Why I Nerd for Nature (and what might that mean?)

Nerding for Nature at our Feb 21, 2013 launch event in SF

Nerding for Nature at our Feb 21, 2013 launch event in SF

Last week nearly 100 people showed up and wrote their needs, haves, and project ideas on color-coded post-it notes, affixed them to a wall, and collectively created what can be called a “mind map.” It was chaotic, it was inspiring, and it was a celebration.

But perhaps more than anything, it was a relief– and confirmation. We had all found each other: web coders, hardware hackers, designers, journalists, scientists, educators, conservationists, investors, advocates, all who think that contributing their skills on behalf of the Earth is a good idea– and that there is strength in working together rather than alone. The trick was that this array of skills with environmental interests had never been brought together before in the SF Bay Area.

The idea for what became Nerds for Nature started last year. A group of us had met at other various Bay Area events (such as Code for Oakland) and had a hunch there were others looking for the same thing. After a series of meetings well-supplied by tasty snacks, we were ready to launch.

There’s one small catch though: this actually had happened before, or at least somewhat. Small-scale, appropriate technologies. Sharing of information and tools. The freeing of information. Celebrating human ingenuity as a way towards sustainability. An image of the Earth from space. Sound familiar?

The year was 1968, and back then, the group of collaborators led by Stewart Brand produced the Whole Earth Catalog.

For environmental history and its trajectory, this was a groundbreaking moment (see: “Counterculture Green” by Andrew W. Kirk for a fascinating account). Theirs was a new take on the enviro + tech relationship, and it was revolutionary.

This perspective is now primed for its second wave. I think that’s where Nerds for Nature comes in.

Spurred by the new options for participation, open data, information sharing, and collaboration, what took the form of a print magazine of tools in the 1960s can now take the form of mobile and web apps, shared databases, and crowd sourced storytelling.

Based on some of the mind-map answers, I see it happening. From the “have” category, our participants have the necessary skills and access. A few highlights from the post-its:

“access to nerds who want to write code”

“free hosting for apps”

“nonprofit formation & board experience”

“understanding of national park policy”

“experience teaching kids to code”

In the next few months we’ll work on linking up what the Nerd for Nature community has and what they want to do. We plan on having workshops, gatherings and field trips, and make- and do-days throughout the year.  We’ve taken the first step. We’ve found each other. Now, what comes next is what we make it.

Check out our website: nerdsfornature.org or on Twitter @nerds4nature

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