Saturday, February 2, 2008

Atlantis from the Air

Seems like we've been here before. Oh yes we were! Weather turned blustery yesterday afternoon as we were attempting to travel to Houston for the Meeting Professional International conference. 

We had to rebook and were at the Burlington airport by 4:15 am. The students will be creating two games in the next three days: one on convening meetings that more effectively reach organizational goals. The other on how event planners can begin crafting "green" events.

Our looming environmental crisis has been a theme this week. The campus took part in Focus the Nation with author Bill McKibben issuing the wake-up call at Champlain. He clearly pinpointed the edge we are precipitously dancing on. He speaks out for both individual and political action but also for seeking new technological solutions to our energy needs.The following day Hope, Bob Bloch, Moneer Greenbaum and I met with Ann Jones-Weinstock from NRG. NRG is a successful Vermont engineering company that develops wind energy products. Her point was that NRG is focused on offering long lasting, realistic solutions. She wondered how NRG could help Champlain bring bright young minds to the question.

Our point exactly.

In preparation for their challenge this week, our student team interviewed Mike Dupee. Mike guides Green Mountain Coffee Roasters corporate responsibility actions. He spoke of “green washing”. Like white washing, it means putting a green spin on products or activities that make the consumer feel good but in actuality do not bring about positive environmental change. An example would be a recent catalog I received. It teased me to better the planet through purchasing organic cotton sheet sets printed in a green leaf motif. However promoting consumerism and mailing catalogs achieves the opposite result. Mike also linked the environmental question to the human equation. How should corporations work with world workers producing oil, coffee, cocoa, etc.? They receive minimal fiscal reimbursement with little consideration of sustainable practices. Why should and how can corporations work to balance that?

Tying ends together Elliott Masie and John Abele visited us yesterday. We drew together: students, faculty and staff in an open forum essentially on games, technology and learning. The conversations took a deep look at how these and the talents of our students can impact our world. Elliott has returned from Africa where he helped distribute malaria nets with Malaria No More. Malaria is spreading due to two major environmentally bound factors. First being the initial remedy against the mosquitoes, DDT, did more harm than good. The second — global warming is increasing the range of the mosquito borne illnesses. While in Africa, Elliott creatively applied technology—videoing, blogging and posting; connecting the recipients of the nets to those who donated them. This mimics the rewarded learning and communication system found in games. Those who take action can witness the impact.

But my mind is seeking answers to save us from destroying our home. How can we learn fast enough and then implement as quickly what needs to be done? Can new ways of communicating and thinking brought about by our networked, participatory culture bring about real solutions? What is the “Wikipedia” model that can leverage the “Wisdom of the Crowds” to find true solutions? Can we then “game-ify” the system to bring lasting change?

Our student team, Wes, Lauren, Ben, Emily, Vanessa and Chris, along with Hope, Ray, Peter and myself are finally airborne. The frozen, icy airfield behind us, we’ve traveled through the tumbly clouds to a sliver moon morning. As I sit here the clouds below look like a snowfield and I can imagine them embracing the continent. 

The sun rises above the horizon. Light breaks across in golds, blues and pinks. My heart catches in awe. We are at the time of Atlantis. The choices lay before us. Shall we continue with this beautiful world, or will we choose to annihilate ourselves? “This pretty planet” can continue an eternity without us. We do not have the same option.

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