Green Links: Top 2012 Climate Events

2012 was the hottest year on record.

And wild. And wet. And deathly dry.

Here’s a wrap-up of 2012 climate events crowdsourced by a group of climate change scientists and environmental writers.

Of the several versions of this list that appeared around the web, I like this first version best. Mostly because the comments are relatively troll-free. So, 19 weather events of note.


Climate Chaos: Some Key 2012 Events

For those who like their weather news neat and tidy, a more compact version from Wunderground’s head meteorologist, Dr. Jeff Masters.


Top 10 Weather Events of 2012

So know we know what happened, what’s next?

National Public Radio interviewed founder and environmentalist Bill McKibben, on this very question.


2013: A Tipping Year for Climate Change?

“We’ve already passed all kinds of tipping points,” McKibben, the founder of, tells weekends on All Things Considered host Jacki Lyden. “The NASA scientist Jim Hansen was saying, ‘There’s no other word for where we are now than planetary emergency.'”

Could this be the year where Climate Change action take off?

I sincerely hope so.

Green Government: Putting “False Balance” to Rest

Just the facts.

Let’s remember that when discussing how our towns should make decisions for our communities.

On Dec 3, the Frelinghuysen, NJ town council held discussions about continuing to participate in the voluntary, advisory and non-binding Sustainable Jersey program.

That’s a fair enough discussion. What’s not fair is that the town council members might have taken far-fetched, false concerns about Sustainable Jersey into their consideration.

Sustainable Jersey is all about helping NJ towns build stronger, healthier communities by sharing good ideas state-wide.

Things like saving money on town energy bills, building nature-friendly parks, and setting up safe bike paths for kids. Improvements that make a town a nicer place to live for everyone.

It has nothing whatsoever to do with a Tea Party-promoted conspiracy theory.  The United Nations is not plotting to take away Americans’ rights to personal property.

The council voted 3-2 to cut ties to Sustainable Jersey.

I blame false equivalency. In my opinion, there has been an erosion of fact-based public discourse in the past decade.

Somewhere along the line, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” morphed into “Every opinion deserves equal weight in public decision-making.”

(See also: Creationism in public school science classrooms and Climate Change denialism in the halls of Congress.)

It doesn’t. Governments need to make decisions based on facts. Not hopes, wishes, dreams, and especially not on paranoid delusions.

This fall, the New York Times redrew the rational thinking line in the sand. In a public editor statement, Margaret Sullivan wrote about the Times viewpoints on “false balance” when it comes to reporting on non-fact-based opinions or untruths.

He Said, She Said, and the Truth

“Recently, there’s been pressure to be more aggressive on fact-checking and truth-squading,” said Richard Stevenson, The Times’s political editor. “It’s one of the most positive trends in journalism that I can remember.”

It’s all a part of a movement — brought about, in part, by a more demanding public, fueled by media critics, bloggers and denizens of the social media world — to present the truth, not just conflicting arguments leading to confusion.

You’re entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts, goes the line from Daniel Patrick Moynihan, made current again on the PressThink blog by Jay Rosen of New York University, a media critic who has pressed the fact-checking argument.

Simply put, false balance is the journalistic practice of giving equal weight to both sides of a story, regardless of an established truth on one side. And many people are fed up with it. They don’t want to hear lies or half-truths given credence on one side, and shot down on the other. They want some real answers.

So maybe the tide as a whole is turning towards fact-based decision making.

But in Frelinghuysen NJ, perhaps, not.

Sullivan ends her Times comment with a statement I fully support: “The more news organizations can state established truths and stand by them, the better off the readership — and the democracy — will be.”

Green Business: AT&T’s Greenwashing FAIL

Green isn’t always what it seems.

AT&T claimed to be the “World’s Record” holder for recycling phones, and paid Guinness for the right to say so.

Fact is, Sprint is far ahead of them, but missed the boat on telling their customers.

What’s the harm? Well, greenwashing erodes customer trust.

Greenwashing makes consumers feel tricked and less likely to believe genuinely green claims that might positively influence their choices.

Hat tip to Marc Gunther for his reporting.


Sorry, Wrong Number: AT&T’s Recycling Claim Doesn’t Add Up

AT&T says it collected 3 million cell phones for reuse and recycling in 2011. Sprint says it collected 11 million in 2011–an average of more than 200,000 a week, easily topping AT&T’s so-called record.

Gunther uses this example as an opportunity to talk about how businesses can do a better job of assessing, counting and reporting on their environmental impacts.

What’s needed here are common metrics and better transparency, as well a concept called sustainability context. Sustainability context that seeks to put corporate claims in the context of what the planet’s limits are when it comes to greenhouse gas reductions, water usage and the like.

Context is a fascinating development that brings absolute limits and thresholds into the mix.

“How many?” leaps beyond “Out of how many?” to the real question we face: “How much can the planet handle?”

Now things are getting interesting.

Green Business: Metrics Pitfalls, Part I

People are really bad at math.

When you start paying attention, you start noticing all the ways that humans miscount, ignore, dismiss, subvert or otherwise mangle the numbers we use to draw conclusions and make decisions.

The problem is, we think we’re being rational. But we’re not.

This kind of cognitive dissonance makes my head hurt. Especially when it comes to how we as a collective society are driving headlong towards the Climate Change cliff.

Why on earth do we continue to make such terrible, terrible choices?

Risk expert David Ropeik has a bead on the answer. He writes about the choices we make that are against our best interests and in spite of evidence to the contrary:

Risk Perception

We worry about some things more than the evidence warrants (vaccines, nuclear radiation, genetically modified food), and less about some threats than the evidence warns (climate change, obesity, using our mobiles when we drive).

That produces what I have labeled The Perception Gap, the gap between our fears and the facts, which is a huge risk in and of itself.

The Perception Gap …produces social policies that protect us more from what we’re afraid of than from what in fact threatens us the most (we spend more to protect ourselves from terrorism than heart disease)…which in effect raises our overall risk.

Ropeik’s research is so satisfying to me because it explains why people act the way they do–sometimes inexplicably, often quixotically, frequently capriciously.

These kinds of inquires have led me to a writing partnership with Matt Polsky for Our article series examines the pitfalls of sustainability measurements by drawing on examples from outside the business world.

Here’s part 1: What Sustainability Metrics Can Learn from School Reform