Addressing climate change: from science to culture

Check out this thought-provoking post on the New York Times environmental blog about how best to hammer home the evident need for society to act on climate change:

It may seem far-fetched to compare the resistance to action on climate change to the slow progress toward the abolition of slavery or the recognition of the fatal effects of smoking, but a University of Michigan researcher says in a new paper that it will take just such a tectonic shift in public attitudes for society to begin to accept the reality of global warming and do something about it.

Andrew J. Hoffman, who holds joint appointments at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and School of Natural Resources and Environment, says that there has been too much focus on the scientific and economic aspects of a warming climate and too little on the social and cultural side of the problem.

“To properly address climate change, we must change the way we structure our organizations and the way we think as individuals,” he said.

“It requires a shift in our values to reflect what scientists have been telling us for years,” he added. “The certainty of climate change must shift from that of being a ‘scientific fact’ to that of being a ‘social fact.’ ”

Professor Hoffman likened the widespread skepticism about the reality of climate change to the gradual acceptance of the link between smoking and lung cancer and other diseases. It was only when the public accepted the overwhelming scientific consensus on the dangers of tobacco use did policy tools like the banning of indoor smoking become socially and politically possible, he said….

What do you think? Is it best to stay the course, and just keep pointing out sound scientific evidence of the existence of climate change? Or should environmental advocates look for different, more culturally-focused solutions. And if so, what ideas do you have? Might Iowa have a unique set of solutions?


Spotlight on Craig Just and sustainability

Check out this Daily Iowan profile on UI Professor Craig Just and his focus on sustainability:

Craig Just

Craig Just has not only raised awareness about sustainability in Iowa City, he’s also reached the small villages of Ghana.

Just, a University of Iowa associate research scientist and coordinator of sustainability in the College of Engineering, has pictures displayed around his office of his previous trips to the African country, where he’s helped fight polluted water.

This semester, Just is teaching Introduction to Sustainability and Engineers for a Sustainable World. He also works with UI Facilities Management and focuses on river and water-quality research — an issue, he said, he’s been interested in since he was a young boy.

“Well, I went fishing as a kid and always thought the water was clean,” Just said. “It just brought me to that.”…

UI to announce sustainability goals Friday

UI President Sally Mason will make a speech about the university’s sustainability priorities on Friday at 2 p.m. in the Sue Beckwith, M.D., Boathouse, according to a UI News Services release.

Mason will cover sustainability plans for the next decade in her remarks.  Afterwards, she will sign a Sustainability Partnership Program agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Karl Brooks, EPA Region 7 Administrator, will also speak at the event, with other members of the UI staff present to answer questions about the announcement.  These staff members will include Don Guckert, associate vice president, Facilities Management; Dave Ricketts, director, Parking and Transportation; Liz Christiansen, director, Office of Sustainability; and Glen Mower, director, Utilities & Energy Management in Facilities Management.

For more information, contact Stephen Pradarelli, University of Iowa Office of University Relations at or Kris Lancaster, EPA at

Des Moines Register: Vote yes on conservation

-photo by Alfred Borchard

Check out the Des Moines Register’s editorial on the Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy Amendment.

Voting is done alone in a booth. It’s personal. Ideally, when you mark boxes on a ballot, you should be expressing your priorities, values and ideas – about the kind of government you want and the kind of world you want to live in.

One value Iowans should vote to support on Nov. 2: a cleaner, better future for the outdoors in this state.

On general election ballots, voters will see a question about Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy Amendment. Approval by a simple majority means amending the constitution to establish a trust fund dedicated to conservation and recreation. The vote will not raise taxes. But it will ensure a small portion of any future sales tax increase is dedicated to conservation and recreation….

How Clean are Iowa’s Waters?

The answer to the question posed above is “not very” at best, and “filthy” at worst. Much of Iowa’s water pollution comes from farm runoff like fertilizers and herbicides.

Check out this harrowing map of data compiled by the New York Times as part of its thorough series “Toxic Waters.” It pinpoints facilities in Iowa that have racked up violations of the Clean Water Act. In Muscatine, two facilities have over 100 violations since 2004. Those plants haven’t been inspected since 2005 and 2006 respectively. Check out the different state map to compare Iowa’ records to other states, like Nebraska and South Dakota.

More on Iowa’s dirty water:

Later on this blog, we’ll have some in-depth information about UI alum Lou Licht, who is using poplar trees to zap clean pollution from water, air and land.

Here are some Licht-related links as a little preview:

On the Radio: Helping the World to Breathe

Listen to this week’s radio segment – a tid bit about an especially cool CGRER research project in Delhi, India:

Thanks to a group of Iowa researchers, thousands of athletes in India were able to breathe a bit easier.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

That’s because a team at the University of Iowa’s Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research provided official air quality forecasts for this year’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi – one of the most polluted cities in the world.

Air pollution can lead to serious health risks, including asthma and heart and lung disease.

But researchers, led by Greg Carmichael, designed an automated system that maps pollution and warns athletes and visitors about air quality problems a full day in advance.

And the system isn’t just important for the Games, says Carmichael. It’s one of the most important tools for understanding how huge cities affect air quality and climate.

The technology can be used around the globe, and even right here in Iowa.

It’s this type of ingenuity that can keep our state healthy.

I’m Joe Bolkcom from the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research.

Thank You.