Thursday, February 28, 2008

SBT: Plastic No Longer Wave of Future

This morning, one of my colleagues warmly greeted me as the "Bag Lady." I've gladly accepted this moniker since hosting BagFest last year, so hearing this endearing term didn't serve my colleague's intended purpose. She asked if I had read today's SB Tribune. I hadn't; I had just finished teaching my 8:30am research-methods class when we spoke.

So I was pleasantly surprised when she told me about this story in today's SBT. Truth be told, I forgot I was interviewed for this story, which took place at least three weeks ago!

At any rate, I'm very encouraged to see Martin's promote their reusable bag program - so take note - we now get .05 cents off for each reusable bag we bring to Martin's. Woo hoo!!

(For future reference, I'll also post this article in the Media section of the blog.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What Makes Us (Un)Happy?

What does consumerism, high/low expectations, Denmark, USA, and happiness have in common? (Maybe the better question to ask is how are these concepts different across cultures.) Watch this video to find out!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Another Texas Refinery Explodes

I'm still shaking my head at this. And in related news, oil prices surpassed $100 a barrel. The wave of unintended consequences will surely reverberate in our respective hometowns soon.

And I'm still not over yesterday's beef recall. Somehow this story was brought up in my research methods class today - one of my students proudly exclaimed why she's chosen to become a vegetarian. Many were displeased when we discussed how Westport Meat Co is (was?) a supplier for the school-lunch programs.

But I suspect that knowing this information is not going to overthrow our meat-consuming habits. I went to the General Social Survey (it's a national data program for the social sciences) and found this question: "How often do you refuse to eat meat for moral or environmental reasons?" Of the 2,883 respondents, 69.4% said never.

I also read an interesting article about heuristics (i.e., mental shortcuts for finding a solution to a problem). In this report*, the researcher cited a statistic about the percentage of organ donors in the US and France. Whereas only 28% of Americans are potential organ donors, 99.9% of the French are organ donors. How can this be? Do the French have a superior moral consciousness? Are they more knowledgeable about the importance of saving lives by donating one's organs?

No. And no.

Instead, the researcher suggested these cultural differences are a result of a default heuristic (i.e., a general rule of thumb that says if there's a default, then do nothing about it). Our default heuristic is that noone's an organ donor unless you opt into the program. The opposite is true for the French, meaning their default is that everyone's an organ donor unless you opt out.

So today I learned that acquiring knowledge is sometimes not sufficient to produce a behavioral change; when knowledge is not power, we ought to reconsider our default heuristics so that we may change those defaults for a desired outcome.


* Gigerenzer, G. (2008). Why heuristics work. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3, 20-29.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Largest Beef Recall in USDA History

If you've been listening to the news (i.e., NPR, NY Times), then you've probably heard this story already: The USDA has recalled 143 million pounds of beef, the largest beef recall in US history.

The Humane Society blew the whistle on Westland/Hallmark Meat Company when they released this video in January:

I encourage you to take a moment to watch the video. Consider the intertwining issues that surround this scandal (i.e., how Westland Meat Co is the #1 meat provider for school lunches). It also raises broader questions on food safety, health outcomes, animal cruelty, and other issues regarding the mechanization of the meat-packing industry. But the real question concerns our behavior: Will we change our meat-eating habits? If so, how?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Listening to our Great-Grandparents

This quote jumped off a page I was reading in Environmentalism for a New Millennium:

The central thing for which Conservation stands is to make this country the best possible place to live in, both for us and for our descendants. It stands against the waste of natural resources which cannot be renewed, such as coal and iron; it stands for the perpetuation of the resources which can be renewed, such as the food-producing soils and the forests; and most of all it stands for an equal opportunity for every American citizen to get his fair share of benefit from these resources, both now and hereafter.

- Gifford Pinchot, 1891

This message is 117 years old and it's still relevant today. But is this message falling on deaf ears? I felt more receptive to Pinchot's philosophy as I imagined him to be a great-grandfather disclosing his beliefs and experiences to his naive great-grandchildren. I admire Pinchot's keen foresight into the future. As his intellectual descendants, I hope we are listening, learning, and furthering these words of wisdom.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Environment America: Grand Canyon Coalition

I met Lucinda Hohman, Midwest Field Organizer of Environment America, at the Call for Action Event two weeks ago. She has asked me to help forward this petition to stop mining in the Grand Canyon (see below). Please let me know if you would like to be included on this petition - Lucinda is hoping for 7 more signatures to add to her South Bend list!

From Environment America:

If you have been lucky enough to travel to the Grand Canyon, you will likely always remember the unparalleled natural beauty, from the jagged red cliffs to the winding Colorado River. Visitors from around the world come to admire our national treasure that is now facing a growing threat. Mining companies know that it is against the law in most cases to set up operations in the Grand Canyon, or any national park for that matter. Yet, incredibly, the current mining law that has been around for 135 years does allow mining operations right next door to our national parks. In the past five years, mining companies have staked more than 800 claims at the edge of the Grand Canyon, and with the price of gold increasing; the number of claims continues to grow.
Mining companies use a range of toxic chemicals to extract gold, silver, copper, and other minerals from the earth. In one mining process cyanide is poured over mounds of earth to extract low grade ore. This combined with other operations has led to fish kills, dead birds around mines, and fenced off areas of contamination. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that hardrock mining is the number one source of toxic pollution in the United States and that it has contaminated 40 percent of western watersheds.
Given the rush to stake mining claims at the edge of the Grand Canyon and other national treasures, there must be a process to prevent the worst effects of toxic mining from permanently damaging these lands that belong to all Americans.

  • The government must have the authority to stop any mine that would damage the natural resources of Grand Canyon National Park or other national parks.
  • A set of sensitive lands around the Grand Canyon and in other important areas must be placed “off-limits” to future mining activities, like national forest roadless areas.
  • Mining companies should pay a royalty for mining activities on public lands to provide a source of money to clean up the nearly 500,000 abandoned mines along the Colorado River and across the country.
  • The practice of selling our public lands for pennies on the dollar to companies for mining or unrelated development must end. The public lands at the edge of the Grand Canyon and around the country should stay in public hands.
  • Local governments, tribes, and citizens need the ability to designate certain areas unsuitable for mining, if they find it will negatively impact their communities. This will allow for other sensitive locations to be protected from toxic mining pollution.
  • Where mining is deemed appropriate on our public lands, mining companies must have a comprehensive and thorough plan to return the land to its original state and to assure that water pollution will not need ongoing treatment. With the number of new claims surrounding the Grand Canyon, this would ensure that toxic mining does not pollute this American treasure for decades to come.
To save the Grand Canyon and other public treasures for future generations, we need to protect all national parks and sensitive lands from the toxic affects of hardrock mining.

LuCinda Hohmann, Midwest Field Organizer
Environment America
Illinois and Indiana

Tom Anderson, Executive Director
Save the Dunes Council
Michigan City, IN

Jackie Smith
Associate Professor of Sociology and Peace Studies
The Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN

Michelle Verges
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
Indiana University-South Bend
South Bend, IN

Philip Lane Tanton, Organizer
Arisits United Against Injustice
Three Oaks, MI

Jessica Mikels
Michiana Community Currency
South Bend, IN

Kerry Koller, Head of School
Trinity School at Greenlawn
South Bend, IN

Barbara J. Koller, Director of Admissions
Trinity School at Greenlawn
South Bend, IN

Becky Reimbold, Owner
Just Goods
Social & ecological a-wear-ness
South Bend, IN


Monday, February 11, 2008

IUSB Students Blog about the Environment

One of my colleagues, Bruce Spitzer, has integrated blogging into one of his courses this semester. Naturally, I was intrigued. I've really enjoyed having a class blog - there were several occassions in which students inspired the class to become more eco-friendly (like using toilet paper made from recycled paper!). Some of my other colleagues have shared similar positive experiences by hosting class blogs. So if you have any downtime, check out these cool environmental blogs posted by IUSB students!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Disgusted with BP

There was a story on NPR two days ago that keeps troubling me. It was about an explosion that occurred at a BP refinery in Texas City, TX. (If you have ~7 minutes of downtime, you may want to hear the story online.) As I listened to the story, I imagined the horrific scene. Sadly, what actually happened was far worse than I could have imagined. I'm thoroughly disgusted with BP. While I certainly hope there'll be justice in holding BP financially accountable for their negligence, I wish there was something more I could do about this situation. It just seems like boycotting BP is not enough to show my contempt for this company.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Three-Way Tie!!

Wow, I'm surprised by this three-way tie! Maybe you'll also be surprised when I tell you the results. To quickly recap, Experimentaholic conducted a four-week observation to examine the usefulness of these container lids:

He counted the number of bottles and cans discarded into 30 bins, twice each week, for four weeks. As you can see, there were three types of bins: trash, aluminum/glass/plastic, and paper. He discreetly removed the lids off 15 containers, so that half of the bins had lids on them and half of the bins did not have lids on them. That way, he could find out if these lids affected the recycling rate.

Some* of you indicated that using these lids do NOT affect the recycling rate. In terms of this three-way tie, however, there's a stalemate among these possibilities:

1. Using container lids REDUCE the recycling rate (i.e., people are more likely to discard their bottles and cans into the trashcan)

2. Using container lids INCREASE the recycling rate (i.e., people are more likely to properly dispose their bottles and cans into the correct bin)

3. I have no idea!

Well, now the mystery is about to be solved. See for yourself and be amazed by Experimentaholic's discovery! Here's the result in the lids-absent condition and here's the result in the lids-present condition. So what do you think? Are you surprised by these findings? I'm curious to hear your reactions! :0)


*Meghan, it's so great to hear from you - I've missed you!!