A Space Race Approach to Fighting Climate Change

Here’s a neat idea: save the planet using the research and development practices used during the space race. The state-lead push for advanced science led to really fun things like cellphones and laser eye surgery. Imagine what we as a species could create if we had the same push into sustainability like we did during the race to the moon.

If markets left to themselves will continue to merely pump out “innovations” along certain pathways, then it is up to the state to play a more direct role in starting a “greentech” revolution. Mariana Mazzucato, in her book The Entrepreneurial State, argues that major advances in tech from the internet to nanotechnology to pharmaceuticals were born either directly from government research or because governments made the risky investments necessary for the private sector to act.

The good news is that not all money is the same, and those behind Mission Innovation and the Breakthrough Energy Coalition seem to have read Mazzucato. They explicitly reference “patient capital” which can reduce the risk of uncertain technological investments. There is no question this is a major step in the right direction.

Governments certainly need to price carbon, but they should also act as entrepreneurs and market-creators to kickstart innovation for the green growth of the future. If we are underspending on this by orders of magnitude, then doubling is not nearly enough.

Read more.

Mobile Devices for Development

The use of mobiles in development is nothing new; however, it’s always good to remind ourselves how useful this technology can be. Mashable has a list of five reasons mobile devices are good for international development (and in developed nations too).

Preserving the Rainforest
Brazil’s Surui tribe, a group native to the Amazon Rainforest, has been subject to the devestating effects of logging on its ancestral lands. Google helped the Surui devise a solution, through the use of Android phones, to monitor one of the land’s most valuable resources, its carbon stock.

Carbon offsets are sold to companies to counterbalance the negative toll their manufacturing, transportation or electricity are having on the globe.

While it may seem antithetical to use smartphones to help preserve the tribe’s traditional culture and lands, the Surui’s leader, Chief Almir, believes technology is a tool with great power to do good. As a testament to his work with Google, he hopes to open a center for technology and culture on the tribe’s ancestral lands.

Read more.

Mobiles Without Borders

M4Drinks_torontoInternational Institute of Mobile Technologies and Engineers Without Borders Toronto have joined forces to create Mobiles without Borders to encourage the use of mobiles in development.

To start things off there’s a networking event happening in Toronto tomorrow Thursday July 7th:

With over 5 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, mobile technology is becoming more than a form of communication. In North America, Sparked is using mobiles to allow people to microvolunteer and in Kenya, M-PESA is using mobiles to provide financial services to locals. Mobiles are being used in both developed and developing countries for banking, healthcare, marketing campaigns, fundraising and so much more.

Whether you’re a local non-profit looking to build a mobile app to increase awareness about your organization, an international development practitioner looking to build a mobile platform, or a young professional, technologist or marketing professional, join us for a drink and the opportunity to meet others and discuss all things mobile.

Date: July 7, 2011, and every first Thursday of each month
Time: 6:00pm until late
Location: Fionn MacCool’s, 70 The Esplanade, Toronto, ON M5E1R2 (map)

Full disclosure I’m working with the International Institute of Mobile Technologies.

DIY Glasses for the Poor

Something like 6 percent of the North American population wears glasses. If you’re amongst these four-eyes, you probably appreciate your local optometrist, who makes your vision possible. Unfortunately, people in developing countries don’t get to have a local optometrist — and that means no glasses. Happily, an inventor has just created glasses that people can adjust themselves, obviating the need for prescriptions and experts. And he’s getting them out to the people who need them.

The implications of bringing glasses within the reach of poor communities are enormous, says the scientist. Literacy rates improve hugely, fishermen are able to mend their nets, women to weave clothing. During an early field trial, funded by the British government, in Ghana, Silver met a man called Henry Adjei-Mensah, whose sight had deteriorated with age, as all human sight does, and who had been forced to retire as a tailor because he could no longer see to thread the needle of his sewing machine. “So he retires. He was about 35. He could have worked for at least another 20 years. We put these specs on him, and he smiled, and threaded his needle, and sped up with this sewing machine. He can work now. He can see.”

Read more at The Guardian

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