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Green Groups Rebrand Global Warming Around Public Health
Following the demise of cap and trade legislation, green group leaders acknowledged that despite spending several hundred million dollars to pass the bill, they were unable to create public demand for action in key Midwest Congressional districts and states.
"The community that tried to move a climate bill fundamentally lacks political power and doesn't have the ability to either deliver punishment or reward to members of Congress who don't vote for us," Kathleen Welch, a Washington-based philanthropy adviser told Politico in 2011. Her admission was echoed in statements by Fred Krupp, Bill McKibben and others.
Now, as Politico reports today, it appears that green groups led by the National Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club are seeking to address this weakness. “We’re going to talk a lot about the health implications of dirty air,” Heather Taylor, director of NRDC’s political arm told Politico. “I think that the Midwest is one of those places where [there are] a million great clean energy stories, especially. And they’re not being told right now, because we’ve tended to be in other markets. That’s an area where we feel like it’s time to go tell those stories.” You can watch one of their TV ads emphasizing this message later in the post.
In a polarized America, if you are going to build support for candidates in the Midwest and other battleground states that will back legislation on climate change during the next Congress, you have to switch focus to emphasize public health and economic resilience, goals realized through incremental actions like eliminating coal plants and boosting fuel efficiency.
“Critics for a long time have argued that environmentalists and our issues don’t connect with people,” Sierra Club National Political Director Tony Cani told Politico. “The idea is this: When it comes to any issue, whether it’s Keystone, EPA regulations or any other issue … how does that impact individuals? How does it impact families? I think that it’s fair to say that that’s not always been a strength of environmentalists.”
HISTORY OF MESSAGING ON CLIMATE CHANGE, 2006 to 2010
As I reviewed in a 2009 paper at the journal Environment, in 2006 and 2007 the dominant focus of climate messaging was around the "climate crisis" and the risk of catastrophe. This message was set in motion and promoted through Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Along with this frame was one of political accountability, emphasizing the "war on science," the actions of the Bush administration and conservatives, and the efforts of Democrats to "return science to its rightful place" in politics, as Obama would later declare.
In late 2007, Gore with his newly launched WE campaign switched focus temporarily to a message emphasizing national unity in the face of an existential threat, similar to Americans coming to together to win WWII or to put a man on the Moon. Yet by 2009 and for most of the cap and trade debate, Green groups led by the Environmental Defense Fund and the WE campaign focused on climate action as leading to jobs. EDF in ads told viewers that "Cap=jobs" and the WE campaign ran ads featuring construction workers, ranchers, and clean energy technicians around the brand theme "Repower America."
Yet the focus on jobs lacked a moral foundation. It offered the promise of benefits, but didn't build a case for why we should act and why we have a responsibility to do so. The emphasis on economic benefits in the context of the recession also turned the debate into "some economic benefits" as claimed by greens versus "dramatic economic costs" as claimed by opponents, a balance that given the economic context favored the opposition.
A SLOW SHIFT TO FOCUS ON PUBLIC HEALTH
Public health has been a dramatically under-communicated dimension of the climate change story, yet it is a dimension that has perhaps the best ability to connect with a wider diversity of Americans, to erode polarized differences, and to create a moral foundation for action.
Consider that through 2009, in an analysis I conducted for the Centers for Disease Control with several colleagues, we found that health impacts such as extreme heat, disease, and respiratory problems, and more vivid threats such as hurricanes, were mentioned in fewer than 5% and 10% of the climate change-related articles in national and regional papers, respectively.
One reason that human health impacts were dramatically under-communicated was that major funders were not considering these types of human dimensions in their investment strategies. As I detailed in the Climate Shift report, between 2008 and 2010, the 9 major national foundations that were part of the Design to Win alliance distributed more than $360 million in grants related to action on climate change and energy, but among these grants only $1.9 million included a focus on public health and well-being, less than .05% of all funds distributed.
WHY THE FOCUS ON PUBLIC HEALTH AND GAS PRICES MATTERS
1. Public Health Partners Have a Built in Network in the Midwest, Greens Don't
Partnering with NRDC and the Sierra Club is the American Lung Association. This partnership is important since by their own admission, green groups lack the network in many conservative or swing districts to make major communication gains. For public health groups, this network exists and they have a playbook specific to tobacco to draw from.
In the ALA and other public health groups' efforts to regulate tobacco, major Congressional legislation was blocked by the tobacco lobby until 2009. Yet over the previous 30 years, anti-smoking groups won incremental policy victories through smoking bans and cigarette taxes, while socially stigmatizing smoking through campaigns in support of these goals. Moreover, it was legal action by States Attorney General that ultimately forced Congress to consider national legislation in 1998. The bill failed but built momentum for legislative success in 2009, the first time after 50 years of efforts that Congress enacted a bill that regulates tobacco as a controlled substance.
2. A Public Health Frame Personalizes and Localizes the Climate Pollution Story
As I wrote in the 2009 paper at Environment, by re-framing climate change in terms of public health, several points of emphasize likely connect better with audiences beyond the environmental base:
The public health frame stresses climate change’s potential to increase the incidence of infectious diseases, asthma, allergies, heat stroke, and other salient health problems, especially among the most vulnerable populations: the elderly and children. In the process, the public health frame makes climate change personally relevant to new audiences by connecting the issue to health problems that are already familiar and perceived as important. The frame also shifts the geographic location of impacts, replacing visuals of remote Arctic regions, animals, and peoples with more socially proximate neighbors and places across local communities and cities. Coverage at local television news outlets and specialized urban media is also generated.
In research with Ed Maibach and colleagues, we find that by focusing communication on the health risks of climate change and the health benefits of local-level action, even those doubtful or dismissive of climate change support forms of mitigation-related actions, a starting point for building support for eventual national policy. [See discussion and study at BMC Public Health.]
As Maibach and I have also described, by focusing on public health, you additionally activate new trusted spokespeople and opinion leaders among local public health officials, nurses, doctors, and health advocates.
With Mindy Weathers -- a graduate student at GMU -- we put together a report and primer on Conveying the Health Implications of Climate Change, intended to serve as an education tool and resource for public health officials, professionals, agencies, and offices across the country.
3. Personal Stories Build the Foundation for National Action
Localizing the issue of greenhouse gas pollution in terms of personal stories also resonates strongly with the strategy of health care reform advocates in the run up to the 2008 election.
Families USA spent several million in 2008 creating a “story bank” of media that documented the personal struggles of individuals without health insurance or who had been denied coverage. This became a major resource for journalists, campaign speechwriters and communication staff, helped elevate attention to health care during the election, and set an important frame of reference for the policy debate after Obama was elected. The efforts by Sierra, NRDC, and ALA should be designed and used with these types of goals in mind.
4. A Public Health Focus Can Transcend Polarization
As evidenced by the study above, public health is a widely shared value. Indeed, as was the case in the battle over tobacco and second-hand smoke, concern for the health of innocents including women and children is a moral foundation held by both liberals and conservatives.
In the XL Pipeline debate, opposition to the pipeline from Midwest state and local Republican political leaders did not come from appeals to act on behalf of the environment or global warming, but rather because of concerns over health risks related to the contamination of the Ogallala aquifer. "I want to emphasize that I am not opposed to pipelines," wrote Gov. Dave Heineman in a letter to Obama. "I am opposed to the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline route because it is directly over the Ogallala Aquifer.”
5. A Public Health Frame Morally Stigmatizes Fossil Fuel Companies
The tobacco campaign began to turn when grassroots activists across states shifted the perceived norms around smoking from something that was attractive and done openly in public to something that was harmful to innocents, disgusting and done in private. In the process, advocates morally stigmatized tobacco companies as knowingly creating an addictive product that harmed the public's health especially innocents such as kids. Tobacco executives then lied before Congress about the issue.
Defining greenhouse pollution as harming innocent kids and fossil fuel companies as morally irresponsible is a parallel strategy. Partnering with ALA and public health officials gives Green groups the moral authority to make this argument.
Sierra and NRDC do this in the first of the ads that they are running in the Midwest. See below.
6. Greens for Too Long Have Ceded the Conversation on Gas Prices to Conservatives
Focusing on fuel efficiency in cars as an antidote to high gas prices -- and thanking President Obama for the fuel efficiency rules -- is also an important strategy. For too long, Greens and Democrats have ceded the gas price conversation to conservatives who redefine the issue as a supply problem (i.e. drill more) rather than a demand problem (ie. fuel efficiency, public transportation that saves money and benefits public health).
In a study at the American Journal of Public Health with Ed Maibach and Tony Leiserowitz, we find that conservative perceptions mirror expert opinion, as they are highly concerned about the possible economic and health impacts of a spike and volatility in gas prices. Liberals -- opposite to climate change -- display greater divergence from expert opinion and are less concerned about these impacts, suggesting an ideological blind spot to the importance of the issue.
The sensitivity of conservatives to gas prices and their low information, intuitive sense that gas prices are connected to public health offers a strong opening for engagement on the issue, an opportunity to start a broader conversation about the connections between energy policy, public health, and economic well-being.
Maibach, E., Nisbet, M.C., Baldwin, P., Akerlof, K. & Diao, G. (2010). Reframing Climate Change as a Public Health Issue: An Exploratory Study of Public Reactions. BMC Public Health, 10: 299.
Maibach, E., Nisbet, M.C., & Weathers, M. (2011, April).Conveying the Human Implications of Climate Change: A Climate Change Communication Primer for Public Health Professionals. Fairfax, VA: Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University
Nisbet, M.C. (2009). Communicating Climate Change: Why Frames Matter to Public Engagement. Environment, 51 (2), 12-23.
Nisbet, M.C., Maibach, E. & Leiserowitz, A. (2011). Framing Peak Petroleum as a Public Health Problem: Audience Research and Public Engagement. American Journal of Public Health, 101: 1620-1626.
Nisbet, M.C. (2011, April). Climate Shift: Clear Vision for the Next Decade of Public Debate. Washington, D.C.: School of Communication, American University.
All this from a wad of gum?
- Researchers recently uncovered a piece of chewed-on birch pitch in an archaeological dig in Denmark.
- Conducting a genetic analysis of the material left in the birch pitch offered a plethora of insights into the individual who last chewed it.
- The gum-chewer has been dubbed Lola. She lived 5,700 years ago; and she had dark skin, dark hair, and blue eyes.
Five thousand and seven hundred years ago, "Lola" — a blue-eyed woman with dark skin and hair — was chewing on a piece of pitch derived from heating birch bark. Then, this women spit her chewing gum out into the mud on an island in Denmark that we call Syltholm today, where it was unearthed by archaeologists thousands of years later. A genetic analysis of the chewing gum has provided us with a wealth of information on this nearly six-thousand-year-old Violet Beauregarde.
This represents the first time that the human genome has been extracted from material such as this. "It is amazing to have gotten a complete ancient human genome from anything other than bone," said lead researcher Hannes Schroeder in a statement.
"What is more," he added, "we also retrieved DNA from oral microbes and several important human pathogens, which makes this a very valuable source of ancient DNA, especially for time periods where we have no human remains."
In the pitch, researchers identified the DNA of the Epstein-Barr virus, which infects about 90 percent of adults. They also found DNA belonging to hazelnuts and mallards, which were likely the most recent meal that Lola had eaten before spitting out her chewing gum.
Insights into ancient peoples
The birch pitch was found on the island of Lolland (the inspiration for Lola's name) at a site called Syltholm. "Syltholm is completely unique," said Theis Jensen, who worked on the study for his PhD. "Almost everything is sealed in mud, which means that the preservation of organic remains is absolutely phenomenal.
"It is the biggest Stone Age site in Denmark and the archaeological finds suggest that the people who occupied the site were heavily exploiting wild resources well into the Neolithic, which is the period when farming and domesticated animals were first introduced into southern Scandinavia."
Since Lola's genome doesn't show any of the markers associated with the agricultural populations that had begun to appear in this region around her time, she provides evidence for a growing idea that hunter-gatherers persisted alongside agricultural communities in northern Europe longer than previously thought.
Her genome supports additional theories on northern European peoples. For example, her dark skin bolsters the idea that northern populations only recently acquired their light-skinned adaptation to the low sunlight in the winter months. She was also lactose intolerant, which researchers believe was the norm for most humans prior to the agricultural revolution. Most mammals lose their tolerance for lactose once they've weaned off of their mother's milk, but once humans began keeping cows, goats, and other dairy animals, their tolerance for lactose persisted into adulthood. As a descendent of hunter-gatherers, Lola wouldn't have needed this adaptation.
A hardworking piece of gum
A photo of the birch pitch used as chewing gum.
These findings are encouraging for researchers focusing on ancient peoples from this part of the world. Before this study, ancient genomes were really only ever recovered from human remains, but now, scientists have another tool in their kit. Birch pitch is commonly found in archaeological sites, often with tooth imprints.
Ancient peoples used and chewed on birch pitch for a variety of reasons. It was commonly heated up to make it pliable, enabling it to be molded as an adhesive or hafting agent before it settled. Chewing the pitch may have kept it pliable as it cooled down. It also contains a natural antiseptic, and so chewing birch pitch may have been a folk medicine for dental issues. And, considering that we chew gum today for no other reason than to pass the time, it may be that ancient peoples chewed pitch for fun.
Whatever their reasons, chewed and discarded pieces of birch pitch offer us the mind-boggling option of learning what someone several thousands of years ago ate for lunch, or what the color of their hair was, their health, where their ancestors came from, and more. It's an unlikely treasure trove of information to be found in a mere piece of gum.
The non-contact technique could someday be used to lift much heavier objects — maybe even humans.
- Since the 1980s, researchers have been using sound waves to move matter through a technique called acoustic trapping.
- Acoustic trapping devices move bits of matter by emitting strategically designed sound waves, which interact in such a way that the matter becomes "trapped" in areas of particular velocity and pressure.
- Acoustic and optical trapping devices are already used in various fields, including medicine, nanotechnology, and biological research.
Sound can have powerful effects on matter. After all, sound strikes our world in waves — vibrations of air molecules that bounce off of, get absorbed by, or pass through matter around us. Sound waves from a trained opera singer can shatter a wine glass. From a jet, they can collapse a stone wall. But sound can also be harnessed for delicate interactions with matter.
Since the 1980s, researchers have been using sound to move matter through a phenomenon called acoustic trapping. The method is based on the fact that sound waves produce an acoustic radiation force.
"When an acoustic wave interacts with a particle, it exerts both an oscillatory force and a much smaller steady-state 'radiation' force," wrote the American Physical Society. "This latter force is the one used for trapping and manipulation. Radiation forces are generated by the scattering of a traveling sound wave, or by energy gradients within the sound field."
When tiny particles encounter this radiation, they tend to be drawn toward regions of certain pressure and velocity within the sound field. Researchers can exploit this tendency by engineering sound waves that "trap" — or suspend — tiny particles in the air. Devices that do this are often called "acoustic tweezers."
Building a better tweezer
A study recently published in the Japanese Journal of Applied Physics describes how researchers created a new type of acoustic tweezer that was able to lift a small polystyrene ball into the air.
Tweezers of Sound: Acoustic Manipulation off a Reflective Surface youtu.be
It is not the first example of a successful "acoustic tweezer" device, but the new method is likely the first to overcome a common problem in acoustic trapping: sound waves bouncing off reflective surfaces, which disrupts acoustic traps.
To minimize the problems of reflectivity, the team behind the recent study configured ultrasonic transducers such that the sound waves that they produce overlap in a strategic way that is able to lift a small bit of polystyrene from a reflective surface. By changing how the transducers emit sound waves, the team can move the acoustic trap through space, which moves the bit of matter.
Move, but don't touch
So far, the device is only able to move millimeter-sized pieces of matter with varying degrees of success. "When we move a particle, it sometimes scatters away," the team noted. Still, improved acoustic trapping and other no-contact lifting technologies — like optical tweezers, commonly used in medicine — could prove useful in many future applications, including cell separation, nanotechnologies, and biological research.
Could future acoustic-trapping devices lift large and heavy objects, maybe even humans? It seems possible. In 2018, researchers from the University of Bristol managed to acoustically trap particles whose diameters were larger than the sound wavelength, which was a breakthrough because it surpassed "the classical Rayleigh scattering limit that has previously restricted stable acoustic particle trapping," the researchers wrote in their study.
In other words, the technique — which involved suspending matter in tornado-like acoustic traps — showed that it is possible to scale up acoustic trapping.
"Acoustic tractor beams have huge potential in many applications," Bruce Drinkwater, co-author of the 2018 study, said in a statement. "I'm particularly excited by the idea of contactless production lines where delicate objects are assembled without touching them."
Australian parrots have worked out how to open trash bins, and the trick is spreading across Sydney.
- If sharing learned knowledge is a form of culture, Australian cockatoos are one cultured bunch of birds.
- A cockatoo trick for opening trash bins to get at food has been spreading rapidly through Sydney's neighborhoods.
- But not all cockatoos open the bins; some just stay close to those that do.
Dumpster-diving trash parrots
In a study about these smart birds just published in Science, researchers define animal culture as "population-specific behaviors acquired via social learning from knowledgeable individuals."
Co-lead author of the study Barbara Klump of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz, Germany says, "[C]ompared to humans, there are few known examples of animals learning from each other. Demonstrating that food scavenging behavior is not due to genetics is a challenge."
An opportunity presented itself in a video that co-author Richard Major of the Australian Museum shared with Klump and the other co-authors. In the video, a sulphur-crested cockatoo used its beak to pull up the handle of a closed garbage bin — using its foot as a wedge — and then walked back the lid sufficiently to flip it open, exposing the bin's edible contents.
Major has been studying Cacatua galerita for 20 years and says, "Like many Australian birds, sulphur-crested cockatoos are loud and aggressive." The study describes them as a "large-brained, long-lived, and highly social parrot." Says Major, "They are also incredibly smart, persistent, and have adapted brilliantly to living with humans."(Research regarding some of the ways in which wild animals adapt to the presence of humans has already produced some fascinating results and is ongoing.)
Clever cockie opens bin - 01 youtu.be
The researchers became curious about how widespread this behavior might be and saw a research opportunity. After all, says John Martin, a researcher at Taronga Conservation Society, "Australian garbage bins have a uniform design across the country, and sulphur-crested cockatoos are common across the entire east coast."
Martin continues, "In 2018, we launched an online survey in various areas across Sydney and Australia with questions such as, 'What area are you from, have you seen this behavior before, and if so, when?'"
Word gets around
Credit: magspace/Adobe Stock
Although the cockatoos' maneuver was reported in only three suburbs before 2018, by the end of 2019, people in 44 areas reported observing the behavior. Clearly, more and more cockatoos were learning how to successfully dumpster dive.
As further proof, says Klump, "We observed that the birds do not open the garbage bins in the same way, but rather used different opening techniques in different suburbs, suggesting that the behavior is learned by observing others." One individual bird in north Sydney invented its own method, and the scientists saw it grow in popularity throughout the local population.
To track individual birds, the researchers marked 500 cockatoos with small red dots. Subsequent observations revealed that not all cockatoos are bin-openers. Only about 10 percent of them are, and they are mostly males. The other cockatoos apparently restrict their education to a different lesson: hang around with a bin-opener, and you will get supper.
Thanks to the surveys, the researchers consider the entire project to be a valuable citizen-science experiment. "By studying this behavior with the help of local residents, we are uncovering the unique and complex cultures of their neighborhood birds."
The few seconds of nuclear explosion opening shots in Godzilla alone required more than 6.5 times the entire budget of the monster movie they ended up in.