Merry Christmas!

Take extra time and expend extra effort to hug your family or friends this fine day.

Loving other people is, supposedly, what today is about. I think the Jesus who does simply that (but not weakly, that) gets lost in the shuffle.

Here’s a poem by Russel Jaffe, who got a Poetry MFA from Columbia in 2008. It was included in our president’s creepy-cool holiday card to us.

Personal destination

This year, be generous
by cyclical, land gently,
Soar this time as yourself,
let winter lights bend around your trail

Jeffrey Hollender, you rock my socks


Jeffrey Hollender, CEO of Seventh Generation (Creative Commons photo from the Flickr account of dreamymo)

Note: This post is continued from Thursday’s post. I suggest you start there.

Hollender attended a conference by Business for Social Responsibility and blatantly asked the question, “Will this conference make business more responsible?

It’s a good question to ask since BSR is, according to Hollender, the largest and most well-known organization promoting socially responsible business practices. Hollender’s answer in so many words: “No.”

I sense the same ineffectiveness with conferences such as GreenTown. My college, Columbia College Chicago, hosted it recently, and I covered Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s speech there, as well as a panel on waste diversion. But did it actually do anything to help the planet? Will the city officials who attended actually take anything away from it? Yet to be known. (If it’s hard to find the tangible results of something as big as this, hasn’t it failed anyway?)

How about the one-year get-together of players in the Chicago Climate Action Plan—was this any more than a back rub for those involved? I doubt it.

So thanks, Mr. Hollender, for saying what needs to be said. I hope I can always be that way myself.

Consumerism as conspiracy (and I believe it!)


The interior of the Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street. In the Victorian style, it's cluttered with stuff. (Creative Commons-licensed photo from the Flickr account of practicalowl)

Here’s an article written by a professor in my academic department, Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin. I haven’t yet had her in class; she’s on sabbatical this semester.

In this she’s written the most complete, historically accurate magazine-format depiction of planned obsolescence I’ve ever read. And I’ve read several great ones.

Planned obsolescence is, in my own words, designing something to wear out, give out, or otherwise become unusable or out of style after a certain amount of time. Which prompts the consumer to buy another.

It hasn’t always been around; in fact, it has only governed business practices in the last 80-90 years, and, arguably, the vast majority of it has popped up in the last 40 years.

In my opinion, it’s dishonest. In most cases, we (well, industrial engineers) know how to make stuff last, say, ten or a hundred times as long as it “normally” lasts in our experience. Why don’t we? People like to make money.

Obviously it’s destroying our planet, and to a certain extent, our souls, if you believe in that kind of thing. I like good product design as much (and probably a lot more) than the next guy, but what happens to our humanity if we’re never satisfied with what we have?

One man asked that and came up with the “100 Thing Challenge,” where he sold, donated, or put into storage all his possessions except a carefully-chosen 100 things—for one year. He got coverage by Time magazine online and now has a book deal with Harper Perennial.

My sister today said something like “I’m against the production of new stuff.” She thinks the world has everything it needs, and if we just passed it all around—Freecycle, that sort of thing—we’d all be better off.

I’m not there yet, but I’m on my way.

Bobby Kennedy, Jr. liveblog transcript

Flickr CC photo by Erik R. Bishoff

Flickr CC photo by Erik R. Bishoff

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. spoke at my school this morning, at an environmental conference. Had to post a stock photo because I don’t yet have a camera…

I ate breakfast with him before his speech, basically a preview of the kinds of things he was gonna say, then live-blogged the speech itself on The transcript of the liveblog is below for your consumption. I left out the analysis. If I end up doing that for a class, I’ll listen to a recording of the speech. (I’ll let you see that, too, if I do it.)

Gonna try to liveblog Bobby Kennedy Jr.’s speech at GreenTown Chicago. That is, until my laptop battery runs out.

RFK Jr.: Protect the commonwealth, the shared properties like air & water. The private sector takes them over when they pollute them.

RFK Jr.: “Environmental impact is defecit spending. it’s a way of loading costs onto our children’s future.”

RFK Jr.: Conversely, environmentally friendly stuff is not throwing money away, it’s an investment. It’s money in the bank.

#greentown RFK Jr.: We are borrowing a billion dollars a day from nations that largely don’t share our values…

#greentown RFK Jr.: …to buy a billion dollars of oil a day from nations that largely don’t share our values.

#greentown RFK Jr: Coal isn’t the cheapest source of energy: The U.S. subsidizes the industry $1 tril. annually; that’s not accounted for.

#greentown RFK Jr.: The reason we can’t have high speed rail in this country is because the coal gondolas have warped all the rail tracks.

#greentown RFK Jr.: “Whenever you see the destruction of the environment, you always see the subversion of democracy.” (“corruption.”)

#greentown RFK Jr.: As Sweden, Iceland and Brazil decarbonize, they give us evidence of the economic successes that can be had doing it.

#greentown RFK Jr.: There’s enough wind in Montana and S.D. to supply all the U.S.’ energy, even if every American owned an electric car.

#greentown RFK Jr.: We can do long-haul transmission of electricity. We need to do it. The problem? Stupid, “irrational” rules.

#greentown RFK Jr.: A CEO must choose between his loyalty to shareholders and his loyalty to humanity. That’s an unfair decision. Change it.

#greentown RFK Jr: Price of bits and bytes has dropped to about 0. That’s what’s gonna happen to electrons as soon as we build a nat’l grid.

#greentown RFK Jr: How do you pay back $1.4 tril? In 2 years, by saving the $700 billion a year we’re sending to places like Saudi Arabia.

#greentown RFK Jr: Solar-thermal: Roughly $3 billion a gigawatt, same as a coal plant. But free energy for the life of the plant.

#greentown RFK Jr’s green venture capital firm: we’re gonna take trillions away from carbon-energy in 10 yrs. “Destroy” em at their own game

#greentown RFK Jr.: We’re funding both sides of the war against terror… How to stop? Stop buying gas from the guys who drop bombs on us.

#greentown RFK Jr.: “Polluters make themselves rich by making everyone else poor. … You show me a polluter, i’ll show you a subsidy.”