Tag Archives: Sustainability

Apple and the environment

If you’ve read this blog for long you may have picked up that I’m a bit of an Apple fan. But it’s also true that I have, since around 1990, I have oriented the way I live my life around the question, “Is this good for the health of the Earth?” Those that know me would probably agree with the suggestion that I’m a bit extreme in that regard. The way I look at it is that it is, fundamentally, a question lived ethics and survival. What we do everyday impacts not only our future survival but the survival of countless other species with which we share the planet. Our choices thus far have been leading us to the extinction of other species and quite possibly our own. Our time on this planet does have an expiration date. One day humans will no longer exist on this planet. That’s a given. But will we end our time here prematurely due to poor behavior? Increasingly it looks as though we will.

I have long argued (as many have) that capitalism is incompatible with the longterm health of the planet. As an economic system it is focused on profit and specifically short-term profit. Corporations have demonstrated time and time again that they don’t do well when it concerns the environment and questions of human social justice. In the past ten years Apple has begun to demonstrate that it is possible continue making a profit even as it undergoes a dramatic shift in it’s social and environmental impact from a negative to a positive. Apple isn’t just minimizing its negative impact but is attempting and succeeding at creating a significant positive impact.

In recent years as it makes these changes it has made an effort to communicate to the public what it is doing. On the face of it it’s pretty easy to dismiss as the usual greenwashing that many companies engage in when they care about that aspect of how they appear to the public. In other words, marketing. But here’s the thing, Apple has gone so far in changing the way it operates that it no longer appears to be trying to convince the public that it is a good corporate “citizen”. They have seemingly made it a part of their mission to set the bar of conduct at a new level. This is a sustained effort to shift the fundamentals of the company from one that prioritizes profit to one which puts environmental impact on an equal footing.

In the lead-up to Earth Day 2017 we’ve seen a push by Apple to share what it’s been doing in these areas. In past years they have done the same but with each passing year as the scope of their commitment deepens it seems to be a shift from corporate marketing to one in which Apple sees a “teachable moment” and is educating the public not for it’s own benefit but for the public good. They are setting an example not just for corporations but even for citizens and governments. They aren’t just meeting the too-low requirements and goals set out by governments. They are exceeding them and raising the bar and not just by a little. And then they are saying to the world, do better. Do much better.

A day or so ago John Gruber of Daring Fireball and The Talk Show published an interview with Lisa Jackson, Apple’s VP of Environmental Policy. I remember when Lisa Jackson moved over to Apple having served 4 years as head of the EPA under Obama. At the time I just figured, oh, the usual high-level corporate/government revolving door. I didn’t pay much attention to her. But listening to that interview I can only say that I am really impressed. She’s a fantastic asset to Apple as well as an excellent STEM role model who also addresses the connection between STEM and our social and ecological problems and needs. I’ve listened to it twice and might give it a third go. She offers some fascinating details about how Apple operates in relation to resources.

As an activist who protested Nike in the late 90s for it’s overseas labor policies I was keenly aware that Apple was having it’s own labor issues in the early 2000s (and probably before). I began paying attention then to both the labor and environmental practices of my favorite technology company with some hope that they would “Think Different” in their dealings with the world around them. They have not disappointed. While progress was made when Jobs was at the helm their move towards greater social and environmental responsibility really increased when Tim Cook took over. The focus on the social and environmental responsibility has intensified greatly over the past 5 years. This interview is an excellent summary of those changes. But what is truly breathtaking is the scope and depth to which they have gone.

It’s easy these days to become mired in a mix of hopelessness, despair, frustration and disgust. Our political system seems equal parts corrupt, inept, and circus. On the issue of climate change the U.S. has proven largely ineffectual and confused. From the public to government to business, we’ve made little progress at far too slow a rate. It seems very likely that we are past the point of no return and that all there is to do now is adapt and attempt to minimize what now seems to be inevitable. But I listen to this interview and not only am I inspired but I’m embarrassed that it is a company… a capitalist enterprise that is actually leading the way, that is setting the best possible example not only for other companies but for citizens. As someone who has long considered himself an activist (of sorts) I suddenly feel a bit ashamed of my despair. That might not be exactly it or quite the best way to put it but it’s close.

Also, Apple has put together four videos for Earth Day 2017. Good stuff.

And yet another bit of Apple and the environment bit of news, Macworld reports that Apple will return heat generated by data center to warm up homes:

Apple is building a new data center in Denmark, and it has some interesting ideas on how to power the data center with renewable energy, while also giving back to the community.

Excess heat generated by the data center will be captured and returned to the local district’s heating system, which will warm up homes in the community.

This is just one example of many that illustrates the scope of commitment that Apple is making to this effort. This is exactly the sort of project that Lisa Jackson is describing in the above linked interview with John Gruber.

Last but not least, Apple is set to move into it’s new headquarters, Apple Park. Much work is still being done but April was to be the month that employees started moving over. To say that I’m impressed with Apple Park would be a huge understatement. From native and edible landscaping to the heating and cooling to the local energy production, it is, by all accounts, the standard for large scale green architecture and landscaping.

We are the power

I've not said much here about recent goings on in the U.S. But like anyone not living in a cave, I've been paying attention. I am aware. I am frustrated. And angry. And sometimes frightened. Several weeks ago many folks were posting on Twitter in support of Elizabeth Warren. And then I saw two tweets:

@danielpunkass: The Senate may be surprised how many previously apolitical people are awakening to the reality of our shameful representatives.

@danielpunkass: I consider myself politically astute, and I'd been relatively tuned out. Now, many who never game a damn are active daily. New democracy.

I responded with:

@dennyhenke: @danielpunkass I would suggest that it is shameful that our citizenry allowed itself to become apolitical. That should NEVER happen in a healthy democracy.

@dennyhenke: @danielpunkass We have this thing we refer to as activists which is an indicator. There shouldn't be “activists” as all citizens should be active.

But then, a little bit later I got on a roll, what do the youngsters call it? A thread. And realized after that really it's the sort of thing I should have posted here. So, I've edited a bit.

I'm not a fan of the 2 party system in the US. I'd love to see it fracture into many. I'd love to see Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders start a new party. Which is to say, begin the break-up of the Democratic Party into several parties. We need stronger progressive politics and the Democrats won't do it as they are beholden to capital just as the Republicans are.

Not that party politics is the answer. We need US citizens to remember they are meant to be in power. All citizens should be “activists”. And it's not just about politics in D.C. or our state gov. It's our counties and cities and neighborhoods. And it's not even just politics but community. Active citizenship should encompass how we live our lives, which is to say, how we meet our physical needs. How we work and purchase. Democracy, if it is meaningful, should encompass economy and community. It's all interwoven like a tapestry. A participatory tapestry.

Politics isn't something owned by a group of predominately white guys in D.C. It is our food supply and our electricity and transportation. We make choices everyday that contribute to our problems. We should stop waiting for solutions to be provided by a broken system. We should be the solution in our communities empowering ourselves with green technology and healthy relationships with our neighbors.

The world is what we make it and for too long we've been silent and complicit. We've waited for solutions to come to us, to be delivered.

So, what does it look like, this community-built life, this tapestry? It looks like every kind of co-op you can imagine. People working together to recycle bikes and teach each other how to repair them. People growing food together in neighborhood gardens. Community resource centers in garages and un-used spaces with shared tool libraries for check-out. Educational workshops for everything. Each one teach one. It's people taking care of one another. It's meals together. It's bartering and sharing. In other words, it's a life with reduced consumption of resources and energy that is better for the planet and very likely better for all of us. It's reducing the role of middle men we call capitalism. It's a reduction of he profit motive in exchange for greater fulfillment and health.

It’s up to us

So, Trump won the 2016 election. Yikes. Many are rightly concerned with what he and the Republican controlled congress will do. So many issues, far too many to cover here. No, this is a post about climate change because that’s one that affects us all and it’s the one that in the near and long term is causing significant damage to the ecosystems of our planet to the degree that our very survival is in question. For far, far too long people have looked to government for solutions. To technology and products for easy or even fun fixes. This must stop.

I think the real question is when will we all become the solution for the planet? I understand that laws can help, that federal funding can help. But each and every day every person on the planet makes choices, mostly going with the flow and the flow is harmful. This is especially true in the U.S. and other affluent nations where consumption of energy and goods have been far higher. It’s easier to go with the flow and so we do. We drive. We turn the thermostat to whatever makes us most comfortable. We buy food shipped in from across the country or world. We freeze our food, we refrigerate it. We buy new phones, tablets, and computers, big screen televisions, and huge houses to fill. New cars, new clothes, and the list goes on.

What. Are. We. Waiting. For? Must we really be told by the government how to behave? Forced? I get that corporations need such enforcement. The vast majority of them behave very badly in regards to the environment. But each of us? We can choose to do better. Every day we can choose to harm less but by and large we choose to harm more because its our way of life. Our way of life is based on consumption, comfort and convenience all of which are based on the burning of fossil fuels. That’s it. There’s no magic involved in fixing this.

DO LESS. CONSUME LESS. BE LESS COMFORTABLE. ACCEPT INCONVENIENCE.

A list of the things we can do everyday regardless of who is president:

Do the bare minimum in climate control of your home. If it’s cold outside be as cold inside as you can be. It was 30° today at sunrise. My tiny home was 50° because my heat was off. I was cozy because I was wearing warm clothes and was covered with blankets, a dog and a cat. I got up put on a jacket and made some coffee and oatmeal. In the summer I do the same. I do the best I can to deal with the heat. Eventually I turn on the AC just as this winter I will use heat. But I make a choice to cover up and to wear layers. I don’t assume it’s my right to crank my heat up to 70 or 75 or any other temperature.

Don’t drive unless you must. I work from home so it’s easy. I go to town once a week or less. I only go if I must and when I do I combine all my errands. If I forget something it waits until the next trip. When I lived in Memphis I walked and used a bike as much as possible. I did use a car when I needed to… and sometimes when it was convenient. But that’s when I made the wrong choice. Everyday our highways are full of cars most of which have only one person in them. That’s the wrong choice.

Take a train, not a plane. This is a big one. We fly the globe with little consideration of the climate change impact. If you’ve flown in the past year can you also say how much carbon your flight produced? Was it even on your radar? For some it may be but I’d guess that for most it never enters the equation. Why not? If we must travel we should travel by train as it is FAR more efficient.

Buy less. Buy used. Share. Make do. This is pretty straight forward. You don’t buy stuff unless you must. When you do buy you buy used if you can. Borrow first. Fix first. If you replace something and it is still useable (computers and gadgets especially) make sure it goes somewhere where it will be reused. Whether you sell it or donate it, be responsible for it because it’s not waste. It’s a resource with lots of energy bound up in it.

Reuse and recycle as much as possible. I stopped buying trash bags a long time ago. I use canvas bags for shopping but occasionally get the plastic bags that I use for trash. I throw away one of those plastic shopping bags filled with trash once every 2–3 weeks. Almost everything is recycled. When I do visit the dumpster it is always full of mostly recyclable materials that others are too lazy to recycle. Most “trash” isn’t trash at all.

Eat less meat, eat local food if possible. Food takes energy to produce and transport. Some takes more energy, beef and other raised livestock especially. This one can get complicated and probably requires it’s own post.

Do less in a general way. People are always on the go. Stop. Take a nap. Read a book. Take a walk. Just stay out of your car.

Last but not least, choose not to have children. This is another biggy that probably could do with it’s own post. Each human requires a lifetime of resources. There are 7+billion of us on the planet. We probably need to reduce that by lowering the birth rate.

This is just a partial list that covers some of the most obvious choices that also happen to have the most impact. I’ve had a thought in the past day that it would be great if we had a social media that combined aspects of FB, Instagram, Twitter etc but which was focused on making such changes. A website that offered an opportunity to commit to the most important, impactful choices that individuals can make. Such a site would include ways to share and document solutions and efforts. We should celebrate the effort and the change. Our social media hashtags should be about how we’re saving the planet. Our selfies should show our gardens and our produce. Our latest home improvement share should demonstrate practical repairs, re-uses and re-purposes. I think our use of social media has, to now, largely been about ego and status. That should change. It should be about supporting one another’s efforts to make the changes we must make if we are to survive.

Many of us were surprised by the election of 2016. Many upset. There’s much fear about the policies that will be enacted. The fears are valid. But much of the work we have to do would have existed regardless of the election. Especially in regards to the environment, much of what can happen, much of what needs to happen, much of what must happen, is in our own hands. We cannot wait for government to force us. We cannot wait for convenient technological fixes. We cannot wait. Me and you. We each make our choices. We must make better choices for ourselves and encourage others in our lives to do the same.

Star Trek: A Future Without Money?

Yes please. Where do I sign up? I’ve long thought that humanity would be better off without money. Whether this personal belief arose from my adoption of anarchism or whether I adopted anarchism because of the belief I no longer remember. Regardless, the future I wanted was a future in which humans were less concerned with the accumulation of wealth as well as the accumulation of stuff. Such a focus was holding us back from not only our individual potential but our collective potential as well.

During the same time that I was evolving into an anarchist and an activist I was also becoming a fan of Star Trek. In particular it was the then active series, The Next Generation that had my attention. Something I picked up on at some point along the way was that money and material possessions seemed irrelevant to the characters. I don’t recall now if it was explicitly discussed in the course of the show but it seemed to be the case that money simply didn’t exist. At least not on the Enterprise. The material needs of the crew were never an issue. But even more than that, the culture of the Enterprise, while organized as a hierarchy, was also egalitarian in many ways. There seemed to be an emphasis on cooperation even as personal, self development was encouraged and explored. From the arts to sciences, the crew were always engaged in self development. What was depicted was a version of humanity that evolved far beyond where we find ourselves today. It presented a better vision, an ideal, of what humanity could be. This was the future I wanted, this was the kind of humanity I hoped for.

At some point in the mid 90s I remember watching this particular Star Trek movie, Star Trek: First Contact and there it was a scene in which Captain Jean-Luc Picard explained that “The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.” There it was. Not just implied but explicitly stated. Yes! Exactly. And this, again, Picard from the episode “The Neutral Zone”:

“That’s what all this is about. A lot has changed in past 300 years. People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions. We’ve grown out of our infancy.”

This particular aspect of the Star Trek Universe is explored in a new book, Trekonomics, by Manu Saadia:

Yet, Star Trek does not owe its enduring popularity and its place in our collective imagination to its aliens or to its technological speculations. What makes it so unique, and so exciting, is its radical optimism about humanity’s future as a society: in other words, utopia.

In Star Trek, humanity has reached abundance. Thanks to scientific progress and good governance, the Federation has overcome the social ills commonly associated with the uneven distribution of material wealth. The citizens of the Federation no longer work to sustain and provide for themselves — they find meaning in more elevated pursuits.”

I’ve not read it yet but I’ve just started it. From the Introduction:

To this day, the greatest sense of wonder I experience from Star Trek comes not from the starships and the stars, new life and new civilizations, but from its depiction of an uncompromisingly humanist, galaxy-spanning utopian society.

We are a far, far cry from that version of humanity. But that’s okay. Because, again, the point is, we can all be better humans. The world is what we make it everyday. We can choose to go with the flow which today is largely one of destruction and discordance or we can, like the characters of the Star Trek universe, strive to improve ourselves and the lives of those around us. We don’t need to be paid to be better humans, we can just do it. In fact, that’s a part of the point. Striving to be better for the sake of being better, without financial reward, is, in and of itself an immediate improvement. Even more, if our striving is cooperative and includes those around us. This is the world I want to create.

Via New Book ‘Trekonomics’ Investigates Challenges of a No-Money Universe