Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Less Bad v. More Good (Tuesday LINKS)

Over the weekend, I finished The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability - Designing Abundance, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.  These are the same authors behind the Cradle-to-Cradle movement for reusable and "human-safe" materials.  The premise of this book is that our sustainability discussion needs to stop focusing on being "less bad" and instead turn to ways we can be "more good".  As with many books of its kind, there were some life-perception-changing ideas intermixed with idealistic, and unrealistic, proposals.  Overall, a good read, but one that spends far too much time talking about small wins like making window shades out of small plants.

What I enjoyed most of all was the idea of changing our premise for environmental stewardship.  "More good".  One of the tenets of this argument was that carbon is valuable.  It is the fundamental building block of life, yet only makes up approximately 2% of the earth's crust.  Despite its rarity and preciousness, we are burning it up, showing very little concern for future generations and/or presuming they will "figure something out."  The authors repeatedly reference the idea of "loving all people for all time" instead of just the here and now. 

The authors also recognize that so long as the sustainability discussion hold "shame" as a pillar of communication, we are not going to make any progress.  Instead of shame, innovators should focus on presenting better alternatives that are economically feasible.  My favorite example was horizontal smokestacks, which converts CO2 emissions to food for algae (along the smokestack), which then feeds sturgeon, which then can be converted into human energy (food).

Another central component was "planned obsolescence" and our "throw away" culture.  The authors start with a very simple idea -- constructed goods should be made so that they may be deconstructed and broken down to re-useable materials.  Elemental paper may be easily recycled or composted, but we put so many chemicals into our paper and/or combine it with compromising plastics that it degrades the underlying fibers and makes them a single cycle product.  If we just paid more attention to how we use the materials available to us for their first use, we can "Upcycle" those materials for future uses into the future, with today's packaging materials being tomorrow's compost to grow the next day's food.

But at the end, I come back to the central focus of the book.  We should stop talking in the negative about creating solutions for tomorrow's problems and start talking in the affirmative.  Stop saying "less bad" and start saying "more good".  Positive values inspire and move people to action.  Negative prohibitions build resentment and inertia.  That idea extends outside of the sustainability context to everything we do.  Be More Good.


O's had a very nice win against the "rival" Nationals behind Jason Hammel's eight innings and some pop in the Oriole bats.  It is clear that Peter Angelos is still not over his frustration at having a baseball team in D.C.  The announcers he has given them on MASN are just brutal.

In the Memorial Day shuffle, you may have missed this article by Arthur Hirsch reporting that the Howard County Council passed the Budget 4-1, approximately $2.7 million more than what was requested by County Executive Ken Ulman.  Ulman was quoted as saying that "the $17.7 million increase in school spending is about double the amount needed to satisfy the Maryland law that requires a jurisdiction to keep per-pupil spending constant from one year to the next, even as enrollment rises."  I think this puts the recent kerfuffle regarding Board of Education funding in perspective, regardless of what priorities were being promoted.

Marylanders are right to be skeptical about the "task force" method of solution that seems to be prescribed for all of our State's problems.  The Governor has appointed a similar task force to address jail corruption, which, by all appearances, may be too narrow to cover the systemic issues facing Maryland corrections, particularly the high rate of recidivism.  

Good news for more than 16,000 Anne Arundel homeowners - your waste-water bills will be going down approximately $160 per year.  Bad news - you've been overpaying for quite some time.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Bill Woodcock reminds all of you to mark your calendars for "Kind of a Big Deal: The Life and Legacy of Dennis Lane" on June 4.  It will be more than kind of a big deal.  It will be a huge deal and you won't want to miss it.

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!  You've already finished one fifth of the week and hardly had to do anything (I hope).  Don't forget to order/borrow your copy of Timbuktu so that you can join the Wordbones Memorial Book Club starting June 1.

Rock on.