The Kevin Bacon ConnectionOctober 17, 2012
Government Technology magazine published an article last month linking government officials to Kevin Bacon following the theory that we are all separated by no more than six degrees of relationship. The notion was articulated in the 1990’s in a play and popularized by a game, Six Degrees of Separation, which links the actor to any other actor by one or more degrees. In September, Google made it possible to search for any actor’s “Bacon number” through its search engine. In the Government Technology article, Arnold Schwarzenegger has a Bacon number of 2, which gives me a 3, if you consider I shook the then Governor’s hand at a holiday function.
The article is entertaining, but it also underscores the point that it’s a small world, and social media is making it smaller by the minute. This leads me to think that the stranger sitting next to me on an airplane is probably no stranger. Ultimately, this leads me to believe that what we each do impacts everyone else, in ways that may not be visible, but are nonetheless real. Allow me to demonstrate.
Two weeks ago I was on an airplane for a short slight from Hartford to Washington, D.C. Usually, I greet and acknowledge my seat mates and settle down to read my newspaper or book. This time was different. Perhaps I was in a Kevin Bacon frame of mind, or maybe it was the way the plane was pitching to and fro through thunderstorm clouds that drives people to open up conversations in favor of solitary terror. I asked my seat mate if he was flying home. After learning he was and that he’d spent the weekend attending his high school reunion, I pushed the envelope and asked him what kind of work he did.
Enter Kevin Bacon. He told me he worked for the US Geological Services (USGS) and studies the impact of climate change in the Florida Everglades, specifically on algae. For the next hour we had a most interesting conversation about the rise of the ocean waters surrounding the Everglades and the effect this is already having on marine life and what the future holds. Honestly, I never gave a lot of thought to the USGS before, more or less thinking that the agency was concerned with rocks, earth layers, and minerals. After one hour with this man, I came away with a fabulous new source of information, not to mention the makings of this blog. And I was in awe, yet again, of the vast resources of knowledge and expertise that exist for us to solve our environmental challenges, if we have the will.
For starters, the mission of the USGS could not be clearer:
“The USGS is a science organization that provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, the natural hazards that threaten us, the natural resources we rely on, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems that help us provide timely, relevant, and useable information.”
The homepage for the USGS takes it mission to heart. The key links are Climate and Land Use Change, Core Science Systems, Ecosystems, Energy and Minerals, and Environmental Health, Natural Resources, and Water. Head to “Water”, and there are eight topical categories. Click on “Quality of Water Resources” for example, and you can see a podcast “Is my water safe?” Click on “Ecosystems” , and you can learn what plants and animals are teaching us about the impacts of climate change. Even better, you can join the network of observers who feed information to the US National Phenology Network about what you are seeing in your own back yard that helps scientists to assess and predict the effects of weather changes.
A simple inquiry to a stranger on an airplane expanded my awareness and opened another door to knowledge about sustainability and our environment. As it turned out, we were both partners traveling separately but to the same destination, literally and figuratively. Six degrees of separation? I think not, and there never were. That’s the real take away for me, we all in this together and there’s a lot to talk about.
Postscript: In 2005, Kevin Bacon and Kiera Sedgwick, his wife, won the Global Green’s Millennium award for Entertainment Industry Environmental Leadership. In 2007, Kevin Bacon launched SixDegrees.org, a web site that builds on the popularity of the "small world phenomenon" to create a charitable social network and inspire giving to charities online.