Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Kids Today Do Not Know Your Environmental Icon

A coworker recently cited Woodsy Owl as an example of an environmental household brand name. I have a Woodsy Owl t-shirt. Recently …
Late-teens-ish worker at fish and chips shack: Great shirt!

Me: Thanks!

Him: I love South Park.

Me: What?

Him: That episode where the guy in the owl costume molests kids was hilarious!

Me: Oh, I didn’t see that one. Woodsy Owl was a public service campaign back in the ‘70s and ‘80s who told kids not to litter.

Him: Really? Wow, I had no idea it was a real thing!

Me: (dies of old age)
Environmentalists have done a lousy job maintaining or replacing childhood icons. Past generations have had Woodsy, Smokey Bear, Ranger Rick, The Lorax, and Captain Planet, but I couldn't name one who's come along in the last 20 years. Of that list, who would today's kids be able to identify?

Part of it is the era - in this age of multimedia ad saturation, campaigns are now run and replaced rather than maintained long enough to reach iconic status.

For government agencies, part of it is budgetary - the U.S. Forest Service, which produced Woodsy Owl, now spends most of its money on fighting fires thanks to Congressional budget-cutting and worsening global warming.

And for nonprofits, there's the challenge of generationally split audiences. Design a new campaign for today's children and older donors may not be willing to support something unfamiliar. Design a campaign based on an older icon and you may please older donors but fail to connect with today's kids.

Monday, July 11, 2016

This is Why We're Supposed to Fight for Gas Tax Hikes?

EmptySteve LeBlanc writes for the Associated Press today about how Massachusetts uses just a tiny fraction of cigarette taxes for anti-smoking programs. By contrast, he says most of a recent gas tax hike goes for its intended purpose:
Drivers paid an extra $257 million to fill up their tanks as a result of the 3-cent-per-gallon increase ... virtually all of the gas tax money went to highway construction and maintenance
As we've discussed before, voters don't want to pay for highway construction, but Democrats are constantly told by Very Serious People that they must campaign for gas tax hikes because it's The Right Thing to Do.

Sure, it's nice to put a more accurate price on gasoline, which gets so many free rides, from polluting our air to getting military protection in the Middle East.

But if the money is just going to pay for more highways, incentivizing more gasoline consumption, it's unclear if raising the gas tax is even a clear net good, never mind worth progressives spending precious political capital on what's a relatively unpopular cause.

I'd rather fight for a millionaire's tax and a carbon tax, wouldn't you?

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!