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.