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Environmental Movement at a Crossroads: Markets, Values, People
--Guest post by Meredith Hollingsworth, American University student.
In 2004, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger boldly declared in a white paper the death of environmentalism. They argued that the movement had become ineffective by overemphasizing special interest legislation and technical fixes. As a result, it was time for environmentalists to reevaluate their outlook and strategies.
Taking a cue from the Republican Party, they suggested that the environmental movement create a unified vision based on values that would appeal to a broader audience. This vision would entail a shift from focusing narrowly on legislation and the translation of scientific information to widening and diversifying the scope of public participation across issues.
Most importantly, Nordhaus and Shellenberger suggested that the environmental movement frame environmental protection as integral to the betterment of society, thus benefiting the economy and people. To do so, they suggested that environmentalists work with outside groups, notably labor unions.
Building a Blue-Green Coalition
Their argument raised a useful debate and over the subsequent eight years the environmental movement has slowly re-examined strategies, values, and vision. Some like political scientists Deborah Guber and Christopher Bosco, authors of “Past the Tipping Point? Public Discourse and the Role of the Environmental Movement in the Post-Bush Era,” emphasize the importance of creating non-partisan coalitions, such as blue-green labor coalitions to motivate the public and gain political access. They, like Nordhaus and Shellenberger, see the need to frame climate change in a manner of broader opportunity rather than environmental protection. Others offer additional insight and advice.
Appealing to Values Rather than Self-Interest
In 2008, the World Wildlife Fund published the report “Weathercocks and Signposts,” which challenged the growing idea within the environmental movement that main stream market based action would succeed in bringing about the fundamental changes necessary to stop climate change. The report claims that market based approaches may be the “most effective way of motivating specific change…on a piecemeal basis,” but that they “may actually serve to defer, or even undermine, prospects for the more far-reaching and systemic behavioral changes that are needed.”
The reasoning behind this claim, lay in the marketing approach’s “foot-in-the-door” policy of asking consumers to take small steps toward greater change through the “greening” of consumer purchase, using appeals to social status and recognition. Tom Crompton, the author of the report, notes that the promotion of these values may in fact cause people to consume “ever more goods” rather than reducing their ecological impact.
The reason is that values play an important role in determining whether or not the adoption of one pro-environmental behavior will lead to further pro-environmental behavior. If people have become involved with a pro-environmental behavior for extrinsic reasons, such as purchasing a solar panel for their house, social prestige or savings on their electricity bill, they are less likely to participate in other pro-environmental behaviors that may be less noticeable or lack immediate short-term economic benefit.
According to Crompton, appealing to prestige and self-interest creates an “attitude-behavior gap,” in which a disparity exists in a person’s behavior and the interest they may express for the environment in an interview. Crompton therefore argues that the environmental movement’s basis for change needs to be built upon intrinsic values and motivations such as personal growth, emotional intimacy, or community involvement. In this, he reminds readers that the overall goal of stopping global warming for the benefit of the environment and people’s intrinsic needs should not be lost.
Shifting Focus from the Market to People and Community
Mathew Nisbet, in his chapter “Design to Win: Engineering Social Change” from the Climate Shift report, also warns that foundations have focused too narrowly on market based strategies as a strategy to facilitate social change. His analysis showed the need for foundations to promote a vision and strategy that worked outside of highly technocratic, market based approaches, focusing on dimensions of the climate change challenge that include communication, the media system, public health, and the role of the government in sponsoring technological innovation.
It seems that once again, the environmental movement is at crossroads. While it is universally agreed upon that the movement needs to have a strong unified vision and values there exists a debate as what this vision and values should look like. Should the environmental movement continue to use market-based approaches to behavior and policy change or should it seek to promote other values such as community involvement to motivate change? The answer to that question will ultimately decide the future of the environmentalism and the planet.
--Guest post by Meredith Hollingsworth, a student in American University's course on Science, the Environment, and the Media. Find out more about the MA programs in Public Communication and Political Communication as well as the Doctoral program in Communication.
Guber, D. & Bosso, C. (2009). Past the Tipping Point? Public Discourse and the Role of he Environmental Movement in a Post-Bush Era. In Environmental Policy: New Directions for the 21st Century, 7th ed., Norman Vig and Michael Kraft, eds. CQ Press, 2009: 51-74
Schellenberger, M. & Nordhaus, T. (2004). The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World. The Breakthrough Institute.
Crompton, T. (2008). Weathercocks and Signposts: The Environmental Movement at a Crossroads. UK World Wildlife Fund.
Nisbet, M.C. (2011). Design to Win: Engineering Social Change. Chapter 2 in Climate Shift: Clear Vision for the Next Decade of Public Debate. Washington, DC: American University
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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