Archive for August, 2010

Minimonos & Other Games for Change

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on August 31st, 2010

Source: Worldchanging

From “Games for Change: An Interview with MiniMonos and a Look Back” by Amanda Reed:

Jeff Ramos of recently interviewed Kaila Colbin from, which is a virtual world that encourages children and parents to practice sustainability, generosity and community. The game was developed by a group of New Zealanders who were trained by Al Gore to be Climate Ambassadors after The Inconvenient Truth came out.

Here is an excerpt from the interview in which Colbin talks about the real world projects the players of MiniMonos develop as a result of the game’s lessons:

What have you learned about gaming and social interaction because of MiniMonos?

We’ve learned that kids online will continually surprise and delight you. We’ve learned that kids are far more clued up about the environment than we had realized, and that they place far more explicit importance on it than we had realized. We’ve learned that they really appreciate being listened to, and the importance of a sense of belonging. We’ve also learned that they’ll go to astonishing lengths to get a rare virtual item!

We’ve been stunned and humbled by the many ways in which MiniMonos members have picked up the sustainability gauntlet and carried these messages into the real world. We’re seeing a generation of children who already care for the environment, who are tremendously generous, fun-loving, and supportive of each other.

We do everything we can to reinforce the need to take real-world action. We turned off the servers for Earth Hour, and every new membership provides clean drinking water for children in India…

Read the full interview and learn more about MiniMonos and the game developers.  As a relative newbie to Worldchanging and games for change, this interview inspired me to look into the Worldchanging archives to see what other games and virtual worlds had been written about in the past…the extensive collection of articles I found was stunning. If you’re interested in checking some or all of them out, the list has quotes from each piece.

Check out the list compiled by Amanda Reed on WorldChanging.

Floating Home

Posted in Research, Visions by Kate Archdeacon on August 27th, 2010

Source: Metropolis Magazine

Home on the water from Metropolis

A competition proposal to develop a floating city has developed into ‘the world’s first off-the-grid floating building’ in Rotterdam.

Towed into place in the Rijnhaven harbor late this spring, the 10,764-square-foot pavilion is made of three geodesic domes designed by Bart Roeffen, a local architect. It grew out of a competition proposal for a floating city developed by Roeffen and fellow students at the Delft University of Technology. “We thought it was a brilliant idea to promote Rotterdam as a city on the water to anticipate the effects of climate change,” says Arnoud Molenaar, program director of the Rotterdam Climate Proof Program.

The city is expanding its current harbour by 20% and this expansion has created the space for up to 5000 similar floating structures that could potentially use the harbours and docks that are being superseded.

Original article by Cathryn Drake on Metropolis Magazine

Building Niches for Biodiversity

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on August 26th, 2010

Source: Treehugger

From “Biodiversity for Low and Zero Carbon Buildings: A Technical Guide for New Build (Book Review)” by Kimberley Mok:

With major declines observed in bee, bat, bird and other critical species, it makes sense that newer built environments now being designed with zero- or low-carbon status in mind should also integrate ways to boost wildlife diversity as well. That’s the premise of Biodiversity for Low and Zero Carbon Buildings: A Technical Guide for New Build by Dr. Carol Williams.

Dr. Williams, who is associated with the UK-based Bat Conservation Trust (BCT), points out that imperfections in the craftsmanship of traditional buildings allowed certain species to find ecological niches and roosting opportunities right alongside humans.  Not so with newer, ‘air-tight’ construction, hence the need to accommodate and integrate built-in habitats for now-threatened species ranging from certain bats, owls and peregrine falcons. Thus, the book is apparently the first of its kind to consciously target biodiversity enhancement in new developments, rather than retrofitting existing structures.

Unless biodiversity is considered early on in the design process, these ever more stringent demands for increased energy efficiency of buildings will lead to losses in the biodiversity that have shared our built environment for centuries. This book addresses this issue because if we do not, there will be very few, if any, future roosting opportunities for bats or nesting opportunities for birds in our buildings. Without these measures, key species will be adversely affected by new developments; not only meaning a failure to achieve truly sustainable building, but also an erosion of the quality of life we all hope to experience in our working and home environments.

With a focus on the sustainable building process and wildlife in the United Kingdom, the book is practical in its scope, providing plenty of tables and technical information on how to size and orient suitable building elements that each particular species could call home.  There’s also valuable information on prefabricated wildlife-friendly components from various manufacturers, plus a chapter on living walls, roof gardens and artificial lighting. Full of clearly annotated architectural drawings, colour photos and well-organised information, this book will be an excellent reference for architects and developers in the sustainable building industry.

Original article by Kimberley Mok on Treehugger.

Solar is Cost-Competitive with Nuclear: Report

Posted in Movements, Research by Kate Archdeacon on August 24th, 2010

Source: Worldchanging

From “Scaling Up Solar: The Global Implications of a New Study that Says Solar Power Is Cost Competitive with Nuclear Power” by Olivia Boyd:

The sunshine of North Carolina, a state on America’s Atlantic seaboard, has long been a draw for tourists seeking a little southern warmth on the region’s beaches. But holiday companies are not the only ones trumpeting a good local deal. The price of the state’s solar-generated electricity has fallen so far that it is now cheaper than new nuclear power, according to a report published in July by researchers at the state’s Duke University. The authors say their figures indicate a “historic crossover” that significantly strengthens the case for investment in renewable energy – and weakens the arguments for large-scale, international nuclear development.

Solar power is usually branded as a clean but expensive energy source, incapable of competing on economic grounds with more established alternatives, such as nuclear. The outspoken pro-nuclear stance adopted by a raft of iconic environmental figures – James Lovelock, Stewart Brand, Patrick Moore – has helped to instill in policy making circles the sense that this is the only power source that can restructure our energy supply at the pace, scale and price required by the pressures of rapid climate change. This study, which was co-authored by former chair of Duke University’s economics department John Blackburn and commissioned by NC Warn, a clean-energy NGO with a firm anti-nuclear bent, challenges that view. “This report should end the argument for risking billions of public dollars on new nuclear projects,” says Jim Warren, NC Warn director.

Read the rest of this entry »

Getting Produce to Market: Transport “Innovation”

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on August 23rd, 2010

Source: Nourishing the Planet: Worldwatch Institute

From “Innovation of the Week: Getting to the Market” by Molly Theobald:

For many farmers, an abundant harvest is only the first step toward feeding their families and earning an income. Vegetables ripening in the field—or even harvested and stored nearby—are still a long way from the market where they can be sold for a profit.

One farmer in Sudan’s Kebkabyia province, Abdall Omer Saeedo, has to travel 10 kilometres twice a week to the nearest market to sell his vegetables and green fodder. Without a cart, truck, or other means of transporting a large amount of goods efficiently, he couldn’t make enough money to cover his production and packing costs, let alone the cost of seeds for the next season, education for his children, and other household needs. And after making it to market with his 10 sacks and five bags of produce on the back of his donkey, he was still at risk for loss if he wasn’t able to sell it all. Instead of dealing with the hassle of trying to pack it back home again, he would throw away whatever wasn’t sold.

Saeedo sought the help of Practical Action, a development non-profit that uses technology to help people gain access to basic services like clean water and sanitation in order to improve food production and incomes. Working with local metal workers, the organisation designed a donkey cart for him. Now, Saeedo is not only able to cart his produce to market twice a week, he can also easily bring back whatever he is unable to sell. His income has increased along with the quality and quantity of his product, which is no longer lost or destroyed by travel time and conditions.

Practical Action’s transportation innovations are helping to improve farmer livelihoods throughout sub-Saharan Africa and around the world. In Kenya, the organisation introduced bicycle taxis as a way for people to earn a living, as well as an energy-efficient means to transport people from place to place. In Nepal, Practical Action’s bicycle ambulances help carry sick or injured people from remote areas to hospitals safely and comfortably. And in Sri Lanka, the group’s bicycle trailers—capable of carrying loads of up to 200 kilograms—are used to transport goods to market, people to hospitals, and even books to local communities.

Read the full article by Molly Theobald.

The Story of Bottled Water

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on August 20th, 2010

The Story of Bottled Water ( and manufacturing demand…)

Guide to Sharing: The Mesh Directory

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on August 19th, 2010

Source: Springwise

Regular Springwise readers are already familiar with transumers and the many ways in which they share and exchange goods without ever having to own them. The Mesh Directory is an online network that attempts to encapsulate that trend, aggregating all the many companies that now “create, share and use social media, wireless networks, and data crunched from every available source to provide people with goods and services at the exact moment they need them, without the burden and expense of owning them outright,” in the site’s own words.

Mesh Directory provides a freely searchable index of some 1,500 companies that are helping to enable the new sharing economy. Designed as a companion site to a forthcoming book on the same topic, the directory allows users to browse alphabetically or by category as well; among the categories included are transportation, fashion, food, real estate, travel, finance and entertainment. Provided for each company on the list are its URL and contact information along with a description of its offerings; there’s also an option for companies not already on the list to request to be added.

Read about it on Springwise.

Pedal-Power Machines for Local Enterprise

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on August 18th, 2010

Source: The Ecologist

From “Reusing bike parts to power water pumps, corn crushers and more” by Mira Olson:

A tiny workshop in rural Guatemala is pioneering cheap, eco-friendly, pedal-powered machines made from discarded bicycle parts.  A group of elderly, indigenous women wearing traditional hand-made dresses sit in a circle and exchange stories. Their continuous pedalling would go unnoticed, were it not for the noisy churning of the blenders placed on top of tables in front of them. The machines have enabled these women to form their own business: the sale of blue agave shampoo produced at their humble, cinderblock home.  The pedal-powered blenders are capable of speeds of up to 6,400 RPM and are used in multiple capacities in the community, from simple food processing to more creative applications.

They are but one example of several bicimáquinas (bike-machines) designed and built at Maya Pedal, a locally-run NGO in the small, rural town of San Andrés Itzapa, Guatemala, which is still primarily inhabited by the Mayan people of Cakchiquel descent.  Thanks to the organisation, community members benefit from water pumps to irrigate their fields, mills to grind corn, devices for manufacturing concrete tiles, electricity generators capable of storing electricity in car batteries, coffee pulping machines that can accumulate up to 8000 pounds daily, trikes and trailers to transport people and goods within the community, and even three-cycle washing machines, all operated essentially while exercising.

The NGO itself is the product of a collaboration that took place in 1997 between a group of Canadians from the organisation Pedal and local mechanic Carlos Marroquín. Jointly, they created what would be Maya Pedal’s first and arguably most revolutionary machine: the bicidesgranadora de maíz, a device that removes the kernels from up to 15 corn husks per minute, allowing farmers to bag up to two dozen 43-kilo sacks per day.  Marroquín explains: ‘It was necessary to find a path and an alternative that would meet the needs of the locals and we researched and invested all that we could to do so.’


More than 4,600 Maya Pedal machines are now in use in San Andrés Itzapa and surrounding communities; some 400 volunteers, many from Europe, have also dirtied their hands to help in the process. And because of its growing international network, several of the ideas from the NGO have been implemented in indigenous communities throughout South America, North America and even in Africa.  This tiny workshop in a forgotten Mayan town in rural Guatemala highlights the ingenious power humans possess to overcome adversity and implement ecologically-friendly solutions for our daily needs.

Read the full article by Mira Olson.

Criminalising Environmental Destruction: Ecocide

Posted in Movements, Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on August 17th, 2010

Source: The Ecologist

From “Ecocide: making environmental destruction a criminal offence” by David Hawkins:

Lawyer Polly Higgins is spearheading a campaign to have ‘ecocide’ recognised by the UN as an international crime against peace. But how will this work in practice?

Ecocide has always been a moral crime, but British lawyer Polly Higgins sees it differently: ‘until it is legally a crime it’s not going to be thought of as wrong. Banks are willing to put our money – public money – into some of the most destructive practices on the planet because they see nothing wrong with it.’  Higgins is leading a new campaign to have ecocide recognised by the United Nations as an international crime against peace. She defines ecocide as ‘the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.’  With population growth and climate change, ecocide is increasingly likely to lead to resource wars. Hence, Higgins argues, it is a potential crime against peace and requires international action because of its capacity to be, in legalese, ‘trans-boundary and multi-jurisdictional’.

Among current examples of ecocide are the Alberta tar sands, Amazonian logging, oceanic plastic pollution, damage from oil extraction in the Niger Delta, the Bingham Canyon copper mine in Utah and so on, along with more dispersed problems such as polluted waters, which Higgins claims ‘account for the death of more people than all forms of violence including war’. Ecocide is now going on all over the world on an unprecedented scale.  Luckily, she says, many of the tools needed to prosecute such cases are already in existence. ‘The International Criminal Court (ICC) was formed in 2002 to prosecute individuals for breaches of four Crimes Against Peace. They are: Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity, War Crimes and Crimes of Aggression.’ A case can begin from something as small as a letter from a community or individual.

If ecocide laws are passed by the UN there will be many ramifications. The complementarity principle means that ‘once something is put in as an international law, then each member state should put in their own national law to comply with it’. The ICC will step in if there is an inability or failure (individual countries may not want to challenge their extractive industries) to implement legislation on a national level. ‘This sends a strong message that you can’t lobby your way out of the situation,’ says Higgins.  As well as the legal machinery, Higgins points to existing information-gathering networks in the form of NGOs, many of which are specialised to study and campaign on specific ecosystems. Working together they will be able to present comprehensive damage reports. Read the rest of this entry »

2010 Ashden Awards: Sustainable solutions making good business sense

Posted in Movements by Kate Archdeacon on August 16th, 2010

Source: Forum for the Future

From “Sustainable solutions that make good business sense” by Martin Wright:

In a small farm on the hills above Nairobi, a slender woman in a flower-patterned headscarf is gently, politely shattering myths. Standing among the fruit trees on her shamba (smallholding), Mary Waringa Nguku dispels two of the most common clichés trotted out about the developing world. First, that people in Africa and elsewhere are too busy worrying about day-to-day life to share the West’s obsession with forest loss or climate change. “We cannot trust the weather any more”, she tells me. “It doesn’t rain like it used to, and the rivers are drying out. We do not always have the water we need… The forests are less, so we are going short of wood and it is more expensive. That is why, when I saw the biogas at my brother’s farm, and he told me how much money he was saving, I really wanted to give it a try.”

That last remark gives the lie to the second myth: that sustainable solutions always cost more than unsustainable ones. Mary is among over 200 customers of Skylink Innovators, a local Kenyan company which is installing biogas energy plants in the nation’s schools and even two of its prisons. The plants use a mixture of cow dung and human waste to produce cooking fuel via a process of anaerobic digestion (AD). It’s a well-established technology which tackles several problems at once: it provides clean fuel in place of smoky firewood for cooking; it helps to reduce pressure on dwindling forests and cuts out the greenhouse emissions from burning wood; and it saves people money. Once the biogas plant is in place, there’s no need for firewood. Many farmers save at least as much again on chemical fertiliser, too, as the nutrient-rich residue from the digester does the job just as well. Most plants pay for themselves in a couple of years. All of which makes it a sound business prospect for the likes of Skylink’s founder, Samwel Kinoti. “My father was a pioneer of biogas on his farm, so I grew up with it. I saw the beauty of it, and I knew others would, too.”

It’s this combination of entrepreneurship and environmental good sense which has won Skylink one of the 2010 Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy, presented by David Attenborough at a ceremony in London. The Ashden Awards celebrate local sustainable energy success stories in both developing countries and the UK. In doing so, they echo and amplify Mary Waringa’s mythbusting, turning the pursuit of sustainability from something worthy into pure common sense.

Read the rest of this article by Martin Wright on Green Futures for more about biogas, solar energy systems and community empowerment.