Why hopes that human exceptionalism will solve global warming aren’t the right way of thinking

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For more than a generation, MacGyver has, in many ways, served as the fictional embodiment of human exceptionalism. If you’re unfamiliar with the character, he was the star of an eponymous ABC series from 1985 to 1992 and, in every episode, even when he had limited supplies, he would invariably use his keen intellect and amazing ingenuity to solve problems. There was no jam he couldn’t work his way out of (think, diffusing a bomb with a paperclip).

MacGyver’s smarts were so beloved that he spawned not only a reboot series in 2016 on CBS, but also as a recurring…


How traveling offers useful perspective on our warming world

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Like a frog in a boiling pot of water. That’s a popular simile used to represent how humans too often psychologically process global warming. The story goes that if you put a frog in a vat of water and you increase the heat gradually, it doesn’t realize it’s boiling until it’s too late.

Many of us are starting to finally realize we’re boiling after years of rising temperatures. From record heat and unprecedented wildfires to ferocious floods, climate change is hitting too many communities in tragic ways. First and foremost, we should focus on the people affected by those catastrophic…


This act of gardening defiance is a good reminder about infrastructure and nature

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Symbolic acts can resonate. Whether it’s raising a black glove on the Olympic medals podium in the name of racial justice or pouring a bucket of ice water over your head to spur ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease) research, these gestures can stick with us.

Recently, I became aware of a small but fascinating symbolic action. In November, a man in Providence, R.I., suffered four flat tires when he drove through a pothole on his way to pick up dinner. …


How to make sure big business does the right thing

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Fighting climate change has become the must-have accessory for a large number of major corporations. Approximately 20 percent of the planet’s 2,000 biggest publicly traded companies have made pledges to produce “net zero” carbon emissions. That includes well-known brands from Apple and Ford to BP and Shell.

In the best of all possible worlds, this means that these corporations will do everything in their power to limit their emissions as much as possible and, to the extent they cannot, they will back efforts elsewhere to prevent emissions or to pull carbon out of the air to offset what’s left of…


These energy-efficient devices can be difference makers in the move to clean energy

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When discussions of a clean energy future come up with friends, they often gravitate to questions about fancy technology. What kind of battery storage do we need to support wind and solar? How efficient can solar cells become? Can farms of offshore wind turbines play a big role in an energy revolution? (Spoiler alert on the last one: Yes, they can.)

While developing great new tech is vitally important, one essential fact that is often lost in these discussions is that we already have a lot of tried-and-true know-how that can wean us off of dirty, global warming-causing fossil fuels.


How climate activist Greta Thunberg gives hope that the public is listening on global warming

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The “marketplace of ideas” is a term used to describe how certain philosophies gain prominence in the public sphere. This theory, which was popularized by the philosopher John Stuart Mill in 1859, suggests that open conversations about policy issues should be similar to a grand bazaar where purveyors of differing positions present their ideas like items for purchase. The public can shop around for the most compelling viewpoints, and the best ideas will naturally stand out.

This view of public communication became so popular that Supreme Court justices from famed liberal Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. to current conservative Samuel Alito


What the “Word of the Year” selections tell us about global warming

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For language geeks such as myself, this is an exciting time of year. The reason: It’s when the big players in the dictionary business — from Oxford to Merriam-Webster — unveil their word (or expression) of the year. Call it the linguistic Oscars.

These choices are telling because the winners tend to embody the zeitgeist that’s enveloped the English-speaking world over the past 12 months. Often these words represent cultural trends. For example, the American Dialect Society went with “Not!” (as in “just kidding”) in 1992 and “metrosexual” in 2003. …


A look at how language shapes climate action

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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…


A roadmap to having civilized and meaningful conversation about global warming

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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

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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…

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

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