Sustainability: Cows, Sage Grouses, and Grasslands

cowspiracyTwo disconnected events yesterday and today were linked in my mind to the large, open spaces of the West and the challenges we face in striving for a sustainable future.  The first was spotting this marquee yesterday with “The Sustainability Secret” catching my eye.  The cowspiracy took longer to process.

Cowspiracy is a new environmental documentary (trailer here) with the emphasis on the industry with tCowspiracyhe link to a sustainability secret being secondary as suggested in the title. After reading about the intrepid filmmaker “uncovering the most destructive industry facing the planet today, and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it” I don’t think the film reflects a whole systems approach to problem solving, but I won’t say much more until I have a chance to see it.  And there was that nasty situation in 1998 summed up in this story headline as “Oprah Winfrey vs. The Beef People.”  Will maintain an open mind.

What came along today in my inbox was a New York Times documentary on the Sage Grouse and Wind Turbines.  These two events together got me thinking of several sustainability champions that address climate change from the perspective of grasslands, carbon, cows and (what wasn’t mentioned much) climate change:

Allan Savory

Allan Savory

In this videoGrasslands, Carbon, and Climate Change, Jeff Goebel talks about the importance of restoring grasslands to pull carbon out of the atmosphere, doing so rather quickly, and the relationship of grassland restoration to climate change. His interview relates to cows and places like Wyoming where sage grouse live.  Jeff has been influenced by the work of Allan Savory who isPresident and Co-founder of the Savory Institute in Boulder, Colorado and is featured here in this video interview, How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change.

“Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And terrifyingly, it’s happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes — and his work so far shows — that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert.

As an urbanite I feel more comfortable learning about the economic and social aspects of sustainability especially when it comes to understanding the conversations and recommendations of experts. Yet my roots are firmly planted in the farmlands of Ireland and Canada, my family having been dairy farmers so I’ve been interviewing farmers and experts like Jeff Goebel and Allan Savory then adding them to the in special collections addressing biodiversity and climate change.  I hope this post proves useful to understanding what may well be a sustainability secret, one I would argue of many.


Ruth Ann Barrett, Sustainability Advocate, Portland, Oregon, July 25, 2014




Sustainability: Seeking Balance

If you follow my blog posts you know that I often address the question, What Is Sustainability? For me sustainability is bringing into balance the elements of planet, people, and prosperity with an eye to the future generations beginning with our children.   I draw from the the sculpture of Alexander Calder to convey the framework sustainability can provide us as we make decisions in both our personal and professional lives. (Click on image to see it more clearly)

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I’ve also started to reference the circular economy championed by Ellen MacArthur and her Foundation because of the off-balance orientation of our economic system that has failed the test of time, not only in its collapse, but in the practice of externalizing costs and risks, resulting in the degradation of Mother Earth and her peoples to a point, possibly, of no return.  An economic-centered view is championed by many business leaders at the same time they promote their organization’s sustainability initiatives and programs and talk of a sustainable future.

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 12.33.01 PMThere are also executives, using the imperial “we” of course, who express a more balanced view such as found in the release of the Wells Fargo & Company’s 2013 Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report.  Here is a quote from the press release by Jon Campbell, executive vice president and head of Government and Community Relations:

“We understand and embrace the important role we play in people’s lives, the environment and the economic health of our communities,” said Jon Campbell, executive vice president and head of Government and Community Relations. “We’re committed to meeting our 2020 CSR goals, and will continually find ways to integrate sustainability practices into all of our business strategies, products, operations and culture to benefit our customers and the communities we serve.”

It’s the perfect note to end on.

One Day of Curating the Voices of Sustainability

What is the context of my curation?

We have been growing, a specialized search engine to curated content in the service of sustainability. We focus on advancing the unfiltered voices – individuals of all ages and from all walks of life – and now there are over 1,800 videos in ourearthsayers ad collection. They are all organized using a sustainability taxonomy – a classification system that goes beyond tagging – which means those searching for information and inspiration don’t have to spend hours wading through hundreds and thousands of videos in the vast sea of information out there. One can search the collection by keyword/phrase across the categories of environmental, social/cultural, and economic using the keywords and phrases ranging from a broad issue such as climate change to Patagonia, a company name, or use our indexing system to review a special collection such as Culture and Consciousness. Our objective is to increase sustainability awareness and advance the citizens speaking on behalf of Mother Earth and her peoples.

And today I curated eleven videos and was inspired and motivated by teenagers, elders, fisherpersons, wisdomkeepers, teachers, musicians and filmmakers.

dylan jenningsFirst I created a new series, The Ways: Great Lakes Native Culture and Language, making eight series to date including (1) Ray Anderson Memorial Interviews, (2) Bill Moyers and Company, (3) Sustainable Today, (4) Native Perspectives on Sustainability, (5) The Natural Way: Indigenous Voices, (6) 3BL  Media Series on CSR and (7) Peak Moment.   The Ways is on ongoing series of stories from Native communities around the central Great Lakes. The Ways supports educators in meeting the requirements of Wisconsin Act 31, seeking to expand and challenge current understanding of Native identity and communities. It is  a production of the  Wisconsin Media Lab.  All nine documentaries, produced and directed by Finn Ryan of the Wisconsin Media Lab, were reviewed, catalogued, links added to descriptions, names and organizations called out and added to the database, a format specified, and other information about the video were all added to the database.  You will note the videos address the environmental, cultural, social and economic aspects of indigenous knowledge, culture, and rights while conveying the principles of sustainability and connectedness to Mother Earth.
Spearfishing: A living History by Jason Bisonette Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 7.42.16 PM

Lady Thunderhawks: Leading the Way by Jessica House

Hunting Deer: Sharing the harvest by Greg “Biskakone” Johnson

Lake Superior Whitefish: Carrying on a Family Tradition by the Petersons

Performance, Prayers in a Song by Tall Paul  (3:56)

Menominee Language Revitalization by Ron Corn, Jr.

PowWow Trail: Keeping the Beat by Dylan Jennings

Bringing Back the Ho-Chunk Language by Arlene Blackdeer

Clan Mother: Healing the Community by Molly Miller

Two other documentaries reviewed and added are from the folks at, an online production network for professional video journalists and documentary filmmakers, that we more or less found by accident this morning. We will add more of their content as time goes on.

Mexican Teenagers Turn Trash Into Music by Juvenal Alvarez

The Sinkhole That’s Swallowing Louisiana by Ben Depp

I am hoping that at least one of the above titles or a name catches your eye and you take time to listen and be inspired.


Ruth Ann Barrett, Sustainability Advocate, June 26, 2014, Portland, Oregon, (415) 377-1835.


Google Search Results on Sustainability

Four years ago I wrote a post on Google search on the term, sustainability, noting that Wikipedia and the Environmental Protection Agency were top listings on the first page of results followed by research and consulting companies, mostly all business to business (B2B), not consumer (B2C) with the exception of Walmart. Then as now there were no sponsored links.

Do a search today and you can easily see the influence of Google’s promotion of local search results, what Eli Pariser talked about as the filter bubble effect (TED, March, 2012).  At that time the Zuckerberg quote circulating, Screen shot 2014-05-29 at 5.49.55 PMand not fact checked by me, was on target, ideally helping shoppers, but not necessarily those seeking information and knowledge.  The effect on national and international organizations, especially causes, is rarely discussed largely I think because many of our sustainability leaders are disconnected from the role search can play in educating our citizens and the shift to local is just a technical detail they might notice when searching for a new camera or local restaurant.

Doing a search from my current location of Petaluma, California the results include most of the B2B organizations on the top half of the page, as it was four years ago, but this time moving down to a local seed company, a Petaluma Health Center Conference on the Sustainable Enterprise, and a sustainable investment company.  Sustainability quickly gives way to sustainable, if only they meant the same thing.

At the same time, search traffic on the term, sustainability, has remained relatively constant this past year.

blog insert,sustainabilty

Traffic on global warming for same period has decreased by 18% while climate change has increased by 22%.  You can see the activity on this chart which also includes the terms sustainability, global warming, climate change, social justice and environmentalism.  You will note environmentalism, not to be confused with searches on environment, remains low (green line) followed by social justice reflecting the emphasis placed on environmental sustainability.

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Google reports the average monthly searches on the terms with global warming highest at 450,000; climate change at 165,000; and sustainability at 135,000. Sometime last year Google changed the tool I was using that used to report monthly global searches for sustainability at 1.2M per month, similar to climate change.  Don’t ask me to explain the differences in numbers just yet.

three terms, all countries

sustainability awareness largeOne reason for looking back this month is because seven years ago was founded in San Francisco so it our birthday month.  Our goal is to help increase sustainability awareness by advancing the voices of sustainability.  We are a specialized search engine to all curated video content. We have not been as successful as we would like to be especially in achieving a presence in the top three page results for the term, sustainability, and the over 300 key phrases and terms we have include in our one-of-a-kind sustainability taxonomy.  The emphasis on local results has not worked in our favor, but we now have a collection of over 2,000 voices and have increased their page rankings and visibility across the Web.  We are holding firm on the idea that citizens searching on the term, sustainability, should have easy access to the unfiltered voices speaking on behalf of Mother Earth and her peoples, the next seven generations.

Ruth Ann Barrett, Sustainability Advocate, May 30, 2014, Petaluma, California




The Documentary and Sustainability Awareness

In the last weekend of April I attended the conference, What Is Documentary: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow at the University of Oregon’s Portland campus organized by Gabriela Martinez and Janet Wasko of the School of Journalism and Communication.  As noted in a previous blog post, it was an extremely interesting two days and three evenings of presentations and film screenings. Best of all, I had the opportunity to interview the ethnographic filmmaker David MacDougall.  The interview is in two parts: David MacDougall on Filmmaking and Children in India: Three Places of Learning.

What is Documentary?

In the interview David reminds us there are two kinds of documentary.  Some are made based on pre-existing knowledge and prior research while others are the research process itself, a process using video to discover and explore. He notes with the latter “what you end up doing is a product of what you learned during the making of the film.  The process “often shifts you into an entirely different direction so it’s quite open ended.”


David MacDougall

Documentary Takes Money

Organizations that fund research and explorations, foundations in particular, might follow the lead of early adopters such as The Ford Foundation and their initiative, JustFilms.  JustFilms “focuses on film, video and digital works that show courageous people confronting difficult issues and actively pursuing a more just, secure and sustainable world.” Initiative funds are distributed through three distinct paths, two of which point to support of both kinds of documentary cited by David. They are:


  • Collaboration with other Ford Foundation grant-making programs where the introduction of documentary film could help draw attention to an issue or advance a movement, and


  • An ongoing open-application process that will help JustFilms stay attuned to fresh ideas and stories wherever they may emerge.

It’s the open-ended, exploratory process that in the past made funders and investors nervous, to the point of excluding documentaries all together, and yet it is through exploration that we are more likely to discover what is working at the personal and community level to insure a future for the next seven generations.  It’s learning from what the filmmaker finds and sees, especially about us.   And it’s understanding that such explorations are part of increasing sustainability awareness in the category, culture and consciousness.

The Story of Usdavid macdougall

Even environmental advocates Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Julia Butterfly Hill talk about the “us.” Kennedy noted in this interview, “…first of all we are not protecting the environment for the sake of the fishes and birds so much as for our own sake” and Hill in this video identifies the greatest threat being our disconnected consciousness. This does not preclude producing well researched documentaries about Mother Earth, about the birds and the bees, but growing a body of work around people’s behavior that goes beyond headlines and newscasts and is not bound by preconceptions imposed by disciplines and ideologies.  David MacDougall’s films are good examples of what I am talking about and you will note in his interview he talks about how the story evolved, taking years, not months, to exploring the emotional and physical lives of children.

The Opportunity

Economist and Pachamama co-founder, John Perkins calls out in this video the prophecy of the Eagle and the Condor, an indigenous prophecy told by first peoples all over the world about a time dominated by an intellectual, masculine, mind-driven consciousness, which is followed by an opportunity for balance between that consciousness to one that is heart-driven, intuitive and feminine. It is a call for a shift in humanity’s relationship to the Earth and our relationship to each other and, according to the prophecy, that time is now.

We need to reconnect with Mother Earth and with one another yet how?

It’s documentary filmmakers, using their skills and experience, who can help show us the way, if we invest in them and their projects that explore “fresh ideas and stories wherever they may emerge.”  And in the process bringing to the fore those in relationship with Mother Earth and community so we can learn from them.

Ruth Ann Barrett, Sustainability Advocate, May 6, 2014, Portland, Oregon.

My Letter to the New York Times about the term, Sustainability.

Dear Sir,

This is more of an appeal, than a letter.

I have signed up for alerts on the term, sustainability, from two newspapers, yours and the Financial Times. I have been doing this for some time. Consistently I get a significant amount of alerts from the Financial Times each week that carry headlines such as:

Fossil fuel protesters blockade offices at Harvard or After 15 years at Starbucks, Ben Packard takes up protecting nature or Sharing low carbon sources for a sustainable energy union.

I get few from the New York Times and this one received today pretty much reflects the pattern of the kind of headlines I get from the New York Times:

Lobbying Push Made ‘Grown in U.S.A’ Bloom at White House Dinner
American flowers, not imported ones, adorned a White House state dinner thanks to a campaign that included a chat with President Obama on Air Force One.

It’s as if sustainability has to be connected to a social page issue to be considered as sustainability. This is not just one time, but a pattern. I really would like you to reconsider your “tagging” of articles for sustainability. We created a sustainability taxonomy over seven years ago which we have used successfully to curate and catalog over 1,600 videos on the subject of sustainability,, Voices of Sustainability. You might find it useful.

It may be that the New York Times has a very narrow definition of the term or simply does not like using it. Whatever the issue, things need to change. Your paper did cover the students, not mentioning Harvard with the largest endowment in the country in the headline, To Stop Climate Change, Students Aim at College Portfolios. The point I want to make is climate change is a major sustainability category, along with global warming and responsible/social investment, examples of the latter found here in the special collection on I am hoping an argument need not be made as to why what the Financial Times is doing is to be emulated by the New York Times, that this is merely an oversight, and you agree with putting all the wood behind one arrow makes sense when it comes to integrating planet, people, and prosperity into our language, ideas, plans and ‘solutions.’

Attached, for your information is a Google ngram you might find interesting on the term sustainability (1964+) which indicates the growth of the use of the term surpassing ecology and environmentalism. By the way, there are over 1.2M searching on the term each month using Google another awareness indicator.

ngram 1964 ecology copy









Documentary Video in the Digital World and for Human Rights

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This past weekend had the opportunity to cover the What Is Documentary: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow conference at the University of Oregon’s Portland campus organized by Gabriela Martinez and Janet Wasko of the School of Journalism and Communication.  It was an extremely interesting two days and three evenings of presentations and, yes, film screenings that included Jim Blue’s The March (as in the 1963 March on Washington) and his A Few Notes on Our Food Problem;  David MacDougall’s film, With Morning Hearts, about children attending for the first time the prestigious Doon School in Dehradun, India  (one of five films about the children); the folklorist Sharon Sherman’s What Happened to Zolay? and Art Herbig’s in progress documentary, Public Memory & 9/11, a product of over 70 interviews conducted with volunteers, first responders, tourists and witnesses.  It was the word, witness, that taught me the most about a movement that had escaped my notice completely until Saturday morning when Kelly Matheson, Senior Program Manager, WITNESS, was the plenary speaker.

Kelly is an attorney, filmmaker and human rights advocate who previously worked with WITNESS to launch the first Video Advocacy Institute. As an attorney, she worked as a Law Fellow in Tanzania researching citizens’ rights to bring suit against their governments when governments broke their own laws. She also practiced  Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.19.01 PMthroughout the western United States, working on issues where environmental and human rights converge. She began creating films in 2003 as part of Montana State University’s MFA Documentary Filmmaking program. Her film projects focus on indigenous and environmental rights in Central America, the United States and the Congo Basin. Kelly returned to WITNESS after working as a Fulbright researcher in Congo-Brazzaville, where she collaborated with a video-centered outreach project to determine the effectiveness of video to change health and conservation practices.

Kelly MathesonIn short, Kelly is someone who is holding people accountable for human rights violations based largely on evidence provided by videographers – professionals and citizens like you and me.  There are rules of evidence and through the website,, her team is developing processes and tools to insure the videos provided by witnesses hold up in court.  She discussed the initiative Camera’s Everywhere a program to ensure that people turning to video for human rights use it as effectively, safely and ethically as possible and the Secure Smart Cam Project to protect the identity of citizen witnesses who are often unprepared for security and safety challenges that arise both for themselves and the people they film – including the confiscation of their devices, attack, imprisonment, revictimization, or worse.  She talked about two mobile apps under development. They are:

(1) InformaCam, intended as the first mobile app seeking to address issues of authentication for digital media. Citizen-shot media sent to newsrooms, human rights organizations and courts of law is often missing vital information that would enable them to verify the story such as who shot it, surrounding context, and a reliable source of data that can answer, “Is this for real?”

(2) ObscuraCam a mobile app that allows users to blur or obfuscate faces in photos and videos. It can be used on media taken directly with the app itself, as well as imported media to your mobile phone.s

There is an excellent TEDxTeachers College talk featuring Kelly as she shares her story about theabeginning of Witness that I recommend you watch here.   Through personal stories and videos she explains how climate change has an impact on the young lives of people all over the world and discusses our rights and that of our children to a sustainable living environment focusing on the process, atmospheric trust litigation (ATL).

I will write more about the people and content in my May blog posts including my interview with David MacDougall, ethnographic filmmaker and scholar of visual anthropology.


Ruth Ann Barrett, April 28, 2014, Portland, Oregon.



IPCC Ocean Systems and Oceans Advocacy Part II

On Monday, March 31st, I published a blog post on  a concept video around OceansAdvocacy, proposing a web-based communications infrastructure to support aipccdvocates from all walks of life, but not representing any organizations they might be affiliated with, if they choose to do so.  The advocacy landscape is highly fragmented and many organizations, profit and non-profit, are not being successful at meeting their goals due in a large part to under-financing and being over whelmed by the problems brought upon us by global warming and the continued dislocation of entire countries because of war and  violence.  I think a citizen-rooted network of networks is required if the global village is to be more successful at oceans conservation. I visualized a connected oceans community, based on the Google product’s Maps, Earth, Google+, and YouTube, inspired in part by the recent release of the Global Forest Watch.

To add fuel to my suggestion, this is the final draft of the Ocean Systems, Chapter 6 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report officially release d on March 31st.

The executive summary begins:
“Ocean ecosystems have responded and will continue to respond to climate changes of different rates,magnitudes,and durations (virtually certain). Human societies depend on marine ecosystem services,which are sensitive to climate change(high confidence),in particular the provisioning of food (fisheries and aquaculture) and other natural resources, nutrient recycling,regulation of global climate(including production of oxygen and removal of atmospheric CO2), protection from extreme weather and climate events, aesthetic, cultural, and supporting services.” [6.3, 6.4, 6.5]

I recommend reading the entire Executive Summary and other chapters of interest to you found here on the IPCC site.  As of this morning,  nearly 500 citizens have clicked on my 3/31/14 post, distributed through the 3BL Media Network, some viewing the attached concept video, and I am hoping that this update adds to an understanding of why we are at a critical juncture and heed Jimi Hendrik’s advice:jimmi quote wisdomRuth Ann Barrett, Sustainability Advocate,  April 2, 2014, Portland, Oregon. Call or email comments and suggestions. (

P.S. There is an IPCC video here, Climate Change: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability by IPCC, in the special (and growing) collection on climate change.



Citizens Oceans Advocacy from a Sustainability Perspective

A global oceans advocacy effort may require individuals to form clusters of mutual interests separate from their business and professional affiliations, be they with non-profits, NGOs, governments or corporations. It may be that organizations providing support for oceans advocacy projects, programs, initiatives and campaigns are just too slow, too caught up in taking care of their donors and members, too under-financed and over whelmed to solve the problems brought upon us by global warming and the continued dislocation of entire countries because of war and violence.  As to those organizations involved in the making of problems, rather than solutions, it gives their employees, customers, and family members an opportunity to act as citizens in protecting the oceans and work with others who share their commitment.

Oceans AdvocacyThinking about this leads me to propose a community of OceansAdvocacy that provides a communications infrastructure to support individuals to organize, collaborate, build databases, and use research as advocates without the need for an organizational affiliation. A virtual based, citizens action cluster with infrastructure support, available now as no cost services by Google, where people from all walks of life, citizens, are free to express their own views, knowledge, and vision on behalf of the oceans. And to do so emphasizing one-to-one and group conferencing, images over text, and images connected to place.

I’ve prepared a short 10 minute presentation on what OceansAdvocacy could look like modeled in part on the recently launched, Global Forest Watch; applying the work we have done as advancing the voices of sustainability, of which Oceans and Plastic in Our Oceans are two special collections;  and bringing a sustainability perspective to building community that address planet, people, and prosperity.

If you see what I mean about the need to be free to express one’s own views, the power of the Google platform to support a virtual citizens-led msustainability awarenessovement on behalf of the oceans, then give a listen to my presentation (video here) and get back to me with comments, suggestions or recommendations. Thank you.

Ruth Ann Barrett, Sustainability Advocate, March 31, 2014.


First-hand Experience with Plastic by Roz Savage

roz photoI met British ocean rower and environmental campaigner Roz Savage at a San Francisco fundraising dinner over five years ago.  It was fairly early on in her campaign “to bring us all together, by rowing by herself across our oceans for our planet and to demonstrate how we can change things, one stroke at a time.” I was very inspired by the lifestyle choices she had made and her commitment to a life purpose not to mention the courage it takes to row single handed across oceans.   And she rowed across three – Atlantic, Pacific and Indian! Last September when the opportunity came up to interview Roz I leaped and with cameraman, David Okimoto, interviewed her at the Aquarium of the Bay.  Now I can share her story with you.

Roz Savage talks about plastic pollution, often called a “man-made global catastrophe,” in the context of her first-hand experience as she rowed, solo, from San Francisco to Hawaii on the first stage of her Pacific Ocean crossing. Roz SavageMeeting up with the two scientists on the Junk craft, they shared dinner and their research with Roz several hundred miles east of Hawaii. She gives us the bottom line – use less of it – and calls on each one of us to significantly reduce our use of plastic and make a positive difference in the world.

Visit our newly created special collection on Plastics in Our Oceans and view Roz’s interview here.  This is a very inspiring and motivating story from a woman I greatly admire.

Roz was in San Francisco with her friend and colleague Howard Lack, CEO of the UK-based Foundation, Plastic Oceans so I was able to interview him as well. You will find him in the same special collection here.

Ruth Ann Barrett, sustainability advocate, January 31, 2014, Portland, Oregon