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Jack Thorndike's blog

Allergic to Green: Conservatives and the Climate.

conservatives and climate changeIn a bid for “Most Churlish Political Maneuver of 2013,” six Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee have boycotted Obama’s nominee to lead the EPA. Gina McCarthy, Obama's choice, worked under two Republican governors and has a solid, centrist record of administrative achievement. But, of course, that’s not the point. The point is that the only way Obama can affect climate change is to do an end-run around congress by enacting stronger regulations through the EPA. And, if Republicans block his EPA nominee they block his efforts to stop climate change. 

Even more to the point is that the Republican Senators who are trying to block McCarthy’s nomination have each received 1 million (Vitter, Inhofe), a half-million (Barasso, Wicker), or hundreds of thousands (Crapo, Sessions, Boozman) in campaign dollars from oil and gas interests over their Senate careers. First-term Republican Senator Deb Fischer took a measly $95,070 from oil and gas, but she’ll catch up. ( It’s obvious why these Senators take the money -- money wins elections -- but it’s less obvious why their constituents let them. After all, 51% of Republicans now understand that the climate is heating and the boycotting Senators are all from the deep South or the arid west -- regions that will be hit hardest by climate change. I don’t expect a groundswell climate movement to rise up across Ol’ Dixie and cowboy country, but people in these hotter, drier regions are going to suffer the worst from climate change and you’d think they’d want to stop it. They have children too, right? 

Yes, but they also (mostly) have conservative ideologies and research shows that even a whiff of environmental protection gives conservatives the hives. A study out of the Wharton Business School found that conservatives were less likely to buy energy-efficient lightbulbs that promised to save money when the packaging declaimed, “Protect the Environment.” They did, however, choose more efficient bulbs with eco-neutral packaging that promised to save money. Predictably, liberals responded positively to greenie packaging -- and were more likely to burn old sneakers for illumination if told it would “Protect the Environment” (Just kidding, that last part.)... read more

Three Things Parents Can Do to Stop Climate Change

Psy stormGotta love those noble intentions. Even if you leap out of bed each morning asking yourself “how can I stop climate change today?”, as a parent you’ll soon confront that daily avalanche of carpools, deadlines, kids’ dentist appointments, meetings, etc, etc. You know that scene in the Gangnam Style video where Psy struts headlong into a raging storm of trash and snow? Well parents, that’s us (minus the chicks and the style.) Who has time to work on climate change amidst all that?

Luckily, after years of herding our kids around, we’ve learned radical prioritizing -- how to cut to the chase. You’ve probably had many conversations like this with your kids: “Now, Jenny (Johnny, Janie, whatever), which do you think will help us get to your school on time; continuing to poke that dead worm with a stick or getting in the car?” We can apply this sophisticated logic to other questions like: which do you think stops people from ruining the environment; asking them nicely, or making carbon pollution illegal and expensive? (Hint: we’ve already tried the first one.) Politicians can pass laws making carbon pollution illegal (cap and trade) or very expensive (carbon tax), but only if we tell them to -- often. So, parents can cut to the chase and tell their representatives to vote for the climate. No need to keep poking the climate with a stick.... read more

A Tranquil Climate in the Boardroom

Monopoly guy under water   

Are business leaders finally discovering that climate change hurts everyone’s bottom line? In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed Obama over Romney because Obama took concrete steps against carbon pollution, and at the same time he slapped Romney for denying climate change.(1) This was a major departure for any one-percenter, as Bloomberg clearly is, since that group is allergic to talking about climate change. As climate scientists offer more detailed predictions about our overheated future, one fact has become clear: climate change is going to cost everyone a lot of money. The worse it gets the more it will cost. This has been known for a decade, and new businesses are thriving in the areas of alternative energy, conservation, etc., but corporate leaders have remained eerily silent on the reality of climate change, apart from spin and greenwashing.... read more

Meet Me In the Lobby

All this apocalyptic weather and talk of climate doom (1) gets me antsy to do something political, so last week I went to the annual Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL)2 conference. Along with 150 other climate activists from across the country I sat through two days of briefings and seminars and powerpoints in a nondescript conference center outside Washington DC, followed by a day of lobbying on The Hill. There was the usual conference-y mingling, banter, and goofing off, and I had a blast. Each of us was scheduled for six meetings with legislators about climate change and the “Save Our Climate Act” (H.R. 3242)3, four of us in each meeting. Early Tuesday morning we all mobbed onto the Metro which whisked us over to Capitol Hill.

Being from Massachusetts, I met mostly with blue-state pols. The meetings were convivial and the same message repeatedly emerged: climate legislation has no chance of passing if Republicans maintain a House majority after the 2012 elections. You know the story; right-wing Republicans use their majority to block any progressive legislation (especially climate bills) and if nothing gets accomplished, that’s okay with them. Just to be clear: I’m distinguishing the Right from Conservatives, who sometimes cooperate with others to solve the country’s problems.... read more

Grow Your Own Green Future

green visions in bostonMy Boston neighborhood’s spring festival celebrates the victory of a Green vision of the future over a vision of doom. In 1972 local activists defeated plans for an elevated highway that would have decimated the community. Instead of six lanes bisecting the neighborhood, we now have the Southwest Corridor Park: a five-mile long greenspace with a new subway line, community gardens, and a bike path to downtown. The Wake Up the Earth! festival affirms this victory every year, beginning with a parade of latino dance troupes, ironic New Orleans brass bands, Zairean drum corps, and more, winding through city streets then entering the park to join the festival. Now in it’s 33rd year, Wake Up the Earth! has solar-powered music stages, face painting for the kids, and booths and tables hawking food, politics, and everything organic. The community, the park, and the festival are real-time examples of urban sustainability, founded on the activists’ vision of the kind of place they wanted to live in.... read more

The New Sea Stories

As I plumped myself down to watch Greenfire Productions’ new documentary, Ocean Frontiers, I was ready for a fight. Not to actually be in a fight, mind you, I just wanted to watch one from the comfort of the plush seats at the New England Aquarium’s IMAX theater. Ocean Frontiers starts with a familiar setup; ecosystems stretched to breaking, rickety regulations that are hardly adequate, and everyone wanting a bigger piece of the pie, or at least to keep what they have. I anticipated such well-worn narratives as right vs wrong, perceptive vs blind, spiritual vs benighted -- the usual. But that’s not what I got. Ocean Frontiers shows four coastal communities who sidestepped the gridlock of their eco-struggles and found solutions that worked for everyone, and for the ocean. (Conflict of interest alert: I’m on Greenfire’s board.)
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Gone Mad

I’m just minding my own business, and suddenly all these eco-leaders are up in my face telling me to get angry about Global Warming? Bill McKibben -- who never raises his voice -- says I should stop being cynical and start being angry about Global Warming. The ever-methodical League of Conservation Voters emails me to “get angry, and fight this one out!” Even climate scientists, always so calm as they gaze into the abyss, are telling us to get angry. I always figured: if the climate scientists aren’t freakin about Global Warming, then I needn’t be freakin. And, now they’re freakin.... read more

My Company 'tis of Thee

Talk about a cover-up. Just today, the Boston Globe disclosed that electricity giant NStar has been conducting a secret operation that allows their customers to pay more to get their electricity from wind power rather than a carbon-polluting source. Actually, the program, NStar Green,” isn’t a company secret -- but I hadn’t heard of it, none of my neighbors had, and Brookline Climate Action had to go door-to-door to tell people about it. It might as well be secret.

I don’t think NStar Green is some big, bad greenwashing scheme. NStar probably let the program languish because investing more money in it would yield little profit. And that’s okay, because it’s not NStar’s job make clean energy -- or dirty energy. It’s NStar’s job to make money. A corporation is responsible for making profit, and anything after that is optional as long as it’s legal.
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SUV's Are History -- sort of

The priHummerThe priHummerYou want a PriHummer? It’s easy, just get an SUV grille, mount it on your Prius with a few zip-ties, and... instant mojo. Feels so good, right? But, where does that SUV mojo come from anyway? Product designers know how to convey status, and SUV design navigates American status narratives like a 4x4 bounding over desert arroyos. Maybe once we know why we find these vehicles so appealing we can finally stop buying them.

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It Takes a City

Last May I saw a shining vision of sustainable urban living. A couple I know had totally retrofitted their house for full energy efficiency and were giving tours to show how it could be done. The house, a 19th century Boston triple-decker, had leaked btu’s for over a hundred winters but now it’s insulated, ducted, and sealed, and ready to play its part in a 21st century green city.... read more

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