Category Archives: Climate Change

Putting Typhoon Haiyan in the context of the “Fierce Urgency of Now.”

What brings home the catastrophe of Typhoon Haiyan are two speeches I recently added to EarthSayerstv especially in the context of the urgency of addressing climate change and what we citizens need to see happen as suggested by Jeffrey Sachs in today’s Financial Times.  Home IF we take the time to listen to our EarthSayers Mary Robinson and Jeffrey Sachs.

tn_24971First, Mary Robinson addressed climate justice in a speech to participants at the BSR (Business Social Responsibility) conference, November 5-8 in San Francisco. She talks about climate justice and the fact that the people least responsible for it are the most impacted as is the case in the Philippines. She reminds us of the importance today of Martin Luther King’s phrase,  “the fierce urgency of now.” Mary Robinson served as the seventh, and first female, President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, from 1997 to 2002. She heads up the Mary Robinson Foundation on Climate Justice.

tn_24972Secondly, Jeffrey Sachs presents the key note presentation on sustainability, most particularly sustainable development (environmental and economic) for the first Global Grand Challenges Summit 2013 in London.  The lecture is on how sustainable development must occur and how countries are not doing enough to meet this in either terms of energy and the economy. Video Published on Mar 30, 2013.

What you and I need to see happen:

In an October 15th 2013 article in the Financial Times in response to the climate catastrophe of Typhoon Haiyan, Jeffrey Sachs notesPeople need to see credible energy plans, pathways for each country and region to a prosperous low-carbon future. Such pathways can be found, but aside from excellent work in a handful of places, such as the UK, Denmark and California, such long-term planning has not been done… The basic elements of a pathway include four key pillars: more electricity from low-carbon technologies rather than coal; replacing fossil fuels with electricity as the fuel source for sectors such as cars and household heating; greater energy efficiency in industry and the home; and the end of deforestation (which emits carbon).

Jeffrey D. Sachs is a world-renowned professor of economics, leader in sustainable development, senior UN advisor, bestselling author, and syndicated columnist.

Ruth Ann Barrett, Sustainability Advocate, November 15, 2013, Portland, Oregon.

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Are We Afraid to Call It Climate Change?

First, let me raise a few more questions.

greentoesWill we continue to talk about the changes in climate, climate variability, warming temperatures, extreme weather, exceptional drought, or Hurricane Sandy, but not use the term climate change so we as sustainability advocates don’t step on anyone’s toes?  Why are we targeting the 12,000 folks a month using Google to search on, say, climate variability, only a fourth of them from the United States and not the estimated 2,240,000 citizens searching monthly using the term, climate change, 30% of them in the United States?

Should we even care about the 3,600 searchers using the term climate change hoax, considerably less than the 18,000 wanting information on the global warming hoax, a majority of these searchers, 66%, being from the United States?  Are we not at the back of the pack addressing the stragglers when we fail to title, describe, and tag properly our papers, blog posts, reports, and videos addressing global warming and climate change?

Tuesday June 23 Google SpikeThe mainstream media appears to be in the back somewhere.  When on June 25th the President of the United States makes a major address on climate change it doesn’t register on the dial with the press, but it does cause a spike in search traffic, so the Web part of the awareness cycle is working even if TV isn’t.  We need both.

press coverage of speech

Just how much of a snoozer was the President’s speech in terms of “news” was discussed by Bill Moyers and Marty Kaplan, the Norman Lear Professor of Entertainment, Media and Society. Here is a four-minute video clip of their conversation. In the video see how Fox News used a smidgen of the President’s speech as a segue way to the author of Red Hot Lies – a lesson in distraction and manipulation.  Bill Moyers references an infographic by Think Progress that sums it all up as in zero seconds for major programs.

In the case of building awareness, no news is not good news.

Are people afraid to talk directly about climate change? Some may have a good reason to be afraid. There are reports of climatologists loosing jobs because they expressed a belief in climate change, or didn’t, depending on the political climate in their State or their boss.   For a flavor of the pressures professionals can find themselves under listen to This American Life, podcast 495, Hot In My Backyard, May 13, 2013 featuring the story of Colorado’s State Climatologist, Nolan Doesken.

Three years ago I wrote a blog post citing Elizabeth Kolbert reporting in the The New Yorker “a quarter of the TV weather-casters AGREE with the statement ‘global warming is a scam,’ and nearly two-thirds believe that, if warming is occurring, it is caused mostly by natural change.” While I can’t find a study to confirm a shift in the thinking of these folks over the last three years I can appreciate this headline on the Weather Channel last week (Jul 24, 2013) as a sign of a shift, an increasing awareness:

“Poison Ivy is Growing Out of Control, Thanks to Climate Change”



Fortunately, business leaders such as General Motor’s Mike Robinson, Vice President of Sustainability and Global Regulatory Affairs are openly discussing the importance of preventing climate change. In this video posted by 3BL Media Mike talks about the steps GM is taking to stop climate change and why it is important to address it. The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) hosted a panel, Business in the Age of Climate Change with leaders from the Ford Motor Company and the WWF (video here).  Elected officials including President Obama are stepping up to the plate such as Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s presentation at a state-wide Climate Change Summit, and Mayor Bloomberg”s speech, “A Stronger, More Resilient New York.”

GM Works with Ceres, an advocacy .org for sustainability leadership, “to reduce carbon emissions, improve energy efficiency and increase investment in a clean energy economy.” The Ceres Climate Declaration (full list here) signed by GM and a host of companies makes it clear where they stand on climate science.  Sign the declaration as an individual and/or company here and join with Levi Strauss & Co., The Weather Company, Method, L’Oreal, Nike, AMD, Intel and many more.

What’s in a name? When it comes to search and using the Web to educate and inspire, terminology is extremely important. Denial of climate change is what the stragglers are chatting about. Let’s move on. As sustainability advocates target those active in the learning cycle on climate change (searching on Google and YouTube qualifies an individual as active) to increase awareness and emphasize the connections  to the pressing issues of water, energy, and even poison ivy.  Let’s as sustainability advocates emphasize in our conversations and communications the leaders among us who openly discuss climate change and are working to do something about it. Distance yourself and company from organizations associated with skepticism, the Heartland Institute being identified as the most prominent one by the Economist in May 2012, a quote featured  here on the Heartland Website.

Ruth Ann Barrett, Sustainability Advocate, July 29, 2013, Cleveland, Ohio

Sustainability Runs Deep: Fracking and You

Let’s start with a place.

Here’s the video.

It’s an infographic published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on data provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection that demonstrates Pennsylvania’s Natural Gas Production growth. In words: “Between 2009 and 2011, Pennsylvania’s natural gas production more than quadrupled due to expanded horizontal drilling combined with hydraulic fracturing.”

What’s the problem?

frackedHydraulic fracturing or “fracking” relies on a technique called horizontal slickwater fracturing. The headline of the video doesn’t use the term, fracking, largely, I think, because it is most frequently used by its detractors who are concerned about the environmental and social risks associated with the use of this technique which include contamination of our environment (air, water, land) and the health risks it poses to our communities and citizens.

The Detractors.

You can bet the recently released movie, Promised Land, staring Matt Damon, has the oil and gas industry all prepared with a PR campaign to counter claims made in the film that pmovieuts it decidedly in the camp of the detractors.  Some of you reading this blog may know more about such plans than I, but I do know a movie like this  means our citizens will find it harder to ignore this major issue as it moves to the big screen and money is invested in public relations to include that rascal of marketing, social media.

Hard to argue against, but…

For my part it looks like gas reserves are plentiful and provide the following:  an “alternative” to oil; a competitive advantage to bringing manufacturing/service jobs back home; and profits to the oil and gas industry. Articles in the black footprintFinancial Times with headlines such as “Europe’s public must be sold on shale’s merits” referring to a U.S. revolution of “economic, industrial and geopolitical significance” to ‘Gas strategy’ threatens carbon targets.  Whoops. What’s that about climate change? “The [greenhouse gas] footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years.” (article)  That’s a real show stopper for this sustainability advocate as are other disturbing environmental and health warnings.

Downside Management.

Externalizing the risks and costs (John Fullerton of Capital Institute video) associated with negative, possibly disastrous environmental, social, and cultural consequences of high risk energy alternatives is an accepted management practice to keep the downside off the books. The impact from legal and insurance actions (or non-actions) require all of us to educate ourselves and conduct due diligence.

Education and due diligence.

imagesAs an example there is an upcoming event by The Seminar Group on February 8th that caught my eye and is the kind of education we need more of across all professions and quickly.  This program on Fracking includes a review of pending litigation and legislative efforts underway in response to the increasing use of hydraulic fracking and the central role played by domestic and international insurance brokers and insurers in providing insurance policies tailored to the specific and unique needs associated with the exploration for oils and gas.

This month as reported in the Financial Times “North Sea operators face tougher insurance conditions from January 1 as part of a wider tightening of rules designed to ensure UK oil and gas explorers are practically and financially equipped to deal with major spills.” This action was inspired by the Gulf Oil Spill. One hopes for tough insurance conditions when it comes to fracking and that’s what is meant by “tailored to the specific and unique needs.

sustainability awarenessSustainability and YOU

Ultimately, we need to look at the situation from the three perspectives of planet, people, and prosperity. We have a track record of externalizing risks and costs that has cost us and the planet dearly, maybe to a degree that we are quite literally cooked.  Fracking offers us the opportunity to re-think the where, how and what of energy economics, consumption, and public policy. This won’t happen without awareness, education, and community leadership in other words, YOU.

To Scientists: It’s Not About The Climate

Sustainability>Planet>Climate Change>deniers

I think the debate around climate change (see two previous blog posts, Advancing Science and Serving Society) reflects a lack of confidence in scientists coming in part from the health sciences where false claims and misrepresentations, not to mention theft, spill over and sully the reputation of all scientists. The result is increasing doubt and distrust on the part of citizens. It shouldn’t work that way, but it is with studies showing “trust in science is decreasing.”

Doubt: False Claims and Misrepresentation

The fact that scientists are closely allied with big Pharma on and off the campus is no big secret. Marketing drugs that generate billions in sales, year after year, by making unsubstantiated claims with mouse type disclaimers is often news and has been for years.   Such was the case with Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) at the time a real money maker with $2.75B in revenues (2001). It supposedly prevented heart attacks, offered only a slight risk of breast cancer, and, making it the Viagra of its day, “improved the mental health, sex lives and overall well-being of older women.”  Wow.  Small potatoes compared to the statin Lipitor, the best selling drug of all time with 2009 revenues at $27B. And the effect of long term use of statins? Diabetes maybe? Wow again.  And it really isn’t about health is it?

Forty two percent of Americans distrust the pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and 39% gave poor ratings to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies for failing to serve companies in 2007.

Instances of fabricating, falsifying, or misrepresenting research data are not uncommon, unfortunately, and tend to be what the reading public remembers because often the individual or someone in their community, even a close family member, have had direct experience with an undelivered “brand promise.”  And it is about the scientists.

A 2007 Harris Interactive poll found that among 1,726 US adults, 27% of the public distrusts- ‘somewhat’ or ‘very strongly’- the Food and Drug Administration. More

Then there’s The New York Times report yesterday on a “scientific reversal as dramatic and strange as any in recent memory, the finding (possible cause of chronic fatigue syndrome) has been officially discredited…a legal melodrama erupted, dismaying and demoralizing patients and many members of the scientific community.”

75% of U.S. clinical trials in medicine are paid for by private companies

Distrust: Theft

Cancer Center, in Suit, Claims Ex-Official Took Research

In Monday’s business section the New York Times reports on the theft allegation by the Leonard and Madlyn Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute at Penn against its former scientific director, Dr. Craig B. Thompson, now President of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.  “At Penn” is the revenue angle for the University, an increasingly compromising factor that turns discoveries into gold.   The overall take away: follow the money, not the science.  Mr. Abramson is “one of Penn’s biggest donors” with a major source of his wealth coming from the sale of the company he founded, U.S. Healthcare, to Aetna in 1996.

From the drug scene to natural gas

Screen shot 2012-02-08 at 3.33.45 PMWhen you hear this story, Game Changer from the radio show This American Life about Terry Engelder, a geologist at Penn State University and Dan Volz, director of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities of the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, you will hear the sound of big money talking at the intersection of environment, community, health, and climate change as natural gas is the hot “alternative clean energy investment.” We prefer to think of it as a high risk energy alternative and encourage credible advocacy from scientists on helping citizens determine just how risky to ecosystem services, especially the nation’s clean water supply, fracking really is.

Antidotes to distrust and doubt


Dr. Chappell

In a recent lecture Dr. M. Jahi Chappell of Washington State University referenced research that shows most of us don’t even know a scientist making it difficult to balance what one reads and sees on TV with personal experience.  Dr. Chappell as a political ecologist cultivates and collaborates with a diverse group of scholars and practitioners.

Add to the isolation picture the following state of affairs in many universities and you can see opportunities for scientists to address distrust and doubt by developing personal relationships, speaking to the community directly, partnering with practitioners, and being activists for change (credible advocacy is how Dr. Chappell put it):

  • academic research centers reliance on turning discoveries made on their campuses into revenue – a tide that needs turning with a firewall or two;
  • scientists rewarded for writing for each other, not for citizens and credible advocacy organizations, a practice unattractive to younger faculty who understand the need to regain trust and respect while migrating from print to the world of social media and “broadcast yourself.”
  • a belief on the part of the scientific community that so-called objectivity is compromised by exercising responsibilities as a citizen needs to be debunked by the leadership of educational institutions; and
  • silos of belief systems organized to fly under one flag, sustainability science, designed to
… bring together scholarship and practice, global and local perspectives from north and south, and disciplines across the natural and social sciences, engineering, and medicineit can be usefully thought of as “neither ‘‘basic’’ nor ‘‘applied’’ research but as a field defined by the problems it addresses rather than by the disciplines it employs; it serves the need for advancing both knowledge and action by creating a dynamic bridge between the two.

Video Resources

To spark interest and seed conversation among scientists who recognize the need to address trust and confidence in their institutions and community these resources are helpful, some of which have been referenced above.

Video excerpts from Dr. Chappell’s lecture at Portland State University, Social Sustainability Colloquium, the podcast, Responsibility of Intellectuals, from the program, To the Best of Our Knowledge; Gas Land by Josh Fox; Examined Life by Astra Traylor; and an interview with Al Bartlett, Professor Emeritus, Physics, Colorado University, entitled My Trust Was Misplaced.

Dr. Bartlett’s advice seem particularly apt for the citizen we all are: “You have to do your own thinking.”

Ruth Ann Barrett, February 8, 2011, Portland, Oregon

Advancing Science, Serving Society in a Hostile Environment

In Friday’s post about climate change I referenced four videos, one of which features Prince Charles denouncing the climatePrince Charles change deniers.  What I didn’t refer to is the public Statement of the Board of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Regarding Personal Attacks on Climate Scientists. “We are deeply concerned by the extent and nature of personal attacks on climate scientists. Reports of harassment, death threats, and legal challenges have created a hostile environment that inhibits the free exchange of scientific findings and ideas and makes it difficult for factual information and scientific analyses to reach policymakers and the public.”

Prince Charles notes, so clearly and directly it takes your breath away, “the corrosive effect on public opinion of those climate change skeptics who denounce the vast body of scientific evidence that shows beyond a any reasonableroulette doubt  that global warming has been exasperated by human industrial activities” and then asks, “Will such people be held accountable at the end of the day for their absolute refusal to continence a precautionary approach? For this plays, I would suggest,  a most reckless game of roulette with the future inheritance for those that come after us…”

The role of associations, like the AAAS, in educating the public and alerting citizens to issues not covered in the mainstream press (they express it as “advancing science, serving society”) needs to be increased if we are to hear the unfiltered voices of sustainability above the din of ignorance, self interest, and disinformation, information intended to mislead. Here’s a popular video, How It All Ends, on thinking it through for yourself; using risk management to end the debate;  and how YOU can help make things happen.

Sustainability Advocate, Ruth Ann Barrett, February 5, 2011, Portland, Oregon.