And the Sundance results are…

We finally received the results from Sundance and they are:

YERT was not accepted…

…but all is certainly not lost. (In fact they only took one environmental documentary film out of nearly 10,000 total submissions.) This just makes all of you, our grassroots supporters, all the more important. In fact, we’re convinced more than ever that the feature film will move countless environmentalists to action– both new and battle-tested activists alike. We just need a little more time to get it ready for prime time. We’re seriously examining the possibility of self-distribution, but we need to collect more information to do it well.

Please take our “YERT MARKETING SURVEY” by answering 10 quick questions here:

http://yertmarketing.questionpro.com/

As a thank you, we’ll give away five YERT ChicoBags to five lucky survey responders, selected at random.

Our submission to Sundance was very rough and incomplete– nothing compared to what we expect to create with a little more time (and money). Now we have our sights set on several other solid festivals – SXSW, Florida, and Tribeca. While the film remains far from done, we’ll keep whittling away at it until it finds its way successfully out into the world.

In the meantime, stay tuned for continued updates and thank you for helping us get this far. And don’t forget to fill out the YERT MARKETING SURVEY!

http://yertmarketing.questionpro.com/

Happy Holidays,
Ben, Julie, and Mark

P.S. Many thanks to our awesome unpaid marketing intern, Vidya Sarma from Chicago, for assembling the survey!

YERT in CA – Full Report!

Dear YERTians,

YERT had a fantastic visit to Los Angeles and San Francisco, just before Thanksgiving. We gave sneak peeks to a few chapters from the upcoming YERT feature film and received extremely positive reviews across the board, from average citizens to industry professionals– from Sony, Warner Brothers, and Disney! Read on for highlights…

While Ben and Scott pulled multiple all-nighters to finish key chapters in advance of our Sony screening, Mark gave 11 YERT presentations in one week, introducing the project to hundreds of people– many working in the heart of the entertainment industry. Ben was planning to join me in CA, but a last-minute bout of family flu on the home front kept him in Kentucky to hold down the fort. I missed him on the trip, but his editing efforts at home that week were invaluable…

Here’s a quick outline of what you’ll find in this update:

  • All Saints Church in Pasadena
  • The Great Waste Challenge
  • Warner Brothers
  • Sony Pictures
  • EPA and Berkeley
  • Green Festival
  • Presidio Green MBA Friends
  • Wrap-up
  • ChicoBags for Sale!

All Saints Church in Pasadena
Things got off to a great start with a presentation packed by 50+ eager audience members at All Saints Church in Pasadena. All Saints is a hotbed for activist activity, and the audience was delighted and inspired by the footage and stories from the road trip– so much so that we’re going to try to visit again for another presentation. That event sparked all sorts of interesting activity, including a presentation at USC (University of Southern California) and a private screening for eco-activist friends of Don and Mary Thomas on Wednesday of that week.

The Great Waste Challenge
We also made some headway in the long process of presenting inside elementary, middle, and high schools in the Los Angeles area. A connection through Pittsburgh’s own Carl Kurlander (writer of “St. Elmo’s Fire” and producer of “My Tale of Two Cities” ) put us in touch with Janet Loeb, a parent and green consultant working to bring sustainability to schools in Los Angeles via the “Great Waste Challenge.” They’re working on innovative ways of reducing waste in schools (similar to YERT’s “one shoebox of garbage” challenge), and planning to eventually integrate composting and farming projects to the mix. We love what they’re doing and hope to work together down the road as they bring environmental awareness to schools in fun, creative ways. If it takes off in LA, then we hope to see it expand nationwide!

Warner Brothers
Janet also put us in touch with friends of hers in the media industry, who promptly invited me to their home for a private screening. The husband in that friendly couple is an executive at Warner Brothers, and he was extremely impressed by the YERT project and immediately started brainstorming with me on ways to get our film funded and our footage out into the world. We’ll keep you posted on those efforts as they develop.

Sony Pictures
The Sony presentation was a highlight of the week, and I spent most of the day on-site at their massive studio facility in Culver City. It was a “green Sony day” of sorts, and after lunch with my friendly hosts, I proceeded to attend an event in which they discussed all the ways in which Sony was going green. Kind of amazing to see such a massive business grapple with the early steps of greening their entire organization. They introduced the YERT project by name and encouraged all attendees to go to our screening later that evening! Next I spent a couple hours downloading newly finished film chapters from the all-nighter-pulling dynamic-editing-duo of Ben and Scott, integrated the footage into the presentation, ran through it a couple times, then wandered off to meet my hosts for happy hour, and then on to the screening room for the presentation. I had two full hours in a beautiful screening room– perhaps the most beautiful setting of any YERT screening to-date! I ran through a handful of film chapters, combined with short films, brief video clips, photos and stories. The audience (probably about 25 people) was delighted by the results and I stayed for a while afterwards meeting with viewers who were eager to offer their support and assistance. I’m still busy following up on all those leads as I write this…

EPA and Berkeley
The next big event was a lunchtime presentation at the EPA in San Francisco. I shared stories and videos with the employees there, and made a few contacts with scientists who may be able to help us fact-check elements of the film. Then I drove over towards Berkeley for a private presentation at the home of YERT fans and family Erin and Dio. We had over 20 people that evening, and once again the response was overwhelmingly positive. People laughed and smiled and reflected and talked about what they saw.

Green Festival
I spent the remaining days connecting with friends in San Francisco, including a visit to the SF Green Festival, where I met up with YERT friends Joey Shepp (green new media consultant/entrepreneur – http://www.joeyshepp.com/ ), Theo Chocolate, Bainbridge Graduate Institute, and a few others. I also found a couple of new things that I felt were worth sharing with you: DogFlushies.com sells water-soluble dog poo baggies that you can flush down your toilet after walking your dog. Amazing. And Rentalic.com, a website that lets you rent items that you own (or want to borrow) (like lawn mower, vacuum cleaner, garden tools, video projector, or other tools that you may use once in a while) for a small fee– helping people do more with less consumption. Everything else was green and interesting, but didn’t jump out like Rentalic and DogFlushies.

Presidio Green MBA Friends and More
I also want to give a shout out to Ali Hart and Ted Ko from the Presidio Sustainable MBA program for helping to spread the word about YERT throughout California. They were instrumental in getting the Sony presentation set up and continue to be thoughtful inspirations and sounding boards for YERTy ideas as they surface. And I also want to thank Damien Somerset (http://Zaproot.com and http://ShiftLogic.org) for more great connections and helpful brainstorming in Los Angeles.

Wrap-up
It is difficult to put into words the support and encouragement– not to mention the joy– that I felt and received from enthusiastic old and new YERT fans during this recent adventure. It put wind into the YERT sails and gives us a good feeling that the film to which we have (yourselves included) dedicated so much time, money, blood, sweat, tears, will make a powerful difference in the lives of those who experience it. All we need to do is finish it up and get it out there– and that will surely come in the months ahead.

ChicoBags for Sale!
We’re still low on funds and need thousands to properly finish the film. Please consider a tax-deductible YERT donation this holiday season: http://www.yert.com/donate.php . A healthy, YERTy planet may well be the best gift you can give to your children. We are also sitting on an inventory of nearly 300 YERT ChicoBags, and would love to sell them to continue funding the film. They make great holiday gifts (and gift WRAPPERS) — please check them out and buy a few at our online store: http://www.yert.com/shert_shop.php .

Thank you all for your continued enthusiasm and support for YERT and our planet. It’s going to get more and more interesting as these days pass…

YERTfully Yours,
Mark (and Ben and Julie!)
team@yert.com

YERT Submits Feature Film to Sundance!

Dear YERTians,

Thanks to some extraordinary efforts by Ben and our trusty new editor Scott Irick, we have submitted a rough cut of the YERT feature film to Sundance. It is a milestone and a launching pad to the next round of YERT filmmaking efforts. Read on for more information…

* YERT submits feature film to Sundance Film Fest
* YERT to be featured on FireDogLake.com TONIGHT
* YERT presenting at two Bioneers conferences
* We need donation$ for music and motion graphics

YERT submits feature film to Sundance Film Fest
THANK YOU YERTIANS!! It’s true, after countless late nights (and a true all-nighter from which I (Ben) am still recovering), at 10:36pm last Thursday night, the YERT editing team rushed a relatively watchable ROUGH cut of the film out the door and through the Louisville rain to FedEx and on to the Sundance submission office in Beverly Hills – a whole 24 min. before the late submission deadline! Even a week ago, this literally looked like an impossible deadline – and now some “lucky” intern at Sundance will have the privilege of watching Ben manure-wrestling with pigs, Mark getting “faced” by a snowblower, and Julie giving birth to a conehead (albeit, an adorable, life-changing conehead). And so, this is the part of the blog where we send out an ENORMOUS THANK YOU to all our transcribers and other volunteers who worked diligently to help us comb through our mountain of footage and get this rough cut out the door. You know who you are, WE know who you are – and we are eternally grateful for all your time and care spent on behalf of YERT and the planet. It would not have been possible without all of you. But our work is just beginning, as we revise the rough cut and zero in on our final cut, we’ll need all of our wonderful YERTians more than ever so stay tuned. (A special thanks to Ange Vesco who transcribed over 30 hours of tape single-handedly!)

YERT to be featured on FireDogLake.com TONIGHT @ 8pm EST

Mark recently visited the Netroots Nation conference when it came to Pittsburgh back in August, and at the event we bumped into some folks from Firedoglake.com! They became interested in the project and to make a long story short, YERT will be featured on the front page of their blog tonight during a live “meet the ‘author’ book salon” session focused on our Dugout Dick video and also our recent efforts to get into Sundance. It will be a Q&A text chat format– go to FireDogLake.com website at 8pm EST and click on the link for Dugout Dick. It should take you to a page where you can submit questions to Mark, Ben, and Julie all about YERT. In the meantime you can see we’re queued for action at this book salon link.

YERT presenting at two Bioneers conferences
Mark (in Pittsburgh) and Ben (in Louisville) will be will be presenting all about the YERT project at their cities’ respective Bioneers events. They’ll be sharing stories from the road, YERT short films – and sneak peeks from the upcoming feature film… Catch Ben’s YERT Presentations at Louisville’s Bluegrass Bioneers event at the UofL Rauch Planetarium Friday 10/16 at 4:15pm and Saturday 10/17 at 8pm AND at Mark’s YERT Presentation at Pittsburgh’s 3 Rivers Bioneers at the Pittsburgh Project on the North Side Sunday 10/18 at 10:30AM.
Click here for more details about Ben’s presentation in Louisville
Click here for more details about Mark’s presentation in Pittsburgh

We need donation$ for music and motion graphics

The YERT submission to Sundance had almost no music in it. That’s because we need to lock down much of the video before it makes financial sense to tie music to it– and there are many more changes in store for the film. That said, once that golden hour arrives, we have several excellent musicians eager to score portions of our film and we’d like to hire them, but we don’t yet have the money. The other element that we’d like to add to our film is animation! We have some professional animators on deck, ready to go, but we need up to $9000 in the bank before we feel comfortable setting them loose.

Can you help us add music and motion graphics to our film? DONATE HERE.

And if you haven’t yet, can you send this link to friends and family, and embed the video in your blogs? YERT FEATURE FILM TRAILER

We’ll be working our tails off this fall the pull the loose ends of the film together and prepare it for viewing by audiences around the world. We couldn’t do it without your support and encouragement– thank you for believing in us and this project!

Humbly Yours,
Mark, Ben, and Julie
team@yert.com

YERT Urgently Needs Transcribers!

(Below, we’ve updated our original “call for transcribers” post from a few months back to reflect our current status and some big news – out trailer is done, and because of some key positive responses, we’ve got a good chance to send this film to Sundance. To do this, WE STILL NEED NEW TRANSCRIBERS, now more than ever…and now we can PAY you if you sign up for at least 3 tapes per week. Can you help us get to Sundance? Send me a note– mark@yert.com.) Here’s the updated post:

We’re making great progress on our transcription project – tackling a mountain of 500 hours (19,000 clips) from our year-long road trip – but we still need more help! We currently have 40 people signed up to help, but we’re looking for 60 more people to lend a hand — for a total of 100. That’s right. 100. This is a big job – it takes about 4 hours to transcribe one hour of footage, so we’re looking at about 2000 people hours to get this footage prepped for the editing process!

And to get this thing to Sundance, we need to finish by the second week of July!

With 100 people on board, each can contribute a very reasonable 8-10 hours per week and we’ll cross the finish line on time. By logging all of these clips quickly, we can make the Sundance deadline, and get this film out to the general public soon and in a big way – and we all know that our lovely planet doesn’t have days to spare.

Think about it: When was the last time you could powerfully help the planet by sitting down to watch a video?? Now you can. Seize the moment and watch a clip for the planet. For more information about volunteering, please contact Mark Dixon at 415-672-5537, or mark@yert.com. We’ll chat for about 30 minutes and then get you logging ASAP!

Thanks for all of your support! We’re thrilled with every little bit of it and want to be sure you know that this project would not be possible without your continued support, both verbal and financial.

Peace,
Mark & Ben

YERT: The Film – Trailer


Get ready for YERT: The Film. This is going to be the full road trip story you’ve all been waiting for jam-packed into a powerful feature-length film, and this new film trailer is the first real glimpse into what it’ll be like. We’re shooting for Sundance, so spread the word to all of your friends and family – we want this trailer to travel around the world.

We need your help!

  • We need transcribers. (you earn some cash)
  • We need donations. (tax deductible)
  • We need your friends. (and their friends)

Also, be sure to check out the synopsis below for a less-quick look at what the film is all about.


Please Transcribe (we just might pay you!)


We’ve got a tight deadline for the first possible entry date into Sundance, and boy do we have our work cut out for us! We’ve been working to transcribe our footage for months, but still have quite a ways to go, and we need an army of helpers– yourself included. And if you can sign up for at least three tapes a week we will pay you $10/tape. If you’ve ever wondered how you can help Mother Nature, now is the time– and she’s paying cash. Send an e-mail to mark@yert.com for more information.

Please Donate (get your name in the credits!)


We’ve put over $160,000 of our own money towards the YERT project and creation of this film. Now we’re asking you, our favorite planetary supporters, to put your money where your angst is and pitch in $20, $50, $100, $1000, or more to help us finish this film while the planet still stands a chance. We think we’ll need between $60,000 and $200,000 to finish as quickly and professionally as possible. You can make a tax-deductible donation to YERT by making out a check to “Pittsburgh Filmmakers” and noting “Conduiting Program: YERT” in the memo line of the check. Then mail the check to “Mark Dixon – YERT, 327 Denniston Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15206”. All donors who request it will get their names added to the credits of our feature film. For donations of $100 or more we’ll send you a free, autographed copy of David Korten’s new book: Agenda for a New Economy, or you can choose an autographed copy of his YERT-inspiring book The Great Turning. Many thanks to David Korten for donating the initial batch of autographed books to make this offer possible!

Tell 5 Friends (in 10 seconds)


If you’ve ever wondered when a tiny action on your part can make a huge difference to YERT, now is that time! Please tell five friends about this new trailer by simply sending them this link: http://www.yert.com/film.php . That’s all. It takes 10 seconds. You’ve done it before, or maybe you haven’t, but we hope you’re inspired to do it for us right now. Extra points if you “favorite” us in YouTube. Even more extra points if you Digg, StumbleUpon, or share us on Facebook (use the links to the right of the video player one this Trailer Page).

Synopsis


YERT (Your Environmental Road Trip) is a groundbreaking adventure and a celebration of the American spirit in the face of adversity – a thought-provoking, inspiring, and sometimes hilarious, documentary about the courageous and creative individuals, groups, businesses and leaders of this country who are tackling the greatest environmental threats in history. Called into action by the ever increasing threats of planetary catastrophe (from climate change to toxic pollution, from water scarcity to habitat destruction), the three of us – Mark Dixon, Ben Evans, and Julie Dingman Evans – upended our lives, pooled our collective life-savings, and set off on a first-of-its-kind, 50-state, year-long journey of discovery to personalize sustainability and to answer a critical question: ARE WE DOOMED?

On July 4th, 2007, with camera in hand, tongue in cheek, and packing ourselves, our supplies, and our filmmaking equipment like sardines into a used hybrid car, the YERT team set out from the Rachel Carson Homestead in Pittsburgh, PA to document environmental sustainability in every state in the union in a single year. We wanted to find out: What can Americans do to save the planet? What are they already doing? Why aren’t we all doing more? Is it possible that doing right by the planet is more economical, joyful, and fulfilling than not?

But this film isn’t just about documenting change, it’s about living it. We were on a mission to personalize sustainability, and as the National Academy of Sciences pointed out back in 1990, humanity is currently “conducting an uncontrolled experiment with the planet.” So as we traveled and filmed, we decided to BE the experiment – we would never turn on an incandescent light bulb, we would radically reduce our water usage by any means necessary, and, above all, we would attempt to generate zero waste, keeping all of our garbage (and recyclables) with us for the entire year…in our packed-to-the-gills hybrid. To pull this off, all of our garbage each month would have to fit in…a shoebox. We scoured the country, conducting over 800 interviews, amassing nearly 600 hours of footage, and bathing ourselves in America’s unique approach to environmental sustainability – the good, the bad, and the weird. We found everything from a 92 year-old caveman who’s built an entire cave community in the mountains of Idaho to an electrical engineer working to repower America with solar roadways; from outrageous green personalities like Missouri’s Eco-Elvis and Florida’s Earth Man to incredible new businesses like Tom Szaky’s Terracycle in New Jersey that’s making a mint turning garbage into almost anything; from the utter devastation of Mountain Top Removal coal mining in Appalachia to the revolutionary agricultural genius of Wes Jackson and the Land Institute in the Kansas heartland.

Several months in, an unexpected pregnancy instantly and dramatically changed life for all of us (particularly Ben and Julie, who had been told they could never have children) and pushed the team to the brink. Facing the potential derailment of the entire project, the team had to grapple with new challenges and questions – How long could two dudes and a pregnant woman survive in an enclosed space? Would we all be able to finish the trip? Would the needs of the pregnancy wreck the team’s environmental goals and challenges? Were Ben and Mark up for birthing a baby in the Alaskan wilderness? As both Julie and the garbage expanded, would the car actually explode? And as our personal journeys progressed and we dug deeper into the causes of climate change, it became clear that creating a sustainable world is about much more than simply combating global warming. Everything is tied together, and we began to connect those dots. Efficiency, renewable energy, and technological advances are critically important, but we can’t begin to address climate change unless we also address how we grow our food, how we use our water, how we measure our economy, how we approach human health, how we create/protect community, and, ultimately, how we find fulfillment and understand ourselves. Global warming is but the most dire symptom of some very fundamental issues about how our species functions on the planet. As the godfather of green building, Bob Berkebile, reminded us, we must “move beyond the current environmental movement which is about doing less harm. Our responsibility is not to do less bad, but to do something creative, and regenerative, and restorative, and loving.”

It’s taken more than 150 years to get ourselves into this mess, with America leading the way. The science tells us we have 5-10 years to get ourselves out of it. The question is, will America be leading the way or…are we doomed? You’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

YERTfully Yours,
Ben, Julie, and Mark – Your YERT Team
team@yert.com

New Video – Earth Hour: Feel Depower

Once a year, and only once a year (sadly), civilization gets together to power down…for a whole hour. Started by the WWF (no, not the wrestlers) in Sydney in 2007, Earth Hour has since become a global phenomenon. Well, almost global. YERT was in DC for Earth Hour 2008 and was pretty unimpressed. One would think that the capital of the planet’s most power-hungry nation would jump at the chance to save a few kilowatts (and greenbacks), even if it meant turning out the lights at the capitol for a few minutes. One would be mistaken. This year promises to be better as DC (as well as over 100 other US cities) has signed on to Earth Hour in a big way. Of course, the proof is in the skyline.

Hopefully the awareness that Earth Hour brings can usher in a new era of Earth Weeks, and Earth Months, and, eventually, non-stop Earth Years. In some ways it’s a sad indictment of our civilization that the notion of turning off the lights needs its own special “day” or, sadder still, “hour.” We’re not quite sure what the concept of Earth Hour implies about every other hour of the year, but it’s probably not good (certainly Earth Hour should not be followed by Anti-Earth Hour, if at all possible). Nevertheless, the idea of Earth Hour is an inspired, if symbolic, step in the right direction. And this year, you can actually VOTE for the Earth. The opponent in this “election” is…um…Global Warming – and your lightswitch is your vote. I know that that in some ways that ballot choice seems very reminiscent of the 2000 Presidential election, so, by signing up for Earth Hour and turning out our lights, we can all do our part to make sure we don’t make THAT mistake again. The “results” will be presented at Copenhagen in December and Earth needs 1 Billion “votes” to “win.” Incidentally, the respective VP candidates in this election are Dennis Kucinich and Rush Limbaugh’s pilonidal cyst.

Lighting Out,
Ben, Julie, and Mark

team@yert.com

P.S. If you’d like more information about saving energy, Earth Hour, or generally powering down, check out these breadcrumbs…
Calculate your carbon footprint here:
http://www.climatecrisis.net/takeaction/carboncalculator/

Here’s how much carbon Chicago kept out of the atmosphere last Earth Hour:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-earthhourmar31,0,6746865.story

For those sitting on the fence, here’s a good article with some reasons to participate:
http://saving-energy.suite101.com/article.cfm/earth_hour_lights_out_for_environments_sake

To learn more about the larger issue of powering down civilization in a post-carbon world, check out:
http://www.richardheinberg.com/endorsements/powerdown

All The Presidents’ Heads

First of all, a Happy Belated 200th Birthday to President Abraham Lincoln (not to mention Charles Darwin) and joyful Early Birthday Wishes to George Washington. Here, on President’s Day Aft Aft and in the very heart of President’s Birthday Week, we present to you a special Presidential Edition YERT video! During our travels in South Dakota, the roadside attraction capital of America, we stopped by David Adickes’ President’s Park for some quality one-on-one time with our nation’s leaders – in all their 20-foot, sculpted concrete glory. Sure, Mount Rushmore may be bigger and more famous, but where else in the country can you come face to GIGANTIC HEAD with every single US president? Actually, Williamsburg, VA (David has a second park there) but we were in SD, so we decided to bust in to catch some “green” pearls of wisdom from everyone from Lincoln to FDR. We even interviewed President Polk….yes, the President Polk. Best of all, we caught a super-sized face-off – a White House solar panels showdown between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan! Watch the drama unfold below:

Presidentially,

Julie, Mark, and Ben

team@yert.com

P.S. For information about the topics in this video, check out these breadcrumbs:

There’s a great documentary coming out soon called “Road Not Taken” about what happened to the solar panels Jimmy Carter put on the White House (and Reagan took down). To watch a trailer and for more on this story, check out these links:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/01/27/white-house-solar-panels_n_160575.html
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/01/jimmy-carter-solar-panels.php

See which Presidents have been the best for the environment here:
http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/business/the-5-most-environmentally-friendly-presidents-in-us-history/857

Another list of the Best and Worst Presidents for the environment. Oddly enough, Nixon makes both Best and Worst lists of this one. Evidently, as the old saying goes – “when he was good he was very good, but when he was bad, he was horrid.” However, he wasn’t THE worst – that spot is reserved for “you know who.”

To see what kind of “Green New Deal” our current President is conjuring, go here:
http://www.businessgreen.com/business-green/news/2236134/obama-green-stimulus-dissected
http://www.businessgreen.com/business-green/news/2236575/obama-stimulus-bill-green
http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jan/21/barackobama-usa-environment

Check out how Carter tried to fix Bush’s environmental/energy mistakes nearly 3 decades before Bush made them. Carter’s “malaise” speech (in which he actually never uses the word) is not terribly uplifting, but it couldn’t possibly have been more prescient then or more relevant today. Check out the speech (and dozens of other fascinating presidential speeches) HERE.

Groundhog Day with Kentucky Family Robinson

So here we are in Louisville, KY in the wee morning hours of Groundhog Day and in the wake of a devastating ice/snow storm that has felled countless massive trees, killed a dozen people, and knocked out power to nearly a million residents of the bluegrass state – some of whom won’t have it restored until mid-February. It just so happens for the past week or two I’ve been editing (or struggling to edit, weather permitting) the short YERT video about, you guessed it, Kentucky. The irony is almost as thick as the sparkling inch of ice coating everything in sight – though I will confess, I love interesting weather and it is certainly reassuring to see winter rear her head in such a memorable way.

Luckier than most of our neighbors, we were only fully without electricity in our house for a little over two days, the second of which we spent at a friend’s house. Still, even twenty-four hours without power in 15 degree weather while in charge of a new baby is enough to make you start to feel a little like Swiss Family Robinson. Ordinarily a massive power failure is a wonderful excuse to turn off the TV, unplug the computer, light a fire and play some cards or some other pastime that calls for actual human interaction. It humbles us before mother nature and reminds us of our shared humanity in a beautiful way. But unfortunately our fireplace here is not functional these days and, for whatever reason, we’ve been a little too stressed to fully appreciate “going camping inside.” So the cards and Pictionary stayed put away and we busted out the hand-cranked LED flashlights and simply tried to stay warm and sleep…and tried to get some work done when we could.

Mostly (almost inevitably) the spectacular beauty and devastation wrought by this ice storm – and it has produced both in spades – has me thinking about how much of this “life without readily accessible power” is in our collective future. Maybe it’s the uncertainty of the current economic climate, or maybe the actual climate climate, or maybe it’s the next door neighbor’s diesel generator running 24/7, but lately every natural disaster that temporarily debilitates our electrical grid feels like a dress rehearsal for the “real thing.” It’s as if nature keeps offering us chances to come face to face with our hypnotic dependence on “cheap and easy power” – to finally snap out of it and overhaul our backward power-hungry “civilization” while we still can – but we’re all too clueless to see it for the wake up call it is. Certainly, it’s been encouraging to witness and experience neighbor looking after neighbor and to know that even during trying circumstances the ability of a community to improvise and muddle through is inspiring. But I do wonder if we’re really ready as a species for the long haul that awaits humanity when most fundamental things that we take for granted start disappearing or falling apart. Is it too much to hope that natural disasters will put us in touch with the boneheaded mistakes we keep making again and again until one day we finally stop banging our head against the wall and learn enough from them to reform our selfish….wait a second, isn’t there a movie like that?

Which brings me to Groundhog Dayone of my favorite movies of all time – and quickly becoming one of my favorite holidays. How can you not love a holiday built around forecasting the remaining length of winter based on a large rodent popping out of its hole (or, these days, being plucked out) and either seeing or not seeing its shadow – with, I might add, 39% historical accuracy (that’s 11% worse than simply guessing)? The forecast calls for clouds tomorrow/today in Punxsutawney, PA. So, what’ll it be, Punxsutawney Phil – an early Spring? These days, that sounds like a blessing…and a curse. Of course, I can take solace in the fact that there’s a 61% chance little Phil is wrong, and winter soldiers on for another six weeks – which, these days, sounds like a curse…and a blessing. For now, it’s time to crawl back into my little Kentucky Family Robinson hole here and try to get some sleep. Power’s back on…for now. Which, these days, sounds like a blessing…and…you know…

warmly,
-Ben

Update 1:32pm:
This just in: A baby named “Yert” – yes, YERT – is being born on Groundhog Day as we speak. I kid you not!! Feel free to post congratulations to the lucky couple (Josh and Mary Kate) on their new-parent blog, Procreation Station. What are the odds?

Update 11:04am:
Punxsutawney Phil has officially “seen” his shadow which means we should have six more weeks of winter. That is, there’s a 39% chance that we will have six more weeks of winter…and a 61% chance that we won’t. Oh, whatever.

Inspiration On The Eve of History…

Here we are on the eve of history, January 19th, 2009, near the stroke of midnight – galvanized and ready to serve! Tomorrow (or today, for some of you reading this) America will officially swear-in its first African-American President and turn a corner that is an inspiration to all of humanity. Hope and vision and compassion are making a comeback in the halls of our nation’s capital tomorrow, and not a moment too soon. The challenges before us as a country are immense, but the groundswell of selfless service and American ingenuity building behind the new leadership in this country is palpable and awe-inspiring. People everywhere are feeling empowered again and tapping into their own inner sense of purpose and passion for a greater good.

One of the clearest voices in this “call to arms” on behalf of the planet and humanity has been the incredible and visionary Van Jones, Director and Founding President of Green For All. We were lucky enough to see him speak at Bioneers in 2007 and were moved by his impassioned presentation of a green “wave” that “lifts all boats.” Here he is, as inspiring as ever, speaking before Congress this past week:

As if Van Jones and an historical inauguration weren’t inspiring enough, for those of you who haven’t seen it already, here’s a fantastic new project by a company called CH2M Hill developing Solar Potential Maps for 25 US Cities – the first of which is for San Francisco and can be found HERE. It’s worth spending some serious time noodling with this map – they’ve done some major leg-work to remove many of the hurdles standing in the way of a solar-powered future by showing just what’s possible and where in an incredibly intuitive way. God bless the power of Googlemaps, CH2M Hill, and the internet. The other 24 cities are: Denver; Houston; Knoxville; Milwaukee; Minneapolis; Orlando; Philadelphia; Sacramento; San Antonio; San Jose; Santa Rosa; Seattle; Ann Arbor; Austin; Berkeley; New York City; Boston; Madison; New Orleans; Pittsburgh; Portland, Oregon; Salt Lake City; San Diego; and Tucson.

Treehugger has a couple great articles on the development of these solar maps HERE and HERE. It’s simply a fantastic idea whose time has certainly come – no surprise, then, that it won the 2008 Renewable Energy Innovation Award.

Finally, we found plenty of inspiration on our YERT travels. Here are a couple samples featuring folks from future YERTpods:

And on today of all days, don’t forget to check out the ultimate inaugural address we caught from our good friend Wes Jackson at the Land Institute here:

Our bank accounts might be taking it on the chin as our national “stuff” hits the fan this year and we face some hard realities, but, who knows, 2009 could be a great year after all!

Happy Inauguration, Mr. President! Here’s to our nation’s future!

-Ben and The YERT Team

PS – For a last tasty morsel of inspiration, check out Mark’s blog about David Korten’s new book below. Best of all, you can pre-order it from the YERT website HERE!