Road trip to Seattle, meeting green communicators

Anirvan Barnali 9-15.JPG

Barnali and I are starting our year's journey with a road trip from Berkeley to Seattle with Charlie. (Our freighter leaves from the Port of Seattle Monday, September 21.) The three of us have been enjoying stopping to see friends along the way.

Our trip was inspired by persuasive environmental communication. The first time we used a carbon calculator, it gave us not just a number, but also showed that we emitted more greenhouse gases than 90% of Americans; seeing that was an emotional punch to the gut, forcing us to reevaluate our lives.

We met three persuasive environmental communicators -- and a really bad one -- during our road trip to Seattle.

Ravi and friends.JPG

In Portland, we met up with Ravi Gadad, an old friend from high school. He works for Project DX, a startup helping cities offer residents ways to go greener, e.g. by installing solar panels, improving stormwater management, etc. Early adopters aren't enough -- for these initiatives to work, communities need to make it incredibly easy for homeowners to see options, calculate savings, and find installers. His lesson learned: usability thinking is critical to turn awareness into action (and make it scale).

David Chott

We spent the night with David Chott, a UC Berkeley classmate, now the online coordinator for the Campaign for America's Wilderness. They support an unlikely coalition of environmentalists, hunters, and everyday conservationists working to preserve forests by giving them federal wilderness designation. David and his colleagues support local organizing efforts in a variety of ways, including online support. I loved hearing his stories about how good tools can help catalyze local self-organizing efforts.

We're big fans of Walk Score, a clever system to quantify how walking-friendly a location is, based on proximity to stores, schools, and other institutions. (What's yours?) In Seattle, we met Mike Mathieu from Front Seat, the developers of Walk Score. He described the process of taking it from a concept to a project gone viral, working with constituencies like planners and the real estate industry, and how they're working to expand and measure reach. We also discussed our Trip Footprint project, and ways we could try to expand reach. His advice to us? Ignore featuritis, focus on distribution, and take users' natural instincts into account when messaging complicated ideas.

Biofuels developing nations PR

On the other hand, we were very disappointed by our visit to Boeing's Future of Flight Museum. We came in wanting to know about how flight's going to be affected by its single biggest existential threat -- our collective need for an 80-90% net reduction in greenhouse gases. Instead, we learned a lot about next-generation inflight entertainment systems, saw self-promotional film clips galore, and discovered only a lone exhibit on industry research on algae-based sustainable biofuels. (Which touched on the fuels-vs-food problem, but avoided the debate over feasability). A lay person visiting the museum may not have realized that aviation's future is inextricably linked to innovation and policy work to prepare for a lower-carbon world with hard carbon caps. Even just repeating the IATA's green PR would have been helpful. Unfortunately, the Future of Flight museum totally flubbed on discussing the future of flight.

(Next post: Preparing to sail to Japan)

1 Comment

Hope you guys have seen this publication. We teach an undergraduate lab based on the paper.

Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies

S. Pacala1* and R. Socolow2*

Published in Science (2004).

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About us...

We're a landscape architect (Barnali) and tech geek (Anirvan) from San Francisco spending a year trying to travel across continents aviation-free while talking to people exploring solutions to transportation and the climate crisis.

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