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Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

In response to my last post, I was overwhelmed by a flurry of worried emails wondering what’s happening with La Marguerite, and my alluded identity crisis as a green blogger. The truth is, I have been posting a lot less frequently, and when I do, it is usually related to my new foray into cyberspace, a new website still in development, to do with food, sustainability, and grocery shopping. 

It is not just the new website however. I have also fallen into the slow blogging phenomenon, as described in last weekend’s New York Times, ‘Haste, Scorned: Blogging at a Snail’s Pace’. The article does a good job of capturing the shift taking place amongst bloggers, including the rise of Twitter as an alternative  blogging platform. For those of you not familiar with it, Twitter is a micro-blogging site that allows you to share, in 140 characters or less whichever thoughts come to you throughout the day, in response to question “What are you doing?”. Now, rather than sharing these small thoughts on La Marguerite WordPress blog, I go to La Marguerite on Twitter. And I save the blog for those rarer occasions when I want to expand on a particular issue.

Yet another reason for my decreased frequency in posting, has to do with a very practical consideration, and one that faces the majority of serious bloggers: the need to make money, and to spend one’s time wisely. This is a huge issue in blogging and social media in general. So far, there has not been a satisfying model for full time content providers such as myself to make money from their social media enterprises. Particularly in non commercial fields such as here on La Marguerite.

Last, it is my belief that blogging can only go so far in terms of its social impact. I have written about this before. At some point, action needs to take the relay of thinking and writing, and  I am not happy with just inciting others into action. 

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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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Reading ‘That buzz in your ear may be green noise‘, yesterday’s article in the New York Times, I had a feeling of deja vu. The issue of green cacophony and the resulting confusion in people’s minds, is one that has been covered many times before in this blog. Rather than repeating myself, I thought I would just retrieve all my previous posts on the topic:

The fatigue factor and what it means for the climate fight’

Is it green of not?

Green fatigue

Green overload

It‘s getting to me

Overwhelmed

The failure of the green media to communicate simply

Top three green actions to reduce your ecological footprint

Seven green marketing strategies to persuade Americans to go green

Since December, the date of my last post, things have only gotten worse. People are more aware. They are also more confused, and suspicious about all green matters. What should be simple, has now reached levels of unparalleled complexity.

I think it’s time we go back to the old and proven adage: Reduce-Reuse-Recycle. Not sexy, with maybe too much of a treehugger flavor, but in the end, still the best planet saving tip.

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A table is worth a thousand words. This one appeared in a short op-ed piece by Paul Krugman, in the New York Times

Boy, am I proud to be French sometimes!

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Michael Pollan‘s got it all right in ‘Why Bother?‘, his long and well worth reading article in today’s New York Times. And puts back the responsibility for climate change right where it belongs. On I, on you, on us. Here is the part that really struck a chord with me:

If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. (Just look at the market for hybrid cars.) Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire the moral standing to demand changes in behavior from others – from other people, other corporations, even other countries.

All of this could, theoretically, happen. What I’m describing (imagining would probably be more accurate) is a process of viral social change, and change of this kind, which is nonlinear, is never something anyone can plan or predict or count on. Who knows, maybe the virus will reach all the way to Chongqing and infect my Chinese evil twin. Or not. Maybe going green will prove a passing fad and will lose steam after a few years, just as it did in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan took down Jimmy Carter’s solar panels from the roof of the White House.

Now, I need to be honest with myself, and all of you, and face up to all the reasons why I have not made more changes yet in my still very carbon polluting lifestyle. The impatience I shared in ‘Lots of Talk About Sustainability, Little Action‘ was as much about my own behavior as about the persistent apathy in my fellow Americans. Sure I have made progress compared with one year ago when I started on this journey. I have cut down my shopping to the bare necessities, mainly food. I am biking, and walking, and taking the train, more and more. I remember to turn off the power strip for my computer most of the times. I am planning my groceries a lot more efficiently. I do laundry only once in a blue moon, and save the dryer only for the small items. etc . . . One could say I am doing better than most.

Better than most is still not good enough. I know it. I am still letting my seventeen year old daughter drive her SUV, because ‘if she wants a new car, she’s got to buy her own, and the SUV is the only old car we can spare’. I still have not resigned myself to condemning the pool. We don’t heat it, but the filter goes on year round. I am still quick sometimes to grab the car keys, when ‘I am in a hurry’, or ‘it is too cold out’, or ‘it is getting dark’. You get the picture. The reality still has not completely sunk in.

On a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 not bothering at all to 10 being 100% committed, I see myself as a 6. How about you?

 

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Some people think the “we” campaign is just a drop in the vast ocean of consumer advertising. In his New York Times article about the campaign, Andrew Revkin, quotes John Murphy Jr., associate professor of marketing at the University of Iowa:

“I think the global warming project media budget should be 10 times as high,” he said. “Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi spend over a billion dollars each year to promote brand preference for soft drinks. In this light, the $100 million per year to change our lifestyles seems pretty small.”

For some more perspective, here is the list of the top 10 brands with their yearly ad budgets – from Ad Age Top 200 Brands:

Is The “we” Campaign Just a Drop?

 

I understand the “we” campaign’s strategy of targeting ‘influentials’, and of trying to stretch their $300 million budget that way. It is a smart move, but cleverness can only go so far.

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In one of his articles in the WorldChanging blog, Alex Steffen raises the question: ‘Who Will Tell the People? And How?

There’s enormous pressure here in the U.S. on environmental groups, scientists and public officials; pressure to play ball, to support targets that are politically safe, to be moderate. But this is not a situation where such gamesmanship will help our cause. Incremental and limited gains in this situation are in fact disastrous losses.

At the same time, we need to talk with people where they’re at on the issue, not where we wish they were. Somehow we need, in the next couple years, to guide millions of Americans through the progress of emotions — awareness, horror, despair, resignation, engagement, chosen optimism — that most of the people reading this site have gone through… and we have to do it in the next few years.

People are not really ready for this, but we’re not in a position to let that stop us. I’m not sure it’s too much of an overstatement to say that what’s needed is not just some issue education but a national mind-blowing.

I share Alex Steffen‘s frustration and his sense of urgency also. The media and the powers in charge have been tiptoeing around the reality at hand. I keep reading reports about 20 or 30% reduction goals for greenhouse gases in the next decades. Theses reports lead us to believe that things are not so bad after all, and smart technology alone should be able to get us out of our mess. Whose responsibility is it then to deliver the bitter pill of 90% reduction? And what are the strategies to make sure it has the desired effect on Americans’ behaviors?

To the question of who?, one obvious answer involves the media. Andrew Revkin‘s post on DotEarth yesterday, ‘Do the Media Fail to Give Climate its Due?‘, generated quite a lively discussion with the usual cast of characters: naysayers still, moderates, and radicals also. The reason the media have such an important role to play is as educators, and influencers of the crowds, so that the people will be ready to support the drastic emissions reduction policies that are to become an inevitable part of the political future. The objective is for the Most Inconvenient Truth I brought up earlier, to no longer hold.

Alex Steffen alludes to the time element of the process involved in bringing the public around. From personal experience, I can attest to the time lag, between initial exposure to the facts, and actual conversion. From the time when I attended Al Gore‘s presentation of An Inconvenient Truth, back in December 2005 – the first schock to my oblivious brain -, to the time when I finally became willing to make changes in my lifestyle, a good two years passed. Steven Running‘s Climate Grief model is most useful in that respect.

We then need to look at what is meant by the media. Sure, the New York Times, and other national publications, and TV stations have to play their part, but the advertising media should be considered as well. I have been pushing for a large scale, climate fight awareness advertising campaign. Al Gore, of all people should be the one spearheading such an effort. I hear his new book, ‘The Path to Survival‘ will be released next month. That’s good, and it’s not enough. Any good marketer will tell you that PR and the press can only generate so much awareness and persuasion. At some point, one needs to consider taking out the big guns, in this case, advertising. Ask all the presidential candidates!

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