Tuesday, May 31, 2016

"Sugar Coated": Big Tobacco & Big Oil, Meet Big Sugar

I just watched the documentary Sugar Coated. Its parallels to the War On Science-style campaigns funded by cigarette makers and climate polluters were staggering:
  • Product is cheap & easy in the short term but expensive & deadly in the long run
  • A complex problem that's hard for people to understand or respond to individually
  • Industry pays scientists to manufacture doubt and uncertainty about the harm caused by its highly-profitable product
  • Science advocates not only hopelessly underfunded, but often outgunned with only a scientific background against a multidisciplinary campaign using marketing, political and emotional tactics
As Mother Jones has extensively reported, the sugar industry has worked hard to make sure government policy doesn't reflect the truth that added sugar is toxic. In just the last few months, the Obama administration has taken the important step of including added sugar on nutrition labels, but that barely scratches the surface of what could be done if progressive Democrats took on Big Sugar like they took on Big Tobacco and industrial climate polluters.

Sugar Coated is now available on Netflix. Here's the trailer:

Sugar Coated Trailer from The Cutting Factory on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Being A Green Parent Is Hard. Here's What's Worked For Us.

The first rule of being a green parent is do not sweat being a green parent. You'll have a million other things to stress out about and no matter what you do, you'll feel like you're fighting a losing battle.

You'll have good weeks where you feel like recycling and composting are keeping your household footprint to not much more than it was pre-kids. And you'll have weeks where you look around at piles of unrecyclable plastic clamshell-style packaging & little-used plastic toys and feel hopeless.

With our daughter now two years old, I wanted to share a few tips from our experience navigating life as first-time parents trying to maximize savings and miminize waste & stress:
  • We used the Beaba to make our own baby food. It takes more time & planning, but we found it worked well, produced more vibrant-looking baby food, and saved money in the long run. We bought one round of Gerbers, then re-used those glass containers endlessly for our own food.
  • We're doing disposable diapers. Studies have shown that the extra energy & water consumed washing cloth diapers offsets the landfill impact of disposables. As I said, unless it's a clear environmental win, it's not worth adding stress and a significant amount of additional grossness to an already spit-up-and-volcano-diaper-filled life. We also recommend the Diaper Genie, which holds a lot of diapers in a small amount of plastic & keeps the odors locked in.
  • It's worth signing up for Amazon Prime to get Amazon Family discounts on subcribe & save items. Compile 5 subscription items into one shipment & you get an extra 15% off. Between diapers, wipes, diaper genie refills, etc. it's pretty easy to add up to five. The prices on wipes are particularly good. Unless you're somehow able to walk or bike those cases of diapers home, you'll have a lower carbon footprint than driving.
  • Skip diaper wipe warmers and other absurd gadgets. My wife diligently saved every receipt, allowing us to return products that we found we didn't really need.
  • You'll have many items that you need for a few months, then never again. Talk to other parents about what you can borrow. If you need to buy, buying used and then re-selling can save money and reduce waste. Amazon now sells more used products than ever (look on the right side of product pages). When it comes time to get rid of something, I've been pleasantly surprised how many buyers (or just takers for "free to a good home" items) you can find on Craigslist.
  • Learn how to use everything before the baby comes. Install the car seat & get it checked at your local fire station. Set up, unfold & repack the stroller. Unpack the breast pump, figure out how it works, and decide how & where you'll be storing & cleaning everything.
  • If you're upgrading from a car to a larger vehicle, check FuelEconomy.gov. An efficient large SUV like the Toyota Highlander Hybrid can get much better fuel efficiency than a smaller less-efficient model like the Jeep Wrangler.
  • A sturdy carrier like an Osprey to save your back on long walks & hikes is definitely worth the investment.
  • Let your kids get a little dirty. It's good for them.
  • Consumer Reports was a life-saver as I quickly & constantly having to become an expert on what to buy. Bike seat or trailer?? Consumer Reports helped guide us to a front handlebar seat. My local library has an online subscription that we used for free access.
Do the best you can to minimize your impact, but don't drive yourself crazy. You'll have many other, less-busy years of your life to shrink your footprint and lobby for environmentally-friendly changes in your own community.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

On Fossil Fuels, Politicians Always Want Just One More Cookie

In my new post over at Blue Mass Group, I list 11 reasons legislators need to say no to a fracked gas pipeline tax, concluding:
Look, I understand why including nothing for natural gas in this energy bill is hard to swallow for legislators. It’s counter to the usual horse-trading process where lobbyists for one side asks for a loaf, the other side asks legislators to give nothing, they settle at half a loaf, and everyone goes to 21st Amendment for drinks after.

Giving polluters some of what they want also appeals to legislators who prefer to avoid lines in the sand. Can’t we approve just this one more dirty energy project?

But when it comes to confronting global warming, we’re literally decades past the bargaining point. James Hansen warned Congress that our climate was already changing in 1988 – 28 years ago. Temperatures are rising even faster than predicted and as today’s Providence Journal editorializes, sea level rise forecasts are getting scarier.

“Cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by burning natural gas is like dieting by eating reduced-fat cookies,” says the University of California-Irvine’s Steven Davis. “If you really want to lose weight, you probably need to avoid cookies altogether.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Does Disconnected Modern Life Trigger Drug Addiction?

We tend to think of drugs like heroin as the cause of broken communities. But what if it's the other way around? What if bad communities, disconnected lives, and a lack of fulfillment are what drive people to addiction?

That would lead to another set of strange ideas. Think of all the money we currently spent on enforcing drug laws - police, prison, the Coast Guard, and military operations. What if we spent it instead on building stronger communities - better health care, improved transit, and public works projects?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Asked About Climate Risks, Trump is on to Cincinnati

Donald Trump sat down with the Washington Post editorial board and revealed in 2016's Republican Party, you can win the presidential nomination without knowing anything about anything.

Trump talked about how "double sanctions" work better than sanctions, that infrastructure is all about luxury airports, went on a 738-word rant about his hands, and rambled incoherently about Iraqi oil. The full transcript is worth reading to really soak in how much, in terms of chance of winning, it doesn't matter whether Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders - either will mop the floor with Trump, who sounds way over his head the minute he can't shout his way out of a jam.

For climate activists, the section on global warming is the must-read. There are science deniers who know how to sound like they can talk smart, like Ted Cruz's made-up speech about satellite data. And then there are people like Trump who don't know anything at all about climate science (other than they're supposed to be against it) but can't help themselves from blabbling anyway:
HIATT: Last one: You think climate change is a real thing? Is there human-caused climate change?

TRUMP: I think there’s a change in weather. I am not a great believer in man-made climate change. I’m not a great believer. There is certainly a change in weather that goes – if you look, they had global cooling in the 1920s and now they have global warming, although now they don’t know if they have global warming. They call it all sorts of different things; now they’re using “extreme weather” I guess more than any other phrase. I am not – I know it hurts me with this room, and I know it’s probably a killer with this room – but I am not a believer. Perhaps there’s a minor effect, but I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change.

STROMBERG: Don’t good businessmen hedge against risks, not ignore them?

TRUMP: Well I just think we have much bigger risks. I mean I think we have militarily tremendous risks. I think we’re in tremendous peril. I think our biggest form of climate change we should worry about is nuclear weapons. The biggest risk to the world, to me – I know President Obama thought it was climate change – to me the biggest risk is nuclear weapons. That’s – that is climate change. That is a disaster, and we don’t even know where the nuclear weapons are right now. We don’t know who has them. We don’t know who’s trying to get them. The biggest risk for this world and this country is nuclear weapons, the power of nuclear weapons.

RYAN: Thank you for joining us.
In this answer, nuclear weapons seems to be Trump's version of we're on to Cincinnati. Don't like the question or any of the possible answers? Answer a different question!

Meanwhile, January and February shattered global heat records and climate scientists are now warning the climate crisis may be much worse and happening much faster than we thought. Thank you for joining us!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

"Winter" in Boston

Running on thin ice"Winter" 2015-2016 in Boston so far:
  • December 2015: 10.6 degrees above average (warmest on record)
  • January 2016: +3.5
  • February 2016:  +3.0
  • March (through 3/12): +4.8
It was the second-warmest meterological winter (December-February) on record in Boston. All of the three warmest have come since 2001.

Hey, it's hard to complain about a winter in Boston that was closer to Washington, DC temperatures. But what's a New England winter without pond hockey? And my wife got her first bug bite of the year yesterday, a reminder payback comes due in the spring and summer when pests run wild after warm winters.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Time for Trump to Embrace Climate Action

I've been watching the Republican primary debates, mostly because my wife enjoys hate-watching them in the Jon Stewart eating popcorn sense.

Here's what I don't get: Why is Donald Trump, who embraces radical thinking on Social Security and trade deals, embracing the same old climate denial? Both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are hardcore climate science deniers. Trump himself is softening his previous climate science denial but mostly ignoring the issue.

We all know Trump has only a binary policy world view, where the two options are:
  1. WE'RE GONNA DO IT BIGGEST AND BEST AND AMERICA'S GONNA WIN AGAIN (border wall, torturing harder, banning Muslims)
  2. THESE CAREER POLITICIANS ARE TOTALLY WRONG ABOUT HOW AMERICANS ARE GETTING SCREWED (opposing trade deals, opposing cuts to Social Security & Medicare)
Trump's current climate science sorta-denial doesn't fit either of these frames. He attacks climate action, but in a way that makes him totally vulnerable to getting called a loser:
All Hillary Clinton has to say is, "China led the world in solar AND wind capacity added in 2014. It's happening. They're beating us. And my opponent's answer is 'let them keep winning?' SOFT."

That's why Trump should embrace climate action: It fits both sides of his policy world view. I'm gonna do the best, toughest climate deals and we're gonna win 'em AND I'm gonna do the biggest, most amazing clean energy and finally stop screwing Americans like these career politicians of both parties (beholden to energy donors in a way Trump is not) have been doing.

But isn't climate science denial embedded in conservative culture? Republican denial is like support for cutting Social Security and Medicare - near-universal among party leadership but surprisingly divisive among the rank & file. In fact, 56% of Republicans support cutting climate-disrupting carbon pollution and 64% support tax rebates for clean energy.

Think about how a pro-clean energy Trump would play in Republican debates. Trump's current denial just makes him agree with Cruz and Rubio. No daylight between them. Bad!

But imagine a Trump who said: "Look, climate deals are gonna happen, whether I like it or not. They're gonna happen! IT'S MY TURN TO TALK NOW LYIN' TED. We have to get a piece of the action and I'm the guy to do it because I do the BEST DEALS. I'm gonna make China do all the work to stop climate change, and I'm gonna make them buy our solar panels, our windmills, and our electric cars. And the American factories are gonna be opening up so fast, Mexico is going to be BEGGING ME to let their people through my yuuuge border wall so they can come work here. And you know what I'm gonna tell 'em? NO YOU CANNOT THESE ARE AMERICAN JOBS BACK UP WHO SAID YOU COULD TOUCH THE WALL."

Nah, he'll just stick with the same old denial, if climate change is ever mentioned at all in this campaign. Both Republicans and reporters have completely ignored it so far and I'm happy for Republicans to stay deeply in denial until the Democratic nominee uses climate action as a winning political issue in the fall.