fall of 2005, during the same week Hurricane Rita was bearing down on Galveston, Texas stranding hundreds of SUV drivers who had run out of fuel along the shoulder of freeways as they fled for higher ground. Adding to the absurdity, GM announced that they would not be crushing all the EV-1’s. Instead they would donate a few to car museums so future generations (if there are any) could marvel at the late great electric car that supposedly nobody wanted. In fact, there were about 5,000 people on a waiting list for EV-1’s at the time, according to Chelsea Sexton, who, along with actress and activist Alexandra Paul, organized a week long protest outside the GM facility in Southern California, and who starred in the seminal documentary, “Who Killed The Electric Car?”.

So now you say we should bail you out; the government you fought, and the public you duped into thinking we “needed” these behemoths of the road? What do you take us for, fossil fools? No, you lived off those axles of evil, laughing all the way to the bank. Now we should save you from bankruptcy and self destruction?

Some of us would like to see you go away. At the very least go into a corner and have a “time out”. Think about all the bad car-ma you have wrought, all in the name of greed. Take ten minutes…or ten years…to feel appropriate remorse for letting down your children, your country and your sacred shareholders in the quest for short term profits, putting your special interests over public interest.

This obstinacy was especially heinous in the wake of 9/11, when you lobbied hard against strengthening CAFÉ standards, when it was not supposed to be “business as usual”. The NY Times was still running daily obituaries for those who perished when the Senate believed Trent-Lies-A-Lot as he held up a picture of a SMART car and said “if this legislation passes, it will be the death of SUVs and we’ll all be forced to drive purple-people eaters”.

You had the backing of President Bush who threatened that imposing stronger CAFÉ standards on American-made vehicles would “hurt the economy and cost jobs”. So nothing changed and look what happened; tens of thousands of jobs have been lost, the economy is in the tank, SUVs are sitting on car lots gathering dust and there are waiting lists for SMART cars more than a year long! And now that we are in the driver’s seat, and you are a deer caught in the headlights, let us, the American people, ponder your future.

I, for one, have already made up my mind. You sealed your fate several years ago when you put the brakes on progress. Otherwise we’d all be getting 35 miles per gallon, or higher, today. As we moms see it, the only way you can exorcise the Detroit Devil, and come out of your corner, is to have a total car-ma conversion, become a true leader and corporate steward of the environment. That’s right, if you want to survive, then we want change we can believe in. Begin with sweeping change at the very top of management – give walking papers to those executives arrogant enough to inconveniently come begging in personal corporate jets.

We mothers demand that green strings – no – make that green ropes, be firmly attached to any bailout package and that General Motors fully recycle itself into Green Motors – and not just in name, though you won’t even have to change your logo. After replacing the obscenely overpaid executives who drove you deep into the sea of red ink plow full steam ahead into a more sustainable future and retool those assembly plants to churn out hybrid vehicles in every model, and not just hybrid light; nothing that gets less than 30 mph will pass inspection. And while you’re at it, dust off that dormant electric car assembly line, crank those factories up to full gear, and accelerate America into a brighter, greener tomorrow. Give a jolt to the plug-in Chevy Volt you plan to debut in a year and make that prototype electric car your bread and butter. And last, but not least, you must agree to not spend one red cent on lobbying to defeat green legislation!

Then, after you’ve had your “come-to-what-would-Jesus-drive” eco-epiphanies, and your inconvenient arrogance is extracted in rehab, go on Larry King, Oprah and Ellen to beg forgiveness for your sins and to assure America that your overhaul will have traction. Then, and only then, can you get back to work and remember that we will be watching you. Nothing short of a total green makeover will satisfy us. If that sounds too radical and technologically challenging, consider that the Toyota Prius I’m driving gets over 45 miles per gallon and so did the first and second Prius’ I’ve leased since 2002. And consider the choice before you…either use those green ropes to pull yourselves through to the other side, or use them to hang yourselves.

Now, we ask you; doesn’t a big, bold commitment toward a greener future, through “re-in-car-nation”, sound a bit brighter? What’s that? Sorry, we couldn’t hear you due to the sound of another ice shelf crashing into the sea.

Interview: Mike Olson at the Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference

BECC 2008The 2008 Behavior, Energy and Climate Change Conference taking place November 16-19 in Sacramento, is focused on understanding the nature of individual and organizational behavior and decision making and using that knowledge to accelerate our transition to an energy-efficient and low carbon economy.

The Conference brings together a diverse group of policymakers, social scientists, program implementers, media, and energy experts to explore the practical application of social and behavioral insights to address our climate challenges. The goal is to achieve viable solutions for meeting long-term energy and greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets by improving the design, adoption, and continued effectiveness of policies, programs, technologies, and individual/organizational actions.

I met with an attendee, Mike Olson, who gave me an update on the importance of the behavioral aspects of climate change and energy consumption today. He highlighted why it’s important to make energy efficiency fun and the role communications plays in making people aware of the issues. To hear what Mike had to say, click on the podcast icon below.

Interview: Bruce Sterling – Cyberpunk author plans European book

Bruce SterlingSci-Fi legend Bruce Sterling (Heavy Weather, The Difference Engine, Distraction and other great novels) is one of the cyberpunk gang of authors who have seen through the more pollyanna views of ‘cool new technology’ to warn that innovation can potentially create disruptions in everything from the climate system to the social system.

I’ve been a fan of his since coming across Heavy Weather in the mid-1990’s. Climate change was not cool back then. We’re so much older than that now and the planet is so much warmer.

I was delighted, and honored, when I ran into him earlier today at the FiRE Conference in San Diego and he agreed to be interviewed for Professionally Speaking.

I really had no idea what he’d talk about. The last thing I expected was a discussion on the Mafiosi-like features of the European Union bureaucracy in Brussels. In fact he’s planning to set his next book in Europe. To hear him explain why he finds modern “post-national” Europe so fascinating, and why he predicts the view from across the Atlantic will soon “return to the slightly paternalistic attitude of American’s as poorly educated hay-seeds,” click on the podcast icon below.

Interview: Robert Swan, OBE – Man of Ice and Fire

Robert Swan: Boy’s Own Hero

Robert Sawn, OBERobert Swan is a modern hero cut in the cloth of Shakleton, Scott and the larger-than-life characters of the Victorian Era. His story is impressive. He’s the first person to walk to both the South and North poles. Given the effects of climate change on polar ice he’s quite likely also the last person as well – the melting of the ice means it’s now not possible to undertake the journey’s he completed twenty years ago – today you’d have to swim part of the way. The land of ice he traveled in his youth is now, literally, melting under his feet as global warming takes hold.

Since traveling to the Poles, and observing the effects of climate change and man-made pollution first-hand, Swan has dedicated his life to the preservation of Antarctica by the promotion of recycling, renewable energy and sustainability to combat the effects of climate change.

This is detailed on his website

Why 2041?

2041 is the year of the review of the Environmental Protocol of the Antarctic Treaty. Swan’s aim is to work towards the protection of this treaty, so there is never a need to exploit the last great continent on Earth for minerals and fossil fuel.

Swan and Kids in Antarctic

Following his success in removing 1,500 tons of rubbish from Antarctica and with the foresight and support of the Russian Antarctic Division, Robert Swan stood at the Bellingshausen Russian base on King George Island looking down on the beach that had been cleaned. From that moment he believed that an education station in Antarctica, where the world could see the beauty of this incredible continent, would inspire and educate people around the world about climate change and play a crucial role in promoting renewable energy, preservation and conservation for future generations.

He’s established an educational facility in Antarctica. The E-Base is a sustainable green building operated in an environmental and resource efficient manner.

Public speaking for the greater good

Swann is now traveling the world meeting with students in colleges and universities presenting the opportunity to join his campaign to help rescue these pristine wildernesses from the effects of climate change. He’s a compelling and fiery public speaker.

I caught up with him after a presentation to a small group of leadership coaches from Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto. He told me about the importance “telling it like it is”; about the urgency of his work; and how college kids are receiving his message.

To hear the interview, click on the podcast icon below.

HP Labs: Measuring lifetime energy use

Tell him there is measure in every thing
and so dance out the answer.

Shakespeare – Much Ado About Nothing

Hidden deep inside the HP Labs website on innovations for the environment which I profiled yesterday, is an important research theme for assessing the total environmental impact of technology on our planet.

Work being headed up by Chandrakant Patel on lifetime energy use introduces a new measure of environmental impact.

It can be argued that the environmental debate which is currently being conducted in terms of carbon emissions and carbon trading contain anomalies that limit full awareness of the impact of technology on the world in which we live.

Crushed Cars It’s like figuring out the cost of running your car by only counting what you spend on petrol. As any motorist knows, there’s also the cost of repairs, insurance, depreciation and so on. From the day you drive your new car off the lot until the moment it is crushed and recycled there’s a total cost of ownership associated with running a vehicle. A savvy owner would want an accounting of this and not be satisfied with measuring one factor while ignoring others.

Just so, the concept of exergy allows engineers and policy makers a measure for performing accurate environmental accounting. Exergy-cost analyses evaluates the impact of human activity on the current natural environment and measures the overall environmental sustainability of different products: whether it’s a plastic drinks bottle or a supercomputer.

To attain true sustainability, it’s not enough to simply consider costs of powering, cooling and operating IT. It’s essential to take a ‘cradle to cradle’ approach, taking into account IT’s entire lifecycle – from the raw materials extracted to build the machine to its manufacturing and to its recycling and potential reuse.

HP Labs is working with the University of California at Berkeley to build a tool called the Lifetime Exergy Advisor, which would assess the total environmental impact (from extraction to shipping to operation and recycling) of using different types of materials (or different combinations of materials), different processes, operational or reclamation techniques.

Patel’s novel framework is based on the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and aims to drive the deconstruction of existing value chains with high resource costs and replace them with net-positive end-to-end IT solutions.

This research moves the focus on Green IT solutions beyond the level of anecdotes and into the realm of rigorous analysis.

Chandrakant Patel “In the future, we will end up judging IT decisions based on the pool of available energy resources that we are depleting from the ground,” Patel says.

Technically speaking, this is the second law of thermodynamics, which says that although using a resource (e.g., burning coal) does not result in destruction of energy, it does destroy its available energy – that is, its ability to do useful work.

Such available energy is often called exergy and the unit in which it is measured is a joule.

“In a flat world,? suggests Patel, “the only currency is going to be joules – not yuans, not rupees, not dollars. What we want to do in our future research is to look at the entire IT ecosystem from end to end and quantify the available energy destroyed.”

This is a potentially game-changing way of looking at the environmental impact of IT.

HP Labs: Innovating for the Environment

It’s appropriate that in the same week Al Gore gave his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, HP Labs – the research arm of Hewlett-Packard – has published an elegant summary of a range of innovations which help deliver on the promise of a greener information technology landscape.

Al Gore challenged the world’s scientists to focus their research on confronting a planetary emergency:

The innovators who will devise a new way to harness the sun’s energy for pennies or invent an engine that’s carbon negative may live in Lagos or Mumbai or Montevideo. We must ensure that entrepreneurs and inventors everywhere on the globe have the chance to change the world.

So it’s significant that research institutions like HP Labs, with a network of seven R&D centers spread around the world, focus attention on environmental sustainability.

Innovative solutions from HP Labs which provide a way to minimize the environmental impact of data center computing include Dynamic Smart Cooling and Data Center Thermal Assessment Services – as well as looking beyond the data center to energy-adaptive displays, better ways to keep chips cool and video conferencing that has the feel of a face-to-face meeting. From the glass house to the executive jet there are now a range of environmentally sensible solutions that you can implement today, if you choose to do so.

These solutions from HP Labs allow customers the choice of an environmentally conscious alternative to the more profligate computing technology they may currently use.

So if you work in corporate computing, ask your CIO two things.

Firstly, ask them to evaluate the environmental impact of the entire IT life-cycle in your organization. Are there ways to implement technology that is good for business and good for the planet?

Secondly, ask them to consider their response to the question Al Gore posed yesterday in Oslo:

The future is knocking at our door right now. Make no mistake, the next generation will ask us one of two questions. Either they will ask: “What were you thinking; why didn’t you act??

Or they will ask instead: “How did you find the moral courage to rise and successfully resolve a crisis that so many said was impossible to solve??

It’s your choice.

Al Gore: A well-deserved Nobel Peace prize

Congratulations are in order for Al Gore’s well-deserved Nobel Peace prize recognizing his work to raise awareness around Global Warming. Key to the public perception has been his documentary film An Inconvenient Truth, which I’ve already recognized as a masterful presentation. Garr has written at length about the partnership between Gore and the awesome folks at Duarte Design who helped him realize his vision. The Nobel Prize is a real feather in their cap – wonder why there’s no mention of the movie on their home page?

For all intents the ‘debate’ over Global Warming is well and truly over. The race is on for solutions. Organizations like Chevron Energy Solutions are making a difference.

Leave it up to the dinosaurs in the British Judiciary to take issue with the film. Judge Michael Burton apparently feels the need to warn British teachers wanting to show the film about the “distinctly alarmist” tone Gore uses in the film.

Dinosaur … Dinosaur…
Justice Burton … Justice Burton…

Well, hello? What tone would his judgeship prefer? Something more, moderate, more ‘sound’? Perhaps I say, chaps, things are getting a little warmer, but nothing to get alarmed over. Why, we’ve been through this as an Island Race before. Back in Roman times they had vineyards in Sussex. Decent glass of claret resulted by all accounts, what?