Sunday, March 29, 2009

Earth Hour 2009: The Recap

Live blogging would have been more conducive to describing my experience with Earth Hour 2009, however, since I am still a little green (excuse the pun) when it comes to blogging I did not realize that I should blog about the event while it was actually happening. Thus, a retrospective account.

First, click the link to gain some background information on Earth Hour, since that will be more efficient than my explanation. Currently, the website is a little slow to update the results of what happened last night, so I can't really expound on the global impact. In my little corner of the world, Earth Hour 2009, was just that...little. 

Based on the website it seems as though Earth Hour received a lot of international attention, however, it did not seem to get a lot of press in the U.S. When I approached my 18 housemates about participating in the event, all but two appeared dumbfounded. I found out about through WWF updates sent to my email inbox and that seemed to be the case for my other friends who were also in the know. 

Furthermore, during the actual hour in contention there did not seem to be a lot, if any, participation on a campus that is regarded as one of the most green-minded in the country. Still, we soldiered on and dutifully turned out all the lights in our large four-story for an entire hour. That is, all the lights except the T.V. As the house organizer of the event, I granted permission for the T.V. to remain on because we have a rather influential contingent of college basketball fans (myself included) that simply could not miss the Villanova-Pitt game. 

Unfortunately, with the T.V. on, my good intentioned effort to support Earth Hour seemed a little anti-climactic. Basically, we were just watching basketball in the dark with lots of little tea lights on the floor threatening a fire hazard. On a positive note, we probably saved a ton of energy because our house is usually lit up like Christmas!

Earth Hour's good-intentioned effort, like my own, may prove to be a bit anti-climactic. With the mission of presenting a global "vote for Earth" to the world leaders at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this coming December, it is difficult to predict how an event that happened in March will influence international policy. 

On the other hand, global support for the effort in any capacity shows a growing awareness of global warming that is crucial to effective policy changes. The more people who join the movement, the more likely it is that world leaders will take notice. 

Although Earth Hour 2009 was a bit of a flop in my own house, it is worth hoping that it is impactful in December, when it really counts. And, in retrospect, it wasn't exactly a failure for me either. Motivating 18 people to turn their lights out on a Saturday night (with the exception of the T.V) is both a personal achievement and a demonstration of support for efforts to prevent global warming. 

Monday, March 23, 2009

Something is better than nothing...isn't it?

Examples of environmental communication seem to be more visible now than ever before. Commercials, TV shows, documentaries, cartoons etc. are all carrying interesting environmental messages. But "interesting" is not the same as "effective" or "accurate." When viewing/hearing environmental messages, it is worthwhile to keep in mind the motives of the media. Do the media truly care about what is "green" or do they care about what is newsworthy?

Much like the old adage - there's no such thing as bad publicity - some would argue that no matter the motivation behind it, any form of environment-oriented communication is a good thing. Even if it is inaccurate. Unlike a celebrity seeking publicity, however, environmental issues do not just need attention, they need the right attention. It is risky to assume that any message which motivates people to support environmentalism is always positive, regardless of the accuracy of the information. The danger is that people may unknowingly do or buy things that they think are environmentally friendly, but in actuality are not. If people falsely believe they are living environmentally-conscious lifestyles they may be lulled into complacence about the true state of environmental issues. 

A great example someone brought up in a debate recently, was the proliferation of "eco" shirts that proclaim an environmental message on a person's clothing. Ironically, these supposedly "green" shirts are often made from materials not produced organically or only a small percentage of their make-up involves an organic material. So people buy these shirts thinking they are purchasing environmentally-friendly clothing when they might actually be promoting the very environmentally-unfriendly practices they oppose. 

In the case of environmental issues like global warming, toxic emissions, wildlife conservation/preservation, etc. false information is almost as bad as no information at all. These issues are not celebrities, they are real problems affecting the environment and human communities. If environmental messages do not accurately describe the situation, how will anyone be able to fix it?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

"Death of Environmentalism"

In the pits of an economic crisis that is impossible to ignore or even play down, it is important to consider the role of environmentalism in America's current situation. Recession or not, global warming and other environmental issues soldier on relatively undeterred by the fall of Wall Street, Main Street, the housing market, the auto industry, employment rates...the list goes on. While the economic stimulus plan has allocated money for environmental issues, many environmental non-profits are expecting to suffer in the next few years due to more competition for fewer grants and decreased individual donations. 

When millions of people are out of jobs, out of their homes, and out of their savings, do environmental issues really deserve the front burner? Especially with a recent gas price reprieve, many are wondering whether we can't just put global warming, land preservation, natural resource conservation, and wildlife protection on hold for a bit, at least until America is back on solid ground. The answer is yes, environmental issues deserve our attention and NO, we cannot wait to act. 

In "The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World"(2004)  Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus made it abundantly clear that the issues (which were a relative bother just 5 years ago, compared to the catatrophe they are today) we tend to deal with using a check-list mentality are actually all painfully interconnected and inextricable from each other. In 2009, Shellenberger and Nordhaus's critique of the environmental movement has proven to be brilliant if not for its foresight, then certainly for its accute observations. The environmental movement no longer has the luxury of allowing itself to be just a number on a federal, congressional, senatorial, state, or local to-do list. Unemployment, health care, global warming -- the entire fallout of this economic crisis -- must truly be dealt with in all its interrelated complications in order for America's economy and the global economy to dig itself out of the carbon-concentrated, greed infested ditch in which we, as a nation and as a global community, find ourselves embroiled. 

At the time of its release, this article rocked the environmental movement and its leaders to the core. It seems that no systematic critique of the whole system had ever been so effective since the environmental movement really became a cohesive force in the late 1960's and early 1970's. After all, the critique isn't of the environmental movement since its conception, its of the modern efforts at environmentalism under Clinton, and subsequently under W. Bush that have actually constituted a frustrating, if not quite embarassing, fall from grace. 

The crossroads at which America finds itself quite uncomfortably positioned is no longer which president to elect, we've already taken the first step, but how to effectively move forward. With fewer monetary resources, it's not a question of pouring money into everything, it's a matter of formulating on an all encompassing plan and carrying it out. We cannot improve health care, save the auto industry, and prevent global warming without the leaders of all these sectors working together to ensure fair practice in all efforts, jobs and job security, and decreased carbon emissions throughout. This not a game of environmentalists versus big business versus the public health. This should be a team effort to combat the social ills that effect us all, regardless of collar color, so that we can protect and improve all aspects of our environment, not just the natural one. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Elephants vs. Starving Children: Apples to Oranges?

As a supporter of wildlife conservation, I am deeply vested in a non-profit that is seeking funding to provide a baby Asian elephant with a prosthetic foot, to replace the one he lost to a poacher's snare. In a recent discussion about this program and its viability, I was challenged to answer the question, "Why would someone provide funding to save one baby elephant, when there are children starving?"

It's not as though this is an unrealistic or unprecedented question. In fact, it's fairly obvious. Still, the directness with which it hits anyone who is passionate about wildlife conservation cannot be ignored. The obvious answer is that not all funders are interested in granting money to prevent childhood hunger (not that they don't care about it) and that some foundations make it a personal mission to conserve endangered wildlife. Effective in the heat of the moment for certain, but this answer does not approach the deeper question(s). Are humans more important than animals? 

An interesting way to look at it is to switch the original question around to ask, "Why would someone provide funding to save one baby human, when Asian elephants populating are declining rapidly due to habitat loss, poaching, and habitat fragmentation?" Suddenly, that baby human's life seems pretty important to us, in spite of the imminent threats to an ENTIRE species of elephants. Interestingly, humans as a species are far from endangered while less than 50,000 Asian elephants survive in the wild. 

Maybe it seems like a cop-out by my response is: apples to oranges. The question shouldn't be who deserves it more. Both children who want for food and endangered elephants might not be in the predicaments they are in if it weren't for human influence. In the end, they are both in need of aid in different ways but because humans are, essentially, the cause of both problems it is our duty to work to fix both issues. One baby male elephant seems paltry, but less so when you realize the ratio of male Asian elephants to female in the wild is 1:6. If this elephant receives a prosthesis, he'll grow normally and, barring the influence of unpredictable factors, be healthy enough to father children through a captive breeding program. Suddenly, one baby elephant could have an effect on the survival of a species. 

As long as there are programs working to end childhood hunger and there are funders granting money to a cause that requires such immediate action, there is no reason why Asian elephants cannot be protected simultaneously. Is it really our duty to decide who is more deserving, if in fact, there are resources to go around and it is actually just a matter of allocating them effectively?