In this Earth Day-themed edition of Align Center, we’re talking science and climate change. Our long read takes a troubling look inside the role of big data and psychometrics in recent elections, and we’ve also got Kickstarter’s existential crisis, four photo-heavy posts, a vegan take on a traditional Indian recipe, and a new piano album in the digs.
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518 official climate marches around the globe including all 50 U.S. states brought together concerned citizens in support of evidence-based climate change policies and against “attacks” on science by the Trump administration. Here’s a collection of clever signs from rallies around the world. slate.com (2min read, 19 photos)
In the face of hard science and undeniable facts, people in influential positions continue to disregard the mounting evidence presented before them. It seems the louder scientists shout, the less is heard. Studies have shown that more evidence may actually have the opposite effect — presenting individuals with facts conflicting with their world views can cause them to be further entrenched in their beliefs. Science advocacy groups are aware of this counter-productive behaviour, but the author, a professor of science communication at Columbia, believes we can all do more to shift the conversation — with a focus on building trust and appealing to emotions. (This article has 978 comments in 6 days!) slate.com (6min read)
Scientist Hahrie Han runs the P3 lab at UCSB, studying “civic and political engagement, collective action, social change, and democratic revitalization, particularly as it pertains to environmental politics and social policy issues”. Science writer Ed Yong interviews Han about the rallies, the importance of turnout, leadership and political relationships, commenting on strategies that can best influence political and social change. theatlantic.com (10min read)
Bill Gates’ successor, Steve Ballmer, was in a unique position — he retired from Microsoft at 57 with an itch to start a new project. What does one do with free time and a near unlimited budget? Well, first buy an NBA team. But then a conversation with his wife led Ballmer, the 35th richest person in the world, to start a philanthropic project to help answer questions like “where are my tax dollars going?” and “how many people work for government in the United States?”. The New York Times interviews Ballmer about his new project, USAFacts.org, launched last week in beta. nytimes.com (7min read)
Lawmakers in El Salvador voted overwhelming to prohibit mining for gold and other metals in response to threats on the country’s supply of clean water. After Haiti, El Salvador is the second-most environmentally degraded country in the Americas. Around the globe, scattered countries have partial or full bans on cyanide usage for mining and open-pit gold mining, but the smallest of the Central American countries is now the first nation to impose an outright ban. theguardian.com (3min read)
A team of environmental activists opened a mall in the Swedish town of Eskilstuna — the twist? All 14 stores exclusively sell second-hand goods – the first mall of its kind. By combining a traditional municipal recycling center with a shopping mall, people can bring goods they no longer need, which are then repaired, resold or recycled. Their website states “Sustainability is not about holding back and living less – but achieving more with the resources we already have.” progrss.com (3min read)
Every April, The Pulitzer Prizes are awarded for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature, and musical composition. This year the biggest surprise went to the tiniest newspaper — the family run Storm Lake times (circulation: 3,000) — for their editorials exposing big agriculture’s most powerful including the Koch Brothers and Monsanto.
poynter.org (6min read)
I had to slip in one non-political, non-climate change article this issue. Photographer Peter Garritano explores loneliness, sexuality and friendship in “Seeking”, a series of portraits of New Yorkers who’ve posted ads on the unknown “strictly platonic” section of the online classifieds.
newyorker.com (5min read)
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StoryCorps is a non-profit and growing oral history project whose mission is to “record, preserve, and share the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs.” They tell stories, and are really good at it. In this podcast, three accounts are drawn from their book, Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work, beginning with two sanitation workers cleaning the same New York streets for 30 years, then a story of the only female bricklayer in Baltimore, and ending with a woman who left her job to be a bridge operator on both sides of the continent.
storycorps.org (22min podcast)
Podcast discovery is a bit where digital music was at the start of the century — a useful technology on the verge, but lacking platforms for mainstream acceptance. In a small gesture, The New York Times has gone old school in a way by creating a Facebook group emulating book clubs to facilitate podcast discovery and discussion. New episodes posted every Monday.
nytimes.com (1min read + Facebook group)
◦ eat well
One of North India’s most popular dishes, Palak Paneer, or pureéd spinach with Indian cottage cheese, is given the vegan treatment. In this recipe, tofu is substituted for paneer, coconut milk for regular milk, and cashews for cream. Even if you’re not sold on tofu, this recipe is worth trying. veganricha.com (vegan, GF)
◦ read slow
Our smartphones are “a vast psychological questionnaire that we are constantly filling out, both consciously and unconsciously.” With 10 likes, data models know you better than your average work colleague. It only takes 70 likes to outdo what your friends know, 150 for your parents, and 300 likes to know you better than your partner. Who buys and uses this data? Companies like Cambridge Analytica, the surprisingly candid digital marketing agency hired by the Leave.EU Brexit and Trump campaigns to search for and target specific profiles — for instance, all undecided Democrats. Academic betrayal, big data and global consequences, this story will have you pausing the next time an app asks for your user data.
motherboard.vice.com (26min read)
Perry Chen has held many jobs: day trader, DJ, waiter, preschool teacher and art gallery founder in Brooklyn. While living in New Orleans as a musician, Chen had troubles getting a venue and two Austrian DJ’s to commit to a performance without money upfront. This led to an idea of connecting investors with artists and musicians — but it wasn’t for another 8 when Kickstarter would launch, quickly becoming the largest crowdfunding site and getting Chen named as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people. Chen would later take a step back from Kickstarter, and began to question the motives of the company he created and its impacts on its employees and society while traveling. This led to a decision to re-incorporate Kickstarter as a Public Benefit Corporation, where it would be held to high standards for social and environmental performance, putting their impacts on its employees, customers and the community first — a rarity in Silicon Valley.
fastcompany.com (20min read)
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What’s the oldest creature on the planet? A tortoise? Nope, 255 years is the oldest on record. Broaden the scope to all organisms, and I immediately thought of California’s giant sequoias, but the oldest is a mere 3,200 years. Curiousity and the lack of a definitive answer led Rachel Sussman to start a nearly decade long project (and (TED Talk), taking the Brooklyn native to a 5,500-year old moss in Antartica, 80,000-year-old aspen grove in Utah, and 100,000-year-old sea grass off the coast of Ibiza. Sprinkled with essays and meditations on the time scale of life, Sussman teams up with biologists and botanists around the globe, melding art and science in this ultimate coffee table book.
The Oldest Living Things in the World (269p book w/ essays & photos)
◦ dig this
Tiny morsels of interesting-ness from the past two weeks:
- California Droughts Before and After – Photos showing the drastic change between 2014 to 2017.
- Scenes from Coachella – 32 images from last week’s mega-festival headlined by Radiohead, Hans Zimmer, and a whole lot of hip-hop / R&B and a marshmallow version of DeadMau5.
- Moonlight, Lion & Manchester by the Sea – The Oscar’s did it right this year (links to 3 trailers)
- Joep Beving – The Dutch composer and pianist makes “simple music for complex emotions”. His second album, Prehension, was released April 7.
- Really Great Big Stories – CNN’s answer to Vice, AJ+, Vox and Buzzfeed, GBS’ are bite-sized documentaries designed for social media. Now a few get the longer treatment with the release of six short films, including NASA’s last lunar mission, a man acquiring savant syndrome, three paralyzed sailors on a 750 mile race to Alaska, and the story behind the toy-pet hybrid, Sea-Monkeys, of course.
◦ humble thought
“My two favourite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything. The perfect day: riding a bike to the library.” — Peter Golkin
I last visited Thailand in 2014, seven years since my first visit. I was shocked to see how little waste management had progressed. This is a country where locals rely on bottled water for drinking and the average citizen uses 8 plastic bags a day (in France, it’s 80 bags all year), but almost none of this is being recycled. In Bangkok alone, city workers recover 2,000 tons of plastic waste from sewers daily, the rest finds its way to the sea.
I don’t mean to pick on Thailand, the country of 68 million and home to some of the most breathtaking natural landscapes and friendliest people, but it’s the most glaring of my personal experience.
So when I fly back across the Pacific (there’s those emissions again) to my first world bubble with curbside recycling, access to clean water and the time and freedom to ponder these global issues, my cynical side creeps in as I watch people sort their blue and green bins with OCD attention.
Then I read the news and see what’s becoming common place — headlines like a lone iceberg parking itself outside Newfoundland, or climate change rerouting an entire river in the Yukon in a geological instant. In Miami, roads are being raised two feet, with mayors in the area fighting for federal funding to protect against rising sea levels. It’s projected that by 2050, $15-$23Bn of existing Florida property will be underwater.
This may sound like a doomsday scenario, or just my cherry-picked examples of global warming, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the direction we’re going is not sustainable and we’re nearing a tipping point. Sometimes this “save the world” talk and small actions trigger people — I’ve had friends jump on the chance to passive-aggressively point out the not very green things I do like air travel, eating meat, or taking anything but public transit.
I get it. Recycling that one Starbucks cup won’t reverse any of this. Nor will composting every last scrap, or going full-on zero waste. It’s difficult to see the future through the lens of the present, but in the same way many of us who’ve lived with blue box recycling for so many years would scoff at seeing an aluminum can tossed in the trash, we will look back at these times and wonder how we could be so ignorant of our only home. We’ll look back and shake our heads at how for decades we’ve casually tossed styrofoam boxes with plastic cutlery and Tetra-Pak juice boxes into the garbage after a single use, in the name of convenience. I can foresee conversations with my future children on how we used to eat fish straight from the sea, and how polar bears used to walk the ice in the Arctic (and then explain that ice is not just something the freezer makes).
There are things I do today that seemed “inconvenient” at the time, like separating paper and plastic, and more recently, composting (I can still here my sister say “but it smells so gross!”). The problem is that Earth is a combination of shared resources, while humans are built to deal with immediate concerns. That’s why it wasn’t so hard to get people to slap on SPF 100 (which is ridiculous by the way, SPF 30-50 is more than sufficient) when the ozone hole opened up in the eighties, because it directly affects them.
The global consciousness is waking up, and mindsets are shifting. I hope it’s fast enough. Climate optimists will look at human ingenuity and how we’ve always been able to rescue ourselves from the brink. Events like the March for Science and growing movements like Zero Waste are helping accelerate this awakening. But are the current systems too entrenched, where the goals of the too-powerful corporations directly conflict with the environmental sustainability?
What can one person do to have an impact? While it’s debatable whether voting with your dollars works, there are small positive changes that can help move the needle.
This is exactly what two researchers at the University of Michigan looked into by analyzing the most efficient ways the average person can help the planet. They found that transportation is where you can have the biggest impact, but also give simple tips to reduce your footprint around your home. Or look at the list the United Nations has compiled on a website cheekily called The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World. Even CNN got on board the climate bus (I need a greener analogy), featuring this op-ed piece on the impacts of livestock, Go Vegan, Save the Planet.
Maya Angelou said “We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.” This past week has given me more hope. Now it’s up to all of us to keep that momentum and turn that hope into positive action.
Did you take part in the March for Science? Have you made any changes in your household, or are thinking about it? Hit reply and share your thoughts!