Let’s do Better than Bike Lanes

Bicycle

In North America bike lanes are afterthoughts slapped on infrastructure meant for heavy metal objects that kill people and the planet. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can change the conversation from supporting large single occupant vehicles to supporting solutions to move large groups of people safely through our cities. In the 20th century car manufacturers spent lots of money to convince people that everyone needs a car and that “smart cities” would be built around the car and not people. Today we need to do the opposite and spend time and money convincing everyone that cities should be for people and not cars – and we can do it!

Cars and trucks get billions in federal, state, and local money. Governments can mindlessly belch out vast sums for highway widenings—see the $1.6 billion spent on a single-lane addition to the 405 freeway in Los Angeles, even though we’ve known for years that it would not make a dent in travel times. With all this money seemingly available for car infrastructure, some of which is absolutely useless or makes traffic worse, there’s only a pittance devoted to robust bike networks. Why?

Let’s dare to design something that can actually make a difference and imagine micromobility infrastructure that goes beyond bike lanes and that leapfrogs piecemeal local approaches. Let’s create a blueprint that can have real, lasting impact, to excite the masses, bring together many groups, companies, special interests, and demographics, create real mode shifts, and actually make a real difference in pollution, climate, and car deaths.

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Let’s Make Billionaires Pay

economic chart

Democracy is rule by the people and it’s up to the people to ensure that this continues to be the case. Currently the growing inequality in democracies is threatening the very existence of these societies to continue, but there is a simple solution. If we ensure that billionaires give back to the society that they used to make their wealth then we can continue to thrive. Every billionaire made their money by extracting wealth from others and we can’t forget that. If we don’t make billionaires contribute back then we’ll continue to have many social problems. Perhaps it’s time for something radical and outright ban billionaires?

But there are far more urgent reasons than poverty to get rid of billionaires and reverse the trend of economic polarization. A growing body of economic and political-science research demonstrates that Gilded Age–type inequality does not just mean having too many with too little. It is warping the very social fabric of the country, stifling mobility, innovation, investment, and growth, and putting the country at political risk.

Given all this evidence, wealth taxes are not simply a way to pay for programs for the poor. They are a way of reducing the incentive for the rich to soak up all that money in the first place. They are a way of pushing the steps of the income ladder closer together to make them easier to climb. They are a way of ending what two leading economists on inequality, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, call “oligarchic drift,” and its attending political risks. They are a way of building a healthier economic future for everyone—including those 400 families up at the tippy top.

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Let’s Empty Half the Earth of People

the suburbs

The housing pattern pictured above is not sustainable, nor is how we as a species consume the planet’s resources. A way to think about our sustainability is to think of it as an annual budget and by August we’ve already consumed our annual supply of renewable resources, meaning the rest of the year is over budget and we have to consume non-renewable resources. A way to reduce our carbon footprint to help us survive the ongoing climate crisis is to move people into urban centres and depopulate large swaths of the planet. By leaving large open areas for nature to thrive we can help the planet deal with the 8 billion people consuming all of its resoruces.

So emptying half the Earth of its humans wouldn’t have to be imposed: it’s happening anyway. It would be more a matter of managing how we made the move, and what kind of arrangement we left behind. One important factor here would be to avoid extremes and absolutes of definition and practice, and any sense of idealistic purity. We are mongrel creatures on a mongrel planet, and we have to be flexible to survive. So these emptied landscapes should not be called wilderness. Wilderness is a good idea in certain contexts, but these emptied lands would be working landscapes, commons perhaps, where pasturage and agriculture might still have a place. All those people in cities still need to eat, and food production requires land. Even if we start growing food in vats, the feedstocks for those vats will come from the land. These mostly depopulated landscapes would be given over to new kinds of agriculture and pasturage, kinds that include habitat corridors where our fellow creatures can get around without being stopped by fences or killed by trains.

This vision is one possible format for our survival on this planet. They will have to be green cities, sure. We will have to have decarbonised transport and energy production, white roofs, gardens in every empty lot, full-capture recycling, and all the rest of the technologies of sustainability we are already developing. That includes technologies we call law and justice – the system software, so to speak. Yes, justice: robust women’s rights stabilise families and population. Income adequacy and progressive taxation keep the poorest and richest from damaging the biosphere in the ways that extreme poverty or wealth do. Peace, justice, equality and the rule of law are all necessary survival strategies.

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Porn Companies are Better at Moderation than Facebook

teen computer

Publicly Facebook, Twitter, and other social media services state that they cannot control what is posted and moderate it fast enough to make a difference. They argue that the technical solutions are inefficient and almost impossible. However, companies that distribute user generated adult content have effective measures to moderation to the point that they can take pride in their law-abiding. They have technical solutions and other moderation systems in place to ensure that illicit content doesn’t get posted to their sites.

Hopefully this serves as a demonstration that we can change how large social media companies distribute user generated content.

Take the difference in how Silicon Valley and Porn Valley handle user-generated content, for instance. On mainstream social media sites, instant posting is viewed as the norm — whether you’re posting a link to a New York Times piece, a personal update, or a racist invective, your thoughts will appear on the site as soon as you share them. Although some links and words do trigger a basic moderation algorithm that prevents the update from being posted, most moderation is done post hoc, often after problematic content is reported by users.

Aggressive content moderation isn’t the only way that xHamster controls what lands on the site. As the terms of service makes clear, chats between users are also periodically monitored to ensure that they’re in compliance with the site’s policies. That may seem extreme, but there’s a good reason: sites like xHamster literally cannot afford to have content that violates their policies appear on their platforms, even momentarily. The penalties imposed by the government, billing agents, and banks — which can include punishments ranging from being banned from processing user payments to being thrown in prison for years — mean that even the slightest slip up could put a porn company permanently out of business, or worse.

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Good Coffee for Good Causes

coffee

A coffee chain in Cambodia is more than just another place to get an espresso. Feel Good Coffee is a social enterprise that runs cafes and sells coffee wholesale to improve the lives of the average Cambodian. One of the really neat things they do is train their staff to basically get jobs elsewhere, the company gets better trained employees while those employees are free to apply elsewhere with increased skills like management or customer service. Employees are paid a living wage for serving good coffee and pastries, if you’re in Cambodia you should pay them a visit.

In our business, empowerment means giving people meaningful options an the power to transform their choices into actions and desired outcomes.
For our farmer-suppliers, this means theyset the price for their own coffee, using their knowledge to grow and process their coffee without interference, we respect their autonomy and treat them as equal partners in our business, and help them to access tools and training about new processes and technologies that can make their farms more sustainable and profitable.

For our employees, it means sharing information, rewards, and power with our entire staff so that they can take initiative and make decisions, solve problems, and improve performance and service, and direct their own career path.

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