Category Archives: Business and Economics

“And the winning song is …”

Aren’t you curious to know which of my songs is the most popular? That is, the most purchased in its digital format, on iTunes, Amazon.com, etc.? You won’t believe it. I certainly didn’t believe it.

Let me back up.

It would be easy to scribble pages and pages of philosophical rumination on the importance of music — in general, and to me personally. But let me be a little crass and commercial here. Not only is writing and singing songs an emotional outlet or me; it’s a business.

Admittedly, it’s not exactly a big business. I can total up my actual cash earnings for 2010 in three digits. My musical income probably doesn’t even cover the family budget for dairy products.

So you can understand why I didn’t even bother to check the annual sales figures on iTunes etc. until the close of 2010. The relatively small amount of money wasn’t surprising — but the sales figures on individual songs was very surprising. (Getting more curious? Read on …)

You see, what music actually does, among other things, is differentiate me from other consultant/speaker types. I can think of several paid events I did last year where the thing that got me the “gig” — that is, the thing that helped me stand out against the growing sea of sustainability authors and experts and speakers — was being able to throw in a song or two as part of my presentation. I don’t do this automatically, because obviously, there are many professional situations where singing a song is exceedingly inappropriate. But I am often surprised myself when a client requests (or sometimes just sort of hints!) that they’d also like me to sing a bit, even in very formal situations.

So music does help me earn my living as a sustainability consultant, even if in a somewhat indirect way.

Which is what led me to expect that the top song for the year would be one of my sustainability-themed songs — like “Dead Planet Blues” (humorous, on the album “Whole Lotta Shoppin’ Goin’ On”) or “Balaton” (serious, on the album “Testing the Rope”), both of which are mentioned in my books, complete with lyrics.

I was so wrong.

My top-selling song for all of 2010 was …

“The Strangely Popular Lichen Song” (see lyrics and link at the end of this post)

Yes, the Lichen Song earned me more money last year than the Parachuting Cats, the Extinction Blues, or Homone Havoc … and a lot more than any of my serious and soulful tunes about life, love, and the meaning of it all.

Which means it truly earned its name:  the “Lichen Song” is “Strangely Popular,” and always has been, since I first wrote it after attending a naturalist training course in 1991. The teacher had taught us a one-liner to help us remember that a lichen was the symbiotic union of two very different kinds of living thing:  “Freddie Fungus and Alice Algae took a lichen to each other,” he said. I repeated this one-liner to a friend, who said, “That sounds like it could be a song.” “Oh, no,” I said — for I immediately heard the melody in my head, and the song began virtually to write itself.

So there you have it — the union of a fungus and an algae became a song that went mini-viral in 2010. Maybe I’ll use the proceeds to buy a few mushrooms for the family …

The Strangely Popular Lichen Song

Music and lyrics © 1991 by Alan AtKisson – from the album “Whole Lotta Shoppin’ Goin’ On,” Rain City Records, 1999

Available on iTunes:  Click here

Once there was a fungus — Freddy was his name

Said “There’s no love for me among us, all us fungi look the same.”

So he took himself a courtin’ down to where the green things grow

Met some algae name of Alice, and she set his heart aglow

CHORUS:

Freddy Fungus and Alice Algae took a LICHEN to each other

They grew so very close that now you cain’t tell one from t’other

Now those lichens lead a simple life, they never are alone —

Alice does the cookin’, and Freddy builds the home

Freddy said “Oh Alice, you’ve made my life complete,”

But Alice said, “Now Freddy, there’s something else we need.

Got to have some lichen children — little ones like you and me,”

So they broke themselves in pieces, and that’s how lichens came to be

CHORUS

So if you’re a lonesome fungus, and you’re hungry too besides,

Better hook up with somebody who can photosynthesize

And if you love each other, as all good couples do,

And take vows of symbiosis, you can be a lichen too!

CHORUS

Climate Change Adaptation: from Big Taboo to Business Opportunity

Read my recent article on climate change adaptation generated a surprising amount of response. I will be focusing more and more on climate change adaptation issues in times ahead, both because I believe we all need to be paying more attention to it, and because my professional work with clients like the Nile Basin Initiative is requiring it.  Here is the link to the full article:  Link >>

What is the GDP, Anyway?

As the world spins deeper into economic recession (is anyone formally using the word “depression” yet?), it seems appropriate to take a look at the number by which we measure such things:  the  Gross Domestic Product, or GDP.  This mega-statistic is the indicator used by countries since WWII to measure their growth, and is by far the dominant measure of overall national progress. And yet, the creator of the GDP, Simon Kuznets, actually warned the United States Congress against using it to measure national progress.  In this video excerpt (of a lecture given in Australia in 2001), I recount the history of the GDP.  I also once wrote a song about the GDP — yes, a song, sung to the tune of a lively Latvian melody — but more about that later.

Food, Fuel and Fiber? The Challenge of Using the Earth to Grow Energy

This article was commissioned by the Japanese energy magazine “Global Edge,” and reprinted also at Worldchanging.com.

* * *

cornfieldIn May of 2008, while visiting Jakarta, I came across a newspaper story about a protest there.  Hundreds of people had gathered in front of the gates of a charitable NGO whose mission was to feed poor people. The NGO was simply unable to provide enough rice, tofu and other staples to meet the need.  The newspaper explained that the protest had been triggered by the global spike in food prices, which made some staple items unaffordable or — thanks to export freezes — unavailable. But poor, hungry people are not able to differentiate between the “invisible hands” of global markets, and the visible hands that are directly feeding them. The people had come to regard this NGO as something like an “official agency” for food distribution, so they took their unhappiness directly to its door. Continue reading Food, Fuel and Fiber? The Challenge of Using the Earth to Grow Energy