What’s the Big Idea?

How to Save the Planet Once Computer at a Time?

Here’s some random, rather stream of consciousness stuff that’s been floating through my mind since our VT 350.org Road Trip and VT Climate Action Day.  These ideas were sent in emails and are presented here in unedited form.

Message #1:

Glad to see you jumping on this.  I’ve been doing some dreaming so here’s a bit about where I’ve been going.

Since the solution to CO2 reduction is a big project, I think we need to start with a big ask.  I’m not worried about cost – if we come up with a well thought out project I’m sure we can find tens, if not hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars (think Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation scale.)  I envision a project the scale of 350. org that becomes big enough to handle information sharing and collaboration on CO2 reduction in communities as small as neighborhoods, but scales to handle worldwide collaboration on the scale it will take to solve this problem.  If Vermont can get something going and it is scalable we’ll be able to make a real difference.  I envision something that is part wiki, part social networking, part Google Documents, maybe even part Skype with recordings and integrated and searchable, but also has heart and is able to capture subtleties of person to person storytelling and integrate non-technological communications.

At this point I’d rather not see us get bogged down in the technology because we’ll need to find new ways to integrate technology with low-tech solutions for people and places who don’t have things like internet access, or to automate converting email to letters that can be sent from a central repository to legislators.

I’d suggest we begin by doing a serious needs assessment: asking all stakeholders (ie, a wide selection of people involved in the movement) what they would want to do with it.  It’s clear to me from the road trip and Action Day that people feel there are better ways to communicate than at least some are using now.

As examples of the sort of thing I suggest our document include (and reflecting what I’ve heard and thought myself) are wish list items like:

  • A repository of solution templates
    • Detailed so that we don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel
    • Contains project plans, scripts, grant apps, whatever worked for that project
    • Easy to search by application, scale, cost, etc.
  • Create a way to monitor state legislative action and broadcast it to those who have interest.
    • Many NGOs are already monitoring committee work.  Do they already produce daily synopsis?  Could they be distributed?
    • Do we need to arrange for volunteers to monitor committee work?  Can this app make that easier?  Automate phone calling for volunteers?
    • Categorize by
      • body (house, senate, governor’s office, state agency, etc.
      • subject (housing, solid waste, energy: solar, wind, biomass, fossil, nuclear, etc.)
    • Allow subscription by category (or multiple categories)
  • Integrate with social networking to plan and coordinate events
  • Provide a searchable calendar that can be subscribed to my subject category, geographic area, date range (for travelers), others?

To start I’d like to see a brainstorming sessions with a wide range of stakeholders, from McKibben to those who’ve only just begun to come on board, including people on this site, reps from NGOs, maybe even someone from Markowitz’s office, the legislature, etc.

Once we have a needs assessment we can evaluate what technologies exist, what does not exist, whether it can be built by integrating existing technologies, or whether it requires new technologies.

I hope this gives you some idea of what I am thinking.

Message #2:

I’d love to start by setting up a web form in a survey format for each item and asking people to add their ideas.  That would then build a database and allow voting on ideas.  We could easily set up something like that through an existing technology like WordPress.  We could then allow people That might be a nice template for how interested people all over Vermont could collaborate on building this.  Rather than driving to a meeting, it might be an energy saving way to brainstorm of ideas for what we want to be able to do cooperatively and collaboratively and what information we’d like to see be shareable, searchable and subscribable.  Once we have a significant list that we think captures most needs we can then prioritize it by how quickly we’d like to have it.

I think what the needs assessment will do is separate individual concerns from the structure needed to address those concerns.  I suspect that structures addressing specific concerns will have applicability elsewhere.  Another thought: From the Road Trip it was clear to me that much information that already exists isn’t getting to people who could use it.  I think that’s mostly because it’s demand driven: If people don’t go looking for it (ie, to meetings, on the web, etc.) they don’t learn of it.  Creating a group that shares all the information is going to be the opposite extreme; like trying to sip from a fire hose.  I don’t know about most of you, but already I can’t possibly keep up with the 300+ entries my friends post on Facebook every day.  We need to create something that is targeted, allows people to subscribe to the information they really want to see, but lets them easily find whatever information they may need at the moment, or join whatever community they want to learn about.

For the form I’m thinking something like:

  • Contact info: name, address, email, phone
  • Create a short name for this need (ie, Share Information about Legislative Activities, Share Community Projects)
  • Describe your need in as much detail as possible.
  • Who would start an activity related to this need.  (Ie, who could provide the information or initiate ideas, activities, or whatever else this need involves)
  • Who will or could benefit from meeting this need?
  • How important do you think meeting this need is?
    • Critical (we can’t even begin to address reducing CO2 emissions without it.)
    • High (Some important things probably won’t get done without it.)
    • Medium (It will help, but it will still get done)
    • Low (It would ne nice to have, but we could live without it)
  • How will meeting this need help (check all that apply)
    • NEW IDEA: Will allow something to be done that is impossible now
    • COST: Will Reduce the cost of something that is already happening
    • SPEED: Will allow something that is already happen to be done more quickly
    • INFORMATION: Will create a repository of information that is difficult to compile now
    • OTHER: Describe
  • On what scale will meeting this need make a different (check all that apply)
    • Neighborhood, Town, Small City, Large City, State, Region, Country, Continent, Intercontinent, World, Universe)
  • Create Keywords to help other interested people find this need:
    • for example: energy, public policy, community organizing, CO2 reduction, sharing project ideas, etc.

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How I Plan To Help Save Our Planet

We are working in an environment where companies and governments have huge I/T budgets to bring all of their resources to bear on manipulating people, products, advertising, marketing, social media,  legislation, financial markets, etc., etc. toward improving their own financial results.  I want to move toward bringing the same sort of I/T infrastructure to bear on CO2 reduction and working toward meeting the basic human needs of everyone, worldwide – raising the Gross International Happiness Index if you will, but factoring in something like a baseline individual happiness that doesn’t let us get too full of ourselves until EVERYONE has enough water, food, shelter, clothing and medical care.  You may ask how I connect that with CO2.  I connect it because our current structures aren’t meeting people’s needs – even here in the US where we use roughly 50%  of the world’s resources for a few percent of the world’s people.

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Filed under Basic Human Needs, Global Warming, Information Technology, Uncategorized