Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A look at Greenroad Media

"Greenroad Media is the only media company that brings together businesses and governments to beautify our highways and public spaces through innovative corporate sponsorships. The result is a truly unique public-private partnership." That's what they have to say about themselves. Their corporate activity is to lease roadside space and plant flowers. That's very nice of them to prettify the roadsides. However the floral displays have corporate messaging in them.

greenroadmedia.jpgThis is done with the approval of state Department of Transportation (DOT) agencies. And clearly it is similar in purpose to existing roadside signs that are infesting the landscape. A difference is that existing roadside signs are on private property, paying money to the landowners fortunate enough to be roadside, while Greenroad Media pays money to the state. What's common is that both act to further encroach corporate messaging into the world around us.

They call it the Living Pixel System ™ and is a way of planting images using flowers of specific coloration. They situate the floral displays on natural slopes along the road, and accompany them with a small roadside sign. The roadside sign is called a "recognition sign" and lists the corporate sponsorship.

It sounds all well and good.. surely planting flowers is a good thing, eh? Well, yes, but...

There's always that 'but' intruding in my mind on what might otherwise be a good idea. I like the idea of planting flowers along the road, to be sure. But. Uh, the objection is the intrusion of corporatism.

Corporatism is in this case propagating itself with advertising. That the advertising is clothed in "green" (flowers) only hides the fact that it's advertising. Am I pleased to hear that more plants are being planted? Yes! Still the purpose is to spread corporatism.

Another objection is that it is placing the states in the position of being fed by the corporation. A larger issue in this is whether the state (governments) should be subservient to corporations or the other way around. My concern in our modern times is that the corporations are more powerful than governments, that corporations are dictating terms to governments, and this puts governments into the position of being unable to represent the will of the people and instead governments are having to kowtow to the will of corporations.

Still, flowers, hmmm...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Review: Flow: For Love of Water (2007)

An astonishingly wide-ranging film. An informed and heartfelt examination of the tug of war between public health and private interests. The story is about water supply, and it covers the global scale of this problem. A little-covered problem all around the world is the delivery of fresh clean water to everybody, the overtaxing of existing water systems, etc. Water is a core human need e.g. we die within two days if we do not have water, and there are many diseases that can be carried in water.

The movie builds a case against the growing privatization of the world's dwindling fresh water supply with an unflinching focus on politics, pollution, human rights, and the emergence of a domineering world water cartel. Interviews with scientists and activists intelligently reveal the rapidly building crisis, at both the global and human scale, and the film introduces many of the governmental and corporate culprits behind the water grab, while begging the question 'CAN ANYONE REALLY OWN WATER?'

One of the transformations covered in this movie is the privatization and commercialism of the water system. All around the world local water systems are being bought up by transnational corporations like Vivendi and Nestle, who then find ways to do corporate profiteering on the back of the core human need for water. For example they're demanding the poorest of the poor pay a few cents for each jug of water, money they can't afford to spend. And in many cases as they cannot afford the commercial water they go down to the local river to get water, but the local river is polluted, full of sewage or industrial waste, they get sick and die.

Around the world there are protests against this system and the protesters are portrayed as believing themselves to be in a life or death struggle. For example a village in India is shown where a Coca-Cola plant was in operation across the street, they described their water as "tasting bad" ever since the plant opened, and they conducted a daily protest for two years against the plant. Eventually the plant was forced to be shut down.

Those are the kinds of things the movie shows. On the flip side from those problems a value is repeated over and over - our cultural tradition is that water, like air, cannot be owned.

For example a case in Michigan has Nestle operating a bottling plant where they are pumping ground water from dozens of wells in the area. Over 400,000 gallons per day of water pumped and bottled for sale. As a land owner they have a right, so the movie says, to use the water from their land. But clearly the "right of use" doctrine wasn't conceived to be conducted at such a large scale. The protesters in that case explain "right of use" as not conveying ownership.

The movie has a huge flaw in the form of an unstated corollary problem. Population growth.

Population growth is a large factor in driving the increase in water use. In 1900 the world human population was around 1 billion people, today it's around 6-7 billion people and rapidly growing.

Obviously whatever water purification and delivery system existed in 1900 has to have become overtaxed by the population growth. Of course more water systems have been built in the intervening years. My point is that to accommodate population growth the water purification and delivery systems have to increase in scale to match.

Most of the movie is living with rural farming communities. People who have mechanical pumps and are accustomed to carrying a jug to a river or well to fetch water. With 6.5x the number of people plus all the industrial increases since 1900 obviously the amount of toxics in the water will have increased since 1900. A local community who could adequately get water from their local well in 1900 needs something else today to accommodate increased population and increased need to purify the toxic stuff out of the water.

The movie says nothing about these problems. This makes the movie very interesting, and full of stunning visuals, but very deeply flawed.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Review: The Power Of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil

This movie is very popular among the Transition movement as it is essentially a blueprint for the Transition message. Transition wants us to recognize the twin dangers of Peak Oil and Climate Change, and take steps to increase resilience in our society. The message of the movie is that Cuba already went through this transformation. While their crisis came due to artificially imposed conditions, they did suddenly have to undergo a drastic powerdown and reshaping of their society.

The context is the Cold War struggles between the U.S. and the Soviet Union played out in a small country off the coast of Florida. Cuba was the Soviet Union's main presence on the doorstep of America, and when the Soviet Union collapsed they could no longer afford to continue funding Cuba, and they pulled out. Cuba had adopted the "Green Revolution" system of agriculture with petrochemical based fertilizers and fossil oil fueled tractors and high energy use, just like other modern countries. But when the Soviet Union left so did their access to fossil fuel. The U.S. imposed sanction after sanction in an effort to squeeze the Cuban government in a modern sort of siege warfare. This simply made Cuba's situation more dire. There were food shortages and most people lost 20 lbs or more during the period.

I suppose the powers that be expected Cuba to collapse and beg for mercy. What happened instead was a reinvention of their society, and the development of localized resources especially for food. There was a mass adoption of Permaculture and Organic agriculture, of urban farming, and much more.

The movie makes Cuba out to be an agrarian paradise and a miracle. It describes Cuba as an object lesson from which the rest of the world could learn important lessons.

Of course the powers that be in the U.S. doesn't want Cuba to be portrayed as anything but a poor land held in the grasp of an insane dictator ..blah blah blah blah.. There are travel restrictions, economic restrictions, and more which keep Americans from easily traveling to Cuba and seeing how they really live.