Now I see blogging as part of the reinvention of democracy. We're no longer beholden to conventional media to give us a platform. Today, everyone has a voice via the world wide web, and if our words are compelling, people will spread them and help change hearts and minds.
Blogging also allows us to write in a far more personal style than most other types of writing, a style that is sorely lacking from most environment and climate communication. It took the scientist in me a while to shed my technical skin and let rip, but now that I have I'd find it hard to go back. We're only human and it's natural to need personal stories to connect to a complex message. We need to understand that environment and climate are not separate from us. Thank goodness blogging has finally given us a style to convey that essential concept.
On a personal level, blogging has become quite therapeutic for me. When the "good fight" has gotten me down, I've found myself taking to the web to vent frustrations. In that virtual world, I find like-minded people who echo my feelings and encourage me to keep going. At times, we join forces and become stronger through collaboration. I doubt I would still be active in climate campaigning if it weren't for that global network of virtual support. The task would simply feel too big and lonely.
Ironically, when I re-branded my blog six months ago from 'Cara's Climate Friday FAQs' to 'The Verdant Yank' it was partially out of frustration for always feeling like an outsider in Ireland despite having Irish citizenship since birth and living here longer than any other place in the world. No matter how hard I tried to prove my Irish-ness, I was repeatedly rejected professionally on the basis of my American accent and Danish last name so I decided to finally own the label and accept my place as an outsider. I assumed being a 'Yank' would preclude me from winning an Irish blog contest, so thanks to the organizers for making this Yank feel Irish for a change! That feeling of belonging, acceptance and validation for voluntary efforts couldn't have come at a better time.
Congratulations to all my fellow 2016 Blog Award Winners, who I really enjoyed meeting and being inspired by at #LWIBloggies2016, and extra special congratulations to my colleagues at GreenNews.ie who won the Science and Education corporate category. Two environmental blogs winning this year's competition means more than just a personal win for The Verdant Yank, but a bigger win that demonstrates public interest in environmental issues, and that gives me warm fuzzies....
To make matters worse, very little (if any) of the waste generated at music festivals is usually recycled. Generally, the waste from Electric Picnic is incinerated. While on the surface that might appear to be a better option than landfill, incineration has a host of problems:
Nonetheless, any recycling is better than none and we learned valuable lessons along the way to improve next year if given the chance.
Personally, I learned the battle against waste is just one big communication problem. We need to standardize our recycling rules, bins, symbols, and colors nationally and even internationally so that people hardly have to think when they sort their waste.
The biggest lesson I learned at Electric Picnic was that winning the battle on waste starts with incentives. Friends of the Earth ran a plastic cup and bottle refund station on behalf of Electric Picnic and Festival Republic, paying out 20 cents for every cup that was returned.
Last year, they paid EUR 12,000 to those who returned cups. This year, popularity of the refund scheme surged, particularly among kids. One “eco-entrepreneur” earned over EUR 1,000 in refunds, covering the cost his festival ticket and leaving him with more than EUR 700 in spending money!
In total, EUR 31,000 was given to those who returned cups. Over 150,000 cups stayed out of an incinerator and the arena grounds were practically devoid of plastic as a result.
Every Can Counts ran a similar incentive scheme for tin cans at the Picnic, offering guests a raffle ticket for passes to next year’s festival for every bag of tin cans they returned. Hard core beer drinkers were glad to have another excuse to fill as many bags as possible, and the number of tin cans littering the campsites was (I’m told) lower than previous years.
Incentives are key, and we need to start at the source of the problem. The festival organizers were keen to Green the picnic and put food vendors on notice to supply fully compostable packaging, which would have dramatically reduced the waste stream. From my own walks down the 'food mile', it seemed very few vendors adhered to this rule. Nor did vendors take any responsibility for keeping the area around their stalls clean. If I were organizing Electric Picnic, I’d start by incentivising vendors to improve packaging and littering by awarding a free stall at a future festival to the most eco-conscious vendors. I’d turn the Green Messengers into a roving judging panel based on their new expertise.
Most people go to Electric Picnic to hear good music. I went to learn about waste. While the amount of rubbish and the public disregard for proper disposal was pretty depressing, I saw opportunities for dramatic improvement given the right support from organizers and waste collectors in combination with a stellar group of enthusiastic volunteers who genuinely care about recycling. In spite of the mess left behind, I was proud to have been a part of something that made at least a small, tangible difference to the environmental footprint of Ireland’s biggest music extravaganza. Here’s hoping it’s a step in the right direction and a sign of bigger things to come.
Keep fighting the good fight!
I’m preparing to go on ‘Tonight with Vincent Browne’ for a climate debate against a man named John McGuirk. I’ve never met him, but what I’ve read isn’t pleasant. He calls climate protesters “the most awful people on the planet” – Personally, I’d rank racists, misogynists, paedophiles, and a lot of other people as more awful than someone walking down a street championing an environmental cause, but it seems John McGuirk hates people like me most of all. This should be interesting…
Like every other climate change contrarian I’ve come across, McGuirk labelled climate change as a left-wing conspiracy as late as 2010 but in more recent times (as climate change has become so difficult to deny) he’s included more nuanced reasons against climate action, arguing we can engineer our way out of the problem and don’t need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a well-known rolling defence tactic of the anti-global warming crowd and a pretty tired argument at this stage, particularly when 195 countries have committed to take swift and dramatic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as part of the UN climate agreement set to become law this year.
No matter how many times I appear on television or radio, I find myself spending another Sunday afternoon trying to prepare for this appearance. Maybe that's because these shows love their facts and figures and, in a rapidly changing climate, it’s constant work to keep up-to-date. Or maybe it’s because I care too much about climate change and feel this might be my one shot to reach someone in their sitting room and get them to care too.
I’ve decided if I’m going to waste a Sunday preparing for the latest showdown, I might as well turn it into a blog… Maybe it will help another scientist some day in preparing for their own media appearance. God knows no one ever trains us to do this, and media communication is so different to the communication style we’re trained to follow in academia. In science, you must acknowledge uncertainty in everything, but in media and politics uncertainty is an excuse for inaction. I’ve got to try to get the balance right and that takes preparation. I plan to post that preparation and evidence base later as a resource to others.
Way less than our 'fair share'
I've been told by the show's producer this won't be a debate on the existence of climate change, so I see it as an opportunity to highlight just how poor the Fine Gael led-government has been on climate action. Enda Kenny has been quoted as saying Ireland needs to do its ‘fair share’ on emissions reduction to address climate change. I never liked the term because I thought what he really meant was Ireland should do ‘no more than’ our fair share. Recently, I’ve begun to realize the situation is even worse than that. -Kenny and his cronies have been lobbying to do even less than our fair share all along.
Ireland is one of only two EU countries that will not meet its 2020 emission reduction targets, in large part because our last National Climate Change Strategy expired in 2012 and the last Fine Gael led government rolled back the timelines of the 2015 Climate Change Bill to ensure that no new strategy would be formulated during their tenure. We’re still waiting for a National Climate Change Strategy so it’s not much of a surprise that we can’t meet targets without a plan.
Rumour has it the failure to meet our 2020 targets was devised intentionally to make a case that we needed lower 2030 targets. Surprise, surprise – In July, we found out that the Irish government managed to get a ten percent leeway in 2030 EU reduction targets compared to other EU countries. Unfortunately, even the previous EU emission reduction targets were not enough in combination with other UN parties to keep the Earth below 2C of warming and now, thanks in part to Ireland’s lobbying to get out of doing their fair share, climate change is more likely to get worse instead of better.
When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA reported last May that transport emissions will increase 13%-19% on current levels by 2020. Agricultural emissions will increase by 2% in that time, and we’re only half-way towards reaching our 2020 renewable energy production target. We’re the tenth most prosperous country in the world with some of the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita. We’re most definitely not doing ‘our fair share’ on climate action and no one is being held accountable for that.
Enda Kenny or someone in Fine Gael need to explain to citizens why they have done nothing positive on climate as long as they’ve been in power. I urged the show's producer to bring someone from Fine Gael on or a relevant Minister to explain, but evidently they couldn't find anyone who would agree.
As soon as the show begins, I sense we have been misled about the intention to avoid a debate on the existence of climate change. The host began with two quotes, one of Donald Trump calling climate change a hoax and the other of Danny Healy-Rae stating weather was controlled by God. He then followed by referring to climate change as a belief. In the first 60 seconds of airing, it was clear this debate was being framed in the same way every climate debate in Ireland has been framed for more than two decades.
After all the hard work of fact checking arguments and science beforehand, I quickly realised I was unlikely to get to use much of it. This was a classic climate denial debate -complete with efforts to misquote panellists, cherry-pick data, discredit climate scientists, etc. McGuirk was “playing the man and not the ball”. I felt like I’d been teleported to the 1990s, and I had no interest in engaging in a flat-Earth style debate. I tried to stick to science and focus on the future amidst what mostly felt like I was in the middle of a bar fight.
Through much of the “debate”, I felt like planting my face in my hand as McGuirk used tactics like trying to discredit former NASA director Dr. James Hansen by claiming he made outrageous predictions of New York being underwater by 2008. Such claims are difficult to combat directly because McGuirk doesn’t cite his source and of course I’ve never heard Dr. Hansen speak in such definitive terms (because a scientist never would). The accusation goes undefended and McGuirk achieves the intended effect of crowding the space with so much noise that the real issues don’t get heard. After the show, I discover McGuirk’s claim about Hansen is regularly used by climate deniers and has been totally misrepresented and taken out of context. Quelle Surprise.
Of all the efforts McGuirk made to discredit both climate scientists and the panellists, there was one I immediately recognised as a gross misrepresentation when he quoted a vision statement fellow panellist John Gibbons had written for a book called ‘Visions 2100’ and tried to use it as evidence Gibbons was not credible. Having written such a statement myself and knowing that they are intentionally imaginative and creative, I was incensed and called McGuirk out on such a low tactic. I pitied the audience at home who had to listen to this pointless mud-slinging. Now I understand why some of the most esteemed climate scientists I know refuse to participate in these kind of debates.
Long live the status quo
While I’ll never condone McGuirk’s viewpoint or his debating tactics, I have to give him credit for achieving his objective. He managed to ensure the conversation never got to Ireland’s role in the climate crisis and lack of action. I hope Fine Gael, Enda Kenny, Minister Naughton, and Minister Ross called to thank him as he protected them from even getting a mention despite all being culpable for Ireland not doing its fair share to address climate change.
I left the show feeling sad for Ireland. If media continue to frame the climate issue as a “belief” and prioritise contrarian panellists with no relevant qualifications or professional expertise on the subject, we will never ever achieve the kind of transition to address climate change. Media is the essential vehicle to inspire the scale of action we need. If every television show in the world behaves like so many Irish programmes have in recent years, we are certainly heading for an uninhabitable planet.
Polls close midnight on Tuesday, August 23rd so please spread the word and get voting. Only one vote is allowed per registered email account.
Also, please consider taking some time to cast another vote for my BFF, actress, writer & mother-extraordinaire Melanie Clark-Pullen's new blog and podcast, Strut and Bellow, which has been short-listed in the Arts & Culture category.
This week, NOAA published their annual State of the Climate report for 2015. Their findings paint a grim picture of a planet in crisis. Watch George Lee's commentary on RTE News from August 2nd with a brief comment from yours truly:
Short-listing takes place between now and September and short-listed entries will be opened up to a public vote, so stay tuned because you may get a call to mobilization from yours truly soon!
Here's hoping for a positive outcome because (in my humble, unbiased opinion) we need a lot more awareness of environmental issues in Ireland and no better way for this Irish-American Verdant Yank to help achieve that than with a seal of approval from the Irish Blog Awards!
Find out more about the Irish Blog Awards here.
Fingers and toes crossed until September!
PS. Congratulations to fellow blogger and my amazing friend, Melanie Clark Pullen, for nomination of her blog and podcast 'Strut and Bellow' in the 'Arts and Culture' category. One to watch, people!
So why go through such enormous effort to create a vision of the world in eight and a half decades when most of us will be gone? My colleague John Gibbons explained it best when he quoted Nelson Mandela at Visions 2100 Dublin:
We need "the vision thing" to figure out what steps to take now to get there, and 2100 is far enough away to let our imaginations run wild, unconstrained by today's technological and societal limits.
Emotion = Energy in Motion
John O'Brien's introductory comments at Vision 2100 Dublin reminded me of the constant communication struggle we have between rationality and emotion. He explained:
For scientists in particular, this conflict between speaking with emotion and rationality is head wrecking. We're told we need to express more urgency to convey environmental threats more convincingly, but when we do, we're attacked for trying to advance an "activist agenda" and discredited for being alarmist.
Damned if you do, Damned if you don't... It's no wonder most scientists just try and keep their heads down and advance the science. Why be outspoken and emotional when it only makes you susceptible to attack and threatens your career prospects?
That's why John O'Brien's Vision 2100 project is so useful. It gives all of us (yes, you too) the space to speak with emotion without risk of being discredited since no one can tell us our vision of 2100 is wrong (or at least we'll be dead by the time they do!).
The Latin derivative for the word emotion, ‘emotere’, means 'energy in motion' and it involves not just mental sensations by physical ones too. When we feel something physically, we connect to it at a deeper level and we're more encouraged to act or move compared to when we are confronted with rational facts.
Within 24 hours, our government reversed its migrant policy as a result of public outcry (though they've yet to take the 4,000 they committed to).
We simply have to become more emotional about climate change and climate action in spite of personal consequences. A friend recently reminded me that all major decisions are based on either fear or love. Facts and figures aren't going to enable the kind of action we need on climate.
A rationale for 2100
In 2100, I expect the world to be almost unrecognizable compared to present day. I grew up before the internet – So in just 3 decades, technology (and thus society) has already changed dramatically.
It’s equally hard to conceive of what our climate, and consequently humanity, might be like in 2100. The variability in the IPCC climate projections is enormous by the time you get to 2100, with anything from a 1.8 degree Celsius temperature rise from pre-industrial baseline (unlikely now given our lack of action to date) to up to 6 degree Celsius rise.
There are so many economic, societal, health and security reasons for most countries to do this, I think it’s fair to assume the world won’t remain dominated by fossil intensive energy for much longer.
As a result of that global shift toward renewable energy, I think there will also be a reform of the social inequality we see today. If the world were only 100 people, right now 50% of the wealth would be owned by one individual! The trend of consolidating wealth to a smaller and smaller group of individuals has reached its limits, and the solution to that unsustainable greed is in local social and environmental sustainability.
An unlikely model in Cuba
When I think of what a local sustainability might look like in 2100, I think of Cuba today.
Inadvertently, they created a platform for sustainable food production where locally-grown, organic food has become the most convenient and inexpensive food available to people. Another interesting thing about Cuba is that an individual is only permitted to own one place of business, so the majority of businesses remain locally-owned and community focused. This is where our own food production systems need to go if we’re serious about sustainability.
The greatest threat to Cuba’s localized model today is the capitalist consumer dream that the rest of the world has so deeply bought into. In my 2100 vision, the rest of the world finally comes to the realization that consumerism only benefits the mighty few, so we’ve traded that pipe dream for a dream of well-being, health, education, and re-connection of community for all the Earth’s citizens.
Regret + Optimism = 2100
Emotionally, my vision of the world in 2100 is a mix of regret and optimism...
I couldn’t ignore the fact that even if we stopped burning all fossil fuel today, we’ve locked in a further 0.6 degrees Celsius temperature rise and that we know low lying areas like the Maldives and Bangladesh will struggle to survive in a world with warming beyond 1.5 degrees C. I think those facts warrant some serious regret.
But I am also an optimist (at least until Donald Trump destroys the planet), and I see signs all around me of a global society that wants change -not climate change, but system change.
My 2100 Vision
"We waited too long to act. By mid-century, climate change and its tragic consequences were inevitable. Saharan heatwaves swept across the Mediterranean. “Super-hurricanes” became the norm. Glaciers melted and their freshwater was lost. Seas rose and maps had to be redrawn. People were forced to migrate and cities are crowded now, but we prevailed and learned from the mistakes of our forebears. Eventually, we defeated corporate fossil fuel powers and de-carbonized our energy and transport systems, an admirable feat that united the world and empowered civil society.
So when I saw a request looking for new writers, I jumped at the call and was thrilled when Editor Susan Clark responded with an offer to join their "New Voices" team
Reading back through The Ecologist's 46 year history makes me even more proud to now call myself a part of their legacy. Through words, they've affected real change and still continue to do so. Former Ecologist Editor Mark Anslow once said "Understanding how climate change is linked to economic growth, population, consumption, and the structure of Western society is something few seem willing to contemplate – The Ecologist's role has always been to point out these links." If you've read any of my blogs, you can see that this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!
Check out my first comment piece: A message to the scientific societies that climate and politics are still at odds, and if they really want to help, polite letter writing simply isn't enough!