More trees, fewer cows = Our best shot at climate change survival

One of my beloved clients is throwing a wonderful conference next Thursday and Friday at the beautiful Bronx Zoo called Wood at Work: Elegant Strategies for Architecture, City-Building, and Forest Conservation. The two-day affair will gather together some of the best minds in architecture, forestry, policy, ecology, and urban planning to talk about how sustainable wood use in cities can actually protect global forests and rural economies and cultures.

2015 Wood at Work conference

In addition to many brilliant presentations and panels, there will be beaucoup de time for informal conversation (and networking) over breakfast, lunch, snacks, and drinks. Plus super fun-sounding workshops like “Japanese Sawing” and “Tree Music”!

I’m not getting paid to say that if you’ll be in New York City and care about a) design or architecture, b) climate change, c) trees and forests, d) native cultures, or e) being in a room packed with brilliant, hard-working, potentially world-saving people, I think you should consider coming. Tickets are pretty cheap, and if you email me, I’ll even send you a magic code for 50% off!

Nice, but what does all of this have to do with cows?, you ask (as you hastily go to the Wood at Work website to purchase a ticket). Perhaps surprisingly, a lot!

As the great Jeremy Radachowsky of the Wildlife Conservation Society explains in a story he just wrote for National Geographic:

Oregon forest by McD22 on Flickr

Flickr’s McD22 captures some Oregonian forest grandeur

There are two existing [climate change-related] technologies that are ready to be acted upon today, whose collective impact could be larger than any future technological breakthrough.

The first technology is a 400-million-year-old solar-powered device that extracts CO2 from the atmosphere and converts it into material useful for construction, essentially “printing” solid materials layer by layer like a 3D printer until a finished product up to 300 feet tall is achieved. Once deployed, the device requires no human input – just water, sunlight, and molecules found in most soils.

This technology is called the “tree.”

A more recent technology extracts tons of carbon already trapped in vegetation and converts it into a small amount of protein-rich food for human consumption. Along the way, large quantities of climate-damaging gasses are emitted. In the moist tropics, the process also requires the clearing of climate-friendly forests and is ten times less efficient than many other methods of food production.

This technology is called the “cow.”

Cows were domesticated by humans more than 10,000 years ago and made sense in the context of a small human population and abundant resources. However, in an era of high population density and climate change, cattle are now an antiquated and obsolete solution to today’s environmental and food security issues. Trees, on the other hand, remain vital to our continued existence.

Makes sense, right? Plus, now that vegan food has gotten so plentiful and delectable, our excuses for massive meat consumption have dwindled to all but nil.

Jeremy’s going to give a talk titled “Trees, Not Cows” on Friday, October 30 at Wood at Work. Come listen with me, then we can share our thoughts over something delicious that’s not beef.

Buy my poetry for $1!

Hello several friends who subscribe to this blog!

As you already know, because I cannot conceal my outsize pride about this little project, my tiny poetry books are here!








One 8.5 x 11 sheet—skillfully folded and packed to the gills with strange journal clippings and b&w photos from a 28th birthday party in a hotel room in Queens and from Trees of Mystery in approximately the same year—can now be yours for the low, low price of $1 cash.

Did I mention they’re hand-numbered in gold-tone ink on the back??

Just drop me a line and I’ll give you my address. Send me a dollar in cash, and I’ll mail a book back to you. Easy peasy.

I may never rise to Node Pajomo-like levels of mail art greatness, but I am happy to be dipping this first toe in the water. Thanks for deigning to join me!

Last week’s Mashable Social Good Summit was pointless

I’m sort of cringing at that snippy, click bait-y title, but it really was not good.

I’d heard about this annual social good event for the past few years, but hadn’t had occasion to go. Then a friend of mine, who’s launching a new design and social good conference in Portland next year, asked if I would attend this year’s program in her stead and give her notes.

I was genuinely interested. Also, I’m sure I don’t need to say that when you offer a freelance writer a free ticket to something, she’ll always go. So I went.

A (good) freelance writer will also always try to show-not-tell you about their experience. So here’s what I saw, as reported to my notebook during the event:

At least they had one of those celebrity backdrops you could stand in front of.

At least they had one of those celebrity backdrops you could stand in front of.

  • “Objectively meaningless two-minute video where the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal flags are waving around groups of ethnically-diverse children.”
  • “Opening ceremony = brief introductions to each of the SDGs by celebrities Victoria Beckham, the clock/”bomb” kid, Adrian Grenier, a taped speech by Jennifer Lopez… This is not helpful or interesting! Just a parade of celebrities.”
  • “The Digital Media Lounge appears to be a room with a bunch of tables where people are using laptops and there’s a screen projecting the live program happening in the auditorium. The lounge is where the coffee and snacks are, too, which was not explained to us before.”
  • “Did the conference website crash, or is the wifi in here just getting deluged? Been 10 minutes and it hasn’t loaded.”
  • “Moderator: ‘These kids will be leading this summit 15 years from now.’ Yawn.”
  • “Panel participant: ‘Social media is used by young people, who are going to be the ones driving change for the next decades, so we need to use and pay attention to social.’ Is this news??”
  • “There is a panel called ‘Champions of the Earth.’ “
  • “I see people with pizza, and I smell pizza. I guess we got pizza! No instructions or explanations. It’s like a secret!”
  • “I’m not sure who’s here, or why. There was no chance to network—other than waiting in line for the bathroom, which I did—and I’m left with no sense of who would come to this. Starting to think it was just a bunch of UN moles!!”
  • “Closing remarks were compassionately brief. We were asked to leave the auditorium immediately afterward.”

I could go on, but I don’t want to embarrass anyone, exactly. And there were some gems:

A deservedly tired Bill McKibben spoke about, among other things, the similarities between tobacco and oil companies when their jigs have been up.

Moxie Marlinspike issued the very interesting thought that laws should be difficult to enforce: “How would we know that public opinion and demand was swaying in support of same-sex marriages if no one had ever seen an ‘illegal’ same-sex relationship in public? Same goes for marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado. We need to see how people act outside of what they’re told to do by laws in order to see what they’re really like; what they really want and need.”

Lara Logan was a tough and smart moderator who brought needed rigor and vigor to her discussions.

But overall, I was surprised by how much time and care went into something that wound up being so banal and providing such little value. My peanut gallery tips to conference organizers of the future:

  • Make it concrete, not conceptual. Statistics and stories can be useful; platitudes are not.
  • For the love of god, build time to network into your schedule. No one wants to go to a conference, sit for six hours, then go home. Networking is half the point.
  • Either tell us to bring a lunch, or tell us there will be food (and preferably what and where and when, too). Also for the love of god.

That’s it. No hard feelings, Mashable (although I can’t recall seeing anything on your site that’s really grabbed me, either). Just… sayin’.