A look at how language shapes climate action

Image for post
Image for post
(Photo credit: Matthew Bellemare, CC BY-SA-4.0)

Over the last 40 years, Janet Domenitz has earned a reputation as a hard-nosed advocate on environmental, public health, voter and consumer issues. As the executive director of the nonpartisan Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG), her toughness and perseverance has led to innumerable improvements in the lives of Bay Staters. But if you want to see her get really worked up, bring up natural gas.

“To call this a pet peeve is like calling Kilimanjaro a hill,” she told me. “I’m obsessed.”

Her beef? Two words: natural gas.

“The term has been so successfully integrated into our vocabulary that reporters and journalists use it with no quotes, as if it was a matter of fact, like saying ‘front lawn’ or ‘log cabin’ or ‘parking lot,’” she explained. “There is no ‘natural gas.’ If gas is natural, so is arsenic. Or venom. …


A roadmap to having civilized and meaningful conversation about global warming

Image for post
Image for post
Photo Credit: Alicia Bruce (license: CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 US)

With the COVID-19 pandemic preventing many of us from visiting family this Thanksgiving, we may be able to sidestep the usual tension that comes from touchy dinner conversations. But for those of us who are lucky enough to break bread with loved ones, heated discussions may ultimately end up on the metaphorical table.

Along with the election, climate change is likely to be among the controversial topics. After all, President-elect Joe Biden did name global warming’s existential threat as one of his four priorities when he takes office in January. …


Worrying about your carbon footprint is useful, but it’s not the most important way to go

Image for post
Image for post
(credit: Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images)

Personal responsibility is deeply ingrained in the American ethos. From Abraham Lincoln (“you cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today”) to Bill Clinton (“Let us all take more responsibility not only for ourselves and our families but for our communities and our country”), America’s leaders have lifted up this laudable characteristic of owning your actions.

In the environmental space, preaching personal responsibility in the United States dates back at least a half-century. In 1971, a famous TV public service announcement depicted a landscape rife with pollution and litter. A Native American character is shown shedding a tear while a narrator explains, “People start pollution. …


Recent studies show that more needs to be done by journalists to properly cover global warming

Image for post
Image for post
(Photo credit: Roger H. Goun; license: CC BY 3.0)

In a recent discussion with a colleague about the media’s coverage of climate change, he questioned whether criticizing journalists’ reporting on the existential threat was valid.

“Is ‘both sides-ism’ really that big of a problem in climate reporting?” the environmental advocate with decades of experience asked about journalists’ efforts to offer competing views (including discredited denialist perspectives) on the reality of climate change. “I may be trapped in my own bubble, but in the news I read and listen to, the media do not appear to be giving equal time to the climate science outliers.”

Tragically, recent events are a reminder that the media still has a ways to go in terms of painting a clear picture of the realities of climate change. …


Giving names to heats waves would emphasize the immediacy of global warming

Image for post
Image for post
Photo credit: Marina Shemesh (publicdomainpictures.net)

Every climate action advocate has a pressing problem: Getting not only skeptics but also those who believe in climate change to understand we need to act right now.

For too many, climate change is something that’s in the future. And studies show that when something is relegated to the future, humans are genetically predisposed to put it on the back burner. As Jane McGonigal put it in a 2017 Slate article: “Your brain acts as if your future self is someone you don’t know very well and, frankly, someone you don’t care about.” Economists call this the “social discount rate”. …


Our leaders should learn from Major League Baseball players who have said no to the sport they love in the face of a pandemic

Image for post
Image for post
Buster Posey (above) is one of more than dozen players who has opted out of the 2020 Major League Baseball season (source: Ian D’Andrea / CC BY-SA)

Anyone who has played a sport knows that it’s very difficult to go against their team’s way of thinking. Clubs value everyone “being on the same page” and standing together in the name of unity. In fact, many believe that an exceptional esprit de corps translates into great success.

This concept is generally known as “team chemistry” and, in baseball, it’s been credited as the special sauce in many World Series championships. …


A deep dive into the best Left-handed One Out Guy campaigns

Image for post
Image for post
The consummate LOOGY Javier López (above) won four World Series Championships, including three with the San Francisco Giants. Photo credit: SD Dirk on Flickr / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

When baseball returns, one thing is certain: There will be no LOOGYs. For nearly three decades, the Left-handed, One Out Guy (LOOGY) has been a staple on Major League Baseball rosters. Akin to a batter primarily kept around to pinch hit, a LOOGY’s main job was performing a niche function — enter a game to leverage a lefty-on-lefty advantage against a single hitter.

But when baseball’s potentates made plans last year to try to speed up the game, they decided each pitcher who makes an appearance be required to face at least three batters (unless there is injury or illness) or end a half-inning. …


Why we should trust those who administer elections to get emergency voting by mail right

Image for post
Image for post
The author spent two elections working as an election judge in Denver. Photo credit: Josh Chetwynd.

Sometimes, metaphorically speaking, it’s good to see how the sausage is made. In my case, I had that chance when it comes to administering elections.

In 2018, I wanted to give back to my community, so I took a position working as an election judge for the Denver Elections Division. During the primaries, I served in the county’s central counting room, tallying votes and adjudicating ballots when voter intent wasn’t perfectly clear.

In the midterms that same year, I took an election judge supervisor position, running a voter service and polling center and overseeing a team of 14. …


We just need to protect them from those who inaccurately sully their reputations

Image for post
Image for post
(Credit: www.publicdomainpictures.net; License: CC0 Public Domain)

The environmental, health and consumer advocacy group U.S. PIRG has been around for nearly 50 years. It features policy wonks who, for decades, have been grappling with essential issues that face Americans. Nevertheless, even our smartest and most well-versed staff members recognize the limits of their knowledge and often seek out experts on specific subjects.

That was the case recently when we called for a reasoned and on-point plan for COVID-19 testing. In that situation, we looked to former U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner David Kessler. …


Was their original intent to protect the country from environmental dangers?

Image for post
Image for post
For many, understanding how America’s original leaders would have stood on key current issues — including climate change — remains a hot topic. (Credit: Howard Chandler Christy)

What would the founding fathers do about climate change?

That might seem like an odd question, considering the likes of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams died some two centuries ago. From smartphones to space travel, the world we live in now would be nearly unrecognizable to them.

And, yet, so many people still crave their opinions in figuring out our modern politics and policy. This was particularly apparent during President Donald Trump’s recent impeachment proceedings. The House conducted an entire hearing on the original intent of the founders, with constitutional scholars testifying. …

About

Josh Chetwynd

Communications for The Public Interest Network, Environment America and U.S. PIRG; book author: http://amzn.to/1SNJBJT ; avid curler/ex-baseball player

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store