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Civil, respectful, fast-based discussion. That’s the goal.

So if that’s what we want, why do so many online comment threads get completely out of hand?

Read this thoughtful, realistic article by Bora Zivkovic for some insights.

Via ScientificAmerican.com:

Commenting threads: good, bad, or not at all.

A couple of weeks ago, an article was published in Science about online science communication (nothing new there, really, that we have not known for a decade, but academia is slow to catch up). But what was interesting in it, and what everyone else jumped on, was a brief mention of a conference presentation that will be published soon in a journal. It is about the effect of the tone of comments on the response of other readers to the article on which the comments appear.

Instead of “silent” participation leading gradually to more active participation as one becomes more comfortable with the site, it seems the opposite is happening: mildly active users are now becoming silent users as it is easier to click “Share on Facebook” than to post a brief comment.

But there is another problem here – most of the good, nice, constructive commenters may have gone silent and taken their discussions of your blog elsewhere, but the remaining few commenters are essentially trolls.

 

Uncivil, aggressive comments resulted in quick polarization. Readers, although still not well informed about the topic, quickly adopted strong opinions about it.

So trolls not only stifle discusion, they can drive readers to form polarized opinions that they did not hold previously.

Not a good situation, in my opinion, for helping people come to important decisions.

More and more, I’m finding that this quote attributed to Danial Moynihan is a helpful compass.

Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.

 

Hotter. Colder. Wetter. Drier.

Wilder.

Right now.

That pretty much sums up the draft Climate Assessment Report released Jan. 11 by the U.S. Federal Advisory Committee that keeps an eye on climate change.

The report opens with a Letter to the American People.

The news isn’t good.

Via ncadac.globalchange.gov:

Climate Change and the American People

Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.

This report of the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee concludes that the evidence for a changing climate has strengthened considerably since the last National Climate Assessment report, written in 2009. Many more impacts of human-caused climate change have now been observed. Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington State, and maple syrup producers in Vermont have observed changes in their local climate that are outside of their experience. So, too, have coastal planners from Florida to Maine, water managers in the arid Southwest and parts of the Southeast, and Native Americans on tribal lands across the nation.

Americans are noticing changes all around them. Summers are longer and hotter, and periods of 12 extreme heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced. Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours, though in many regions there are longer dry spells in between.

Read the report.

Make a comment (that’s what the draft’s for).

Share with your friends.

Call your legislators. Let them know you’ll support them when climate change, renewable energy, clean energy, and Sustainability issues come up for a vote.

And while we’re at it, you’ll probable need this: How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic

 

 

What a great, memorable, accessible concept.

Think Bright. Not Brown.

“Brownfields into Brightfields” means means transforming unproductive industrial spaces into energy-producing solar power installations.

As a NJ native, I grew up on the concept of brownfields. These are spaces that have already been used for commercial or industrial use. They are “brown” in that they are usually cemented over.  They aren’t green, haven’t been for a long time and they won’t ever be again.

No trees. No shade. Cracked cement. High chainlink fences.

Often contaminated, making them unsuitable for many purposes.

Usually close to densely populated areas, but not in the middle of things.

Which makes them perfect sites for energy-producing, job-creating, renewable energy projects.

The EPA has been on this idea for years.

Via epa.gov:

Brightfields Initiatives

Brightfields is a revolutionary concept that addresses three of the nation’s biggest challenges — urban revitalization, toxic waste cleanup, and climate change — by bringing pollution-free solar energy and high-tech solar manufacturing jobs to brownfields.

The Brightfields approach offers a range of opportunities to link solar energy to brownfields redevelopment and thereby transform community hazards and eyesores into productive, green ventures.

This unprecedented campaign will help our nation put its hundreds of thousands of brownfields back into productive use and at the same time create high-tech jobs in blighted urban neighborhoods, improve air quality, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

With thanks to National Geographic writer Christina Nunez, I learned about about a Brightfield project in Hackensack, NJ.

Via theenergycollective.com:

Turning Brownfields Into Brightfields With Solar Energy

Thousands of contaminated tracts of land labeled brownfields by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may eventually provide the valuable real estate needed for renewable energy projects, and New Jersey is at the forefront of using such sites to bolster its status as a leader in solar energy.

The utility PSE&G is installing 4,000 solar panels on a six-acre site in Hackensack, N.J., that was once the home of a gas plant and then gas storage facilities. For this site and many others, cleaning up the land for traditional development is prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.

This is another one of these private-public-industry partnerships that have the power to actually work.

I wrote about a similar project back in May 2012.

Green Government: NJ Dump Gets New Life as Solar Farm

New Jersey’s newest solar farm is located on a 13-acre closed landfill in Kearny. From fallow to flourishing, the site is expected to power 500 homes.

A key success here in my mind–and hopefully a model for future development–is that this project required a lot of people with their own agendas and motivations to work together. It could not have been easy to coordinate this first-in-class project between a state-regulated public utility (PSE&G), a joint government/business  commission, private industry, and state government officials.

Brownfields seemed like places beyond repair. Turns out they are part of a brighter future.

“The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.”

–Neal deGrasse Dyson

Big Data is cool.

Not just any computer can handle massive data sets and circuit frying calculations

It take a special kind of computer. Super, actually.

Enter “Yellowstone”:  a new supercomputer solely dedicated to climate science at the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s (NCAR) Wyoming Supercomputing Center

Via treehugger.com:

World’s Most Powerful Supercomputer Devoted to Climate Change Turns On

The 1.5 petaflop IBM computer can run an astonishing 1.5 quadrillion calculations per second, ranking it in the top 20 most powerful computers in the world. As Time Techland reports, that means a mammoth amount of computing power will now be dedicated to “studying everything from hurricanes and tornadoes to geomagnetic storms, tsunamis, wildfires, air pollution and the location of water beneath the earth’s surface.”

Yellowstone gives climate scientists a powerful new tool for forecasting weather patterns, modelling climate change impacts, and precipitation changes.

 

 

 

Science tells us what. Policy tells us what to do about it.

Human-caused climate change is happening and it’s hurting the world we live on.

So why aren’t more citizens, businesses, and governments taking action?

I attended a lecture last night on just that topic at Rutgers University by Dr. Michael E. Mann, climate scientist and author of  “The Hockey Stick and The Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.”

Dr. Mann started off stating that climate change science is not controversial.  Climate change science rests on established and well-understood facts and validated models.

The earth’s climate is changing rapidly, and perhaps irreversibly, due to human-created carbon emissions into our atmosphere.

With that out of the way, he recounted his reluctant evolution from policy-eschewing scientist to a front-line climate science  defender.

Think Attorney General subpoenas, Congressional inquiries, and even death threats.

All waged by policymakers, politicians, and those with financial interests in keeping climate change science from being accepted as basic fact.

It’s a fascinating story and I strongly recommend the book.

Watch a condensed 16-minute version of this same talk from his Dec. 2011 TEDx talk:

TEDxPSU – Michael Mann – A Look Into Our Climate: Past To Present To Future

And about that hockey stick?

Kudos for my alma mater’s student newspaper The Daily Targum for covering the well-attended event:

Author makes case for rising temperatures

Michael E. Mann, a professor in the Department of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, came to speak about his book, “The Hockey Stick and The Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines,” yesterday at the Cook Campus Center.

 “The hockey stick is a graph that my co-authors and I published more than a decade ago, which was an attempt to find how the temperature of the earth has changed over 1,000 years,” Mann said.

“It quickly became an icon in the climate change debate because it told such a simple story,” he said. “You didn’t need to understand the physics of how a climate model works to understand what this graph is telling you.”

His talk ended on the positive note that there is still time, not a lot,  to take action before we hit the point of no return. (Wonky but worth it.)

But first, we need to stop arguing about the science.

Learn More:

Aug. 30 White House Executive Order Signed by President Obama to Accelerate Energy Efficiency

Sept 6. Greenbiz.com: Article White House Efficiency Plan Will Up Output, Curb Emissions
(Greenbiz.com is a for-profit online news source covering Sustainable Business and related topics)

Sept. 7 New York Times: Obama Counterpunches “Climate Change is Not a Hoax”

Sept 7 Inside Climate News: Major Corporations Aren’t Waiting for Washington to Reduce Emissions and Save Money
(Inside News is a non-profit, non-partisan news source)

David Roberts has some great news.

Via Grist.org:

We [the U.S.] have cut our carbon emissions more than any other country in the world in recent years — 7.7 percent since 2006. U.S. emissions fell 1.9 percent last year and are projected to fall 1.9 percent again this year, which will put us back at 1996 levels. It will not be easy to achieve the reductions Obama promised in Copenhagen — 17 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2020 — but that goal no longer looks out of reach, even in the absence of comprehensive legislation.

And a ponder. If we are doing so well, why aren’t we talking about it?

The answer, according to Roberts, lies in the political landscape that will shape conversations now until November.

President Obama has some wins to claim, but not all of them lead to good places.

Say, for instance, that electricity use has fallen.That’s all well and good, except for that this dip was caused by the Great Recession whalloping production and consumption.

See the tarnished lining inside this silver news?

This good news-bad news is nothing new to anyone who has spend time in a public affairs, investor relations or marketing communications position. Don’t say things that lead to questions you don’t want to answer.

As a Sustainability writer and practitioner, I’m fascinated by what I can learn from these real-world conversations. I’m interested in talking more persuasively, honestly and accurately about how climate change and environmental issues impact our businesses and communities.

Read the full article.

Happy Summer Solstice. Hot enough for you?

With temps soaring into the 90s for the next few days on the U.S. eastern seaboard, let’s look at a new TEDx video* by Dave Roberts of Grist.org.

This sharable, linkable, discussable video & blog post lays out the facts simply and clearly.

Via Grist.org:

Climate Change is Simple

We do something or we’re screwed.

Since money talks, I like Dave’s penultimate slide:

Every year of delay adds $500 billion to the investment required.

This figure is from the IEA as well, but again, the specifics aren’t as important as the structure of the problem. Delay raises the inevitable costs. Solutions are “expensive,” but not nearly as expensive as inaction.

There’s no time to waste.

*I highly recommend all the TEDx videos from this April 16, 2012 event.

 

 

Here’s an idea: taxi meters for our personal cars.

Why? Because many of us have no idea how the little things in our life actually cost, because the purchase is made once and then forgotten.

Or, causes a wince of regret weeks later when the credit card statement arrives.

Like, for instance, gas.

Quick, how much does it cost to fill your tank? OK, that’s easy.

How much gas does it cost to drive across town, back, then to another part of town?

You don’t know, right?

If you did, and you could see the amount of money ticking up on your dashboard, would it change your habits?

It might.

That’s the premise behind a new upcoming book called “Ecological Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman.

If we really knew the *real* cost of our everyday actions and purchases on the planet and other people, we might finally sit up and take notice.

As a whole, the world’s rich people don’t see that the meter is running wildly out of control for natural resource consumption.

Sooner or later, probably sooner, the bill is going to arrive.

Via Time.com:

10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now

But what if we could seamlessly calculate the full lifetime effect of our actions on the earth and on our bodies? Not just carbon footprints but social and biological footprints as well? What if we could think ecologically? That’s what psychologist Daniel Goleman describes in his forthcoming book, Ecological Intelligence. Using a young science called industrial ecology, businesses and green activists alike are beginning to compile the environmental and biological impact of our every decision — and delivering that information to consumers in a user-friendly way. That’s thinking ecologically — understanding the global environmental consequences of our local choices. “We can know the causes of what we’re doing, and we can know the impact of what we’re doing,” says Goleman, who wrote the 1995 best seller Emotional Intelligence.“It’s going to have a radical impact on the way we do business.”

 

I just found out where palm oil comes from.

And that palm oil production is a contentious, multifaceted problem.

I don’t eat much processed or packaged food. I’m mostly outside the junk and boxed food conversation.

Maybe that’s why palm oil wasn’t on my radar.

I never thought about where it comes from, how it’s produced, and most importantly, that it’s in many, many more products than I would have imagined.

(In the UK about 40% of manufactured food contains palm oil.)

I didn’t realize that palm oil has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere happens to be largely Indonesian plantations where carbon-sequestering, primate-dwelling rain forests used to grow.

Four palm oil problems:

1. Deforestation, with resultant CO2 emissions

2. Habitat destruction, with resultant impact on threatened species, including Orangutans.

3. Pervasive presence in processed foods, with resultant pressure to produce more and more.

4. Social justice issues with displacement of indigenous peoples.

Here are three articles from the past 5 years that talk about palm oil and its problems:

Via Treehugger.com

January 6, 2007 Palm Oil: A Rainforest in Your Shopping Cart

July 6, 2009 Rainforest Destroying Palm Oil Hiding in Far More Products Than Previously Thought

May 2, 2012: Palm Oil Even Worse For Deforestation, Emissions Than Thought

Now that I am aware of this issue, I will read labels more more carefully and keep learning about how palm oil sourcing and production can be made more sustainable.