Thursday, September 25, 2008

Help Me Help You

Google is sponsoring something called 10100, a charity competition where people can submit ideas for ways to improve the world and, after a public voting period, will convene a committee to choose up to five of the most deserving of the top ideas to bankroll with $10 million. I really dig this idea and would love to submit a few worthy ideas by the deadline of Oct. 20, 2008 (less than a month from now.)

The only problem is that I'm a slacker unless I've got others depending on me. That project I was complaining about yesterday? I got it and another one requiring me to work with my partner done a full 24 hours prior to the deadline. The first was was actually done a full 48 hours early. If it had just been me, that time between completion and deadline would have been more accurately measured in minutes. I just work best under pressure.

However, in a task like this where forethought, planning and ample production time would make success more likely and the consequences could be great if my submission were done well enough, I'm calling for volunteers for collaboration. I'm good with ideas. Execution, not so much. Heck, I'm even game for more and better ideas. I'm going to start the discussion with some general areas I'd like to look into personally and let it go from there. I'd really like this to turn into something, so if you know anyone with any passion or expertise in any of the following areas (or has an idea that's really good but not in the following categories), please send them this way. This is going to be the first time I've ever actually promoted my blog outside of a very small group of friends.

My pie-in-the-sky ideas:

1. Energy: I admire people who make their lives a little less convenient in order to be more responsible consumers of energy. In fact, I'm gradually working my own lifestyle in that direction, but then I'll never be the guy living in a handmade hut in the woods using only scavenged materials to build his own supplies and tools. The truth of the matter is that most people aren't even going to go to the small extents that I have unless they're forced to. They wouldn't give up their unnecessarily large and powerful SUVs until gas prices skyrocketed, and many aren't even now. The large majority of people won't go green until they can't afford not to, and I mean literally, as in not having the cash flow to support current levels of waste. Humans just suck, in general, at modifying behaviors when disaster hasn't already begun. People were warning of New Orleans' weaknesses in dealing with a major hurricane for years before Katrina. There was even a featured article in National Geographic earlier in the year that Katrina hit detailing just such a horrible outcome and nothing was done until the disaster had come and exposed the flaws in brutally visible ways. We're a species that excels in being reactive and adaptive, but as a group we tend to fail to be proactive.

Keeping that in mind, I think get out the message campaigns and even political lobbying for environmental and energy conservation is more or less a waste of money. You do get some benefit by making the technologies and practices seem less strange and more like realistic options, but let's face it, switching to a hybrid vehicle and compact fluorescents don't require much in the way of sacrifice of convenience, but they also don't really make all that large of an impact in the big picture. Until someone really stands to make a lot of money on it, there just won't be the incentive for the real decision makers to get behind such a thing. What I'd like to come up with in this category is something that makes green initiatives become a more economically feasible thing.

One potential idea is figuring out a way to make green energy initiatives a public economic benefit. Perhaps by bankrolling a current green energy co-op, or if one doesn't currently exist, helping to found a one so that everyday people can buy into the co-op and reap benefits from it if it becomes successful. Perhaps fund research to make solar energy more efficient. I'd love to see a day when people get payment/discounted electricity/free electricity from allowing the power company to install a solar unit on the roofs on their homes. Heck, they even started up the first ever wave generator off the coast of Portugal, although I would like to see research about any potential shortcomings of that form of electricity generation before putting my full support behind it. Hydroelectric was once considered green too until the impact on wildlife was discovered.

2. Agriculture: I love some of the work that some of my favorite Atlanta-area restaurants do in supporting local organic producers. Organics are really the only niche left for family farms, so it benefits real people, and it would be awesome to see this food source pushed, especially if it can be done efficiently enough to reduce costs to make it competitive in the market. Most people in the US actually make less money than I do as a teacher and I couldn't afford to eat organics at every meal without sacrifices in other aspects of my lifestyle. It's ridiculous to expect the average person to make any sacrifices for organics, so I'm not sure to go with that.

I do think research on organic agriculture could be a project to get funded, especially ways to to make it more efficient and cheaper and to reduce the potential hazardous byproducts of current organics methods of fertilization (link to earlier post).

3. Agriculture: I'd love to see something aiding third-world agriculture, perhaps a non-profit working on breeding disease and drought resistant varieties of economically useful crops that didn't come with a kill gene or otherwise produce duds in the seed department. There's no reason a farmer should have to buy seed every year if he benefits from saving a portion of each year's crop to plant the for the next. I'm not sure how I could make this one work, though.

4. Food: I'd love to see some sort of organization that helped fund school lunch programs. Research has already shown that serving healthier food with less fats, sugars and carbs and more nutrients actually increases academic performance and reduces disciplinary problems. We care enough about education that we keep standardized testing companies rolling in former tax dollars and holding schools accountable for their students' test taking skills, but not enough to feed them a lunch that is scientifically proven to aid in success? Total bullshit.

5. Education: An organization that pays grants to teachers with a proven record of success in the classroom to work in struggling schools could be a really cool idea. All schools pretty much pay the same within a given region now so the wealthy suburban schools draw a disproportionate number of applicants for teacher openings, meaning they get a deeper pool to choose from, while urban and rural schools struggle to fill opening in even major core content areas.

And by the way, there is the option to submit a 30 second video to help illustrate your proposal. Anyone have skills and the equipment for that?


Mickey said...

I'll have to think on this. Remind us about it again later.

Good ideas, though. All worthy, of course, and I think the key for a competition like this is presenting them in ways that make the potential impact seem evident and long-lasting. The simpler the idea, the better, probably.

Courtney said...

Jacob, I take back what I said earlier about you being a bad person (although I still support using dryers less.) This is a really cool idea, and I'm totally on board.

I love the idea of making this a collaborative effort. Given our intelligent and responsibly-minded friends, I think that if we brainstorm together and come up with some specific and well-formulated ideas, we could make a real difference.

I like all your ideas, especially the ones about creating or bankrolling a green energy NGO and helping third-world countries sustain organic food sources. I don't have any ideas to add at the moment, but I'll think about it for a while and get back to you.

If you want to get a lot of people in on this, here's what I think we should do: Start a blog dedicated solely to this project and let people voice their ideas there. I can plug it on my blog too. Mickey and I have a lot of readers outside the people we know in real life, and they may chime in with some good ideas too. We can have an ongoing discussion about what ideas we think are best, and then we'll have a polished idea (or set of ideas) to send to Google. We can even get together to make that video if you want, but I don't have the equipment.

What do the rest of you think?

Julie said...

I don't know a lot about any of these particular causes.

I do have access to a handheld camcorder and a tripod, though, so if it's the best you can get, I am happy to help as I can.