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User talk:Chriswaterguy/AF/Revisiting the Wheel

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A 

handshake 

still 

matters
[edit]

I believe handshakes only still matter in online communities that are mismanaged - that is, those that fail to take maximum advantage of the computer technology sitting before us. We should avoid what I call the jet engine on a balloon syndrome - the attempt to stick new technology (e.g. a jet engine) on the existing platform that isn't optimal for it (e.g., a balloon). Computers give us new capabilities, and we need a correspondingly new mindset and approach to exploit them.

As evidence I submit Wikipedia, which is being built by millions of contributors, the vast majority of whom will never meet most of each other. I myself have met (in meatspaceW) almost no one else who edits much on Wikipedia, and I can't think of any way I've been handicapped or limited by this. Only a tiny fraction of Wikipedians could hope to build personal relationships with each other, and this would tend to lead to the formation of cabals. It's actually better if nobody on the site has the "advantage" of face-to-face contact, so everyone starts on an equal footing.

Wikipedia plainly shows the way to productive remote collaboration: a project needs extremely detailed written rules and procedures that enable anyone who can read to figure out what to do, and do it with confidence. Face-to-face (i.e., tribal) interaction only delays building and documenting such rules, because it encourages people to lapse into the more primitive spoken communication that we all prefer. Vocal communication exists all over the animal kingdom, even down to insects. Our hominid ancestors may have had spoken language for a long time; only recently did we partially augment speech with the much more abstract and advanced communication form we call writing. As a species and a culture, we have only partially become literate. Most people still do most of their communicating out loud, the form of communication that served small tribal groups of hominids well enough, but is thoroughly inadequate for solving problems requiring large-scale collaboration.

Speech undermines efficient collaboration because it is generally imprecise and impermanent, and must be helped with nonverbal communication. Cultures that lack writing entirely have rarely accomplished very much, and what they did accomplish was soon forgotten as they could leave no durable record of it. In cultures that have writing, individuals who cannot write well often find their opportunities for advancement reduced.

Wikipedia's method may be hard for other projects to replicate, due to the limited supply of people who are really literate - people who are able to work comfortably and exclusively in writing, without feeling psychologically shortchanged. Maybe Wikipedia has already absorbed most of the people who can work the way Wikipedia works. But that would surprise me.

I think people should get their face-to-face socializing jollies locally, ideally within walking or bicycling distance of where they live. There are more than enough people in any sizable settlement to provide ample socializing opportunities. For example, even in car-dominated Cincinnati where I live, anyone with a bicycle can go to group bicycle rides and make all the friends they want. We can use writing to access the larger world of more-distant human minds, without having to wreck the planet to communicate and collaborate with them.

In view of this, I think Appropedia may be hampering its growth by having insufficiently strict rules. For example, Appropedia:Policies does not make clear whether we are to follow the naming convention. A glance around Appropedia shows widespread disregard for it. On Wikipedia, there is no question about this - when someone violates the naming convention in a page title or section heading, other users correct it in due course, without the need to have an argument. Having clear rules allows strangers to work productively together, without the need for handshakes and negotiating everything. When the rules are not clear, then it becomes harder to work with distant strangers - if I edit someone's choice of a page or section title, how might they react? Do I have to get to know this person before I can confidently make that change? Must I justify the naming convention before I can apply it? On Wikipedia this is not an issue: if someone does not like the rules, they can leave. Everyone who stays can simply focus on building the project. --Teratornis 18:43, 21 February 2011 (PST)

The times when people do gather face-to-face, such as Wikimania, there are a lot of people thinking about the big picture questions of wikis, and able to pick other people's brains in ways that are often difficult online (that is they're possible, but often take persistence, and depend on whether the other people are responsive). I've had questions that have long remained unanswered quickly resolved when meeting in person (thinking in particular of a question about running a bot). Now, the "big picture" thing may relate to delusions of grandeur, or may be valid, but having face-to-face communication, which is effectively extremely high speed broadband, does feel beneficial. Probably not vastly more beneficial than very well planned online communication though, in most cases.
Re cabals, I've never observed that to be a danger.
That would apply to the context here as well - it was actually a comment by someone from an NGO talking about their partnerships with other NGOs.
All of that said, a lot of this can be done without jetting around. The better our broadband gets, the more feasible this is. And some effort on video presentations will help - much as I agree about the value of writing, speech is indeed more primal, and easier to absorb, and reaches a wider audience.
I love the idea of RCCx (like TEDx), and I'll be participating in one soon. If we do decent videos (and have well-organized note-taking, perhaps on Etherpads) this will open up these global conversations to more people.
Have you been involved in BarCamps at all? I find the informality and openness, and that high-bandwidth communication between many people in one room, to be a great learning environment. Something like watching over someone's shoulder while they edit a wiki, and learning their tricks, or watching them run a bot, can be really helpful. That could be done by video and/or screencast, but usually isn't. And the thing with BarCamps is, like RCCx, they tend to be relatively local.
Re "Appropedia may be hampering its growth by having insufficiently strict rules." - Preaching to the choir here :-). I think I've probably written the majority of proposed policy and guideline pages on Appropedia. Others may agree that this is important, but it hasn't been a priority for anyone... or perhaps they've not been sure how to contribute to the debate. Perhaps for proposed policy and guideline pages, given that this is a small community, we need to have a template saying something like "If you agree, or disagree, or wish to make a comment, please leave a note on the talk page. You may also edit this page, as the policy is not final, and is still open to negotiation through editing and through the talk page." Then the talk page could have places to put "votes" or comments. Of course, if the page is open for editing, timestamps on the "votes" are essential.
"Must I justify the naming convention before I can apply it?" - I think we can lead by example. I just explain in the edit summary, and I've seen Lonny do the same.
Those thoughts are written quickly, much too late at night. --Chriswaterguy 08:16, 23 February 2011 (PST)
Thanks for your thoughts. Your fatigue does not show in your writing.
  • I'm aware of Wikimania, but the attendance numbers are neglible (in the hundreds) compared to the tens of thousands of serious Wikipedia editors and the millions of casual editors. Important things may happen at Wikimania for all I know, but I doubt they need to happen there. Attendance at Wikimania is hardly necessary for editing on Wikipedia, and might have a net opportunity cost compared to spending the same time reading the friendly manuals and learning how to ask questions the smart way. As far as I can tell, Wikimania is primarily a way for people to burn jet fuel so they can socialize in person. I have nothing against socializing in person, but burning jet fuel for entertainment is not consistent with a belief in climate science. In a similar way, one could list the benefits of slavery to the slave owner, but we have decided slavery is no longer acceptable, so we find other ways to get the benefits, or we live without them. I believe that until humans come to view burning fossil fuels and releasing the combustion products to the atmosphere in the same way we view slavery - as something that is flatly unacceptable - we are very unlikely to preserve a habitable planet. Our tepid progress so far on reducing emissions is consistent with my belief that humans are nowhere near to taking the problem seriously enough yet.
  • Have you read this page, and what do you think about it:
  • "I've had questions that have long remained unanswered quickly resolved when meeting in person"
    • I would argue that's an indication of an online community being mismanaged, i.e. a community which has not yet fully committed to functioning online. It's a community merely dipping its toe in the online waters, while standing firmly on the meatspace shore. In a well-managed online community, it is easy to ask any question and get an answer, or better yet look up the documented answer without needing to ask a human. For example, follow the action on Wikipedia's Help desk,W Reference desk,W and Village pump.W The range of questions and the speed and quality of answers are remarkable - I've worked in technical support before, and I have never seen a help system of any kind that works as well as Wikipedia's. On the Help desk in particular, questions tend to be repetitive, so Wikipedia editors create reference documents with answers to almost all of them. The answer to almost every Help desk question contains links to relevant manual pages. The transient nature of spoken communication discourages this ratcheting effect of building a structure of reference information to answer questions, because there is a difficult extra step of harvesting the spoken word and converting it to durable text. When people have a question, they usually focus solely on their immediate need. They don't usually realize that someone else is probably asking the same question somewhere else, or will in the future.
      • That being said, the more specialized a particular question is, the fewer people who can answer it, and maybe you can only find those people in meatspace. That's not the fault of the person with the question, but it does mean those other people are not yet seriously committed to making their online community work - in my opinion. As an example of an online community that isn't quite working yet, check out mw:Project:Support desk, a page that in theory tries to answer questions about MediaWiki system administration. Only a fraction of questions on the page get a good answer, most likely because many of the questions are ill-posed, or few people monitor the page.
  • I do not recall hearing of BarCampW before. As computer networks improve, eventually remote communication will have no perceptible differences from face to face communication, if people choose to use technology that way. However, I don't think that would necessarily be progress, if it makes people lazy and they stop documenting what they know in writing. Maybe by then computers will be smart enough to understand our speech and build the structure of our knowledge for us, although that might render humans somewhat redundant.
  • "I just explain in the edit summary, and I've seen Lonny do the same."
    • I've seen that too, but the usual method is a text-only mention of "naming convention" which might not be very informative to someone who has never heard of it. I'll see about making a shortcut to a coherent explanation that we can link to in our edit summaries. Wikipedia has many section-specific shortcuts as you know, for example wikipedia:WP:LOWERCASE which is relevant to this example.
    • Further to the naming convention - there are some Appropedia users who systematically use traditional (unwiki) title case in page names and section headings (for example several users connected with Queens U.). Rather than "correct" their work instance by instance, it might be better to broach the topic on their user talk pages, and find out whether they are aware of the naming convention and have chosen to ignore it, or whether they never heard of it. Those are two very different possibilities. Again, it's a problem you never have to think about on Wikipedia, where those battles have already been fought and resolved.
--Teratornis 12:04, 24 February 2011 (PST)


Our tepid progress so far on reducing emissions is consistent with my belief that humans are nowhere near to taking the problem seriously enough yet.
Indeed. Probably the biggest part of the problem, though, is that it's a collective action problem.Collective_action#Collective_action_problemW One person living a fulfilling low-carbon life is valuable in setting an example, and that's part of the solution, but I don't feel that If I never fly again, how many jet flights will I stop from flying? Probably none, especially when I work hard to only get heavily discounted tickets, contributing less than most to the profitability of the flights. Is that self-serving? Yes, but it's also true. If we all pulled in our belts and stopped flying (apart from in emergencies) it would make an enormous difference. But we won't, on anything like the scale needed, until people start responding to personal cost as well as communal cost.
My belief on response to climate change is that actual progress comes through policy (e.g. a price on carbon and support for research), technology (e.g. affordable enough renewable energy that it makes a high carbon price more politically acceptable - being pragmatic here) and general awareness (e.g. people start making starter consumer decisions and life-choices because they found relevant info on Appropedia).
"I would argue that's an indication of an online community being mismanaged, i.e. a community which has not yet fully committed to functioning online." - I've found some interesting things and connected with like-minded people by attending Wikimania that I can't imagine I would have happened just be being around Wikimedia. But good video presentations (with accompanying written reports and images) would have been almost as effective for the presentations, and it's a pity there hasn't been a lot more emphasis on this. I'm now wondering about making a bid on behalf of cyberspace for Wikimania 2013. Presenting it as a "once every two years" option to start with would be a pretty modest aim to start with, and there might be wide interest, especially if we emphasize the greater opportunities for participation. What do you think?
"might have a net opportunity cost compared to spending the same time reading the friendly manuals and learning how to ask questions the smart way." Yes (and How To Ask Questions The Smart Way is indeed a great guide) but how many people are likely to do that? It's a good thing to do, and the more who do it the better, but I don't see it overtaking Mafia Wars (or whatever the latest fad is) on Facebook in popularity any time soon, more's the pity...
This reminds me of my recent reactions to "post-autistic economics"Post-autistic economicsW - at first I was interested, but what I've seen of it (not much, I confess) struck me as woolly-headed thinking, that made me think a modest dose of autistim would do them a lot of good. Unfortunately not many people have the personal disposition, neural wiring or discipline (as the case may be) to think that way. As a race we didn't primarily evolve to be rational creatures, and most of us aren't. Likewise, it's already a tiny fraction of people who edit wikis as opposed to reading them - it would be a tinier fraction still who would sit down and learn by reading manuals - even friendly manuals.
That's just throwing out a counterpoint - I don't completely disagree with you. I do think that it's possible to develop friendlier manuals and visual guides, and make them engaging.
"burning jet fuel for entertainment is not consistent with a belief in climate science". It's also about being inspired, and provoked to think about new things. Meeting in person is great for this, but videos are often better - local meetings with great videos might be ideal. I'm much more text-oriented than most people, but I really enjoy listening to radio and watching good videos. Bring on voice-to-text ;-) (and a global consciousness about using open licenses for radio and video).
Must go - packing for travel tomorrow (getting a lift intra-city with someone who's already traveling) and will be staying with a very smart permaculture and international development guy. If I've missed something important, pls remind me. --Chriswaterguy 03:04, 25 February 2011 (PST)

(undent) Collective action problems are certainly tough, which is part of why humans may have a grim future. Responding to some of your points:

  • "If I never fly again, how many jet flights will I stop from flying? Probably none" - well, that depends on how many other people make the same argument. See the fallacy of composition.W David MacKay addresses this very argument in his book. Some points to consider:
    • Airplanes stay aloft by throwing air down to counteract the force of gravity. Adding more weight to the airplane (one incremental passenger plus luggage plus additional weight of fuel at take-off for that passenger) increases fuel consumption. Even if you don't eliminate the whole flight, you still reduce the actual fuel burned by not being on the flight. Note that the incremental impact of a rail passenger is much less, because the train is heavier in relation to the passengers, and because it rolls on rails so the fuel consumption goes up more slowly with weight. There is no fuel burned to hold up the rail passenger, except when climbing hills.
    • Airlines schedule enough flights to meet demand. One person won't make a difference, but air travel is the fastest growing transport mode, because millions of one persons who don't make a difference have decided they want to fly more. Whenever there is a recession, or the price of oil goes up, the impact on airlines is huge because a lot people make small behavior changes. When airlines pay money to show you advertisements, they believe you make a difference.
    • Consider another enormous social change in the past, which I mentioned above - the abolition of slavery in the west. What was the appropriate number of slaves for an abolitionist to own? An abolitionist who wanted to enjoy the benefits of slavery could have argued that the few slaves he owned made no measurable difference to the overall problem of slavery. But would slave ownership have made any sense for an abolitionist? How convincing would a slave owning abolitionist have been, when campaigning for laws to force slave owners to free their slaves? Would the abolitionist movement have gotten anywhere if it could not persuade its own members to free the slaves they owned? If even people who believed slavery was wrong could not free their slaves, what chance would there have been to convince people who did not believe slavery was wrong?
    • Everything we do adds up to define what is normal. Most people have never met anyone who has given up flying because they believe climate science. Similarly, my furnace technician told me out of the hundreds if not thousands of houses he visits, nobody lives as heat-free as I do. If only one person does this, then he is merely eccentric. If a few more follow suit, it starts to define a new behavior. If all 58% of Americans who say on opinion polls that they believe in climate change decide to drastically curtail their flying, it will send a shock wave heard round the world. Few people are able to add up the facts and do what logic demands. They have to see someone else showing the way. That's what I'm trying to do, even if it is hard to be the only one at first.
  • "My belief on response to climate change is that actual progress comes through policy, ... technology, ... and (personal action)" - I agree. And the same argument that says one individual cannot cut enough carbon to make a difference to overall emissions equally says one individual cannot have any measurable influence on policy. In reality, as individuals we have the same ability to influence policy as we have to reduce overall emissions - a very tiny bit. For some reason, it seems the typical climate change advocate thinks it makes sense to ask people to take part in demonstrations aimed at changing policy, while downplaying their equal ability to actually cut emissions. If you can persuade 1000 people to line up to spell out "350" why not persuade them to stop burning fossil fuels too? 1000 people can cut a lot of emissions. They can eliminate entire jet flights. They can change the structure of their local economy. They can inspire and educate others.
    • Personal action guarantees results - I can cut as much of my emissions as I decide to cut. Political action guarantees nothing. You can spend all your time campaigning, lose the election, and have nothing to show for it. Personal action is necessary if for no other reason than to avoid discouragement. You have to succeed at some part of the challenge, or you will give up.
    • Technological progress expands the number of ways to cut our fossil fuel burn with less "sacrifice". But technology is not going to eliminate the need for "sacrifice" entirely. Different families living in identical houses can have utility bills differing by a factor of two or more. It matters a lot how individuals treat energy, and no technology is likely to erase that. Also, the scope for using technology to eliminate emissions is extremely uneven across economic sectors. Technology can and does give us green electricity right now. Green air travel is unlikely in my lifetime. Atomic powered cruise ships might be one option, but the fastest, cheapest, and most reliable way to reduce travel emissions is to travel less.
  • Carbon tax - a carbon tax is a way to force people to do what I am doing voluntarily: fly less, drive less, heat less, cool less, consume less. Therefore the only people who will vote for it are those people who have voluntarily cut their energy consumption enough to make paying more for energy no problem. A carbon tax is analogous to a law that frees the slaves - who would vote for such a law if they don't want to give up their slaves voluntarily? Only when a majority of people have freed their slaves voluntarily, then they can force the minority of die-hards to free theirs involuntarily. That is how a carbon tax will work - mark my words. There will be no effective carbon tax until a majority have voluntarily slashed their fossil fuel burn.
    • Transport is going to have to take a bigger hit than other economic sectors, like agriculture, if we want an overall 80% emissions cut. Are people going to stop eating? People have to eat, they don't have to travel. For a carbon tax to be effective, it has to be high enough to wipe out the airline industry if they can't come up with a zero emission aviation fuel.
  • "I've found some interesting things and connected with like-minded people by attending Wikimania that I can't imagine I would have happened just be being around Wikimedia." Examples? There are two possible reasons for this:
    • What you want to know is not in writing anywhere, but only inside particular brains. If the people who attend Wikimania are refusing to share what they know in writing, then they are sharply limiting the number of people who can benefit from their knowledge. I hope they choose to write so everyone now and in the future has a chance to benefit.
    • What you want to know is in writing somewhere, but you don't know how to find it, or you don't even know you should be looking for it. In that case it's only a matter of figuring out how to search, or learn where you should be looking to maximize your chances for serendipitous discovery. I've learned a lot by following discussion pages on Wikipedia such as the Help desk. The depth of knowledge on display there is astounding, and I don't have to burn jet fuel to access it.
    • I'm sure that I've sacrificed some benefits in the course of slashing my fossil fuel burn. Living car-free, for example, sharply reduces my attractiveness to women. But I believe some things are more important than maximizing my personal well-being. I also live without the benefits of owning slaves, but I don't view that as a sacrifice. Any benefits I could get by owning slaves, I would only get by imposing costs on someone else (the slaves). In a similar way, any benefits we get by jetting to Wikimania, we get by dumping our emissions costs on someone else. Don't those other people matter?
    • It would be tragic to travel a long distance to learn something before exhausting local opportunities to learn the same thing. There are some Wikipedia editors who live in my town. I haven't bothered to try to meet them yet. If I felt I needed to socialize with other Wikipedia editors, I would start by trying to meet all who live within bicycle range. Their pooled knowledge is probably substantial. Come to think of it, maybe I should try to arrange a local meet-up.
  • "how many people are likely to (read the friendly manuals and learn to ask questions the smart way)?" I don't have a precise number, but millions of people attempt to edit on Wikipedia, and those who succeed in making edits that stick are usually those who read the friendly manuals and learn to ask questions the smart way. That is, millions of people are trying to do things that require these habits and skills. Of course nobody is going to read all of Wikipedia's manuals before trying their first edit, but the manuals on Wikipedia are not just for self-study. They are also for improving the efficiency of communication. For example, I can link to wikipedia:WP:LOWERCASE in my edit summary when I apply the naming convention on Wikipedia. Anyone who knows enough to look at the page history can get an explanation for what I did, and I avoided the work of repeating the whole explanation. I only needed a few seconds to adequately convey some pretty complex ideas. Thanks to the stockpile of pre-written manuals and shortcuts, I can communicate much more efficiently in writing on Wikipedia than by speaking in real life about the same topics.
  • Cyberspace Wikimania, what do I think? One word: duh. I am dumbfounded that Wikimania is not in cyberspace already. The current model is like a convention of automobile mechanics where everybody rides horses to get there. Like they don't believe in their own product.

--Teratornis 21:47, 25 February 2011 (PST)

Again I'm up past a sensible bedtime, so I'll be brief:
I don't think (personal action) is a good summary of the comment about raising awareness - it's a very specific kind of action.
Slave owning and carbon usage also seem a long way from equivalent. The problem with carbon emissions is the total amount. The problem with slavery still exists even when there is one slave.
"that depends on how many other people make the same argument." - exactly, and I'm making the assumption that it will be a common line of reasoning, among the minority that even think that much about the question.
I see your arguments, but I guess it depends on one's personal reaction to seeing that a particular action is a drop in the ocean. I'm really interested in strategic action and strategic change - in particular, policy, tech, disseminating best practice (e.g. in the building industry) and raising awareness (which also impacts on policy).
I'll always weigh actions against personal cost and effect on my work. I'd definitely travel to meet someone if I thought it meant funding for Appropedia. Another example - I'd planned to travel by surface in one case, but when I learnt that it turned a one hour flight into a gruelling and expensive 3 day trek (which my body likely wouldn't cope well with, not to mention my mind and my work) I went for the flight. I'd like to think that carbon offsets makes it okay, but my knowledge of them is pretty sketchy. (I'm sure that making a hefty purchase of the right carbon credits actually would more than cancel out the effect of the flight, and "hefty" by carbon offset standards probably wouldn't be prohibitive. That's where I'd like to be able to get some facts and numbers from the Appropedia page, whether or not I like what I read.)
Cyberspace Wikimania - even obvious ideas need proponents. I'm thinking: let's make a concrete proposal for 2013. Whatever funding is usually provided can be put towards making a decent online conference, but we need details. I don't want to be a lead organizer for a conference, but I'd be happy to be involved in getting a proposal up, then help bang the drum, and see who gets on board. --Chriswaterguy 06:51, 26 February 2011 (PST)
First draft of Wikimania proposal: meta:User:Chriswaterguy/Cyberspace 2013. --Chriswaterguy 06:06, 27 February 2011 (PST)
"Personal action" - a more precise term for what we are discussing might be fossil fuel temperance, by analogy with the Temperance movementW which sought to eliminate the consumption of alcoholic beverages. The Temperance movement led to ProhibitionW in the US. Prohibition failed on the national level in the US (although there are still a few dry counties) because passing a law did nothing to eliminate demand for booze. I suspect a similar exclusive focus on solving climate change at the policy level will similarly fail without buy-in from an overwhelming majority of the public. So far all available evidence supports my suspicion.
"Slave owning and carbon usage also seem a long way from equivalent."
  • No analogy is perfect; a perfect analogy would be an identity. One large difference is that slavery is sustainable, and slaves are a renewable resource. However, there are similarities. Slavery illustrates the socially constructed nature of morality. Once upon a time, slavery was considered normal (it's in the Bible from beginning to end, and nowhere condemned). Just like burning fossil fuels is considered normal today. But humans managed to completely redefine their moral code regarding slavery. Maybe we can do the same thing with fossil fuels. If we don't, we will probably destroy the climate.
"The problem with carbon emissions is the total amount."
  • True with reference to global warming, but we are already past the total amount that is safe to dump in the atmosphere,W and there is no binding international cap on the total amount of fossil fuels we are on pace to burn. Which means we remain on pace to burn all recoverable fossil fuels. So I'm not sure what point you are making. The fact that other people are burning too much fossil fuel means any we burn is harmful. One could similarly argue that harpooning a whale was no problem before the whaling industry nearly exterminated whales. But it's a moot point; we don't live in that world any more. The world we live in today is crowded, getting more crowded, and people are getting wealthier which gives us the ability to burn fossil fuels faster if that's what people choose to do. And most people are choosing to do that - most people burn about as much as their incomes allow.
  • Global warming is not the only problem with burning fossil fuels, as you undoubtedly know. Flying on jets means burning petroleum which means more profits for Big Oil (to invest in climate change denial and delay) and corrupt dictatorships of oil exporting countries. More oil means more oil spills, more social injustice in countries like Peru and Nigeria, and more wars in the Persian Gulf. Any oil we burn is oil which cannot be used to grow food. Food and fuel are linked in both directions now - we burn oil to grow crops, and we can turn food into biofuels to replace some oil. When the price of oil goes up, which is inevitable when demand continues to grow while the supply is finite, the price of food goes up. Flying on a jet is effectively burning someone's food, either today or in the future when the oil supply declines. It might even amount to burning our own food in the future.
  • The aviation industry is the antithesis of "small is beautiful". Everything about air travel is big: enormous airports, vastly complex aircraft built and fueled by multinational conglomerates, etc. It's the opposite of everything Appropedia is nominally about. At the very least, someone with an interest in appropriate technology would have to be uncomfortable on some level with aviation in its current form.
"The problem with slavery still exists even when there is one slave."
  • I see difficulties with that claim on several levels:
    • If there is only one slave, slavery might not be a problem. Maybe the particular slave and slave owner are happy with their arrangement. Surely in the huge diverse world there are some people who could have a mutually satisfying master-slave relationship. When slavery was legal, not all slave owners were cruel, and not all slaves sought their freedom. Slavery was a problem because the practice was so widespread that it guaranteed abuses would be widespread too. Just as when you have millions of cars, you have thousands of wrecks every year. If there is only one car, maybe it wrecks, or maybe it doesn't wreck.
    • If nothing else, if there is only one slave, slavery is not the same kind of problem. Nobody fights a war to free one person. If there is only one slave owner, he or she is unlikely to have much political influence. The average person probably wouldn't even be aware of slavery, unless there was something particularly notable about the one slave. Slavery was a big problem because it was a big practice. With millions of slaves and lots of money at stake, it was part of the whole southern US culture and economy, and therefore of politics.
    • Slavery presents two types of problems: a moral problem, and objective harm to slaves that can occur because slaves have no rights. The moral problem was socially constructed in response to the objective harm - all the mistreatment of millions of slaves for centuries. If there had only been one slave, the moral conscience of society probably would not have focused on slavery itself. Only the abuse of the slave by the slave owner would have been an issue, as it would have been if any human had abused any other human. We think slavery itself is "wrong" today as a result of all the abuse that slavery facilitated. Our attitudes toward slavery are therefore contingent, as are our attitudes toward everything else.
  • The analogy still looks good to me. Once upon a time, slavery was perfectly normal in most civilizations. People who benefited from slavery were mostly blind to the harm done to slaves. They only cared about the benefits of slavery to themselves. Slave owners had a long list of arguments to rationalize what they were doing. They had the drop in the ocean argument too - no individual could abolish the institution of slavery. Fossil fuels, like slavery, are a way to greatly expand the goods and services available to a class of primary consumers, while shifting much of the costs onto someone else (e.g., the people harmed by oil spills and climate change, or who are out-bid in the contest for resources such as food). And just as with slavery, we probably won't make much headway on abolishing fossil fuels until a majority of people come to see burning fossil fuels as immoral. Not something we can justify with a cost-benefit analysis. Nobody in a modern country does a cost-benefit analysis to justify slavery - if that option was still open, we would still have slaves.
"drop in the ocean"
  • Do you vote? If so, has your vote ever determined the outcome of an election? The only way to have democracy is to persuade everyone to behave as if their drop in the ocean matters. Even though logically it does not. That's the fallacy of composition again. There is no objective benefit to the individual from voting. There is only the cost of time spent. But there is a collective benefit if enough people vote. Most people can understand voting makes sense, especially the people who vote against you. Why don't you view cutting our individual fossil fuel burn similarly? Every flight is a vote for: dangerous climate change, Big Oil, funding for right wing think tanks, oil spills, oil wars, raising the price of food to the poor, etc.
  • I hear the drop in the ocean argument frequently from climate change deniers. It's a backstop to their primary thesis that climate change is an eco-nazi left-wing conspiracy, as in even if climate change were true, and they claim they don't believe it is true or likely to be catastrophic, you'll never stop China or India or your next door neighbor from driving that SUV. Of course they see no contradiction with their habit of voting for right-wing politicians. They're eager to add their individually meaningless drop to the electoral ocean.
"I'm really interested in strategic action and strategic change - in particular, policy, tech, disseminating best practice (e.g. in the building industry) and raising awareness (which also impacts on policy)."
  • I'm interested in all those things too. But they are not enough. We face the hard constraint of keeping atmospheric carbon dioxide below 350 ppm. It's already up to 390 ppm and rising fast. How much policy change can you get from a public that doesn't see any problem with flying? This is a serious question. From what I can see, most people think their holiday plans are far more important than preserving a habitable planet. I can't see them voting for any climate policies that would inconvenience them in any way, until their priorities change.
  • You mention buildings, which represent a low hanging fruit. We can make buildings much more efficient without asking the occupants to behave much differently. However, rebuilding all the housing stock will cost a fortune and take decades, and efficient buildings cost more to build, so people have to be willing to pay more money for them up front. We could slash emissions from existing buildings much faster - immediately, in fact - by persuading people to view climate change as a bigger problem than, say, keeping their existing inefficient buildings warm in winter. But even with the most advanced buildings we can build, that only accounts for about a quarter or a third of total emissions in the developed countries. Transport is an equally big problem and transport emissions are growing fast. Air travel alone, at the current growth rate, might be enough to trash the biosphere by itself, particularly as conventional petroleum runs out and we use more of the lower grade resources like tar sands and coal to liquids. If people like to fly, they aren't going to stop simply because the fuel is getting dirtier causing more emissions. They'll find a way to rationalize that or put it out of their minds.
  • I'm interested in an energy plan that gets atmospheric carbon dioxide below 350 ppm as soon as possible. Tell me how to do that without convincing people to stop flying. I don't know of any way. We're not going to stop growing food. We need to cut every sector's emissions by at least 80% as soon as possible.
"I'd definitely travel to meet someone if I thought it meant funding for Appropedia."
  • Do you mean if it meant funding that greatly exceeded the full cost of the flight (not just the ticket cost, but also the external cost), and if the only way to get that funding is to fly? Most people who have serious money live in or near cities. Surely anyone you could fly to meet must live closer to someone else who thinks like you, who could deliver the pitch on your behalf. And probably there is someone else near you who has money, and would be interested in donating to Appropedia, but you fly over them because you don't know they are there. And if someone supports the goals of Appropedia, wouldn't they be understanding if you did not fly, but instead you pitched them remotely? Surely if someone has an interest in Appropedia, they understand the value of not spewing another tonne or three of carbon dioxide. The money saved on the ticket would mean more money for Appropedia's goals.
  • The reality of peak oilW means that someday there might not be any option of flying to solicit donations for Appropedia. Learning how to get work done remotely without flying, today, is an investment in a potentially fuel-poor future. The people who have the skills and personal connections already in place to live without oil will prosper while the unprepared are in a panic and suffering unnecessarily. Do we want Appropedia to die when the oil runs out? If not, then we have to figure out how to run Appropedia without oil.
Carbon offsets: hard to do justice to this complex topic briefly. Buying offsets is better than only burning fossil fuels, but not burning fossil fuels is better. Better still is to not burn, and buy offsets anyway, to offset the burn of someone else. As to which offsets, I like to ask "Does it scale?" For example, if someone buys shares in a tree-planting scheme to offset a jet flight, would that scale if every flier did it? Could we really offset all aviation emissions by planting trees? Probably not. At the moment, we can't even plant enough trees to offset the ongoing deforestation. Until we plant enough trees to restore all the forests we have chopped down, that sector has no surplus emissions cuts to sell to another sector. Counting a tree planted against a jet flight looks like robbing Peter to pay Paul to me. We should count the tree we plant against the tree being chopped down on Borneo, or all the trees we cleared to create the United States. By the same test, Renewable Energy CertificatesW pass - if everybody bought RECs to offset their emissions from electricity use, it would force utilities to stop burning coal and gas to generate electricity. RECs are a type of offset restricted to one sector, and thus they scale within that sector. A credible offset scheme for aviation would result in zero emissions from aviation if everybody bought it. A credible offset scheme for aviation would result in nobody flying. Another option would be to invest in a new carbon dioxide removal scheme, such as biochar, which wasn't going to occur anyway (the additionality requirement). Offsetting with biochar might not be particularly cheap, up to $500/tonne of carbon compared to much less for tree planting schemes. But biochar is also a soil amendment and a source of bioenergy, so it's complicated. --Teratornis 17:21, 28 February 2011 (PST)
I'm still not buying the slave analogy, though your arguments are interesting.
Good points about the oil industry and tree planting.
Re carbon offsets - I've long been appalled at my own ignorance. I wish there were a site where I could learn exactly how effective different kinds of offsets are. Maybe some kind of wiki...
Sometimes big is beautiful :-). Schumacher was wise, but there are times when a big construction is appropriate and efficient - e.g. molten salt based solar; to a lesser extent a freight train (esp if it runs on renewable energy) and an ocean freighter, which uses remarkably little fuel compared to small devices. (Of course we have Devons paradox again, but I wonder how much fuel is used on getting wheat across an ocean compared to freight within the region where it arrives, and with the fuel used to drive the wheat flour home from the supermarket... again something I'd like to be able to read about on Appropedia.)
"From what I can see, most people think their holiday plans are far more important than preserving a habitable planet. I can't see them voting for any climate policies that would inconvenience them in any way, until their priorities change." - My thought has been that many people would respond more positively to tightening their belts if everyone had to. I know I would, and I'm sure many of my friends would. But if I'm deluding myself about the wider population then I think we have a big problem - it really limits our ability to act, if people not only won't act individually, but won't even act if the burden is shared. (Then the only solution I could imagine would be renewable energy and/or sequestration technology so effective that it outstrips even the Jevons paradox, i.e. creates complete abundance... actually, it's not that bad - government intervention through tax, to keep fuel prices static rather than falling, would be relatively politically palatable.)
Would be interesting to look at WW2 era rationing in this regard.
Re the drop in the ocean and the fallacy of composition - the problem is clear, but identifying it doesn't make it go away. If I change my behavior, the majority are still affected by this thinking.
Peak oil seems largely overstated to me - the collapse of society as we know it has been predicted far too often. Very serious oil shocks are likely to occur, sure, but looking at how cheap air travel is these days, and improving efficiencies thanks to technology, I'm not at all sure that air travel will be prohibitively expensive in future (even though there's an obvious benefit if it is).
So to me, it's still the strategic change, such as the information that can influence policy and influence societal thinking, that holds real promise of impact. Not "you mustn't do X, Y and Z" because people don't respond well to that, even when there's a real threat. But revealing the opportunities as well as the threats.
Back to the handshake - I insist that it does matter, enormously, for many of us. I've been very inspired and enlightened by F2F conversations in a way that happens more rarely and much more slowly online. And I'm much more inspired and motivated from the F2F interaction - no small thing. But I'd like to find more of those handshakes locally. I'm sure that if I knew the whole of reality, I'd find that I've traveled enormous distances to meet amazing people, when I'd just spent 2 years living within 10 minutes walk of a dozen amazing people I never met. Project Matching (proposed) and various flavors of local social entrepreneurship hubs (happening) are great for making those local connections. --Chriswaterguy 08:05, 1 March 2011 (PST)

(undent) "I'm still not buying the slave analogy, though your arguments are interesting."

  • To abolish slavery, a majority of potential slave owners first had to agree that slavery was morally unacceptable. Slavery is so enormously beneficial to slave owners that the only way to get rid of it is to make it unacceptable and non-negotiable. Something you cannot justify with any cost-benefit analysis or any other rational or semi-rational argument. By not buying the analogy, do you mean you believe humans can abolish fossil fuels without coming to view burning fossil fuels as morally unacceptable? And soon enough to avoid severe damage to the biosphere? My study over the last several years convinces me there is no other way to move fast enough. And nobody is proving me wrong yet. Look at the deadlock over climate policy in the US and therefore for the whole world.

"Sometimes big is beautiful."

  • With wind turbines, certainly. Their EROEIW increases with size. Some things scale in beneficial ways. Not air travel. The more "efficient" it gets, the more it makes destroying the climate affordable to more people.

"Re the drop in the ocean and the fallacy of composition - the problem is clear, but identifying it doesn't make it go away. If I change my behavior, the majority are still affected by this thinking."

  • You're interested in appropriate technology and fighting poverty. Most likely there is very little you can do to change the amount of poverty. There will still be a billion people who can't feed themselves. But you can derive an emotional reward from feeling like you have helped one person. Helping one person affects the overall amount of poverty about as much as not flying affects the overall carbon dioxide level. So why not take the same satisfaction in making your negligible contribution? Either way you're helping about a billionth of the problem.
  • How does the behavior of the majority matter to your behavior? Where I live, people have gotten a lot fatter over my lifetime. That does not make me want to get fatter. It only motivates me to avoid duplicating the self-destructive stupidity I see all around me. If you were on a boat and all the other passengers were drilling holes in the hull, would that motivate you to drill holes too? Even if the boat was doomed, I would not want to sink it five minutes sooner. Self-respect alone should make us feel so revolted by the self-destructive stupidity of others that we refuse to join them just on principle. Burning fossil fuels is one of the stupidest things humans are doing right now. We are on pace to render our only planet far less habitable by humans, in exchange for some short-term entertainments.
  • The majority are still locked into their fossil fuel suicide cult, but that can only change in our favor as the Keeling curve ticks up. The long-term trend is for extreme weather to get more extreme, more frequent, and more destructive. Eventually most of the human race will concede how stupid it was to burn all those fossil fuels. I've just gotten to that mindset 100 years early.

"Then the only solution I could imagine would be renewable energy and/or sequestration technology so effective that it outstrips even the Jevons paradox"

  • The only solution? Do you think abolishing fossil fuels is any harder than abolishing slavery? We abolished slavery by convincing enough people to view slavery as morally unacceptable, despite its enormous benefits to slave owners. There was no need to wait for technological breakthroughs to replace slaves at lower cost. Moral change would also let us abolish fossil fuels. When people come to view something as morally unacceptable, they direct all necessary personal and collective action to getting rid of it. Never mind whether you can view fossil fuel burning as immoral yet, just imagine how fast things would change if a majority of people did.
  • Do you think there is a technological solution to the litter problem, that doesn't require persuading most people that litter is a problem? Long experience shows that all solutions to the litter problem increase someone's cost. Much as eliminating slavery means someone has to pay more for labor. You can only eliminate litter when enough people find it unacceptable.
  • Maybe someone will come up with a technological breakthrough that magically replaces fossil fuels in every application, is green, and is cheaper than fossil fuels. Like the WunderwaffenW that the Nazis believed would save them from the Allied onslaught just in time. German scientists were very clever, and their ideas of wonder weapons influenced military technology for decades to come. But they could not perfect their ideas and implement them in sufficient scale quickly enough. In a similar way, change comes very slowly to the energy industry. Energy is a very mature technology. Most energy ideas have been around for a long time. Anything being worked on by scientists today is decades from large-scale implementation. Scientists were still working on large wind turbines in the 1970s and 1980s, and 30 years later the technology is just starting to show up as a thin slice on the energy pie chart. Biodiesel was invented in the 1930s. Electric trains are 100 years old. Nuclear fusion has been researched since the 1950s and might start delivering energy to the grid by 2050. Likely too late to get humanity off the path to climate oblivion. Betting on technology alone is like buying lottery tickets to get out of debt. Wonderful if it works, but don't count on it.
  • How likely is medical science to come up with a cheap, safe, non-addictive replacement for recreational drugs, that eliminates the illegal drug trade? Maybe in 200 years humans will have something like that, if we don't exterminate ourselves first. But if we want to stop the illegal drug trade today, there is no painless solution. And it certainly can't be stopped by tinkering with policy. The whole War on Drugs illustrates the folly of pretending there is any shortcut to curing every single addict. That's what we must do to avoid dangerous climate change: convince every single fossil fuel addict that burning fossil fuels is wrong, so they will want to chop down their burn every year until they get as close to zero as they possibly can, then demand their governments to help them cut the rest.

"many people would respond more positively to tightening their belts if everyone had to. I know I would"

  • I probably would enjoy living car-free more if I lived in the Netherlands, where the infrastructure is set up to promote it. But I live car-free in Ohio even though my fellow Ohioans do everything they can to make it less enjoyable. I live car-free primarily because I find cars disgusting. I can't stop everyone else from being a bunch of gaswasting terrorist supporters. But my disgust for their casual acceptance of the long list of objective harms done by automobile addiction easily overrides any "sacrifice" I have to make to avoid sinking to their level of depravity. I came to this realization about automobiles at a fairly early age. Later I came to the same realization about fossil fuels in general.
  • When the average person comes to view fossil fuels in much the same way as they would view a large disfiguring tumor growing on their face, then we will make some progress on abolishing fossil fuels. If someone notices a large disfiguring tumor on their face, usually they do not spend much time trying to rationalize it. Instead they direct their full attention to getting rid of it. If they can't get rid of it altogether, then they try to get rid of as much of it as they can.

"So to me, it's still the strategic change, such as the information that can influence policy and influence societal thinking, that holds real promise of impact. Not "you mustn't do X, Y and Z" because people don't respond well to that, even when there's a real threat. But revealing the opportunities as well as the threats."

  • ExxonMobil certainly doesn't respond well to being told they mustn't pollute. We aren't afraid to confront Big Oil - why are we afraid of our next door neighbors? Do the opponents of cruelty to animals use the same tepid strategy you think holds real promise for confronting man's most intense addiction to fossil fuels? For example, are the animal rights people afraid to tell Michael VickW that he mustn't torture and kill dogs? Did they instead try to trick Mr. Vick into doing the right thing without telling him there was anything wrong with drowning and electrocuting his dogs that lost fights? After Mr. Vick got busted for dogfighting, he went to jail for two years and lost something like one hundred million dollars in salary and endorsements. He paid a higher price than many people have paid after committing manslaughter, and yet dog lovers are still openly calling for his murder. And that's why we have animal cruelty laws - not because there are scientific arguments for it, but because the people who are bothered by cruelty to animals are really bothered by it. I suspect we'll make little progress toward abolishing fossil fuels until we have at least a similar number of people who are similarly disgusted by fossil fuels.
  • The reason that telling people not to burn fossil fuels doesn't work is because not enough people are stating that message as forcefully and insistently as the animal rights people are stating theirs. The people who believe climate science have to state our message even more forcefully and pervasively than the animal rights people state theirs, because the animal rights movement faced no real organized opposition. There was no major industry funding right wing think tanks to promote animal cruelty. Although we might see something like that when the animal rights people try to abolish hunting and meat eating.
  • People respond just fine to really real threats. When a hurricane or typhoon bears down on a coastal city, most people take the threat seriously. Those who don't tend to pay a steep price. If people don't take climate change seriously yet, that means the threat is not really real to them. Our job is to convince people the threat is just as real as the typhoon they can see on the radar map.
  • That's a tough sell because climate change really is probably not a real threat for someone like me. I live in a part of the world unlikely to be seriously damaged by climate change within the rest of my life expectancy. My interest in climate change is not motivated by rational self-interest, other than maybe my interest in riding bicycles which could theoretically benefit if my community took climate change seriously.
  • I'm all for carrots in addition to sticks, but the simple fact is there is no way for people who are addicted to flying to give up flying without feeling like they gave something up. It's like a cigarette smoker who would feel a loss at giving up smoking. Not smoking doesn't bother me, because I never made the mistake of getting hooked on it. Getting to a truly low-carbon society isn't going to look like an "opportunity" to most people who currently live in high-carbon societies, not when people grasp the implications. Climate change is probably the only reason why humans might choose to leave some recoverable fossil fuels in the ground. Otherwise, we'd only get serious about finding alternatives after fossil fuels became scarce. All the other green energy arguments notwithstanding. The other arguments don't add up to a compelling reason to not burn all the fossil fuels we can. For example, no matter how many wind turbines you put up, someone can still make even more money by burning all the remaining oil too. And human greed knows no bounds.

"Peak oil seems largely overstated to me - the collapse of society as we know it has been predicted far too often. Very serious oil shocks are likely to occur, sure, but looking at how cheap air travel is these days, and improving efficiencies thanks to technology, I'm not at all sure that air travel will be prohibitively expensive in future (even though there's an obvious benefit if it is)."

  • There is not much room left for efficiency improvement in air travel. See David MacKay's analysis. Modern airliners are almost as efficient as they can be. MacKay makes the interesting point that the maximum potential efficiency of a (lighter than air) dirigible is comparable to that of an electric train, if you could make the dirigible long and thin enough. Of course an airship travels at a snail's pace compared to a jet aircraft.
  • I don't pretend to know exactly what risk peak oil poses. I only know the potential risk is large. Subsonic air travel might become as expensive as flying on the Concorde, which would be prohibitive to most people now flying. It depends on how society (i.e., the market) allocates the scarcity. People who can afford to outbid other people for the oil might stop feeding the world's poorest billion people and turn all that food into jet fuel, for example. I don't think anyone with a choice would choose flying over eating, so the price of food will probably rise enough to make sure agriculture gets its share of the available oil. There is a lot of fat to cut in ground transport. Just by filling all the car seats we could take 2/3 of cars off the road. So people might still fly if they are willing to car-pool religiously. That might absorb the first 10% supply drop. If oil supply drops by 20% or 30%, you can probably forget about flying except for billionaires and heads of state.
  • I don't expect peak oil to cause "the collapse of society" in some generalized sense. Instead it will cause great hardship for the poor - much like climate change. You didn't address the oil-vs.-food argument. Do you agree that the oil and food markets are linked together now, such that any oil we burn to do anything other than grow food amounts to taking food away from the poor? Food prices today are reaching inflation-adjusted record highs, with rising oil prices being a significant driver. This is causing problems for people who spend most of their disposable income on food. They don't have any slack to give.
    • There is some irony in the fact that rising food prices played a role in the current Middle East unrest, and the unrest in turn is causing oil prices to rise, which raises the price of food further.
  • The oil you burn does not appreciably raise the price of oil - the drop in the ocean argument again. But do you want to contribute your drop to that particular ocean? Burning oil for entertainment hurts people who need that oil to survive.
  • I think it makes sense for me to try to grow as much food as I can in my yard, even though I don't really need to. Whatever food I can grow adds its microscopic increment to the overall supply of food. Whatever food I'm not buying gives someone else a slightly better chance in the global economic competition for food. Whatever oil I don't burn has much the same effect. It slightly increases the oil available to feed people.

"Back to the handshake - I insist that it does matter, enormously, for many of us."

  • Enough to justify pushing exactly how many poor people into starvation? The number of people who can afford to fly is similar to the number who cannot afford to eat. Slavery once mattered enormously too. Today nobody talks about the benefits of slavery.
  • Computers keep getting better, i.e. able to provide richer sensory experiences. Maybe something like the handshake will travel convincingly over a wire. If there is some aspect of face-to-face we truly cannot live without, some clever person will put that aspect into the computer eventually. If computer-mediated communication is not satisfying enough, to me that sounds like a challenge to improve the computer or our ability to use the computer, not a reason to burn oil. Nobody learns to walk without a crutch until they throw away the crutch.
  • Suppose there weren't any airplanes. Would we all just curl up and die? I doubt it. I think we would find a way to work without airplanes. Lots of businesses did that during the recession. They discovered they can get the same results without flying, and at much less cost.

"I'm sure that if I knew the whole of reality, I'd find that I've traveled enormous distances to meet amazing people, when I'd just spent 2 years living within 10 minutes walk of a dozen amazing people I never met."

  • That's a powerful concept. One thing I find annoying about every online community I've seen is the sparseness of their coverage. You can instantly find people online who are interested in almost every topic, but you might only be finding a small fraction of them. The nearest person you find online might be many times farther away than the actually nearest person with that interest. As long as most people see no problem with air travel, we might not feel motivated to solve that problem.
  • I live within bicycling distance of about 2 million people. I'd rather exhaust their potential before I go looking farther afield.
  • I recall some parable about a man who traveled all over the world looking for treasure, and after he died someone found a diamond mine in his back yard.

"Re carbon offsets"

  • The subject is confusing because it changes a lot with scale. Since hardly anybody cares about their carbon footprint yet, there are lots of cheap offsets available. The cost of actually offsetting everybody's carbon footprint would be much higher per tonne. For example, wind turbines are almost competitive with coal-fired electricity now, so the price premium for offsetting a tonne of carbon with a wind farm investment is pretty low - it's just the price difference in electricity cost. But that is only available for "offsetting" air travel because the vast majority of coal-fired electricity consumers are too apathetic to claim it. If they did, then that offset would dry up for air travelers. That's an example of an offset that does not scale. You can't put up enough wind turbines to eliminate aviation emissions because wind turbines actually only eliminate fossil fuel emissions in electricity generation.
  • This is a specific example of the increasing cost to eliminate the next tonne of emissions. That's why the typical green energy argument won't solve the climate problem. Only the first 10% or 20% of carbon cuts have a clear economic justification and represent "opportunity" - something we would do anyway. After that, getting to 80% or 90% cuts requires convincing people to pay more money to get less energy and less service. If someone does not want to face this hard reality, by focusing instead on the first small cuts that won't hurt too much, they probably don't view climate change as a really real threat yet.
  • Evacuating your home to escape a typhoon is not really an "opportunity". You couldn't sell it to people like that. Rather, it is the least unpleasant option.

--Teratornis 19:45, 3 March 2011 (PST)

Naming convention[edit]

(I'm splitting off the naming part of the conversation above, for clarity. --Chriswaterguy 22:55, 24 February 2011 (PST))

The naming convention is becoming an issue for me because of my (so far, offline) work on indexing Appropedia. For links to page titles to work in the index, they have to match the existing letter case of the titles. This requires me to propagate violations of the naming convention, a prospect I find discomforting. I would rather not have my work on Appropedia teach people by example to violate the site policies. Avoiding this problem might require renaming hundreds or thousands of pages. --Teratornis 12:15, 24 February 2011 (PST)

Ok - I'd be happy to resolve this more clearly, too. Raise on on A:VP and/or the main mailing list? (Both are very quiet, esp the list but for now they're the best places to get a policy discussion going.)
There is an added source of confusion because it often makes sense (IMO) to have capitalized titles for projects. And then there are the times that someone creates a project page with a name that sounds like a topic - I sometimes have to spend a minute looking over the page to figure out if it's a topic or project. --Chriswaterguy 22:55, 24 February 2011 (PST)
wikipedia:Wikipedia:Naming conventions (capitalization) says:
  • "For page titles, always use lowercase after the first word, and do not capitalize second and subsequent words, unless the title is a proper noun. For multiword page titles, one should leave the second and subsequent words in lowercase unless the title phrase is a proper noun that would always occur capitalized, even in the middle of a sentence."
There is no distinction between titles of articles and project pages on Wikipedia; everything uses sentence case. The only exception I know is when a Wikipedia article duplicates a title already used elsewhere, that is always capitalized (e.g. a proper noun). I'm looking at discussion on Wikipedia of the rationale behind this naming convention. When I first started editing on Wikipedia, I used "normal" title case for headings, and I was puzzled when other editors "corrected" me. But I adapted to Wikipedia's convention easily enough, and now it looks like the new normal to me. Since the convention is well past the debating stage on Wikipedia, I never thought about the reasoning for it very much. But on Appropedia, where we don't have a strong naming convention yet (in the sense of a single style that we universally follow and immediately correct violations of), we probably need to revisit that whole debate. One advantage of having sentence case titles is that they are easier to type in prose (especially since the first letter is not normally case-sensitive), and therefore to use in links. If a page title does not use sentence case, then if you type it in a sentence with sentence case, adding a link won't work unless you use a pipe to show different link text, or someone makes a redirect to handle the sentence case variation. For example, if you recall a page title and you are trying to link to it, having a consistent naming convention makes it easier to create a valid link on the first try. With inconsistent titles, you might have to search for the page to look up whatever unpredictable variation on letter case it actually uses. --Teratornis 19:45, 25 February 2011 (PST)
Another reason to follow Wikipedia's naming convention is to make Appropedia more welcoming to Wikipedia expatriates, and an easier place to port Wikipedia content. The subset of Wikipedia that is about topics within Appropedia's remit might be larger and more active than Appropedia. Wikipedia is overall much larger, but I refer to the subset that overlaps Appropedia. There might be a larger community of experienced wiki editors writing about sustainability and appropriate technology topics there than here, simply because Wikipedia is so much more famous that it is often the first wiki a person with any interest will discover and try. (Wikipedia is like the planet Jupiter, sweeping up most stray asteroids and comets due to its immense gravity well.) Someone who has gotten used to Wikipedia's naming convention might be troubled by Appropedia's inconsistent naming. --Teratornis 19:57, 25 February 2011 (PST)
The reference to projects was as in Fred's Solar Cooker or Collingwood Farm Vegetable Garden or (actual example) Kiva's straw bale greenhouse, rather than "project space" on the wiki. Of course the particular real example here goes against the pattern I was suggesting existed...
I definitely agree with you with about non-project pages (how tos or topics), and maybe on projects too. Let's take a step towards resolving it, and bring it to the Appropedia community. Do you want to do that? --Chriswaterguy 06:21, 26 February 2011 (PST)
I'll make some notes about it. There's no need to revolutionize Appropedia in the next five minutes. I'd like to get an idea of how strongly people feel about their existing practice. --Teratornis 17:27, 28 February 2011 (PST)

(undent) My notes are in User:Teratornis/Tasks#Naming convention. It's interest to dig into the history of Wikipedia's guideline pages and their talk pages to see how they evolved. --Teratornis 00:29, 4 March 2011 (PST)