Madison, Wisconsin: Earth Day at 40, April 20-21

Graeme Gibson and I went to the Nelson Institute at the University of Wisconsin in Madison for their fourth annual conference: Earth Day at 40: Valuing Wisconsin’s Environmental Traditions.

You can see the very impressive programme at:

Madison was at its best – we enjoyed the flowering trees, the good weather, and the nocturnal urban rabbits nibbling the lawns (we appreciated these rabbits more than the flower gardeners do, no doubt). We both spoke at the conference, and met many people – students and faculty alike, and some other speakers.

Highlights:  I met “Planet Walker”  John Francis, who after witnessing a devastating oil spill stopped using all forms of motorized transportation and began walking. Then he took a vow of silence. His pilgrimage lasted 17 years.  The story is in Planetwalker, at

And also: The 2010 Climate Leadership Challenge, which showcased a group of 6 finalists presenting innovative inventions. Here are the winners:

But I would have been hard pressed to choose among the six: all different, all brilliant! They are:

CORE Concept: (Combustion of Optimized Reactivity in Engines): as I understand it, an add-on to current internal combustion engines that reduces greenhouse gases and other emissions and increases efficiency. (And makes popcorn. No. I lie.)

Jatropha Stove Project: Very nifty variation on the old hobo ministove (used by Toby in YOTF to cook her land shrimp): this one was developed for Haiti and uses a half coconut shell, a tin can part, and wicks made of twisted mango fibre – things you can scavenge. It burns vegetable oil, but you could use fish oil and such.

The Microformer: A new power-distribution transformer that uses post-consumer electronics.  (As I understand it: uses tech people throw out to make smart local grids in developing countries and small communities way cheaper than the building of big grids; also minimizes power losses.)

REDCASH: Recycling Desalination Wastewater for Carbon Sequestration and Hydrogen Fuel Production. Works with already-existing desalination plants through electrolysis , and turns Co2 into calcium carbonate (can be used for bricks & etc.) and hydrogen, which can be burned as a fuel. Wonder if they should get in touch with A team-up would be formidable…

SnowShoe: An application for your phone that allows you to scan the barcodes of products in stores, get their carbon footprint, and thus shop comparatively; also buy offsets for your entire cart, and post your footprint statistics to Twitter or Facebook.  Launching 1/1/11.

Switch: Combines real-time energy data, product rewards, and a social game to help people monitor and reduce their energy use.  (and reduction is the cheapest form of footprint control). Wonder if they should get together with  and their Talking Plug? Or Playlab in Hong Kong?

Altogether a very inspiriting event… yes, Virginia, there is hope…

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