Thursday, March 26, 2009

White House "Open for Questions" Virtual Town Hall

On March 24, President Obama announced that the White House web site would offer an "Open for Questions" web site project where people could ask questions and vote on other questions that were submitted on 11 topics related to the economy. Today, on March, 26, an on line streaming broadcast allowed President Obama to answer some of these questions in a "Virtual Town Hall Meeting." According to today, more than 90,000 people submitted questions and more than 3.6 million users ranked questions. (The White House Blog today clarified this by noting that there were more than three and a half million votes.--I myself voted on over two dozen questions.)

On March 25, a day after the first announcement, I logged in and decided to ask a question in the topic area related to "Green Jobs and Energy." By this time there were already over 40,000 questions and the first popular ones submitted had already garnered many votes. Questions submitted later could only be found by scrolling through a long list or by doing a "Search" for key words.

Here is the question I asked. "Dear Mr. President, Would you support a series of ongoing nationwide online town hall meetings in local communities, towns, and cities in all states on the topic of environmental and ecosystem sustainability related to future economic stability?"
gogrimm, Boise, ID - Green Jobs and Energy

I watched the live streaming event today at 11:AM EDT, and it was one of the highest quality live video programs I have seen. The disappointment was that the president could only answer a few of the 90,000 questions. Immediately after the streaming broadcast was over, I had trouble finding the original "Open for Questions" site where I wanted to look at some more of the questions that had been asked. It appeared at first that the web site had been taken down and the questions were no longer available. Consequently I wrote a comment to the White House asking about this. My comment is noted below. I should note that afterward I was able to locate the Open for Questions site again and hope that it remains available for the future and that similar "open for question" virtual town hall meetings are duplicated throughout the country in the future.

Regarding the Online Town Hall "Open For Questions" meeting:

Is there a record of the questions and voting responses that came in to during the past few days? I watched President Obama answer a few questions on the live stream broadcast today. However, it seems logical that all of the questions would be answered by the White House and that all the questions, answers and voting results would be available as a permanent public record. As an organizing technique using something like Google Search could help citizens find similar questions and answers they were most interested in.

I would also hope that this online town hall meeting process is continued and expanded to allow citizens to respond or "vote" on daily issues, and also be able to continually send in questions that are answered that also become part of a permanent public record.

I would suggest that this "Open for Questions" town hall concept become part of every administrative and cabinet office of the White House. Every cabinet member (or staff) should be open to questions and responsible for answers.

I would like to see every member of Congress, State Governors, and state legislators also be open to similar online "Open for Questions" and Town Hall meetings. All of these should become part of a public record in the future.

I will appreciate a response if possible,

Thank you,

Gary Grimm

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Obligatory Environmental Insurance & Ecological Debt

I found an article on the Environmental News Network today published from Reuters on October 17, 2008 titled "Argentina makes environmental insurance a must." Argentine officials are requiring companies to buy insurance to cover environmental damage. The article notes that this is the first country to make insurance obligatory and that, even though environmental insurance is sold in Europe it is not obligatory, because it does not have to be, said a spokesman for the Environment Secretariat.

Nothing in the article is said about the position of the United States regarding this issue.

For years many scientists and concerned citizens have been speaking out about the unpaid costs of ecological degradation worldwide. Civilization has been using taking natural resources at a very low cost and selling resulting products for a much higher profit than would be possible if the real costs for using sustainable natural resources were factored in. I wrote about this issue in my blog post on October 24, 2008 titled, "Debt to Nature and the Global Economy Crisis"

Since last fall almost all of the news has been about the Economic Crisis. Hardly anything is being said by politicians or news services in America about ecological issues. Even climate change and global warming are bundled in with ideas about how to make America energy efficient in the future, but bringing the economy back to "normal profitability" seems to be foremost. Personally I am not sure what "back to normal profitability" can even mean to any of us, given the unbelievable ponzi schemes, greed and top up wealth accumulation being exposed almost every day. The latest news is that the worldwide AIG Insurance company was selling insurance while knowing they did not have the money to pay future claims. And now they are being "bailed out" by American taxpayers, because this huge global company has become too big to fail? We as taxpayers have a right and an obligation to be learn how to become involved in American and Global affairs to assure a much more logical and even balanced and secure economic and ecological future, if that is even possible.

This brings up the question in my mind - How many (or what percentage of) companies that get permits to take natural resources in America for profit are required to pay adequate (ie., real cost) fees or purchase environmental insurance that will assure American taxpayers that the resources will remain sustainable in the future? And, how can Americans and other citizens in the world begin to trust the politicians and corporations and insurance companies that they can change their behavior and become responsible for the future, when it is so obvious that they have not been responsible in the past.

I don't believe that the "Debt to Nature" or "Ecological Debt" has ever been a serious consideration in America or other countries in the past. It just seems logical that humans have to address this issue now, at the same time we are trying to address the economic crisis. To my mind these issues have to be intertwined into human consciousness if there is to be a sustainable global environment and economy in the future.

Sun-Earth Day - NASA Web Site and Web Cast - March 20, 1:PM EDT

In March of 2007 I wrote a blog post about the Vernal Equinox and noted the creation of an Idaho Common Adventure Network to coincide with the warming spring season when new plant and animal life begins to flourish. Given the current knowledge about global economic and ecological crises I am certain it is important for many more (most) citizens to try understand the complex relationship of our human actions on the environment. Opportunities to learn more about the Sun and Earth is part of this process.

A Press Release today (March 19) is titled "NASA Celebrates Sun-Earth Day with Illuminating Webcast." " NASA scientists will reveal new information and images about our sun and its influence on Earth and the solar system for Sun-Earth Day, recognized each year in conjunction with the spring equinox. The highlight of this year's celebration is a webcast for students and teachers around the world beginning at 1 p.m. EDT, Friday, March 20."

On the NASA Sun-Earth Day: 2009 web site the theme this year is "Our Sun, Yours to Discover." The web site provides information about how to Subscribe to the Live Web Cast and how to Get involved.

There are many other valuable educational and environmental projects inviting public participation. I will attempt to identify some of these I find most interesting as time permits in the future.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Geospatial Revolution Project & 2 Mountain Visions productions

Over the past few years I have been tracking and recording trends related to the Geospatial web and other new networking opportunities that can empower citizens to become more informed and active in environmental current affairs and decision making. As part of this effort I created a presentation for the Idaho Environmental Summit last November titled "GeoWeb Common Adventure Networking." On this blog and other participatory opportunities I will attempt to add interesting information as time permits.

A few days ago I was alerted by a message from the Idaho Geospatial Office List Server about a very interesting and informative web site and video trailer titled the "Geospatial RevolutionProject -- The location of anything is becoming everything." This is a project of the Penn State Public Broadcasting. The video trailer is at the top of the web page.

In Summary text under a topic "THE PROJECT" notes that 'We live in the Global Location Age. “Where am I?” is being replaced by, “Where am I in relation to everything else?”

Text under a "THE NEED TO KNOW" topic states: "Geospatial information influences nearly everything. Seamless layers of satellites, surveillance, and location-based technologies create a worldwide geographic knowledge base vital to solving myriad social and environmental problems in the interconnected global community."

As I watched the video I was reminded of two similar Geospatial educational projects we (Mountain Visions) produced in the year 2000.

The first of these was titled a "Virtual Exploration of GIS", a short series of multimedia tutorials to explain the basic concepts of Geographic Information Systems, and was prepared as an Interactive multimedia CD-ROM and an interactive web site. Sponsors the production included the Remote Sensing and GIS Laboratory and Landscape and Ecology Modeling and Analysis Center at Utah State University and the Bureau of Land Management National Training Center. The original purpose of this project was to be a presentation tool for BLM workshops helping land managers and other citizens understand how GIS technology works and how to use it. The web site version of the project also became a popular educational tool for colleges and other GIS training projects. This project was awarded "First Place for Multimedia" at the ESRI International User Conference that year.

Another multimedia program we created in 2000 was titled "Understanding the Nature of Ecosystems Through Science" and explained the history of how maps were created for Yellowstone National Park and how hyperspectral satellite imagery, aerial photography and GIS technology was being developed to help solve ecosystem issues. (Note that this was originally produced for a CD-ROM presentation for the "Yellowstone Ecosystem Studies" project and was subsequently reduced in window size for acceptable presentation on the web at that time. The window size now could fill the computer screen for future projects of a similar nature.)

World Wide Web 20th Anniversary

Very interesting news articles and videos have appeared the past few days noting the 20th Anniversary of the World Wide Web (WWW).

In The Industry Standard, Paul Boutin notes that Tim Berners-Lee is widely credited with the first proposal, in 1989, to create a hypertext model that would allow researchers to share documents over the Internet that linked to each other.

By far the most impressive description of the history of the WWW is given by Tim Berners-Lee himself in a 16 minute video presentation provided by the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) conference. Watch this video where "he talks about his next web - a network for open, linked data that will unlock our information and reframe the way we work together.

Another source, provides a short history of Berners-Lee involvment with the WWW using a series of 10 images and text starting with the statement that what started on March 13 1989 "gave birth to the WWW and thus, eventually, Facebook, eBay, Google, iTunes, YouTube,, blogs...." On slide 10 Berners-Lee is pictured at the March 13, 2009 Celebration at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland. Text on this slide notes that 'Berners-Lee offered this historical reflection: "When people built the Internet, it was designed to be a cloud," he said. "When routing packets, the system only looks at the envelope--it's an important design principle. Now people find out what you write in your letters."

For the past few months I have been very busy experimenting with many other social/interest networking concepts (Google Earth, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, etc., etc., and as a consequence have not been posting to this blog as often as I want to. I hope to use this 20th Anniversary to re-energize my effort to post more regularly in the future. As the global economy has gone topsy turvy and associated, but less discussed, global ecological problems accumulate, we understand that everything will be (has to be) different now and in the future. Citizens, communities and governments simply cannot behave the way they have been if there is to be a reasonable quality of life for humans in the future. There has to be an equalization of quality for people around the world and there has to be a sustainable environment/ ecosystem for this to happen.

The WWW and many new open source initiatives being made available today reinforce the message conveyed by Tim Berners-Lee in the video above that linked and shared data is critical to our future. I have outlined some of my own thoughts about these new citizen empowering WWW opportunities in an online presentation titled "GeoWeb Common Adventure Networking" I produced for the November 2008, Idaho Environmental Summit.

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