Controling Methane

cowThe Obama Administration has unveiled new plans to cut methane involving oil and gas production, landfills, and cattle. Targeting methane makes sense: it is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

Policies to capture methane from oil and gas production are particularly timely given the current natural gas boom. A recent study shows a large increase in methane release — with methane levels over Texas as the highest of any state.  The Japanese are also developing technologies to use methane hydrate which also may result in increased methane release.

Cows are a major source of methane, both from manure and flatulance. HP researchers propose putting data centers near cow farms to use methane to power the center.  Others propose switching away from beef to other sources of protein, including rabbit production and kangaroo.

Methane is the classic bad news, good news story. It is really bad for the environment. It is also a really good energy source. Through better capture and reuse, we can avoid the problems and enjoy the benefits of methane.


Five Smart Policies for Improving Public Health

The laws passed by federal and state politicians have great impact on public health. Here are five smart policies government can employ to improve the state of health in the US.

1) Tax Soda

A penny per ounce tax on soda will cut obesity, decrease medical problems, and pay for better school lunches. Nice NY Times review

2) Ratify the International Tobacco Treaty

168 countries have signed and ratified the international Tobacco Treaty. The US has signed the treaty but not ratified it. The Treaty puts a number of sensible limits on tobacco sales and marketing. Time to send the treaty to the Senate! A “top ten” idea 2010.

3) Return Speed Limit to 55 MPH

The lifting of the 55 mph speed limit in 1995 has resulted in over 12,000 additional deaths – more than Iraq, Afghanistan and 9/11 combined. Higher speeds also burn way more fuel. Freakonomics blog:

4) Regulate Fast Food Restaurants Through Zoning Laws

In an effort to improve public health, L.A. now regulates fast food restaurants within certain zones. NY Times “best of 2008″ idea.

5) Regulate Thirdhand Smoke

We all know about the dangers of secondhand smoke, but what about all of the smoke residue and toxins that settle on our clothing, furniture and walls (“thirdhand smoke”)?

To comment or vote on these (or other) ideas – or add your own! – visit Good Ideas.

If You Don’t Know What To Do With Your Life — Here Are Three Good Ideas

There is an old saying that if you want to be happy, choose the biggest problem you can find and tackle it.

Here are three big problems – involving health, global development, environment – that remarkably haven’t been solved yet. Maybe you can assist?

Hospital Infections

Hospital infections are a $2 billion per year problem.  We’ve tried high tech methods to encourage washing hands, surgical masks that kill pathogens, even germ-killing paint. Yet hospitals remain dangerous places, killing an estimated 440,000 people per year through errors, including infection. This seems like an problem which should be fixable.


Studies demonstrate that investing in nutrition is one of the most cost-effective ways to promote global development. Techniques include small scale food fortification, iron supplementation, and school-based deworming programs. Nutrition programs are relatively inexpensive. Why is there still malnutrition?

Tire Inflation

Most people drive on significantly under-inflated tires. This wastes fuel, harms the environment, and is unsafe. In the old days gas station attendants would check your tires. These days nobody does. Can we fix this problem?

Each of these problems impacts millions of people. They don’t seem complicated. Can we fix all three and be done with it?

Light, Health, Cleanliness: The Remarkable Two Liter Bottle

pepsiMillions of two liter bottles are used in developing countries each year. Once the soft drink is consumed, there are still plenty of innovative uses for the sturdy container. Here are a few good ideas:

1) Light

A water-filled 2-liter bottle can replace a 50 watt light bulb. Used across Asia and South America. Awesome!

2) Water purification

A billion people drink highly polluted water. Treating water by putting it in 2 liter cola bottles and setting it in the sun on a black surface for 5 hours kills 99% of pathogens. One of the world’s truly great ideas. See

3) Water filtering

Biome Solutions describes how to make a functioning water filter out of a two liter bottle.

4) Hand-washing

A device fashioned from a two-liter bottle provides hand-washing for developing countries. A New York Times “best of 2008″ selection.

5) Transportation

The rRaft builds functioning boats from ~1000 recycled two liter bottles.

Wow – and certainly just a subset of the possibilities!

Five Good Ideas For Detecting Epidemics

One way to detect epidemics

As with a forest fire, if you can detect an epidemic early, it is much easier to control. Here are five good ideas for detecting epidemics (and diseases) before they spin out of control.

1) Use Google to Detect and Prevent Epidemics Early

The Predict and Prevent Initiative at Google uses search analysis to detect epidemics at early stages. A Wired Magazine “smart idea” 2008.

2) Use Social Media for Online Disease Surveillance

Researchers have shown that combining an awareness of social networks with search data, better early detection systems for disease outbreaks can be designed.

3) Detect Drug Epidemics Via Community Urinalysis

Researchers can sample water at sewage treatment plants to detect drug epidemics and monitor progress in treatment – all anonymously.

4) Food Wrapping Detects Pathogens

New Canadian meat wrapping materials turn color in presence of certain pathogens.

5) Cough Into Your iPhone for Instant Diagnosis

Cough into your iPhone – new app will diagnose your ailment.

To comment or vote on these (or other) ideas – or add your own! – visit Good Ideas.

Ideas Sites Landscape

One of many nice ideas sites

Are there other sites like Good Ideas? What does the landscape of ideas sites look like? Here is a quick description of the types of sites in this sector we see:

Targeted Ideas Sites: Many organizations have turned to “ideas sites” to generate consumer or constituent feedback. These include Dell’s “IdeaStorm“, Starbucks “My Starbucks Idea“, and other company sites. They are typically focused on a narrow topic with a defined audience.

Global Ideas Sites: Some sites gather the best ideas of pundits, such as TED, the Aspen Ideas Festival and The Ideas Project. There are also a number of commercial ideas sites such as Springwise and Betterific.

Contest Sites: Many organizations run contest sites, including large initiatives such as the XPrize Foundation and Ashoka’s Changemakers. Some companies provide tools to this sector, including IdeaScale.

Answers / “How To” Sites: There are a number of very successful “answers” and “how to” sites online, including, eHow, and Yahoo Answers.

“Best of” Sites: Many media sites present annual (or periodic) “best of” lists compiled by their editorial staff.

All of these sites gather and rank information, but are quite diverse in terms of objectives, topics, community involvement, longevity, and other dimensions. We hope Good Ideas has a useful role to play.

Feel free to describe other good efforts in comments below.

Football Good Ideas

footballAs you gear up for the college football bowl season and NFL playoffs, here are four remarkable good ideas you may not know about the gridiron:

1) Don’t worry about strength

In football, the strongest team will typically win. But what is strength? Stanford football – known for its extremely physical play — doesn’t focus directly on strength. The focus is on flexibility, balance, and things like ankle mobility. Here is a great feature from the New York Times.

2) Don’t Pick First

Professors at the Yale School of Management show that highest picks in the NFL draft perform worst dollar for dollar. Late first round and high second round picks do best.

3) Never punt

Statistical analysis is clear: coaches punt and attempt field goals way too frequently. It’s much better in almost all situations to keep the ball and go for it on fourth down.

4) Diagnose concussions with a stick and hockey puck

Concussions from football and other contact sports are difficult to diagnose and quantify. A new approach developed in Michigan uses, amazingly, only a dowel and hockey puck combination to diagnose concussions remarkably accurately.

OK — now back to the game…

Five Important Ideas for Helping the Environment

One active category to date on Good Ideas has been the environment section. There are innovative and important ideas there that everyone concerned about the environment should be familiar with. Here are five that strike me as both surprising and consequential:

Don’t Reduce Traffic Jams

Traffic jams are actually good for the environment, mostly because they encourage short commutes and mass transit. Wall Street Journal

For Fuel Efficiency, Drop “MPG” For “Gallons Per 10000 Miles”

It’s true: “MPG” ratings don’t say much about environment impact (because big cars use a lot more gas, so a small change has big impact). We really should change how mileage is reported. NYTimes “best of 2008″ idea.

To Combat Global Warming, Forget About CO2, Worry About Methane

What?! Don’t worry about CO2? The rationale for this important idea is that methane has 75% of the impact of CO2 on global warming, but has short lifespan and is easier to contain. WSJ:

Don’t Worry About Car Pollution, Worry About Ship Pollution

The fact that a small number of ships produce as much sulphur pollution as all of the cars in the world is shocking (and a bit troubling). Ships burn dirty fuel. Shouldn’t this change? Daily Mail

To Combat Global Warming, Focus on Long-Term Interventions

Bill Gates makes a very powerful argument: short-term interventions to help the environment (the current target is 30% reduction of emissions by 2025) are possible, but not very meaningful. We need 80% reductions by 2050, which requires a completely different approach.

Feel free to vote or comment on any of these ideas on Good Ideas (you can click on the idea titles above to go straight to the ideas).

Is There a Content Type “Good Idea”?

In consulting projects at Forum One, we often work with clients in defining the twenty or so “content types” present on their websites (press releases, research reports, video, photos, blog posts, events, etc.). Each content type is managed differentially by the content management system (CMS), and in many case also ported to third party services (documents to Scribd, videos to YouTube, etc.)

Good Ideas is a web database of good ideas. But is there such a thing as a content type “good idea”?

Interestingly, feedback I’ve received to date is very split. Many people instantly say “of course” and easily contribute ideas. Other very savvy people say “sorry, not working for me”.

So the question remains: is “good idea” a content type? Will it ever be identified in a CMS or XML markup? What do you think?

Five Good Ideas For Providing Clean Water in Developing Countries

A billion people drink highly polluted water. Here are five good ideas for providing cleaner water to more people in developing countries.

1) Solar Water Disinfection

Treating water by putting it in 2 liter cola bottles and setting it in the sun on a black surface for 5 hours kills 99% of pathogens. One of the world’s truly great ideas (and currently highest ranked idea overall on Good Ideas). See

2) Water “Tarpaulin” Combines Transport, Purification

The Solar Water Disinfecting Tarpaulin (SWDT) combines easy transport of water with solar purification. A Metropolis Magazine winning idea 2008.

3) Filter Water With Rice Husks

Tata Consultancy Services in India has invented a cheap, effective water filter employing rice husks. Economist Magazine.

4) Burn Cow Manure to Purify Water

Dean Kamen’s latest quest: a box which burns cow manure to purify water. Forbes

5) Water Testing with Reporting via SMS

A South Africa water quality testing system, “Aquatest”, decentralizes water testing by distributing tools for testing and gathering data by SMS.

To comment or vote on these (or other) ideas – or add your own! – visit Good Ideas.