Why it’s easy to rationalize the immoral position of not treating climate change as a moral issue

A couple of years back I explored the stubborn American denial of climate change as, in part, a consequence of denying blame. In that post — “All are responsible” — I wrote:

It seems easiest to get us humans to respond — to take responsibility — when the matter at hand is unambiguously no fault of our own. Remove any potential hint of culpability and we’re more likely to agree to act. Frame the text-book hypothetical in such a way that it is clear no one is accusing us of having caused the drowning stranger’s predicament and we will eagerly reach, throw, row and go until he is safely back on dry land.

This is strange because the logic of justice would seem to work the other way around. A person partially to blame for the drowning stranger’s predicament would seem to have a greater obligation to assist him than would a person wholly uninvolved in his plight. And a person directly to blame for his situation would seem to have an even greater obligation.

Yet we seem to have an instinctual defensiveness that shouts down the logic of justice. It’s like a kind of moral fight-or-flight instinct that kicks in whenever we feel cornered into accepting some measure of blame.

And this is an understandable response to climate change, since it is a long-developing unintended, unforeseen (or, at least, it used to be unforeseen) consequence of otherwise benign activity:

This kind of accidentally disastrous consequences arising from well-intentioned actions is particularly confusing for the many Americans, including most evangelical Christians, who have a primarily visceral sense of morality, where what matters is what’s “in your heart.” Good-hearted decisions to do what you think is best for your family — a nice suburban home, cars chosen for their tank-like safety, etc. — can’t conceivably, from this perspective, produce anything but good results. The absence of deliberate malice constitutes innocence.

And that innocence will angrily assert itself against any suggestion of blame — or any suggestion of responsibility that sounds like it might be somehow connected to blame.

My argument there still seems right to me, but I didn’t have evidence to support my conclusions. Happily, researchers have been busily researching.

At Grist, KC Golden writes about “Why our biggest moral challenge doesn’t act like one,” directing us to work by researchers Ezra Markowitz and Azim Shariff.

Golden notes that Markowitz and Shariff found some evidence that, as I speculated, a denial of climate change may arise in part from a refusal to accept blame, writing: “To allay negative recriminations, individuals often engage in biased cognitive processes to minimize perceptions of their own complicity.”

Golden critiques this a bit, amending it to include some consideration of efficacy. Markowitz and Shariff’s discussion of guilt, he writes:

Downplays the importance of efficacy in the development of moral responsibility. Bob Doppelt makes the case that motivating big changes in human behavior requires dissonance, efficacy, and benefits. Lack of efficacy often seems like the bottleneck when it comes to moral engagement on climate. The strategies within any actor’s scope of effectiveness are not scaled to the problem. No use accepting guilt, let alone responsibility, if you can’t do anything about it.

Markowitz summarizes more of his research in a post at Big Think, titled “Why Few Americans View Climate Change as a Moral Problem.”

Here’s a quick recap of what we write in the paper:

1) … climate change is a complex, distant (for now) and abstract phenomenon …

2) … the moral judgment system is finely tuned to recognize specific types of moral transgressions, such as intentionally performed actions that cause harm to identifiable victims … climate change lacks many of these features: its victims are by-and-large strangers or not yet alive and it is a side-effect of modern life, not something anyone is intentionally trying to cause …

3) … people tend to reject … messages of blame …

4) … uncertainty regarding the timing, severity, and location of future climate change impacts provides room for overly optimistic beliefs …

5) … the victims of climate change … are likely to be perceived as out-group members …

6) … the existing framing of climate change as a moral issue targets only a subset of people’s moral values …

That reinforces and reaffirms a great deal of what I wrote in that 2010 post, but let me quote one more caveat from that post:

I don’t mean to discount the effect of an extremely well-funded disinformation campaign or the collective effect of the army of liars-for-hire serving as its footsoldiers. Nor would I rule out the impact of knee-jerk, whatever-Obama-says-I-believe-the-opposite partisan insanity. But I think what I’m discussing here also contributes to the level of denialism.

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  • Münchner Kindl

    This kind of accidentally disastrous consequences arising from well-intentioned actions is particularly confusing for the many Americans, including most evangelical Christians, who have a primarily visceral sense of morality, where what matters is what’s “in your heart.” Good-hearted decisions to do what you think is best for your family — a nice suburban home, cars chosen for their tank-like safety, etc. — can’t conceivably, from this perspective, produce anything but good results. The absence of deliberate malice constitutes innocence.

    On the one hand, I see the truth in this because I continue to stumble over USians in the media being completly surprised that “the opposite of good is good-intentioned” – that good intentions in foreign policy or when drafting laws without using brain or factual expert knowledge causes huge harm; or that people with cynical, even bad intentions, can make very good laws.

    On the other hand: these people drive cars, they operate machinery, they have children who get into mischief or accidents. They must know about neglience causing terrible accidents without any intentions.

    Bob Doppelt makes the case that motivating big changes in human behavior requires dissonance, efficacy, and benefits. Lack of efficacy often seems like the bottleneck when it comes to moral engagement on climate. The strategies within any actor’s scope of effectiveness are not scaled to the problem. No use accepting guilt, let alone responsibility, if you can’t do anything about it.

    This is obviously false if you look at the state in European countries, where people accept part of personal responsibilty – personal car traffic for example – and try to do their part (while also casting blame on the “industry” and calling for laws so that the industry has to do their part, too.

    Here’s a quick recap of what we write in the paper: 1) … climate change is a complex, distant (for now) and abstract phenomenon … 2) … the moral judgment system is finely tuned to recognize specific types of moral transgressions, such as intentionally performed actions that cause harm to identifiable victims … climate change lacks many of these features: its victims are by-and-large strangers or not yet alive and it is a side-effect of modern life, not something anyone is intentionally trying to cause … 3) … people tend to reject … messages of blame … 4) … uncertainty regarding the timing, severity, and location of future climate change impacts provides room for overly optimistic beliefs … 5) … the victims of climate change … are likely to be perceived as out-group members … 6) … the existing framing of climate change as a moral issue targets only a subset of people’s moral values …

    Again, this is not objective truth, but only true for the Americans – obviously factors like partisanship; poor education in critical thinking, assessment of science, the importance of objective reality; lack of critical media (when a journalist for a major newspaper asks his readers whether he should actually research what’s true or just repeat what he’s told at PR meetings, you can’t get much lower than that); and active disinformation campaigns plus the comfort-heavy consumerism “bigger is better” aspect of the US culture play a part.
    But in European countries, despite the above being true, people try to do their part.
    Sure, when you educate the public – as sociologists and psychologists have found out – you quickly level out: people believe they know everything about the issue (when they just know a few simplified banner words) and that they are doing everything they can (when they could do a lot more). It needs a concerted push of more education to overcome that level and get a new rise in awareness, but it can be done.

  • Monala

     What are Europeans doing more of? I know you do a lot more biking than Americans do, and have more and better public transit options, but what else?

    I ask this because as an American who tries to live green, I pretty quickly bump up against the limits of what I can do. My family and I try to recycle, buy second-hand, use green cleaning and health and beauty products, use reusable bags and other reusable stuff (e.g, water bottles, towels, etc.), and we live in a small apartment. We keep the heat low in the winter and never use AC, but we’re fortunate enough to live in the Pacific NW, where (so far, anyway) it rarely gets very cold or very hot.  Still, if you look at any carbon footprint calculator, our score would always be terrible, because of two of the biggest culprits: we drive cars, and we eat meat.

    Like many Americans, we face a big limit of being so spread out that a car is a necessity to go to work, shop, transport kids to school–often because of short-sighted planning that happened decades ago. That doesn’t mean you need to buy an SUV (fwiw, we own two smaller cars that are both more than 10+ years old), but you do need a car in many places just to get around.

    As for meat, I think I could happily live as a vegetarian, but my husband, a diabetic with other health challenges, needs meat for his health, and my daughter, age 7, is a very picky eater. The only proteins she’ll eat are chicken, ham and peanut butter. Beans or tofu? Forget it! We eat low on the meat scale–mostly poultry–but we can’t afford the free range organic stuff. I do try to buy organic dairy, eggs and produce, because there are places that sell them at a discount. But I can only get to those places because – ding, ding, ding! — I have a car. The grocery stores in walking or bus distance from my home either don’t sell organic food, or sell it at really high mark-up prices.

    I agree with you, the reason why there is not more push to change these things in the U.S. is because anti-environmental messages (and ignorance of the issue) are so strong. But for individual Americans, there are legitimate limits to what we can do.

  • guest

    A few things I’ve noticed here (American living in Europe, though I’ve been here a while, so I don’t know if America, or parts of America, do these things now as well):

    Even corner grocery stores sell organic food and locally-produced food.  Both are popular here, and easy to find.  Food origins are labelled.  The local food movement has become so popular that there are fruit trees in public places and random public garden plots in this city for anyone to take food from (not sure how merely symbolic this is–I grow my own, so don’t tend to seek these out).

    Recycling is ubiquitous–bins in the streets and in buildings are sorted for recycling. As of a couple of years ago everyone in this city has curbside recycling.

    Utility companies have green plans (I don’t understand why they’re not obligatory, they don’t appear to cost any more than non-green ones), track energy usage, and give away electricity meters.  Once you reach a certain benchmark for electricity or gas use the incremental price goes up substantially.

    In our office we keep the lights off in places like bathrooms unless they’re needed, and people turn things off if they’re not using them.  Most public buildings have movement-sensitive light switches.

    The government provides incentives for energy-saving and renewable energy in buildings (I rent, so don’t take advantage of them and can’t give you any details).  Planning permission for a new building or renovation to an existing one requires you to  provide energy saving measures in the building to save a certain percentage of energy.

    Packaging seems to be less–you can buy stuff to take home in your hand, or in your own container, and things are often sold in little recyclable paper bags.  Most grocery stores charge a nominal fee for a plastic bag.

    That’s all I can think of off the top of my head–if I think of any more I’ll share.  I don’t think any of this can really help us meet the carbon reduction goals we’re going to need to meet, but seeing these things in the public sphere does imply to me that people in general are aware of environmental issues–most people are ‘concerned’ even if they’re not taking more than minimal steps to change their lifestyles.

  • Monala

    Pretty much everything you listed is happening where I live (Washington state). Corner stores don’t usually sell organic and local food (unless you’re in an upscale neighborhood), but all the major grocery stores do. It may be more expensive than non-organic (although local food costs the same in season), which is why I have to travel a little for less expensive organic food. There are public orchards and gleaning projects, in which homeowners with fruit trees in their yards indicate that the public is allowed to pick the fruit.

    Recycling continues to increase. My city, Tacoma, just added household food waste bins for composting to their recycling and yard waste collections. All the parks here and many sidewalks have bottle, can and newspaper recycling bins, and many sidewalk trash barrels are being converted to solar trash compactors. The city’s environmental services department gives free classes on gardening, composting, installing solar panels, and a host of other environmental topics.

    To my knowledge, almost all utility companies offer green plans around the U.S. (I know they do it locally, and I’ve heard about it in a lot of places). They cost more, but my local company offers different levels, the cheapest of which adds only $3 a month to your bill.

    Almost all public places I go to have motion sensor lights in the bathroom and motion sensors for the water faucets, so that lights turn off automatically if no one is there, and the water faucets turn off when no hands are moving under it. More and more places are converting their toilets to dual flush, which allows you to flush with less water for #1.

    The federal government offers tax incentives and rebates for a whole range of green actions (installing energy efficient windows, or putting up solar panels on your roof, for example). I think you can get rebates for buying energy efficient appliances, too. WA doesn’t have state taxes (except sales), but I assume if we did, there’d be tax incentives here, too. If you contract with the federal gov’t or with the WA state gov’t (probably in other states as well, although I don’t know which ones), then any construction projects you undertake have to conform to environmental building standards. You get certifications for the levels you conform to: bronze, silver and gold.

    Packaging continues to be a project, but many companies are reducing their packaging and advertising that fact. Many stores charge a nickel for using plastic bags, or discount a nickel for bringing your own, and Seattle has just banned plastic bag use altogether.

  • Münchner Kindl

    What are Europeans doing more of? I know you do a lot more biking than Americans do, and have more and better public transit options, but what else?

    Do you honestly want a full list? That will take several pages, because what people do varies from country to country and from person to person. Some things:
    buying organic food; recycling incl. laws that demand certain items to be collected seperatly (electronics, batteries etc.) and deposits for bottles and standard re-usable bottles; biking + good public transport means that not only poor people, but almost everybody uses the subway instead of their own car.
    Buying electricity from one of four real green = renewable power companies (Lichtblick, Naturstrom, Wildschönau, Greenpeace) or from a local company with 100% green option; getting a subsidy from the state if you put PV or solarthermic panels onto your roof (obviously only available to home owners, not renters); a law demanding that all private homes must meet the 3 l standard = use not more than the thermic equivalent of 3 liters of heating oil per square meter per year for heating and cooling, which is either done with added insulation or by swapping out the heating unit with a newer model,….

    I ask this because as an American who tries to live green, I pretty quickly bump up against the limits of what I can do. My family and I try to recycle, buy second-hand, use green cleaning and health and beauty products, use reusable bags and other reusable stuff (e.g, water bottles, towels, etc.), and we live in a small apartment. We keep the heat low in the winter and never use AC, but we’re fortunate enough to live in the Pacific NW, where (so far, anyway) it rarely gets very cold or very hot. Still, if you look at any carbon footprint calculator, our score would always be terrible, because of two of the biggest culprits: we drive cars, and we eat meat.

    First, you are already doing a lot of what would be quite a step if every American would do it.
    Second, improving your recycling programs would be a great way forward, along with less wasteful packaging.
    Third, just because you live out in the sticks, doesn’t make it a natural law that all Americans live where they need cars. In fact, a lot of Americans live in cities – and NY and Chicago do have some kind of mass transit. Improve that and get LA an alternative to 4hr long traffic jams would be a good start.

    Or pass a law that all cars must meet the 5 liter standard (5 liters of gasoline per 100 km), which would put the SUVs off the streets. (With a subsidy for people whose income is below a certain level to afford the new car).

    As for meat, nobody serious from the green movement is demanding that everybody turn vegan overnight. That’s extremists or clueless. Cities here are pushing for a “one day of the week vegetarian day”. Doctors of course recommend reducing meat to 2-3 times a week (all meat, including sausages and bacon), with 1-2 times fish thrown in.

    Like many Americans, we face a big limit of being so spread out that a car is a necessity to go to work, shop, transport kids to school–often because of short-sighted planning that happened decades ago. That doesn’t mean you need to buy an SUV (fwiw, we own two smaller cars that are both more than 10+ years old), but you do need a car in many places just to get around.

    If you have an efficient car, not a wasteful SUV, and use it only for necessary trips, you aren’t wasting. If you are at the same time pushing for better laws and a change of cities infrastructure, you are doing good. If you calculate your carbon footprint due to the car use every year and offset it, you are green. (I know that apparently Americans don’t trust their carbon offset companies – but several in Germany/ Europe have been tested most severly and found to be good. Donating solar cookers to 3rd world countries or planting trees in areas threatened by mudslides from erosion are good.)

    As for meat, I think I could happily live as a vegetarian, but my husband, a diabetic with other health challenges, needs meat for his health, and my daughter, age 7, is a very picky eater. The only proteins she’ll eat are chicken, ham and peanut butter. Beans or tofu? Forget it! We eat low on the meat scale–mostly poultry–but we can’t afford the free range organic stuff. I do try to buy organic dairy, eggs and produce, because there are places that sell them at a discount. But I can only get to those places because – ding, ding, ding! — I have a car. The grocery stores in walking or bus distance from my home either don’t sell organic food, or sell it at really high mark-up prices.

    1. It’s medically possible to eat meat 2-3 times a week without any problems. So cut down. Side effect: eating meat less often may make it possible to afford better quality / organic meat. It will also make the meat more valuable, if you enjoy and savour it as treat instead of cheap necessity.

    2. If not enough organic food is sold in your area, get active in groups demanding it. Talk to your store managers. Look for groups that assist farmers in switchign. Look for Community Sponsored Agriculture (a group sponsors one farmer – also cuts down on waste). Or what we call Schrebergarten – small plots near the city which people can rent and grow plants on.

    I agree with you, the reason why there is not more push to change these things in the U.S. is because anti-environmental messages (and ignorance of the issue) are so strong. But for individual Americans, there are legitimate limits to what we can do.

    Again, this is a fallacy. If every second American (leaving out those who listen to Fox News) did just 20 small steps in their lives, and if just 40% got active to pass laws, a big change could be accomplished.

    Dorothee Sölle, the famous feminist and political theologian, said in a bible study once that the sentence “What can I as single person do to change the world” was blasphemic against God and thus should not be used by Christians. Small steps can add up (chickens make shit, too), and are better than resigning and waiting till somebody else does a big perfect solution.

  • Monala

    BTW, we do have meatless days as a family.  But only eating meat 2-3 times a week probably wouldn’t work for us. My husband is 6’7″. He needs to eat a lot to fill full, and meat helps with that.

    A lot of things you name are happening in the U.S., but the biggest challenge is transit, for many Americans.

     I live in a city, but a city that has been drastically cutting down on public transit due to costs. I just got a new job, and I was trying to calculate whether I could take public transit. It can be done, but would take me over an hour with two bus transfers. That’s a problem, one I would have happily dealt with (and did) when I was not a mother, but now I have to drop my daughter off at school in the morning and pick her up from daycare by a deadline in the evening. Bus transit would make those drop-off and pick-up times impossible to meet. (My husband has an even longer commute, so he can’t do it either). In addition, I often have meetings outside the office that I’ll need to drive to. If I didn’t have my car with me, I’d spend all my time traveling on the bus to meeting, and get little work done.

    And even with my challenges, I know that other cities have it worse, with no public transit options at all. I don’t know if you grasp, as a European, how big and spread out a lot of U.S. cities are.

  • Münchner Kindl

    But only eating meat 2-3 times a week probably wouldn’t work for us. My husband is 6’7″. He needs to eat a lot to fill full, and meat helps with that.

    Huh? That confuses me. If you want to eat full, don’t you eat more of the “Sättigungsbeilage” (Fullness side dish) – pasta, rice, potatoes – instead of meat? Esp. rice, but also potatoes, makes me fell much fuller than a (veggie) burger.

    And even with my challenges, I know that other cities have it worse, with no public transit options at all. I don’t know if you grasp, as a European, how big and spread out a lot of U.S. cities are.

    First, I did say to improve mass transit. While we certainly don’t reach Russian standards (a subway in Moskwa every 90 seconds) we still have a very good service. Partly it’s chicken-egg: because most of the population uses public transport, they expect it to work; unlike the US where it’s considered some kind of stigma and only for those too poor to have a car to take the bus. (Fred once wrote an article about how he visited a pastor in another city and wanted to use the bus, and the pastor had never ridden it – because it was for poor people, for other people. Fred mused on how it would be a splendid pastoral opportunity to meet your fellow people who don’t come intot church – not to preach at them, but to get to know them, who otherwise don’t get into your lives).

    To give some numbers: My city proper has 1.3 mill. inhabitants, with 2 mill. altogether in the surrounding area (serviced by the S-Train). Know how many  people use the public transport (tram, subway, bus) per year? Guess?

    633 Mio.

    Secondly, our public transport is not hindered by that ridiculously “make profit” imperative. It’s a public service, so the prices meet a balance between affordable and covering some costs, and the rest is made up by the city. So our buses come every 20 min., and drive at night, too.

  • Monala

    “pasta, rice, potatoes” — that’s the problem. He’s supposed to eat starchy foods in very limited quantities because of his diabetes. Thus, to fill full, he needs to eat more meat.

    Public transit doesn’t make a profit in the U.S. either. It’s also a public service (hence the “public” in its name) that is subsidized by municipalities. But a lot of cities are hurting financially and cutting back services as a result, mine included. (ETA: the anti-tax attitudes so prevalent in the U.S. are a big reason for this problem.)

    As far as the “poor” perception that is the case, but I find it’s usually held by people who don’t take the public transit. People who take it know better. I commuted for years and was usually on the bus or train at rush hour with people in business suits.

  • Monala

     I just remembered an amusing comment on Slacktivist from about 2 years ago, when Tea Party protests were at their height. Someone posted a link about Tea Party protesters getting angry about the buses not running more frequently to take them to their anti-tax protest–not seeing the irony of protesting taxes while complaining about the insufficiency of a service that is paid for by taxes.

  • Münchner Kindl

    Someone posted a link about Tea Party protesters getting angry about the buses not running more frequently to take them to their anti-tax protest–not seeing the irony of protesting taxes while complaining about the insufficiency of a service that is paid for by taxes.

    You mean similar to comments as “Keep the government out of my medicare?”

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I’m in the same boat. Filling up on starches is pretty much out of the question. 

    Though I’ve also heard that when eating starchy foods, one will tend to not feel full until one is actually physically stuffed, whereas protein-heavy foods will induce a feeling of fullness at a lower physical volume. I don’t know if that’s legit or not.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    > I’ve also heard that [..]
    protein-heavy foods will induce a feeling of fullness

    I’m mostly convinced that no statement about food applies to everyone, but this is definitely true of me. When I want to lose weight, the thing I pay attention to is the protein content of what I’m eating.

  • Münchner Kindl

    “pasta, rice, potatoes” — that’s the problem. He’s supposed to eat starchy foods in very limited quantities because of his diabetes. Thus, to fill full, he needs to eat more meat.

    Ah sorry. I didn’t know about his diabetes. Of course, medical special diet trumps everything else.

    But a lot of cities are hurting financially and cutting back services as a result, mine included. (ETA: the anti-tax attitudes so prevalent in the U.S. are a big reason for this problem.)

    I am lucky in that I live in a rather prosperous city, with a lot of diversity of industry and thus low unemployment and high tax income, in a state which is also prosperous. In other states, like NRW, 80% of the cities are bankrupt, and thus have to cut drastically their services: buses drive less often, public swimming pools are closed…

  • Münchner Kindl

    Public transit doesn’t make a profit in the U.S. either. It’s also a public service (hence the “public” in its name) that is subsidized by municipalities. But a lot of cities are hurting financially and cutting back services as a result, mine included. (ETA: the anti-tax attitudes so prevalent in the U.S. are a big reason for this problem.)

    1. Doesn’t that depend entirely on each city and how it defines it?

    2. Does not a majority of Americans call for public service to “turn a profit instead of using= wasting tax dollars” (because of the tax-hate)?

    As far as the “poor” perception that is the case, but I find it’s usually held by people who don’t take the public transit. People who take it know better. I commuted for years and was usually on the bus or train at rush hour with people in business suits.

    Actually, I read it mostly from people who do use bus or subway and talk about how horrible an experience it is, both because everything is dirty and run-down, and because homeless/ mentally ill/ drug users are on the train/ bus.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    Actually, I read it mostly from people who do use bus or subway and talk
    about how horrible an experience it is, both because everything is
    dirty and run-down, and because homeless/ mentally ill/ drug users are
    on the train/ bus.

    Public transit is incredibly locality-dependent.  In D.C., the train system is awesome in some ways – it’s especially clean – but can be hideously unreliable and not terribly comprehensive in terms of where it goes.  It’s also really expensive. The NYC subway system is a lot dirtier, but trains come a lot more often, there’s a lot more stops, and it’s much cheaper.   The reliable and clean transit offered in the urban Pacific Northwest (especially Seattle), where Monala comes from, is unfortunately not the average.  However, I also found the transit in some places in Europe far from perfect as well.  The Barcelona metro was incredibly cheap and got us everywhere we wanted to go quickly; the Roman metro hardly went anywhere and half of the stations seemed to be closed for months on end due to archeological excavations.  Understandable considering the location but still frustrating given that we were expecting better.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

     That really, really depends on the town. Where I live, the buses are clean and very cushy… but they come to each stop about one every hour and a half. They are relatively cheap… but the bus stops are spread far apart and for me personally are at least a 20 minute walk up hill (most of them also lack shelters, so if it’s raining or snowing you’re pretty much hosed, and if you have a disability good luck getting there in time without blocking off an hour just to get there and wait). You can request an off-route stop but those sometimes run pretty late and there’s still no guarantee that the off-route stop would be nearer enough to really change the costs. I do ride the bus often for leisure purposes — they really are pretty nice — but I could not safely use it for anything where I had to be on time (such as a job).

    Storiteller is spot on. Some cities (well, it’s usually cities, actually) do a very good job. Some smaller towns do too. Most suburbs are incredibly car-centric, which makes it hard for local legislators to prioritize public transportation.

    In suburban areas, for example, even if people didn’t hate taxes, it’s hard to appropriate a lot of money to build something that most taxpayers don’t like or find useful, since — again — most of them already have cars. If you do manage to get a small amount of money — enough to start a bus service but not enough to do it very well, you’ll just make the bus service’s reputation even worse and make it harder to get the money to make improvements. In cities like NYC, on the other hand, many people ride the bus (in fact, most people living in the city don’t even bother getting driver’s licenses) so the bus service is a lot better… which makes people want to support it more since they see that it meets a real need on their parts, which is why it continues to succeed…

    The suburb where I live in doesn’t have much of a problem raising money for schools, public roads, and health clinics but the public transportation lags behind because most people don’t ride the bus that often and don’t really think about it.

  • Rhubarbarian82

    Münchner Kindl, to put it bluntly: you’re kind of an asshole. You may want to tone that down or people are going to start skipping your posts, and you’re going to write yourself out of the conversation. You’re writing a lot here, few people are responding, and I’d wager it’s because you’re incredibly off-putting. I’m certainly kicking myself for bothering to respond to you.

    Actually, I read it mostly from people who do use bus or subway and talk
    about how horrible an experience it is, both because everything is
    dirty and run-down, and because homeless/ mentally ill/ drug users are
    on the train/ bus.

    I love it when people with third hand information tell people with first hand information that they don’t know what they’re talking about. I commuted for a year to a job via train, and still take it occasionally when I need to get downtown. I occasionally use our subways as well. I’m well versed in our ridership. Tons of professionals take mass transit,* and behavior on the trains is almost universally polite. You do occasionally find a homeless person, yes. They do exist. As for drug users, it’s usually pretty hard to spot them. You see, they look just like regular people. I know, it’s creepy, you never know if that guy across from you smoked a blunt before getting on the train or is just sleepy.

    The people who don’t ride mass transit here usually choose not to simply because, even if it does go where they need it to, they assume it doesn’t. They’re clean, they run on time, and they’re not particularly expensive.

    *Seriously, if you want to meet some people from the animation industry, take the 7pm Amtrak north from Burbank. It’s a huge crowd and 60 or 70% of it is from the surrounding studios.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Münchner Kindl? You should realize that in many places in the American South, public transit is almost exclusively used by black people.

    I leave it to you to decide for yourself if hidden racism is one reason behind lack of popular support for public transit.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

    I actually addressed a lot of those issues as well in a post I wrote for the Slacktiverse a while back about getting evangelicals to do something about climate change – in some cases, irrelevant to whether they “believe” in it or not.

  • Tonio

    One sees the same defensiveness and complicity with bigotry, a refusal to recognize that racism and sexism are systemic. Whites benefit from the former and males benefit from the latter, so when they don’t make an effort to reject them, both in public and in their own minds, they’re complicit in perpetuating the system. Which leads to another point…

    including most evangelical Christians, who have a primarily visceral
    sense of morality, where what matters is what’s “in your heart.”

    If these people also have the mistaken impression that bigotry is about intentions, then that sense of morality would explain why. This might be simply a highly articulated version of the childlike idea that one is either a “good” person or a “bad” one, like it’s a choice between Superman and Lex Luthor, or Harry Potter and Voldemort. And I reject the other idea that one’s actions determine whether one is “good” or “bad.” I think the moral focus should be on the actions themselves.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

     I don’t think that anyone really enjoys being accused of wrong-doing, and I don’t think that anyone would appreciate being accused of, essentially, destroying large portions of human civilization. The issue is how people respond to these accusations; either try to find out if they’re really true and what they can do about it, or decide that it isn’t true and find people who will agree with them.

  • Jay

    I think that when confronted with a problem for which they bear some, but not all, responsibility, people fear (perhaps unconsciously) that if they accept any blame and offer any help, the whole thing will be dropped on them and everyone else will be let off the hook at their expense.

  • ako

    I think a lot of people are frightened of having to take it seriously.  Looking at the scale of all that could be done, or needs to be done, then everything I can do is comparatively small.  At the same time, everything I can do is much bigger than what I can comfortably do.  In that situation, every small step I can take but haven’t yet feels both inconvenient and futile, and every step I do take is a reminder of how little I’m doing compared to what I’m capable of.  So taking action is a largely discouraging endeavor, and taking responsibility even more so.

     (For instance, how much power am I wasting on idleness and leisure being on the computer right now?  How much was wasted making it so I could have a nice computer that meets my personal desires?  How much on shipping?  If I went searching around enough, I probably could find an energy-efficient minimally-polluting computer, and then I’d have to go through the trouble of buying it, transferring all of my files onto it, and getting used to the various added inconveniences of it, all the while having it as a constant reminder that I’m still wasting quite a lot of energy, most of which is probably from CO2-creating fossil fuels, so I can engage in fundamentally unnecessary leisure habits in the most convenient way.)

  • Münchner Kindl

    For instance, how much power am I wasting on idleness and leisure being on the computer right now? How much was wasted making it so I could have a nice computer that meets my personal desires? How much on shipping? If I went searching around enough, I probably could find an energy-efficient minimally-polluting computer, and then I’d have to go through the trouble of buying it, transferring all of my files onto it, and getting used to the various added inconveniences of it, all the while having it as a constant reminder that I’m still wasting quite a lot of energy, most of which is probably from CO2-creating fossil fuels, so I can engage in fundamentally unnecessary leisure habits in the most convenient way.

    Ah yes, the familiar “utopia fallacy”: if one single solution does not produce 100% perfect utopia, we must not attempt any half-steps, or a combination of different solutions, but just shrug and continue with the wrong approach.

    Funny how that applies only to things “unpleasant”: if sport doesn’t hurt and if you don’t do 3 hrs. each day, it’s useless is commonly said by Americans (here, doctors and health insurance recommend 20 min. of exercise 2-3 times a day which is quite manageable).

    Yes, you can research for a “green PC”. Or you can set your current PC to energy saving sleep mode after 10 min., and turn it off when you don’t need it.

    You can avoid wasting energy with lots of measure, big and small. Isolating your house so you need less heat/AC is a big step (and changing your heating from electric to gas/ wood pellets, too). Changing light bulbs to use less energy, or turning the AC higher/ heating lower are small steps.

  • ako

     I wasn’t trying to suggest there seriously wasn’t a point, just talking about why it sometimes feels like there’s no point.   The habits I’ve fallen into when it comes to thinking about these things don’t really provide any emotional rewards, just guilt versus a dislike of inconvenience.  Anything I actually do (and I don’t do nearly as much as I should, but I’m not doing absolutely nothing) is something I have to force myself to do knowing that 1) I’m not going to feel like I’m accomplishing anything and 2) there’s a small (but non-zero chance) that I’m going to get new information the future telling me I made the wrong choice and made things worse.   And from the sound of it, this kind of thinking doesn’t seem unique to me.

    I think you have a point about it being tied in to things that are seen as unpleasant.  I think that a lot of people, when trying to force themselves to do something unpleasant, will have a natural tendency to focus on everything bad about the thing they want to do.  The question for anyone trying to motivate other people to change their personal habits is, how do you get around that?   More guilt?  Convince them it’s actually pleasant?  Make it easier on a practical level?  Tell them to suck it up and deal?  Which approach will actually work?

  • Münchner Kindl

    Anything I actually do (and I don’t do nearly as much as I should, but I’m not doing absolutely nothing) is something I have to force myself to do knowing that 1) I’m not going to feel like I’m accomplishing anything and 2) there’s a small (but non-zero chance) that I’m going to get new information the future telling me I made the wrong choice and made things worse. And from the sound of it, this kind of thinking doesn’t seem unique to me.

    Sounds like a case of very bad information. Maybe you need to get your news from a different source.

    1. The Jews have some excellent sayings for this: It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness
    and: who saves one life saves the whole world.
    In German we say Kleinvieh macht auch Mist (little animals cause shit, too) – as anybody knows who has to clean the shit on a farm.

    Meaning things do add up. It’s easy to say “What’s the use if I’m the only one doing it?”, but that’s stupid. You don’t know what your neighbours are doing or not doing. Maybe everybody else is also replacing one 100 W bulb with a 25 W energy-saver. Maybe, if you talk with your friends, and they hear that everybody else is doing X, they will also do X.

    2. Doing the right thing is never a question of whether it’s popular or easy. (Did you read Dumbledore’s speech at the end of GoF?) That doesn’t matter – if it’s the right thing, you do it.

    3. If you get your info from a reputable source, like greenpeace or BUND (at least partly in English http://www.bund.net/ueber_uns/bund_in_english/ , you will not only get the best information available, but also see how quickly small steps can add up.

    Since you specifically mentioned Computers, a few links:
    – instead of using Google, use http://www.ecosia.de (you can customize it to English) as search engine. For every search done, a portion of rainforest is saved. If you don’t get results, use http://de.znout.org/ – zero emissions surface for google.

    – Go to the http://www.therainforestsite.com/clickToGive/home.faces?siteId=4 where one klick per day saves some rainforest area. (Go also to the other tabs there to click against hunger. Additionally, http://www.freerice.com allows you to play, increase your knowledge and donate food to the WFP. Not directly green, but good.)

    – Ask your provider how much energy his servers are using; where he gets his power from; and whether he has thought about reducing usage.

    – Look at how the company you get your power from produces it: coal, nuclear? Or wind + solar? You still have some water power plants from the Depression in the US, and some wind plants have been built according to Wikipedia, so ask if you can switch to a different power company.

    – If you have money in the bank saving account or in stocks, how is it invested – in locust companies, nuclear plants, weapon manufacturers? Talk to your bank about how ethical, ecological investment is also low-risk and long-term and therefore slower but safer than industry.

    Here in Germany we have several banks that offer ethical and green investment: http://www.umweltbank.de   http://www.ethikbank.de   http://www.triodos.co.uk/en/personal/ . I don’t know which of these you can access as non-German resident (and the first two don’t offer English pages) but you can get information on which stock fonds are good; many of them are international anyway.

    If you have a local bank, tell them that ecological and or ethical investment is a niche market – that’s how Ethikbank started, it was a local savings bank in a small town (safe in the savings bank net) that decided to turn themselves into a specialist bank. Since a lot of banking is done today via telephone/ mail or Internet, this works quite well.

  • ako

    I think there is a big environmental education problem in the US.  Not a lack of information, but rather a glut of information accompanied by difficulty sorting out which is the most accurate.  For someone who isn’t an expert in the field, it’s hard to sort out various competing claims.  It honestly wouldn’t have occured to me to check Greenpeace for information about stuff I personally can do to reduce the harm my lifestyle does to the environment before you mentioned it.  It seems obvious, now that I think about it, but I’d never heard about them acting in that capacity.

    In terms of motivating people, it’d be really interesting to see some research.  I’ve seen a lot of messages along the lines of “grow up and stop acting like self-centered 5 year olds” and “Are you dumb, uneducated or mean?”, and most people I’ve heard comment about this kind of thing say they feel less motivated after hearing that kind of criticism, but it’d be useful to find out what people actually do in response.  (People aren’t always the most accurate judges of what motivates them to act a certain way.)  Does anyone reading this thread have good information about that kind of thing?

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    In terms of motivating people, it’d be really interesting to see some research.

    I don’t have references handy, and the last time I did a literature search on the question was over a decade ago so the state of the art may well have changed, but from what I recall, negative messaging by itself was demotivating, but negative messaging plus a specific immediately actionable instruction worked really well.

    That is, “If you don’t grow up and stop acting like self-centered five-year-olds, you and everyone you care about will suffer and die, and it will all be your fault!” is demotivating, but “If you don’t grow up and stop acting like self-centered five-year-olds,
    you and everyone you care about will suffer and die, and it will all be
    your fault — unless you give me five dollars right now, in which case it will all be OK.” works pretty well for getting five dollars.

    Of course, if it’s done as blatantly as I just did it, it tends to fail for other reasons.

  • Münchner Kindl

    That is, “If you don’t grow up and stop acting like self-centered five-year-olds, you and everyone you care about will suffer and die, and it will all be your fault!” is demotivating, but “If you don’t grow up and stop acting like self-centered five-year-olds, you and everyone you care about will suffer and die, and it will all be your fault — unless you give me five dollars right now, in which case it will all be OK.” works pretty well for getting five dollars.

    An approach in that similar direction is what is used here – “Save the planet by buying recycled paper / shut down one nuclear power plant by switching bulbs / save money by using less heat and insulating / thumb your nose at the money-grubbing power company by installing PV panels” is how a lot of enviromental groups phrase their message.

    That’s why the defeatist tone of “small things don’t help / a single person can’t change anything” is so baffling to me, we grew up with the message that yes, the enviroment is destryoed (back in the 80s, it was the forest dying – Waldsterbend – and the ozone layer, plus rainforest; climate catastrophe was still not on the radar), but that with small steps in personal life plus political pressure for laws plus company protests/ boycotts, we could change things. And some things actually got changed.

    What is frustrating is that once some stuff gets resolved (CFCLs banned, lead removed, acid rain solved), new problems crop up and require new campaigns and energy and a lot of time to convince people.

    Also, some things that worked 20 years ago as solution have changed and are now harmful or ineffective, so the groups have to do constant research and then distribute that info, convincing people that what was right some time ago has changed.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

     I’m actually an environmental/science communicator by trade, so in my background, it helps the absolute most to personalize the results of action as much as possible and help people see how that action can fit into their current life/ personal identity.  That way you avoid three issues:
    1) The first problem Monala describes above, where you are already doing everything that is recommended.
    2) The second problem Monala describes, which is having options offered that are not possible for you personally.
    3) Having too many options and not understanding how to prioritize.  This is a tremendous issue – it’s been shown that the more options people have, the less thought they put into their decisions and worse decisions they make.

    I do communications for a government program that encourages people to use fuel efficient and alternative fuel vehicles.  We really encourage people to choose the vehicle (or other form of transportation, although we don’t focus on them because other parts of the government do and we don’t want to duplicate) that meets their personal needs.  After all, suggesting a Prius to someone who hauls around construction equipment is unhelpful, but the most efficient pick-up truck on the market might help them save a lot of fuel.  We then provide them with the tools to make that choice. 

    Similarly, in my spare time, I do a lot of bicycle and local food advocacy.  My focus there tends to be in helping people see how these activities can fit in their current lives. When I lead community rides, I don’t dress in all spandex so that people “get” that you don’t have to be Lance Armstrong to ride a bike.  I lead rides to places that people might go to anyway, like restaurants, so they can see that they can bike there and don’t need to drive.  Instead of saying, “Hey, don’t be lazy and bike,” I help people imagine how riding a bike can fit it into their larger identity and lifestyle.

    If you have a specific task in mind that you want people to do – like recycle more – helping them figure out the barriers to doing it and removing them can help a lot.  That barrier might be information, it might be a lack of efficacy (feeling that you have the skills to do an option), it might be a lack of time, or it might be a lack of physical infrastructure. If a barrier is big enough for enough people – like lack of bicycling and public transit infrastructure – you can focus on making public policy to change it before you start trying to encourage individuals to do it. 

    The nice thing about a lot of these tactics is that they don’t rely on talking about climate change alone or even at all.  There’s loads of reasons (national security, public health, personal enjoyment) to carry out most actions (less driving, better efficiency, more renewable energy, etc.) that affect climate change, and we should play off of all of them.  Although if you are going to go with the “climate change is important!” message, it’s shown that people react most effectively to the public health framing: http://www.springerlink.com/content/b0072m7777772k7r/

    I don’t believe climate change can be solved by individual action alone, but it has a major role to play.  Policy, societal norms, and individual choice all reinforce and play off of each other and we really need to fix them all to make a difference.

    If you’d like more on motivational / behavior change psychology, I’d say the books Nudge and Made to Stick and the writings on Community-Based Social Marketing by Doug McKenzie-Mohr are good non-professional introductions to the topic.

    Sorry for the incredibly long post.  As it’s both my personal and professional passion, I’ve thought an incredible amount about it.

  • Monala

    storiteller, very interesting resources! Thanks for sharing.

  • Münchner Kindl

    The question for anyone trying to motivate other people to change their personal habits is, how do you get around that? More guilt? Convince them it’s actually pleasant? Make it easier on a practical level? Tell them to suck it up and deal? Which approach will actually work?

    I don’t really know, beyond “grow up and stop acting like self-centered 5 year olds”. Any reasonable person, once they know that a behaviour is bad for them or others, should stop. A lot of people are motivated by money – since saving energy saves money.

    There’s also a lot of public pressure – not the type of smugness that South Park once parodied, but more of a “why do you want to harm the enviroment? Are you dumb, uneducated or mean?”

    Part is that people tend to think a bit more long-term here than the quarter-
    thinking typical for the US.

    A part may also be that money is not the highest or only Good over here. We value other things.

    I don’t know how big a perception the visible efforts of the past 20 years play a role in that. E.g. the temps. in the last decade have risen more in Europe than in the US because of anti-Sulfur laws passed in the 90s (against the acid rain). And no, this doesn’t mean we are in favour of the suggestion by US scientists to blow sulfur in the atmosphere to simulate a vulcanic eruption and cool the planet. (Or throw millions of plastic disks into space to reflect sunlight). We are aghast that your people are so stupid that, after tampering once caused catastrophe, and we still don’t understand how everything works together, you want to do another big spoke in the wheels, instead of doing sensible, achievable things.

  • Monala

    Doctors and health insurers make the same recommendation in the U.S. The average American doesn’t think it’s useless to exercise if you aren’t doing it 3 hrs a day with pain.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The interesting thing is the shying-away phenomenon that attaches to anything that has a color of blame being attributed to someone. While it’s true that a person who has done something he or she knows to be wrong will likely not want to undo that something, why is it that if someone thinks he or she will be blamed for an act, even when this won’t be true (thinking primarily of ‘good samaritan’ laws here where if a person acts in good faith to try and help someone else, they can’t be held responsible for incidental injuries that happen during the rescue or assistance), the probability of undoing that act still goes down?

    This seems to be related to the ‘bystander effect’ where in a large population it seems that the odds of inaction in response to a specific event rise in proportion to the number of people who fall into the mode of ‘someone else will fix this’ thinking.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    The consequences of global warming are happening. Right now. The fires in Colorado, the huge storms along the east coast, higher temperatures and more extreme weather everywhere. It’s here. I don’t have any patience with people who don’t want to do anything about it because thinking about it makes them feel bad. 

  • Monala

    But that doesn’t change the issue the links raise: what do we do?  It can feel overwhelming, and unless we are unified in acting worldwide, individuals actions will make little difference. Accepting that climate change is happening and feeling bad about it doesn’t make us better than those who deny it, if we’re not taking action.

    Not to mention, even for the concerned, there is disagreement about what to do. Here’s two minor examples: recently, I bought some ink cartridges from a store that reuses and recycles ink cartridges, marketing itself as green. I needed some paper, and I noticed that they don’t sell recycled paper. I asked why, and they told me that recycled paper is more fibrous than non-recycled, and the fibers break off in printers, shortening the life of the printer and creating more landfill as a result. Is that the case? I don’t know for sure (although, I have had my printer for 3 years, mostly using recycled paper, and it’s still going — a $60 HP, so not even something top of the line).

    Next, I was at my local recycling center, and overheard one of the workers telling someone not to put biodegradable/compostable bags in the plastic bag recycling bin. He said such bags are basically garbage–they’re not true plastic, so they can’t be recycled with plastic, and they compost too slowly to  be good for any compost bin.  Think about how many companies are considered green because they use such bags — and think about how many people buy such products because they want to be green consumers.

  • Münchner Kindl

    But that doesn’t change the issue the links raise: what do we do? It can feel overwhelming, and unless we are unified in acting worldwide, individuals actions will make little difference.

    A lot of people repeat that very often, but that still doesn’t make it true. A green company who offered changeable toothbrush heads (20 years ago, before most people switched to electric toothbrushes) calculated that if every person in Germany changed only the head instead of throwing away the whole brush, we could save 2 million tons of plastic every year.If every person who goes shopping brings their own cloth or sturdy reusable plastic bag instead of using new ones, we can save millions of tons of plastic (and cut down heavily on litter, since the wind carries the thin plastic bags very far).

    Accepting that climate change is happening and feeling bad about it doesn’t make us better than those who deny it, if we’re not taking action.

    Well, obviously. Duh. But people who belief into denial will never do anything – unless the law mandates it – while people who know about how bad things will get should be more motivated to do their part.

    Not to mention, even for the concerned, there is disagreement about what to do. Here’s two minor examples: recently, I bought some ink cartridges from a store that reuses and recycles ink cartridges, marketing itself as green. I needed some paper, and I noticed that they don’t sell recycled paper. I asked why, and they told me that recycled paper is more fibrous than non-recycled, and the fibers break off in printers, shortening the life of the printer and creating more landfill as a result. Is that the case? I don’t know for sure (although, I have had my printer for 3 years, mostly using recycled paper, and it’s still going — a $60 HP, so not even something top of the line).

    I hate to bust your lame excuse, but un-informed people working a job at a company that tries to save money (the main reason for re-using cartridges is that refilling is cheaper than the new ones) are not credible sources for anything. Maybe in the US, you don’t have any scientists anymore or maybe they only work for the industry, I don’t know – but here in Germany we have groups like Greenpeace and BUND and Wuppertal Institut and Club of Rome, who all have real scientists on theri staff looking at alternatives and calculating all costs. So the BUND declares that for distances over 100 km, we should buy milk in tetra packs because of the lower weight, but for distances below 100 km, we should buy milk in re-usable glass bottles, after looking at all factors.As to recycled paper: the myth that it is bad for copiers or printers is over 20 years out of date. The original recycling paper generated a lot of dust which clogged printers. Since over 15 years at the very least (this is 2012 writing after all – we’ve had reycled paper since the 80s!), the paper is so high-quality (and copier/ printers are better) that it can be used without problems at all. That is, German paper, though. I don’t know what norms and standards US paper must fulfill. The problem is a different one: prices for new paper have dropped so much that it’s cheaper to buy white new than grey recycled. This has hurt the market a lot. Still, the whole tax bureau of Germany, all public offices etc. use recycling paper (a very grey tone, too) since the 90s at least. My university recently declared that despite the bigger cost, all internal paper – what we use for letters etc – will be recycled paper.

    Next, I was at my local recycling center, and overheard one of the workers telling someone not to put biodegradable/compostable bags in the plastic bag recycling bin. He said such bags are basically garbage–they’re not true plastic, so they can’t be recycled with plastic, and they compost too slowly to be good for any compost bin. Think about how many companies are considered green because they use such bags — and think about how many people buy such products because they want to be green consumers.

    Are the workers at your recycling center trained in that, or just some guys of the street working for minimum wage? Because again, that statement is either false or the US standards are bad. Bags made from starch/ marked as compostable can be put into a compost heap, and will compost nicely. I don’t know if your recycling center has huge compost heaps – my city collects “green” waste for them seperatly and turns it into flower earth, which is then sold in 50 liter bags to the citizens. The popular chilren’s show Die Sendung mit der Maus (not Mickey) once showed how they buried a bag in household compost and several weeks later it had started to de-compose, so I know it works. But then, our AWM (Abfall Wirtschaftsbetriebe = waste management Company, belonging to the city) are not only very interested in correctly seperating as many useful stuff as possible, but also in educating the citizens as best as possible. There are not only add campaigns about correct seperation, but they train volunteers to educate the citizens about what waste goes where. They have a homesite where they show all the shops and charity group that take useful things, and where people can post adds to trade or give away stuff.  (The city encourages this not only because it’s green, but also because it saves money: we never collected newspapers to sell for money, because all paper went into the recycling bin of the city. By selling the paper and other valuables like metals to dealers, the city earns money which keeps the costs for the left-over waste from rising).So if you hear conflicting info, go to a reputable source like a serious enviroment organisation, instead of throwing up your hands and saying “well this is all useless”.Are your workers similarly trained?Oh, and buying plastic bags made from potatoe starch, or those little baked food cups from maize starch, is still green because you don’t use petroleum to make them. (Now if the starch comes from conventional fields where petroleum-based nitro-fertilizer was used … then this is not optimal. But it still comes out with a positive figure at the end).

  • Monala

    Thank you! The type of extensive public education you’ve described is exactly what I wanted to know when I asked what we could be doing differently. Btw, I have called environmental agencies here in the U.S. with questions, only to be told, “We’ll send you some information,” which turns out to be a basic “10 steps to go green” flier of stuff I’m already doing, or their marketing/fundraising materials. And thanks for the info about the paper–I didn’t plan to change, since as I wrote, I’ve had my printer for 3 years and hadn’t had any problems with using recycled paper, but it’s good to get confirmation for it.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    It would be bad enough if global warming deniers simply did nothing.

    In North Carolina, it is illegal to take global warming into account when predicting sea level rise.

    In Virginia, the phrases “climate change” and “sea level rise” were banned from a study.

    In Arizona, they tried (and failed) to ban any cities from implementing any of the principles of sustainable development endorsed by the UN

    There’s a bill in congress now to ban the military from investing in alternative fuels.

    These people aren’t just doing nothing. They are going out of their way to be _worse_ than useless.

  • Münchner Kindl

    There’s a bill in congress now to ban the military from investing in alternative fuels.

    Snopes explains here http://www.snopes.com/politics/quotes/giffords.asp why saving energy and using solar saves lives of US soldiers:

    Arizona National Guardsman Mark Cardenas saw firsthand the dangers of our military’s dependence on fuel. Cardenas guarded more than 4,000 miles of convoys during his 15-month deployment to Iraq that began in August 2006. “Energy independence for the military is important to me because the vast majority of the convoys I guarded were fuel convoys. They were not food or supplies to help the troops do their jobs. This dependence on fuel wastes our resources, puts thousands of soldiers in danger everyday and does nothing to advance our strategic missions. There is a better way to do this overall, and that is by freeing ourselves of this leash so our military can go do the job they were sent to accomplish.”The Defense Department’s renewable energy initiatives began in earnest in 2007 at the urging of top military commanders. In numerous reports, military leadership expressed great concern about the strategic disadvantage placed upon our military by its dependence on fuel and a vulnerable electrical grid.Troops and military facilities are hamstrung by the dangerous process of supplying and transporting fuel deep into theaters of conflict such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Marine Corps General James Mattis, Commander of the 1st Marine Division in Iraq in 2003, issued an urgent needs statement that read “unleash us from this tether of fuel.”

    1st Marine Division in Iraq in 2003, issued an urgent needs statement that read “unleash us from this tether of fuel.”But because bad liberals are green, lets continue to use fossil fuels like red-blooded American men!
    Arizona National Guardsman Mark Cardenas saw firsthand the dangers of our military’s dependence on fuel. Cardenas guarded more than 4,000 miles of convoys during his 15-month deployment to Iraq that began in August 2006. “Energy independence for the military is important to me because the vast majority of the convoys I guarded were fuel convoys. They were not food or supplies to help the troops do their jobs. This dependence on fuel wastes our resources, puts thousands of soldiers in danger everyday and does nothing to advance our strategic missions. There is a better way to do this overall, and that is by freeing ourselves of this leash so our military can go do the job they were sent to accomplish.”
    The Defense Department’s renewable energy initiatives began in earnest in 2007 at the urging of top military commanders. In numerous reports, military leadership expressed great concern about the strategic disadvantage placed upon our military by its dependence on fuel and a vulnerable electrical grid.Troops and military facilities are hamstrung by the dangerous process of supplying and transporting fuel deep into theaters of conflict such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Marine Corps General James Mattis, Commander of the 1st Marine Division in Iraq in 2003, issued an urgent needs statement that read “unleash us from this tether of fuel.”1st Marine Division in Iraq in 2003, issued an urgent needs statement that read “unleash us from this tether of fuel.”
    But because bad liberals are green, lets continue to use fossil fuels like red-blooded American men!

  • Monala

    Seriously, I love reading the opinions of folks here at Slacktivist, but sometimes it gets frustrating. In Fred’s recent post his idea about how to give dictators incentives to give up their dictatorships, people had lots of ideas and opinions about whether it would work, whether it was moral or not. So I linked an article about just such a program (not exactly Fred’s idea, but the same concept) that has been in operation for more than a decade, and its results. And not one single person commented on a the morality or efficacy of a real world example.

    This is starting to feel similar to me.  We can criticize climate deniers, but the real challenges to motivating people to address climate change in the articles Fred links won’t go away. I’m not talking about the right wing blather about it being a liberal plot, or that God won’t let it happen, but rather the real human phenomenon of ignoring a problem when it seems overwhelming and solutions are uncertain. So what exactly do we do?

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    We elect the right people to public office. We instituted penalties against businesses and countries that don’t act to curb this. I don’t know exactly what actions would be necessary to curb this, because I am not a climatologist or biologist or any of the other professions who know exactly what would be necessary. That is why we have to elect the right people, who will then consult experts and act accordingly. This is the reason we have government.

    And we are absolutely capable of the sacrifices necessary to do what needs to be done. Tax hikes on the rich, maybe even rationing. And a lot of what needs to be done isn’t even sacrifice, it’s transitioning to cleaner energy, which will create jobs and help society in every single way.

    There are people who will not be persuaded — they don’t matter. That some people will whine and dig their heels in like a 2-year old having a tantrum is just too bad for them. Constantly playing to the worst in people, rather than the best, is what got us into this mess. We can do better, but that’s not going to happen while we keep worrying so much about people who refuse to do better.

  • Monala

     A lot of things you name are already happening, even in the U.S., to transition to cleaner energy and punish polluters.

    As far as sacrifice goes, our efforts might not be enough and sacrifice will be necessary. But it is hard to impose sacrifice without seriously curbing freedom, so the best way to go about it is to get people on board. But that’s hard to do for reasons the articles named (such as the problem seeming too big and solutions too nebulous), many of which apply to humans as a whole and not just to right wing climate deniers.

    And then you run into the problem of what happens if your efforts are counterproductive or disputed. My recycled paper and compostable bags stories are examples of that, but they don’t require sacrifice. What if you ask people to sacrifice something significant, and then they find out it wasn’t worth it or made the problem worse? At that point people are going to rebel and refuse to go along with further efforts to address the problem.

  • Münchner Kindl

    We can criticize climate deniers, but the real challenges to motivating people to address climate change in the articles Fred links won’t go away. I’m not talking about the right wing blather about it being a liberal plot, or that God won’t let it happen, but rather the real human phenomenon of ignoring a problem when it seems overwhelming and solutions are uncertain. So what exactly do we do?

    1. Do the small steps you can do in your own life.

    2. Get active (through a group) to change things on a legal level = passing new laws on city, state and national level. (As Jared writes in Collapse, some cities have declared themselves green, and were astonished by how much they could save with small steps once everybody did them).

    3. Get active (with moderate groups) in lobbying industry. Moderate groups means that you tell the company what you want, that you will boycott them or protest outside their store until they change X, but that a lot of people will buy from them if they do change X.

    This was succesful in the past: a campaign by enviroment groups against McD and BurgerKing lead to them stopping the use of styrofoam containers (because of the bad eco balance) and replaced them with cardboard containers.
    Recently, the hedgehog, which is endangered here (cars, lack of living space) was found to get trapped in discarded milkshake cups: they crawled inside to lap up the sweet left-overs, but couldn’t crawl out because their spikes had caught on the lid. So a nature group went to McD and asked them to re-design the lid, please. McD did, and got positive PR for “helping to save the hedgehog”.

  • HCSR

    There could also be the issue that – as Fred pointed out in the latest “Left behind” post – that there is a direct car-to-manhood ratio in the United States. So any politics resulting in smaller cars is downright emasculating.

  • HCSR

    Not that the correlation does not exist elsewhere – it is just perhaps more prevalent in the home country of cars for the common man. It is such a powerful sumbol of prosperity and potency and success and the American dream, that replacing it with a bike is close to sacriledge.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    On the flip side I’ve known some bicyclists who seem to think that the mere existence of a car is the bane of all life, even if said car were nonpolluting, etc.

  • Monala

    Münchner, you are providing some good information, but it’s often mixed in with  “Americans are stupid!”  comments that can be off-putting. Would you mind toning that down?

    I know that with USian privilege, I probably don’t have the right to ask that (since our actions tend to have such an impact, often negative, on the rest of the world), but it would help this discussion. Some of the things you have said are uninformed about the U.S. (implying that public transit in the U.S. has a profit motive, which it doesn’t, or that efforts to deal with environmental issues and climate change aren’t happening here).

    And second, although right wing climate change deniers are a big problem, since as Ross points out, they’re actively trying to sabotage efforts to deal with climate and the environment in the U.S., some of the issues described in this post are universal to human beings. You mentioned that when non-recycled paper costs went down in your country, purchase of recycled paper decreased. If your compatriots had only been concerned about long-term environmental impacts and not short-term costs, that wouldn’t have happened. But your compatriots are human, just like mine are, so all of us have a hard time, more or less, balancing short-term vs. long term needs and issues. And I think it would be fruitful if we could talk about how to deal with the human issues without the insults or the implication that USians are the only problem.

  • Münchner Kindl

    Some of the things you have said are uninformed about the U.S. (implying that public transit in the U.S. has a profit motive, which it doesn’t, or that efforts to deal with environmental issues and climate change aren’t happening here).

    So basing my impressions on what a majority of Americans say in the media is uninformed. Next thing you’ll tell me what your city does in terms of recycling and seperating garbage is the standard across the US, I suppose, despite the overwhelming answer about recycling/ seperating garbage from Americans is usally “My city doesn’t offer it” or “it’s all just a scam”.

    You mentioned that when non-recycled paper costs went down in your country, purchase of recycled paper decreased. If your compatriots had only been concerned about long-term environmental impacts and not short-term costs, that wouldn’t have happened. But your compatriots are human, just like mine are, so all of us have a hard time, more or less, balancing short-term vs. long term needs and issues.

    Actually, when the enviroment groups published their findings that nobody bought recycled paper anymore, they said the biggest part was a misperception by the public: in the 80s and 90s, every schoolchild bought recycled paper notebooks to save the planet. Then the big prominent labels faded (and laws were passed), so most people today assume that all paper is automatically recycled, and are surprised that this is not the case. You have to actually look hard because onle one manufacturer still offers school notebooks recycled.

    The “too expensive” issue is more what I heard when asking for the copy machines at our uni, and which is the reason we still use white paper for that.

    And I think it would be fruitful if we could talk about how to deal with the human issues without the insults or the implication that USians are the only problem.

    Well, Fred himself started talking about how big a problem it is with Americans. But I’m used to it being forbidden to critizce Americans on US boards, because they always feel personally attacked. It seems as if they automatically equate “Some/ most/ a lot of Americans” with “every American” and feel insulted. (Just as Americans automatically equate every criticsm with a claim that my own country is superior, and then attack me, because it apparently is not conceivable to criticze some aspect comparing to some objective standard).

  • christopher_young

    One thing Americans seem to be doing less of is buying cars, at least for now. It would be nice to think that somebody is doing some proper analysis about why this is, how it can be encouraged and how the down sides, such as unemployment in the auto industries, can be addressed. It would be nice to think.

  • http://willbikeforchange.wordpress.com/ storiteller

     A lot of the shift is generational, with younger folks buying fewer cars and later in life, and there has been some thinking done on the subject.  It’s not academic research, but Time had an article on it pretty recently: http://moneyland.time.com/2012/05/02/gen-ys-take-on-car-ownership-not-cool/.  At least for younger people, it seems to be tied to the fact that communications has enabled them to feel less of a need to see their friends face-to-face, making it less likely that they need to own their own car.  In addition, with the population shifting to a more urban, less far-away suburban (as opposed to inner suburbs) structure, there’s less need for multi-car households: http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2012/04/08/in-new-census-data-an-improved-outlook-for-core-counties/.  I know my husband and I have one car, drive it only about 6,000 miles a year and don’t foresee getting a second one because we live so close to transit.