If You Think Science Education Is Expensive, Try Climate Change

Okay, that’s a play of words on one of my all time favorite bumper stickers, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” The motto suggests a failure to invest in education will lead to waves of ignorant high school graduates unable to fully contribute to a democratic society. Using that same logic, failure to educate our youth about climate change will lead to a populace cognitively unfit to address our very serious climate problem. In other words, our future graduates will struggle to make informed decisions on such things as supporting a carbon tax, believing climate change denying politicians, or proactively reducing their carbon footprints by driving less, eating lower on the food chain, etc. A 2015 survey showing 63% of Americans think global warming is happening is a clear indication we have a long way to go in educating our students about climate change (98% of scientists believe humans are causing our climate to heat up).Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 8.52.01 AM

People do better when they know better, which is why our schools must educate our youth about climate change science. And not just the foundational elements of climate science (energy flow, atmospheric and oceanic composition and processes, anthropogenic factors, etc…), but also the interplay of climate change with politics, social science, and economics. Schools need to develop/use rigorous and relevant climate change curricula that embed the Next Generation Science Standards with literacy, math, social studies, and the arts. Persuasive essays to make a case for carbon taxation; statistical analyses of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and temperature changes over time; artistic expressions of a futuristic renewable energy age or sustainable city; or phenological field studies exploring bud burst and insect hatch times.  The possibilities are endless.

Whether choosing the next U.S. President, voting on a carbon tax, or adopting carbon neutral lifestyle changes, our future high school graduates will need to know better the consequences of a climate-changed world. They will need to understand the difference between CFCs and CO2, between anthropogenic and natural sources of greenhouse gases, and between carbon taxation versus free market cap and trade systems. Otherwise, we are doomed to the follies of a fossil fuel industry committed to extracting every last bit of carbon in their vast underground holdings regardless of the long-term climatic implications. And that is a very high price for climate change ignorance.



Nature Deficit and Climate Change

I grew up five miles from Queens, New York City, a mere ten bus ride minutes away from the elaborate subway and rail system that interconnected all five New York City boroughs: Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Traveling through the city as a kid was an adventure for me and my friends. Yankees games, Mets games, Yonkers Raceway, pre-Guiliani 42nd Street, Madison Square Garden rock concerts, Little Italy, Chinatown, etc…  We had the world at our disposal for a modest half-dollar ticket fee, and we confidently forayed out to explore on many a weekend night a city busy, noisy, and mostly devoid of any flora or fauna.

We thought we were tough city kids, unafraid of the streets at night, but traveling in small groups, just in case. Above ground was by foot or bike, and by subway car beneath the vents that exhaled man and machinery out into the streets. We were in our element, in an oxymoronic way, in the concrete jungle.  But take us out of the city confines and into the country, unease and fear were revealed. Though we didn’t know it, we were victims of nature deficit syndrome, aliens disconnected from the natural environment.

Today I am truly blessed to live in the Adirondack Mountains where forests, streams, lakes, meadows, flora and fauna flourish. A place where you can get lost in nature’s peaceful beauty while drawing a kayak paddle through the still waters of a remote Adirondack pond or while gliding on snow along a cross-country ski trail in the quiet of winter. Living in such beauty regularly reminds me how much is at stake with climate change. How vulnerable the complex Adirondack ecosystems are to rapidly increasing temperatures, and how important it is for people to have time in nature to appreciate its holistic powers. We must understand that we are part of the natural system, in spite of our actions, and that climate change threatens all of nature, including us. Let’s not lose through climate change our connection to Mother Earth.


Feeling A Little Depressed? You May Have Solastalgia.

Depressed about climate change? You have solastalgia. Your favorite vacation spots (beaches, parks, campsites, lakes…) or places of your youth being environmentally ruined? You have solastalgia. A gnawing ache for the Earth’s future if we don’t act now to fight climate change? You have solastalgia. You are suffering solastalgia even if you deny or ignore the impacts of climate changes. As Albrecht and others (2007) explain,

As human impacts on the planet increase, it should come as no surprise that in addition to bio-physiological pathology induced by environmental pollution, there should be psychological illness linked to a negative relationship between humans and their support environment.

My first solastgiac experience was the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill which spewed 10 million gallons after striking a reef in Prince William Sound. The news videos of oil soaked waterfowl, sea otters and seals broke my heart, and being helpless to do anything about the problem only added to my sadness. The number of times I’ve suffered solastalgia have since increased as climate change’s impacts on extreme weather, drought, melting arctic ice, ocean acidification, etc occur ever more frequently.IMG_4147

Solastalgia is a real and pervasive experience that can numb and leave helpless an entire global society. In the face of climate change, we have two paths in front of us. One is to act aggressively and proactively as individuals and global communities to fight the sources of climate change: burning fossil fuels, rampant consumerism, unsustainable agricultural practices, forest mismanagement, misguided political leaders. The other is to wait and see what happens. Trust me, you will feel much better about yourself and our planet’s future if you choose action over inaction.  And if you need help on where to start, check out David Suzuki’s Top Ten List of Ways You Can Stop Climate Change.



Glenn Albrecht , Gina-Maree Sartore , Linda Connor , Nick Higginbotham , Sonia Freeman , Brian Kelly , Helen Stain , Anne Tonna , Georgia Pollard (2007). Solastalgia: The distress caused by environmental change. Australasian Psychiatry, 15(1), pp. 95-98.

Living Frugally With A Negative Carbon Footprint?

Can a person’s carbon footprint be negative, reducing rather than increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels during their lifetimes? Maybe Johnny Appleseed would fall into that category, but being carbon negative in today’s world of cars and plastics, electronics and air-conditioned homes is not remotely possible–even if you roamed the countryside planting apple seeds. But some people are more carbon neutral than others, including one such person I’ve known and loved for five decades. My dad defines the word “frugality”. So much so my brother and sisters regretfully used to call him “cheap” for his extraordinary measures to save money and resources.IMG_0151

We didn’t realize it at the time, but dad was living in harmony with nature long before it was cool or urgent to do so. I remember going to Bar Beach in Hempstead Harbor as a Long Island kid. We’d drive up to the beach parking lot and the six of us would empty out of the dodge station wagon and scramble to the sandy beach with white pails and metal spoons in hand. In the distance smokestacks from the garbage burn plant belched out remains of incinerated household waste. We drew more than our fair share of looks by kids from neighboring beach blankets as they eyed the unusual white beach pails with which we built equally unusual sand castles. You see, my dad threw nothing, and I mean nothing, away. Everything could be reused or repurposed, including Clorox bottles (think cloth diapers) and metal hangers. Dad would cut the tops off the bottles, punch holes on both sides, and then fasten a coat hanger into each hole to make a makeshift handle. And voila, you have a beach pail. It wasn’t pink or green, yellow or blue, but it did hold sand and water and make the most unique sand castles. I think the beach neighbors were actually jealous.

There are many, many more actions dad took to save energy, money, or materials. Food vacuum sealer units using a straw and zip log baggie. Multiple patches on blown tire tubes. Pancakes with yesterday’s cheeses and eggs with leftover veggies (not kidding). Dandelion salad greens (not kidding) from the yard. Watered down juice and syrups. Homemade popcorn popped in a giant turkey roasting pan and split into several paper shopping bags before heading to the drive-in theater. Used paper bags in garbage pail. Tearing napkins and paper towels into smaller use sizes. Cutting open toothpaste tubes to scrape out remains (not kidding). Water rinsing tomato sauce cans to get all contents out. Chicken bone inspection on our plates to be sure all meat was eaten before we could leave the kitchen table. Folding our “dirty” laundry and telling us it was washed because he said we would change many times in a day and not really dirty our clothes (not kidding). Plastic milk jugs for blueberry picking and use as funnels for changing oil. Disregarding expiration dates on all food packages (not kidding). Setting thermostat down to 50 at night and 60 during the day. Increasing miles per gallon by coasting the car to red lights, cutting corners diagonally to take the shortest line (not kidding), and shifting to neutral when going down hills.

What would happen if we all adopted a more frugal, Earth-harmonious lifestyle? If we cut down our consumerism, reused items, and threw nothing away? If we car pooled and shared larger items such as mowers or snowblowers with a neighbor? If we thought of the resources, time, and social capital that went into a store product before purchasing it? If we bought only Fair trade products, cut down our meat consumption, and started a small vegetable garden? Let’s give frugality a try and see what happens!




Two Trillion Reasons A Carbon Tax Makes Sense

$2.4 trillion is the bill for climate change disasters from 1970-2012 according to the World Meteorological Organization.  And that bill is paid by you and me. Fossil fuel companies’ costs?  $0. Nada. Nothing. We buy their carbon-based products to power our appliances, heat our homes, fuel our cars, and manufacture the many things we love to consume. The problem is costs for carbon are external to the fossil fuel companies’ bottom line, hidden in the $2.4 trillion of damage ultimately done to the environment. Damage costs paid for through our taxes and charitable contributions. The fossil fuel industry pays not one cent for climate change destruction. In fact, they receive subsidies for their exploration and extraction costs. There’s a better way.Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 3.27.13 PM

What if we could calculate a climate change cost (carbon tax) per fossil fuel unit used? A fee on the carbon dioxide emissions released by the fossil fuel burned? And what if that cost was paid for by the fossil fuel companies? A coal producer would sell X tons of coal and be taxed Y dollars. The more coal sold, the bigger the tax. The same applies to oil and gas companies. Every BTU of energy used to power/heat our homes or manufacture a product would have an associated carbon tax representing the carbon dioxide emissions released. Now imagine collecting all those different sources of taxes and keeping them in a special climate change adaptation and mitigation fund. When the next Hurricane Katrina rolls into town, funds from the carbon tax account would be used to cover the damage costs. And when the next extreme drought causes crop damage, carbon tax monies would support farmers. Etc…   Some monies would be used to mitigate climate change impacts, and others would pay or subsidize renewable energy incentives.

Under a carbon tax, what you and I pay for fossil fuel-powered energy and consumer products would inevitably go up, accelerating the shift to cleaner, more economical sources of energy (solar, wind, tidal…). A carbon tax fund would do so much good for the environment and the global economy. People would be more aware of the carbon costs in all products, and carbon tax monies would support mitigation and adaptation efforts as we swiftly transition to a clean energy society. Carbon tax dollars would fund new job opportunities, critical climate change research, and relocation and support for environmental refugees.

Climate change is too often looked at through a painful lens of doom and gloom when actually there are tremendous opportunities for proactively addressing the problem. A carbon tax is one wonderful way to take a genuine problem (climate change) and do something good for society (employment, environmental restoration, support for the poor and victims of climate change disasters….).


Two 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

If you want to change the world by making a difference in the climate change battle, check out The Climate Mobilization and consider taking the pledge.


Want to support renewable energy, then push divestment of fossil fuels.  Go to Fossil Free to learn what you can do.

Judas Iscariot For U.S. President?

Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus to the Romans for 30 silver pieces. Though Jesus’ message was one of love, his close disciple turned him in for cold hard coin. Such betrayal and infidelity to a holy figure may indeed occur again as top Republican Presidential hopefuls choose between fossil fuels and Pope Francis’ Encyclical. Already Catholic Republicans holding high office are distancing themselves from the Pope’s urgent message of climate change. Rather than embrace the Pope’s call for action to protect God’s creation, particularly the poor, from the ravages of climate change, our leaders and potential future presidents myopically march on with a climate change denial mindset.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.11.24 PM

It’s really not so surprising considering the IPCC and 99% of climate scientists have warned global leaders to no avail for decades about the growing threats of a human-induced warmer world. Warnings have fallen on deaf ears. Hurricane Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan, floods in Texas, torrential rains in Pakistan, sinking Miami, acidified oceans, arctic ice disappearance, etc… are ignored. It’s more convenient to deny than to act. To say “I’m not a scientist”, or “Climate changes all the time”.  Sadly, a person’s mindset is not an easy thing to change.

A look at the Republican Presidential candidates shows there are a few Judas among the climate change denying mix ready to disavow Pope Francis’s urgent climate change message and pursue agendas driven by an unsustainable and insatiable fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel era will eventually end, and most climate denying individuals will “see the light”, but by then things may have turned out very badly. Say your prayers.


Making Time for Climate Change

Time to fight climate change has not been at my side these past few weeks. In spite of all the excitement over the Pope’s Encyclical, I haven’t had a moment to delve deeply into any of it. Oh, I read Bill McKibben’s piece, and Rocky Montpelier did a nice summary of key points, but that was the extent of it. I’ve just been out straight. No downtime. Just one event after another. Graduations, weddings, out of town conferences, presentations, in town conferences, family responsibilities. Too much red meat. Too many miles driven in my car. Too much time contributing to, rather than fighting, the climate change problem. All in a very busy five week period. Needless to say, like our climate, I’m totally out of balance.IMG_3755

I remember seeing a 1982 movie a long, long time ago called Koyaanisqatsi. Godfrey Reggio directed it, and Philip Glass did the soundtrack. It was an unsettling look at the dizzying speed of 20th century life as people  frantically destroyed planet Earth to “progress”.  In the process, their lives were falling out of balance. And that was before the Internet and smartphones and twitter and Facebook and…. Interestingly, this morning I saw what could be considered a 21st Century Koyaanisqatsi-themed YouTube video, What is Wrong With Our Culture.

Enough of these Koyaanisqatsi moments! I don’t like them. I don’t like how they distract from life’s priorities: family, friends, wellness, and stewardship. And I don’t like knowing too many others are having their own Koyaanisqatsis, rushing from one thing to the next and not taking time for themselves, their families, their friends, and their roles in protecting the climate. I’m turning a corner on this busy period and posting my blog entry today. It’s not perfect, but it’s something. Let’s all do something now about fighting climate change. And that something doesn’t have to be perfect.


Talking About Climate Change

Hi, my name is Stephen Danna. I’m the SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury Branch Campus Dean and also a Climate Reality Leader. That’s how I introduce myself when at conferences or workshops. And I’m not sure why, but sometimes my introduction gets a few chuckles when people hear the Climate Reality Leader part. Maybe it’s because we’re only supposed to say our name and role in our organization. Or maybe it’s a person’s nervous response to climate change. Who knows. It can be awkward, but I feel compelled to utter the words climate change whenever and wherever I can.Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 4.13.12 PM

The majority of Americans believe climate change is happening, in spite of climate denier’s best efforts to muddy the waters with misinformation, conspiracy theories, and fallacies. But a majority is not the same as 97%, the number of climate scientists who believe humans are causing climate change. What’s missing is media’s accurate representation on climate change.  What’s missing is conversation about climate change. From Yale’s Climate Change in The American Mind report, “…most Americans are simply not hearing or talking about the issue. Our survey finds, for example, that only 40% of the American public says they hear about global warming in the media at least once a month and only 19% hear about it at least once a week. Further, only 16% say that they hear people they know talk about global warming at least once a month, with only 4% reporting they hear other people talking about it at least once a week.”

If we want to minimize the damage caused by climate change, we have to talk about it. Not incessantly, but enough to change the conversation. We can’t trust the media to do it. Hi, my name is Stephen Danna. I’m the SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury Branch Campus Dean and also a Climate Reality Leader.


Reference: Climate Change in The American Mind, http://environment.yale.edu/climate-communication/article/Global-Warming-CCAM-March-2015/

Why It’s So Hard to Change Climate Deniers’ Minds

Why is it so hard to “Teach an old dog new tricks?”, and what is it about our changing brains that compromises learning new skills, understandings, or perspectives? More specifically, why is it so difficult for climate deniers to rethink their beliefs about climate change? The answer is simple: Brain plasticity.brainartifact

Brain plasticity is something I first learned about ten years ago while taking an online Brain Research in Education program through the University of Washington. However, it was a personal experience during that period of my life which really drove home the plasticity concept. My daughter and I were taking piano lessons together. She was six, and I in my mid 30’s. She happily zoomed through the lessons, and I plodded along, struggling to create anything that sounded like music (My wife would gently ask that I put the digital piano headphones on while playing so she didn’t have to hear the “music”).  It was heartening to discover that if I persisted long enough, I could play the songs. My daughter may have outpaced me, but I was making progress, albeit slow progress. Thank you, brain plasticity.

A child’s brain is much more receptive to learning than an adult brain, and the older we get, the less malleable or plastic are brains become. If you need further proof, check out this Smarter Every Day video on riding a backwards bicycle. If our beliefs, including climate change beliefs, are formed from years of experience, then discarding those beliefs is like learning to ride a backwards bicycle–not very simple. Once again, It comes down to brain plasticity. When we get really good at something, or believe something very passionately, or know something extremely well, our brains develop pathways so deep and wide that we form a rut. And the older we get, the deeper the rut. The good news is a discrepant event can shock the brain into reevaluating age old beliefs. For climate change deniers, living through a horrific climate-change induced weather or flooding event can be the discrepancy necessary to think anew the pervasive and damaging beliefs of climate change denial. The sad news is the “discrepant climate change” events will become more and more common in the years to come.

Mad Men and Ralph Nader

I watched the wonderful Mad Men series finale last night.  Maybe it’s all those Disney movies as a child in the 60’s, but I love it when everyone (Betty the exception) lives happily ever after. Don didn’t jump off a building, and the main characters seem to have either found their true love or true self along the way. I’m praying we’ll have a similarly happy disney-esque ending with climate change, humanity’s most pressing problem ever, and my hopes were buoyed yesterday with Ralph Nader’s Pledge to Mobilize.IMG_1844

In case you’re unfamiliar with The Climate Mobilization (TCM), it is a grassroots volunteer organization created nearly a year ago around the time of the People’s Climate March. From the TCM website: “The Climate Mobilization is a new, all-volunteer organization. Our mission is to save civilization and the natural world from catastrophic climate disruption. We are dedicated to living in climate truth, and believe that working to solve the climate crisis is everyone’s responsibility.”  There’s more to learn by visiting our webpage: http://www.theclimatemobilization.org/home

So Ralph Nader has signed the pledge to mobilize against climate change! That is a happy ever after chapter ending in a complex, epic climate change story. We have many chapters yet to write as we attempt to stave off the worst case scenarios predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Climate Assessment, and the myriad of peer-reviewed reports by scientists world-wide. If we want the climate change story to end well, we need you. If you want to feel you’re making a difference, join us. Simple as that. Ralph Nader and 1,000 other concerned citizens have already taken the pledge to mobilize. Here’s your chance.

Click here to sign the pledge.