from the world's big
Localizing Environmental Communication
--Guest post by Alyssa Martori, American University graduate student.
People around the world working toward environmental preservation, conservation, and sustainability are often described as part of a global environmental movement. But for decades this movement has been hindered by a lack of strong unity, without a single goal or set of values. Environmental leaders exist on the left and right of politics. They exist in the rural backcountry of Kenya and on the Upper East Side of New York City. What could possibly be the common values among so many environmentalists? How is such a diverse movement to decide the best course of action?
Many would argue, the best way to approach this issue is by looking at the past mistakes of the environmental movement. As Michael Schellenberger and Ted Nordhaus explain in their essay The Death of Environmentalism, the U.S. environmental movement historically has narrowly defined itself by pitting human interest against environmental interest, calling for deep sacrifice in the face of global risks. While these arguments resonate with many already involved in the movement, they also either fail to connect with or even alienate a larger portion of the public.
As Matthew Nisbet -- our professor in a course this semester -- explains in a paper at the journal Environment, in telling the story of climate change, environmentalists have tended to stick to three main themes. Climate change is either a story about holding Republicans and industry accountable, about explaining the certainty of the science, or a story about environmental threat and fear. These storylines, while generating dramatic media coverage and a base of support, have to date fallen short of engaging a wider public.
In learning from mistakes, scholars urge environmental advocates to draw on research to figure out what matters most to people. They argue that an important method to diversify and intensify public demand for societal action is to shift the focus of communication to people and their local communities. A study by Sol Hart and Erik Nisbet suggests news media should focus on the immediate and local effects of climate change rather than the possibly more dramatic effects on far away people and places. Their study examines the effects of social distance on individuals’ desire to demand policy action. Their findings show that the best way to convince both Democrats and Republicans to support policy action on climate change is to frame the problem as a local public health issue, rather than a threat to people in other countries or regions.
In addition, research cited in the World Wildlife Fund’s report, Weathercocks and Signposts: The Environmental Movement at a Crossroads, shows that intrinsic motivations for behavior change are far more likely to lead to pro-environmental behavior. Examples of widely shared intrinsic motivations include seeking personal growth and a responsibility to one's local community, while strong environmental values remain less widely distributed among the public. Therefore, by framing environmental action as a means of connecting locally with neighbors through nature or a way to protect local community health, communicators are more likely to activate the types of intrinsically held values that lead to long term behavior change.
Ultimately a combination of these ideas must be implemented if the environmental movement is going to achieve the large scale changes it so passionately desires. The environmental movement is in a favorable position. It has scientific expertise and vast financial resources on its side, all resources that can be applied to defining environmental action in terms of protecting, defending, and empowering people and their local communities.
--Guest post by Alyssa Martori, MA student in Global Environmental Politics at American University, and student in this semester'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.
Schellenberger, M. & Nordhaus, T. (2004). The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World. The Breakthrough Institute. [PDF]
Crompton, T. (2008). Weathercocks and Signposts: The Environmental Movement at a Crossroads. UK World Wildlife Fund. [PDF]
Hart, P., & Nisbet, E. (2011). Boomerang Effects in Science Communication: How Motivated Reasoning and Identity Cues Amplify Opinion Polarization About Climate Mitigation Policies Communication Research. [HTML].
Nisbet, M.C. (2009). Communicating Climate Change: Why Frames Matter to Public Engagement. Environment, 51 (2), 12-23. [HTML]
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
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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Women today are founding more businesses than ever. In 2018, they made up 40% of new entrepreneurs, yet in that same year, they received just 2.2% of all venture capital investment. The playing field is off-balance. So what can women do?
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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