Saturday, May 12, 2007

Circle of Blue

I spent Friday with an amazing collection of people mostly from the journalism and photography world. Among others, this collection included a previous photography director for Newsweek and Sports Illustrated, a creator of events such as the opening and closing ceremonies of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and the 50th anniversary of Disneyland, authors and writers for various newspapers, picture editor for the Washington Post, the person responsible for managing the US government water policy, a previous director of multi-media for MSNBC, founder and director of the Pacific Institute, and a NASA astronaut. Some of the people attending had spent significant amounts of time in third-world countries working on sanitation projects.

We were all hosted on the Pine Hollow estate, which is an amazing 30+ room mansion on the shores of Lake Michigan, a bit north of Traverse City. The home was built by Leslie Lee, and includes every amenity imaginable to man combined with excellent taste in design.

So what we were we all doing there? This was basically a Circle of Blue powwow. Circle of Blue is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to raising the awareness of the public and policy makers to the diminishing supplies of clean and affordable fresh water. CoB tries to raise awareness through a combination of journalism, photography, film and data collection. Carl Ganter, the founder, is quite an amazing guy and among his other major accomplishments (e.g,. being a photographer for National Geographic) tells a great story of how, through a great work of photography and journalism, he (and others) were able to exonerate a wrongfully convicted father and reveal the real murderer in a case in Illinois. He and his wife Eileen conceived and planned Circle of Blue.

There is no way I can do justice to the entire discussion in a short blog post, nor can I fully convey the tenacity and passion of the people gathered. I will also skip the many details on the major water issues facing our planet (but I will point out that water is one of the few main foci of, the Google Foundation). Instead, I'll just highlight a few points I found interesting from my perspective.

Our discussion focused on how exactly to leverage tools and technology to raise awareness on water issues. The ideas discussed were all over the map. They ranged from creating blue rings that everyone would put on their faucets (following Lance Armstrong's yellow rings for cancer fighting), to using Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, Google My Maps, Flickr, etc. to help people all around the world to create databases of water-related issues, and to mobilizing the religious right to take up their issue in their congregrations.

In a sense, we were trying to figure out how to recreate the success of the green movement, but in blue. While there is much in common between the two global warming issues and water issues, there are also a few key differences between the two. First, in the case of green, there are some simple things everyone can do to help a global problem (e.g., buy a hybrid, go solar). In the case of water, aside from taking shorter showers and watering your garden more effectively, many of the major issues are of local nature and the problems and solutions vary quite a bit. Second, the people suffering from water shortages at this point are typically far away and that makes it hard for the issue to be on people's minds constantly. New Orleans is much closer to home.

The other interesting point about the discussions was how to combine traditional media like journalism, film and photography with newer technology to create viral awareness of the water issues. While it's great to have the high-quality polished artifacts created by these media, we also need the bottom-up YouTube-type videos and blogs created by a much broader and geographically distributed set of people, but with much less skill (myself included...) to really reach people's attention. We need to collect good data, but mostly, make sure the data is used in effective ways for highlighting the issues and garnering world-wide attention.

This was a highly inspiring meeting for me. If you have any ideas, don't hesitate to post a comment, send me email, or contact Carl Ganter directly. I'm sure this topic will reappear on this blog.


何碧筠 said...

Great to hear about the Circle of Blue program! Thanks for Alon's summary.

I have a suggestion on "Simple things everyone can do". I think we need economic reward other than moral power to motivate people to do good things.

In developing countries, people try their best to save on water. Why? Because water costs money, even for non-drinkable water (in many areas, tap water is not drinkable). In China, the best selling washing machines are always the best in saving water and electricity.

However, in US, water is FREE. Good-hearted people who save water don't get any reward. They are still paying their rent or property tax. The savings on water only benefit the local government and/or water supply companies. Hybrid cars and solar systems are expensive, but people can at least hope to get back some or most of their investment in a long term.

A healthy economic system should judge the value of resources, including water. If we are paying price for water, water saving program will get much stronger support than hybrid cars and solar system. Because we can live without gas and electricity, but we cannot without water. Water doesn't need to be high price, but it should not be free, or so cheap as free.

Water pricing can make poor people poorer, maybe tax can give a break here. Many people (like me) get "education" on resources mainly from the living expense. I thinkthat is very effective. :)

何碧筠 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cartomanzia amore said...

i fully agree with you

Wide Circles said...

Dear Alon Halevy!

I read your blog. It was so nice. I read it 5 times. Lovely....
Petric Rodger
Wide Circles

Anonymous said...

Circle of blue is a programme which is trying to save our mother earth components. The special focus is given on water & greenery, also under this programme when meetings takes place many persons are invited including the news editors as well as film directors which also keep their view.
Wide Circles

James said...

I have a suggestion on "Simple things everyone can do". I think we need economic reward other than moral power to motivate people to do good things.

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