Why was Barack Obama awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?

To begin with, congratulations to Barack Obama on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009. Obama received the award, “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”And while there are some who feel the award may be premature, my belief is that this award is probably delivered at just the perfect time.

Is the award for things that Obama has already accomplished? Is it a recognition of Obama’s power to inspire people everywhere — coupled with his renewal of diplomacy as a means of moving the global conversation on peace forward? Or is there another agenda?

The Nobel committee many times awards the Peace Prize to people it believes can leverage the prize to further the agenda of peace — to add momentum, if you will, to efforts that are in-flight and may not have yet yielded dividends.

From the wikipedia entry on The Nobel Peace Prize:

However, others have pointed to the uniqueness of the Peace Prize in that its high profile can often focus world attention on particular problems and possibly aid in the peace-efforts themselves.

I believe it may be underestimated by many what impact this prize may have on the negotiations for peace that Obama will undertake in the coming years.

If this award allows him to be more effective in using diplomacy in the cause of peace over the next 3-7 years, then it will have a real and lasting impact — and I believe the committee is betting that will be the case.

I’m betting the same thing — for the sake of all who believe in the cause of peace.

In the 21st Century, What Does Freedom of Speech Mean?

The women below are exercising their constitutional right to Freedom of Speech — or are they?


These ladies — who won an international Bridge competition last month — put together their sign in response to questions they got from other teams in the tournament. Members of teams from other countries were questioning how the American government could justify its policies — the ladies just wanted everyone to know that they disagreed too.Well, the United States Bridge Federation disagrees and is now trying to punish them severely — including cutting off their ability to make a living as Professional Bridge players.

“This isn’t a free-speech issue,” said Jan Martel, president of the United States Bridge Federation, the nonprofit group that selects teams for international tournaments. “There isn’t any question that private organizations can control the speech of people who represent them.”

Not so, said Danny Kleinman, a professional bridge player, teacher and columnist. “If the U.S.B.F. wants to impose conditions of membership that involve curtailment of free speech, then it cannot claim to represent our country in international competition,” he said by e-mail.

It’s been a long time since the founders of America put together the US Constitution and our Bill of Rights.

At the head of the Bill of Rights, they chose to put Freedom of Speech as the very first guaranteed right of all citizens. They had lived in a time when speaking out against the King of England was literally a crime punishable by death, so it’s no wonder they felt so strongly about it.

So now, in the 21st Century, have things changed?

With America at war in Iraq and Afghanistan — should people still be allowed to speak out freely? And at what point does criticism of the Government or of the President cross the line? Is there — or should there be — any line that can be crossed to make Freedom of Speech no longer a guaranteed right?

What do you think — should the United States Bridge Federation be able to punish them financially for their actions? And if so, what exactly does Freedom of Speech mean?

Three Projects — AND Three Values

On of the challenges faced by most of us in our modern world is that of ‘Overload’. We have hundreds of cable channels, hundreds of news outlets, millions of blogs — all beckoning us to spend our time with them.

How to deal with “project overload”?

All these things are waiting to sap and drain our most valuable possession – Time.

That’s one of the reasons I enjoy reading blogs like Zen Habits and books like The Four Hour Work Week (4HWW) and Getting Things Done (GTD). They help me better manage my time and tasks so I can make the best use of my time and minimize the stress I deal with.

Practical Ways To Deal With Project Overload

A great example of better time management I’ve picked up are The Low Information Diet from 4HWW. Tim Ferris, author of the 4HWW describes the low information diet as essentially ignoring all news unless it finds its way to you.

He recommends watching no news programs and reading no news websites. None. If something is so important that you need to know about it, you’ll hear about it somehow.

Another interesting approach is the idea of Haiku Productivity from Zen Habits. The idea behind this is that you organize your work into projects, as recommended in GTD, but only work on 3 projects at a time. If you work on more, then you can struggle getting things completed.

By limiting your projects to three at a time and focusing on project completion, you can rapidly get things accomplished — rather than spend all your time on tasks while not actually completing things.

But there’s something missing — Values

I like both these ideas, but I believe there’s something missing in them both. Something important — and that’s Values. If we all simply stuck our heads in three projects and ignored the world around us, then important changes in our world might not get off the ground.

How can we expect people to learn to conserve energy, or reduce consumption if all they think about is the three projects they have going right then?

We can do anything — if we can put our minds to it

I believe that if our society were to set its mind to it, we could tackle many of these challenges. We could develop less better transportation systems. We could reduce what we consume and focus on making more of our consumption sustainable. But in order to do that, the Values of society will have to change.

As a society we’ll have to change our Values to make these things more important to us all. Once society adopts the Values of reduced consumption and sustainable living, I believe we’ll be amazed at how quickly things change. If you look around, in fact, you can see the beginnings of this already.

Add “Three Values” to your “Three Projects”

So while I agree with the ideas behind Haiku Productivity — limiting yourself to three active projects at any one time — I’d add to that “and Three Values”. Reducing your consumption isn’t a project anyway — it’s simply changing your beliefs about what it appropriate. It’s about changing your values.

Here are some examples of values that might be appropriate to focus on:

  • It’s best for me to reduce how much I drive and how much gas I use.
  • It’s appropriate for me to purchase products that have minimal packaging — and the packaging should be recyclable.
  • I should consider altering my goals to make them less materialistic and more focussed on family, community and happiness.
  • I should make an extra effort to recycle — even if it’s inconvenient (like bringing soda cans home from work to reccle them, instead of throwing them in the trash can at work if your work doesn’t recycle).

So as your putting together your GTD Projects, and as you focus on your three Haiku Productivity priorities, also consier adding three values to your list. They don’t have specific tasks associated with them — but they may be even more important in the long run.

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The Spooky Truth About the 2007 Energy Bill — And How You Can Make a Difference

The energy bill under debate currently has the possibility to make some major changes in this countries environmental policy.

What’s in the 2007 Energy Bill?

The standards that are set up by the bill for fuel efficiency and renewable electricity standards are sufficiently aggressive to make a big difference in out planet’s future. Some of the major elements include a call for 15% renewable electricity standard by 2020 which would guarantee the growth of renewable, clean energy and increase the number of jobs in this environmentally friendly sector of the economy.

What about Gas Mileage Standards?

Another key factor in the bill is the Senate proposed 35 mpg fuel efficiency standard (also by 2020) which several lobbyists including the Auto Alliance are trying to curtail. These groups want to modify the bill to demand only a standard of only 23mpg fuel efficiency by 2022. This may seem like a paltry change but over time the numbers add up.

The Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency’s Halloween Campaign

The Pew Campaign for Fuel Efficiency is sending a wake up call to Congress this Halloween in the shape of trick or treat bags filled with “spooky facts”. One of these facts is that the amount of barrels of oil saved per day under the auto lobby proposal will be 500,000 whereas the Senate’s fuel economy compromise will save 1.2 million. (Other “spooky facts” as well as pictures of the Congressional Halloween Outreach packets are available here: http://smnr.us/thespookytruth/).

What YOU Can Do

Sign the petition!

The real fact is that this bill has a chance if Congress just stands firm in favor of the environment against the pressures of outside forces. I believe that the American people are growing more aware of the problems of climate change, and limited natural resources everyday and this country’s environmental policy should reflect this.

We can all do a little to help by making sure our representatives know how we feel. The petition to support this energy bill is available at: http://www.energybill2007.org. Please take a moment to help these standards get passed before enjoying the rest of your Halloween!

Dani Sevilla is a student activist working with a coalition to ensure that the 2007 energy bill represents a real change for the better in this country’s environmental future.

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Shea Gunther – Eco-Entrepreneur and Sustainable Developer

Here’s an interesting site — Shea Gunther’s personal site. He’s got some property and a long-term vision for a super-green development. The plans include a main house, the Gunther Green Home, an organic farm on the property and a series of super-green smaller homes.

He’s currently living on the property living in a set of tipis and for the Winter (in Maine!) and planning out the development. He’s got an architect and builder lined up and the project is moving. Pretty fascinating and definitely something to keep an eye on.

We’re Making a Difference!

You know, sometimes when you write a blog you wonder if you’re really making a difference. You come up with ideas, you do research, you write your posts — but you always wonder if any of it really has an impact.

And then something happens that convinces you that the writing is all worth it. And that happened for us last week.

We put a post together on The Freecycle Network last week laying out how to join and what freecycling is all about. And it had an impact.

The post was picked up on both Digg and Stumbleupon and ended up being read by almost 10,000 people. Better yet, over 1500 clicked through from the post to The Freecycle Network itself.

I don’t know what happened from there, but it’s likely that a few hundred people ended up signing up as members of The Freecycle Network directly as a result of that post. And those few hundred people might save hundreds or thousands of items from heading into landfills.

And that’s awesome!

But it’s not just because of us, it’s also because of our readers. The readers of this blog voted the post up on Digg and Stumbleupon which gave it more visibility. Our readers also share this blog on Facebook and with their friends and family, and helped spread the word. So I think this is something we all should celebrate!

Thanks again to everyone who’s helping us Make A Difference!

On Blog Action Day — Are You Here to Help?

I write about the environment a lot. Mostly, it’s because I have a lot to say about environmental issues.

Sometimes it’s because I’m scared. Not really scared like the apocalypse is coming, although I wonder about that sometimes. It’s more like we’re all about to graduate from high school and we’re faced with the decision of what to do with the rest of our lives.

Regardless of your stance on the issue of climate change, I think that it’s pretty apparent that we can’t go on living the way we are now. There’s not enough oil in the ground, or trees or water either.

It’s just like in high school when the final bell rang and the doors closed behind us for the last time. We always knew that there were real problems and responsibilities out there. It’s just that now we were out there with them.

Like any graduate, we’ve got some decisions to make about the rest of our lives. Of course, any time you throw “decision” in with “rest of our lives” it means you’re talking about something relatively serious. I’m pretty certain that the future of the human race qualifies. When we’re talking about “environmental issues” we’re talking about nothing less. And that’s enough to scare me.

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

When I talk about taking responsibility for our future, there is an illustration that I like to use. I’ve stated this in several ways on my own blog and have even found a fantastic video on YouTube that goes over the concept quite well. It works like this. In the end, we have only four options:

  1. We become stewards of our environment only to find that everything would have worked out just fine regardless. We spend a lot of money needlessly, but no one is really hurt by it.
  2. We become stewards of our environment, spend a ton of money and make sweeping changes across nearly every industry, and find that we just barely miss the tipping point of environmental collapse.
  3. We keep doing what we’re doing and hope that nothing bad happens, and we get lucky because it doesn’t. We spend nothing, change nothing, and die leaving the mess for someone else to clean up.
  4. We spend nothing, do nothing, and watch our planetary ecosystem collapse, taking our economic, political, and eventually our social systems down with it. No food, no medicine, and no government to protect us.

I like this illustration because it shows so clearly that it doesn’t matter what we think of the whole global warming thing. Instead, what matters is that we take responsibility for the environment we live in and depend on. I’d rather take some responsibility and switch out a few light bulbs for CFL’s than deal with the whole apocalypse thing from option four. (I think I mentioned that the apocalypse scares me.)

When we begin to look at our responsibility to the environment, we realize that “environment” is just a code word. It means something broader than recycling your newspaper. Do somebody’s shopping. Or fix a child’s bicycle. No one says you have to be Super Biodegradable Boy or Mega Organic Girl to fend off the apocalypse. Making the world a better place is about doing what we can. What’s important is that we do it.

There’s a television show that I like called Ghost Hunters. It’s about a team of paranormal investigators. (Yes, I’m a geek.) One thing I’m always impressed with is how they introduce themselves. When they meet a client for the first time, as they shake hands, one investigator says, “Hi, we’re TAPS.” (TAPS is the name of their organization.) This is always followed by, “We’re here to help.” This is such a perfect example of the sort of responsibility we need to take for the world around us.

Our world won’t function like it has in the past for very much longer. We can’t afford the consequences of not acting. Perhaps it’s time we start prefacing the decisions we make with, “We’re here to help.”

On Blog Action Day, it’s time to ask yourself as well: “Am I here to help?”

Let’s hope we are.

Mathew Murphy brings us Tech Tuesday each week. Matt blogs on technology, the environment and tea on his website at http://mattscuppa.wordpress.com.

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A simple step you can take — Join Freecycle

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About ‘freecycling’ and The Freecycle Network

Freeycling is a worldwide grassroots movement of people banding together to recycle items by giving them away for free.

While there are a number of different freecycling groups around the world, the largest and oldest is The Freecycle Network, sometimes called TFN. TFN has groups all across America and around the world, including active groups in France, Australia and Canada.

The idea is simple. If you have something you want to get rid of, it’s better to give it to someone else that it is to dump it in a landfill. And if you need to buy something, freecycling gives you an opportunity to get it for free — which not only saves you money, it reduces your environmental impact since you consume less.

How to Join In

Joining freecycle is easy and will save you money. Here’s how:

1. First, go to freecycle.org and enter the local area where you live.

2. You’ll be presented with a list of towns near you that have Freecycle groups. If you don’t see one close, you can create one yourself.

You should check out a few different groups — the one closest to you may have only a few members while one a bit further away may be much busier. For example, one near me had only 5 recent offers while another had over 100. I joined both.

The Freecycle Network runs on Yahoo Groups currently, so you’ll need a Yahoo id to join.

3. You should review each group’s page and read the rules for that group, then join.

After you select a group to view, you’ll be presented with the Yahoo page for that group. The page will tell you how many members the group has as well as how many new posts there have been in the last 7 days. Here’s an example:

One of the other things on this page you should read are the rules for the group. The Freecycle Network group has a US-based headquarters group that establishes a set of rules each group must follow — or risk losing being kicked out of The Freecycle Network. These rules are generally common sense anyway and, in most cases, can be modified by local groups to fit what the local members want.

For example, in the group we picked above, here are the rules (taken from the page shown above):

Join the Freecycle(TM) movement! The Lawrence Freecycle Network www.lifeinlawrence.com is a group of Larryville residents who want to “recycle” that special something rather than throw it away. Use this email list to post a message about usable items that you’d like to give away. Everything posted must be FREE and legal. No politics, religion, advertising or spam. No trading or bartering. No pets.

Lawrence Freecycle serves the Lawrence, Kansas area and people living in neighboring towns who are willing to travel to pick up items.

This group is part of The Freecycle Network, a nonprofit organization and a movement of people interested in keeping good stuff out of landfills. Check out freecycle.org for other cities and info on the movement.

As you can see, the rules aren’t onerous and there are good reasons for them. They’re basically meant to keep out people trying to sell items or who want to send spam to the group’s members.

Some local groups allow pets to be offered to the group, and some don’t. (I saw one group with a post offering a full-blooded Golden Retriever because its owners both had jobs and couldn’t take care of it.) Other groups don’t allow pets due to concerns that people may take the pets and sell them for medical research, use them for gaming/fighting, or abuse them in other ways.

To join, you simply click on the ‘Join this Group’ button on the page. This will send your request to the moderators of the local group who will then respond and approve your request. In my case, I joined 2 groups — the first responded in about 10 minutes and the second took about an hour.

Once you’ve joined the group it’s like interacting with any other Yahoo group. You will receive e-mails (either individual e-mails or a once a day summary) whenever one of the group members posts an item and you can go to the group’s page and review old items posted.

So that’s it! You’re now a member of a fast-growing, world wide recycling movement! Great work!

Other Options

In addition to The Freecycle Network, there are other similar groups. Among them are FreeSharing.org, Sharing is Giving, and FreeCycleAmerica.

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Open Source: The Sustainable Business Model

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How do you make software development dramatically more eco-friendly?

Two Words: Open Source.

With the Open Source model, you can:

  • Use less packaging.
  • Increase the efficiency of shipping and receiving.
  • Speed up product development.
  • Get rid of resource-heavy validation management services and expensive anti-piracy campaigns.
  • Cut back on unnecessary print advertising.
  • Don’t force customers to purchase more product than they need.

I ran across an article posted at Download Squad recently that really got me thinking about the Open Source development model and how eco-friendly it is.

What Is Open Source?

Open Source software is very different from commercial software you might purchase from, say, Microsoft.

To begin with, it’s free. Yes, free. There’s no need for software validation (think Microsoft Genuine Advantage) or anti-piracy technologies because… it’s free. And it’s mostly distributed online, meaning no wasteful packaging.

Development tends to happen faster in the hands of a few dedicated developers and the feedback of a dedicated community of users than it does in corporate cubicles ruled by Gantt charts and cross-functional meetings.

Does Free Mean it’s Not As Good?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because it’s free it must be of lesser quality than commercial software. There are many Open Source applications that are just as good — if not better — than any commercial software that competes with it.

Just do a Google search for OpenOffice.org, PHP & MySQL, or Drupal to see what I mean. Open Source software accounts for millions of users worldwide.

So, What Does That Mean for Us and Our Environment?

Simply put, the Open Source model is friendlier to our environment than comparable commercial software. I’m not saying that everyone should go out protest against software that comes in a box. I’m also not saying that all Open Source software is better than it’s commercial counterparts.

But I am saying is that perhaps the software industry should take a look at its model.

Should You Explore Open Source? Yes!

A great place to start is with OpenOffice.org. This is a completely free office software suite that offers most of what you get from Microsoft Office, plus a few features that you don’t get from Microsoft Office. You can install it on your computer along with any of your current software, and it even opens and saves Microsoft file formats like Word documents and Excel spreadsheets.

Another great resource is the OpenDisc project. This is an entire CD packed with Open Source software for Windows (sorry Mac Users…) that spans everything from desktop publishing to antivirus software. Did I mention that it’s free?

One Final Request.

Open Source software is free, but it takes the time, energy, and oftentimes the money, of dedicated individuals. If you decide that a particular program has earned a home on your computer, consider making a donation to it’s developers.

This not only keeps their computers running, but it encourages them to keep providing great Open Source software for us and our environment.

Mathew Murphy brings us Tech Tuesday each week. Matt blogs on technology, the environment and tea on his website at http://mattscuppa.wordpress.com.

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What is Government’s Role?

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A sign stating it is law to not allow your car motor to idle while stopped

This sign is from the city of Vancouver in British Columbia and it’s purpose is to inform motorists that letting their cars idle is against the law and punishable by a fine of $50 to $100.

Vancouver’s “Motor Vehicle Noise and Emission Abatement By-Law No. 9344″ [PDF] went into effect in Spring of this year after being adopted in July, 2006.

Here are some details:

“2.7 A person must not cause or permit a motor vehicle to idle:
(a) for more than three consecutive minutes in a 60 minute period; or
(b) while unattended and unlocked.

The City’s stated goals for the bylaw are to:

  • protect air quality
  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions
  • reduce urban noise
  • reduce vehicle theft
  • save money on fuel.



The website Trans-Talk has details on how it’s been going, along with some good reference information other towns in Canada (and even some in the US) that have similar laws.

What do you think? Should we push to change our laws to force behaviors that are good for the environment? Or should government stay off our backs and allow people to do what they want?

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