Saturday, March 9, 2013

Joining up to promote "A Fierce Green Fire"

For a while now, I’ve been looking for a way to join in the effort to fight back against climate change. I’ve discovered what seems like an excellent best path and I want to offer an invitation to join me.

Earlier this week I got a chance to meet Mark Kitchell and see his feature documentary “A Fierce Green Fire –The Battle for a Living Planet”.  It covers the 50-year history of the environmental movement and tells the story of how we’ve won past struggles. As a result, it inspires and shows us how to win the climate change battle. Cara Mertes, Director, Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program says “The material is vast and it’s an incredibly dynamic film. It’s shaping up to be the documentary of record on the environmental movement. I think it’ll be hugely successful.”

This is the critical moment that will decide how successful the film will be in helping build momentum against climate change.  The film opens in theaters in San Francisco, Berkeley, and L.A. this Friday, March 15.   If you live nearby, or know of anyone who does, you can be instrumental.   It’s easy:

Take 2 minutes  to view the trailer on the film’s website:

Go to the event page to find the location, show times, and special guests. Click the “Join” button and invite susceptible friends on Facebook.  You can also buy tickets.

-          San Francisco -

-          Berkeley -

      Other showings:

      San Rafael: Smith Rafael Film Center – opens March 15th
1118 Fourth St., San Rafael
Showtimes and tickets:  or call  (415) 454-1222 

      Washington, DC: National Geographic Live! / Environmental Film Festival -- March 19th     
National Geographic Society, 1600 M St. NW, Washington, DC
Tickets (or or  202-857-7700 )
Mark Kitchell appears for intro and Q&A

Hudson, NY: Time and Space Limited -- March 14-17 & 22-23
434 Columbia St  Hudson, NY 12534

New Orleans, LA: Zeitgeist Multi-disciplinary Arts Center – opens March 19th
1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.



Monday, July 23, 2012

Early Lesson Learned

I was a relatively good student in the Ada, Oklahoma school system. My older siblings were really smart so our common teachers expected the same of me: “Oh, you’re Tisha and Jim’s brother.”

For the most part I performed up to expectations. I remember at home we had a 20 volume set of encyclopedias on the bottom shelf and I would stand with my back to it and reach between my legs to randomly pull out one of volumes and read it from start to finish. In the third grade I won an award for reading the most books. (I also remember that I beat out the competition by selecting only thin books with large type and lots of pictures.) That same year my class was carrying chairs out of the auditorium and our teacher asked us to be careful, so I walked up the stairs taking a half step at a time. I liked it when she called out to the rest of the class to pay attention to my careful method.

But one day my academic voyage hit some heavy weather. There was a kid who lived around the corner, Billy Keith Gray, who was not a great student. His home was smaller than mine and my parents discouraged me from playing with him. I remember one year he learned I had invited others to a birthday party and he offered me a dime if I would include him. I declined. In fourth grade, in Mrs. England’s class, he sat in front of me. He occasionally tied my shoelaces together.

We were studying U.S. history, which I loved, and one assignment was to create maps showing what sort of products came from different parts of the country. I actually took it step further and used real objects to represent what was produced. My South was full of wads of cotton which I took from the medicine cabinet. I procured coal from somewhere. I thought it was pretty cool.

Our teacher gave us a Monday deadline and my map was ready to go. But some students were slow. On Monday, Mrs. England announced that we could have an extra day.

Why did that make me so mad? We weren’t being graded on the curve after all.

“Liar” I heard myself whisper.

Mrs. England asked me if I had said something. I said no.

Billy Keith corrected me. “He called you a liar.”

Mrs. England said nothing for a long moment and moved on to the lesson.

Later she asked me to stay after class. This made me anxious but I hoped it was because she wanted to congratulate me on my map. Instead she told me that I had to tell my mother what I’d called her.

When I got home I burst into tears. My mother was supportive. She didn’t think it was that big of a deal. But the episode shook me up.

I don’t remember much about the aftermath. I must have been extremely relieved to have avoided deeper trouble. I later realized something like suspension was a possibility. At least a B in Citizenship. But it passed. This shot of humility was undoubtedly a good thing for me then, and it stayed with me in my later student days. I hope.

Thank you Mrs. England, and thank you Mom. I appreciate your patience.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Hero’s Journey – The Story of How We Reverse Climate Change

What’s the story?  Do you feel the dramatic tension at this point in history? Despite years of high-level political struggle against climate change, the rate of carbon emissions worldwide increased 5.8 percent from 2009 to 2010.  Even Obama seems unable to make reduction of carbon use a priority and instead calls for the expansion of oil drilling in the Arctic and deep offshore.  How will we reverse climate change?  The ending of this story is still being written.   

Long ago, and, it feels, far away, I worked in interactive storytelling and learned about the Hero’s Journey, a dramatic structure identified by Joseph Campbell in “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.”  This type of story forms the backbone of countless myths and quite a few movie scripts.  In a common plot point, the main character refuses a challenge to act heroically. There’s a problem on the horizon, but the path to action is not clear, or perhaps others will assume responsibility. In Star Wars, Luke initially refuses Obi Wan’s request to join the rebel effort, saying he must tend the farm instead.

I’m not sure when I first heard about global warming, but Al Gore’s PowerPoint-turned-video “An Inconvenient Truth” was a clear call to action. And in response I recycled more. I drove less. I put in more twisted light bulbs. But I didn’t feel like a hero. The threat was clear but my deeper role was not.

And I guess I assumed someone else was going to solve the problem. But I’ve lost that sense now. Climate change is not being reversed, it’s getting worse.

Last month I heard about a brand new organization, Solar Mosaic, that created a way to for individuals to take matters into their own hands. You can directly reduce carbon emissions by lending money to others to install solar panels. Typically, the panels are installed in community institutions–your local school for example. You and other community members can lend $100 or more to fund an installation. And everyone wins. The school (or other project host) gets interest-free financing for solar panels. Their reduced energy bill pays back your investment over time. And meanwhile, you’ve directly slowed climate change.

This breakthrough presents a whole new opportunity, a path so clear that it embodies a call to action: “If not you, who?  If not now, when?” 

Essentially, Solar Mosaic offers you the role of the hero.  But in order to fully assume the role, and to reverse the momentum of climate change, mere participation is not enough. Today the hero must also reach out to others and lead them to act, so that each of them can respond to the call and be a hero. Solar Mosaic staff will make it simple for you to recruit your friends and family to join you as investors in an existing project.  And they will guide you through the process of identifying a new installation site and organizing a new cluster of community supporters.

In this way you can be a spark that ignites the struggle against climate change. This is your chance to help create an overwhelming force, like last summer’s Texas wildfires, and cause installations to sprout up around the world, supported by tens of millions of heroes.

But how will this movie play out? In Star Wars, Luke only accepts the hero’s role after the murder of his aunt and uncle. Will we leave it to others and wait until climate change has caused terrible damage so that reversing its effects is even more daunting? Or will we accept the Solar Mosaic challenge now and embrace the role of the hero? The next chapter is up to you.

Consider taking the first step of the Hero’s Journey: Watch this 1-minute video:

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Peer-to-Peer Recruitment Via Sub-Communities

The most cost-effective way to build an online movement is through peer-to-peer recruitment.  The key challenge is to give supporters both an incentive to reach out to others and an effective method for enlisting their sympathetic friends. People are more likely to recruit their friends—and friends are more likely to accept—if the cause seems specific to an identity they share.

Let’s take the case of a national advocacy organization: “Americans Against Domestic Violence.” Building the constituency could be greatly accelerated by creating informal sub-communities of supporters based on a more specific identity.  For example, since I grew up in Oklahoma, I would probably have more success inviting my high school buddies to connect with “Oklahomans Against Domestic Violence” than recruiting them to join the national organization. And those who accepted the Oklahoma connection would be much more likely to spread the word to their fellow Oklahomans. 

Continuing with the geographic identity example, once the initial states had been selected, Americans Against Domestic Violence (AADV) could create a Facebook page and online petition site for each state, co-branded with AADV and the state-specific name.  Each site would offer members a chance to pledge support for AADV’s goals and to recruit their fellow community members to the cause.  AADV could email (and direct mail) its current list in each state to ask supporters to become the charter members for their community and to reach out to people within their state.

Although the recruitment would be state-focused, the goal would be to collect email addresses that could be used for general AADV communication and fundraising. AADV could also post general messages and campaigns on each state-specific Facebook page.  In addition, certain volunteers in each state could be given administrative power to post state-specific content relevant to their own communities.  

This state-specific strategy offers a great opportunity to concentrate movement-building efforts on those states that are key to passing AADV legislation.  Even Congressional districts can be targeted via Facebook ads.        
Many people would be motivated to sign up, because taking a stand as, for example, an “Oklahoman Against Domestic Violence” is a powerful way to show pride in the state. A sense of competition can be developed between the states—for example by pointing out that the number of supporters of the Texas fan page has just surpassed Oklahoma’s.  The use of Google maps to show the locations of supporters in each state could provide further incentive to join. It could be especially effective to display AADV
supporters alongside domestic violence crime locations on the same map. 

While geographic communities offer certain distinct advantages identified above, it would also be wise to test communities based on other aspects of identity, such as colleges (students or alumni), professional sports team affiliations, careers, or employers. All of these examples leverage bonds of shared community and opportunities to express pride in one’s group.  Because people are more likely to accept an invitation to join an informal community based on shared identity, this approach encourages effective peer-to-peer recruitment and should result in the rapid growth of an organization’s supporters. 
S.F 49er Fans Against Domestic Violence?  Willing to join?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Why Sign? Can Online Petitions Create Change?

Many people deride online petitions as ineffective "Slacktivism" or worse since they might deter someone from taking effective action by giving the false sense that the signer has made an impact.  I disagree.   

Petitions can be a critical channel of communication that can build awareness for many issues.  They challenge individuals to decide whether or not to take a stand, and provide an easy way for people to publicize their opinions and recruit others to lend their support.  Facebook can be an extraordinary medium to amplify this process because it can leverage an individual’s personal connections to help a campaign go viral and reach people who would otherwise never be touched. How else will my Oklahoma high school buddies have a chance to consider same-sex civil rights?

At the same time, a petition like the Food Declaration can be an extremely effective way to expand your network of supporters who can help apply pressure on legislators and provide financial contributions. And, in my experience, those who sign up online are much more likely to respond to online requests for action than connections made via face-to-face canvassing.

But some petitions are more effective than others.  Ideally they demand something that has a good chance of actually being achieved.  For example, here's a petition campaign I drafted in response to a request to improve on an existing petition on

First, to set the context, here's my wording of the text that introduces the issue on the campaign page:

Tell Trader Joe’s: Don’t Dump Good Food

Every year in America we throw out 96 billion pounds of food, much of it still good to eat.  Grocery stores are dumping food every day that could feed hungry people.

This is where we start to reverse this unacceptable waste of food.  Trader Joe’s prides itself as “giving back to our local communities.” But the movie “Dive!” shows huge amounts of good food discarded in their dumpsters.

Send a message to the grocery stores that you care about the environment and hungry people. Sign this petition to tell Trader Joe’s to act on its principles and cut its food waste in half.

The original campaign asks: "Please initiate a Zero Food Waste corporate-wide policy!"   I Googled "zero food waste policy" and couldn't find a definition for it.  It sounded like a reference to a certification program, but I don't think one exists.  Hopefully it will some day.  In the mean time, Trader Joe's management hasn't responded to the petition even though it has 78,000 signatures.

However, I doubt they ever will, since it asks for "zero waste" which is impossible.  But what if we asked for something that they just might agree to?  In my work at Roots of Change, I learned that the first step in reducing environmental impact is just to measure it.  So my "demand" would be for Trader Joe's to measure food waste and to cut it in half over the course of three years.   Not exactly a slogan that would send people to the barricades, but one to which I can imagine the management responding.  Here's the full letter I drafted:
Dear Mr. Bane,

Trader Joe’s has a reputation for being environmentally friendly and supporting local communities.  I’m writing to ask you to build on this reputation by acting to help solve an urgent problem: the estimated 96 billion pounds of food that are thrown away in the U.S each year.  Reducing this waste would prevent significant damage to the environment and could provide nutrition for millions of hard-pressed citizens.

This statement from Trader Joe’s website is a clear sign of your concern: “We continuously strive to improve our processes in our efforts to reduce food waste and provide hunger relief.”  I ask that you establish your reputation as the most socially conscious grocery chain by making this commitment: “to measure the amount of food that Trader Joe’s throws out annually and reduce it by 50% over three years.”

This issue is so important to me that if you’ll take this critical step, I’ll pledge to help publicize your good work and urge my friends to support you.

I look forward to learning about your response through  With your cooperation, we can work together to maintain a healthier planet and feed more people by reducing food waste.


In addition to the specific demand, the overall tone is changed to one of collaboration to solve the problem. And it offers a carrot if they are willing to agree.

The next draft is the email alert sent to supporters to trigger signatures.
Even though the petition itself sets a collaborative tone, the letter to supporters is more urgent and dramatic.  Note that it also clarifies where this particular action fits into the overall effort to reduce grocery store waste.  I especially like the  subject line - designed to maximize the open rate.

Subject Line – Stop Trashy Behavior at Trader Joe’s

Dear ________,

Every year in America we throw out 96 billion pounds of food -- much of it is still OK to eat.  Meanwhile, people across the country are going to bed hungry.  This is unacceptable. 

Join the voices that say that tossing out good food is terrible, and take the first step to reverse course. Call on Trader Joe’s to drastically reduce its waste—specifically, to measure the amount of food it throws away each year and cut it in half.

This petition was started by dumpster-diving Jeremy Seifert.  In his movie “Dive!” Jeremy shows Trader Joe’s dumpsters full of food—a dozen eggs thrown away because one is cracked, a crate of bananas tossed because of a few brown spots, intact packages of fresh spinach stacked in the trash—and says, “it’s about more than not wasting food. It’s about making sure everyone has enough to eat.”

This campaign is completely winnableJeremy selected Trader Joe’s because the management is sensitive to its reputation for being socially conscious.  They will act when they understand the depth of consumers’ concerns. 

And Trader Joe’s is just the first step. Once it sets a standard for waste reduction, will pressure other grocery chains to publicly meet or exceed those standards. That way we can destroy the assumption that it’s OK to toss healthy food.  

Here’s your chance to cause real, measurable change with a simple action. But it can only work if people like you act, and if you ask your friends to join in. Be the spark that changes the world.

Thank you for taking action.

Even campaigns that ask for the moon can effectively communicate messages and gather support.  But whenever possible, as in this case, why not step it up and demand something that could actually happen?  That way the campaign gains credibility--and more support.   And it greatly increases the chance of a campaign victory.  By referencing that victory, we can undercut the "what difference does it make?" argument and set up even more credible, more powerful follow-up campaigns. 

How to Leverage Networks and Change the World - with only $5,000

I majored in Communications a long ago.  My senior thesis was a film portrait of a United Farm Worker boycott organizer. I was also volunteering to help picket Safeways and liquor stores selling Gallo wine.  Later on, I joined up with a well-known documentary filmmaker, Peter Adair, and served as producer for several works he directed under the Adair and Armstrong banner. Until last year, with the exception of a 40th birthday surprise for my wife, I hadn’t directed a video since my college days.

A couple of years ago, the Ohana Foundation, funded by musician Jack Johnson, awarded Roots of Change a grant of $5,000 to help create a more sustainable food system in the U.S. After thinking long and hard about how to use the money to create a significant impact, we came up with the idea of a call-to-action video, presenting some of the sharpest sustainable food issues and offering a brief review of some of the efforts to change course.  ROC's key mission, in my mind, is to support the work of other organizations from many issue areas connected with food and farming: social justice groups including labor and healthy food access, environment, and production agriculture. That’s why we decided the video should also serve as a showcase for key food and farming groups and offer viewers a chance to connect with them and support their efforts.

I woke up with a vision for the video a little over a year ago: just text and still images over a Bo Diddly drum beat.   We hired Adam Goldstein to search for and edit the images.  At first we tried combining the images and text but Adam convinced me of the wisdom of separating them so that the viewer could focus on one thing at a time.  Daniela Aceves and Shoshona Bochner dug for dozens more photos until we were satisfied. Daniela cleared the rights, contacted all the organizations, and set up the webpages.  Michael Becker, our composer from the old Adair and Armstrong days, created the sound track pretty much as a favor.  ROC President Michael Dimock provided the food system expertise and editorial guidance. The title “Food Movement Rising” was inspired by Michael Pollan’s article in the New York Times book review section. He generously allowed us to use the name and Tweeted his support.

Many people find the video too fast to absorb. My hope is that the speed and power of the images trigger an emotional engagement so that they’ll watch multiple times and spread the word to their friends. 

To me, the most critical and compelling aspect of this campaign is what happens after the video.  ROC offers a web page with logos and descriptions of 26 organizations and the chance to simply check a box to connect with as many of them as you choose.  We did this without requiring any of the organizations to promise to publicize the campaign. At the same time we hope these groups and many other people see its value and lend their support: by publicizing this one video and connection page, you are really supporting the overall movement.   This fits well with ROC’s role to encourage a wide variety of organizations to work together to change the food system. And it communicates our message that all the issues need to be dealt with simultaneously to create very basic, system-level change.

I’ve now moved on from ROC but I'm still supporting their efforts.  So far, the video has almost 4,000 hits on YouTube. I’d appreciate any feedback and, of course, any promotion of the video and campaign that you feel you can muster. Here's the link to the ROC -  After the video, click on Connect.  Thank you.  

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Online Community Conference - YouTube's Hong Qu

YouTube sent Hong Qu to OCS2007 to talk about their special program for non-profit organizations. (That's me on the left.)

According to the the promotion on the home page of

"Your Nonprofit channel includes:

* Premium branding capabilities and increased uploading capacity
* Rotation of your videos in the "Promoted Videos" areas throughout the site
* The option to drive fundraising through a Google Checkout "Donate" button"

Apparently approved non-profits aren't limited to 10 minute videos.

Among the participating partners is one of the organizations that Omidyar Network supports: Check it out and you'll get some sense of the possibilities.

I really liked Hong Qu because he was so humble - the opposite of a public relations person. He's an interface designer. Just like Google/YouTube to send a UI person. For example - when someone predicted YouTube's downfall, he didn’t get defensive, he just said “we’ll have to wait and see.” When asked how non-profits were selected for special promotion he admitted that he didn't know. He shed some light about the management process at YouTube - he said they got a memo that a human had to review all the non-profits before they are allowed to use it – and the memo asked for volunteers.

Small world: Hong Qu works with Hunter Walk at YouTube. Hunter and I worked together at Linden Lab in the very early days of Second Life.

At this point organizations must have 501c3 nonprofit status - that means sorry to Canandians and others living outside the USA. But it's a nice start.