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Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

I was so pleased yesterday. Not only was Obama visiting France, my home country, but he also made more exciting declarations regarding his vision of American climate policy:

“The United States is a very powerful country. But, as I said before, an issue like climate change is not one we can solve by ourselves. It’s going to require an international effort.

Not only are we going to have to look at what countries like France and Germany are already doing and making some very difficult choices to deal with their carbon emissions and to make energy more efficient, but we’re also going to have to talk to countries like China and India, and it’s going to be very hard for us to ask them to take seriously these issues if they see that wealthy nations are not taking them seriously.

And that’s an example of where we have to present a common front and a common agenda in order to get all the countries in the nation — all the countries in the world involved in what is going to be an enormous undertaking.

My goal is just to make sure that, whether it’s our European allies, whether it’s Muslim countries, whether it’s our friends in Asia, that people feel as if the United States is taking their interests, their concerns into account, and that we are interested in the prosperity and peace of ordinary people, and not just seeing our foreign policy only through the lens of our own security.” 

Absolutely. It is up to the US to take the lead. No more, ‘we are not making any move, unless you – China, India – go first’. 

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Full length video of Barack Obama‘s Berlin speech:

Because, you need to watch him to fully get the power of his words. I know some of you question his ability to deliver on his promises. I don’t.

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Today, in Berlin, Barack Obama delivered another historic speech, “A Word that Stands as One“. 

Michael Dalder, Reuters

Obama's Berlin Speech - Credit: Michael Dalder, Reuters

Three times, he shared his sense of urgency about the need for the world to ‘stand as one‘, regarding climate change:

As we speak, cars in Boston and factories in Beijing are melting the ice caps in the Arctic, shrinking coastlines in the Atlantic, and bringing drought to farms from Kansas to Kenya…

In this new world, such dangerous currents have swept along faster than our efforts to contain them. That is why we cannot afford to be divided. No one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone. None of us can deny these threats, or escape responsibility in meeting them… 

This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet. Let us resolve that we will not leave our children a world where the oceans rise and famine spreads and terrible storms devastate our lands. Let us resolve that all nations – including my own – will act with the same seriousness of purpose as has your nation, and reduce the carbon we send into our atmosphere. This is the moment to give our children back their future. This is the moment to stand as one…

At this point, just words, but such a welcome relief from the kindergarten squabbles at the last G8 Summit, and on the Senate floor.  My heart was touched. And I feel hope again. How about you?

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It was only a matter of time before open source made its way to science. InnoCentive has made the jump, and quite successfully, according to today’s article in the New York Times. InnoCentive connects companies, academic institutions, public sector and non-profit organizations, all hungry for breakthrough innovation, with a global network of more than 145,000 of the world’s brightest minds on the world’s first Open Innovation Marketplace™.

Cross-pollination and crowdsourcing, all wrapped up in one place for global problem solving, I love it! The world has never been smaller . . .

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Further evidence of the Green Power of Shrinking Wallets is reported in Nielsen‘s last consumer survey and related Associated Press article:

Reminding us once more of what behaviorists have known for a long time. Consequences, not admonitions, are most effective at changing behaviors.

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I have ceased to be so hung up on people changing their behaviors. No, rather, I am aiming for much lower. Attitudes will do. Because I believe most of us cannot go at it alone, and need instead the support and infrastructures from high up. What people can, and should do however, is recognize right initiatives when they are presented to them, and endorse them.

Then comes the challenge of how to change popular attitudes in the face of flagrant manipulations from special fossil fuel interests, as in behind the scenes lobbying, and massive progaganda. In climate matters, Chevron, and Exxon hold the cards, not politicians. The best way to stop this, is through the deliberate exposure of Big Oil‘s dirty tricks in the media, and through counter-lobbying. Climate naives are too easy of a prey.

Another group worth paying attention to, are the powers in charge of our country. That select group of Senators, Congress people, government executives, and Supreme judges need to be educated about their new responsibilities in the face of climate change and other global world resources crisis. Intelligence and power are not immune to misinformation and unconsciousness. Counter-lobbying agents and climate ethicists have their work cut out.

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Chaos is scary. When faced with uncertainty and doom, our first reaction is to want to control. Imagine for a second, that we are still masters of the universe. And can, will whip our climate and other natural phenomena, into shape. Dammit!

Maybe now is the time, to stop deluding ourselves. Like the addicts that we are, shouldn’t we admit, finally, to our powerlessness. And embrace the reality that is being thrown at us. Oil, more and more elusive and out of our range. Food, no longer so abundant. Water, soon to become like gold. Bees refusing to pollinate.  Angry mobs rising all over, because life is not fair.

I imagine a future when we will be in charge of our destiny, again. Until then, let us surrender, and let go of our addiction.

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Remember John Kerry during his 2004 presidential campaign? Mr. Kerry may have been accurate in his portrayal of issues, but his message got lost into too many nuances. I am afraid the same is happening with climate change. Each day, new information gets thrown at us, that elaborates on, denies, or tempers previously released scientific facts. The picture that emerges, although more complete, becomes increasingly difficult for the average person to grasp. In one ear, out the other.

Staying with the presidential campaigning analogy, we all know from history, that the winning candidate is not necessarily the most qualified for the job, but instead the one most able to win the crowds with a clear, persuasive, and relevant message. The problem with the climate message is the absence of a dominant voice. Even Al Gore‘s once far reaching speech is getting drowned in a cacaphony of conversations from various experts and random people with opinions to share. The best way I know to counter that deplorable situation is to turn to the masters of mass communication. Good advertising professionals know the virtues of repeating over and over simple messages that stick and persuade.

Am I the only one to be confused?

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These past two weeks spent traveling in France and Italy convinced me even more about the role of culture and society in shaping individual behaviors. Most interesting was to observe how both I and Prad adapted our behaviors to fit the different customs in each country. Prad, who usually protests vigorously the slightest whiff of cigarette smoke back home, thought nothing of taking strolls on the smoke-filled Parisian sidewalks. In Italy, we quickly learned to conform to the practice of drinking bottled water at the restaurants. Two examples of the power of social norms, relative to individual environmental choices.

This raises the question of how to bring changes in normative behaviors, that will support sustainable lifestyles, across cultures. According to Horne, “New norms are thought to emerge when costs of compliance with existing norms become too high relative to the rewards“. Montgomery weighs concerns of costly normative actions against concerns of morality or social opinion. Though unlikely to change their behavior when norms become costly, individuals will praise those willing to do so; after a few have tested the waters, a domino effect of individuals who harbor less fear of social sanction will follow. If these innovators receive social approval, individuals will continue to participate in new strategies in order to gain recognition. Christakis‘s research similarly points to the social nature of behavioral changes.

On the green front, several trends are emerging that should give us hope. First, is the growing acceptance of the idea of green as universally cool and no longer the claim of a few treehuggers. The social sanction for behaviors such as biking, recycling, carpooling, using mass transit, recycling, to name just a few, has tipped towards the positive. Concurrently, rising gas and energy prices, are making it harder and harder for people to maintain their old behaviors. SUVs, boats, superfluous driving no longer make sense for the majority of Americans. Other adaptive behaviors are stirring, as in urban gardening, and driving more slowly.

Because time is of the essence, we would do well to consider strategies to accelerate this movement:

First, are opinion changing strategies, including all mass media and communication campaigns. Every green drop counts. What I write here in this blog. What you write, either in your own blog, or as a commenter on others’ blogs. What you say in casual conversations to your friends and coworkers. What you ask from your elected representative. What you communicate through your example, as in here and here. What the “we” and the “Together” people do. What Barack Obama, and other leaders declare is important. What the New York Times, and the rest of the press put on their front page. What Arianna Huffington chooses to promote. It all matters.

Second, are cost raising strategies, in relative terms, either through the offering of new, lower cost options, or the raising of the costs of existing options, whether volitional or not. Rising gas and energy prices are an example of the latter. And so are various forms of carbon tax. Smart technologies such as more fuel efficient cars or home energy efficiency solutions work on the other end, through the promise of higher financial rewards, and social acceptance.

Third are direct behavior shaping strategies such as evolved from Pierre Chandon‘s research. Chandon‘s study, ‘When Does the Past Repeat Itself? The Role of Self-Prediction and Norms.‘ tells us that ‘by predicting our behavior, we can actually reinforce good habits and break bad ones‘, a sophisticated twist on the power of self-fulfilling prophecy. What this means for our problem, is that by asking people such simple questions as ‘Do you bike, do you carpool, how often and how long do you walk, do you turn off your lights, do you hang your clothes to dry, do you eat fresh food?’ chances are it will increase the likelihood of them engaging in these behaviors. Conversely, by not mentioning other negative behaviors such as driving, using dryer, eating processed food, etc, they will be less inclined to perpetuate those. 

This is just the beginning of a long list. My main point is, thought leaders on climate change and other global environmental issues with a human factor component, need to spend more time exploring such behavior shaping strategies, based on the available body of research on normative behaviors.

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Everywhere we walk in Paris, we are having to contend with a new public nuisance. Cigarette smoke. I had heard about France’s smoking ban earlier this year. It had seemed like a good thing. People not being able to smoke in public spaces. What I did not realize, is the ban applies to enclosed public spaces, not open air areas such as terraces, or sidewalks. Rather than being discouraged by the new law, Parisians have merely transferred their habit from indoors to the outdoors. And using the cigarette as a new excuse to socialize and make friends in strange places. The main reason is smoking is still considered the social norm in France. 

Compare with California, where smoking is seen as a personal liability, that makes it hard if not impossible for people to find a date or an apartment. Why such a difference? What made people change their behavior? The response lies in the mass media campaigns that took place since 1988, when a state law increased the cigarette tax, and allocated some of that revenue to establish a comprehensive, statewide tobacco education and prevention program, including a significant mass media campaign.  

What does this mean for climate change and other global environment issues? Laws can only go so far. Consumption addicts of all kinds will find ways to circumvent them to satisfy their needs. Better still, are smart, sustained nationwide education and persuasion efforts, of the kind conducted by the anti-tobacco campaigns, that turned smoking into a socially inacceptable practice, and placed the blame on the tobacco industry, not the people. The following are some key learnings from ‘Mass Media Antismoking Campaigns: A Powerful Tool for Health Promotion‘, a paper published in the Annals of Medicine

  • Not all antitobacco advertising is effective. Focus group research has suggested that commercials that expose the tobacco industry’s manipulation of young persons [25] or focus on themes of secondhand smoke and cigarette addiction are the most effective strategies for reducing tobacco use [18]. Campaigns based on the short-term or long-term health effects of smoking are less effective [18]
  • Dorfman and Wallack [11] have explained that the most effective counter-advertisements are those that“challenge the legitimacy and credibility of the industry marketing the product. These are counter-ads, because they represent a clear transfer from the personal to the policy environment and focus on the corporate entity or public policy as a major player in that environment.”
  • Advertisements that directly attack the tobacco industry as the source of the tobacco problem; expose the way in which the industry manipulates, deceives, seduces, and addicts children and adolescents; and highlight the way the industry maintains adult smokers as life-long drug addicts to make profits are effective in challenging the legitimacy and credibility of the industry. Moreover, these themes frame tobacco as a problem because it kills people, not because those younger than 18 years of age use it. The theme of tobacco industry manipulation also demonstrates and reinforces the concept that smoking is a behavior that undermines adolescents’ independence, reduces their control over life decisions, and makes them victims of the industry’s deceit. Rather than mobilizing young persons to rebel against directives not to smoke, campaigns based on these themes empower them to rebel against an industry that is making its profits by deceiving them; seducing them; manipulating them; addicting them; and, ultimately, killing them.
  • The tobacco industry knows that messages aimed solely at changing individual behavior and focused mainly on health-related themes are ineffective in challenging social norms and are therefore unlikely to be effective in reducing tobacco use. When they were unsuccessful at eliminating mass media anti-smoking campaigns, the industry and its supporters instead attempted to control the content of the campaigns, ensuring that the result is a program that will have little ultimate impact.

I can’t help but seeing the parallels between the tobacco industry and Big Oil. It is time to expose the scandals of big oil producers and other special fossil fuel interests getting richer by the seconds at the expense of our overall well being. Time to show the dirty work of the lobbyists working for them. Time to show them as the real perpetrators, and us as the victims of their manipulations. Time to negate the effects of their ad campaigns with even better counter campaigns. Time to portray them as the drug pushers that they are, and to unveil their deliberate strategies to maintain us, the citizens, in a state of unsustainable dependence on oil and non renewable resources. If you have not yet seen the latest double spread ad  from Exxon Mobil ads in the New York Times, it is worth taking a look.

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