Category: Ecology

Is the Internet killing the planet?

Such is the provocative title of the following info graphic. While I think it provides food for thought, I feel like a stronger argument can be made about the troubling connection between net usage and Co2, in particular as a driver of climate change’s “mindprint” (as an instrument of globalization and consumption). The flipside is that the Internet can undo the greenwashing of media in the same way that Occupy Wall St. has forced a new debate about the economy.

UPDATE: Here’s rundown of current Internet energy usage: Internet Sucks Up 2% of Global Energy, Study Estimates


Earth Day Infographic

Infographic via: Wordstream

Watching 24 hours of #reality

Reality media just got more real.

Through live streaming and archived video, “24 hours of reality” has launched its attack against the disinformation and muddling tactics of energy companies that’s confusing a serious discussion about climate change policy in the US. First the presentation deconstructs the “deniers” argument and counters energy company claims with science and stats. Then, drawing on the history of how the tobacco industry disrupted and confused health policy in the US, they show how energy companies have followed a parallel path through pushing bogus science and a clever framing strategy. By using the tobacco case study, The Climate Reality Project shows convincingly how these tactics are being used, giving numerous examples of politicians and pundits recycling industry tactics. The presentation points out that energy companies have deliberately framed climate change as a theory instead of fact which allows pundits to argue that human created climate change is contested science. However, with 98% of global scientists arguing that climate change is indeed human created, allowing the deniers an equal platform would be like legitimizing the Flat Earth Society’s argument that the earth is not round.

Given the rather clear evidence of a global ecological crisis, will the US media get “real”?

Tarantulas, volcanoes and festivals: Primordial reality asserts itself

TaranProject “Tarantella Nova”

In recent days I’ve been floating in the warm Mediterranean waters, contemplating life as I soak in a panorama of Etna blowing off steam and the silhouetted Aeolian volcanos on the sea’s horizon. I’m feeling a bit primordial, a bit lizard-like. So though the wheels are coming of the global financial system, I’m feeling more contemplative about our time together on Earth.

At one point during Lewis Mumford‘s massive polemic against Western civilization and technology he argues that neolithic cultures–the gold standard of ecological cultural harmony–continue to exist, though in tatters. He suggested that anytime a community still practices solstice celebrations–or something like it–it means there is a shred of ancient nature worship still intact. Indeed, this seems to be the case in many Mediterranean communities, and in Latin America as well. The survival strategy of the Roman Empire to adapt and incorporate regional cultural practices (as long as they didn’t challenge their authority) into their system carried through with the Roman Catholic Church. And as Rigoberta Menchú stated in her autobiography, indigenous Guatemalans–to survive by not giving away their secrets– practice syncretism–essentially layering over Christian religious rituals their own system of beliefs. Hence, God is the sun, Mary is Mother Earth and saints represent various nature deities.

Currently I’m spending ferragosto (a summer holiday in Italy–follow the Wikipedia link for its pagan roots) in Calabria, Italy’s impoverished southwestern province. In the town of Palmi, which overlooks the northern tip of Sicily and the Aeolian Islands, there has been an ongoing festival in celebration of San Rocco, the community’s patron saint. As an outsider, these festivities are every bit as pagan as the kind you will find in Latin American towns. Every day there are dancing puppets called giganti (“giants”) that depict an ancient myth about an African Prince, Grifano (Griffin) and a Sicilian Princess, Marta. They prance about from neighborhood to neighborhood accompanied by the continuous drilling of drums and late night fireworks that echo against the mountain like bomb blasts. In the different piazzas throughout the town there are free concerts. With daily processions, the place reverberates with noise, revelry and communal spirit.

All of this is funded by the community. You do not see corporate banners sponsoring this or that event. It has the true spirit of the commons, which belays the planetary trend in which global financiers and their cronies are privatizing and taking over as much of our communal cultural space as possible. Nontheless, this is by no means a utopian environment. The mafia are the counterforce to corporatization.

However, it was during these festivities that I experienced a bit of an epiphany. I saw in action a fully realized manifestation of ecology, culture and community coming together during a musical performance by a group called the TaranProject. Taranta–derived from tarantula–is a kind of regional folk music that makes your body shake and move continuously like a spider. There are examples of it from all over southern Italy. Much of the music is sung in regional dialect and performed with locally made instruments.


The logo, lyrics, music and spirit of the group celebrates regional identity, social justice for immigrants, advocates for laborers, and sings reverently for the land. As you can see from the logo, its music unifies land and culture. Throughout the concert audience members danced in circles and song along to various folks songs with lineages that go back generations. During the concert there was a real sense of unity and cultural pride that I have rarely experienced.

It occurred to me that this kind of folk music and art is really the true counterforce to all the negativity that we are feeling about the world right now. It is tonic that strengthens the bonds between identity and culture. It is done in the spirit of independence, healing, and respect, values that are counterweights to the atrociously amoral system of economics that is pillaging the Earth and its peoples. It is my firm belief the collectives like the TaranProject are an inspiring answer to the destructive and nihilistic force being unleashed upon Europe, the US and the rest of the world right now.

For me, this is what real ecomedia is about.

Pushing “agendas”

It might seem like a waste of brain cells to complain about Fox News. I used to think that even though they were little better than cheese mold, a few million people watching it didn’t mean the end of the world. Yet, as the News of the World scandal has shown, Fox’s parent company, News International, is neither innocuous nor ethical in its broad influence on world politics and debates. It has a disproportionate influence on shaping the symbolic power relations of particular discourses. It’s remarkable, for example, that Obama fired Van Jones based on the lunatic rantings of Glenn Beck. Since when do insane people wield so much influence on reality?

Anyhow, this is certainly masterful propaganda. The pundits argue that schools can’t even teach kids math and reading, why in the hell should they teach about the environment using a ridiculous cartoon like Sponge Bob? (Unless, of course, Mike Huckabee does it.) What do teachers know? Perhaps Fox’s newsreaders could apply a little critical thinking to their own claims. Which science journals are they reading to make their argument? What proponents of anti-climate change scientists are a percentage of the nearly universal scientific consensus supporting the human-caused climate change thesis? Yes, some people claim the Earth is flat, but does that make discussing Earth’s shape controversial? Apparently they fail their own test: anti-science pundits should not complain about the lack of science education in schools.

But, they doth complaineth too much. Education policies like No Child Left Behind have largely produced the ignorance and lack of critical thinking Fox so cherishes. They act like abusive patriarchs, treating teachers like scum of the earth, meanwhile making sure they don’t have the tools to do their job well.

Murdoch has certainly muddied the climate change debate. For example, he made his company “carbon neutral,” seemingly contradicting the anti-climate change rhetoric of his minions. It took me a while to figure out why, until it dawned on me that there was a shrewd strategy afoot. First, is the carbon neutrality claim really verifiable? According to whom? Given the parent corporation’s ethical standards and normal use of doublespeak, I find any claim of verifiability dubious (kind of like S & P giving Goldman Sachs AAA credit rating at the peak of the derivatives bubble). Secondly, how are they defining carbon neutrality? The meaning of the term is not objective. Just because there is a pledge to plant trees doesn’t mean that the real carbon footprint is offset. Moreover, getting electricity from a wind farm does not compensate for the ecological “mindprint” of Fox’s magical thinking. Likely this is actually a model of the kind of climate remediation that will be pushed by Fox (when they have no choice but to actually acknowledge that something has to be done). They will point to themselves and say that we can do it without government regulation. We can make any claim we want and it’s acceptable because we say it is so.

Yeah, just like the claim that they are “fair and balanced.”

You see, these are very tricky people. Shape-shifters, if you will. Pay close attention because they are modeling the reality of fascism that they claim to rail against. In this sense, they offer us an excellent case study for how this works. The trick is to defuse their influence, which is tough. I don’t have all the answers, but maybe the case to revoke their broadcast license based on ethical and legal violations could ultimately do them in. This seems like a vague and distant future, but then again, the swift collapse of News of the World was as sudden as the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Rise of the film studio ape heads

The above viral videos were made to promote the latest entry into the Planet of the Apes franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Historically the series is fundamentally a critique of human arrogance and anthropocentrism, and the trailer for this latest film seems to confirm this tradition, adding to the mix corporate maleficence as a source for our downfall.

So why, then, did the marketing geniuses at Fox come up with this horrendously racist ad campaign? The answer is quite simple: a lack of diverse perspectives and cultural sensitivity is still a core characteristic of the monied media monopolies. If there were actually African creatives as part of the brainstorming process, the repeated trope of out-of-control, psycho militants in the heart of Dark Africa would stop circulating through the mediasphere. As Roger Silverstone writes, media is a space of appearances. It gives voice to some perspectives, and leaves out others. It is rather shameful that smart, creative and intelligent Africans are not part of the design teams that craft media–not just for domestic consumption in the US–but for international markets. These kinds of images perpetuate imperial stereotypes that ultimately serve the domination of the global economy by white financiers.

Ken dumps Barbie over deforestation (finally!)

Ken finds some hard truths about Barbie from Greenpeace on Vimeo.

(I’m a little behind with this one–it has been sitting in my draft pile for a month. Better late than never!)

Well,it’s about time Ken took a stand against Barbie’s deforesting ways. This, at least, is Greenpeace’s humorous approach to pressuring Mattel to stop their partnership with Asia Pulp and Paper. Not that we need another reason to be pissed at Barbie for being a shopaholic, but at least this time we can do something more than just whine about it.

Media jujitsu: Fracking around with new journalism

If you can’t view the video, click here. Video details: “My Water’s On Fire Tonight” is a product of Studio 20 NYU in collaboration with The song is based on ProPublica’s investigation on hydraulic fractured gas drilling (read the full investigation here).

I’m not going to suggest this is the future of journalism, but this recent “explainer” project, “My Water’s On Fire Tonight,” combines the best of worlds: investigative journalism, oral cultural expression and visual storytelling. It represents a good example of media jujitsu that can simplify complex issues for our intellectually challenged world. Typically well-financed energy companies deploy their black magic media spin and PR to divide and conquer the American public sphere. So while extreme weather rips through the United States, people experience cognitive dissonance as if there is no connection between drought, fire, tornados and crazy temperature fluctuations with our energy consumption. We have to do a better job of “social marketing,” by doing an end-around the normal machinations of thought control. I hope explainers represent the best uses of new media to counter traditional forms of mental inoculation. (Check out the “explainer awards” for more examples.)

Can the iPhone be greened?

This infographic tells an interesting story about the iPhone’s ecological footprint. On the one hand it shows many negatives about cell phone production. On the other, it also demonstrates that ecology can and should be designed into the production chain of the device. Notice the difference between the iPhone 3 and 4 and how changing packaging made a large difference in emissions. Apple is putting up a good front, and in many ways they are responding to pressure from both the public and from organizations like GreenPeace. Apple can still do a better job. The recent news that they invested in a huge coal-powered data processing center was a big setback for the company, which caused GreenPeace to lower its environmental rating, despite the improvements made in the manufacturing process that eliminated a lot of toxins in their new products. Goes to show that greening is not a linear process but involves a holistic “solving for pattern” approach.

how green is the iphone
Geekaphone’s How Green is the iPhone Infographic

Writing about green media literacy

I just wrote a case study for how I greened a digital media culture course. You can read it USC Annenberg’s Project New Media Literacies Web site. It represents a leap forward in my conceptualization for how to green media studies. I plan to develop the curriculum further this summer and to do an online training for teachers in either August or September. The curriculum will have wider application and won’t be confined to undergraduate courses. The training will be for anyone who works with new media and wants to explore ways to incorporate sustainable cultural practice into their projects.

Additionally, a few months ago I wrote a media manifesto on greening media education. As you can see, no one commented on it. I don’t know if it is because of a lack of interest, or that I failed to communicate the ideas in a way that makes sense to people. I think the current piece at the New Media Literacies site is better developed and easier to understand. I’m still trying to simplify the language, which is difficult for a subject that is so complex. Any feedback here or at the respective Web sites where these recent articles are posted would be greatly appreciated.

“EcoMedia” parodies ecological media

If you can’t see the video, click here.

Hmmm. This EcoAd campaign is a new effort by EcoMedia,* a project owned by CBS (yes, the mega media corporation CBS). The way it works is that partners advertising on CBS can get a little synthetic leaf logo on their ad to indicate they are participating in something vaguely green. A portion of the ad sale goes towards some community sustainability project.

In the language of EcoMedia’s Website:

“The bottom line: EcoMedia’s sustainable media model, recognizable to consumers as our EcoAd, is a classic win-win. It’s advertising that does more for companies, more for communities, and more for the environment.”

But what exactly do they mean by “sustainable media”? Let’s look at an example:

If you can’t see the video, click here.

If you are at all versed in the problem of global climate change, it’s a real stretch to see on what planet this constitutes ecological advertising. Fundamentally, the only real sustainable media is media that challenges the idea of growth and neo-classical capitalism. I can’t imagine how this kind of consumerism and sustainability are compatible. Nor do I see mega-corporations like CBS really interested in undermining the economic model that makes them rich.

This would be utterly comical if it were not so dangerous. Car culture is the leading reason why we have climate change. Branding straight-up planet destroying consumerism as eco-friendly is so unconscious it boarders on insanity. Never mind. It is insane.

I poked around the Website to see if they had any standards or criteria for the kinds of ads or companies they would do business with. No such luck. No definition of sustainability, no explanation of ethics.

So if BP wanted to run an EcoAd, would EcoMedia do it?

I don’t want to be a pure negationist by asserting that no good can come from this. I’m sure the organizations who get funding from the program deserve it. But from the standpoint of someone trying advocate real sustainable media that promotes cultural change, this kind work really poisons the water (sorry for the cliched metaphor, but it’s appropriate). In particular, by muddying the concept of sustainability it makes it more confusing to advocate for real ecological media to counter the pro-growth consumer consciousness that is at the root of the CBS’ business model. Not only do we have to undo the damage of normal car ads, now we have to deal with this mind frak. Fortunately, this campaign is so clearly lame, hopefully even half-witted, TV colonized zombies can see through this deception.

If you feel compelled to do something about this foolishness, you can click over to the Center for Environmental Health to participate in a campaign trying to stop this nonsense.

* Not to be confused by the great book by Sean Cubitt.

Media literacy as ecological homeopathy

Media literacy and ecoliteracy people are worlds apart. Media educators don’t prioritize sustainability because ecology is perceived to be the realm of the natural sciences. For example, education programs are often outdoors or garden oriented. Nothing wrong with those kinds of workshops, but if we continue to ignore the cultural and technological dimension of ecology, frankly we’re screwed, because the ecological crisis is a cultural crisis. We can add to that, of course, that it is also a spiritual problem. But a culture without a holistic spirituality is a dying culture, anways. So the issues are related.

Then there are the environmental educators who refuse to engage technology because of its perceived corrosiveness. At the Bioneers conference, for example, I met with anti-TV crusader Jerry Mander to discuss the possibility for incorporating media literacy into environmental education. He told me that it was a good idea but that he was against it because it would make media more interesting. But that is exactly the point: we want people to get more interested in media, not as passive consumers but as a means for understanding the “system” (however broadly we want to define it) and for learning how to be empowered practitioners.

I’m a fan of the idea that media are “institutions-to-think-with.” Play with and use them to understand human communications, technology, economy and perception. In this sense, media literacy can be a kind of homeopathy. By engaging it holistically, mindfully and holistically we stand to gain amazing insights. We can learn how the system thinks.

For those unfamiliar with homeopathy, it is a kind of healing practice in which people take small doses of the very thing that ails them in order for the immune system to learn how to adjust to the ailment. Granted, I am nervous about using medical metaphors for the “problem” of media. In many ways the kind of media literacy I’m opposed to is the kind that takes the medical approach by viewing “bad” media as a disease that needs to be excised like a cancer tumor. This is an industrial kind of medicine that views the body as a machine needing to get fixed. It lacks a holistic dimension that looks at illness from multiple perspectives, such as the mental and spiritual state of the patient. Nor does it take into account the person’s environment, including diet, pollutants and stress.

Media literacy as homeopathy has the same unintended consequence of a college degree. We forget that an education is not just about learning the liberal arts, but its also learning how the system wants us to think and what is appropriate intellectual practice. In my Peace and Conflict Studies program at Cal, the best undergrad course I ever took was on epistemology. In it we read Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and studied how the university mirrored the global economic infrastructure.

It is so meta. You can walk around UC Berkeley’s campus and see the embodiment of the world system (by this I mean the economic, political and military design mechanisms of neoliberalism). There’s the law school that trains the lawyers who draw up the biz contracts; the engineering school (named after Bechtel) that trains the dam builders; the physics department that works on weapons systems; the ROTC that prepares military officers; and so on. You can also see how the UC regents have deep ties to the military industrial complex and global petroleum oligopoly. All of a sudden the university’s image as a bastion of “free speech” becomes a misleading ruse. Sure, in a university with over 40,000 students there is a niche for peace studies, but when I graduated, there were only 12 of us in my class. There’s always a space to keep the dissidents happy.

The point is, I learned more than I bargained for when I got my degree. I learned not just the content and grammar of the liberal arts paradigm, but its form as well. This is not to say that most well-meaning university professors and administrators don’t believe in the enlightening benefits of the liberal arts. Indeed, there are many good aspects to the democratic and humanistic traditions of education, but can this structure as it exists today adequately confront the challenges of a structure encountering its material limits, poisoning its living system and gutting its social fabric? Is the university up to the task of challenging the prevailing “wisdom” that education should be reduced to a business paradigm that views itself as a factory that manufactures students to reproduce the same destructive logic that has brought us to the brink of ecological catastrophe?

Going back to the discussion of media literacy as homeopathy, what I’m getting at is that there is tremendous benefit to learning media’s “cultural form” (to barrow from media educator David Buckingham). Being a literate media practitioner enables us to be “bridgers.” After all, “media” really mean something “in-between”: they mediate. To bridge a sustainable world, we will need to mediate the past with the future. Media education, in my view, is one technique for doing so for it enables us to map paradigms in order to change them.

The ecopyschology of cell phones

Cingular uses a “family tree” metaphor to describe its service

For my digital media class I gave my students a non-digital assignment. I asked them to walk into Rome and get lost. No phones, no maps, no iPods, no books, no pens, no media. The idea was to defamiliarize their digital environment by removing them from it. The other point was to have them observe different aspects of urban design and to pay attention to how specific spaces “afforded” particular interactions.

In a city 3,000 years old, it is a good place to study those spaces that were designed for human scale. For example, the ideal spatial configuration for a piazza is that it should be no larger than the distance that people can recognize each other from. For background material, I assigned the first two chapters of Digital Ground: Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing, which explores interactivity, embodiment, spatial literacy and pervasive computing.

Students were then required to blog about their experiences. As predicted the responses were mixed. Some were elated and felt they had experienced the city for the first time. Others noticed new details that had alluded them. One even said she smelled the city for the first time. For others the experience made them angry and anxious. What was common for most of them was a sense of loss, loneliness and disconnection.

Most interesting was the belief that they needed to be available for others– that their friends and family would worry about them if they were not tethered to their networks. I found this to be a most curious kind of anxiety, something “new” to our digital environment. As a kid I remember my friends and I taking off for the day with our bicycles and skateboards without worrying about checking in or needing to avail ourselves to those who were not with us.

This pervasive need to be available to others, I’m guessing, is really about affirmation. The idea that someone might need them is necessary to validates their worthiness. In other words, they need the net to mirror back to them a purpose for existing. Sherry Turkle‘s new book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, argues something along these lines. In her Fast Company interview, she says,

“If you get into these email, Facebook thumbs-up/thumbs-down settings, a paradoxical thing happens: even though you’re alone, you get into this situation where you’re continually looking for your next message, and to have a sense of approval and validation. You’re alone but looking for approval as though you were together–the little red light going off on the BlackBerry to see if you have somebody’s validation. I make a statement in the book, that if you don’t learn how to be alone, you’ll always be lonely, that loneliness is failed solitude. We’re raising a generation that has grown up with constant connection, and only knows how to be lonely when not connected. This capacity for generative solitude is very important for the creative process, but if you grow up thinking it’s your right and due to be tweeted and retweeted, to have thumbs up on Facebook…we’re losing a capacity for autonomy both intellectual and emotional.”

So what does this have to do with ecopsychology? David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World uses phenomenology to explain how the environment makes available to us our consciousness; it affords us possible interactions and thereby co-creates our thoughts. This concurs with the work of Maturana and Varela (see Tree of Knowledge) who argue that awareness is always an emergent aspect of our mind/body coupling with the environment.

The issue is that the electronic net affords a different phenomenology than the one our brains are wired for: 3-D physiological space. Digital Ground argues this is why the project of virtual reality keeps failing: our inner ears cannot reconcile the flying dream imagined by the early depictions of cyberspace in sci-fi film’s and books. Rather than projecting ourselves through the computer screen’s window, computers come to us via their ubiquitous presence in our environment.

Robert Romanyshyn argues in his amazing book, Technology as Symptom and Dream, that when we banished spirits from nature, they became angels. And through technologies like linear perspective we seek to become gods, pushing forward an ongoing project of disembodiment from natural systems. The ecopsychology argument is that disembodiment is how we react to trauma. Unconsciously we mourn the loss of connection with “nature” and to avoid the pain we extend our consciousness into ever “higher” realms, with space flight being the epitome of this desire. de Chardin‘s vision of the noosphere— or what contemporary net Utopians call the global brain– has a similar yearning to transcend the body for some kind of Christ-like uber-consciousness.

Now, I don’t want to over simplify what is really going on with cell phones. It is surely more complicated. For example, the idea that a person is not an isolated, autonomous self, but exists within an embedded network is surely a step toward sustainable awareness. One of our biggest challenges is to disrupt the Enlightenment self so as to promote a greater sense of interconnectivity with the materiality of the physical environment. Additionally, this idea of what is natural and what is not furthers the problem. I don’t think it is productive to say that the extended net of our electronic experience is “unnatural,” but it is certainly different than the ideal of the neolithic tribe living harmoniously with its landscape. Whether we like it or not, we are cyborgs, and it is best that we find some kind of coping mechanism because the digital genie is out of the bottle.

The important thing is for people to learn how to moderate their interaction so as to not amputate those senses that eagerly wish to engage the sights, smells, sound and tastes of the immediate environment. I suspect from tracking the comments of my students that they indeed long for these things, but cannot moderate their usage. They are, to use their own words, addicted. How to solve this problem will certainly be a task of educators. I for one do not have the answers, but ironically enough, through “crowd sourcing” on the net, perhaps we can collectively figure it out together.

Stuff’s e-wasting away

More reasons to feel crappy about being plugged in, but knowledge is power. Right? In particular designers need to rethink built-in obsolescence (anyone from Apple reading this?) and to design better products that don’t just satisfy our fetishes but actually factor in the environment.

I like the suggestion to pass take-back laws which will force electronics makers to do something with all their old crap. However, getting the laws passed will be an interesting exercise in democracy. Imagine the Tea Party/Republican outrage against forcing American companies to recycle their toxic goods. How dare we violate the right of free enterprise to toxify the planet as they please and to prevent families from forced bankruptcy when they need treatment for illnesses caused by electronic waste. Yep, nothing like the free spirit of capitalism.

Here is an excellent resource page from the Center for Environmental Health on how to do something about our e-waste.

Nike normalizes mountaintop removal


Image credit:

An interesting item from the Huff Post: Nike has a new uniform designed for West Virginia University intended to “honor” the 29 minors killed at the Upper Big Branch mine, but the ad features a flattened mountaintop in the background. This has pissed off some student groups who feel that it is not appropriate for their university to done an “honorary” uniform which normalizes mountaintop removal as a mining practice (click her to learn more).

This is just stupid and ignorant on Nike’s part. I have seen first hand this horrific practice. I can’t imagine any sane person who thinks blowing up the tops of mountains makes any sense on any level, even if it provides jobs. I visited a guy who lived just below the tree line of one flattened peak. We walked up to the mining site where there were these monstrous bulldozers as big as buildings scraping away the rock and soil. There was dust in the trees and in the creeks and in my eyes. The sound of explosions was terrifying. I prayed that a builder wouldn’t fly out and flatten us, as happens every once in a while. Meanwhile, this particular “beneficiary” of sporadic mining work (jobs come and go depending on supply, demand and global prices) lives in a little shack smaller than his very own monster truck paid for during a boom cycle. Some life!

BTW, this person in my story had “fuck it” tattooed on his lips. Indeed!