Monday, December 18, 2006

Massive Change

I am happy to report that I had the chance to visit the "Massive Change" exhibit currently running at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Chicago, IL (USA). I knew that the exhibit would be a kick for local tree huggers and advocates for sustainability, but was surprised by its lack of (a more pronounced) narrative on what steps individuals could take beyond thoughtful acts of recycling, using sustainable goods, conserving energy (in all its forms), and general support of communities, endeavors and organizations which promote a more humanist approach to living and commerce.

Don't get me wrong, Massive Change is an exhibit that is more than worth going to see-- especially if one has done little or nothing to examine (reflect, really) how our western lifestyle over the last 75+ years needs to adapt to not only environmental changes, but how the global industrial community should address changes (and needs) the world over. We can't (as humans) afford to worry just about our own personal circumstances at the expense of everyone/everything else around us. At least-- that is, in part, my analysis of what Massive Change is trying to get people (in particular, Americans/Westerners) to consider.

For those of us who have sought out green products (whether it is green vehicles, energy saving light bulbs, etc.) or those for whom sustainability has been a conscientious choice, not too much in the exhibit will be new. But to those who might just now be getting started in understanding the sustainability "movement", and how technology and social choices ADD or detract from the "greater good", this exhibit is a solid starting point. (I especially liked the multimedia exhibit area where everything from WalMart's low cost goods made by low-wage workers, to commentaries on how corporate greed actually works to quell innovations that could bring resources & technology to poor and grossly under-served communities at a fraction of the price and hassle of current systems and models.)

I was encouraged that the exhibit highlighted innovations which seek to assist and improve the quality of life, and to eradicate curable diseases whose solutions languish not from a deficiency in technology & science but are due to a deficiency of political & social will. Massive Change highlights the POTENTIAL for initiatives that could afford us our current lifestyle (or better) without sacrificing resources and human capital in the process.

Some of the items from "Massive Change" of particular note include:

- A section on innovator Dean Kamen (Deka Research) and his many ground breaking systems, including a portable energy and water purifying system called "SlingShot". The device is about the size of a washing machine, making it very portable and attainable. Unlike some of the NASA derived water purifying technologies that take a lot of electricity to run (and are 10-15x larger in size), the Kamen device is self-contained, self-sustaining and could make even raw sewage completely safe to drink. The NASA systems are nearly useless in an emergency situation where power, access to petroleum (to run the generators & engines) and portability are issues. (Think of how the Deka device singularly could change life in parts of India, Africa or even how it could have helped Katrina victims in the Gulf area. Then ask yourself who is behind the blocking of products and innovations like the SlingShot, and who stands to benefit from the SlingShot's absence.)

Dean Kamen is probably best known for his invention of the Segway Human Transporter and for the wheelchair that can climb stairs. (The TV cable channel Sundance is running a great program highlighting Kamen's work, called "Iconoclasts".) [ Update 8/19/07: Visitors to the Chicago area can rent Segways and tool around the beautiful lakefront downtown during the non-winter months. A neat way to try out a Segway !]

Kamen's water purifier reminds me of the product LIFESTRAW which, for about $2 to 3 (USD), can make otherwise bacteria laden water drinkable. (I don't recall if Lifestraw was in the exhibit or not...)

- A Section on the City of Chicago and its Green Building initiatives (i.e. use of roof gardens, energy codes & policies, wind power technologies, etc.)
- A display on Alternative Fuel Vehicles & Electric cars: including the Gem Car (an electric, low-velocity vehicle) and other cars and prototype technology. (I don't recall any mention of the Tesla Motors car--even though Tesla is scheduled to have [correction] a showroom in the Chicago area.)

It would have been great to see visitors come away with (more specific) resources as to where and how we could be active participants in moving the technology and initiatives forward, instead of waiting for it to be served (up) to us as goods (and services) to be consumed. However, I realized that having a sense of "initiative" is not a thing that is innate to the majority of contemporary society.
One can only hope, tho'..

Massive Change is only at the MCA through December 31, 2006. So, hurry on down there ! The exhibit is set to travel around the nation. Check the web site for exhibit dates and locations.

© 2006
Topics: Green Issues, Sustainability, Technology, Science, The Arts