Hide and seek - getting warmer

Today's blog is posted by guest blogger, Ed Marshall, a senior account director at Beaupre. Check out his bio in our "About Authors" section.

Don’t you hate it when you misplace something important? It’s a great relief when you find it, right? Well, not always. For the last decade or so, climate scientists have been searching for some missing heat. Climate models had suggested a certain rate of warming in the atmosphere based on our increasing rate of carbon emissions, but measurement showed a lower rate of warming over the past decade than predicted. Clearly some heat had gone missing.

Found it. A recently published underwater scene with bubbles and sunraysstudy has confirmed that the missing heat was actually not missing at all, but simply absorbed by the deep ocean – below 1,000 feet. In fact, according to the study, global warming hasn’t slowed over the past decade, but actually accelerated over the past 15 when the heat absorbed in the deep oceans is factored in.

This makes sense, in that the Earth is mostly covered in water so you’d expect the oceans to act as a heat sink for the atmosphere given the contact area involved. Apparently, budget issues have been limiting heat mapping of the oceans to its upper layers, but recent low-cost robotic deployments (described here) have started to paint a fuller picture of the ocean heat sink effect on atmospheric warming. This will help climate scientists build better informed models and projections. A recent article in The Economist touches on why finding the missing heat is so important – its absence raises numerous questions about the sensitivity of the overall climate system to the introduction of increasing levels of greenhouse gases.

There’s another nice piece outlining the study’s salient points here that leads off with a mention of why this new study is so important to the ongoing struggle for popular understanding of the urgency of our climate problem. The missing heat, you see, has been more than a scientific head scratcher.

It’s also been an asset to those seeking to discredit and undermine the case for anthropogenic global warming. The ocean cycles and interacts in dynamic ways with the atmosphere that we don’t yet fully understand. Nature, unfortunately, really does not care about your politics, PR or stock portfolio. The system continues on its way, not waiting for our understanding of it to catch up. Heat absorbed in the deep ocean is not likely to stay there. The effects of this deep ocean heating are likely already playing out, leaving me to wonder what we will we find next?

Plugging in electric cars is easy, but paying for them might kill you

Charging a plug-in vehicle is a lot like a middle school science project – except most middle school science projects don’t leave you stranded in a parking lot hundreds of miles from home.

Electric_car_chargingThat's the implicit message permeating the public duel between Tesla Motors CEO and founder Elon Musk and New York Times writer John Broder. The former objects to the latter’s review of Tesla’s swanky Model S electric sedan. Broder's travelogue legitimizes a central fear about plug-in vehicles: that they’re unreliable if they stray too far from a high-speed charging station. (Which, incidentally, aren't all that speedy at 30 minutes for a 150-mile charge.)

Broder wrote that he did everything short of pumping magic beans into the Model S to keep it rolling. He drove at low speeds without the heat on for miles to get from one charging station to another. He stayed in almost constant touch with Tesla customer service. He took long breaks while the Model S slowly sipped from electric outlets.

Even with those accommodations, Broder claimed that the Model S ran out of juice and shut itself down in Milford, Conn., about two thirds of the distance from his starting point of Washington DC to his destination of Boston.

Tesla struck back – persuasively. Musk cited the car’s on-board activity log and Broder’s own communications with Tesla customer service to charge that Broder deliberately ran the Model S down for dramatic effect. Oh yeah, and he didn’t putter along at 50 miles per hour with the heat off in February, as he claimed. He drove at highway speeds with the heat on.

No matter whom you believe in this beef, the underlying issue is bogus. Electric cars are not going to fail for lack of places to plug them in any more than gasoline-powered cars failed for lack of gas stations at the end of the horse-and-buggy era.

When gasoline engines hit the scene, the technology was good enough to spur growth of an infrastructure around it. The same thing is happening with plug-ins. Nissan and Tesla Motors are rolling out coast-to-coast networks of high-speed charging stations for their electric vehicles. There are already gujillions of charging devices on the market. The Baltic nation of Estonia has made it a national priority to establish a network of charging stations and they’re off to a good start.

I know, Estonia doesn’t compare to the U.S. in size or population. Yet it has 1.25 million people and 17,000 square miles to cover, so it’s not a throwaway comparison either.

No, the issue with plug-in cars isn’t where to plug them in. The issue is also not that they plug into a grid powered largely by dirty-burning coal, which is the other popular red herring around plug-ins. The grid is getting more environmentally friendly and will grow steadily more so as more renewable energy sources come online.

The issue with plug-in cars is that they’re too expensive for large-scale consumer adoption. A Tesla Model S costs $54,000. A similarly tricked-out Mercedes Benz E-class sedan goes for $51,000. A Chevy Volt is $39,000, compared to $21,000 for a Chevy Mailbu. A basic Nissan Leaf costs $21,300 – and the Leaf is the econobox of the electric car set. A comparable conventionally powered car costs about $14,500.

These price points make plug-in vehicles irrelevant to most consumers. Even if they care for the environment, they can’t pay for a car with good intentions. So treat spitting contests like Broder versus Musk for what they are: entertainment. But when someone talks about making a plug-in that the average consumer can afford, you might want to pay attention. That’s the real obstacle for plug-ins.

Frontline does a deep dive on climate doubt

Today's blog is posted by guest blogger, Ed Marshall, a senior account director at Beaupre. Check out his bio in our "About Authors" section.

A quick one to add to your “must see” list is a new Frontline special, “Climate of Doubt,” looking at the machine behind climate change denial and doubt. You may recall my post “The Sensible Center” earlier in this year that looked at the same topic based on a terrific book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, Merchants of Doubt.

The special is online in its entirety so head on over to the Frontline site to watch it and view other, related material they’ve posted to buttress the episode.

It’s great to see this getting wider exposure, as it might help push more people to understand that the science of anthropogenic climate change is not in doubt and that action is needed, because things are really heating up out there in the real world.

Getting warmer on warming

Today's blog is posted by guest blogger, Ed Marshall, a senior account director at Beaupre. Check out his bio in our "About Authors" section.

In a prior post, The sensible center, I noted that those seeking to de-rail or delay policy addressing man-made global warming aimed to not simply deny the phenomenon or its cause, but to seed uncertainty among the populace so as to encourage doubt and inaction.

With that in mind, I read with interest media coverage of a recent polling showing that some solid majorities of the U.S. population now believe that global warming is indeed a real and currently occurring phenomenon (and with the bake and burn most of the country experienced this past summer you might expect an uptick in that perception).

So, progress, right?

Well, kind of. See recent polling also shows that, while a majority believes the climate is warming, only a minority believe human activity is the cause. Worse, that belief in a cause divide seems to break down solidly along political party identity lines.

So, yeah, more work to do to get the message through. Maybe a push on the appeal-to-authority front, but where to find an authority? In PR, leaning on the expert opinion of an authority to buttress a claim is a time-tested technique for swaying opinion. It’s why 4-out-of-5 dentists recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum. Those opposing action on global warming know this is an effective technique and made delegitimizing the most basic authorities – climate scientists – a top priority in their ongoing campaign of doubt and deceit. The scientists are all lying and conspiring about this global warming stuff so that they can get more government study grants and keep their cushy jobs in the ivory tower….or something.

But what about the insurance companies? Just this week, a very large re-insurance company (essentially, an insurance company for insurance companies) called Munich RE issued a report stating that North America has seen a dramatic increase in weather-related claims over the past decade and that “it is quite probable that changing climate conditions are the drivers. The climatic changes detected are in line with the modeled changes due to human-made climate change.”

Catch that last part? The multi-billion dollar international business entity said that climate change is real and likely being driven by human activity and, BTW, it’s costing you money – lots of money. It will be interesting to watch the deep-pocketed vested interests arrayed against the CO2 regulation battle to delegitimize the deep pocketed interests, such as large insurance companies, whose business models are jeopardized by an increase in CO2 levels and the costly extreme weather events it spawns. Oh, and the Pentagon, too – that’d be an interesting fight.

Why they were wrong

Today's blog is posted by guest blogger, Ed Marshall, a senior account manager at Beaupre. Check out his bio in our "About Authors" section.

Back in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, environmentalists warned of coming disaster. The air would soon become unbreathable, clean water would be as rare as unicorn dander. Didn’t happen. That these dire warnings failed to accurately predict our present-day circumstances is often cited as evidence that any similar such claims – about, say, climate change or peak oil – should be taken with more than a pinch of salt, if not outright ignored as the usual ravings of hyperventilating Cassandras.
 
So why were those earlier prognosticators of doom wrong? Because they were right. Environmental degradation was a growing problem. Rivers actually were catching fire in these United States. Air quality in major metropolitan areas truly was bordering on the Dickensian. Acid really was falling from the skies as rain and a hole was opening in the ozone layer. By raising the issues with urgency, passion and creativity, environmentalists of the day were able to engage the larger public in these problems and build support for solutions: the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, for instance.
 
That public engagement and support for solutions helped ensure passage of legislation at the state and federal level that would guarantee those dire warnings of environmental Armageddon would not come true.
 
So, here we are again. Credible science and analysis points to real and pressing problems with the climate and energy supply. Dire warnings are being penned by those doing and as well as those interested in the science. Will their dystopian futures also fail to materialize? That, unfortunately, is an open question.
 
Unlike the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, today’s Internet-driven communications environment makes confusion and apathy as easy to create as clarity and action. What will finally ensure that today’s doomsayers are as inaccurate as yesterday’s? Compelling stories.
 
Those seeking to compel the actions that will ultimately prove their prophecy wrong must recognize that, for humans, story trumps data. For scientists and engineers, good data tells a compelling story. But for most people, a metaphor works better.
 
With the science established and consequences beginning to play out, bridging that communication gap may well be the first and most important problem those seeking change will need to solve.

The Earth speaks...

You're honoring the Earth today. This just in: her reply:

 

Incisive infographic

I love this infographic on wind turbine noise (or stealthiness, depending on your perspective). It’s clear, cogent and relevant.

Click here for a larger image.

Although the infographic medium is by nature concise, this one is a paragon of efficiency, using just one picture statement to make the case. No scrolling required. (Many infographics, though well done, take a couple of minutes to digest and can really test your patience.)

This one also puts arcane statistics in a familiar context, something communications pros too often forget to do. The average person hasn’t the faintest idea how loud 40 decibels are. Oh, equivalent to refrigerator at 150 meters. I get it now.

I also like the prominence of GE’s logo. We don’t have to wonder who’s behind this because they’ve already told us. If we had to search for fine print or track back the source by the URL, we’d suspect  the author is hiding something. Does the logo make the info seem canned? Not really. Sure, we know GE has a dog in this fight.  GE knows we know. They’re entitled to the floor from time to time. It’s all good.

What important message do you need to convey that might best be articulated graphically? What stats could you put in better context?

Via Treehugger

Rapid content response – can you do it?

Communications organizations need to act fast these days – like the bicycle maker that recently pounced on a green gaffe by General Motors.
Here’s how it went down.
GM put out this ad, targeted at college kids…
 GM 'stop pedaling' ad
…showing a poor sap on a bike in front of a cute co-ed who was riding in a … wow, car!

Embarrassed

…and then there was this part:

bad part

“Yep. Shameless,” wrote BikePortland.org publisher/editor Jonathan Maus. “But just more of the same from the auto industry.”

Cyclists went ballistic. The auto company – a recent beneficiary of American tax dollars, contributor to our national debt, and the front end of a pretty big greenhouse gas supply chain – actually had the gall to promote its cars as, well, an alternative mode of transportation.
Why pedal, indeed? Why drink tap water when you can get a plastic bottle from Fiji? Why compost your leaves when you can let the garbage man take them to the landfill? Heck, why regulate carbon emissions when it’s easier just to spew?
Cyclists occupied Twitter with complaints about GM. The company quickly apologized (smart) via Twitter, shifting the blame onto college kids (dumb, but no one called them on it):
We're listening 
One company in the bicycle industry, Giant Bicycles, actually made some hay with the story. The bike manufacturer came up with this take-off on GM’s ad and, within about 24 hours of the twitstorm’s beginning, posted it on Facebook.

Giant Bicycles reply parody ad

That’s quick.

The Giant post gained more than 1,000 likes and 386 shares (a pretty big share ratio). That’s solid engagement and a boost for the brand. Although Giant is admired for Toyota-like value, it doesn’t have the cachet of the Pinarello, Orbea or maybe even Trek brand. So leading the charge against GM’s foul, if only for a minute, adds an emotional dimension to Giant.
Either way, Giant’s rapid content generation feat is rare. Sure, savvy communications organizations know how to join a Twitter conversation, but quickly developing solid content like the parody ad almost never happens. Many companies and agencies still use byzantine “public relations 1.0” workflows for social content creation, review and approval – assuming they can conceive of a clever response in the first place.
Too often, it still takes a month to put out a press release. Even if social content takes half the time, this pace simply won't work. In the age of Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, an opportunity goes cold long before you’ve had a chance to run your proposed creative response up and down the chain of command, collecting edits, suggestions and feedback at every turn. By the time the content is blessed, if it ever is, it’s worthless.
To get results in 2011, be ready to act. Faster than you ever have. Like Giant, which is said to be the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer.
So … how does a giant company like Giant get so fast on its feet?
Well, we asked them*.
CleanSpeak: First, how did you come up with the idea for your parody ad?
An Le, Giant Global Marketing Director: GM’s ad was so off the mark that it made our idea quite easy. We simply illustrated the real “reality” of what college students (and many of us) are facing these days – rising cost of fuel, congestion, and an ever-expanding waistline.
CleanSpeak: How did you get the ad done so fast?

Giant: Instead of going through our agency or design house, we did this piece in-house. It took us about two hours from conception to going live on Facebook. With Facebook, we have a quick and casual way to get a message out to our core audience, and we would not have produced this parody ad if Facebook did not exist.

CleanSpeak: Do you pull off these quick content creation feats very often?

An Le on a charity ride. Photo by Jake Orness.

Giant's An Le in a charity ride. Photo by Jake Orness.

Giant: We create content daily – be it news, videos, photos, etc. – but this is our first parody ad.

CleanSpeak: What’s your process for approving the concept and, later, the final? How many approvals?

Giant: We don’t have too many layers of management at Giant. I have final say in creative, and in creating this particular ad, our in-house designer (Nate Riffle, who sits next to me) and I bounced ideas back and forth and had it done in a couple of hours. If we work with a design agency, the process is similar but does take a bit more back and forth.  

CleanSpeak: What is your secret for fast content creation?

 

Giant: Be quick. Avoid committee approval. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Have some guts to take chances once in a while. And don’t be malicious – do it in a spirit of fun.

 ...

* via email. They provided answers from their global marketing director in one hour and five minutes. Do your spokespeople move that fast? We got the right email address by pinging Giant’s Twitter address. That yielded another quick reply. Who’s monitoring your Twitter feed for media/blogger inquiries?
 

Global investors pour money into green energy

Global investors pour money into green energy; CleanSpeak Beaupre Clean Technology PracticeNothing like cool, refreshing facts to support the desperate hope for a renewable energy revolution.

New investment in green energy was up nearly one-third globally in 2010 to a record US$211 billion. That’s 32 percent above the 2009 level and more than five times that of 2004, says the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Other facts from UNEP’s new report:

  • Wind farms in China and rooftop solar panels in Europe were key drivers in the investment increase.
  • China was the world leader in “financial new investment” – i.e., investment in utility-scale renewable projects and equity capital for renewable energy companies. The nation's tally was US$48.9 billion, up 28 percent this year.
  • Developing economies (which invested US$72 billion this year) overtook developed ones (US$70 billion) in financial new investment. 
  • Investments in small distributed capacity, e.g., rooftop solar, rose 132 percent in Germany to US$34 billion.
  • Costs for renewable technologies are falling.
  • Wind dominated financial new investment in large-scale renewable energy. 
  • Biggest percentage jumps in overall investment were in small-scale projects, up 91 percent to US$60 billion, and in government funded R&D, up 121 percent to US$5.3 billion.

"The finance industry is still recovering from the recent financial crisis," Udo Steffens, president of the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, said in a UNEP news release. "The fact that the industry remains heavily committed to renewables demonstrates its strong belief in the prospects of sustainable energy investments."

So there’s hope. And now facts.

More here

'Don't call it global warming. Call it climate change'

Don't call it global warming. Call it climate change. CleanSpeak blog by Steve McGrathI’ve always thought this admonition a little pedantic, a cheap, phony way to separate those who supposedly truly care about the planet from those who like to speak plainly. I mean, it’s not as if the planet isn’t warming.
But I’m rethinking this. A new study out of the University of Michigan proves the words really matter. For some reason, more Americans buy into the reality of climate change than global warming.
Online survey respondents were asked the following question, of which there were two versions as indicated:
"You may have heard about the idea that the world's temperature may have been going up [changing] over the past 100 years, a phenomenon sometimes called 'global warming' ['climate change']. What is your personal opinion regarding whether or not this has been happening?”
When referred to as climate change, 74 percent thought the problem was real.
When referred to as global warming, only 68 percent thought it was real.
Global warming’s tight conceptual linkage to temperature might be one reason for the disparity, a study author said, since “an unusually cold day may increase doubts about global warming more than about climate change.”
Researchers also found a dramatic difference in answers depending on political affiliation. On the Republican side, 60 percent said they think climate change is real, though only 44 percent said they believe in global warming. About 86 percent of Democrats thought climate change was serious no matter what it was called.
The US Environmental Protection Agency uses the more credible term. Google global warming and, though you get 32 million results, the third result is “Climate Change |US EPA.”

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