Earth Day was celebrated last Wed, April 22nd which is its official “day” each year. Some of the other suggestions for a name that very first Earth Day were E-Day or Ecology Day. I learned about this piece of environmental history when I listened to an interesting story about how Earth Day got it’s name on NPR and learned also that April 22nd was Julian Koenig’s own birthday as well. He died last year at the age of 93. In an interview, Koenig said – “Earth Day is one of the things when my children say what did you do in the Great War, Grandpa?” I can answer “… I named Earth Day”.
Julian Koenig was an advertising executive. He is well known for the Timex ad with the slogan that “it takes a licking and keeps on ticking”. He was also an environmentalist and was part of that group that was organizing an environmental teach-in back in 1970 (Earth Day is 45 yrs old this year). The group didn’t think “teach-in” was a catchy enough name – too academic and not action-oriented enough. The group placed an ad in The New York Times and along with that name “Earth Day” helped achieve an unexpectedly massive turnout of 20 million people. Denis Hayes, the campaign’s young national director, realized in that moment “…oh, my God, we have – we’ve unleashed some powerful new force now on American life”.
With the first Earth Day back in 1970 there began to grow within humanity a more intimate perspective towards the planet. We began to see the planet as a macro living organism with systems that mirror our human body. With a new awareness at the governmental level, legislation was passed to help clean up some very dirty air quality and polluted waterways. The Environmental Protection Agency was created in the United States of America at that time to assist in clean up efforts and try to prevent future messes, similar to those we had responsibility for creating in the first place. Sadly, there are still way too many messes on this planet to yet clean up.
Both my business partner and myself “came of age” (graduated from high school) at the very beginnings of Earth Day. It was a time of idealist activism and so it isn’t any wonder that we are gratified that we can financially support our family with an environmentally friendly business. Our business participated in many, many St Louis Earth Day events back in the 1990s and early 2000s. Today will be this year’s event in St Louis at Forest Park near the Muny outdoor theater. I am grateful that the event continues to be inspirational for both making good environmental choices and in supporting recycling in general.
One of the featured events is the Recycling Extravaganza. This is being held as part of the St Louis Earth Day Festival on Sunday, April 26th. It is a collection event for hard-to-recycle items (while these are not the same materials that Yemm & Hart recycles, extending the life of all extracted natural resources is a very important purpose for recycling). Items collected at Earth Day in St Louis this year include CRTs and Flat Screen TVs (for a small fee), compact fluorescent light bulbs, Brita filters, medications (not for recycling but for ethical disposal), clothing & other textiles, building & construction hardware related items for Habitat Humanity, shoes, medical in-home care accessories, toys & stuffed animals, musical instruments as well as sheet music, and bicycles.
Within my family it isn’t good enough to simply throw things away. We also recycle everything that possibly can be recycled to keep from adding to the volume in the landfills. We have an awareness regarding this because our family business at the moment involves making new construction materials in the form of panels and sheets from recycled post-consumer plastic containers, automobile tires and industrial waste by-products. Because we live in an isolated wilderness we do not have a curbside trash pickup. We have to haul not only our recyclables into town but our non-organic, non-recyclable trash to the transfer station who then takes that refuse to an approved landfill (our local landfill having long ago reached its own maximum holding capacity). Anything that might break down in an organic manner is put into a composting pile at the western end of our back porch where its presence isn’t disagreeable to daily living.
Recently, I wrote about our family’s tree planting this year (see “Spring Planting in the Forest“). I discovered as part of Earth Day “global” this year that there is the Forest Nation event – “Pledge to Plant for Earth Day”. They say on their website – “It’s an old Native American tradition that when you take something from the Earth you must put something back. Earth Day 2015 will be a global Give back to Earth event, as an offering for all that the planet gives us.” This is our perspective as well – not just for Earth Day, not just for this year, but for always. We are in a multi-year cycle of harvesting trees (logging) for the purpose of enhancing the health and vitality of our forest. We have received expert advice to guide us from our state’s Dept of Conservation forester as well as enlisting the services of a professional forester to create a forest management plan for our farm. We are also in a multi-year reforestation project to return the open fields that were previously row-cropped or used as pasture for livestock grazing back into forest. We have planted many, many more trees than we are likely to ever harvest in our logging cycle. It will be at least 25-30 years before another such cycle will take place on our land.
I just wanted to highlight for this week’s blog that every person can do some small thing to make a positive impact on the quality of life on this planet. Our family participates in stewarding our local stream as a group that signed up for the Missouri Stream Team program in it’s very first year. Every year, we do 3 runs of 10 stops on each run, to listen to the breeding calls of frogs and toads as part of a state and national effort to monitor this environmentally fragile species. My family also picks up litter along our county dirt road that other residents and their visitors traverse. We have found that visibly picking up trash has resulted in less litter being pitched out over time. I suppose our efforts have some subtle or direct impact on the neighbors who drive by as we are picking the trash up and one can hope they are restrained by realizing that litter thrown out just makes more work for us. If I don’t want to come home with litter, I will even pull into a quick shop somewhere to throw it away in an appropriate receptacle. Our now deceased deaf uncle once taught us that litter on the ground attracts more litter. It’s like “oh look, there’s so much there already, a little bit more won’t matter”.
I know that creating a cleaner earth is the responsibility of each and every individual and that it is also the responsibility of corporations. They are sometimes myopically focused on increasing profits, raising executive salaries and keeping the stockholders happy. Those of us ordinary people who care about the environment must hold their corporate feet to the fire as they do not always feel such responsibilities naturally. So support your favorite organization doing this crucial work and make your voice heard.
We’ve had clean-ups here locally of the tailings from lead mining that were stupidly put onto residential land. I think that there were emissions that also rained down in the vicinity of the lead mines so that the yards at these homes have had to be removed and replaced. Such is the legacy of mining that led our region to be declared a SuperFund site. There has also been extensive testing of the children to check for lead poisoning here in our county as well. Fortunately our yard and our children are lead-free !!
We each have many opportunities every day to make a higher quality choice. Often we have a wide range of choices at any given decision point. It is important to stay well informed about environmental issues so that you are as free as possible of misconceptions and also don’t add to the suffering of other people by your actions. If I see some small thing that wI can do that would enhance a better quality of Life in the world going forward – I should just do it. I hope you will see that you can do some small things as well that will add up to big results of a positive nature over time.
~ Information Resources
“Julian Koenig, Well-Known Adman, Named Earth Day” broadcast on NPR on April 22, 2015 – http://www.npr.org/2015/04/22/401540530/julian-koenig-well-known-adman-named-earth-day
St Louis Earth Day Festival
Recycling Extravaganza at St Louis Earth Day
Pledge to Plant for Earth Day
“Spring Planting in the Forest” – posted at What’s New in Eco-Materials on March 22, 2015 at http://wp.me/p3XHLm-dP
Missouri Stream Team – http://www.mostreamteam.org/
North American Amphibian Monitoring Program – https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/naamp/
Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer
Deus ex machina is the phrase applied to the climatic moment in a classical Greek tragedy when gods would descend from the skies to resolve all knotty human problems. Right now, there is a lot of buzz about the new movie, Ex Machina. According the the Time magazine review “God, is the word that hovers over Ex Machina.” The movies that are made for our entertainment often reflect where our society is headed. The same could be said I suppose for the video games teens and young adults play. Turns out there is a video game named Deus Ex Machina and the 1984 Spectrum classic, which has often been hailed as the first ‘art house’ game, has been around for 30 years now. Released in Nov 2014, Deus Ex Machina:30th Anniversary Edition seeks to bring a cinematic flair to the original game.
The director of the movie Ex Machina, Alex Garland, in an interview with Wired magazine (April 2015) when asked about the debate around the ethics of AI research said – “It’s a big question. If you’re talking about nonsentient AIs, then there’s a lot to be concerned about. But if you create a new consciousness in the form of a machine, that isn’t significantly different from two adults creating a child.” A Science Blog posted at Huffington had concerns – “One can imagine such technology outsmarting financial markets, out-inventing human researchers, out-manipulating human leaders, and developing weapons we cannot even understand. Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all.”
Garland isn’t optimistic about the future of humanity. He said – “Humans are going to die on this planet. We’re not going to go through a wormhole to another galaxy; it’s just not going to happen. What will survive on our behalf is AIs – if we manage to create them. That’s not problematic, it’s desirable.” He ends the interview on this thought, the movie is pro AI because – “It’s humans who f**k everything up; machines have a pretty good track record in comparison to us.”
Yikes !!! I’m not entirely comfortable with the rapid pace with which intelligent systems are being implemented in our world. You can call me a Luddite but I do have some concerns. Over a year ago, during a trip to St Louis (which is a major outing for our family with a 4 hour round trip), it really dawned on me that maybe we are living the climatic moments of our own version of a modern day “Greek tragedy” and I’m not looking for any gods to descend from the skies (though I know some people still await the arrival of ETs, even now). I worry that we may be in a bit of a predicament. This anxiety began just after the movie Transcendence came out.
My husband had been talking to me a lot about Stephen Hawking’s perspective on AI/robotics at that time. Hawking has some concerns too. He is Director of Research at The Centre for Study of Existential Risk. They describe themselves as “an interdisciplinary research centre focused on the study of human extinction-level risks that may emerge from technological advances. We aim to combine key insights from the best minds across disciplines to tackle the greatest challenge of the coming century: safely harnessing our rapidly-developing technological power.” Even so, I think it may already be too late to change the trajectory – that the genie is already out of the bottle and not willing to leave its freedom of movement into every nook and cranny of our world.
What’s new can be noticed in the research at the leading edge. The work ongoing at the Active and Intelligent Materials Lab at University of Cambridge in England boggles my mind. The active research is studying “adaptive responsive structures, including materials which respond to several stimuli: temperature, pressure, pH, ionic strength, light, and electromagnetic fields. While artificial muscles with higher energy density could be better actuators for robots, smarter actuators could also provide sensing to start the actuation, or even photonic switches for new optoelectronic computing. Recently, inspired by work in shape-memory polymers, we created multi-functional muscles which can be programmed to “remember and recall movement”. For many of these muscles, the goal is to improve function by understanding the detailed mechanism. For one class of muscles, dielectric elastomers, high voltage failure is a major problem. Our recent results suggest that they may be actuated at high voltage without failure, provided short enough pulses are used”.
“Shape-memory polymers . . . programmed to remember and recall movement” – oh my !! Okay, so I’ve not the background to judge those types active research and I won’t claim to understand all that they are doing there. The understanding that I do have tells me a transformation of how we experience Life here on Earth is already happening and the future that is coming would be astounding to us today. And I am not actually a Luddite. I appreciate all of the wonders that technology is bringing into our lives. If it weren’t for technology, I wouldn’t be sharing my thoughts and my concerns with you now. And some of the developments are astounding me today.
Kilobots (quarter-sized) may not be very smart but they communicate with one another. 1,000 Kilobots can be programmed to follow a few simple rules that then cause them to assemble into shapes without human intervention. Insect swarms in nature inspired the computer scientists to mimick that behavior with the inexpensive $20 a piece bots. What’s next ? Intelligent swarms of sand-grain-sized robots that form useful 3-D structures.
How about an Octobot ? It’s design is also inspired by nature and more specially the well-known sea creature with arms connected by fleshy, skirtlike mantle. It’s arms and web are made of soft silicone and it is approximately the size of a shoebox. In tests within the Mediterranean Sea, it has been found that organic sea animals seem unfrightened by the artificial intelligence. The computer scientist who designed this hopes to use it to observe marine ecosystems by putting a camera on it.
Or how about search-and-rescue snaky robots that can burrow through rubble or use helicopter like propellers to airlift wheeled snakebots out of tight spots. And here’s the future for XBox gamers . . . the robot trio is controlled using an Xbox controller. Also in the same disaster area recovery realm are robots that use tiny explosions to jump, shoving the untethered soft robot off the ground so that it can navigate rubble that makes walking through an area difficult.
So many evolving uses for smart and intelligent materials and constructions from them that have the potential to be life-affirming and useful to humanity !! But I do worry – what will all the people do ? Already, a lot of people are unemployed or underemployed and technology is certainly one of the reasons, so more competition from artificial intelligence, ie robots, is just going to make matters worse. And I worry about remotely controlled warfare, like drones and satellites that keep warriors safe but not civilians.
As I see robotics evolving, what happened to me a year ago to cause a bit of anxiety was this – Suddenly, everyone I saw in “service roles” in St Louis (including road & bridge construction workers and Whole Foods associates) I saw sadly as “on the way out”. I remain aware of “possibilities”, whether they are accurate realities at this time, or not. My heart hopes for only good outcomes to our evolving technologies. My concerns were set off by reading a piece by Mike Adams about robots. Anyone who has seen the movie iRobot can easily visualize the future portrayed in this snippet –
“In my estimation, over the next three generations (about 75 years), we will see humanoid robots take over nearly all traditional labor roles in society, including manufacturing, agriculture, construction, firefighting, food service and even community policing. Most of the physical work done today by humans will be turned over to humanoid-shaped robots built much the same way we are: two arms, two legs, two eyes and roughly the size and shape of a 5′ 9″ man.”
“This, in turn, will make virtually all human laborers obsolete. There will be no more need for people to pick crops, paint houses, clean windows, drive ambulances or even fight wars. Humanoid robots will take over every repetitious, dangerous, disgusting or boring task that humans currently tackle, from cleaning toilets and sweeping floors to driving taxis.”
At Yemm & Hart there are no robots doing the work today. Our processes to create new materials from recycled resources are rather old-fashioned in their methods. We are gratified to make our living by recycling those items turned in by consumers to recycling centers in order to continue their usefulness. We do stay abreast of continuing developments not only in our own industry but as this blog has illustrated. We find interesting all kinds of topics about anything and everything evolving in Life whether it catches our fancy or worries our dreams.
~ Information Resources
“Date With an Android” review in Time magazine April 20, 2015 – http://time.com/3814972/in-ex-machina-a-date-with-an-android/
Deus Ex Machina: 30th Anniversary Edition Announced
Ex Machina – The Mind Behind The New AI Flick Q+A in Wired magazine April 2015 – http://www.wired.com/2015/04/alex-garland-ex-machina/
Centre For The Study of Existential Risk
“Transcending Complacency on Superintelligent Machines” posted 4/19/14 at the HuffPost Science Blog
Active and Intelligent Materials Lab at University of Cambridge
“Better than ‘Transformers’: Real-Life Robots: Photos at Discovery.com – http://news.discovery.com/tech/robotics/transformers-real-life-robots-110629.htm
“Robot swarm takes many shapes” by Andrew Grant in Science News Sept 6, 2014 – https://www.sciencenews.org/article/robot-swarm-takes-many-shapes?mode=magazine&context=188995
The Science News article below by Meghan Rosen could not be found in digital form at http://www.sciencenews.org.
 “Octobot uses webbed arms to swim faster” by Meghan Rosen in Science News Nov 1, 2014
 “Hybrid robot merges flier with two snakelike machines” by Meghan Rosen in Science News Nov 1, 2014
 “Hopping robot powered by explosion” by Meghan Rosen in Science News Nov 1, 2014
“Robotics revolution to replace most human workers in three generations” by Mike Adams posted on 9/30/13 at http://www.naturalnews.com/
Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer