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Intervention by Denise Caruso Read Intervention by Denise Caruso, Executive Director of the Hybrid Vigor Silver Award Winner, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards; Best Business Books 2007, Strategy+Business Magazine

archive for March, 2007

PLAYING DICE WITH THE BIOSPHERE?
INTERVENTION IN SALON

by ~ March 12, 2007

Scott Rosenberg, a former colleague of mine from the former golden days of the San Francisco Examiner, interviewed me for the Book section of today’s Salon. (He also blogged the interview.)

In the piece, Scott asked me some questions — about how some journalists have overlooked the risk story, and about why I had to publish the book through Hybrid Vigor, rather than through a traditional publishing house — that I hadn’t talked about before.

‘KNOWLEDGE IS POWER,
ONLY IF YOU KNOW HOW TO USE IT’

by ~ March 12, 2007

I really liked this piece in Alternet this morning about the mythology of carbon offsets; thought I’d pass it along. Some of you on this list have been raising these issues with me privately for a while now, and I’m glad to see them start to pick up some steam in the public eye.

Also I’m very interested in the .org from whence the author came: the Institute for Local Self Reliance in Minneapolis. I know nothing about them yet, but I hope to.

That’s because I have been thinking for a while now that the only reliable action on the big hard complicated problems like climate change and transgenics/biotech et al. is going to come from communities and stakeholders working together, face to face. A lot of the top-down philanthropy we’re hearing so much about is very likely to end up being a band-aid that doesn’t stick.

It’s already pissing off some of the people it’s helping (at the TED conference last week, I am told that a former African minister basically said, ‘Stop helping us, it’s not helping,’ while pointing out that not all of Africa is in the throes of genocide or dying of AIDS), and may pour some unhelpful and possibly even hazardous “solutions” down our throats without us being able to say or do much about it.

For example, the Gates Foundation is trying to start a new Green Revolution in Africa. I hear they’ve already hired two former Monsanto executives to start inundating Africa with custom-designed transgenics crops — despite the fact that Africa has been stalwartly against transgenics since the start.

It’s either tremendously dumb or tremendously cynical (or both) that they are using the words “Green Revolution.” Have they forgotten that the original Green Revolution was a near-total disaster?

The idea behind it was to drive up crop yields in developing countries; the most modern knowledge of genetics and chemistry was used to develop new crop strains and powerful new chemicals to go along with them to serve as fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides.

And it certainly did increase yields in underdeveloped countries like India, Mexico and Sri Lanka, sometimes to an astonishing degree. But because the new higher yield crops depended on large amounts of expensive chemicals, poor farmers ended up not being able to compete in the marketplace with rich landowners and multinationals; this did little or nothing to alleviate either poverty or hunger. And the planet ended up dangerously polluted as a result.

And now the largest philanthropy in the world is trying to do it again?

I wrote a little something about the ongoing potential for these kinds of philanthropic disasters for Worldchanging’s ‘What’s Next’ feature a couple of months back.

Also, apropos of all of this is my NYT column from yesterday about knowledge v. know-how, which was what I hope is the beginning of a longer discussion I get to have in print, somewhere or another, about ways to increase human know-how in the areas where we need it most.

By the way, if you like this column, please email it to your friends and colleages — from the NYT page, not by cutting and pasting. This is an indicator to the Powers That Be what kinds of coverage people like and want.

DC (i.e., me) IN DC, TUESDAY MARCH 6

by ~ March 2, 2007

If you’re in the Washington DC area, you are invited to the event that the Wilson Center is hosting for Intervention on Tuesday, March 6. Apparently it will be webcast live, as well.

I will be interviewed — although more likely there will be questions flying in both directions — by Joel Garreau, author of Radical Evolution, staff writer for the Washington Post, and fellow Big Thinker.

Dave Rejeski, who runs Wilson Center’s Foresight and Governance program and isdirector of the Center’s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, will introduce me. And Baruch Fischhoff of Carnegie Mellon, with whom I’ve been working on various risk projects for the past few years, is expected to chime in by teleconference.

STUNNING ‘WORLDCHANGING’ REVIEW

by ~ March 2, 2007

I can’t believe it took me so long to get this posted. Goes to show what happens when people start reading your stuff and liking it, I guess … I have been busy, busy, busy. Off to Washington DC tomorrow at the crack of dawn, in fact. More on that anon.

To cut to the chase: Worldchanging reviewed Intervention last month. And all I can say, still, 2+ weeks later, is wow.

We normally don’t cover problems here on Worldchanging. Indeed, our manifesto says “We don’t generally offer links to resources which are about problems and not solutions, unless the resource is so insightful that its very existence is a step towards a solution.” This book does offer some solutions (about which, more later), but mostly it offers a fervent, well-reasoned call to action. When such an “alarm bell” book offers such clear thinking (I learned more about biotechnology from this book than any other I’ve read), it becomes a step towards solutions. And when the person ringing the alarm bell is no luddite, but one of our brightest technology writers, the alarm demands our attention.

What terrific acknowledgment, from such a terrific source. Quick anecdote about how Alex Steffan heard about the book: In early February I was checking out how Intervention looked on Amazon, as I am occasionally wont to do, and noticed that the Worldchanging book was then (as it is now) offered as a “Better Together” deal with Intervention.

I wrote Steffan a note and he said, “It looks interesting — send it to me.” And the rest, as they say …

‘STARTLING NEW REPORT’ ON CLIMATE CHANGE, FROM GBN

by ~ March 2, 2007

I just received this email from Nancy Murphy at Global Business Network and thought I should pass it along:

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

Greetings from all of us at GBN!

As you know, climate change is a critical issue that GBN has been exploring since our founding in 1987. We are pleased to share with you our latest white paper, Impacts of Climate Change: A System Vulnerability Approach to Consider the Potential Impacts to 2050 of a Mid-Upper Greenhouse Gas Emissions Scenario, which was featured in today’s Washington Post column by David Ignatius.

In this paper, co-authors Nils Gilman, Doug Randall, and Peter Schwartz reframe the analysis of climate change impacts for decision makers by beginning with already stressed systems — ecological, cultural, economic, political, and structural — that are vulnerable to being driven past a tipping point by either radical or gradual shifts in climate. By doing so, they offer a novel system vulnerability approach to understand, anticipate, and prepare for the economic, political, business, and security implications of climate change.

The analysis also examines the “human awareness impacts,” where the anticipation of future climate change consequences are factored into decisions made today — before the most extreme weather effects are even felt. Current examples include changes to coastal insurance coverage, energy and water infrastructure, philanthropic priorities, investment criteria, and tax policy. Although the downside effects of climate change will be felt mainly in the long run, the business opportunities associated with mitigating or adapting to climate change are already emerging in the marketplace.

The whitepaper [PDF] can be found on our website (www.gbn.com), along with links to previous GBN publications and articles on climate change, energy, and infrastructure.

We welcome any thoughts and reactions and look forward to staying in touch!

Best regards,

Nancy