Just the facts, ma’am

I don’t think there is a lecture passionate enough, a film moving enough, a joke funny enough, to make this point any clearer.

Scientists Warn of Rising Oceans From Polar Melt

Global warming caused by the human-driven release of greenhouse gases has helped to destabilize the ice sheet, though other factors may also be involved, the scientists said.
The rise of the sea is likely to continue to be relatively slow for the rest of the 21st century, the scientists added, but in the more distant future it may accelerate markedly, potentially throwing society into crisis.

“This is really happening,” Thomas P. Wagner, who runs NASA’s programs on polar ice and helped oversee some of the research, said in an interview. “There’s nothing to stop it now. But you are still limited by the physics of how fast the ice can flow.”

Various measurements have captured the West Antarctic ice sheet changing very rapidly in the region where it flows into the Amundsen Sea. Credit Landsat
Two scientific papers released on Monday by the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters came to similar conclusions by different means. Both groups of scientists found that West Antarctic glaciers had retreated far enough to set off an inherent instability in the ice sheet, one that experts have feared for decades. NASA called a telephone news conference Monday to highlight the urgency of the findings.

The West Antarctic ice sheet sits in a bowl-shaped depression in the earth, with the base of the ice below sea level. Warm ocean water is causing the ice sitting along the rim of the bowl to thin and retreat. As the front edge of the ice pulls away from the rim and enters deeper water, it can retreat much faster than before.

In one of the new papers, a team led by Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the University of California, Irvine, used satellite and air measurements to document an accelerating retreat over the past several decades of six glaciers draining into the Amundsen Sea region. And with updated mapping of the terrain beneath the ice sheet, the team was able to rule out the presence of any mountains or hills significant enough to slow the retreat.

“Today we present observational evidence that a large sector of the West Antarctic ice sheet has gone into irreversible retreat,” Dr. Rignot said in the NASA news conference. “It has passed the point of no return.”

Those six glaciers alone could cause the ocean to rise four feet as they disappear, Dr. Rignot said, possibly within a couple of centuries. He added that their disappearance will most likely destabilize other sectors of the ice sheet, so the ultimate rise could be triple that.

A separate team led by Ian Joughin of the University of Washington studied one of the most important glaciers, Thwaites, using sophisticated computer modeling, coupled with recent measurements of the ice flow. That team also found that a slow-motion collapse had become inevitable. Even if the warm water now eating away at the ice were to dissipate, it would be “too little, too late to stabilize the ice sheet,” Dr. Joughin said. “There’s no stabilization mechanism.”
The two teams worked independently, preparing papers that were to be published within days of each other. After it was learned that their results were similar, the teams and their journals agreed to release the findings on the same day.

The new finding appears to be the fulfillment of a prediction made in 1978 by an eminent glaciologist, John H. Mercer of the Ohio State University. He outlined the vulnerable nature of the West Antarctic ice sheet and warned that the rapid human-driven release of greenhouse gases posed “a threat of disaster.” He was assailed at the time, but in recent years, scientists have been watching with growing concern as events have unfolded in much the way Dr. Mercer predicted. (He died in 1987.)

A NASA animation shows glacier changes detected in the highly dynamic Amundsen Embayment of West Antarctica. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)
Scientists said the ice sheet was not melting because of warmer air temperatures, but rather because relatively warm water that occurs naturally in the depths of the ocean was being pulled to the surface by an intensification, over the past several decades, of the powerful winds that encircle Antarctica.

And while the cause of the stronger winds is somewhat unclear, many researchers consider human-induced global warming to be a significant factor. The winds help to isolate Antarctica and keep it cold at the surface, but as global warming proceeds, that means a sharper temperature difference between the Antarctic and the rest of the globe. That temperature difference provides further energy for the winds, which in turn stir up the ocean waters.

Some scientists believe the ozone hole over Antarctica — caused not by global warming but by an entirely different environmental problem, the human-caused release of ozone-destroying gases — may also be adding energy to the winds. And natural variability may be contributing as well, though scientists do not believe it is the primary factor.

The global sea level has been rising since the 19th century, but Antarctica so far has been only a small factor. The biggest factor to date is that seawater expands as it warms.

This “airborne” tour was created from a small portion of the images collected during a flight over the Pine Island Glacier crack on Oct. 26, 2011. (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)
But the melting from both Greenland and Antarctica is expected to be far more important in the future. A United Nations scientific committee, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has warned that the global sea level could rise as much as three feet by the end of this century if stronger efforts are not made to control greenhouse gases. The new findings suggest the situation is likely to get far worse in subsequent centuries.

The effects will depend in part on how much money future governments spend to protect shorelines from a rising sea. Research published in 2012 found that a rise of less than four feet would inundate land on which some 3.7 million Americans live today. Miami, New Orleans, New York and Boston are all highly vulnerable.

Richard B. Alley, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University who was not involved in the new research but has studied the polar ice sheets for decades, said he found the new papers compelling. Though he had long feared the possibility of ice-sheet collapse, when he learned of the new findings, “it shook me a little bit,” Dr. Alley said.

He added that while a large rise of the sea may now be inevitable from West Antarctica, continued release of greenhouse gases will almost certainly make the situation worse. The heat-trapping gases could destabilize other parts of Antarctica as well as the Greenland ice sheet, potentially causing enough sea-level rise that many of the world’s coastal cities would eventually have to be abandoned.



Here comes the sun!

The Nature Conservancy’s Young Professionals Group knows how to throw a heck of a party! Save the date and get a ticket for their June 2nd Nature Matters Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street! It’s always a fun and colorful affair!


President and Chief Executive Officer of The Nature Conservancy
invites you to join friends and partners at

Hosted by Dan Harris
ABC News Co-Anchor, “Nightline” and “Good Morning America” Weekend Edition


The Butler Conservation Fund
Global Conservation Leader
Accepted by Gilbert Butler

The Walt Disney Company
Corporate Conservation Leader
Accepted by Jay Rasulo, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Monday, June 2, 2014

Cipriani 42nd street
110 East 42nd st, new york city

6 pm Reception
7 pm Dinner & Program

Business Attire

Funds raised through the Gala will support The Nature Conservancy’s work for people and nature locally and around the world.

RSVP DETAILS BELOW. Contact Kat McGlynn kmcglynn@tnc.org

Leadership Underwriter: $150,000 Includes sector exclusivity; 2 priority-seating
tables of 10; recognition/logo placement on all printed materials; listing of a senior
executive as a Co-Chair; prominent recognition in visuals/speaking program; special
media and marketing opportunities to further recognize this partnership to be developed
with the Leadership Underwriter.

Leadership Table(s): $100,000 Table of 10 with priority seating; Co-Chair and
Leadership recognition on all printed materials.

Benefactor Table(s): $50,000 Table of 10 with premium seating; Co-Chair and
Benefactor recognition on all printed materials.

Patron Table(s): $25,000 Table of 10 with preferred seating; Vice Chair and
Patron recognition on all printed materials.

Friend Table(s): $15,000 Table of 10; Friend recognition on all printed materials.
individual tickets
_____ at $5,000 each includes premium seating at
the Gala and special recognition on all printed materials.
_____ at $2,500 includes preferred seating at the Gala
and recognition on printed materials.
_____ at $1,500 includes seating at the Gala and
recognition on printed materials.

I/We cannot attend, but enclose a contribution
of $_____________________________ in support
of The Nature Conservancy.


Hit the slopes, not the rocks

Anyone who enjoys skiing, or the great out doors in general, knows we must protect what we love. The weather at the Sochi Olympics that created such dreadful and dangerous conditions for the athletes is only one in hundreds of examples of how climate change is directly effecting us. I don’t to ever want to say, “Remember skiing? Wasn’t that fun? Too bad there isn’t any anymore.” Here is what the ski industry is doing to protect itself, and you.

Ski industry demands action on climate change

By Robert Kropp


study authored by University of New Hampshire researchers Elizabeth Burakowski and Matthew Magnusson and published last December warns that if winter temperatures continue to warm significantly, the winter tourism industry could disappear completely in many areas of the U.S.

Legislators continue to drag their feet in addressing what is the greatest crisis confronting humanity today. But increasingly, many companies are joining the call for effective policies to address the threat. Many have joined Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), an advocacy coalition of businesses directed by Ceres that is calling for meaningful legislation to enable a transition to a low-carbon economy.

In April, Ceres and BICEP launched the Climate Declaration, whose signatories advocate for a coordinated effort to combat climate change. The nation’s health and prosperity “are threatened by a changing climate that most scientists agree is being caused by air pollution,” the declaration states. “We cannot risk our kids’ futures on the false hope that the vast majority of scientists are wrong.”

Aspen Skiing Company and the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) are members of BICEP, and Ceres announced Thursday that more than 100 of the nation’s ski resorts have signed the Climate Declaration. Ski resorts in the U.S. employ 160,000 people and generate revenues of more than $12 billion. But according to the UNH study, the number of days with snow cover in the Northeast could decrease by as much as 75 percent if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and the mean snow depth at Rocky Mountain resorts could drop to zero.

“The success of ski business operations depends greatly on climate, which is why we are so invested in programs that keep our slopes sustainable,” Brent Giles of Park City Mountain Resort in Utah said. “But our actions alone won’t be enough without strong policies. We welcome legislative and regulatory initiatives that will reduce carbon emissions, incentivize renewable energy development and help improve our resiliency in the future.”

“We welcome the ski industry as allies in our work on climate and energy issues and as signatories of the Climate Declaration. This is an industry that cannot be off-shored, and they are calling for climate action here at home,” said Anne Kelly, director of BICEP. “Policymakers must realize that the old political paradigm of ‘It’s the environment or the economy; pick one’ is a false choice. American businesses are ready to combat climate change, and policymakers should join them in leading the way.”




Preserving local culture

The word environment encompasses more than the trees and air that surround us – it also means our cultural heritage and achievements that should garner as much respect as the fight for clean air and water. New York is a unique place that has a history all its own. South Street Seaport is no exception and the environment created on that plot of land should be protected as a part of our collective identity.

Duel at the Old Fulton Fish Market

Robert LaValva wants to revive public markets in Lower Manhattan. Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Robert LaValva’s epiphany came early one February morning in 2005, as he watched London’s Borough Market come alive.

“The Market was not just a place of business but a calling,” he said over coffee recently in Lower Manhattan. “It felt of tradition, the haggling over produce, the sellers of eggs who had been selling for generations, the 88 butchers.”

Suddenly, Mr. LaValva understood where his entire life had been leading him: to open a public food market.

Back home. In New York City.

But where? And how?

The answers to those questions led Mr. LaValva, now 49, to where he is today: engaged in a contentious public battle with the Howard Hughes Corporation, a major developer, over the fate of the buildings that once housed the Fulton Fish Market. The company leases the South Street Seaport from the city and wants to redevelop the area, including the landmarked Tin Building and the adjoining New Market, neither of which it currently leases, and which sit just north of Pier 17, to the east of South Street. Under its plan, the New Market would be razed and the Tin Building would be moved 30 feet northeast, so that a 50-story hotel-residential complex could be built.

A rendering of the Howard Hughes Corporation’s plan to develop the site of the former Fulton Fish Market in Lower Manhattan. The Howard Hughes Corporation/SHoP architects

 Mr. LaValva wants instead to repurpose both the Tin and New Market buildings as the city’s premiere public market, in keeping with a mercantile history dating to the 1600s. A shy, private man, he has nevertheless rallied significant community and citywide support in his fight against Hughes. “Through its redevelopment, Hughes would obliterate the Fulton Fish Market, compromising the integrity of this historic district,” said Mr. LaValva, who founded the New Amsterdam Market Association to push forward his own plan.

“We are an advocacy group, promoting a public market on city-owned land,” Mr. LaValva said. “We model ourselves on the visionaries behind the High Line, constructed mostly with public funding. The High Line does not make a penny. But its impact is enormous, bringing shoppers and diners to West Chelsea, and generating tax revenues. We say that the repurposed Fulton Fish Market, like the High Line, will bring people to this part of the city.”

A graduate of New York University and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Mr. LaValva spent much of his life seeking his purpose. This included 10 years promoting recycling at the Department of Sanitation, where his former boss, Thomas Outerbridge, gave Mr. LaValva high marks for “persistence and patience to develop a vision, engaging a broad spectrum of people behind his ideas.” He followed up with two years at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, helping design subway stations to improve pedestrian flow.

Neither position, however, soothed Mr. LaValva’s soul. And so in 2005 he found his way to a London cheese shop — Neal’s Yard Dairy — to learn the business, hoping to open his own place, a plan that morphed again after his vision outside the Borough Market.

Upon his return to New York, Mr. LaValva had an idea, but not a location.

Then, in November 2005, the Fulton Fish Market relocated to the Bronx from Manhattan, abandoning both the Tin Building, which was built in 1907, and the New Market Building, inaugurated by Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia in 1939. With no one else looking to occupy the buildings, Mr. LaValva charged in, organizing fishmongers and produce and cheese vendors to create, on however small a scale, New York’s answer to the Borough Market.

True, New York had other indoor public markets, including the Essex Street Market, the Moore Street Market in Brooklyn and the Hunts Point and Fulton Fish Markets in the Bronx. None, however, combines large size with a central location. Nor do those markets focus on local agriculture and small businesses. “Other markets include industrially produced meats from feed lots in Texas,” Mr. LaValva said. “Our mission is to promote small producers in New York State.”

Mr. LaValva’s market in progress at the New Market Building. Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

 And while city greenmarkets serve some of the same purpose, they are limited to farmers and producers who sell their own products. “Our market is one of small businesses who can be farmers or butchers, cheesemongers or fishmongers or green grocers,” Mr. LaValva said.

To put his vision into effect, however, Mr. LaValva still had to cut a deal with the Economic Development Corporation, which controlled the buildings and which, because of liability issues, refused to greenlight his proposed market.

But his dozen years inside the city’s bureaucracy had taught Mr. LaValva how to negotiate. Instead of insisting on a spot inside, he proposed to rent space under the steel awnings in front of the buildings. The development corporation said yes.

Mr. LaValva’s market opened in December 2007, its attractions including the chef Mario Batali selling traditional Italian porchetta sandwiches of roasted pork, herbs and spices. Mr. LaValva first promoted it as a winter market. And it was certainly that as sleet, wind and freezing rain hit on the first Sunday. Thousands came anyway, said Mr. LaValva, and that spring the market was held every Sunday. It later began operating only seasonally, as Mr. LaValva sought to build his organization and move inside the old fish market buildings.

“This was a forlorn area, abandoned, a place you didn’t want to go,” Catherine Hughes, president of Community Board 1, which covers the seaport, said in a phone interview. “Robert transformed it into a place where you can bump into your neighbor while making great finds.”

The latest attempts to redevelop the area began in 2008, when the company that then controlled the lease to the seaport, General Growth Properties, introduced a plan that included a 42-story apartment tower. That plan was rejected by the landmarks commission. General Growth eventually declared bankruptcy. Howard Hughes was spun off from that company and took over the lease on the seaport in 2010. Much of the area was inundated by floodwaters from Hurricane Sandy, though the Pier 17 shopping mall was spared. It was closed, pending redevelopment, in September.

In an email, Christopher J. Curry, senior executive vice president for development at Hughes, said that his company wanted to “create a one-of-a-kind experience, which incorporates the best of what New York has to offer” at the seaport site. Mr. Curry estimated that it would cost up to $120 million to replace the rotted pilings in order to build the tower and move the Tin Building, among other tasks. “Any proposed project must be able to absorb these significant infrastructure costs,” he wrote.

The Tin Building in 1951. Library of Congress

 SHoP architects designed the Hughes plan. Gregg Pasquarelli, a principal at the firm, said in an email that relocating the Tin Building would “showcase its restored front facade, which has been hidden since the F.D.R. was built in the 1960s, and will also allow the East River Esplanade to extend in front of the building, creating a continuous pedestrian connection between the South Street Seaport and the neighborhoods to its north and south.”

Raised five feet against flooding, the restored Tin Building will revert “to its original market use, with a world-class food hall occupying the first and second levels seven days a week,” he said, and a gardened rooftop extension providing “flexible event space.”

But for Mr. LaValva, a privately run market misses the point. “Private developers cannot be trusted to maintain a true public market, which may not generate the revenues they seek,” he said. “Hughes is proposing something today, but there is no guarantee they will build or maintain it tomorrow.”

The Rouse Corporation, the seaport’s original developer, included a “public market” in its Festival Marketplace on Pier 17 when it opened in the 1980s — and later replaced it with a Gap clothing store, he said.

Mr. LaValva’s nonprofit group, the New Amsterdam Market Association, has stayed alive by renting out market stalls at $75 to $200 each. It has also received private donations, held fund-raisers and received grants, including $250,000 from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in 2012. But that’s nowhere close to what it would cost to rehabilitate the market buildings.

“We cannot raise money to repair a city property if the city has not agreed to restore it,” Mr. LaValva said. “As of now, the city considers the Fish Market a real estate redevelopment site. We are saying it is a public asset which needs to be preserved and rehabilitated. We first want to convince the city to preserve the buildings, and then find funding from a variety of sources.”

In 2011, the Howard Hughes Corporation offered to collaborate with Mr. LaValva. He turned them down. “Hughes suggested we be part of the Pier 17 renovation,” Mr. LaValva said. “But we wanted to preserve the market.”

His position has garnered followers in the neighborhood. Hundreds turned out for a recent Town Hall meeting on the issue put on by Community Board 1 at Pace University; a vast majority of speakers were against the Hughes plan. The Community Board has only an advisory role in the approval process, which requires Hughes to wend its way through the Landmarks Commission, the City Planning Commission, the Manhattan borough president’s office and, ultimately, the City Council.

That may be a difficult path, in part because of Mr. LaValva. “Robert is a strong advocate, and way ahead of his time in his vision,” said Gale Brewer, the newly elected Manhattan borough president. Her office will review the redevelopment plan and make a recommendation before it goes to the City Council. “He loves the seaport, and understands that it should not be squandered for a parking lot or a big building.

“We definitely need more of what the old New York felt like,” she added. “There are a lot of unknowns in terms of funding, but his concept is a good one. We should pause and plan on this one.”



Keeping up with the neighbor’s…energy efficiency

Now, this is an interesting look at how to inspire effort towards energy efficiency – be the first one on the block to do it and brag about it to your neighbors. Arizona State University psychology professor Robert Cialdini + Alex Laskey of Opower + utility companies + behavioral economics = a potential solution to the overwhelming nature of how to combat climate change one household at a time. Read on!

The psychology of energy savings: Talking behavioral economics with Alex Laskey and Sendhil Mullainathan

Posted by: Helen Walters
Alex Laskey shows the amount of coal that should be able to power a lightbulb for a year. However,  because of massive energy waste, 90% of the coal's energy is wasted. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Alex Laskey of Opower shows the amount of coal that should be able to power a lightbulb for a year. But because of massive energy waste, ten timess as much coal is needed. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

“For the past five years we’ve been running the largest behavioral science experiment in the world,” says Alex Laskey in today’s TED Talk, given at this year’s 2013 conference in Long Beach. “And, it’s working.”

Alex Laskey: How behavioral science can lower your energy billAlex Laskey: How behavioral science can lower your energy billLaskey’s company Opower partners with utility companies to deliver personalized home energy reports, all based off the insight that people are more inclined to take action on an issue when they think other people are doing better than they are. People’s energy consumption changes for the better after receiving these reports — either in the mail or through their app and website — and the effects appear to be long-lasting. This year, Laskey says, Opower expects to inspire 2 terawatt hours (TWh) in saved electricity. That’s enough to power a city of more than a quarter million people for a year.

This idea was sparked by a study run a decade ago by Arizona State University psychology professor, Robert Cialdini, who conducted an experiment to see what might make people turn off their air conditioner, and turn on their fan. Might money persuade them? Or an appeal to their better selves? Or the thought of saving the planet? Nope, nope and nope. Turns out, the one surefire way to get people to do something was to tell them their neighbors were already doing it. As Laskey comments in his talk, “Social pressure is powerful stuff.”

Sendhil Mullainathan: Solving social problems with a nudgeSendhil Mullainathan: Solving social problems with a nudgeThat’s why Laskey and his team at Opower have partnered with behavioral scientists, including Cialdini, to experiment with different types of insights and, in doing so, try to make a dent in the giant energy problems facing the world. One of their unofficial advisers is Sendhil Mullainathan, professor of economics at Harvard and founder of Ideas42, a company “using behavioral economics to do good.” (Watch Mullainathan’s 2009 TED Talk from TED India, Solving social problems with a nudge »)

We got both Laskey and Mullainathan on the phone to talk about this fascinating field of the little things that make a person conserve energy. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

Alex, how did you come across behavioral economics, and why did you think it might provide a solid foundation for a company?

Alex Laskey: I came across it accidentally. Dan Yates and I had the notion that a utility bill is a wasted opportunity, and that if we had better information about energy consumption we could do something. We knew how energy efficient our cars are, for instance, and we thought it would be great to know how efficient our homes are. We were introduced to Bob Cialdini, one of the grandfathers of this field and one of the most cited behavioral economists. We didn’t know who Bob was, but we met with him in Phoenix and then he decided to take sabbatical and spent a year working with us to make sure we didn’t screw up. So that was my first introduction to behavioral science and economics. Since then, I feel very fortunate to have been introduced to this work and now embraced by this community of talented thinkers.

How did you two come across each other?

AL: Todd Rogers, who now teaches at the Kennedy School, introduced us because they are jointly involved in Ideas 42. Sendhil came to see us in DC a number of years ago, when we were about 35 people. My read was that he was excited about all the data we had and the opportunities we had to run experiments. For economists, it can be hard to get hands on a lot of data and find people willing to do innovative experiments.

Sendhil Mullainathan: To add to that, it’s also the case that in some sense the behavioral space has grown faster than reality. People will often take an interesting experimental study which has been done in the world, perhaps at small scale, and then it’s touted as some big solution. For me what’s amazing about Opower is precisely that it’s not a tiny study. This is a live operation using the principles at unimaginable scale. Opower is the best example of seeing how powerful behavioral economics can be and seeing this operate at scale.

So what has been the impact of this kind of thinking for Opower?

SM: The impacts are strikingly large. And it’s really interesting how persistent and stable they are years on out. It’s not a blip. Capital One does experiments to open credit card mailings, and they might work for one or two months, but after that, the novelty usually wears off. Here, the effects last for years, and they remain even when the intervention is removed. It’s stable behavioral change.

Why do you think that is?

SM: The problem with data is that it says a lot, but it also says nothing. “Big data” is terrific, but it’s usually thin. To understand why something is happening, we have to engage in both forensics and guess work. To guess, one possible candidate is that people aren’t changing behavior, they’re changing equipment. Better light bulbs lead to energy saving permanently.

AL: There’s a good chance that if we stopped sending, there’d be degradation. Our longest running programs are five years old, and it seems that savings persist as long as you communicate with customers. People do revert back to their old ways, and habits do need to be reinforced to sustain them longterm. But I’m optimistic. By and large people want to do the right thing. They want to save energy, they don’t want to waste it. They want to eat healthily, to exercise, give money to charity and so on. It’s hard to get people to do something they don’t want to do, and we’re nudging people to do something they do want to do. We’re bringing their attention in a new way that’s empowering and motivating. And I suspect energy is just one area where one could see these kinds of effects.

SM: That’s a really good point. More broadly, when people think of behavioral interventions, they think they are aimed at getting people to do things they don’t want to do and it’s some kind of mind control. But as Alex says, it’s very hard to get people to do what they want to do, let alone what don’t want to do! Most of these interventions are about translating intentions into behavior. They can appear to an outsider as if it’s about changing behavior, but it’s perhaps better thought of as realizing intentions.

What experiments are you looking to try next?

AL: We’re experimenting with different channels. Mail is expensive to send out, and we have nearly nine million households getting mail, so we’re trying to see what we can do digitally, with email, text or automated phone calls. We will run around 250 experiments this year. Some of them are quite modest, small experiments, but there are a lot of bigger experiments too. One I’m excited about is a big project this summer which is focused on very near-time actions. Historically we try to motivate people to save energy, period. But for the utilities market and grid, what’s more valuable is getting people to save energy at important times. So on a hot day, everyone turns on their AC and a utility has to fire up more expensive, often dirty power plants. So this summer in Baltimore we’re rolling out a program to 300,000 customers so they can earn a rebate on their utility bill if they save energy during key four-hour blocks, ten times through the summer.

How will that work?

The utility will notify you that the next day is a peak event via text message, email or phone, and remind you that you can earn up to $20 if you save energy between noon and 4. Then, at the end of that time, we’ll do the calculation and notify you of your savings by 6pm. So you saved $12, the average customer in the area saved $8, while the biggest saver earned $20. It’s a different problem to solve so I’m interested to see how that changes the experiment. What communication is needed to get people to do something urgently and quickly? We’ll have results in the fall.

Sendhil, any thoughts or advice on how to make this work?

SM: I’ve learned not to give advice on the fly! But there is a lot of interesting stuff around urgency and what you do to create it. Tangentially related, there are great findings in behavioral science around couponing. If you send out one coupon with a deadline of a week and another that must be used within the next month, you end up having more redemptions with the one week deadline. It’s really amazing. With the month deadline you have four times as much time, but people tend to say they’ll use it in a few weeks’ time and then they don’t do it. Urgency is a very interesting topic.

AL: We’d also love to figure out how to do this without offering financial reward. I’d love to get your take on it as we progress, Sendhil. In fact, one thought to leave you with — how about asking the TED community to design experiments we can run on real world energy consumers? We feel like we’re just scratching surface of what can be accomplished and would love to get creative, talented people to help designing interventions.


A look at some of Opower’s existing platforms, which will inspire 2 terawatt hours of saved electricity this year.

Everything you wanted to know about climate change but were afraid to ask

In this short article there is a link to an equally short explanation of how climate change works:


In under a minute it can be explained. Check it out and be enlightened!



Global Warming Explained, In About A Minute

The sun rises over the mountains of Mont-Blanc, eastern France.

Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images

On a pleasant day in 2011, researchers roamed San Diego’s public parks in search of volunteers to fill out anonymous surveys about global warming. In the end about 270 responses were collected from a mix of park visitors and nearby community college students. The researchers wanted to know how well the average American understands the basic processes responsible for global warming, and whether there’s a relationship between this basic understanding and the belief that global warming is actually occurring.

The results were sobering. While a majority of volunteers believed that global warming is a reality (80 percent) and that human activities are a significant contributing factor (77 percent), only a slim minority was able to explain even rudimentary aspects of the mechanism. Twelve percent referenced gases in the atmosphere that trap heat (such as pollution or carbon dioxide), and of these, none addressed a puzzle that this partial answer seems to raise: why gases that trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere don’t similarly block heat from entering the atmosphere in the first place.

The solution to this puzzle comes from an important asymmetry: the sunlight that hits the Earth’s surface is largely visible light, and that light is returned from Earth’s surface as infrared light. It’s infrared light that’s predominantly absorbed (“trapped”) by greenhouse gases, resulting in more energy (and therefore heat) in Earth’s atmosphere.

Michael Ranney, the lead author on the , offers this 35-word explanation:

Earth transforms sunlight’s visible light energy into infrared light energy, which leaves Earth slowly because it is absorbed by greenhouse gases. When people produce greenhouse gases, energy leaves Earth even more slowlyraising Earth’s temperature.

In a second study reported in the same paper, Ranney and his colleagues presented college students with a somewhat longer version of this explanation (a full 400 words), and found that doing so not only increased students’ understanding of global warming, but also their acceptance that it’s actually occurring.

This and related research has led Ranney and his colleagues to launch a new website, howglobalwarmingworks.org, that educates people about the basic mechanisms of global climate change. The website features videos that range in length from an economical 52 seconds to a heftier 4.7 minutes, offering increasing levels of detail. Here’s the 1.2-minute version:

Ranney, a cognitive psychologist and professor in the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley, was kind enough to answer a few questions about this line of research.

I first asked what motivated him to pursue the psychology behind people’s understanding and acceptance of climate change, a topic that’s generated some heated controversy:

Since my expertise is roughly in the realms of reasoning and problem solving, for about 20 years I’ve been asking folks, often informally, what they think is the world’s biggest problem. More and more people have climate change at the top of their list, either alone or tied for first; you see this in the press, too, as with physicist Steven Hawking or Cornell University’s President Skorton.

So given longstanding interests in the public understanding of science and in numerical cognition (e.g., how people reason and understand statistics and other numerical information), climate change seemed like a natural target for his research, and one with important implications.

Ranney’s findings have already proven both surprising and far-reaching. They reveal widespread scientific ignorance — which isn’t so shocking, all things considered — but also that a simple message about the basics of climate change can influence both understanding and acceptance. This result is more startling given the general challenges of science education, plus the fact that when it comes to politicized scientific issues, differences in belief are rarely a simple matter of differences in scientific understanding. With human evolution, for example, the relationship between understanding the basic mechanisms of natural selection and accepting that we evolved from non-human animals is pretty weak.

Ranney suggests that a variety of factors conspire to produce the widespread ignorance about climate change that his studies reveal. Many people assume the science is way beyond them (and of course, an expert level of understanding probably is beyond most of us), but simultaneously fail to appreciate how profoundly they lack the basics. When the basics are presented, they’re often sandwiched between some daunting math and some scary jargon, which don’t exactly boost overall palatability. The unfortunate result, according to Ranney, is that:

…it’s basically “secret knowledge” that is critical to understanding whether one should accept whether climate change is happening, yet our society’s instructors, journalists, etc., are either (and more commonly) not “teaching” it or they bundle it in with a blizzard of information (e.g., about “albedo” or “forcing” or the effects of climate change) that obscures the simple essence of the physical-chemical situation.

The new website, howglobalwarmingworks, is a way to share this secret knowledge with a broad audience. Ranney describes the fourfold motivation for the website as follows:

(1) It’s simple, crucial, information that everyone should know yet virtually no one knows, (2) it’s information that (at least in the longer versions) has been shown, empirically, to change people’s minds to better understand the science and reality of climate change, (3) it’s “direct-to-the-public” instruction – which is all too uncommon in an environment in which researchers like myself are rewarded for technical writings that are rarely seen by much of humanity, and (4) our planet can’t wait for this information to percolate slowly, given the damage that is happening at this moment.

If Ranney’s right, then 52 seconds could make all the difference.


Chasing Ice

Chasing Ice is a documentary that is as much about climate change as it is about perseverance and wherewithal of photographer James Balog endeavoring to create a living photo documentation of our rapidly receding glaciers and the consequences. He says to him photography has much been about raising awareness. In this film he does just that with the eye of an artist and the consciousness of an historian.

It’s a moving testimony of our current planetary condition that at once makes its point clear without the global warming hysteria. The still and real time images he has captured of our effect on the Greenland Ice Sheet and other locations is historically unprecedented and highly aesthetically impressive.

The simple fact that between 2006-2009 there was a large and easily observable retraction of an Iceland glacier is and should be significant to everyone: this is not a normal rate of melt and we are all responsible and will all be effected. Highly recommended. http://www.chasingice.com/

An uplifting story

Need an inspiration boost? Check out this film about a kid who designed a windmill from scrap parts effectively saving his family from famine and poverty. William and the Windmill will make your day.

  William on replica_psWilliam on Windmill_2William and motor



A picture is worth a thousand words

Everyone is inspired to action differently: some by words, some by images, some by film, some by the example of others. The following article highlighting climate change via images from NASA over the last half century are startling to say the least. I hope they bring some to understand that the time to act is now and every effort towards reducing one’s carbon footprint is useful and extremely necessary.

Terrifying Before And After Pictures Of How Climate Change Is Already Destroying The Planet

From NASA comes this sobering collection of photos and satellite images about the incredible changes the planet has gone through in less than a century.

It’s easy enough to ignore–or even deny–climate change when its effects don’t impact your daily life. That superstorm? Must have been a fluke. The big drought? Things like that just happen every so often. So if statistics and admonishments from scientists don’t do it for you, maybe these startling before and after photos from NASA will.

toboggan glacier

Toboggan Glacier, Alaska. June 29, 1909 versus September 4, 2000.

The Images of Change iPad app features the best before-and-after images from NASA’s Global Climate Change website–that is, the best images that show the dramatic impacts wrought by climate change. You can watch Alaska’s Northwestern Glacier melt, look on as Colorado’s High Park Fire chars the landscape, and see how Kilimanjaro’s snowpack declines over seven short years.

ecuador volcano

Atop the Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador–at 5,897 meters (19,347 feet), one of the tallest active volcanoes on Earth–sits the Cotopaxi Glacier. Here is the melt between March 1986 and February 2007.

muir glacier

Muir Glacier in Alaska. August 1941 compared to August 2004.

northwestern glacier





Northwestern Glacier in Alaska, 1940 compared to 2005. With few exceptions, glaciers around the world have retreated at unprecedented rates over the last century.

pine island

Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica. October 2013 compared to November 2013. An iceberg estimated to be 35 by 20 kilometers separated between November 9 and 11. Designated “B-31,” it is about 50% larger than its predecessors in this area.






Artificial land in Singapore, in 1973 compared to 2009. Between 1973 and 2009, Singapore created new land for airports, shipping and oil refineries. Also visible are new cities, causeways, reservoirs, and golf courses.


The Black Forest Fire near Colorado Springs, Colorado, was the most destructive wildfire in the state’s history. These photos show April 2013 compared to June 2013.

brazilian rainforest

Rondônia is part of the Brazilian Amazon, on the border with Bolivia, shown here in 1975 versus 2009. Within the Brazilian Amazon, Rondônia has the highest deforestation rate.

If this doesn’t convince you that there’s a problem, maybe nothing will.




How to survive the holidays – with sustainable wines!

It’s the holidays and here they come…your family. Your loving yet overbearing parents, crazy cat lady Aunt Clara, and the dreaded cousin frighteningly reminiscent of Randy Quaid in Christmas Vacation. Looks like you picked the wrong week to stop drinking. But fret not! There are multitudes of local, sustainably farmed wines made right nearby on Long Island that will take the edge off and not bite into the ugly Christmas sweater budget. Here are a few of our favorites. Cheers!

Jamesport Vineyards


Jamesport Vineyards is a three-generation family-owned and sustainably run winery and vineyard. Ron and Ann Marie Goerler came to the North Fork over 30 years ago and planted their first Chardonnay vines in 1981. Ron Sr. was a leading pioneer for the Long Island wine industry. It was his vision about the area that has made the wines what they are today. Their approach is still the same now as it was then—leave the land in better shape than when they found it. The Goerlers believe in sustainable approaches with their vineyards, as well as their wines. Today they use integrated pest management (IPM) practices which help them use less fertilizers, fungicides, and herbicides. It is a direct reflection on the quality of the wines produced at Jamesport Vineyards. http://www.jamesportwines.com/

Lieb Cellars


Our sleek and intimate Tasting Room offers our exceptional wines to taste and purchase by the bottle or glass. Enjoy live music on the lawn of our outdoor lounge from our Adirondack chairs and picnic tables. Our Tasting Room staff will be happy to provide picnic quilts or a croquet set at your request. Goodale Farms’ locally made, award-winning cow and goat cheeses are available for purchase. http://liebcellars.com/

Paumanok Vineyards

paumanok 2

Founded in the spring of 1983, our 103 acre estate is entirely owned and managed by Ursula and Charles Massoud, and our three sons. Born and raised in the “Old World”, wine has always been a part of our lives and we continue the tradition at Paumanok Vineyards. The winery is a renovated turn-of-the-century barn that houses a fermentation tank room and lab. The spacious tasting room was built on top of the barrel cellar. It is surrounded by an inviting deck overlooking the vineyards. Our deck and tasting room are the perfect setting for private parties and weddings, with many special events scheduled throughout the year. http://www.paumanok.com/index.html

Shinn Estate Vineyards


Shinn Estate Vineyards has a working philosophy of low-impact, sustainable farming. Since its first planting in 2000, husband-wife team and former restaurateurs David Page and Barbara Shinn have integrated both organic and biodynamic practices in the vineyard, producing consistently balanced fruit-driven wines with long aging potential that have a distinct sense of place. The winery also offers Shinn Estate Farmhouse, the first inn on a vineyard site on Long Island. A historic homestead, Shinn Estate Farmhouse presents its guests with the tranquility of a farm environment paired with the cachet of lodging at a world class winery. North Fork inspired breakfasts are served to overnight guests utilizing local produce, cheeses, duck, fish and shellfish. http://shinnestatevineyards.com/

Wolffer Estate Vineyard


Perched on a rise overlooking the lush vineyards to the east and the gently rolling Hamptons landscape to the west, Wölffer Estate Winery is unquestionably one of the most beautiful and stylish on Long Island. Rivaling European wineries, the rustic, Tuscan-style building with its warm ochre walls, houses a lavish tasting room with imported stain glass doors, an expansive portico and underneath is the state-of –the-art winery – an appropriate foundation for the world class Wölffer wines created and nurtured by winemaker Roman Roth. . Known for its highly popular dry Rosé (“Summer in a Bottle” ), Wölffer Estate wines embody the region and reflect a classical style of winemaking, with a rich concentration of fruit and lively acidity. http://www.wolffer.com/

For more information – Long Island Wine Country: http://www.liwines.com/