November 5, 2012

Links for Your Monday!

Hi dear readers,

We apologize for our recent silence over the airwaves, so to speak, but we have a few links for you today to start your week on a climate-conscious note.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, our thoughts remain with the families and victims affected by the storm. Sandy has sparked a larger discussion about severe storms and the possible linkage to climate change, so we thought we’d examine how global warming has finally re-emerged in the public sphere.

The elephant in the room arguably started trumpeting when New York mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed President Obama post-Sandy (although whether Obama has taken sufficient action to address climate change is another question altogether). You can read the Bloomberg Business Week piece here.

Although it’s difficult to determine whether Sandy can fairly be attributed to climate change, it is true that warmer ocean temperatures and sea level rise will increase coastal flooding . The Scientific American does a great job laying out a basic explanation of the atmospheric dynamics on their blog.

As senior editor Mark Fischetti puts it,

“Here’s where climate change comes in. The atmospheric pattern that sent the Jet Stream south is colloquially known as a “blocking high”—a big pressure center stuck over the very northern Atlantic Ocean and southern Arctic Ocean. And what led to that? A climate phenomenon called the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)—essentially, the state of atmospheric pressure in that region. This state can be positive or negative, and it had changed from positive to negative two weeks before Sandy arrived. The climate kicker? Recent research by Charles Greene at Cornell University and other climate scientists has shown that as more Arctic sea ice melts in the summer—because of global warming—the NAO is more likely  to be negative during the autumn and winter. A negative NAO makes the Jet Stream more likely to move in a big, wavy pattern across the U.S., Canada and the Atlantic, causing the kind of big southward dip that occurred during Sandy.

Climate change amps up other basic factors that contribute to big storms. For example, the oceans have warmed, providing more energy for storms. And the Earth’s atmosphere has warmed, so it retains more moisture, which is drawn into storms and is then dumped on us. These changes contribute to all sorts of extreme weather.”  (You can read the entire blog post here).

Meanwhile, Sandy has also contributed to environmental toxins that influence water contamination and hazardous exposure to raw sewage.

What do you think about Hurricane Sandy and the possible connections to climate change? Do you think it will significantly change the conversation on climate change in the long-term?

October 22, 2012

Drama, drama, drama

For those of you who haven’t followed the environmental section of the Daily Mail or Fox News recently (probably best, since apparently 93% of Fox’s climate coverage is wrong anyway), you might have missed the new piece in the Daily Mail claiming “global warming has ended” and that the hype about climate change is unwarranted. These messages spread like wildfire, which is unfortunate because the majority of people get their information about climate change from mass media (Carvalho & Burgess, 2005, Trumbo & Shanahan, 2000). 

It’s part of an endless media cycle in which someone always seems to be desperately grasping for a reason to doubt the science and natural phenomena we’ve been observing over the past decades. I understand. Sometimes I too wish I could just bury my head in the sand and pretend that the droughts and the floods, and the fastest ocean acidification in 65 million years were all part of a bad dream. 

In fact, there’s an emerging area of behavioral psychology that has studied what makes these naysayers ‘tick’. Feinberg and Willer concluded in a 2010 study that the crazy-dire-apocalyptic predictions about climate change challenge an underlying, “deeply held belief” that the world is generally “just, orderly, and stable.” O’Neill and Cole (2009) have pointed to the “finite pool of worry” effect, and split so-called “fear appeal” into 3 parts:
1. The existence of the threat
2. The severity of the threat to the individual
3. The individual susceptibility to the threat.
Essentially, if you don’t feel like you could have any significant impact on the problem at hand- i.e. you can’t control the external danger- then you’re inherently inclined to control your internal fear, often through skepticism or fatalism or denial. True, it’s a maladaptation, as O’Neill and Cole point out, because you’re not actually reducing your exposure to the threat of climate change… but it’s a very real coping mechanism.

Anyhow, if you’d like to know just how the Daily Mail skewed their message, the Met Office (who conducted the research mentioned) actually responded to that news article on their blog. It’s a little dense, but you can read it here, but there’s also a nice summary here
Also, the British Guardian has a strong rebuttal to the Mail piece that you can read here. 
Any conclusions about media and climate change, about the Daily Mail piece, or the behavioral psychology underlying it all? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!


October 13, 2012

Corn: food or fuel?

As a follow-up to our previous post, we wanted to add another layer to the discussion on food waste and want. Oxfam’s Sarah Kalloch has this article about the problems associated with promoting biofuel subsidies and using corn as fuel.


Quote: “Waiving the corn ethanol mandate will lead to an estimated 7.4 percent drop in global corn prices, which will in turn lower prices for meat, milk, eggs, and more. For people living in poverty who spend up to 75 percent of their income on food, this small change can make a big impact.”

What’s your stance on biofuels? Let us know in the comments below!

October 11, 2012

Food Want, Food Waste

Hey dearest readers,

This week, Harvard’s Resource Efficiency Program is doing an educational series on food waste, and we’ve rounded up a few powerful info-graphics to get the message across.

Hopefully you’ll find them as interesting as we did…check out the links below for more!

And a few specific statistics to mull over from

  • Americans are wasting 1400 calories, per day, per person…that’s 150,000,000,000,000 calories wasted per year…that’s food for 2 billion people. In the United States, we waste more than 40% of the food we grow. 
  • There was a 50% increase in U.S. food waste from 1974-2003.
  • Food waste is the biggest component of trash in landfills and leads to methane emissions…a greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.
  • Food prices have risen 42% over the last ten years.
  • Waste of finite resources: 25% of all freshwater and 300 million barrels of oil that go toward food production are wasted.
  • $250 BILLION is lost globally on this problem every year.

I know we can all be more mindful about taking only what we’ll eat and when relevant, sampling meals beforehand (rather than taking heaping portions of something we might not like). This week, let’s all focus on tasting to reduce waste.

October 3, 2012

Guest Post by Chloe Maxmin

Hey everyone! We’re always excited to hear about creative initiatives on campuses. This week, Chloe Maxmin, a student at Harvard, was able to check in with us about a couple cool things going on at Harvard!

Students for a Just and Stable Future, a climate justice on campus, has spearheaded Divest Harvard. Our goal is to pressure Harvard to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in environmentally and socially responsible funds.
Thirty universities have joined the movement to divest from fossil fuel corporations. Students around the country are asking that their money be invested in funds that do not threaten the future that we want for ourselves and our children. Many schools–including Brandeis, Tufts, BU, UNH, Harvard, Amherst, and more–have already started mobilizing their campuses, and is officially launching a nation-wide divestment campaign in November. The Harvard campaign is picking up steam as we gather signatures (over 550 so far) and talk with student groups on campus. You can learn more about the national campaign at, and check out what Divest Harvard is up to at
The Harvard chapter of Students for a Just and Stable Future is the student group that is spearheading the divestment campaign on campus. If you are interested, you can come to our weekly meetings at 9 pm on Wednesdays in the PBHA parlor room to learn more!
Secondly, students on campus are coming together to improve sustainability education for undergraduates. The goal of this project is to create an interdisciplinary and integrative course on sustainability at Harvard College that can then become the centerpiece of a new secondary. Many Harvard students have expressed a desire to study the social and economic dimensions of sustainability in addition to the hard sciences perspective. Students want to be able to participate in a creative, cutting-edge, in-depth, interdisciplinary exploration of sustainability.
Harvard doesn’t offer a general course on sustainability issues even though there are many classes that deal with specialized aspects of the subject, such as food or medicine. Students have created courses in the past: a group developed the curriculum and syllabus for the Human Slavery and Trafficking course taught by Professor Patterson. Ideally the course would satisfy the US and the World Gen Ed requirement and provide an introduction to sustainability issues across many different fields. The course would also grapple with the interdisciplinary and complex relationships between society, economics, and science inherent in sustainability.
October 2, 2012

Push-ups or Polar Bears?

For another angle on the election story, Media Matters has published an article that shows Paul Ryan’s workout routine garnering THREE TIMES the coverage of the alarming story of record sea ice loss.

The article points out that the new record for Artic sea ice minimum differs from the previous record low by an area the size of Texas; this image from NASA offers an apt depiction:

There’s something deeply wrong with the picture below… but it also exposes the power of a personal narrative, especially one like Paul Ryan’s, which involves relatable aspects of daily life (e.g. exercising or maintaining’s one’s health). Artic sea ice loss has no reigning champion figure for the media to target. It’s an issue that is nebulous and frightening and fraught with statistical estimates, all characteristics that seem to doom a story to Never-Never-Land.

How can we put this critical issue on the front page? Tell us in comments below!

Courtesy of Media Matters

(Courtesy of Media Matters)

October 1, 2012

Climate Science on the Campaign Trail?

Following up on our prior mention of the presidential campaign, we present to you a new website that aims to sort out exactly who has said what.

Climate Silence is a website tracking the statements (or silence, rather) of both President Obama and Mr. Romney. The Huffington Post’s Tom Zeller Jr writes about the issue and includes a statement from Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth Action.

“Voters deserve to hear what our presidential candidates propose to do to lead the country on addressing this catastrophic problem. The candidates may differ on approaches to the problem, but anyone who is elected to lead the country, or aspires to do so, should realize that true leadership means a willingness to engage difficult issues, not sweep them under the rug.”

If you’d like to feel more comfortable about making an educated vote,  check out Climate Silence to learn more about the debate!

Also, a little visual for you: a comparison of the most common environmental and energy related words from Obama and Romney’s energy plans (courtesy of

Obama’s energy word cloud:

Romney’s energy word cloud:

September 29, 2012

Dear Mr. Potential President

We’re all about supporting the work of green-minded thinkers on campus. Recently, Kristen Wraith and Danny Wilson of the Resource Efficiency Program at Harvard and the Environmental Action Committee wrote a thoughtful op-ed in the Crimson to our potential president, Mitt Romney. Check out the article here:

September 23, 2012

Digital Age: Not So Green?

Ugh, just when we thought we’d found a great paperless way of doing everything…Today The New York Times ran this piece on the tremendous amount of energy required for and wasted by data storage centers.

We encourage you to read the article in full, but among the stats, are these:

Worldwide, digital warehouses (the centers that help store digital information, like your Facebook account info or, cough, this blog’s information) use 30 billion watts of electricity. (The average nuclear plant uses about a billion watts.)

A single data center can use more electricity than a medium-size town.

These centers currently use only 6-12% of their energy — the rest of the energy is wasted and only necessary in the emergency case of a surge.

If you’re interested in cutting back on waste, this is absolutely an area to study!

September 20, 2012

Turn it Off, says Sesame Street…and toddlers…and SNL comedians

courtesy of

The U.S. is currently going through the worst drought since the 1930s, but luckily, the one thing that hasn’t yet dried up is the wealth of creative channels for environmental communication.

The New York Times Green blog has a great piece today about how Youtube and video have allowed us to bring everyone and everything into Operation Inform-The-Public. Some are meant to be funny, like the video featuring comedians like Rachel Dratch, while others rely on cute poodles and babies to tug on our heartstrings and trigger that second glance at the overly dewy lawn or the running tap.

Another approach is to target those latent neuroses about not ‘fitting in’ or being ignorant of social norms. The Wasting Water campaign takes this approach, as you can see with their video here.

What approach do you think is most powerful? How have you tried to reduce your own water waste, and what area of your life do you think contributes most to your overall water waste?

Plus…lots of tips to save water in your home!