Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Resolutions


What better way to create some accountability than by sharing my New Year's Resolutions on my blog! Of course these are the environmentally related ones.

1. Launch Clout Consulting: A social media consultancy for environmentally focused organizations. CHECK :)
2. Learn and Read!
3. Have (first plan) an exciting and productive summer
4. Make a difference.
5. Eat more sustainably.
6. Meet Bill McKibben
Okay, i know that's kind of a random one, but he's seriously my idol. That famous question, if you could have dinner with anyone living or dead, who would it be - I would pick McKibben without a doubt. 
7. Blog more and freelance blog for some other sites.
8. Enjoy nature.

Those are some good goals for now. I have some more specific ones like get my hand drier grant proposal approved, etc., but those aren't so much resolutions in my eyes.

I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2012!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


When I started my blog, I didn’t really have a sense of direction. I knew I wanted to contribute something to the environmental blogosphere but wasn’t exactly sure where to start or what to focus on. As I wrote random articles and used social media to market my site, a pattern became evident: competition and isolation within the environmental movement rather than an atmosphere of collaboration. 

I encountered many experts at the events I was attending and blogging about, but as one speaker said, there were “silos of information with no conduits connecting them.” In order to make the biggest impact possible, people from all sectors need to be working together – sharing ideas and resources.  Rather than create just another blog among the thousands that focus on “going green,” I wanted to contribute a solution to the discontinuity I was witnessing.  I came up with Experts’ Opinions on Sustainability and asked bloggers from around the world to answer questions on sustainability. Combined we could harness our over 20,000 Twitter followers and multiple sites to really create a discussion. 

I’ve now begun to see a trend towards these uniting sites – The Urban Cnoversion, 2Degrees, EcoDesk, and other sites with multiple contributors.  I hope the environmental movement can continue in this direction to harness the incredible ideas and resources we have as a combined force. Collaboration within the environmental sustainability movement is really my passion and I hope to continue working on projects that help this sector in the coming year. 

Charge for Trash?

Over the weekend I visited my Aunt and Uncle who currently live in Ashfield, Massachusetts and was interested to hear that their town charges residents $2 per bag of garbage at the local landfill. They are not charged for recyclables. The program is meant to increase incentive for recycling, and seems to them to work pretty well.
What do you think? Should citizens be charges for their trash? I've set up This Quora Poll on which we can create a collaborative answer, or comment below!

Eating Animals
I'm currently reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Every single one of my friends who's read it has become a vegetarian, so I thought I'd give it a go. I've been trying to be convinced to become a vegetarian for quite a while now, but find myself quite set in my beliefs that it is natural to be an omnivore. In addition, it is usually more sustainable to be a conscious omnivore than a vegetarian or vegan - take for example soy, which is monocropped on industrial farms usually with large amounts of pesticide and is ravenously consumed by the two groups.
I'm up to page 100, so we'll see if I'm convinced in the last 100 pages of the book.

On the same topic, I seem to be very interested in food sustainability recently (as my Klout meter has also showed), so any suggestions to broaden my knowledge on the topic would be much appreciated :)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Keystone XL Pipeline

There has been quite a bit in the news lately about the Keystone XL Pipeline. From it's flagrant support at the last Republican Debate (they seem to think it's a no brainer to build 3,000 miles of pipes from Canada to Texas...) to Obama's consideration. I was even smart enough to engage in my own debate on the topic with a republican...needless to say we butted heads and didn't make any progress on convincing each other of our respective opinions (I'll qualify this by saying that we were complete strangers and if I'd known him longer and we had each had time to debate for more than 2 minutes, I sorely hope I could have convinced him).'s news letters have been summing up most of the action, thankfully because it's been pretty complicated lately. What's your take on the pipeline? To me it seems like a no brainer NOT to build it! What's the point of 3,000 miles of pipe line across the U.S.? Why in the world would anyone build a pipe across our entire country? Possibly endangering the water supply of the entire nation. And (this is by no means a calculated estimate, but...) I would have to assume that it will take an enormous amount of energy to create this thing - did anyone calculate how that compares to the amount of energy that it will produce in an equivalent time frame? And how safe are these Tar Sands? I've heard news that Canada is now questioning whether it will even let anyone drill them? And, for the most used fact - creating 200,000 jobs. I know that is a significant amount, but still, only a small city's worth. And what if we were to pour all of this money, energy, and labor into a renewable energy - say Solar or Wind? Wouldn't that be great! We could be using an energy source that NEVER runs out and doesn't produce CO2 as it's byproduct, among others. I admit, this has now become a rant. But it's a frustrating topic for me. I really hope it gets tossed in the garbage by sensible President Obama soon!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Motivation of Climate Change Skepticism

The following is my final research paper for my writing seminar on environmental ethics. I really enjoyed researching for and writing this paper and look forward to continuing to learn about this subject. I polled LinkedIn and Quora where you can vote for what you think is the biggest motivation behind climate change skepticism and see many skeptics opinions on this topic. This was a great learning process and I welcome any constructive criticism.

Since the climate change movement began in the 1970s, it has been controversial. It was originally supported by often eccentric “hippies,” then a grass-roots campaign, and is now largely mainstream. However, industrialists and capitalist have always countered it. Despite the scientific community’s collective agreement that climate change is occurring and is also human-induced, there is still a passionate movement of skeptics of various backgrounds that refuse to believe this for a variety of reasons. Prominent environmental advocate Christopher Stone denies that climate change skepticism poses a threat to the environmental movement, claiming, in fact, that the American public is well educated on the topic. He writes with respect to the environmental movement that, “As far as ‘educating’ the public is concerned, apparently the US public is getting the message” (Stone 157). Stone believes that the environmental movement is strong (Stone 141) and concludes, “Thus, while the environmentalists might do well to keep image in mind, I doubt they have an image they need to run away from, or for that matter could run away from…” (Stone 156). In spite of Stone’s opinion, solid quantitative evidence shows that this is not the case. According to a recent poll done by Yale and George Mason Universities in May 2011, only 64% of Americans believe that climate change is occurring, and only 47% believe that it is man-made (Lierowitz). When Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale asked citizens how they thought scientists understood global warming, he received the following response: "Only 13 percent of Americans got the correct answer, which is that in fact about 97 percent of American scientists say that climate change is happening, and about a third of Americans just simply say they don't know” (Leiserowitz). In order effectively refute the challenges put forth by climate change skeptics to the environmental movement, it is necessary to closely analyze their motivations.

 The skeptics’ allegations of environmental alarmism arise from a general mistrust of science and challenge the credibility of the environmental movement. In their book Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, Hoggan and Littlemore argue that the scientific process is highly misunderstood by the general public and is leveraged by skeptics to create uncertainty (Hoggan and Littlemore). The scientific process is never one hundred percent accurate or certain, and, in addition, scientific statements that have been sufficiently proven are called theories, despite the fact that the everyday implication of this word is a ‘guess’ (Hoggan and Littlemore). As Bill McKibben states in his article, “Climate of Denial”, political and industrial leaders use the uncertainty of science to their advantage,
“Cloud the issue as much as possible so that voters, already none too eager to embrace higher gas prices, would have no real reason to move climate change to the top of their agendas. I mean, if the scientists aren't absolutely certain, well, why not just wait until they get it sorted out?”
Some believe that although humans are changing the planet, environmentalists are over exaggerating reports or data.  Published in 1990, Dead Heat gives an early look at the destruction that is to come. The second chapter, “The End,” eerily predicts a major heat wave for 2006, a prediction that became reality for France at that exact time. Although the authors concede that the scenario is only one of many that could play out, it is haunting to see how much of the information was known over twenty years ago, and how little we have done about it. Allegations of inaccurate evidence harm the environmental movement by creating mistrust and skepticism of the movement’s validity.

 Another significant threat to the sustainability movement is psychology, namely a tendency to believe what we already believe and a resistance to change.  Psychology plays a large role in the way that people think about climate change, their decision-making process, and habits. In his book Why Aren’t We Saving the Planet?: A Psychologist’s Perspective, Geoffrey Beattie explores the motivations behind the belief that climate change is not man-made and people’s everyday attitudes and decisions related to global warming. He presents his experiments on the carbon labeling system that has become more popular in Europe and concludes that, while the labels have significant potential, producers need to carefully consider the format and overall appearance. He also studied reactions to Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, and found that people “felt more motivated to do something about climate change, more able to do something and less likely to think that they had no control over the climate change process…” (Beattie 241).  All of these statements are related to people’s emotions, and therefore can be studied with psychology. As Chris Mooney states in his article “The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science,” psychology plays a large role in reasoning:
Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call ‘affect’). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we're aware of it…We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself (Mooney).
This leads to a heated debate against environmentalists, who are urgent in their tone. Their passion riles up those of the opposing side, resulting in the overall passion that we see today. As Mark Catoe states in his answer to the Quora question on the passion of the climate change skeptic movement, people are convinced by “motivated reasoning…a brain reflex that inclines us to believe what we already believe – in spite of new information that comes our way” (Catoe, Quora) Since acceptance of climate change is something that conditionally effects one’s entire lifestyle, people have great subconscious incentive to continue with what they already believe. Psychology plays a large role in people’s opinions of the environmental movement and directly motivates them to continue with previous notions of skepticism. Motivated reasoning limits people from opening up to pitfalls in their argument and keeps them closed to new developments. Overall, it can hinder people from forming logical and rational opinions, and this poses a threat to the environmental movement.

The unique American culture of freedom of choice makes the population resistant to behavior change recommendations, threatening the environmental movement. The authors of Dead Heat describe our history with pollution and the evolution of our materialistic economy, recounting the cultural foundations of industries. For example,
“…coal burning took hold in England in the 1600s after the widespread clearing of forests…In America, however, abundant forests provided both pioneer and city dweller with all the wood they needed for decades after others had turned to coal…This sort of excessive energy use still prevails in America today” (Oppenheimer and Boyle).
As McKibben states, “We had the single hardest habit to break, which was thinking of energy as something cheap” (McKibben). In addition to our freedom of choice ideology, the United States is also deeply driven by consumerism. Americans simply do not like being told what to do, especially when it comes to their consumerism.

It is also important to address the economic motivation, which, according to a recent poll taken on LinkedIn, is the biggest motivation behind the skeptic movement (Allan, LinkedIn). Big businesses, with invested interest in unsustainable operations, invest money in convincing the public not to move away from over-consumerist culture.  McKibben proposes that the Kyoto Protocol was not taken seriously by the United States, because big business and lobbyists got in the way of any real potential the U.S. had to act. This is countered by the positive changes the Kyoto Protocol set into motion in Europe. McKibben looks critically at motivations behind industry that keep the U.S. so far behind Europe on climate change issues, looking at motivations behind industry. “But in any given year the payoff for shifting away from fossil fuel is incremental and essentially invisible. The costs, however, are concentrated: If you own a coal mine, an oil well, or an assembly line churning out gas-guzzlers, you have a very strong incentive for making sure no one starts charging you for emitting carbon” (McKibben). Many companies fail to look at bigger picture costs such as health effects and irreparable degradation of the environment and instead only focus on profits for the current quarter.  As Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney once said, “We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make a statement. We are here to make money.” Businesses reap monetary benefits from denying climate change and convincing their customers to do the same.
 In recent years, the progress of the environmental movement has been greatly hindered by skeptics.  Only some of these skeptics are motivated by selfish reasons, primarily those with economic incentive. Others are motivated by innocent trains of thought. It is often difficult to reason with them because their beliefs are extremely strong but are rooted in psychological and social patterns that are more covert. “In other words, when we think we're reasoning, we may instead be rationalizing. Or to use an analogy offered by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt: We may think we're being scientists, but we're actually being lawyers” (Haidt). It is important to analyze the roots of their motivations in order to be able to better reason with them. It is this population that can potentially be convinced and mobilized to help environmentalists save the planet.

Sources Cited
"Why Is the Climate Change Movement so Passionate?" LinkedIn. Ed. Sara B. Allan. LinkedIn, 20 Nov. 2011. Web. 7 Dec. 2011. <>.
Beattie, Geoffrey. Why Aren't We Saving the Planet?: A Psychologist's Perspective. London: Routledge, 2010. Print.
Catoe, Mark. "Why Is the Climate Change Denier Movement so Passionate?" Quora. 22 Oct. 2011. Web. 07 Nov. 2011. <>.
Eisenberger, Robert, and Linda Shanock. "Rewards, Intrinsic Motivation, and Creativity: A Case Study of Conceptual and Methodological Isolation." Creativity Research Journal. The National Association of Chid Development, Nov. 2003. Web. 7 Dec. 2011. <>.
Hoggan, James, and Richard D. Littlemore. Climate Cover-up: the Crusade to Deny Global Warming. Vancouver: Greystone, 2009. Print.
Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., & Smith, N. (2011) Climate change in the American Mind: Americans’ global warming beliefs and attitudes in May 2011. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.
Anthony Leiserowitz in Harris, Richard. "Climate Change: Public Skeptical, Scientists Sure : NPR." NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR. NPR, 21 June 2011. Web. 07 Nov. 2011. <>.
Bill McKibben, Climate of Denial, Mother Jones, May-June 2005.
Monckton of Brenchley, Christopher. 35 Inconvenient Truths: The Errors in Al Gore's Movie. Washington, D.C.: Science and Public Policy Institute, 2007. PDF.
Mooney, Chris. "The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science." Mother Jones. Mother Jones and the Foundation for National Progress, May-June 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <>.
Oppenheimer, Michael, and Robert H. Boyle. Dead Heat: the Race against the Greenhouse Effect. New York: Basic, 1990. Print.
Stone, Christopher D. Should Trees Have Standing?: Law, Morality, and the Environment. New York, NY: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.