Global Cool…but not in school

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Steve Bridger heralds the arrival of Global-Cool over on his nfp2.0 blog. I’m not sure how to describe it really. The website is kind of celebrity offsets meets change-the-world-in-simple-ways meets ecotainment. Or something. Here’s the (very well-designed) site for you to make up your own mind. It’s a pretty clear and good addition to what’s out there already, although nothing groundbreaking as far as I can make out. There may be those who want the Scissor Sisters to tell them to turn their lights off, and if it reaches more people in a clear and entertaining way, then all power to them. Of course, there may also be those who question why, from a £20 donation, £3 goes to Global Cool Productions Ltd and £1 on administration. That’s 20% of your donation not going to alternative energy/energy-reducing projects…..(the admin’s fair enough, and the production company will "put on more carbon-neutral shows and make more programmes to create a bigger noise to turn more people into planet-savers").

[Incidentally, it’s founded by the guy who founded Future Forests as it was then called….]

I’m not going to bang on about whether it’s ethical to offset or not; you can read plenty of stuff about that in every paper under the sun. But it also seems to me to be connected to something else Steve mentions in his article: that the UK government are going to distribute a copy of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth documentary to every school in the country. Now, of course it is important that children are educated about the challenge of global warming and climate change; and of course it is important that this is communicated in effective ways. But is this really necessary? Aren’t kids, in fact, the one group of society that DO fully understand, having had it drilled into them consistently at school in geography, science etc….? Several articles recently have detailed how children have started campaigning at home, prompting one parent to write in to a school saying, "Can you please inform Paul that it is allowed to have the light on to read at home?" Does that child really need to watch Al Gore?

The fact is that sending out DVDs is just information provision; but the point has already tipped: you can’t move for environmental debate, recycling schemes, offsetting of flights, healthy organic food, and so on. It’s not information and promotion of the cause that is needed, surely; it is action and, probably, legislation. How about ministers committing to a set (collective) number of flights per year? How about taxing companies who won’t match M&S zero carbon initiative? What about the Global Cool people giving £19 of the £20 to carbon reduction, instead of more publicity and programmes? What a better example it might set for them to walk the walk, rather than talk the talk. The point is that it is not easy (we have these debates in this organisation as well), but has to be addressed. David Miliband is strong in the department, communicates and debates well, and has a lot of good ideas (individual carbon quotas etc.) but it would be great to see some of them, challenging as they are, put into action.

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Altruism hardwired in the brain?

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Reading about how a certain part of the brain is more active in those who are altruistic sparked off a range of responses and ideas….but Nick Booth over at Podnosh has covered this much better than I could, going into the research a little more, and extrapolating outwards what this might mean for non-profit use of technology:

"…Flip it the other way and you make the case that those with the most
sophisticated understanding of social situations are more likely to do
things for others because it is most likely to make sense to them. They
have mental tools better attuned for empathy, for relating to others,
for calculating knock on consequencs of acts of generosity. So what is
my point re the social web?

These are the people with
the most sophisticted and complex (dare I say evolved?) ways to
understand and act in the social world. These are also the people which
you should find in a greater proportion in charities and non-profit
organisations. Yes you’ve guessed it: these are the folk who should
find it easiest to grasp the social web."

Interesting stuff: do those who work in this sector have a heightened sense of empathy, which leads them to be involved in this world? Is this more complex/’better’ than others, or just a particular area of strength? Is there an altruistic brain spectrum along which we could plot people we know and work with and support? Certainly the connection between "seeing other people’s actions as meaningful" and "being altruistic" is an interesting one which other researchers could pursue and drill down on.

What would neurologists make of social entrepreneurs I wonder? Maybe we should stop with the refined interview process focusing on traits and characteristics and just get a MRI brain scan to see what potential lies in store…….or maybe not….

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Saving the world one species at a time

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SlenderlorisI’m renowned at SSE as not being a great animal lover (due to being allergic to most of them), but an e-mail from a friend prompted me to look at a new website about species which are "evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered" (EDGE). It’s called Edge Of Existence, and is a project of the Zoological Society of London, aiming to conserve these species by implementing the necessary research and conservation actions.

In a stroke of fundraising genius, you can choose to support in a variety of ways…but most will surely choose to support specific actions to help a particular species. My donation went to the uber-cute Slender Loris.

It’s a fantastic site, albeit in the early stages, and an extraordinarily effective way of getting important research funded. Not only in the linking to specific animals, but also detailing exactly where this goes and why it is important. Obvious fundraising steps, but executed superbly, and with good and appropriate use of new technology to both invite questions and promote interaction and engagement.

[thanks to Fev for the link]

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More optimism from the Edge

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The Edge asks an annual question each year (since 1998) to renowned thinkers, scientists, businessmen etc which always makes for fruitful, if slightly uneven, reading. In previous years, this has included "What’s your law?" and "What is your dangerous idea?". This year, it is "What are you optimistic about? Why?"

Some interesting people have been asked to provide answers, from Richard Dawkins to Brian Eno, from Steven Pinker to Clay Shirky, and from Cory Doctorow to Craig Venter. [their answers respectively, and massivly summarised, are: final scientific enlightenment, empowerment of people at grassroots, the decline of violence, evidence improving society, copyright openness, evidence-based decision making]. There’s lots more in there (often the ‘lesser-known’ names provide more interesting entries..), and more than I can write about, but worth a read as we start the New Year with hope and optimism.

A related future-thinking exercise has been going on on the WorldChanging blog, as they asked many of their contributors to respond to "Looking towards 2007: What’s Next?". There are some interesting social entrepreneur-related ones here (Jim Fruchterman, David Bornstein) but what stood out for me was that several of them basically said that there are enough solutions/inventions and certainly enough writing about them; we need to map them and use them. Or as Jeremy Faludi puts it, "in a nutshell, 2007 needs follow-through". Turning awareness into action: the strapline for 2007.

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