January 2012 Archives

The Erb Institute at the University of Michigan along with the Union of Concerned Scientists held a workshop last weekend titled, "Increasing Public Understanding of Climate Risks and Choices: What We Can Learn from Social Science Research and Practice."  A video from the public Town Hall can be found here.

As the name of the workshop suggests, the intent was not to advance the science of global warming -- the science is overwhelmingly clear that climate change is occurring, the changes are due to human activity, and the consequences may be extremely destructive.  Instead, the intent of the workshop was centered on effective communication to help make these ideas more widely accepted and, most importantly, lead to action.

Some sobering statistics (courtesy of Anthony Leiserowitz of the Yale Projet on Climate Change Communication):

  • Various polls (Gallup, Pew, Harris Poll, and others) all show that, since 2006, the public has become less convinced that global warming is happening
  • We are also becoming less likely to believe that human activity is the cause
  • The majority of the public does not believe there is agreement among most scientists that global warming is happening, and that misperception, too, has become more pronounced in the last few years.
  • There are "Six Americas" in terms of general beliefs about global warming, those who are: Alarmed, Concerned, Cautious, Disengaged, Doubtful, and Dismissive.  There are approximately the same number of Alarmed or Concerned (37% combined) as there are Disengaged, Doubtful, or Dismissive (35% combined).

Much of the workshop focused on what social science recommends we do to set the facts straight and, more important, create action. Among the the ideas offered were suggestions to make sure  that all messaging 
  • begins emphatically with the idea that scientists agree that climate change is occurring, 
  • that it is caused by human activity, 
  • can lead to drastic changes and 
  • is solvable if we act
Further, to be effective in communication we must 
  • understand which of the Six Americas we're addressing 
  • appropriately tailor messages for each group and 
  • address them through the appropriate messenger (church congregations are vey open to their ministers, e.g.).
But what can you do?

Eric Pooley, of the Environmental Defense Fund and a former reporter, commented on journalists succumbing to "balance bias," where they feel compelled to balance pro's and con's to the point where reporting becomes mush (my word, not his).  

Thus, there is a need for non-mainstream communication, especially social media.  Already we've seen the powerful effects of social media in the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements.  Young people can play a strong role in trying to stay informed and spread the truth.

More concretely, it's possible to act as a environmental gadfly. Climate change deniers deliberately attempt to disseminate bad science.  (How else can we explain the disconnect between the actual consensus about climate change and the public's misunderstanding?)  Where are these views most likely to be published?  Mother Jones? The New Republic?  Not likely.  What about The Wall Street Journal?  Fox News?  You (and friends) might each "adopt" a news outlet that communicates bad science. Vigilantly track everything they publish about the environment and write in to correct errors in fact.  Every time.

Or: Help communicate what efforts work (or don't) in addressing climate change.  Follow and measure efforts in your own backyard and share them with clearinghouses like ClimateAccess.

Use sources such as this and NEON when it is up and running to stay informed about the scientific consensus and what people can do to effect change.  You do not need to be a geothermal scientist to be informed.  But by being informed and acting on your convictions, you just might help us save the planet.  (Put me in the America that is Alarmed.)
 

Food Gleaning Hybrids

glean  verb:  to pick over in search of relevant material --webster.com

In America, the wealthiest country in the world, more than one in seven families are unsure if they will have enough to eat.  Among these 50 million people are 17 million children.

Yet, our country has more than enough food to feed us all. The USDA estimated that more than one-fourth of all food produced is never even eaten.  Others  put the figure at nearly forty percent, or more than 29 million tons of food wasted each year.
So, there is ample "relevant material" to pick through.

That is where organizations such as Gleaners Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan come in.  Founded in 1977, Gleaners obtains and "banks" surplus food, which it then distributes to other agencies that provide food directly to those in need.  In 2010, Gleaners distributed 36.7 million pounds of food.  Gleaners purchases at low cost about one-third of the food it distributes with the rest being donated by grocers, retailers, manufacturers, the government, and others.

Gleaners is a large organizations with $75 million in revenues, including $55 million in donated food.  Gleaners provides food through nearly 500 partner agencies.  The very scale of its operations requires food to be collected, "banked," and then redistributed to others.  This places an emphasis on non-perishable food.

This is where other "hybrid" models of food gleaning have taken up the challenge.  For instance, B-Line Sustainable Deliveries in Portland, takes a very -- well, Portlandia -- approach to gleaning and to delivery more broadly.  Fully in keeping with its ultra bike-friendly culture, for-profit B-Line's goal is to create sustainable, livable urban communities.  Pulling their 600-pound capacity storage crates with electric-assist cargo "tricycles," B-Line makes local pickups and deliveries, freeing businesses from managing these details, and packing a wallop of carbon savings at the same time. Now, B-Line has entered the food gleaning business.  

By being completely "connected" in the local distribution network within Portland, B-Line is able to use its trikes to make small pickups and timely deliveries.  Partnering with high-end food companies like Whole Foods, B-Line whisks food around the city, providing meals at half the typical cost to shelters and food kitchens, and letting them serve delicacies including fresh, organic produce (which might otherwise be landfilled). B-Line's financing model relies on B-Shares, or tax-deductible contributions individuals and its partners make to its mission to eliminate hunger in Portland.  B-shares can be purchased in one-time, $20 denominations (which provide 40 meals) or on a recurring, subscription basis.

But this is but one of many other hybrid gleaning models.  In Ames, Iowa, fresh, gleaned food is intended to provide the ingredients for Food-At-First's non-profit restaurant.  This is a restaurant that serves all strata of Ames -- from those who would typically go to a food pantry to others who simply want to enjoy a meal out. Customers may donate what they can (helping subsidize the meals of others) or offer to work in exchange for what they have eat.

Many benefits flow from this model, certainly not the least of which is the ability to feed the hungry with food that would otherwise be wasted.  But the restaurant also fosters a sense of community between those of us fortunate enough know that there will be a next meal, and those who aren't.  In many of the problems we face as a society, creating a shared mission among community members from different walks of life is a vital first step.

In their book Cradle to Cradle (read it if you haven't) Will McDonough and Michael Braungart describe a new industrial model where waste equals food. In other words, industrial processes should produce "waste" that can become an input ("food") for producing something else.

Gleaners, B-Line, At-First-Food, and other organizations like them show how this advice can be taken literally -- and nutritiously -- to address a problem we are more than capable of solving. 

A number of us at the University of Michigan are banding together to explore sustainable food systems.  Among us are are faculty members representing Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Natural Resources; Urban and Regional Planning: Public Health, Political Science, Complex Systems; and Business.  The University is funding five faculty positions to support this work.  Stay tuned as I report on this exciting initiative.


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New Year, Better World

Happy New Year.  Two Thousand TWELEVE!  

Once again, we appear to have dodged a Y2K meltdown, even if 2012 is supposed to be the year of an apocalypse or miraculous planetary transformation (a "slight" difference in opinion according to which fringe group you listen to).  

But, unfortunately, what we are almost certain to see are political leaders who deny science, organizations that blatantly create "facts" to support their beliefs and self-interest, and a press that fails to call this out (a welcome exception: propublica).

But rather than despair, what can we do?

Each of us has the opportunity and potential to nudge the planet in the direction we want to see it move.  Some of us want to direct our energies towards educational reform, others into creating healthful food systems, others towards preventing human trafficking. Enough nudges compound to create changes that none of us is capable of alone.

How we choose to effect these (or other) changes can be varied to suit our unique talents and perspectives.  Let me explain mine, using a device I call the Changemaker's Cube.

The impact I'm trying to create is centered on individuals -- students and others I have the privilege to reach.  Others may work to change organizations or even larger systems, but my perch as a professor makes a focus on individual change a natural fit.  

Through my writing and teaching, I'm primarily trying to amplify success.  I'm a student of societal change, I study a wide range of approaches, and my goal is to make them better known and more widely adopted (with variation; changing society must be viewed from an evolutionary perspective).  For others, devising new means of change or validating their benefit may be better suited activities.

How do I choose to spread the ideas I want others to know about?  I bring a creative aptitude to my work.  I've devised plays (nothing to fear, David Mamet) and multi-media-based simulations to instruct.  I've had my students collaboratively author a book (minor fail) and create videos with impact (major win).  Even my most technical research articles are written to be readily understood (what a concept!). I want ideas to come alive; I want to inspire action. There are other aptitudes that can guide your efforts, of course, including a facility with technical knowledge, social skills, or a knack for administration.

So, what are my goals for 2012?

  • I will complete and publish my book, with Cynthia Koenig, What I Wish I Knew Then: Becoming a Social Entrepreneur.  It's a roadmap for those aspiring to change the world based on the wisdom of those who have walked the path already.
  • I will expand the ideas in my earlier book to show how social innovations and technological advances work hand in hand in a co-evolutionary fashion.
  • I will work with creativity to amplify world-changing ideas for the benefit of individuals who see the world as it is, reject the deception of those who fight change, and prove, through their work, that we can change the world.
Now, if only our computers don't seize up and the world doesn't burst into flames.  (Happy 2012.)


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This page is an archive of entries from January 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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