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?

Today’s forecast: changing climate views

We had a blizzard up here the other day, the second biggest in our history. Yet a few days before that, the thermometer was pushing 60 degrees. This certainly feels like global weirding.

IcebergAlthough I’m generally concerned about climate change, I worry more about the fate of this planet on days when the temperatures don’t match the season. When it’s balmy in February, that’s troubling.

On the other hand, when the snowbanks tower over my head, warming doesn’t seem to be an issue. Doubts chip away at my climate change convictions, notwithstanding the statements of NASA, NOAA, the United Nations, 34 science academies and countless other credible agencies.

I’m not the only one who’s fickle on climate.

A University of British Columbia study found a strong connection between weather and climate attitudes over the past two decades “with skepticism about global warming increasing during cold snaps and concern about climate change growing during hot spells.”

The University of New Hampshire came up with similar findings, especially among independent voters in the state. “Interviewed on unseasonably warm days, independents tend to agree with the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change,” said researchers Lawrence Hamilton and Mary Stampone. “On unseasonably cool days, they tend not to.”

Why do our attitudes change like this? Because despite what we know, we just can’t deny what we see and feel. Yes, sensory experiences do play a big role in what’s relevant to us, maybe more than we think. You can see it in our new Conversational Relevance study. Although hotel guests value location and recreational facilities for the kids, these highly rational concerns are only part of the mix. Guests also chatter online about water pressure in the shower and the view from the room, and about abstractions like a hotel’s culture and cachet.

The bottom line? When it comes to decision-making, whether it’s a hotel room or the destiny of the human race, logic is overrated. Think about it. Rationally, if you can.

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:

 

Sheathing your debit card is the best way to celebrate Earth Day 2012

My maternal grandfather was an old-line doctor who said the same thing every time a patient asked him about diets: they’re all gimmicks. The only way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise more.

Earth Day 2012I’m adapting my grandfather’s diet advice to Earth Day. Want to make your morbidly obese environmental footprint into an Earth-friendly hardbody? Then screw planting trees and cleaning beaches on April 22 and do something really hard, especially for an American.

Consume less.

All the conservation areas we build and the light bulbs we replace on Earth Day are spitting in the ocean compared to the good we can do for the planet by buying, using and discarding less. In my grandfather’s parlance, it’s the gimmick of a diet versus the reality of shoving less into your pie hole at the dinner table, tearing yourself away from the flat screen and getting on the bike.

Consider what environmental journalist Marc Gunther discovered by analyzing the most recent sustainability report from Walmart.

Gunther recognized Walmart’s accomplishments in waste reduction, energy conservation, and creating markets for locally grown produce as the substantial progress that they are. Yet in spite of its sustainability accomplishments, Walmart’s CO2 emissions are growing. That’s because of the brand of consumption that Walmart promotes, according to Gunther.

“(Walmart) sells lots of efficient light bulbs and compact laundry detergent,” he writes. “What if it tried to sell more durable clothes and shoes? Or less meat? Or fewer crappy toys?”

Gunther isn’t picking on Walmart and neither am I. Walmart does more in sustainability than most companies. The point is that Walmart is us and we’re Walmart, and we both need to change.

If Walmart (and Target and JC Penney and Sears and Kmart et al) have the market clout to make manufacturers reduce wasteful packaging, then they can also get them to produce more durable products. When they do, it falls to retailers to sell those products at accessible prices instead of charging a premium for clothes that won’t go out of style in one year or appliances that won’t break in five and can’t be fixed. At that point, it’s all of our responsibility to ask ourselves that dreaded question before buying: “do I really need this?”

Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day in 1970 to focus public attention on his era’s most important pollution threats, which were industrial facilities, wastewater systems and internal combustion engines. The environmental legislation of the ‘70s helped turn the tide on those polluters. Now it’s time for us to tackle this generation’s environmental culprits: you, me, Walmart, and our debit cards. Legislation isn’t going to do it this time. It’s up to us.

If you need more convincing about why we need to curb our hyperactive consumption, and you haven’t done it already, go to the post above this one and listen to a birthday message from the Earth Mother herself. The old girl makes a good case for keeping that debit card at parade rest as often as possible. Happy Earth Day 2012!

Move over Earth Day, Thanksgiving is the real green holiday

If you believe in environmental preservation, Thanksgiving has to be your favorite holiday. No offense to Earth Day, but Thanksgiving is the only day of the year with major holiday cachet that hasn’t been conquered by the profit motive and reduced to a fertility dance of selling, buying and throwing away.

We don't wake up to Thanksgiving trees harboring Thanksgiving gifts swathed in Thanksgiving ribbons and wrapping paper on the last Thursday of November. There are no Thanksgiving baskets stuffed with Thanksgiving eggs, jelly beans and marshmallow turkeys all nestled in neon-colored plastic “grass” made from enough petroleum to power a Humvee. There are no Thanksgiving costumes, no Thanksgiving-themed candy bars to be hustled door-to-door. DeBeers diamonds and Hallmark don’t bull-rush the airwaves every November to cajole you into buying a tennis bracelet and a greeting card for your Thanksgiving sweetheart.

No, Thanksgiving is built around the primal pleasures of a good meal, good company, and gratitude for good fortune. Since there’s only so much money to be made in selling turkeys and cranberry sauce, the chances are pretty good that Thanksgiving will soldier on in the shadow of Christmas and Halloween, less ballyhooed but safe from the ravages of marauding commercialism.

Even though Thanksgiving is pretty environmentally friendly on its own, it also harbors opportunities for the environmentally conscious to help biodiversity by “voting with their dollars,” in the words of John Forti, a nationally known garden historian, herbalist, and museum curator based in CleanSpeak’s home of Portsmouth, N.H. Forti is a mover in the Slow Foods movement, an international effort to re-build the lost bonds between eating and community. One of the fallouts of the modern food economy, he explains, is the loss of genetic diversity in agriculture. When huge populations depend on a narrow range of food sources – one or two breeds of cows for milk, for example – they are vulnerable to disasters like the Irish Potato Famine of 1845, when fungus wiped out the main variety of potato the country’s poor lived on. Over the last 100 years, 75 percent of the genetic diversity in agricultural crops has been lost, according to Unhabitat.com.

“Buying products like heirloom produce and heritage-breed turkeys at Thanksgiving helps preserve the past, and if we don’t preserve the past we’re not equipped for a sustainable future,” Forti says. “If we narrow genetic diversity too much we’re going to end up with more disasters like the Irish Potato Famine. We lost regionalism to agribusiness – those varieties of crops that grew in our different geographical areas. In the post-peak oil economy, we’re not going to be shipping food thousands of miles the way we do now, so it’s important to preserve those regional varieties.”

In other words, paying extra for a pedigreed turkey or mashing up locally grown parsnips and potatoes this Thanksgiving isn’t just a status symbol, it’s a way to ensure that there are turkeys and parsnips and potatoes to put on tables 10, 20 and 30 years in the future. So belly up to the Thanksgiving table, raise a glass to the Great Environmental Holiday and stuff yourself comatose for the environment. The future is counting on you.

 

Wildlife corridors: eyes wide shut

Doe jumping fenceA few years back I wrote about how ever-shrinking migration corridors across the American landscape threatened wildlife populations. Corridors are the natural avenues along which migratory wildlife travel, plants propagate, genes flow and species relocate in response to environmental changes. The Yellowstone-to-Yukon corridor spanning US and Canada is a good local example.
It’s one of the most underreported stories in the long parade of environmental causes. Possibly because it treads on so many sacrosanct issues like private land rights, housing and jobs.
So I was heartened when Treehugger brought the issue to light again this week in its 5 things you need to know about wildlife corridors post.
In a nutshell, the piece explains why current efforts by conservationists to establish protected habitats is folly if there’s no unencumbered connectivity between them. More importantly, the piece points out that it’s a political issue. Not so much for the environmentalist-vs-developer theatre, but rather for the cross-border cooperation needed between states and internationally in order to make it happen.
As my forementioned piece on computational ecology points out, we already have the data; we have the technology. If we can rally such inter-government cooperation to pull-off controversial commercial corridors for the Keystone pipeline spanning the Canadian oil sands to the Texas Gulf Coast (or, closer to home for me, the Quebec Hydro Northern Pass project), surely we can muster some cooperation and a few dollars to address this under-the-radar threat of wildlife extinction.

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?
 

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