Jonathan Wexler - Green Tech Writer

A Lightweight Way to Discuss Technical Solutions to Climate Change

I really love this video put out by the World Wildlife Fund (#WWF) in collaboration with Netflix as an addendum to their magnificently produced Our Planet Series.

I think its point is that business certainly has a crucial role to play in our complete reorientation to a green circular economy and civilization, something which I am trying to adopt step-by-step at Green Tech Writer.

Indeed, this is just the one-month anniversary of this WriteFreely blog, and I feel I have not even scratched the surface of the scope of the problem, and the solutions which I believe are possible. I think with a very scientific and engineer oriented mindset, in a moderate manner, humankind does in fact stand a chance of survival, and even getting to the kind of civilization Steven Pinker writes about but has yet to come to pass in my view.

While some thought it, and even I sort of felt, swinging quickly from Montreal Tech Writer to Green Tech Writer in a little over a month in one fell swoop was somehow reckless and impulsive, I actually have now come to understand I am rather late to the party. Case in point, an amazing conference I hope to attend in March in New York City called The Responsible Business Summit being put on by the London-based Ethical Corporation which is affiliated in turn with Reuters. I have spoken to a representative of the conference and they are super forthcoming, and it covers basically all the issues I hope to cover in my technical writing. You can download the overview from their website, but in general they are covering all myriad of issues centered around #sustainability from the point of view of business. Something I think, to repeat, can only be a huge value add to positive action by enlightened governments and activists.

In this vein, I also just watched a great IQ² debate with the resolution Capitalism is a Blessing.

Before I make any comment, I want to stress, as will be explored in future posts, that I really believe in moderation, don't consider myself Left or Right, and for sure believe in all cultures working together to solve big problems, like #climatechange, which has been my predominant experience in Montréal. You can watch the debate above and come to your own conclusions and I won't give away who ultimately wins, but I would comment that I think the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey, who wrote a book I am now reading called Conscious Capitalism, makes some strong points in how economic freedom does indeed lift people out of poverty, while admitting some of its flaws. Hence these movements, from the Ethical Corporation, to the US Business Roundtable, to Conscious Capitalism, to taming what has admittedly become a beast when it comes to issues like #climatechange and, too often, power dynamics between employers and employees.

I am trying to thread the needle here again, very tricky, to argue in some kind of way that the results of the industrial revolution weren't exactly what Marx would have you believe. At the very least, as Mackey seems to make clear, free economies proved better even for their poor than socialist economies. I would like to take an even more delicate line, that neither famed professor arguing the merits of socialism Richard Wolff was wholly right though he makes some strong criticisms of capitalism's week points, nor is Mackey really admitting capitalism's worst excesses, which for example induced slavery to produce cotton in the New World, or is producing the #climatecrisis now. I think the way forward looks something like my home country and province (Canada and Québec), which admittedly have huge hurdles still to overcome, but are mixed economies. Moreover, I feel that one needn't associate business necessarily with the worst aspects of capitalism, for we all need clothes on our back, food to eat, housing, tools, incentive, and a myriad of other things that a market economy provides quite well.

All these issues are hugely contentious, as US politics make clear, but I think a consensus in the business world seems to be forming that it has to be much more attentive not just to its stockholders but also to all stakeholders in society, including the environment, which is the gist of what I think Jamie Dimon and the US Business Roundtable are going for in this year's statement.

I hope I did not offend anyone, whether activists, individuals, NGOs or for-profit companies (and hopefully new clients) with these comments. I wanted to just work through some of them in this post as I am learning how better to operate and contribute to business and society in the 21st century as we together all must tackle #climatechange head-on.

I have many new upcoming blog posts in the works:

  1. including on #WordPress conferences I attended in #Montreal and #NewYorkCity called #WordCamps,
  2. a conference I just attended on videogames, again in Montreal, called the Montreal International Games Summit or #MIGS,
  3. a blog post on the importance of #moderation and avoiding #extremism especially in dealing with #multicultural work world situations wherein large problems often have to be addressed such as #climatechange,
  4. a post on looking on the bright side which counters my previous post Doomerism,
  5. and a post on the possibility of the #democratization and #greenifying of #AI which is a sort of answer to futurist Michael Spencer's #LinkedIn post An Unpopular View of the Future of AI – FYI he is now writing his own blog called The Last Futurist and is, like me, based in Montreal, though we have yet to meet.

The point of this short post is to encourage readers to subscribe to this blog in the #Fediverse, for example you can follow on a Mastodon instance by searching for @jonathanwexler@greentechwriter-blogs.org in the Mastodon search box and then simply adding the blog to your follow list by clicking it in the results. Be excited, like I am, for much more content in this lightweight blog brought to you on new technology created by Matt Baer.

See you soon!

I mentioned before why I think doom & gloom are exactly the wrong emotions to have when it comes to climate change. Yes it is a huge wickedly complex problem with more harrowing news arriving daily. But if we all give up we all will really eventually go extinct. Humanity has faced catastrophe many times, including an ice age where I believe our numbers were reduced to something like 10,000 people, and we always proved resilient enough to the point that there has never been so many of us. I think #GretaThunberg is an absolute good and her climate marches are an important contribution to the fight, and environmental awareness worldwide. My only thought on this, is that, as she preaches to listen to the science when it comes to the problem, I think this message will most often get lost on politicians, as most politicians in all countries are simply out for themselves and are propagandists (though I still think it important to vote), so I think it as important to listen to the scientists and engineers equally for answers. In my view, we have to innovate ourselves out of this mess and I feel this includes working with ethical and green businesses in collaboration with enlightened government, assuming the latter is possible (let’s vote out the bums if necessary 😉). I hope to explore this topic more as I begin to take on greener projects.

I put up a new instance of Mastodon you can sign-up on at https://greentechwriter-social.org/. Read more about #Mastodon and the #Fediverse in the article It's a Fediverse Planet. I think the #Fediverse is part of the #green #solution as it is #federated not top-down. More natural I think.

I just read an interesting article called Climate Stalinism that comes down very hard on the #environmentalmovement and which I obviously don’t totally agree with because I know some of their work is undoubtedly for the good. I always felt though that as bad and unscrupulous as some human actions might be towards nature for the sheer benefit of accumulating wealth, that we also have to guard our good traditions and democratic values against the worst doomerism and tendencies of some of the, and some in, the #environmentalmovement. Basically for me anyway, any kind of extremism is exactly the thing we don’t need any more of right now. From what I gather from a layman’s cursory overview of environmental literature and the classes I have took, I am convinced we do have a serious problem to contend with due to climate change. Then, it is one thing to preach apocalypse and radical action, it is another to put in the work to come up with solutions, or at least proposals for solutions, so we can actually get to work on the problem, and remain hopeful that we can actually do it! It is difficult to come up with a blog post that can really summarize my thoughts on an evolving complex situation like climate change, especially with so much polarization only amplified by too much angry opinionizing on the Internet inflated by algorithms that benefit from the old “if it bleeds it leads” truism. I do agree that peaceful protest in general can be a good thing. And I know this post, no matter how I come down, will make me some enemies, but it seems to me that as life goes on we have no choice as technical writers, developers, business people and technologists but to push forward with the work that can actually tackle this problem. I don’t think 10 billion people can or want to go live back in the forest, though of course we should protect it and plant as many trees as possible, so we have to push for sustainability and resiliency while not devolving into unrealistic notions, in my humble opinion. Again, I hope not to offend, only to try and find ways to continue the much needed green technology work as is possible in this day and age.

I guess what I am saying is conferences like Digital Infra Montréal could be something of great value which most of us might agree on 😉.

What do I mean by “Green Tech Writer”? Well, traditionally most tech writing was performed alongside software development to document procedures, APIs (application interfaces), user interfaces, and related functionalities. Of course there is plenty of technical writing in other domains, such as pharmaceuticals and medical devices, and aviation: where structured writing actually started with the SGML markup language of which a subset is HTML. There is a body of ethics in many of these industries, although I think less so in software because it is newer. Ethics I think has to be a key element of business going forward commensurate with the demands of much of the activism going on. But I think beyond ethics, environmental themes must be baked into our infrastructure, our technology, our code. Engineers often cannot be farther from the forest. Perhaps this is why soon after I started as a technical writer I indeed often went to the forest in terms of going on long hikes in the Laurentian Mountains north of Montreal, in Vermont and often to the Presidential Range in New Hampshire where I climbed Mount Washington, the highest mountain in the northeast of North America. I don't know if it was through these hikes and walks, but the environmental movement of late has really hit a nerve and I realized computer science, along with a lot of other professional disciplines serving business, cannot be locked up in disembodied cubicles in extremely hierarchical organizations if we hope to combat the central challenges of the 21st century and beyond.

Time to Green it Up

So that is why I am pursuing the project of, and services outlined in Green Tech Writer; note that the website is only about 10% done but instead of putting it in “Under Construction” mode, I thought I would operate under the “Minimal Viable Product” rubric so lots of content and pages are still to be designed and filled in. I think the site gets across the point of what I want to do and think is important, that is, to use the technical tools of the technical writing profession and turn these fully towards green technology. For the complexity of green tech will be encountered by the non-specialist, and what is a good tech writer if not a translator between subject matter experts and the layman.

Next Steps

I am busy expanding my green network to many experts in the field as well as to pertinent politicians and activists in the environmental movement, and am enrolled in up to a dozen online MOOCs to do with green themes of various sorts, not to mention my voluminous reading in the field. I am undertaking these steps, along with a technical re-acquaintance to the tools of the tech writer, Adobe Technical Communication Suite and Creative Cloud, structured writing, new web technologies of various kinds, all in the service of the grand green technologies and methodologies that are needed and going to be needed to preserve and hopefully improve our way of life, to make it very much more equitable and fair, and to allow the earth to regenerate from the unfortunate state it is in. I am not really the activist type although I was on the Greta Thunberg 500,000 people Fridays for Future march in Montreal (so were about a quarter of all Montrealers!) and I did and may do some work for environmental groups. But I feel my main contribution can be bringing my accumulated and accumulating skills to aid enlightened technical companies to better explain their new products and services so they are better adapted to our hyper-modern, hyper-evolving, and hyper-speed world. Stay tuned here and on Green Tech Writer in the days, months and years to come as we really get going.

As previously mentioned, I worked for almost twenty years for many prominent software and production houses as recounted on my legacy website Montreal Tech Writer. Places like the very successful Genetec where I covered physical security software such as Omnicast used for camera surveillance and AutoVu used for LPR (licence plate recognition). This was a kind of infrastructure, physical security, that had some very good uses, but might theoretically be used for nefarious purposes if put in the wrong hands, like a dictatorial regime. I am not saying #Genetec or any other company necessarily knowingly sells its wares to bad actors, I just decided that for me personally I’d rather work for next-gen technology companies that have ethics and the environment at their core such as #Lyft, who actually recruited me for a technical writing position where they are expanding in Montréal, but I am aiming for contract work rather than full time, otherwise it would have been tempting. Point is these kinds of enlightened companies do exist, like Lyft it seems, and definitely like Patagonia always has been. The kids surrounding #GretaThunberg are demanding we up our standards and it ultimately pushed me to do something positive I hope, and put up Green Tech Writer to promote my acquired and always developing technical skills to the best uses I can find. I ultimately believe this makes good business sense too, which is not an evil thing in my opinion, as both the climate and economy need fixing. Hit me up if you think I could be of use to your green initiative whether you are a for-profit company, NGO or environmental group. I am open to many types of work. For now contact me at jonathan.wexler@greentechwriter.org. Best of luck and looking forward to discussing the staggering possibilities.

I have been a technical writer at some prominent companies in the Montreal area, like the Media and Entertainment division of #Autodesk working on their advanced systems Flame and Smoke (for more info, see my old tech writing site Montreal Tech Writer). But after twenty years of working almost exclusively for commercial software companies and production houses I began to question things. Along comes bad news about the #climate. #climatemarches, #GretaThunberg and other groups, and a 500,000 person march in Montreal as part of Greta Thunberg's #FridaysForFuture movement, to which she actually attended. I have family and friends and could not be blind to the scientific news of the damage we are causing and the limits the UN has set to avoid catastrophic change. I read all kinds of environmental books and so far have taken two related online classes, one on climate science from the University of British Columbia, and one on systems and sustainability from the University of Arizona. Some of the literature and websites I have read expound real doomerism where there is no hope left of averting this crisis. But I am also beginning to find thinkers that can see a possible way out, with the radical change of our infrastructure and economic systems and practises. I am by nature a moderate and despite Greta Thunberg's words I don't quite like to dwell in a panic as she seems to be repeating, and I did feel this #climategrief of hopelessness for some period of time after reading some and getting involved with some #environmentactivism. But I think in lieu of these negative feelings, all the while recognizing the scope of the biodiversity loss, the harrowing exacerbation of our climate events, and the amazing work #climategroups are doing, I think we have to tackle this challenge, as has been suggested, like the Marshall Plan, perhaps with the focus and resources of the Manhattan project. This seems like a pipe dream with climate denying leaders like #Trump in the US and #Bolsonaro in Brazil. And yet I think the worlds I inhabit, of software and technology, of writing and development, must reorient themselves to tackle this immense climate challenge in a concerted and focused way, as I said, like in the Manhattan project—interestingly Edward Teller, the successor to the Manhattan project who built the hydrogen bomb was one of the first to warn of the link between fossil fuels and climate change in 1959 as The Guardian recounts.

While there is still much resistance, popular consensus has grown exponentially especially in the last year that we have to reorient our economy to sustainability. People and groups like #GretaThunberg, #AlexdriaOcasioCortez and #ExtinctionRebellion, but also more mainstream ones like the US Business Roundtable, are all now icons that accept and are deeply concerned about climate change. Throughout the world mobilization is happening in the activism sphere like never before to raise awareness on this issue and act, finally. The head of the Bank of England has stated that companies who do not care about climate change will simply go bankrupt. Of course there is an economic and technical battle going on between America and China, but the rest of the world, in addition to these superpowers, all have a stake in all major decisions going forward. I personally find many #environmentalgroups to be a little too anti-business. You might say a somehow equitable world socialist system might have given neoliberalism, and therefore modern capitalism, a run for its money. But I also think that we are too late for 50-year ideological wars. We need to start bringing our carbon emissions down right away, largely with the systems and governments we have now, although I am of course all for much more democratization worldwide of our governments, institutions, and businesses.

I just now put up Green Tech Writer to inform and advertise my technical writing and other services for green technology businesses and related organizations pushing an environmental agenda. This blog and others hosted here provide an accelerated way to bring up solutions to the problems we collectively face in the twenty first century and beyond. I am informed Jeff Bezos is a Star Trek fan. Well, we better worry about what’s going on at home before we colonize the universe, not that that isn’t also a worthy goal if only once we deal with climate change. No one should be left behind. I have worked with some environmental groups in the past but I realized sometimes they are unrealistically anti-business in my perspective. Governments and citizenry necessarily have to be at the forefront of mitigating the effects of climate change but so too can business if they choose to and are given the chance. I hope to serve these enlightened businesses, specifically with green technology, so we can transition to the next phase of civilization, with a greening earth that can earnestly launch us all into the stratosphere and beyond. I hope to use this blog to quickly iterate on my ideas, experience, and education, as I too get greener as the next days pass.