knowledge communities

March 8th, 2007

bstepitip.jpgClimate Commons was intended always to be a short term experiment with two primary goals. First to bring together researchers/thinkers/producers from a wide range of fields to contribute information/ideas to a multidisciplinary pool. Henry Jenkin’s writes about this in his blog: “In a networked society, people are increasingly forming knowledge communities to pool information and work together to solve problems they could not confront individually. We call that collective intelligence.”

The second was to create on the internet in a blog form a space for conversation, questions, and contributions from anyone–a participatory network. As I contemplate what happened in the more than one hundred posts and three hundred comments with the site visited by an average of 3000 people a day, a number of new questions have formed:

what is the nature of participation on the internet?

On blogs or other forms of online conversation, people don’t seem to be talking to each other, but instead to the network as a whole. So do the conversational contributions remain as individual data bits linked to a larger community, without a direct relational experience of person to person?

how does conversation and pooled research create change?

does a conversation that is about climate, a phenomenon intimately linked to place, need to be located in a physical place, and take into account the context of that place in order to become more than generalized abstractions?

how can this experience of research and networking be defined as an aesthetics?

these are just a few questions I am left with? if you have any others, please contribute them in the comments.

Many thanks to all the core authors and guest authors who generously gave of their time and expertise to this experiment. And thanks to Matt Shanley, code guru and collaborator.

the image is from the april stepitup07 rally on boston commons, my 5 year old son bridge holding up a sign with a pic of the earth and the word hope

-- JaneMarsching

Langjokull Glacier, Iceland

March 2nd, 2007

one year ago this month


a whiteout on a glacier in Iceland

-- JaneMarsching

Happy New (International Polar) Year

March 2nd, 2007

picture-2.pngToday is the first day of the 4th International Polar Year, perhaps a fitting end or a new beginning for Climate Commons. As many of the posts here have discussed, the poles play an important role in global climate. A major goal of this IPY is to study these linkages in greater detail and make the public aware of them. You can learn more about IPY at and get a 3D tour in Google Earth at . It’s been a pleasure participating in this commons, and I encourage you all to continue the sorts of discussions we’ve had here as part of IPY.


-- MattNolan

Jonatham Lethem on The Commons

March 1st, 2007

from a great article in Harpers this month:

Another way of understanding the presence of gift economies—which dwell like ghosts in the commercial machine—is in the sense of a public commons. A commons, of course, is anything like the streets over which we drive, the skies through which we pilot airplanes, or the public parks or beaches on which we dally. A commons belongs to everyone and no one, and its use is controlled only by common consent. A commons describes resources like the body of ancient music drawn on by composers and folk musicians alike, rather than the commodities, like “Happy Birthday to You,” for which ASCAP, 114 years after it was written, continues to collect a fee. Einstein’s theory of relativity is a commons. Writings in the public domain are a commons. Gossip about celebrities is a commons. The silence in a movie theater is a transitory commons, impossibly fragile, treasured by those who crave it, and constructed as a mutual gift by those who compose it.

The world of art and culture is a vast commons, one that is salted through with zones of utter commerce yet remains gloriously immune to any overall commodification. The closest resemblance is to the commons of a language: altered by every contributor, expanded by even the most passive user. That a language is a commons doesn’t mean that the community owns it; rather it belongs between people, possessed by no one, not even by society as a whole.

Nearly any commons, though, can be encroached upon, partitioned, enclosed. The American commons include tangible assets such as public forests and minerals, intangible wealth such as copyrights and patents, critical infrastructures such as the Internet and government research, and cultural resources such as the broadcast airwaves and public spaces. They include resources we’ve paid for as taxpayers and inherited from previous generations. They’re not just an inventory of marketable assets; they’re social institutions and cultural traditions that define us as Americans and enliven us as human beings. Some invasions of the commons are sanctioned because we can no longer muster a spirited commitment to the public sector. The abuse goes unnoticed because the theft of the commons is seen in glimpses, not in panorama. We may occasionally see a former wetland paved; we may hear about the breakthrough cancer drug that tax dollars helped develop, the rights to which pharmaceutical companies acquired for a song. The larger movement goes too much unremarked. The notion of a commons of cultural materials goes more or less unnamed.

Honoring the commons is not a matter of moral exhortation. It is a practical necessity. We in Western society are going through a period of intensifying belief in private ownership, to the detriment of the public good. We have to remain constantly vigilant to prevent raids by those who would selfishly exploit our common heritage for their private gain. Such raids on our natural resources are not examples of enterprise and initiative. They are attempts to take from all the people just for the benefit of a few.

Jonathan Lethem

-- JaneMarsching

O’Reilly’s Alpha Geek Radar

February 28th, 2007

Decaf Coffee Pot

Tim O’Reilly has a recent post about energy issues making it onto what he calls the “alpha geek radar”. I think another way of saying this might be that more and more people are having conversations like ours. He says, “It’s really interesting the way ideas spread and catch on, and suddenly get on everyone’s radar at the same time. It makes me think of Danny Hillis’ definition of global intelligence: ‘It’s that which decided that decaf coffeepots should be orange.'”

-- MattShanley

Replace or Displace?

February 27th, 2007


I would like to suggest we ask if a policy of replacing liquid fossil fuels for transportation with ANY form of ethanol makes any sense at all? Does this strategy yield the greatest degree of energy independence?

Consider, even cellulosic ethanol at 5:1 net energy will be burned in an I.C.E. with only 30% efficiency. As a result, the true net energy of the ethanol I.C.E. system is a mere 1.5:1

Given that buildings are the source of 48% of climate changing gases, perhaps we should look at a displacement strategy. That is, if we use solid biofuels for space conditioning we can re-allocate the displaced fossil fuels to transportation.

Our grass-based pellet fuels have a net energy of 14:1 and are combusted in systems with at least an 83% efficiency [USDA FS & PFI data]. As a result, the true net energy of grass fueled space conditioning is on the order of 11.6:1. This is a 673% increase in net energy of the system compared to ethanol.

Clearly a displacement strategy will yield much better returns on investment on many

Lastly, consider the disastrous impact of the $6.60 per million BTU ethanol subsidy on the Ag commodities market. This market had been relatively stable since 1996. Today, thanks to the ethanol mania, it is explosively volatile. Soy beans are heading for a 19 year high — perhaps as high as $12 per bushel.

If my company got the same subsidy per million btu produced as ethanol gets today, I could sell my fuel at a very nice profit for $70 per ton. This would provide space conditioning energy for the equivalent of 60 cents per gallon #2 oil. Think you might find that price attractive?

Why are we allowing the government to pick winners and losers with the grossly unfair
subsidy that is limited ethanol? There are many biofuels. Why not treat them all
equally? I thought the idea was to create a level playing field and let the market decide? Silly me. The ethanol subsidy is a heavy duty reality distortion field that is badly corrupting the market place. We should correct this situation.

Very curious.

I look forward to your thoughts.


-- JockGill

Captive iceberg

February 25th, 2007

This is a photo I took in April of 2004 in Resolute Bay. I was there with the film crew for our NOVA show, and they wanted the iceberg as a backdrop for their interview with Roy “Fritz” Koerner. They’d had Koerner bring an ice core from the Greenland glacier from which he had just returned, and his protest that standing in front of bay-ice with a core from a glacier might be misleading was ignored. He certainly looked the part of an Arctic personality, with a narrow, grizzled face that could have stood beside an old photograph of Amundsen. He remained remarkably cordial throughout his interview, despite the cold and the fact that the producer kept having him re-do his lines to hit the specific points she was looking for.

The next day, which was our last, I came out by myself on a skidoo, looking for this berg, but I never found it. The tracks of the last day had been blown away in the arid, icy wind (the day’s high temp was minus 20), and there was no ariadne’s thread to be followed through the ice labyrinth.

Strange to think that all this may someday be gone, that Resolute Bay might be ice-free most of the year, and a berg of this sort melted long before it ever reached it. People ask me what it was like, how terrible the cold must have been, how isolated to be at a spot hundreds of miles from the nearest human settlement. I tell thim it was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.

-- RussellPotter


February 24th, 2007

ak_hourglass.jpgHi, in thinking about the conversations of the last month I’ve been struck by the many interesting ways of connecting and seeing science and art together. In windows around the world one thing I’m always struck with is light and in one of Jane’s last posting she had a number of photos of light on winter days. Light is a powerful part of the Arctic as at certain times of the year the sun is not up and othertimes it’s always up. Light is also a powerful aspect of art.

Another recent conversation struck me and that deals with kids and science and parents and science. I started Windows Around the World so that I could virtually bring children with me or to other parts of the world and to let them see what it looks like and in places and talk with people that live there. As an oceanographer, one thing I have been very grateful about is how much I have gotten to travel and see the world. As a parent this has been extremely hard as it constantly divides us. I think science needs to become more inclusive and less exclusive both with regards to the public and to families. Whenever I have brought my children with me on a trip I find that I end of seeing and exploring something I never would have without them as they are bringing “new eyes” to the field. By this I means eyes that aren’t use to an area and eyes that aren’t blinded by “knowledge” or a work plan.

Climate commons has brought together people and discussions to find common grounds but I have found the most thought provoking things in uncommon ground. I like this conversation as it has brought so much diversity to the talk about climate change and the Arctic.

The attached images show light in the Arctic throughout the year.

-- JuanitaUrbanRich

Victory Gardens 2007+

February 21st, 2007

Garden TrikeA local network of home gardens = A community of food producers!
Victory Gardens 2007+ calls for a more active role for cities in shaping agricultural and food policy. It is a concept we are trying to get adopted by the city of San Francisco that would provide a subsidized home gardening program for individuals and neighborhoods.

This program offers tools, training & materials for urban dwellers to participate in a city-wide transformation of underutilized backyards into productive growing spaces.

The project draws from the historical model of the 1940’s American Victory Garden program to provide a basis for developing urban agriculture as a viable form of sustainable food practice in the city.

See the Video

-- AmyFranceschini

definitions of commons

February 21st, 2007

Sitting down with a scotch tonight, I wanted to answer the question of why I called this site Climate Commons. I think the first word is obvious, but what is this notion of the commons? I went through my writing on it, and then starting surfing around the various sites I have found that use it as their central tenet. Daunted, I decided to collect phrases that seem to point at its varied form:

commns.jpga public sphere in which community values are expressed

a collaborative working space

distributed problem solving

a public library

an invisible college

a space for community owned assets

a piece of land over which other people—often neighbouring landowners—could exercise one of a number of traditional rights, such as allowing their cattle to graze upon it

any sets of resources that a community recognizes as being accessible to any member of that community

the tangible and intangible aspects of the environment that no-one owns but everybody enjoys

shared resources in which each stakeholder has an equal interest

something that is used together, always changes but remains one

a shared social-ecological system

This project lies within a few different commons: an environmental commons (our environmental heritage – planet, water, air, biodiversity, and genetic variability), a knowledge commons (knowledge incubated and maintained through social communities), a cultural commons, a science commons, and a technology commons. Each of these communities creates enclosures around their resources, and a project like Climate Commons seeks to create porous networks between these different commons.

-- JaneMarsching

Afternoon snow light

February 18th, 2007




Images by Jock Gill, Peacham, Vermont

-- JaneMarsching

Better to BURN directly

February 18th, 2007

Solid biomass energy in general offers attractive [net energy] ratios.
Grass energy in particular, with a net energy of 14:1 in the pellet
state, yields, after combustion in an industrial system with 83%
efficiency [USDA & PFI data] a systems net energy of 11.6:1. No
liquid biofuel can come close to this systems net energy factor. Thus
we anticipate a significant future role for herbaceous energy crops in
our nation’s drive to energy independence and energy security.
Evidence of this can be found in the new farm bill with its attention
to incentives for growing grass as a dedicated energy crop.

Clearly, it is far better to BURN grass than turn it into ethanol.
7.7X better. All of the heating oil displaced by grass can then be
used to reduce oil imports required by transportation! This is a
faster, better, cheaper solution with a whole lot less entropy than
the ethanol route. N.H.’s own [Charlie Bass] new this years ago.

I note that the best claim for [corn ethanol] net energy is 1.67:1. It is reported that ethanol from grass has a net energy factor 3X greater = 5:1 But it is all burned in Internal Combustion Engines with just 30% efficiency.

-- JockGill

“Reconstruction” of Iraq and its effects on farmers

February 18th, 2007

I am in search of any information pertaining to the Order 81. Iraqi Order 81 prohibits Iraqi farmers from using the methods of agriculture that they have used for centuries. The common worldwide practice of saving heirloom seeds from one year to the next is now illegal in Iraq.

“The American Administrator of the Iraqi CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) government, Paul Bremer, updated Iraq’s intellectual property law to ‘meet current internationally-recognized standards of protection’.
The updated law makes saving seeds for next year’s harvest, practiced by 97% of Iraqi farmers in 2002, and is the standard farming practice for thousands of years across human civilizations, to be now illegal.. Instead, farmers will have to obtain a yearly license for genetically modified (GM) seeds from American corporations. These GM seeds have typically been modified from seeds developed over thousands of generations by indigenous farmers like the Iraqis, and shared freely like agricultural ‘open source.'”

-- AmyFranceschini

“Playing Devil’s Advocate to Win” from xkcd

February 18th, 2007

xkcd global warming cartoon

Not promoting, just found this interesting.

-- MattShanley

love or power, and the land

February 17th, 2007

a quote from Barry Lopez, author of one of my favorite books about the Arctic, Arctic Dreams:

It is my belief that a human imagination is shaped by the architecture it encounters at an early age. The visual landscape, of course, or the depth, elevation, and hues of a cityscape play a part here, as does the way sunlight everywhere etches lines to accentuate forms. But the way we imagine is also affected by streams of scent flowing faint or sharp in the larger ocean of air; by what the North American composer John Luther Adams calls the sonic landscape; and, say, by an awareness of how temperature and humidity rise and fall in a place over a year.Over time I have come to think of these three qualities–paying intimate attention; a storied relationship to a place rather than a solely sensory awareness of it; and living in some sort of ethical unity with a place–as a fundamental human defense against loneliness. If you’re intimate with a place, a place with whose history you’re familiar, and you establish an ethical conversation with it, the implication that follows is this: the place knows you’re there. It feels you. You will not be forgotten, cut off, abandoned.

As a writer I want to ask on behalf of the reader: How can a person obtain this? How can you occupy a place and also have it occupy you? How can you find such a reciprocity?

Many of us, I think, long to become the companion of a place, not its authority, not its owner. And this brings me to a final point. I think many wonder, as I do, why over the last few decades people in Western countries have become so anxious about the fate of undeveloped land, and so concerned about losing the intelligence of people who’ve kept up intimate relations with those places. I don’t know where the thinking of others has led them, but I believe curiosity about good relations with a particular stretch of land now is directly related to speculation that it may be more important to human survival to be in love than to be in a position of power. It may be more important now to enter into an ethical and reciprocal relationship with everything around us than to continue to work toward the sort of control of the physical world that, until recently, we aspired to.

read the full essay here

-- JaneMarsching