Monday, December 9, 2013

Two new polls: Indiana and climate change

Bumper sticker by Will McCarty

For those of you trying to crack the hard nut regarding climate change and our seeming inability to change quickly enough to make a difference, a brand new study from IU Bloomington’s SPEA Department and Indiana Geological Survey is a marvelous complement to a Stanford study that was released a few weeks ago.

The new study, whose researchers included the School of Public Affairs and Administration, University of Kansas, sought to understand Hoosier’s relationship between moderate belief in climate change with the desire for immediate action to mitigate climate change.

The conclusion, say the researchers, includes the perhaps predictable finding that the “probability of supporting immediate action is much higher among those who strongly believe in climate change than among those who are more moderate.”

In fact, the study goes further to suggest that instead of trying to convert climate skeptics to the reality of climate change (“since their attitudes may be guided by ideology rather than ignorance or misunderstanding”), the “greatest increase in support for immediate action may come from strengthening the composite beliefs of those who already moderately agree that climate change is occurring.”

In other words, it’s time for the choir to start singing a lot more loudly. Maybe even get up, walk out of the church, roll up the sleeves their robes and get busy.

Among the researchers is Shahzeen Attari, whom I interviewed for Indiana Living Green in early 2013. 

The Stanford poll

In the Stanford poll, the results were encouraging, but also downright maddening. Among Hoosiers, global warming is happening (79%), past warming is caused by humans (77%), and “government should limit greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. businesses:” (73%). However, here’s the maddening part: In the category of Engagement, “Warming is extremely important personally (and is likely to influence voting):” only 8% of respondents said yes.

So… global warming is happening, people are creating it, government should do something about it, but … only 8% think it’s of extreme importance?

It’s easy to speculate about why this number is so low. Climate change is such an enormous, intimidating issue, it’s difficult to see our way through. It’s safer to perceive these problems (“Warming will be a serious problem for the U.S.: 72%”) as impacting others, not oneself.

The Indiana poll

The newly released IU research posits: “Americans are increasingly convinced that climate change is occurring. However, public policy, particularly at the federal level, has lagged behind this movement in public opinion.”

While no particular policy initiatives are covered in their survey — such as a carbon tax — the research “gauges the degree of public support for ‘immediate action.’”

Why is Indiana specifically of interest? Because we are particularly unresponsive to the issue of climate change.

As the researchers put it:

“Indiana is one of only six of states that have not adopted any of the following (as of November 2013): GHG [Greenhouse Gas] emissions targets, GHG emission caps for electricity production, climate action or adaptation plans, climate change commissions or advisory groups, participation in regional climate initiatives, or GHG reporting registries.”

Given the prevalence of coal in Indiana, there is a vested business interest in not making change, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus around climate change.

I’ll let the research speak for itself here, in this key paragraph:

When asked for their opinion on mitigating climate change, only a minority supported immediate action to reduce climate change: Thirty-eight percent preferred immediate action; 50% preferred more research; and 12% responded that no action should be taken to reduce climate change. While this might lead to the expectation of ambivalence among the respondents about the reality or dangers of climate change, the data show a different story. A large majority of respondents agreed, to some extent, with the statements about climate change…. Eighty-five percent of respondents agreed that climate change is occurring, 71% agreed that it has been established as a serious problem, and 80% agreed that human activities contribute to climate change. [My emphasis added.]

So. A similar conclusion to the Stanford poll: widespread understanding — even alarm — regarding the reality of climate change, but a relatively lame number when it comes to action.

The IU research goes on to suggest there is “a specific threshold at which policy makers begin to acknowledge and respond to public support for various climate policies.”

So there you have it, choir leaders, choir and those of you stacking the donuts in the church basement. There’s a threshold awaiting you. Get busy.

You can download a free copy of the IU-led research here.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Forest Whitaker at IYI's Because Kids Count conference

I was really there listening to Whitaker live, but the screen in front of me afforded a better shot.

I attended -- for the first time -- Indiana Youth Institute's annual conference this week, and attended numerous workshops and presentations. There were around 1800 people present at the Indiana Convention Center, people whose job it is to serve youth, especially "at risk" youth.

I didn't find very much that's directly confluent with my own efforts: connecting youth to the reality of climate change and solutions in dealing with it. In fact, the subject of climate change seemed to be completely absent from the gathering.

The mission of IYI is to serve the organizations and people whose work is impacting the health and well-being of kids, and the conference did its job that way. I just believe that ALL kids are ALL "at risk" because of our unraveling climate.

Perhaps what's missing here is data. IYI is so strong when it comes to data and stats. In fact, their newest version of the Kids Count Data Book is out, and I would suggest you download a copy to learn more about the challenges -- and small successes -- facing youth. Where's the data on youth and attitudes toward climate change? How many of youth reporting depression are depressed because they don't see any future for themselves -- other than battling extreme weather events.

I'm open to answers to those questions and am actively seeking input from fellow journalists, educators and scientists.

But you see my blog title, and so I am here to say that Forest Whitaker was as great a speaker as you imagine. He is a profoundly thoughtful person. When asked a question, he would pause and think before responding. Some comments that had particular resonance for me included his remark that "My intentions guide my choices."

This is a simple but significant remark, something inspiring to us all. Of course, the trick is figuring out your intention! But once you do, choices can flow out of that intention. Case in point: me. When I realized my intention was to engage in climate change education and youth empowerment, the subsequent difficult choices were made.

Whitaker also said he was motivated to become an actor because he "wanted to expand his understanding of humanity."

I thought that was brilliant. What better profession than acting to explore the myriad aspects of human psychology.

Sometimes, big wigs invited to conferences are there only to draw in an audience. In the case of Whitaker, he was an inspiration to the assembled, who give everything to the youth they serve.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Mother Earth never takes a holiday

Bumper sticker design by Will McCarty

I always tell myself I’m going to take time off over the holidays, but it never works out that way. I joke to folks “Hey, does Mother Earth ever take a holiday? Do you ever get up, get ready for work, open the door and there’s no ‘there’ there?”

One activity I engage in — via the site I share with fellow ApocaDoc Michael — is keeping track of major environmental news around the planet.

Not only does Mother Earth not take a break, the devastation we’re creating on the planet doesn’t enjoy a holiday, either!

This one in particular, published this weekend, caught my eye:

Ounce for ounce, methane has an effect on global warming more than 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and it's leaking from the Arctic Ocean at an alarming rate, according to new research by scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Their article, which appeared last week in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Geoscience, states that the Arctic Ocean is releasing methane at a rate more than twice what scientific models had previously anticipated.

Accounts of the melting of Arctic ice proliferate. You can eye over 400 articles we’ve collected over the past few years that will wake you up more effectively than a triple espresso.

As that article in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner puts it:

the Arctic methane release creates a positive feedback loop. As temperatures increase, more methane is released, and as more methane is released, temperatures increase.

This is causing havoc with our weather system, the systematic ganking of our climate through the release of greenhouse gas pollution.

A story came out the day before Thanksgiving that puts Typhoon Haiyan into perspective, in terms of climate change’s impact. The article talks about an atmospheric scientist at MIT, who basically says Haiyan was rendered more severe by climate change… “because warmer surface temperatures essentially provide more fuel for tropical storms.”

The MIT scientist and his team compared “thermodynamic conditions that were present 30 years ago, in the 1980s, before the warming of the last few decades. They compared it to the model using current conditions.”

In the process, they discovered that “wind speeds are about ten percent larger now.”

Ten percent goes a long away.

The researcher concludes that in the case of an exceptional extreme weather event, “almost nothing you might've done in preparation for it is going to work, it's just too far out of human experience."

We’ve collected almost 400 research papers and articles about extreme weather here.

Wow, was there anything to be thankful for this week?

Sure; family, friends and the fact that, according to, there was only one reported shopping injury this year.

And as I am increasingly finding, lots of stories about the diminishment of coal and the rise of renewable energy.

This is the season to cherish all that we love.

I submit that putting the ecosystem first — as often as you can — is the way to not only thank Mother Earth for all she has given, but to show the people you love how much you DO love them. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Good Shepherd Montessori School in South Bend: Exemplary!

Pictured here is a portion of the middle school class I met with as part of my journey to my home town, South Bend, talking about climate change and what can be done about it.

Having taught in the 90s at a K-8 Montessori school here in Indianapolis — Children's House — I felt right at home at Good Shepherd. In fact, I pretty much wanted to move in and live there -- as a student, a teacher or a custodian. Whatever they need.

The students were unfailingly polite and brilliant and fun; they were attentive during my presentation and when I finished, they went around the room and talked about their upcoming projects — projects that embrace all sorts of sustainability initiatives.

It was impressive. These students are engaged in issues surrounding walkable communities, with interests in increasing bicycle access throughout the city. They are working on a green roof, on composting, on salvaging discarded soaps.

In short, they know as much about sustainability as most people twice, three times their age.

This is the future, folks, middle school aged students figuring out solutions around resiliency, mitigation and adaption, while too many of our leaders won't even address the reality of how humans are altering the physics of our atmosphere with carbon pollution.

Sorry to get on a soapbox but one of these kids will make sure my box will be made of repurposed soap.

To paraphrase a great line in Casablanca, I trust this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Whoa, what's this? Hoosiers believe climate change is real!

Here's a screen shot from a Stanford poll that reflect Hoosier's belief that climate change is real. Pretty awesome fodder for our ongoing discussions with the "skeptics" and "deniers." Turns out they are in the minority, tho of course there is much to disagree about otherwise.

Still, if we can agree on the basic science, our differences have a basis in reality.

You can check out the study here. And then dig deeper on Indiana's perspective, along with 45 other states.

A revelatory visit to New Tech High School in South Bend

Despite the fact I've now done three dozen presentations, I am still learning, and my visit to New Tech High School is testimony to that fact.

Heather Nimon, an environmental science teacher at New Tech, had invited me to present to the students there — sophomores, juniors and seniors — in two separate classes.

For the first class, I gave my standard presentation: climate change facts, some bumper stickers, and my new "we have to stop bullying the earth" section. It was fairly successful. The students were largely quite respectful and attentive, but the session ended and I racked my brain for inspiration. How can I make presentation MORE engaging?

Inspiration was sparked when my colleague John Gibson, who had witnessed the presentation, suggested I start the second one with a more personal question: What is the world going to be like when you all are my age?

Basically, 40 years from now.

The answers were a wide range of concerns, from depletion of natural resources to a much warmer planet. Those answers led to the students sharing their sustainability projects they're in the midst of formulating.

Those projects made me realize these students were way ahead of my presentation, that it in fact was only reinforcing what these kids already know — and feel largely helpless about.

So I gave them a choice: the presentation I had planned, or my climate change game show, The Ain't Too Late Show. They chose the latter, and boy am I glad they did.

The Ain't Too Late Show starts with good news each time, and so hope led the way. Then, the questions are fun and informative — and two sets of students competed, with their fellow students' help. It was great fun and a terrific lesson for me. I need to be nimble and assess the level of knowledge of each set of students I present to. If they "get it" then they are also likely to feel — at least sometimes — a sense of hopelessness.

It's much better to provide a little information in an entertaining context, so that we all — including me — have a good time talking about the most important thing of all: these kids' future.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Our first stop in South Bend: Amazing!

John Gibson and I are beginning our tour of northwest Indiana, and if our first stop is any indication, we'll have solved the world's problems by the time we return on Thursday evening.

I had heard of the remarkable Coman family and their efforts to get chicken coops welcomed into the South Bend city limits. We had exchanged emails about our kids' initiative to youth involved in climate change leadership, and after a luscious lunch of chili and home baked bread, we got down to business.

The kids — from a couple different families (see below) — were as well behaved and attentive as you'd ever imagine. It was like I was (happily) trapped in an episode of Star Trek, a future (present) with smart-as-whips kids learning in a decidedly non-industrial assembly line format.

It was inspiring: a small scale learning environment with kids whose age range insured near-peer instruction and exciting collaboration. Plus, they pledged their interest and passion in our growing group of youth, willing to tackle the future head on by engaging in climate advocacy now.

Great ideas came out of this, including the necessity of assembling books about climate change that are appropriate for younger readers. Any ideas?

A wonderful wedding reception band

Those of you who know me know that my favorite thing in the world is not talking about climate change, but... yes, dancing. There's nothing better than dancing and celebrating with people about something beautiful, like a wedding. Here's a little video I shot at a reception on Saturday night. The band was amazing!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Two presentations at Brownsburg High School

Approximately 200 hundred students from Brownsburg High School attended my back-to-back presentations today, set up by a couple of great science teachers at BHS.

I'd originally met a couple of BHS students at the recent EcoSummit2 at IUPUI so I was anxious to see those students again -- and meet some new ones.

I was not disappointed. The students were great! And for once I had the presence of mind to hand out some notecards and get some contact info and feedback from the attendees. A terrific experience all 'round. I hope to return to BHS before the end of the year to consult further with these intelligent, committed teens.

Greenhouse Gas Pollution 101.

Beware songbirds

Ambrose the cat awaits delivery of songbird lunch.

For more on Ambrose

No food will be delivered today.

Coming in for human-provided cat food.

Sam on the White River

Ryan McCracken and I interview Sam Piper on the White River, about his concerns about deforestation and its impact on the climate.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Climate Chronicles: Generations

This was a pivotal week for my Climate Reality slideshow as I presented to two diverse groups, age-wise. One was comprised of teenagers, the other, mostly elderly folks. Both groups were small — under 20 — but often times, small is better.

On Wednesday, I delivered the slideshow to members of Young Actors Theatre, an Indianapolis theater company comprised of young people with an emphasis, often, on hard-hitting social issues. I had met with YAT’s Executive Artistic Director Justin Wade early in the year, as I’d heard through the proverbial grapevine that he was wanting his troupe to tackle climate change in an upcoming performance.

Justin and I met and discussed his options, from acquiring an existing play about climate change (I’m guessing there are not very many), to creating an original work. I advocated for the latter, not the least because that’s how I got into journalism in the first place; as a playwright. But that’s another story for another column.

Justin invited me to present to his troupe, in hopes the slideshow might spark some interest and inspiration. I pondered whether to change the slideshow in any way, as I’ve been presenting to college-aged people, on up, then decided not to.

No reason these kids couldn’t see the same “hardcore” version I’ve been showing the past couple of months.

We gathered at the Athenaeum, I showed the slideshow, and then the dozen or more members of their troupe put their chairs in a circle and began to talk. Sure, there have been extended Q&A and discussions after previous slideshows, but this was different. Each teen was instructed to say how the slideshow made them “feel.” The predominant responses were “sad” and “mad.”

Sad and mad that they’d been handed such a fouled up world.

Almost every single kid said they’d been aware of the issue for some time. And that in their daily lives they encountered peers and family members who thought global warming was a liberal hoax.

Then they began the brainstorm session for the play they might or might not write. I enjoyed the ideas so much, the brainstorm session often felt like a play to me! I’ll keep you updated on progress of this impressive group of young theater artists.

On Saturday, I rode my bike to Robin’s Run to deliver the slideshow to a group of residents and their friends. It was a bit of struggle, despite the discovery of a bike lane on 71st Street. The wind was slamming into me the whole time, and I had to have my entire gear with me, including a heavy projector.

But unless I absolutely have to drive, I don’t do it, and not even the prospect of a nearly 20-mile ride on a windy day was going to stop me.

I have a bit of a history with Robin Run as my mother-in-law lived there for a few years. Most of my associations with the place are positive. And I worked in a nursing home for four years out of college, so I know these are little worlds unto themselves, as lovely or horrible as the people inside want to make it.

Robin Run is obviously a vibrant, thriving place, full of highly intelligent and engaged individuals. I was invited to this show by one of Indiana’s most esteemed and active warriors for the ecosystem, John Gibson, and I was honored to present the slideshow to him and his colleagues.

As I bicycled home, it struck me just how lucky I am to have this excuse to enter the subcultures of others. The slideshow is a gift to me and, I hope, to others. In 14 presentations since October, I’ve made a lot of new friends, and that, to me, may be the most important thing we can do, as we figure out how to deal with this eco-mess we’re facing. Make friends; build community; solutions will unfold from there.