This is our official first anniversary. We launched at the South-by-Southwest (“SXSW”) Eco conference last October, and so a full year has come around. While the site has been a boit more blog-like than we anted, we are pleased with some of the conversations we have started and have some ideas as to how we can do more. More than anything, this post is about that aspect of our effort, about conversation.
It’s been sort of quiet on the site lately, but we’ve been busy behind the scenes. Dan came down to Austin for our second SXSW Eco; we handed out a few business cards and met some kindred spirits, but we spent most of the week huddled together and scheming about adding new technologies to the site. We did succeed in a few difficult preliminaries – Dan has started coding in Python, I have revived my capability to work with Django, and we succeeded in getting Python to get the session cookie from WordPress, read the database, and identify user attributes. (Yeah, I know, yawn.)
I also joined in for a while at an Open Data hackathon, mostly with the excuse of forcing myself through the Django activation barrier yet again. There I learned from a young fellow on the White House staff (who amazingly had picked up an unmistakable Obama accent; those short clauses… with emphasis on the last word… which we have come to expect… from Obama) about the open data initiative. And it’s true, the Feds have exposed an enormous amount of data on the web, with here and there a half-baked API. But it’s not easy to identify exactly what the data means, or figure out useful ways to parse it. My partner in crime, one “banderkat”, set the goals – given a building’s location size and cost, to compare its energy usage to comparable buildings from a detailed database of about 6000 supposedly representative commercial sites. What a mess! It made climate data look pretty.
I also watched what will probably be remembered as the high point of the meeting, a panel with Bill McKibben, Bill Nordhaus, and WWF chairman Larry Schweiger. Here’s a barely watchable bootleg video of a particularly salient moment.
My sense of the Breakthrough group and their fundamental flaw is reinforced, and my tendencies to be Nordhaus-like suppressed, but more on that at a later date.
The dominant theme of the week for me, besides coding, was Mike Mann, from whom I caught a science lecture, two versions of his book talk, a panel appearance, and a brief conversation over coffee. If I have any credibility with you let me assert unequivocally that Mike is a mensch. Any doubts I may have had that he is a scholar and a gentleman are quite gone. What to make of this in the larger context (given that I would like to have some participation on this site of the more reasonable and competent skeptics and “lukewarmers”) is confusing enough. It’s really hard to forgive their behavior toward this eminently reasonable and decent fellow.
It’s a phrase that Mike used more than once that I’d like to use as my one-liner take-away from the whole meeting.
Mike says he is accused of having “an agenda”, but insists that he has no agenda beyond “making sure that the necessary information reaches the public so we can have the conversation we ought to be having” about climate. This is commendable. It’s is the right way for most prominent scientists to construe their roles.
The intended role of Planet 3.0 can be understood in a related way in exactly this context. We want to be a locus on the internet where the conversation we ought to be having actually occurs. Our goal is not journalism as such (and fortunately the situation is improving on that front for people who take the time to look). Our goal is intelligent public conversation.
Now that you’ve seen the site for a year, (you can look at the archives if you are new) you have some sense of the sorts of topics we want to discuss. The vision, though, has always been of a community-based site. We are looking for technical ideas to facilitate this, but we understand that the important aspect is not the technology. The important aspect is the community.
So please don’t be shy. Come on in. Set a spell. Let us know what you like about us and what you dislike, how we can change, and what we can offer to move the conversation beyond the endless global-warming-yes-or-no babble and on to a real discussion about our collective future.