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some inspiration from my friends back home.

12 Oct

Ok don’t get me wrong, I’m super stoked to be in Brazil. But I’m missing out on some seriously amazing activism back home. First, the Occupy Wall Street protests in NY and tons of other cities? Thank goodness the left is showing signs of life. I was getting pretty depressed that the Tea Party was able to rally so much energy and passion while we were seemingly doing nothing. I would love to hear your opinions on it as I’ve basically only heard I have seen on Facebook, the Daily Show, and this editorial from the NY Times (both worth watching/reading).

But next came one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever heard from some of my best friends in Pittsburgh, Eva, Seth, Nikki, and the rest of Free the Planet. I’ll let Eva tell it from her blog post that appeared on,, and good ole’ (and has since racked up over 250 “likes” on Facebook). I’m so proud and WISH I could have been there.

This past Friday, the only thing I was worried about was coming up with a good presentation for the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference. While relaxing on my porch after a strenuous week of midterms, our student government president happened to walk by and inform us that the White House had just contacted her about President Obama coming to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. We had been planning to confront the Organizing for America office the following Friday to tell Obama to stop the pipeline, but if Obama was in town, we had to send the message to him directly. I, however, had a midterm during the exact hour that Obama would be coming and resolved to recruit a few friends to greet him.

On Sunday at the AASHE conference, we grabbed Bill McKibben right before his speech and let him know we planned to greet Obama on Tuesday. At the end of his speech to a national conference of hundreds of climate leaders, he said the best thing they could do was attend the rally to meet Obama with a strong message to say NO to the Keystone XL pipeline at 11AM, Tuesday at 313 Oakland Ave. My heart skipped a beat- Bill McKibben, one of my idols, had just announced my house address to a national conference. What’s more- he then told us to stand up so everybody knew who to find. I hesitantly stood up with two of my friends, Nikki Luke and Seth Bush, who looked around nervously.

What happened after was chaos. Within five minutes we were interviewed by the City Paper, the Tribune Review, and asked by dozens more what our plans were. The problem was—we didn’t have a plan. And I had a midterm when Obama was coming. Here’s the thing: if Bill McKibben calls you out at a national conference to organize a rally, you are going to organize a rally, whether you have a midterm or not.

…read more


why white men deny climate change.

4 Aug

It’s a sad reality of the conservative party that most of their most vocal media figures are stubborn, grumpy, intolerant, chauvinist, white men. At least that’s the impression I’ve always had. But I always figured it was my liberal bias; I mean, most conservatives seem crabby to me, especially when they’re arguing against my beliefs. But now two sociologists have taken a stab (a real, scholarly stab) at explaining why conservative white males (CWMs) are like this, particularly in the context of climate change. Yes, it has been experimentally shown that white men are more likely to deny climate change than any other group. Here are some explanations for why, put forth in the paper and paraphrased by David Roberts at Grist:

  • First there’s the “white male effect” — generally speaking, white males are less concerned with a variety of risks. This probably has to do with the fact that they are less exposed to risk than other demographics, what with running things and all.
  • Then, as Chris Mooney notes, there’s the “social dominance orientation” of conservatives, who see social life as following the law of the jungle. One’s choice is to dominate or be dominated; that is the natural order of things. Such folk are leery of climate change solutions premised on fairness or egalitarianism.
  • Then there are the well-understood “system-justifying tendencies” of conservatives. The authors explain that conservatives strongly display tendencies to justify and defend the current social and economic system. Conservatives dislike change and uncertainty and attempt to simplify complexity. Further, conservative white males have disproportionately occupied positions of power within our economic system. Given the expansive challenge that climate change poses to the industrial capitalist economic system, it should not be surprising that conservative white males’ strong system-justifying attitudes would be triggered to deny climate change.
  • Finally, there’s “identity-protective cognition,” a notion borrowed from Dan Kahan at Yale. (See this PDF.) Here’s how Kahan and colleagues sum it up:

    We propose that variance in risk perceptions — across persons generally, and across race and gender in particular — reflects a form of motivated cognition through which people seek to deflect threats to identities they hold, and roles they occupy, by virtue of contested cultural norms.

    “Motivated cognition” refers to reasoning done in service of justifying an already held belief or goal. It helps explain why the CWM who know the most about climate science are the most likely to reject it; they learn about it in order to reject it. See Chris Mooney’s great piece on that. Point being: when facts (or the implications of those facts) threaten people’s social identities, they tend to dismiss the facts rather than the identity.

In short, CWMs have historically sat at the highest rung of the social ladder which gives them an incentive to uphold the status quo and their conservative views only reinforced that fear of change. Conservative ideology also holds a “dog-eat-dog” view of the world so they reject movements promoting equality. The last point means that people, particularly individualistic white males will not perceive something as risky if that behavior is critical to their way of life, in this case they cannot perceive the danger of global warming because then they would have to perceive that consumption, capitalism, and social inequality are contributors, and this would be an attack on the forces that keep white men at the top.

we heart climate hero Tim DeChristopher.

29 Jul

Tim DeChristopher is a climate activist who was arrested for thwarting a BLM auction of 130,000 acres of pristine Utah lands to the oil and gas industry. That was three years ago, and DeChristopher was merely an economics student. Now he has become a folk hero for the environmental movement. He was recently sentenced to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine, much lighter than the original 10 years and $750,000 that the prosecution was pushing for.

As a native of West Virginia, he saw the horrors of the coal industry, especially mountain top removal, which fueled his activist spirit. He has spoken around the country, and I saw him give an extraordinarily motivating speech at Powershift this spring (in the above image).

You can read much more about DeChristopher around the blogs, but I had to post some of his statement to the court here. It’s long, but well-written and powerful. See the full statement on Grist.

Continue reading

physics + nature = a mystifying beauty

25 Jul

Images of sand formations, top from NJ and bottom from CA. Via Wired.



an unexpected environmental ally.

25 Jun

(a repost from the PSEC blog)

A little break from fracking talk for a TED talk by Bill Ford, Henry Ford’s great-grandson, on the future of cars and ways to move beyond them. Can you imagine going to college and being told that your family was responsible for America’s consumer culture and the resulting problems that are now spreading around the world including global warming?


we heart TOMS (but…)

24 Jun

My favorite TOMS have finally worn out. As you can see above, the sole has worn completely through and the fabric is beginning to poke through. Since TOMS are practically the most popular shoe around right now, I’m not going to tell you about the brand or “ooh and aww” over their charitable mission which you already know. While I still love TOMS (especially my new wedges), I am thinking of branching out for the following reasons:

1. Durability

I bought my Toms over winter break which means they have lasted about 6 months. While I do wear them a lot, and they don’t make claims about being super durable, this is still pretty ridiculous! If I had to buy a new pair twice per year I would end up with a LOT of old shoes.

2. Life Cycle Analysis

I’ve searched a lot over the internet for whether old Toms can be composted or recycled and I haven’t found anything specific. It seems that the canvas is made partly of recycled plastic, so that wouldn’t decompose, and the sole is made of recycled rubber, so it’s probably not recyclable either. I would really like for them to work on making a compostable shoe. They wouldn’t have to change much, using a natural latex bottom and biodegradable canvas upper and sole wouldn’t change the look or durability of the shoes.

TOMS does have a section on their Facebook page on repurposing old TOMS, but you repurposing things into knick-knacks that you don’t actually need isn’t true recycling.

3. “One-to-One” Criticism

There has been some criticism of their “one-to-one” model. The blog Good Intentions makes some good points:

  • It’s quintessential Whites in Shining Armor.
  • It’s doing things “for” people not “with” people.
  • They allow people to pay to travel with the distribution trips as shoe fitters thereby promoting poverty tourism.
  • They promote the “awareness raising” activity – One Day Without Shoes – which is really just a marketing ploy.
  • They ship in goods for free that outcompete local goods, it’s a short-term solution that could create long-term problems.
  • There are many better and cheaper ways to get shoes on the feet of the poor. Continue reading

powershift recap.

20 Apr

Just a quick repost of my Powershift recap from the PSEC blog.

Just got back from one of the most empowering weekends of my life at Powershift 2011. Being surrounded by 10,000 other young people who were as excited and energized to fight for environmental justice felt awesome.


  1. I think we were all presently surprised at how strong the anti-fracking contingent was. When Lisa Jackson of the EPA mentioned natural gas in her speech, almost the whole room, several thousand people, stood up shouting “NO FRACKING WAY.” Ms. Jackson had to just stand there waiting for us to stop for at least a minute until finally she said, “Okay I hear you guys!!” We definitely got our message across.
  2. My favorite panel was “What to do when the President’s just not that into you” with leading environmentalist Bill McKibbon, gay rights activist Lt. Dan Choi, and Jane Hamsher, blogger from Firedoglake. The basic message was that we may want to like Obama but we can’t just sit back hoping he’ll make good on his campaign promises eventually. It’s our job to push him. And we need to remind the Democrats that they can’t take the young progressive vote for granted. They know we’re going to vote for them because we’re scared that “Sarah Palin will shoot us like a moose,” but we need to remind them that they still have to work for us if we’re going to support them. Out of this talk (which you really should watch yourself) we got an idea for a campaign we can do along those lines which I’m excited to start.
  3. Our last activity before we had to leave was the state breakout session led by PSEC folks Sasha and Angela, and it totally blew my expectations. We got to meet filmmakers Josh Fox of Gasland and Mark Dixon of YERT and record a video telling Obama not to “pass gas.” Then we got the opportunity to meet other PA activists and network with other people in our region and coordinate a state-wide action. We were excited to see some Pittsburgh high schoolers there so I hope we can start getting the high school community involved. We came up with some new ideas for a summer campaign for PSEC to lead so look out for that at the first summer meeting.

Thanks everyone for a great weekend. It really challenged me to work harder and made me question a lot of what I’m doing… at what point will the global climate crisis become more important than our school and career paths? At this point it feels like spending another 4+ years in grad school to prepare for the fight will send us out too late to make a difference. The point was made that if everyone at Powershift was willing to spend one day tree-sitting in West Virginia, we could have 30 people sitting every day for a year… if it even took that long for the coal companies to break a deal. This energized a lot of us to help out with a mountain top removal tree sit this summer. Can’t wait for school to end, I have a LOT of cool stuff planned including my fracking research.

powershift this weekend!

15 Apr

Super excited to head down to DC for Powershift this afternoon! Powershift is 10,000 young people converging on DC to talk about the environmental issues facing us today and to lobby the government to move past dirty energy in the largest grassroots organizing training in history. We have about 40 Pitt students coming which as of a few weeks ago was half of all PA registrations. Go Pitt! Also can’t wait to hear Al Gore and Van Jones speak tonight.

…and then it’s on to finals week and move out (and flying to Seattle!) so I probably will not be posting much in the next two weeks.

we heart tolerance and stuff…

3 Mar

but republicans really suck.

Apprently their first move when they took power in the house was to dismantle Pelosi’s “Green the Capitol” plan. Grist writes,

In a courageous move to reduce the Congressional operating budget by as much as 0.07 percent, Republican Rep. Dan Lungren of California has halted the House’s composting program. This is of course totally legitimate budget-busting and not any kind of purely symbolic dick-waving — according to Lungren, the program was costing taxpayers $475,000 a year! That’s like half what he pays his staff!

It’s always good to see leaders pushing for change. Apparently John Boehner (it’s clearly pronounced BONER, people) announced the “victory” by tweeting, “The new majority — plasticware is back.”

What a dick.

indo para o Brasil! (going to Brazil!)

24 Feb

I just got accepted to my study abroad program in Brazil next fall! The theme is Amazon Resource Management and Human Ecology and it’s based out of Belém which is in the northern part of Brazil. Belém (Portuguese for “Bethlehem”), the capital of the state of Pará, was founded in 1616 and was the first European colony on the Amazon. While there I will be studying local environmental issues and completing a research project. Can’t wait.

Here’s a sneak peak: