Saturday, January 26, 2013

COP out #17

Who wants to be an international pariah? We do.
Canada's environment minister Peter Kent announced that Canada would not sign on to a second Kyoto commitment at the climate change talks in Durban, South Africa last week.
It's an honest position — we weren't going to do anything about climate change anyway, not with a Conservative majority. It's certainly not a position that's going to win us any friends in the international community.
Canada and Canadians used to have a tremendous reputation abroad. We were considered friendly, fair, generous, gracious people. Our international reputation was secure.
We continue to brag about our triumph and sacrifice at Vimy Ridge. We're proud of their commitment to duty and doing what's right in the face of considerable obstacles. Other countries revered us for this. The military continues to deserve our respect for the role it plays in defending our country. 
We used to be a leader in human rights, environmental protection, and we led the charge in reducing land mines.
Resting on our laurels isn't doing us any good internationally. We certainly aren't interested in sacrifice for the greater good. All we've got going for us now is that we're not terrorists, and that makes our oil 'ethical'.
The Canadian flag on the backpack is not the badge of honour it used to be. Other countries are well aware of Canada's backwards stance on clean energy, and how we prioritize our local economy over the global environment.
Canada signed on to the first Kyoto agreement then failed utterly to meet our commitments. Even China is disappointed in our stance on Climate Change. Yes, be embarrassed.
We've lost the political will to do what's right in the face of adversity. We've become comfortable with our resource extracting economy and our international goodwill has evaporated: Our self interest has eclipsed our willingness to do the right thing in the eyes of the world.
It's not an overstatement that the future of humanity in the world is at stake. We rely absolutely on ecological services and a stable climate. No amount of economic activity can replace that, and we're announcing to the world that yes, we are that selfish.
Practically speaking though, if you're planning a trip abroad in the near future, you may not want to trumpet so loudly that you're Canadian. You may not get the special treatment you were expecting.
Originally published to correspond with The Conference of the Parties #17 in Durban, December 2011.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

I only got nine presents.

During the holiday season, it's exciting to anticipate presents, fun to pick them out for others, but the most important factor is who you share your time with.
Anticipation is part of the fun. Flipping through the wishbook, writing letters to Santa, and enduring TV commercials that overstate the joy you can get from a given toy are all part of the economy that revolves around stoking our desire for things we don't have.
Revelling in the not knowing demonstrates how we enjoy the infinite possibilities. Schrödinger's present (where it could be anything until you look inside) fills you with anticipation and wonder.
Knowing it could be anything dwells on the tremendous upside of what's possible rather than the limitations of any one thing. Is it better to open the box and limit the infinite possibilities to one thing, or to leave it closed preserving the dream but never living the reality?
Picking out gifts for others is fun too. The Potlach, a native giving custom raising the status of those who redistribute the most resources (rather than collecting the most resources) flies in the face of our accumulating society.
Economists criticize gift giving because it doesn't optimize the resources. Other people don't know exactly what you need/want, so they do their best. Their best isn't as good as what you'd come up with for yourself, so the utility of the gift is rarely maximized. On the other hand, giving cash is seen as a thoughtless cop-out, though it would help to maximize the utility and keep the economists happy.
The utility of the gift is only part of the story. The rest has to do with the reciprocal, relationship building nature of gift giving, the thought you put into your presents, and the opportunity to be generous. Reciprocal gift giving is one way to strengthen a relationship.
Between the delight of anticipating and receiving something wonderful and the satisfaction of seeing it received there's a third benefit too, more important than passing around stuff. It's the relationships that you strengthen by sharing time with the people you care about builds the relationships that help make us truly happy in a way that no present can.
That doesn't just go for the holidays either. Sharing your most limited resource — time — with the people you care about never goes out of style. Every moment is a chance to create memories that endure and strengthen the relationships with people you care about.
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Sunday, January 13, 2013

NoTV: The alternative to #SocialTV.


You've probably seen them: #Hashtags on TV shows. Designed to encourage you to talk about the show on Twitter, promoting the show to your followers and encouraging you to become that much more immersed in the show yourself.
Tweeting about TV shows as they happen also encourages you to watch it live - while everyone else is talking about it. It can be used to show advertisers that people are watching, and if they're watching live, they can't really skip the commercials.
Since the people most likely to be doing this can already tweet from their phones, it brings back a social aspect to TV viewing that mostly disappeared when people started watching TV on their own, rather than bringing a crowd together to watch something live. Live TV get togethers only happen now for major sports events, where watching it later makes it likely that the ending will be spoiled by a stray newscast or honking fan.
Although it may be satisfying to complain publicly how #iLuminate should have won the #AGT* finals (even though you didn't vote), there is an alternative: But you won't like it at first.
Reclaim your eyeballs. Cancel your cable TV package. Save the money from the cable package. Maybe the 20ish hours that the Average Canadian spends watching TV each week could be better spent elsewhere, like active recreation.
Spending time with friends or actually talking with family, rather than watching the latest episode of Everybody Loves Hypnotoad**  seems like it's more in line with how we'd like to live our lives. It's a little tougher, sure, but ultimately more fulfilling.
Try "7 Wonders", "Settlers of Catan", "Carcassonne" or your favourite card game as an alternative to TV. Or learn another language or a musical instrument. Then there's that thing on your bucket list you wanted an extra thousand hours a year to tackle.
If you won't go cold turkey there are still options. Between Netflix, iTunes, YouTube, Free Over The Air TV, Network websites can get you your TV fix, but it means watching TV more intentionally, rather than simply letting it wash over you. Also, most of those options mean less advertising, so you can get through the same content in less time.
On the other hand, if your deathbed regret would be 'never getting to see who has the X Factor' this advice probably isn't for you. "You can watch anything you want to man." - "Weird Al" Yancovic - Couch Potato.
* The TV Show 'America's Got Talent' - not the old phone company.
** Hypnotoad: A TV show within 'Futurama'. All glory to the #Hypnotoad.
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