CSRHub Blog Research on ESG metrics and comments on sustainability best practice

Politicians and Psychologists Address Climate Change

[fa icon="calendar'] Feb 19, 2013 9:00:17 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

The day after President Obama’s pro-climate-action State of the Union address, I foundwilderness myself having lunch with Lisa Reddick, a professor of Ecopsychology at Antioch University Seattle. Reddick and her boss, Dean of Psychology Jane Harmon Jacobs, were celebrating Obama’s speech, noting how dramatically his language has evolved. There was no ambivalence when he talked about the “overwhelming judgment of science” on climate change and proposed a definitive and permanent solution, that “we shift our cars and trucks off oil for good.”

And yet only a few weeks before Obama’s speech, Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, sounded much more pessimistic. In an interview with Bill Moyers called “Ending the Silence on Climate Change,” Leiserowitz describes how deeply the fundamental question that Ecopsychology asks is embedded in our culture, and explains how human evolution is inseparable from the climate system:

I think one of the most interesting things that comes out of science that challenges some of our long held cultural beliefs that somehow human beings are fundamentally different than the natural world is the recognition that at root, when you look at the DNA, we are kin. We are literally relatives. Does that change the way you perceive your relationship with the rest of the world?

Obama talks about changing policy. Leiserowitz talked about changing the most basic understanding of who we are as humans. Obama’s change will affect some sectors of America. Leiserowitz would change everything, from business and government to the hard sciences to social sciences such as economics. One example: a look at the sustainability performance of nearly 7,000 public companies on CSRHub.com tells you that of the twelve socially responsible categories they measure, those involving employees and social issues have higher average scores  than the performance ratings on energy and environmental management.

Overturning the assumption that humans should dominate the earth is as world-altering as Copernicus insisting that the earth revolves around the sun. And yet overturning that assumption is exactly what we must do, not only to save our ourselves from the effects of climate change, but also, if Ecopsychology is correct, to preserve our mental health.

A report released in 2012 by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) supports this hypothesis. Called The Psychological Effects of Global Warming on the United States: And Why the U.S. Mental Health Care System is Not Adequately Prepared, the report describes the alarming increase in mental health trauma due to weather related disasters, and predicts even higher rates of depressive and anxiety disorders, post traumatic stress disorders, substance abuse, suicides, and widespread outbreaks of violence.

This is just what Ecopsychology anticipates. Founder Theodore Roszak recognized the problems stemming from separation of man and nature, the failure to recognize nature’s value to the human spirit and its potential for healing and harming.  In Roszak’s seminal work on Ecopsychology, The Voice of the Earth, Roszak argues that modern psychiatry "has...cut itself off from nature at large and [ministers] to the psyche within a purely personal or social frame of reference.” Nature is relegated to a hostile, alien force.

Professor Reddick is seeking to change this belief through language and stories. Her exemplar is Rachel Carson,  “…a scientist who was able to write to the people in a way that moved them with words like ‘Silent Spring’ (referring to birds silenced through use of toxic chemicals in farming) instead of ‘Oh my gosh run for your lives DDT is everywhere...’” Her students practice their art at Today’s Weather, blogging about the impact climate change has had on their senses. Their language can be apocalyptic but is just as often resilient and hopeful.

Politicians are finally willing to support climate action to preserve our way of life.

Proponents of Ecopsychology and other conservationists argue that only when we feel the exhilaration of our true place in the universe can we be healthy in not only body but mind and spirit too. It’s an agenda as overwhelming as reversing climate change. Shouldn’t they go hand in hand?

Photo is courtesy of Carol Pierson Holding


Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on nearly 7,000 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on nearly 7,000 companies from 135 industries in 82 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

Read More [fa icon="long-arrow-right"]

[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Anthony Leiserowitz, climate change, DNA, Ecopsychology, President Obama, pro climate action, Uncategorized, politicians, sustainability, Theodore Roszak, Jane Harmon Jacobs, lisa reddick, nature, state of the union, Carol Pierson Holding, changing policy, CSRHub

Political Feedback Loop on Climate Change Has Just Begun

[fa icon="calendar'] Nov 5, 2012 9:49:53 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Scientific American ran an article in its November issue titled “Is Global Warming

Hurricane Sandy caused by global warming?

Happening Faster Than Expected?” in which the authors credit feedback loops with accelerating global warming at a rate much faster than scientists anticipated. The classic example is that global warming melts ice, reducing reflective surfaces and increasing the amount of sunlight that is absorbed by land and water, further heating the earth and melting even more ice.

Now thanks to Sandy, it looks like the U.S. could be experiencing a policy and communication feedback loop on climate change.

The environmental policy feedback loop has been negative for all of Obama’s presidency. It’s obvious that many climate deniers are aware of the hazards, but it’s also true that to change the system is a horrifically disruptive proposition, especially given the massive investments in fossil fuel industries, our chief creators of carbon emissions. The rich invest in oil and coal for their outstanding financial returns. The poor suffer through droughts and flooding.

And at first, it seemed like reactions to Sandy were going to be business as usual. Below 34th Street, the neighborhoods felt like Armageddon, with dark streets screaming with sirens and fear evident in every face on the street.

The next morning, word comes through that the power will be off for at least five more days. Without light or power, there is nothing to do. Without electricity to charge computers and cell phones, communication dries up. The feeling of fear and isolation grows.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg lives on higher ground, on the Upper East Side. In his world, the lights are on. Elevators work. Cafes are open. So it wasn’t that strange that in a press conference on Tuesday, Bloomberg, champion of big-city climate change policy, at first was not moved viscerally. He waffled, then bungled pronunciation when he attributed the storm to “secular or cyclical” causes. Despite his gold star record on climate mitigation, he could not use up political capital to respond to the issue directly.

Bloomberg no doubt felt compassion for those who had lost their lives or homes, but he did not feel the fear that would motivate him to address this provocative issue.

The media, having backed off climate reporting as politicians did, now insisted on linking Sandy to climate change. They started their own feedback loop, asking the questions hourly and featuring climatologists like Ben Strauss on news broadcasts, inciting each other to do more.

The politicians, who before Sandy avoided conversations about climate change like the third rail, then jumped on the issue. We watched Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, and politicians from New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Jerrold Nadler address climate change with a new urgency.

Then, three days after Sandy, Bloomberg issued the strongest endorsement of climate change action: in an opinion piece for Bloomberg News, he credited his decision to support Obama as being, “A Vote for a President to Lead on Climate Change.” To his credit, Bloomberg “compelled all” to take action without admitting that climate change caused Sandy:

“Our climate is changing. And while the increase in extreme weather we have experienced in New York City and around the world may or may not be the result of it, the risk that it might be -- given this week’s devastation -- should compel all elected leaders to take immediate action.”

The media had a new story and the feedback loop accelerated. As Business Week’s headline of November 1 cleverly put it, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid,” replaying Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign strategy “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” Climate change could well be the deciding issue for this Presidential election.

Activists geared up to start the feedback loop on November 7, the day after the election. Now they will feed it. 350.org will kick off a nationwide roadshow to spur a movement for divestment from the fossil fuel companies a la Apartheid. Up to now, that idea was unthinkable. But that was before Sandy.

After years of silence, the conversation that Sandy unleashed is looping back on itself, feeding a suppressed desire to do everything we can, not just to mitigate the effects of climate change but to try to slow it down. As nature has shown us, feedback loops generate energy to feed themselves and grow much faster than we imagine. Let’s hope this one will grow as fast as global warming.


Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 5,000 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on over 6,000 companies from 135 industries in 70 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from over 170 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

Read More [fa icon="long-arrow-right"]

[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Bloomberg, climate change, environmental policy, President Obama, Scientific American, Uncategorized, Carol Pierson Holding, hurricane sandy

No Spark in Obama’s Energy Debate

[fa icon="calendar'] Oct 9, 2012 10:47:54 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Last week’s Presidential debate was supposed to showcase the differences betweenclimate change President Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney. But between Romney’s radical move to the center and Obama’s lackluster performance, the two seemed to agree more than they disagreed.

Both answered Jim Lehrer’s first question “How would you create new jobs?” with the same priorities: job training and creating energy independence. In fact, both agreed to boost oil and gas production. But Obama added a plug for his alternative energy policies. “We've got to look at the energy sources of the future, like wind and solar and biofuels, and make those investments,” he said, referring to his largely successful subsidies for alternatives to fossil fuels.

From that point on, Romney turned oil and gas into a symbol of patriotism and the path to prosperity, using the word “energy” three times more than Obama and positioning new energy sources as expensive failures.

Obama failed to cite the reason his policies are so desperately needed, that climate change may in fact be the greatest threat to our national security. Instead, Obama looked like a spendthrift or worse, out of touch with American middle-class concerns. Even though, according to Bloomberg, 70% of Americans now believe in climate change. Even though, according to CSRHub ratings, safeguarding the environment is increasingly a priority for business.

Romney called out gas prices that have doubled and the rise in electricity prices, citing the crushing burden on middle-class families.

Ignoring the facts, Romney criticized Obama for not opening Federal lands for exploration. He promised to double the number of permits and open coasts and Alaska to fossil fuel companies.

Obama mentioned solar, wind and geothermal only once. Without bringing up climate change, and without a rebuttal, Romney pressed on.

Romney promised to “bring that pipeline in from Canada“ and to help “people in the coal industry…crushed by (Obama’s) policies.”

As if thumbing his nose at environmental science, he smiled right into the camera and said, “I like coal.”

His rationale for these policies? “I want to get America and North America energy independent so we can create those jobs.”

So when Obama brought up cutting the $4 billion in “corporate welfare” that the US pays every year to behemoths like ExxonMobil, he sounded like a spoilsport.

Romney argued that Obama’s facts were wrong – the oil subsides are actually $2.8 billion – and that those subsidies are inviolate. “That's been in place for a hundred years,” he said, as though oil subsidies were deeply entrenched in our Democracy.

But what really stuck in my mind was Romney’s brilliant repositioning of the new energy subsidies. By comparing a $2.8 billion cut to oil and gas against the $90 billion in “breaks for the green energy world,” he made support for alternative energy sources seem hugely expensive and frivolous in comparison to far cheaper oil subsidies. He repeated twice that green energy investment is “about 50 years' worth of what oil and gas receives.”

Still not satisfied, Romney linked the $90 billion to Solyndra and the other “50%” of green investments that had failed. In fact, those investments have lost just $3 billion, or 3%, but Obama said nothing, so it stood as fact.

But the real shame is that Obama lost the opportunity to pull out numbers that make everything else pale in comparison. NOAA reports that 2011 saw a record 14 extreme climate disasters that cost over $1 billion each for total losses of $55.3 billion and 660 lives. Future projections are even grimmer: US News cites projections of 100 million deaths globally from climate change in just 18 years. In the US, 2% of America’s annual GDP, or some $300 billion, will evaporate.

Yet Romney plans to eviscerate the EPA and a number of other programs aimed at reducing the effects of climate change. He’s a believer that climate change is real, yet will do nothing to mitigate the effects. A New York Times article cites Romney’s intent to take a weed whacker to environmental regulations going back 40 years – taking down even those declared “unambiguously correct” by the Supreme Court.

Climate change may not be popular, but people do want to hear about clean tech and green jobs. These are exciting, entrepreneurial opportunities for job creation. Where were they in Obama’s debate?

At heart, climate change is a moral issue. The hardest hit will be our future generations. And yet Romney stole that argument too. Using the word “moral” three times, Romney pointed to the deficit: “(It’s) not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing those burdens are going to be passed on to the next generation.” Shouldn’t that be Obama’s argument for addressing climate change?

Photo courtesy of marcn via Flickr.


Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 5,000 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on nearly 5,000 companies from 135 industries in 65 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from over 170 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

Read More [fa icon="long-arrow-right"]

[fa icon="comment"] 5 Comments posted in Bloomberg, climate change, CSRHub ratings, Exxon Mobil, President Obama, Uncategorized, wind, Romney, solar, biofuels, Carol Pierson Holding, clean tech, coal, green jobs

Subscribe to Email Updates

Lists by Topic

see all

Posts by Topic

see all