the sun still rises

Well the two weeks are up and sadly, we are left with little to show for after tireless hours of negotiations in Copenhagen. After months of political rallies around the globe and countless prayers from Christian to Muslim to Jew, our society is left with the reality that this fight must continue. There is plenty of commentary on why things weren't accomplished and what needs to happen next. It's easy to feel that we didn't do all that we could. It's easy to think that there just might not be hope for this matter. It's easy to think that we don't have the courage to act for what is neccesary.

But then I flip through these pictures, and am inspired once again. I listen to Desmond Tutu and have faith in our leaders once again. I remember the plea of those from years past and once again realize that with enough action, we will eventually come to an agreement.

We have the ability to come together. We have the ability to make a difference for those who will come after us. We have the ability to change the norm and strive for something better.

Copenhagen is not, and never was, the end of this long walk. Rather, it demonstrated the skill and necessity that such an agreement requires. I have hope for such an agreement. Perhaps not today, but one day, for the sun will still rise tomorrow.

Bill McKibben sums it up pretty well, it's time to get back to the office and mobilize this global society once again.

No time for tears in Copenhagen
- Bill McKibben  

I’ve spent the last few years working more than fulltime to organize the first big global grassroots climate change campaign. That’s meant shutting off my emotions most of the time—this crisis is so terrifying that when you let yourself feel too deeply it can be paralyzing. Hence, much gallows humor, irony, and sheer work.

This afternoon I sobbed for an hour, and I’m still choking a little. I got to Copenhagen’s main Lutheran Cathedral just before the start of a special service designed to mark the conference underway for the next week. It was jammed, but I squeezed into a chair near the corner. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave the sermon; Desmond Tutu read the Psalm. Both were wonderful.

But my tears started before anyone said a word. As the service started dozens of choristers from around the world carried three things down the aisle and to the altar: pieces of dead coral bleached by hot ocean temperatures; stones uncovered by retreating glaciers; and small, shriveled ears of corn from drought-stricken parts of Africa.

As I watched them go by, all I could think of was the people I’ve met in the last couple of years traveling the world: the people living in the valleys where those glaciers are disappearing, and the people downstream who have no backup plan for where their water is going to come from. The people who live on the islands surrounded by that coral, who depend on the reefs for the fish they eat, and to protect their homes from the waves. And the people, on every corner of the world, dealing with drought and flood, already unable to earn their daily bread in the places where their ancestors farmed for generations.

Those damned shriveled ears of corn. I’ve done everything I can think of, and millions of people around the world have joined us at in the most international campaign there ever was. But I just sat there thinking: it’s not enough. We didn’t do enough. I should have started earlier.

People are dying already. People are sitting tonight in their small homes trying to figure out how they’re going to make the maize meal they have stretch far enough to fill the tummies of the kids sitting there waiting for dinner. And that’s with 390 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere. The latest numbers from the computer jockeys at Climate Interactive - A collaboration of Sustainability Institute, Sloan School of Management at MIT, and Ventana Systems, indicate that if all the national plans now on the table were adopted the planet in 2100 would have an atmosphere with 770 parts per million CO2. What then for coral, for glaciers, for corn? I didn’t do enough.

I cried all the harder a few minutes later when the great cathedral bell began slowly tolling 350 times. At the same moment, thousands of churches across Europe began ringing their bells the same 350 times. And in other parts of the world—from the bottom of New Zealand to the top of Greenland, Christendom sounded the alarm. And not just Christendom. In New York rabbis were blowing the shofar 350 times. We had pictures rolling in from the weekend’s vigil, from places like Dhahran in Saudi Arabia, where girls in burkas were forming human 350s, and from Bahrain, and from Amman.

And these tears were now sweet as well as bitter—at the thought that all over the world (not metaphorically all over the world, but literally all over the world) people had proven themselves this year. Proven their ability to understand the science and the stakes. Proven their ability to come together on their own—in October, when we organized what CNN called “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history,” there wasn’t a movie star or rock idol in sight—just people rallying around a scientific data point. Now the world’s religious leaders were adding their voice.

On one side: scientists. And archbishops, Nobelists, and most of all ordinary people in ordinary places. Reason and faith. On the other side, power—the kind of power that will be assembling in the Bella Center all week to hammer out some kind of agreement. The kind of power, exemplified by the American delegation, that so far has decided it’s not worth making the kind of leap that the science demands. The kind of power that’s willing to do what’s politically pretty easy, but not what’s necessary. The kind that would condemn the planet to 770 ppm rather than take the hard steps we need.

So no more tears. Not now, not while there’s work to be done. Pass the Diet Coke, fire up the laptop, grab the cellphone. To work. We may not have done enough, but we’re going to do all we can.

Climate Scoreboard

Here is an up-to-date analysis of how current proposals at Copenhagen are affecting global temperatures in 2100.

Presentations at Copenhagen

In a week, our MSLS class will be presenting some of our work from the previous weeks at a seminar at the World Trade Center in Malmo, Sweden (a 20 min train ride from Copenhagen). The seminar will take place during the Copenhagen discussions. I have been working on a project in collaboration with iCeL looking at the long-term carbon, energy, and finanical savings from intelligent energy storage technology.

After the conference, we will be heading into Copenhagen to check out the events happening during the two weeks. One in particular we will be visiting is Bright Green. If you hear of any other exciting things happening that weekend, let me know. Or if you won't have the chance to get out there and would like me to check something out for you, send me a message.

Lost Generation

How to Deal with Carbon...

With the climate change talks coming up soon, I thought I'd post some information related to methods of dealing with carbon emissions. The two words that we often hear thrown around are cap-and-trade and carbon tax.

Although these sound very similar, they have some important differences. According to most analysts, cap and trade has a few loopholes in which heavy polluters may actually benefit from the scheme and actually cause increases in carbon emissions.

According to economist John Kay:
"When [a market] is created through political action, rather than emerging spontaneously, business will seek to influence its design for commercial advantage,"

This is why many are in favor of a carbon tax, which would hopefully provide a fairer and stricter method for limiting carbon emissions. In addition, funds collected from the tax can be used for additional carbon offset projects around the world.

New York mayor Michael Bloomberg states:
"A direct charge [carbon tax] would eliminate the uncertainty that companies would face in a cap-and-trade system. It would be easier to implement and enforce, it would prevent special interests from opening up loopholes,"

As mentioned in an early post, Sweden has already adopted a carbon tax since 1991. It has proven financially and environmentally successful and has helped spur innovation, particularly in the field of biomass energy production. In Europe, countries are moving towards carbon tax where as in the US, the discussion seems to still be focused on cap-and-trade.

For a quick (and funny) view on the drawbacks of cap-and-trade, check out the Story of Cap and Trade. For additional information between the two methods, check out this article (short) and this article (long). For information about trends in Europe on carbon tax check here.

Beds are Burning

One week to go until Copenhagen. Here's a little pump up video in preparation of the conference.

Obama's heading to Copenhagen

Obama announced today that he will be traveling to Copenhagen for the climate change discussions after numerous complaints from other countries and environmentalists about his lack of committment to climate change. He will be arriving to the talks early on in the two week period, on Dec 9, which will hopefully create more movement in the discussions during the beginning stages, rather than waiting for the last day or two as often happens.

In addition, Obama has announced some targets for greenhouse gas emissions, despite the Senate not acting on the current bill.

"Mr. Obama will offer to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020, a 30 per cent reduction by 2025 and a 42 per cent drop by 2030, the White House said." (Times Online)

Obama's suggested targets are based on previous figures outlined in the House and Senate during the past year.

"In June, the House passed a bill calling for greenhouse gas reductions of 17 percent below 2005 levels. Last month, a Senate committee passed a measure calling for a 20 percent cut, but that is expected to be weakened as the legislation moves through other Senate committees and onto the floor, perhaps next spring." (New York Times)

This will hopefully put more pressure on countries like China and India to also put significant targets on their reduction levels. Only two weeks to go, we'll see where things go from here.

Charter for Compassion

How often have you heard that religion is the root cause of most wars? When and why has religion got associated with such tragedy and problems in the world and how does this relate with the core principles that religion is intended to stand upon?

It is sad to see so many potential bodies of good relabeled as the cause of unhappiness in the world. Having grown up in the church, I have met countless individuals working to create a better place in and for this world. Each of them deeply inspired and moved by the calling of Christ and desperately wanting to live that message out in their own lives. Many of these individuals have significantly influenced me in how I carry on day-to-day.

But historically, and recently, Christianity (along with many other religions) has sadly taken on a different image. I'm not proud of such an image, and I am often confused at how the central teachings in the bible can so easily be interpreted as uncompassionate teachings. We need to begin moving Christianity back to it's original intention and purpose.

Yet the shear size and weight of the issue is daunting - where do you begin to start unraveling that label?

Recently I came across a group called the Charter for Compassion, which works to bring together individuals from numerous faith traditions to stand united around compassion. Check out the videos below to hear about the conviction and motivation for starting up such a group.

Charter for Compassion:

Motivation Behind Charter for Compassion:

There's a lot that can be discussed around this issue and I think Karen Armstrong, the creator of the group, makes some important insights on the issue. In the video, she states "A lot of religious people prefer to be right, rather than compassionate." Perhaps we need to start there.

"The task of our generation, whether we are religious people or secular people, is to build a global community where people of all persuasions can live together in peace and harmony."

In the Know for COP15

For anyone interested in learning the basics revolving around the upcoming Climate Change discussions taking place in Copenhagen in December (COP15), check out the GOOD Guide to COP 15.

It provides easy to understand explanations of the key issues, players, the treaty, and much more. I often turn to GOOD for their graphical representation of issues and data. For example, this illustration shows some of the big players involved at COP15 and how the countries are split up.

Change in Looks

After 2.5 years, time for an updated look for this blog...

Answers in the shadows

Dark, black, and flat.
All that differentiates it from beyond is the ripple of water,

A steady wind meanders through the scattered islands,
Softly yet forcefully sweeping along the water,
Causing an endless series of ripples moving from the shadows to the dock.

Car headlights.
Illuminating the motion of the wind
A chain emerging from the water, clinging to the dock above.
The weight of its links pulling heavy,
Longing to sink into the flickering light below.

It’s amazing how the darkness can completely change a landscape. So quiet, so mysterious. Constantly challenging our perception and view of our surroundings.

I find myself sitting here alone on an abandoned dock for the season. The boats have been removed from the water as winter approaches, and all that remains is this empty bench. The sky is dark, with a purple hue outlining the horizon. The water surrounding me performs a magical lightshow, reflecting glimmers of light from the town beyond.

Cars rush by in the distance and the sound of passing footsteps is muffled by the rushing wind. A heavy chill sinks into my bones, reminding me of the cold hard bench beneath me. I have no desire to move.

For in the cold and darkness, I find a beautiful peace resonating around me. It’s as if the water on all sides of me contains the keys to a long sought after question. The water stretches out into the distance, disappearing into the night sky, and a smile creeps across my face.

For what happens past those shadows I do not know. Where the water flows to and what other people are sitting on docks much like this one is beyond my understanding. Yet it’s reassuring to know that I have no idea how big or in which direction the water goes.

My problems, my challenges. My desires, and my ambitions, all currently reside in this town.  On this dock. I carry them wherever I go. 

I often like searching for answers. Running off to some new country to learn about their cultures and values. To gain a new understanding for the world around me and challenge my views to that point. Yet sometimes when a challenge arises, I too quickly feel the urge to run off somewhere else to find that answer.

How rarely do I take the time to find the abandoned docks around me and watch the dark water pass by. What if I started searching directly around me more often. What if the answers we are looking for are sitting right next to us, just disguised by the shadows, and waiting to be discovered.

Sometimes finding answers doesn’t come from searching for new land, but rather when we rediscover the land we’ve always walked upon.


A reminder to slow down once in awhile...

I know I can get caught up in the habit of always working. Working and being busy is surprisingly relaxing for me, and when I want to get my mind off of something I start editing a movie or playing in photoshop to take a break.

But I'm beginning to realize that relaxing and taking a break are two different things. Perhaps what I'm really doing is relaxing by distracting my mind with another project. But taking a break is as it implies, stopping everything that's going on and soaking in the silence. Giving the mind time to fully recharge and recenter on what God may be trying to speak towards us. This is far different than relaxing.

But that's tough for me. Heck, even after watching the above video I found myself posting it on here first rather than taking a break from the computer and actually doing what the video said. Perhaps I should do that after I write this up...

Anyway, it's one of those things that I hope to improve upon, especially over the next few weeks as projects get more intense here in Sweden. But for now, it's time to go take a break :)

Are you the next sustainability leader...

So who wants to come live in Sweden for a year or two...  (and learn some pretty awesome stuff while you're at it)

Well now's your chance, the application period is opening up for the next year's Master's programs here at BTH. In addition to the Master's of Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability (MSLS) program, there will be a brand new 2 year program entitled Master's of Sustainable Product-Service System Innovation (MSPI).

Both programs are intended for early- to mid-career professionals. MSLS is for indidivuals with any background and lasts 1 year (this is the program I am currently in). MSPI is intended for industrial designers, industrial economists, engineers, or other similar fields and lasts for 2 years. 

Education here at BTH is far different than what I was used to in the US. There is a heavy focus on learning from your fellow peers which involves lots of group work and projects. At first it took some getting used to, but after a few months in, the program has proven to be extremely beneficial and practical. A few people have described students leaving the program as the Swedish mafia, because graduates travel all across the globe and spread a contagious energy about the framework and ideas learned here at BTH. I'm quickly beginning to understand that feeling...

Anyway, there's lots I could go on to talk about with the program, but I'll save that for now. If you are at all interested or know of people that may be, please feel free to contact me and ask me questions. I love to talk about it! (and if you look closely in the brochures to download online, there's a few pics of me scattered throughout)

Applications must be submitted between Dec 1st and Jan 15th.

350 Videos!

So after a month or so of editing and touching up, our 350 video from Karlskrona is finally complete! A few of the students in our MSLS program organized a human graph demonstrating where our current global CO2 emissions are, 389ppm (parts per million), and where they need to be for a safe level, 350ppm.

We were able to get a bunch of the members from the community involved and our footage was even shown across the world as part of the larger 350 movement (see some of the videos below).

A big thanks to everyone who helped out and made the event such a success! Now it's time to start working on the next film...

350 Karlsrkona - Human Graph Compilation Video (with Karlskrona in it at 1:35)

Another Compilation Video (with Karlskrona in it at 0:50)

And here's the original video I posted on the day of the event (for nothing special it already has 2,400 views!)

And lastly, a few bloopers...


It's been awhile since I've shared some lyrics that stick out to me, so I thought it was about time to list another song. The one currently in my head is called "Bring the Rain" by MercyMe. This song was actually far more important a few years ago and helped remind me to take the time to lift my head and look around. Today I was reminded of it after it started raining outside, one of those reminders of the Swedish winter quickly falling upon Karlsrkona. So I started writing a bit to remind myself of the importance of rain, of difficult times, and what they have taught me in the past.

Once in a while the rain falls outside my window
The clouds deepen and the walls darken.
Beyond the pane of glass I can imagine the wind rushing through the trees,
Gliding swiftly amidst the buildings and over the cobblestone roads.

Yet within these walls, there is such peace
No rush of wind, no drizzle of rain.
And as the grass outside drinks in the rain falling upon it
I sit and soak in the stillness.

Sometimes we forget to acknowledge the walls all around us
Sheltering us from the rain and wind beyond.
For most of the time, the walls stand still 
And we walk on by consumed with our tasks at hand.

But I've been in the rain before, 
And I remember how desperately I longed for these very walls.
As I peer through the glass,
I can easily see all the areas outside offering up shelter.

From the tree at the bottom of the hill,
To the overhang across the street.
From the pavilion down in the park,
To the elderly lady walking with an umbrella.

Sometimes when we're standing in the rain
Our vision becomes obscure.
Rain drops falling upon our eye lashes
And the wind forcing our eyelids shut.

As the rain beats all around us
Our focus narrows.
We long so strongly for the walls
That we are blind to the temporary ones all around us.

Now here's a few of the lyrics from the song:
"I am yours regardless of the clouds that may loom above
because you are much greater than my pain
you who made a way for me, suffering your destiny
so tell me whats a little rain
Maybe since my life was changed. long before these rainy days
It's never really ever crossed my mind
To turn my back on you, oh Lord, my only shelter from the storm
But instead I draw closer through these times"
It's so easy to get caught in the rain, and to forget the larger picture of life. We live in the middle of a beautiful creation. We are blessed in more ways than we can comprehend. There are times that cause us to stumble, and times when we get wet. But after a while, you realize that those times come and go, and they are equally a part of this creation.

For more related to this, check out Rob Bell's video below. (split into two parts)

Leah Visits: Day 3 and 4

(picking up from a previous post)

Day 3:

After a day full of hurdles and unexpected changes to our plan, Leah and I decided to spend the next day to relax and hang out around Karlskrona. We woke up later on Saturday and around lunch, went down to Wayne's Coffee. This was the first place I found internet in Sweden when I first arrived so it was neat to eat lunch with Leah at the place where I had originally talked to her so much.

After lunch, we walked into the center of town to explore the farmer's market and check out one of the churches. Next, we went to check out a small museum which I had heard a lot about since living here but had yet to visit. The museum is a single room and belongs entirely to a private collector. The owner of all the pieces was apparently interviewed by the film crew for the DaVinci Code and they traveled to Karlskrona before filming to ensure that they had all the details correct - this guy must know his stuff.

When we got to the basement, we were blown away by all of the art he had in this tiny space. Everything from Rembrant to Picaso to Cezanne to van Gogh to DaVinci, and we had the whole place nearly to ourselves. The owner even walked with us for a bit and explained some of the hidden details in the DaVinci piece. Go figure - Karlskrona has some pretty cool stuff hidden in all the random little buildings!

After that museum, we walked up to the Naval Museum where Leah was quite entertained by the spiral staircases, giant ship figureheads, and the underwater section of the museum (where you could walk underneath the museum and look through windows out to the ocean water). From there, we walked around more of the island and came across numerous odd signs that required a picture being taken with them.

It was a nice day of just walking and exploring areas of the town that I hadn't seen.

That night, we went to a local pizza shop where Leah experienced her first egg-on-a-pizza, in good old Swedish style! Because we were eating later than normal, the small pizza shop was completely empty so we had the chance to talk with the cook a lot, who tried to convince Leah to come live in Sweden, haha. After stuffing our stomachs, we came back to the apartment to rest - knowing that the following day would be quite busy.

Day 4:

On Sunday, we got up quite early, packed up all of the luggage, and jumped on a train to Copenhagen. After seeing all of Karlskrona quickly and efficiently, we decided to tack on a second country to the trip and go visit Denmark for the day. We booked a hostel in the center of Copenhagen and arrived by train just before lunch.

After dropping the bags off in the hotel room, we got out on the streets and started the long process of wandering. Having not researched the city one bit before leaving, we had no idea what there was to see or where to go. Despite this set-back, we managed to cover nearly the entire city in just a few hours.

Throughout this journey, we ran into...
- an entire village of people re-enacting the medieval period
- a man dressed in a cow-suit riding on a scooter
- a massive (and quite impressive) botanical garden with a beautiful conservatory
- a statue of the Little Mermaid that looks nothing like the Little Mermaid
- lots of kids in super-puffy snowsuits
- a buffet with unlimited amounts of bri cheese (Leah was a fan, sadly the ice cream was not included)
- and best of all, a huge halloween-themed amusement park (which unfortunately cost money so we didn't go in, and we had no time)

That night we had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe and then the following morning, we loaded our stuff back up and got on the train. The first stop was the airport where Leah got off and prepared herself for the long trip back to State College (in comparison to my relatively short train ride back to Karlskrona).

So for four days, we managed to squeeze in more stuff than I had ever originally imagined. It was nice to see that our spontaneity hasn't disappeared and we picked things right up from back when I left in August. To get a better idea of our trip, check out the picasa site for pics of each day.

Needless to say, it was quite the worthwhile trip :) Now its just another month before I head back home for Christmas!

Understanding Climate Change Communication

Here's another Grist article explaining why developing a legal-binding agreement (in comparison to a politically-binding agreement which does nothing) in Copenhagen is so crucial for developing countries. Unfortanetly it doesn't appear to be moving that direction largely due to the lack of speed put forth by the US.

To address the slowness of dealing with climate change (and on a more basic level, simply getting the general public to understand it), the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions recently released a comical manual outlining how to communicate climate change to others, and what goes on inside people's head to better understand the problem. Click here to download the manual - I'm reading through it now and will post interesting thoughts from it later.

Problems ahead for Copenhagen

As explained in a recent Grist post, the unfortunate reality is that it's not looking likely that the hoped-for treaty will come about from the Copenhagen talks this December. This is mostly due to the lack of progress made by the UN negotiations and failure to pass a climate bill in the US.

Instead, negotiators are hoping to at least agree upon a politial framework to approach the climate issue. German Chancellor Angela Merkel commented: “Copenhagen was supposed to be a post-Kyoto regime. Now we are talking about a political framework, and negotiations will drag out longer until we get a treaty.”

Denmark has forged ahead and begun drafts of their own proposed text for the conference. We'll have to stay tuned to see what will ultimately emerge from the talks in just a few weeks.

Leah Visits: Day 1 and 2

So two weekends ago, Leah went out of her way (by roughly 4000 miles) to come visit me in Karlskrona for a few days. She was on the plane for nearly as long as she was here, but it was definitely worth it. While here, the two of us walked almost non-stop for four days, getting the most out of our short trip together. Needless to say it was quite the adventure, here's just a few of the stories...

Day 1:

Today Leah arrived by train in Karlskrona around noon. After a long journey, we went back to my apartment to unload her luggage and get some food. As we were walking into my bedroom (no more than 30 minutes has gone by since arriving in Karlskrona) Leah managed to trip through my doorway. It's good to see that things haven't changed much since I left :)

After getting things settled in the apartment, we walked down to the town square where we went to a tiny kebab shop and both got falafelrulle (a wrap with falafel, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and a hidden pepper that you always have to be on the lookout for).

After lunch, Leah surprisingly felt up for walking around a bit and seeing the town so we went outside to see the one half of Karlsrkona. We explored a few places of the town that I have yet to see which was a lot of fun. We also explored (and identified) many of the plants in Karlskrona - most deffinitely something I haven't done yet.

After walking around a bit and taking a bunch of pictures, we came back to the apartment where we had homemade pizza with the rest of the gang. That night a few folks came over for karaoke but the trip from State College was beginning to catch up with Leah so we went to bed soon after.

Day 2:

The next morning, Leah and I jumped on a train to Kalmar, a town 1 hour north of Karlskrona along the coast. I had been planning on taking Leah there because they have an old Viking castle and a neat church, two things that Leah had mentioned she'd like to see while here.

Well, much to my surprise, the trip went slightly different than I expected. We arrived first at the castle and started by walking around the outside and then eventually, making our way to the inner courtyard. As we walked around, we noticed that it was surprisingly empty. Well I soon realized that unlike every other shop in Sweden, the castle is only open on weekends and closed throughout the rest of the week. stop number one was a no-go.

That's alright, we made up for it by taking some really cool pictures of us outside the castle (because we had the whole place essentially to ourselves).

Next, we went to the nearby modern art museum, with much higher hopes after getting locked out of the castle. We went inside, bought our tickets, and proceeded to the first floor of exhibits. What we found was a room full of paintings and videos that, well, simply put, made no sense. Perhaps that was because all of the descriptions were in Swedish, but I still claim that none of the art made any sense. When a man jumping up and down naked on a TV mooning the camera is considered art, I simply shake my head.

But that's alright, because there were still two more floors ahead of us and we could only assume that it would get better from here.

On the next floor, there was a single door, which we went on through. It turns out that all there was was a library and office space for a few people. Most deffinitiely not a place where visitors were supposed to be walking around - so we quickly got out and proceeded to the final floor.

On the upper floor was supposed to be an exhibit about polar bears and seals...

When we opened the door, only one wall was covered in art and it looked like a random collection of children's paintings which sadly, did not include either a polar bear or a seal. Hanging from the middle of the room was a sheet which on it was projected a seal being stuffed by someone, being played on a loop.

Needless to say, it was the poorest museum I have ever been to, which is a shame because we were both big fans of modern art up until that point. (But we're still holding out hope for other places...)

After the museum, we walked to the center of the town where we passed by some neat old streets and shops and even a glassblower.  Eventually, we found the church which we were quite excited to see. As the day would have it however, the door was locked for lunch so we took the forced break to grab some food at a nearby cafe (in which they were playing Star Trek - strange) An hour later, we walked outside and went inside the church, excited that we were finally about to see something.

But, as luck would have it, upon walking through the doors, we were greeted by the largest sheet of white plastic I have ever seen hanging directly in front of us. Confused, we walked up towards a section which had a clear window inserted and looked through to the other side - only to find that the entire inside of the church was being renovated and was nothing but dust and construction equipment.

At this point, we were beginning to feel slightly defeated so we headed back to the train station. We managed to arrive just in time and barely made it onto the train heading back to Karlskrona.

Slightly relieved that we were now heading back to 'home,' we found some seats and took a little rest. Amidst our rest, our train decided to take its good old time to get to where it was going, and by the time we had to get off halfway to switch trains, we were running 30 minutes behind schedule. That being said, we had missed our connecting train and were now stuck in a random town that no one has ever heard of, Emmaboda. So we talked to the train lady working there and she said we could grab a bus home but it wouldn't be another hour before it arrived.

By this point we had given up and were completely ammused with how the day was going and decided to hang out at the nearest (perhaps the only) cafe in town. Turns out the cafe had a thing for the 70s and it felt like we had stepped back in time to some disco place, but the food was great so we didn't mind.

A few hours later and we found ourselves finally back in Karlskrona, relieved after the craziness of the morning.

To make sure that we were somewhat productive for the day, we decided to head to my school to show Leah where all the studying happens (sort of). To get us there, I was planning on renting a tandem bike for the two of us, but as the day had shown, our luck wasn't going to get us the bike. So instead, we decided to do it like all the Swedish teenagers do - one person riding while the other sits on the carrying rack behind and holds their feet out to the side.

Who would have thought such a task would be so difficult. But let's just say that Leah's lack of grace when it comes to walking (ie tripping all the time) also carries over to her ability to sit behind me on a bike. We made it all of 50 feet before giving up and deciding to walk the bike to school, and somehow, in those 50 feet, Matt happened to ride by on his bike to witness the whole ordeal. I guess that's one task we're going to have to work on more for the future.

After getting to school, I realized that there really wasn't much to show - BTH is about the size of PSU's football stadium, well maybe slightly bigger, but you get the idea. So, I got the idea to show Leah our bike coop room in the basement. As we were heading to the basement door, I went to open it at the same time as a series of indivudals dressed in all black with road signs hanging around their neck emerged from the same basement door. Both of us jumped back as the group filed out of the basement followed by a man carrying a video camera and halloween axe. Oh the things you come across in Sweden... Turns out the bike room was locked but that incident alone was worth heading to the basement.

Satisfied that we had actually seen something for the day, we walked back to the apartment.

That night, we went out to dinner with Ali and Matt where we happened to run into our head professor of the program. Everything was fine until we realized that we were sitting under a bunch of pictures of naked girls at our table, slightly awkward, but oh well. The food was great and Ali and Leah even decided to try out their Swedish moves on the dance floor (granted it was just the two of them and their moves were more like a sprint around the dance floor while Matt and I continued walking by).

(stay tuned for more about Day 3 and 4...)

New Eyes. New Future.

So I’ve been hooked on the whole documentary kick recently and find myself searching through different films online in my free time. Today, I came across a film called War/Dance – a story about children in northern Uganda who have been displaced from their homes because of violence and war. The film shows that many of these children have experienced horrible things in their lives and now, are united through song and use dancing as a way to escape from the past and live for the future.

It was a film that really pulled at me, and I found myself balancing tears of happiness and tears of sorrow. After watching films like these – that do nothing more then retell an individuals story – I can’t help but feel awful for the way we are leaving this planet and our society for the next generation.

When you listen to any of these children’s stories…when you understand what they have had to go through…when you watch their tears role down as they simply tell you about themselves – how can we do anything else but ask ourselves – is this how life was intended to be lived?

Back in the summer of 2007 when I visited Tanzania, I met a friend who has had more of an impact on me than I ever thought possible for only knowing someone for a few weeks. His name was Johnny, and he was an orphan. Johnny was abandoned by his mother shortly after his birth and was the unintended outcome of a failed, illegal abortion. As a result, Johnny is mute, suffers brain damage, and has a limp and deformed arm.

I’ve never met a kid with a bigger heart – or a bigger smile. I miss Johnny.

Although Johnny and I didn’t share a common language, and could only communicate through laughs, hand motions, and grunts – by the time I left, I knew Johnny’s story. In so little time, I learned to see the world through his perspective and his eyes. All of the sudden, I learned that life was about more than the difficulties thrown our way, and was more about our attitude towards handling them. Johnny learned that pretty quickly, and was one of the happiest kids I’ve met despite his challenges.

You know, when I think of the kids in our world, I have a renewed sense of hope. It’s easy to look around us and pick out the messed up, broken, and failed things we have created. We so easily overlook the children, quietly standing beneath our gaze waiting for their turn to make a difference. When will we stop, look down, and seek their knowledge?

Sure they don’t have the wisdom or skills that are developed with age, but I believe in the knowledge of a child. I believe in their simplicity, their curiosity, and their love.

So as I was watching War/Dance, all of these thoughts started rushing back to me from my time in Africa. At one point in the film, a child confronts one of the rebels who had abducted him a few years early and asks if he knows anything about his missing brother, who he hasn’t seen in years. He then goes on to ask why they continue to abduct and kill children when they know it is wrong.

I wish I had just a fraction of the bravery and courage it takes to ask questions like those. Let alone sit and wait for an answer…

But to a child, some things are simply black and white. Some questions have to be asked. And often their curiosity leads them to ask those questions. Why do you kill when you know it is bad?

We’ve gotten good at answering those questions by explaining the ‘grey’ areas in life or explaining the complexity of the situation. But have we missed the point. I understand we live in a complex world, but aren’t certain things still black and white. We’ve gotten so good at answering children s questions that we begin using those same answers on ourselves. But what if we took the time to listen to the answer from a child’s point of view…

One of the girl’s from the movie makes the comment “I’m excited to see what peace looks like…”

I am too.

Anyway, I couldn’t really articulate everything I was thinking above, so I wrote the following. Maybe one day we’ll start to take the advice from our children…

New Eyes. New Future.

I want to see the world through the eyes of a child.
I want to feel pain as a child,
   experience joy as a child,
      share a story as a child.

Sadly, I don’t know if I remember how to think like a child anymore.
I can categorize their actions,
Observe their behavior,
And speak about their brilliance,
But to think their thoughts is far too difficult.

I wish I could hold back the tears for just once,
wipe them all away.

What world have we created for those younger?
Is this what I am proud to hand over?
I often dream of my legacy, our legacy,
We flip through the pages of history
And sum up others’ actions in a few brief words.

But what records will there be of us?
What direction are we moving?
And do our children want to follow?

We are numb to the world we have created
And confused when children seemed shocked about that same world.
Can we open our eyes for just once
To see what we have created?

If the fate of tomorrow rests in our hands,
Then when will we grasp it and change it…

I hope I will be there
When the last bomb drops
And the last tear falls

I want to be there
When the armies scatter
And the guns drop

When soldier’s arms are open wide to embrace children,
And a mother is reunited with her daughter.

I’m excited to see what peace looks like…

For I’ve seen the smile of a child in the midst of war.
It is a smile that has weathered a storm, and even though it rains,
Manages to peak through and find a glimmer of light.

But imagine those same smiles in the midst of peace...
With no worries or fears,
No demons or nightmares.

A smile about the world around them,
Not for the world inside of them.

But until that day,
I will walk with the stories of those children in my heart.
Their pains, their joys, and their stories are not mine,
But I will hold onto them as a reminder

A reminder that we are all walking side by side.
We are simply passerbys on this planet,
With the hope that we would leave this world
a better place than how we found it.

Complexity of Water

Donating money is easy; changing a lifestyle is hard.

Some of the people I know are extremely quick to offer money to aid and development groups whose goal is to 'serve the poor and underpriveleged.' This is great and I myself support many of these same groups. I don't think any less attention should be focused on these organizations.

However, it seem hypocritical and a cop-out for so many people to willing give their money to causes such as these (because of powerful marketing, inspiring personal stories, or shear size) but then live the rest of their lives with no regard to how personal life decisions impact the same cause that they were so quick to financially support.

So what am I trying to get at here, maybe it would help if I gave an example that sticks out to me. (Although honestly, I'm still looking up many of these issues to understand what it's all about)

As a society we have gotten really good at separating ourselves from the source of things. The Story of Stuff is an excellent summary of this problem, and shows how we very rarely know, or understand, where things that we use and consume come from. We're not taught to think of the larger system and processes involved. Rather we're taught to focus on the final product. I guess this would be one way to describe consumerism.

Let's consider the plastic water bottle as one example. To start, it is made from plastic, which is made from oil, which has a whole list of side-effects such as climate change, increased gaps between rich and poor, and increasing landfills. Plastic water bottles account for 1.5 million tons of waste each year, and require 50 million gallons of oil per year to produce. Sure it's great when they are recycled (although only 20% of all bottles are actually recycled), but is there even a need for the bottle in the first place? Additionally, it takes 'three times as much water to produce the bottle as it does to fill it.' Something just doesn't seem right...

Well let me back down a little bit, I don't want to start pointing my finger too quickly. It's easy to pick out flaws in others behavior (or in this case, partially my own), but I realize there are probably just as many problems that I need to overcome in my own life. None of us are perfect and when we loose humbleness, we loose our ability to empower others.

But back to the water bottles. Coming to Sweden, I made it a goal of mine to carry my aluminum water bottle with me everywhere so I wouldn't need to buy bottled water. So far, so good, and it's been at my side pretty much wherever I go (as evident by the numerous dents and scratches it has picked up over the last 4 weeks).

So the other day I started looking into the larger system and processes behind the water bottle industry that are so often disguised (or we're just too lazy to go look up ourselves). I came across a documentary called 'FLOW' which investigates water scarcity throughout the world and how multinational companies play a huge role in buying up poorer communities water resources to make a profit for themselves.

It's funny, in the past I often got (and still do get) pulled into the emotional side of developing countries having limited or no access to clean water. How can such a large proportion of society (we're talking about global society here, not western society) not have their basic right for water met when the rest of the world can easily go turn on a tap whenever we want? Something didn't seem fair, and who was doing anything about it?

So I often found myself supporting organizations who were drilling water pumps and developing products that sterilized dirty water.

But I never thought about how the water I drank and used in the western world was connected to those people.

What I started to learn from 'FLOW' was that the water I drink is more often than I realized connected to those same people that I always wanted to help - yet not in a very positive way. On top of the fact that larger water companies treat those communities fairly poorly, the money that I spent on their bottled water could have just as easily gone to directly supporting the organizations building the pumps in the developing world.

One estimate from the UN claims that 30 billion US dollars would be needed to provide clean water for the entire world. In just a single year, 3 times that much is spent on bottled water alone (taken from FLOW film).

So then I started looking into the difference between bottled water and tap water and sure enough, there's no difference. As much as the bottling companies would like us to think otherwise, the fact is that tap water is regulated by the U.S. EPA more stringently than bottled water is from the U.S. FDA.

Additionally, one research group found '38 different harmful chemicals, including painkillers, fetilizer and arsenic' in 10 popular brands of bottled water.

The more I researched the issue, the more surprising facts I found.

If you're at all interested in this issue or simply want to be more aware of global water problems, I would definitely recommend 'FLOW.' Check out the trailer and full-length film below.

FLOW Trailer

FLOW Full-length film

So when I start to think of issues like these and realize how little I actually knew about something that I use so frequently (water of all things, it nearly defines me, ha), I begin to realize how important awareness is. The same can be said for any other issue such as climate change, deforestation, sex trafficking, peace, or education.

The key is for our society to start questioning.

To stop being comfortable with what is, and be bold enough to make what should be.

Crossing the Tipping Points

New research published in Nature outlines 10 life-sustaining bio-physical systems for society and shows how they have either crossed a crucial threshold or are near to crossing that limit.

As you can see from the illustration above representing the 10 systems, we have already crossed the tipping point for three of them: climate change, biodiversity loss, and the nitrogen cycle.

This paper attempts to numerically evaluate some of the main 'sustainability' problems facing our society. It is a similar approach to that of the Natural Step, which outlines the four sustainability principles that cannot be violated to ensure a sustainable society operating within the ecosphere.

The research put forth in Nature is a first attempt at identifying those limits, which is tricky business. In identifying planetary boundaries, we can show how close we actually are to crossing the 'rough' limits we've defined for the system. At the same time, it may encourage inaction on issues where we still have some wiggle room.

For more thoughts on the proposed framework (which is actually based in Stockholm), check out the following article and comments added by leading experts on a few of these issues.

Age of Stupid Thoughts

Well, just got back last night from the premiere of The Age of Stupid and I have mixed feelings from the film. The movie accurately portrayed what it may be like 50 years down the road if nothing is done to slow down global warming, however, the film concluded on a fairly hopeless ending. I have no trouble with a film like that if the purpose is to dramatically show the negative effects to those who are interested in climate change but are somewhat on the fence about acting about the issue. For example, it made the point that protests and people pressure are extremely effective (and urgently needed when considering the closeness of Copenhagen) at urging political leaders to make necessary decisions. So I'm sure that group of people will leave the movie feeling assured once again about the importance and urgency needed to act on climate change.

However, for those still new to climate change and unsure about the next steps they can take, the movie was too much of a doomsday downer, with very little motivation to get out and do something. Now granted, there was a follow-up to the movie with interviews from Kofi Annan and others, but I feel like it could have been incorporated into the film itself a little better. Sure this is an extremely important issue that needs an all-hands-on-deck approach, but I believe inspirational leaders are more effective at moving the masses than a primarily negative movie.

The good news however, is that if we look at the whole and this week in general, there is that side of the coin as well. Tuesday in NY, the UN met to discuss climate change and Obama gave his first address to the UN. As with many of Obama's speeches, there are always parts that seem pretty memorable, and one of my favorite lines from this one was:
"But difficulty is no excuse for complacency.  Unease is no excuse for inaction.  And we must not allow the perfect to become the enemy of progress."
I especially like the last line. There are too many people who are expecting the perfect treaty to emerge from Copenhagen, which odds are that won't happen. However, that is not to say that progress will not be made. This is a complex issue, no one is arguing that fact. As a result, we will not end up with a perfect solution, and the process is going to require many iterations before getting it right.

So it will be interesting to read some of the articles that come out about the talks on Tuesday to see what progress was made. Here's just one of them so far describing the confusion regarding the current plateau in global temperatures caused by periodic fluctuations in the sea. Sadly, climate critics are using this as an excuse to downplay the urgency of drafting an international treaty by Copenhagen.

Consider This

Here's a cool video showcasing Nike's Considered Design project and sustainable product innovation in the shoe industry. They worked alongside the Natural Step Canada to remake this branch of their brand.

Newspaper Prank

Pretty fantastic - a group pranks the New York Post to raise awareness about climate change as we enter into "Climate Week" with a series of meetings and events taking place this week.

Peace + Soccer

Stumbled across some cool stuff PUMA is supporting along with their sustainability reports.

Check out Peace One Day and PUMA Peace (scroll down to see some sweet pics of the soccer matches they've held in support of Peace One Day)

Approaching Sustainability

There's been a lot of talk about climate change recently and seems to be the topic-of-choice for the media when it comes to sustainability. The reality however, is that there are numerous other problems that are all interlinked and partially responsible for the current state of the planet and society. Sustainability is such a broad and all-encompasing term that it is beginning to generate some confusion about what it actually means.

Earth System

Regardless of the various definitions thrown around for what sustainability stands for, we can typically draw consensus that it involves systems. At its root, sustainability is about understanding some broader system and how different things interact within it.

Of course the primary system we must consider is the planet earth, but depending on different situations and scenarios, the specific system can be further developed and refined, while keeping in mind that it resides within the larger system of the planet.

Natural Cycles

The interactions that take place within this large system are extremely important to note. The image above illustrates one view of those interactions. You have the lithosphere on the bottom which is basically the Earth's crust. On top of that layer is the ecosphere, which includes everything from trees, water, and the atmosphere. Within the ecosphere is society, ideally operating within the bounds of the ecosphere.

Each of these three categories interact with the other through various processes. A few of these interactions include:
- Volcanoes (Lithosphere to Ecosphere)
- Mining (Lithosphere to Society)
- Landfill Waste (Society to Ecosphere)
- Nuclear Waste (Society to Lithosphere)

The Sustainability Challenge

So by understanding and recognizing our planet as the key system, what then is the real sustainability challenge?

If you were to try and brainstorm as many issues as you could related to sustainability, you would probably generate a pretty extensive list. A few issues might include climate change, loss of biodiversity, increasing population, loss of good farm land, decreasing fossil fuel reserves, or greater eco-toxicity.

If you then look more closely at that list, you'll notice that nearly every issue is somehow tied to every other in some way or another.

The problem is that too many people view these issues as standard 'everyday' problems that must be periodically overcome, all of the time remaining within some 'safe zone' which society can function and thrive. This is sometimes illustrated by using a cylinder metaphor.

Cylinder Metaphor

The reality however is that many of these issues will continue to get worse and worse, and in fact, the walls of the cylinder (our supposed 'safe zone') are slowly caving in on us as time goes by. So instead, we have a situation that looks like a funnel.

Funnel Metaphor

Depending on the issue, these walls may be caving in more quickly than others. Regardless, by recognizing the funnel, we can see that the longer we wait, the less maneuverability we will have to make a change towards sustainability.

The real sustainability challenge is to recognize the walls and the fact that we are running into them and make systematic moves towards the opening.

How to Plan for Sustainability

So once we recognize this funnel scenario, we need to know how to plan to get to the opening.

As individuals, we sometimes like to plan and solve problems through a process known as backcasting. For example, if you were to move to a new location that you've never been to before (I don't know, let's say Sweden) and needed to find a house you would probably generate a list of neccesary things that must be incorporated with that new house once you arrived. So you might say that it has to be within biking distance of your school, within a certain affordable price range, and big enough to keep all your stuff. You would then envision that perfect solution and once you arrived in Sweden, start looking and making steps towards finding that dream house.

However, when individuals gather in groups, this type of planning typically breaks down and we resort to a planning strategy known as forecasting. Just like with the weather, forecasting involves using your previous knowledge and experience along with past trends to predict what the future might be like. The problem with such a method is that it restricts the future envisioned scenario to past trends and knowledge.

Backcasting from Success
This is of particular importance when planning for sustainability because we need to be able to envision a sustainable society in the future free from today's trends. Then once we have developed that vision of the future (the 'X' in the picture above) we can then backcast to today and develop strategic steps to get us from today to that point.

An example of a potential problem with forecasting related to sustainability may be a case such as energy. Some people may claim that solar or wind energy is the solution for a sustainable society. However, this kind of reasoning is based solely off of our current knowledge and trends. If we were to apply backcasting, we would instead envision energy in the future

Defining Success

So the key then in this whole pictures is that if we want to succeed in a complex system, we need to be able to define what success is. And from there, develop steps to success.

This can typically not be done on the level of detail, and rather, must be built on overarching principles of the system (which for sustainability, means the planet earth). But the problem is that most people who work in the field of sustainability have no idea what the basic principles for sustainability are.

Principles of Sustainability

By having a set of Sustainability Principles that can be used to analyze problems and assist in planning, we are able to create a 'common language' so that everyone working on the problem can properly talk together. A current problem is that experts (who are needed to help solve sustainability issues) get so hung up in their own field that it can be difficult to bring them together and generate consensus. So what are those principles?

There are four basic sustainability principles that have been developed and refined over the past few years by a wide group of scientists through peer-reviewed journals. Of course, as with any science, these are things to be further discussed and refined, but for now, these principles have proven successful and helped numerous businesses, organizations, and municipalities plan towards sustainability.

To generate the principles, scientists came to consensus on four system conditions for a sustainable society. These were built on scientific laws such as Conservation of Mass, the 1st and 2nd law of thermodynamics, and the fact that Earth is an open system to energy but closed to matter (the sun radiates energy to the planet but matter on the planet cannot leave, only change form).

If those four system conditions were true, then as a society, our main sustainability principles should follow that we do not contribute to those four things which can detract from a sustainable society. Summed up, the sustainability principles state the following:

Our sustainability principles are to eliminate our contribution to systematic...
1. increases in concentrations of substances brought up from the Earth's crust
2. increases in concentrations of substances produced by society
3. physical degradation of nature
4. undermining of people's capacity to meet their needs
In simpler language, we as a society should not be...
1. taking stuff from the Earth's crust at a rate faster than they can return (such as mining or drilling)
2. making stuff faster than it can breakdown in nature (such as plastics)
3. destroying nature (such as deforestation or over-fishing), or
4. making it difficult for others to meet their needs (such as unfair trade or working conditions)
By adhering to these principles, we can start to create a common language to work on sustainability issues. Without such a uniting framework, it becomes too difficult to identify where to start with so many different issues tied to sustainability.

Once we have this basic understanding, we can then start to apply specific planning methodologies such as the 5-Level Framework (discussed in an earlier blog post) or a more specialized approach known as the ABCD Analysis (I'll save to talk about that one for another time).

*For further and expanded information about the stuff previously mentioned, feel free to download the Sustainability Primer from The Natural Step Canada.

Having said that, there are still specific sustainability issues, such as climate change, which are off particular importance in the near future.

Here's a clip from BBC News summing up a few of the concerns and challenges for the Climate Change negotiations to take place in Copenhagen this December. Feel free to jump to around 6:30 for the actual discussions between the guests on the show (or just watch the whole thing - it's tied to 'The Age of Stupid' which premiers next week).

The video gets at a few of the key issues that are hoped to be resolved at Copenhagen. These include:
1) The role that developed countries will play at reducing their emissions.
2) The role that developing countries will play to limit the growth of their emissions.
3) Where will the money come from to help the developing countries.
4) Who will manage that money.

The specific details of the deal may not be reached by December, but if these larger questions can be addressed and answered, then significant progress will have been made in the right direction. The next few days will also launch "Climate Week" as some are calling it, which includes three key meetings in Washington, NY, and Pittsburgh to discuss climate change.

The Perfect Time

Here's some lyrics that have been rolling through my head a lot recently.

"Never Be Ready"
-Mat Kearney
Come on and lay down these arms
All our best defenses
We're taking our chances here on the run
The fear is an anchor
Time is a stranger
Love isn't borrowed
We aren't promised tomorrow

We'll never be ready if we keep waiting
For the perfect time to come
Hold me steady, we'll never be ready
When we don't know, though we can't see
Just walk on down this road with me
Hold me steady, we'll never be ready
I can really relate to this song, and the feeling of always wanting to wait for the perfect time before jumping in. Especially with this master's program in Sweden. One of the main points of this program is to learn key steps to implementing sustainability initiatives in businesses, organizations, and industries. Of the 75 people in the program, I am one of the youngest. It seems a bit crazy to expect someone with minimal experience to advise those much older than myself on key sustainability issues.

It feels as if I should wait a few months for the program to fully develop before fully jumping in. But hesitation is a hindrance and by waiting for the perfect time to come, I may miss out on some key issues.

Hold me steady, we'll never be ready...

Fortunately, I have already developed some really neat friendships here (in addition to Matt who came along with me) that I'll be able to walk through all of this with. In fact, I think that's one of the key aspects to sustainability. At least for me, I know how much more reassuring it is to see others go ahead and blaze a trail in which I can follow on. It's scary to "just walk on down this road" not entirely sure what the future may bring. By having friends to walk the road with you, the unknowns in life don't seem so big anymore.

I guess that's one of the goals of this program as well. A key difference that we have been discussing is the difference between forecasting and backcasting. We are most used to forecasting, which involves taking our current trends, knowledge, and experience and forecasting it into the future to imagine what a sustainable society might look like. Just like weatherman do to predict our weather for tomorrow. The innate problem for sustainable development with this concept however is that it ties a sustainable future to our current behavior.

Backcasting on the other hand releases us from the trends of today and starts by envisioning what a sustainable society might look like. For example rather than imagining what renewable energy may look like in the future, we could imagine what energy in general would look like in the future.

Backcasting then takes the envisioned sustainable society of the future and determines strategic steps to make towards that point.

Love isn't borrowed
We aren't promised tomorrow...

This was an interesting line that took me a bit to think over in my head. I'm still not entirely sure what it means and would love to hear thoughts from others. For me, it seems to be talking about taking responsibility for the way we live our lives. We can't simply borrow someone else's love. We can't borrow someone else's experiences or joys or fears. Our lives are meant to be lived by us, and we must remember that the good and bad come together in a single package. It's easy to find excuses because of the fears or unknown paths ahead. But it's on those uncharted paths that we will find tomorrow's joys. We aren't promised tomorrow though, so we need to start the journey today.

With regards to sustainability, it is also easy to fall in the trap of recognizing primarily the bad on the path ahead. It's important that we keep our eyes open and recognize both the good and bad. Our eyes and way of seeing have the power to manipulate reality, and we must be careful to objectively and fairly view sustainable development around us.

Every now and then it's encouraging to be reminded that we are all unsure of what the future holds. We are all unsure of the steps to get there and unsure where the high and low points will be. But regardless, tomorrow is ours and we can choose when to start that journey.

It gives me reassurance when thinking about the next step from this master's program. The next year will be a learning and growing experience. The ball is surely already rolling, and we'll see where it goes from there.

p.s. you should check out the rest of Mat Kearney's new album "City of Black and White" - it's awesome!

PFC on Tour

So I leave the country for just a year and in that time, Playing For Change decides to go on tour. I expect all you people still in the States to go and see them for me.

Introduction to MSLS

So I thought it would be helpful for me to start writing down some of my thoughts from lectures here at BTH on my blog. Classes started last Monday and so far, we have gone over the basics of the program, a really innovative way of discussing lots of issues in detail through a process called 'open space', and an introduction to the Natural Step approach.

Our program is entitled Master's of Strategic Leadership towards Sustainability (MSLS). Karl-Hendrik Robert (the founder of the Natural Step) has been lecturing to us for the past few days. He started by introducing his framework for analyzing and implementing sustainability into our companies, governments, and cities. The following day, he then went on to discuss the physics and chemistry underpinning his framework.

But before I get into what was discussed in the lectures, let me give you a very brief overview of the Natural Step (TNS). TNS was started up 20 years ago in Sweden in an effort to bring scientists together in consensus on sustainability. From this point, we would then be able to develop a common language in which to effectively discuss the 'un-sustainability' around us. From that vision, a network of multiple Natural Step's have popped up all over the world in numerous countries to help guide and facilitate companies, governments, and municipalities towards sustainability. This framework, referred to as FSSD (framework for strategic sustainable development) is based upon understanding the systems holding everything together. A common frustration is that we as a people like to specialize in 'things.' And although this is needed in our society, it creates problems because we rarely take the time to look up and see what others are doing in other specialties and fields around us. Such a mindset makes it very difficult to approach sustainability and it is the FFSD that attempts to bridge this gap.

Now back to some of the details from the lecture.

Karl-Hendrik introduced three questions that are key in evaluating 'un-sustainability.'
1) Do you have a definition of sustainability?
2) Referring to that definition, what is your gap?
3) What are you doing to bridge that gap?

The first of these questions is probably the most important. With sustainability being such a hot-topic nowadays, it seems silly that we very rarely actually talk about what sustainability means. Sure we talk about things such as water scarcity, soil degradation, and climate change, but we rarely define sustainability. Without a common definition of the term, it is hard to approach the larger picture, and we end up specializing too soon on the sub-problems rather than the larger picture. After a definition is agreed upon, we can then begin to analyze a our given situation and find ways of striving towards sustainability.

Once answering these questions, we can then move on to look at various strategies for achieving success. Here is the path which KHR suggested:

Step 1 involves understanding the system. This is where understanding basic chemistry and physics is important. This step involves understanding the rules of the game.

Step 2 then defines what success looks like for this specific example. If you don't understand the system well enough (and have a common language to communicate back and forth between one another) then it is impossible to determine what you want (success). This is one of the most commonly lacking aspects of sustainability in the real world.

Step 3 then determines a strategy. It is most often unrealistic to immediately transition to full-sustainability. Just as in chess, it is rare (if not impossible) to win in 1 or 2 steps. However, each move you make (even if it sacrifices one of your own pieces) ideally moves you towards winning. This is the same for making sustainable decisions. Although the intial move may not be fully sustainable, it may facilitiate and allow your next step to achieve success.

Step 4 then identifies those specific actions needed to be taken.

And step 5 includes the tools to get there.

So that is the basic overview of the framework, and then there are numerous steps within this bigger framework which we will be discussing in further detail throughout the year. Some of these we covered in the first lectures but I don't have the time or space to write all of that out at this moment.

However from the lectures, there were some interesting other thoughts that were raised. Here are just a few of them.

"We're looking for knowledge, but we're drowning in detail."
- This refers back to the specializing issue developed in our society. We are so accustomed to knowing more and more but we tend to always look to the detail rather than the system. KHR describes it like a tree - where the trunk and branches are the unifying system and the leaves represent the details. Sometimes we focus so much on our leaf that we forget to look at the leaves around us and more importantly, the branch connecting us to the bigger picture.

"We do not want to become poor now to become rich later."
- Many individuals view sustainability as a poor economical decision. The reality is however that if companies end up making fully sustainable solutions in their company too aggressively, then they will soon drive themselves to bankruptcy and no longer be able to impact those around them. So in fact, it is not in the interest of the company or 'sustainability' to try and push sustainability too fast. The best method is to start by looking for 'low-hanging fruit,' solutions that are financially smart, have a flexible platform, and are in the right direction.

"We don't live our lives to avoid cancer, nor do we live our lives to avoid un-sustainability."
- KHR was originally a medical doctor performing cell and cancer research. For this reason, many analogies and examples of his tend to revolve around cancer or the medical field. This example tries to illustrate how we don't consciously avoid cancer at every second of the day. Sure there are things that we do such as putting on sunscreen and not smoking that help avoid cancer, but most of the time we don't make a conscious effort to avoid cancer. In the same way, many of us don't live our daily lives in a way to be sustainable. Yet there are certain things that we just do such as recycling because it has become a regular habit. The reason we do these unconscious things is because we have developed a framework to understand them - what is needed is to further this framework to better understand the details. This is why there are thousands of cancer researchers throughout the world, now we need an equal amount of sustainability researchers.

"Sustainability is neither top-down or bottom-up."
- Sustainability does not work by educating the politicians and government to make smarter decisions. Neither does it work by educating the general public and expecting them to change the direction of the entire whole. Rather, these must both happen simultaneously. The first step to starting up TNS in Sweden involved something known as the 'Big Mailing.' This involved KHR mailing out a consensus document written by leading scientists on the issues agreed upon relating to sustainability to all households in Sweden. In doing so, KHR put himself in the position to start influencing the upper administration to get things done with the entire public as a witness.

There were plenty of other interesting topics brought up but I won't bore you with all of them right now :) I'm really excited to see how this framework applies to projects and issues I've been involved with in the past. In particular, I am excited to explore how to funnel 'sustainability' into our current culture.

We (at least in the US) are fast-paced and constantly desire to be entertained. This makes it difficult to explain frameworks such as FSSD and other methods to the general public, in less they go out of their way to better understand it. It isn't feasible to get the message across in a short 2 minute overview on CNN. I'm hoping this can tie into my interest in better understanding how organizations such as Disney can impact the public. Walt Disney has a quote "It is not higher education that interests me so much as general mass education." -WD

Disney was one of the first to distinguish that either education can be entertaining or entertainment can be educational (tied to edutainment). How does a structure such as Disney influence 'un-sustainability' - that's what I hope to further explore this year, we'll see where it leads.

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