This Week’s Top 10 (11/19-11/25/06)

Here are my favorite appropriate technology, environment, health, climate change, international development or country specific blog posts for the past week in no particular order.

  1. Cultures of Repair / Sustainability from the Social Technology Blog

    This is an old post from July, but I just discovered it today so I’m fudging. It was just too good to pass up. It very much captures the ethos of AIDG.

    “What sets these locations apart from cities in more ’emerged’ markets? Aside from the scale of what’s on sale there is a thriving market for device repair services ranging from swapping out components to re-soldering circuit boards to reflashing phones in a language of your choice , naturally. Repairs are often carried out with little more than a screwdriver, a toothbrush (for cleaning contact points) the right knowledge and a flat surface to work on. Repair manuals (which appear to be reverse engineered) are available, written in Hindi, English and Chinese and can even be subscribed to, but there is little evidence of them being actively used. Instead many of the repairers rely on informal social networks to share knowledge on common faults, and repair techniques. It’s often easier to peer over the shoulder of a neighbour than open the manual itself. Delhi has the distinction of also offering a wide variety of mobile phone repair courses at training institutes such as Britco and Bridco turning out a steady flow of mobile phone repair engineers. To round off the ecosystem wholesalers’ offer all the tools required to set up and run a repair business from individual components and circuit board schematics to screwdrivers and software installers.”

    For consumers the informal repair culture is largely convenient, efficient, fast and cheap, reducing the total cost of ownership for people for whom a small drop in price may make the difference between having or not having a phone. The culture of repair also increases the lifetime of products lowering their environmental impact (though this could be offset by other factors such as inefficiency of using old batteries).

    Aah, it warms me cockles.

    Original article

  2. CanTV – TV over wi-fi in rural Mali from Afrigadget

    This is a very clever idea. With the help of the folks at Geekcorps, a radio station in Mali is using Wi-fi to stream video content to TVs running on 12 volt car batteries and sporting a handy cantenna (antennae made from cans).

  3. See the how-to video on Youtube (or should I say Gootube).

    Get the Project Guide from Geek Corps

  4. What Came Out of Nairobi from It’s Getting Hot in Here.

    Getting different countries to agree on a single plan of action in an area where they have very different priorities was always going to be like herding cats. From the looks of it, the bare minimum was accomplished and a lot of decisionmaking was put off until next year. Harumph and schmoo.

  5. How to Fight Poverty: 8 Programs That Work from the World Bank’s Poverty Growth and Development Blog.

    Recaps Tina Rosemberg’s article in the NY Times last week about effective programs for cutting poverty. My personal favorites are “Give the poor an ownership stake”, “Link of Villages”, “Hold the patient’s Hand” and “Universal Vaccination”. Showing my infectious disease strikes, I guess.

  6. TreeHugger.com and Seventh Generation’s Video Contest Seeks Convenient Answers to An Inconvenient Truth from Huffington Post

    Treehugger has been making some great partnerships in the past few months. If you haven’t already, check out their Green Challenge done with Slate Magazine. This month though they are hooking up with Seventh Generation to hold a film contest. Make a 1 minute movie on the steps you and your peers are taking to stop global warming. They are offering up some tasty prizes to the tune of $25,000. Me likey likey.

  7. Easterly and Sachs continue to spar from the World Bank’s Private Sector Development Blog.

    Hmm, I’ve never read this “Road to Serfdom” of which they speak. Next for the booklist?

  8. $402m Tidal Energy Plant For New Zealand from Alternative Energy Blog

    Crest Energy could begin a tidal power project in New Zealand’s Kaipara Harbour next year. It is estimated that 200 megawatts could be generated from tidal energy – enough to power 250,000 homes. Not quite appropriate technology, as it costs $402 million, but nifty nonetheless.

  9. Google TechTalks: Climate Change, Carbon Trading and Biofuels from Treehugger.

    While I haven’t forgiven Google for its dodgy dealings with the Chinese government, I do appreciate their Techtalks. Listen to Thomas C. Heller and Stephen H. Schneider talk about Climate Change and Carbon Trading and Vinod Khosla talk about Biofuels. Each lecture is over an hour long.

  10. Causes célèbres

    Oprah Wants to Know about Your Global Warming Concerns via Treehugger.

    The most powerful woman in TV lists two global warming-themed questions (” Are you worried about global warming?” and ” Is your family worried about global warming?” ) on the “Upcoming Shows” roster. Fill out the form and you could win a chance to be on Oprah.

  11. It takes all types from the Gristmill.

    Rapper and media mogul Jay-Z has joined the ranks of entertainment stars speaking up on environment, health, or development issues. Last week at the UN he shared stories from his recent trip to sub-Saharan Africa, where he focused his attention on the dire water and sanitation situation. MTV will air a 30 minute documentary on his trip Nov. 24th.

Appropriate Technology Photo Pool on Flickr

Pepsi Can Stove Inspired by the Make Photo Pool on Flickr, I decided to start an Appropriate Technology Photo Pool.

Here is the basic description:

This group showcases appropriate technologies (such as windmills, biodigesters, water pumps, small scale microhydro, solar water heaters, solar fridges, water pumps, etc.). Pictures can be from any location – your backyard, the hillsides of Cambodia, your backyard in the hillsides of Cambodia. The technologies themselves just have to be environmentally sound, affordable and “easily” repairable.

Please join. It’s a nice way for folks working or interested in the subject to see what other people are doing and have accomplished.

Peter Haas Interview on the Long View

Peter gave an interview on “Thinking Out Loud: the Long View”, a radio program produced by the University of Massachusetts Lowell (WUML FM 9.15), earlier this year (June 22, 2006). Pete talks about why he started AIDG, our model for sustainable small-scale infrastructure development, and our rationale for keeping our designs Open Source.

Download and listen to the interview (Mp3; Duration: 20 min; 18.7MB)

The Long View Website

Stay Tuned: Xeni Jardin from Boingboing stopping by XelaTeco

Xeni Jardin, co-editor of Boing Boing Xeni Jardin, a tech culture journalist and co-editor of Boing Boing, is on assignment in Guatemala currently working on various peices. She’s graciously agreed to come by XelaTeco while she’s in the area and will be filing radio and video reports from the shop. I’ll keep you posted on where to find the info after her visit.

Until then read about her most recent dispacth from Guatemala on Boing Boing.
Her personal blog about her work and travels at xeni.net/trek.

The picture her friend sent her from Costa Rica is lurvely.

Kyoto, Mon Amour: 5 things you might not know about the Protocol

Sheneman political cartoon: Kyoto Protocol

While reading up on the goings-on at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, I realized something really embarrassing. I’d never actually read the Kyoto Protocol.

Here are five things you might not know if you haven’t read it either.

  • There is also a Montreal Protocol. You may not know its full and formal name (The Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer), but you know all about its effects. This landmark international treaty, designed to protect the ozone layer, called for the substances believed to be responsible for ozone depletion, namely chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons, carbon tetrachloride, and methyl chloroform, to be phased out by 2000 (2005 for methyl chloroform). What I think is most noteworthy is that the ozone hole over Antarctica wasn’t widely known until 1985 and the much of the science regarding its causes was still speculative when the treaty went into negotiations in 1986. It just goes to show that when the political will is there things can go at warp speed at the UN. It is truly one of the most impressive moments of international cooperation. I get all verklempt just thinking about it.
  • The protocol also calls for the “[l]imitation and/or reduction of methane emissions through recovery and use in waste management, as well as in the production, transport and distribution of energy”. FYI: Methane is 20+ times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Check out my post about methane emissions from livestock.
  • There is a Clean Development Mechanism which allows industrialized countries to generate emission credits by investing in emissions reduction projects in developing countries (Article 12). Even though the U.S. is not a signatory to Kyoto, we do have a few projects like that lying about. Check out the v. cool Methane to Markets program from the EPA.
  • One critique of Kyoto made by the Bush administration isn’t totally crazy talk. The protocol does not require developing countries to meet specific greenhouse gas emissions targets. The argument was that the emissions of developing nations were low compared to industrialized nations and that they weren’t the cause of the global warming malarkey anyway. At first glance this makes sense, but then comes the “hang on a tick” moment. “Developing countries” includes huge emerging economies like China and India which are growing fast and will soon be amongst the top contributors to worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. I’ll spare you the “It’ll be a race to the bottom” part of the critique.
  • The consequences of non-compliance are steep. “For instance, where the enforcement branch has determined that the emissions of a Party have exceeded its assigned amount, it must declare that that Party is in non-compliance and require the Party to make up the difference between its emissions and its assigned amount during the second commitment period, plus an additional deduction of 30%.”

* Cartoon credit: Drew Sheneman, New Jersey — The Newark Star Ledger

This Week's Top 10 (11/12-11/18/06)

I’m starting a new feature called This Week’s Top 10 where I highlight my favorite appropriate technology, environment, health, climate change, international development or country specific blog posts for the week. Here they are in no particular order.

  1. 2007 Social Capitalist Award winners from Pienso.
  2. Blogs on/from the unfccc COP12 / MOP2 talks in Nairobi, Kenya from Climate Change Action. From November 6-17, the United Nations Climate Change Conference happened in Nairobi, Kenya. This post links to the bevy of bloggers covering the event. Via PSD Blog.
    Update: Podcasts from the Guardian (UK)
    David Milliband Day 1 (mp3, 5 mins, 12s) – Full Post
    David Milliband Day 2 (mp3, 8 mins, 3s) – Full Post
    David Milliband Day 3 (mp3, 6 mins, 10s) – Full Post
  3. U.N. Climate Talks Struggle to Agree Tiny Steps from the Environmental News Network. A wrapup of the UN conference.
  4. The Failure of the $100 Laptop? from Slashdot The MSN Money Central piece that the post refers to gets a few things wrong. Excuse me, while I rant.
    • Quote: “Finding a network in the poor areas is either impossible or very expensive”. Networking doesn’t have to be incredibly expensive. See how First Mile Solutions brings the internet to people in rural villages.
    • Quote:”These high-tech gems are a laughable addition to a mud hut.” The writer hasn’t walked past a shack and heard the Super Mario Brother’s theme coming from an old Nintendo. Many people severely underestimate the desire of the poor for entertainment and information. I also find it interesting how people on the other side of the poverty line order which improvements should improvements should occur first. First you get electricity, then running water, then maybe a radio, then … and last computers.
    • Quote: “The basic argument is that with $100 you could almost feed a village for a year”. That is a vast oversimplification. There is wide variation in the buying potential of individual villages and there are also a wide ariety of reasons why having a computer would be a very worthwhile investment. Which leads me to number …
  5. Acumen’s New Model for Third-World Aid from Nextbillion.net. They tell the story of Garima Devi who set up a successful internet kiosk in Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh, India in collaboration with the Drishtee Foundation.
  6. FROM THE FIELD: Home Health Visits on Bicycle from Technology, Health & Development. “In Cape Town, South Africa, Arisen Woman and the Bicycle Empowerment Network have partnered to get home health care workers on bikes and doubled their patient reach.”
  7. Stern’s warning: putting a price on climate action/inaction from Clean Break. Commentary on the Stern Review on the economics of climate change.
  8. How to write about Africa from Dfid’s Development magazine. A primer about how not to be a patronizing imperialistic pigdog when writing about Africa. I’m embarrassed in that I’ve made some of the obnoxious mistakes they mention. Ew.
  9. Technology Transfer from the World Resources Institute. Summarizes a big chunk of the conflict between the North and South regarding tech transfer and intellectual property.
  10. Lawrence Lessig and the Creative Commons Developing Nations License from Worldchanging. An interesting idea of how to allow tech transfer in light of intellectual property concerns.

Kudos to Catalytic Communities

Tech Award While mentioning this year’s Tech Awards Winners, I forgot to give a shot out to Catalytic Communities (I went to college with the founder Theresa Williamson).

So, I’m always going on about how the diffusion of appropriate technologies into populations is prevented by limited/restricted access to the solutions, manuals, and troubleshooting info. Well, here is how Catcomm tries to address that issue.

Catalytic has been slowly and carefully developing a unique Community Solutions Database online, a clearinghouse of thorough explanations of how communities solve their own problems, around the world. Now available in three languages, with over 120 projects, the database is growing quickly with recent improvements in the technology. Any community, anywhere on the globe, can add their local innovation to the CSD. This is one of the database’s unique characteristics: it is open to all who feel they are successfully addressing local challenges. Over 20,000 visitors monthly consult CatComm’s website for community-generated solutions.

Felicitações, Theresa.

A better mosquito net

Long Lasting Insecticide Treated Bednets by Sumitomo ChemicalWhenever I get behind a mosquito net, I feel like a combination of 1) a fairy princess ensconced in diaphanous material and 2) the Rohirrim holed up in Helm’s Deep, under seige by bloodthirsty Orcs and Uruk-hai. Most nights, I will spray my bednet with DEET. Otherwise the little nasties launch a full scale attack on any body part that touches the net while I sleep. I’ve woken up with some gnarly constellations of bites from forgetting that. I haven’t ever come across insecticide-treated bednets (ITNs) in stores/markets during my travels. They wouldn’t have a long shelf-life anyway. According to the CDC “[t]o maintain the efficacy of [your typical] ITNs, the nets must be retreated at intervals of 6-12 months”.

Well this year’s Tech Award Laureate for Health, Sumitomo Chemical Company, Ltd., has developed “Olyset®, a long lasting mosquito net, which protects the user for at least five years from malaria transmitting mosquitoes.” Hosanna in the highest.

Slow release

The Olyset® technology, invented by Sumitomo Chemical, comprises an insecticidal active ingredient which is directly incorporated within the polyethylene fibers of the net. The technology enables a very slow release of this insecticide onto the surface of the fibers, where it repels and kills malaria-carrying Anopheles mosquitoes for at least five years. The slow release of the insecticide over a period solves the issue of reapplication of the chemicals, and the highly robust polyethylene fibers provide a product that is sturdy, effective and able to last up to seven or eight years in rugged rural African conditions.

Sumitomo Chemical is partnering with the big boys (The Roll Back Malaria Partnership and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria) “to help communicate the risks of malaria to Africans, along with the benefits of proper prevention”.

Also great news is that an individual (in some of the countries at least) won’t have to go through an NGO or government distribution outlet to get their hands on one. Thank goodness for that. A huge barrier to the diffusion of these technologies is that they aren’t available where it is most convenient for people to get them. How annoying would it be if you needed a light bulb and had to go to the equivalent of NYC to get one. Yeah, it’s true that setting up a good supply chain going in areas with poor infrastracture is a non-trivial task, but it is still what would need to be done to maximize uptake. You gotsta go where the people are.

Read up on Olyset production and distribution in Tanzania. Sumitomo Chemical is manufacturing IN Tanzania.

Via Technology, Health and Development Blog.

I’m also pleased to see that the Sumivector site is powered by Joomla. Yay opensource.

What’s it like to live on $2 a day? (Jessica Lee, MIT)

Reflection Paper by Jessica Lee

From Friday, October 27 to Friday, November 3 I attempted to live in a monetary fashion similar to 50% of people in the world. I was to spend $2 or less a day on my food, entertainment, transportation, etc. Fortunately, I was allowed to disregard the cost of a lot of things that I take for granted such as electricity, heat, internet access, education, education, and rent. The cost of these basic aspects of modern life is significant and I could not imagine trying to support my high-tech and high-comfort lifestyle with just $2 a day. Nonetheless, I thought practicing poverty would still be a great challenge and began my weeklong challenge by shopping for low-cost, versatile food. I quickly learned that poverty means hunger, poor nutrition, and monotony. My daily meals consisted of a lack of breakfast, a humus sandwich and sunflower seeds for lunch, and a thick slice of apple loaf, bowl of ramen, and cup of applesauce for dinner. This repetitive schedule was only broken with a side salad once during the week and a few chocolates and candies around Halloween. For the first time in a long time I actually felt hungry during the day and could not eat my stress away. After the third day, everything I ate lost its novelty and started tasting a lot like sandpaper. To be honest, my laziness in searching for foods that would make up a nutritionally balanced diet started to haunt me as my body got sick of carbs and began craving the veggies and fruits that, unless purchased on sale at a super market, were quite pricey to obtain on campus. Monotony, hunger, and bad food put aside, $2 a day put a food restriction on one of the most important foods to me, coffee. Without it, I almost could not function on some days, and working up the effort to keep up my energy and performance was when I felt the pain of poverty most. Continue reading