Lessons from EcoGather16 – Truth Hurts

Alberta Ecotrust Foundation has wrapped up a successful first annual Environmental Gathering. It was an amazing opportunity to hear from range of speakers and dive into discussions. Some of the insights are just too good not to share.

Stephen Carter, political mastermind and our keynote on Friday,  let’s start with you.

You were an enigma. No one around the table the next morning knew quite how to sum up your presentation. Now, you did call us weird in trying to change the world on a Friday night but I don’t think that was it. (I thought an evening with entertainment and making new friends was a pretty good way to spend a Friday night but I may need to get out more).

I think you did what a good speaker should do – make us question our thinking until it hurts. And there you succeeded.

People are (your word) idiots.

Gasps and snickers from the crowd. We thought you were kidding. We hoped you were kidding.

It was discouraging to hear and while not totally empirically correct it did make your point. Those words had to pop into our minds while listening to other presentations and workshops the next day as we heard from people battling the same challenges you mentioned:

  • People don’t get their news from fact-checked media anymore. No one knows what is true or not.
  • They look for the answers that support their decision (not make their decision based on the facts).
  • Getting people to change what they are saying doesn’t mean they will change their behaviour.


But with our minds now sufficiently opened to your reality I think we gained more from the next day’s information. Presentations on emotional intelligence reinforced the complexity of delivering message in a biased world. We saw the how multi-faceted and long term approaches are needed in a world where we are expecting a tweet to make a difference. 

What hurt us made us stronger. I thank you for that. And for an enlightening Friday night.

I do need to get out more.

Recommended Reading: The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt


Changing minds about climate change

The American presidential race, as entertaining as it to watch here in the relative safety of the North, reveals a distinct difference in ideals. The democrats believe climate change is a thing. The Republicans not so much.

Both parties’ candidates are privy to the journal articles and scientists or have advisors who can distill it down for them.  Yet in 2013, only 19% of Republicans connected the changing weather patterns to man-made climate change while 70% of Democrats did (YouGov poll). Canadians aren’t immune.  A Forum Research survey in 2015 found that Canadian conservatives were the most likely to deny climate change.

“Those who believe climate change is a natural phenomenon tend to be older, less wealthy and less educated, and Conservative voters in the prairies and Alberta.” Forum Research  

So why the big divide? It turns out we aren’t always making decisions based on facts.

Most republicans associate global warming with an alarmist environmental tactic that will derail business as usual. They are right, it will. But a skeptic’s denial is not always ignorance of the science. It is our natural inclination to seek evidence that proves what we already believe.

Psychologists call this a confirmation bias and it runs deep. Brain scans show pathways are formed in the brain hardwiring the pattern.  Changing the belief would be like relearning how to walk.

The most common question and discussions surrounding climate change at the Environmental Gathering Conference yesterday was how do we get people more engaged, better informed, and more aware.  Stephen Carter, political pundit, nailed it in his keynote. You’re not. At least not everyone. And not with just the facts.

Consider religion, another deeply ingrained belief.  A Six America’s study found half of Americans believe the world was created in literally six days. This mind set is not going to be swayed by science. But the recent speech by Pope Francis regarding climate change might.

Any change to a long-held belief has to shake us up viscerally in order to tweak our wiring.  Dr. Joe Vipond’s presentation on the inroads made by Alberta Coal Phase Out is demonstrating that a persistent, multi-faceted approach can work. But it won’t be easy.

Read more:

People’s views on climate change go hand in hand with their politics. The Economist, Nov 28, 2015

Faith, Morality and the Environment: Portraits of Global Warming’s Six Americas. Yale University and George Mason University. 2016


The problem with delaying the entry of Syrian refugees

It is even more critical now that we the bring in 25,000 refugees by January 1. The Paris attacks (and others this year) need to strengthen our resolve not weaken it.

This isn’t a business deal, a trade agreement, or a diplomatic exercise. Time is not a luxury they have.

Yes there are risks. We need to do what we can to mitigate them. If we need more resources to help screen the refugees than we need to allocate those. Now. Reinforcing fear is not constructive. We need action. We need to make it work.

Because were not completely innocent here.

The Black Swan and Antifragile author Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s recent article in Politico stated that drone attacks aren’t getting to the root of the problem. ISIS is training young people at an alarming rate. The proliferation of the network can be traced back to Saudi Arabia.

We buy oil from Saudi Arabia. We are their trading partners. This seems like a bit of a conflict.

An Esquire article, published the day after the Paris attacks, reinforced the hypocrisy of our alliance with Saudi Arabia. Charles Pierce noted that the United States has known about the funding of terrorists as least as far back as December 2009 when Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton released a memo that stated “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

Canada’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is considered friendly. Even going as far to say that “The Saudi government plays an important role in promoting regional peace and stability” on the Embassy site. No mention of the human rights abuses. Or that women aren’t allowed to drive. Or that a blogger Raif Badawi, with a wife and children in Canada, is in Saudia Arabia jail sentenced to ten years, thousand lashes and $300,000 fine for insulting Islam. They have funded the most powerful terrorist group we know. We are in bed with the terrorists’ investor. And now the start-up has oil reserves of their own.

As long as the growth continues and ISIS is able to train and indoctrinate young minds we will have a hard time beating this enemy. “The F-35 fighter plane will not stop a group of motivated murderous fanatics from detonating bombs at a soccer match…Tough talk in the context of what happened in Paris is as empty as a bell rung at the bottom of a well” states Pierce. This isn’t a fight we are going to win with drones alone.

We have financially benefitted from our relationship with Saudi Arabia and our political motives are at least partially guided by their oil reserves. Some of that money has ended up fuelling the very terrorists that we are now afraid have infiltrated the refugees that are, in turn, escaping from those same terrorists. What a tangled web.

There are over 4 million registered Syrian refugees. We can start with not delaying the responsibility for 25,000.


Tis just a cup

Why would there be any expectation of anything more than a logo on a coffee company’s cup? Starbuck’s simple red cup caused an uproar by some Christians who felt it was anti-Christmas.

Even the media shy Donald Trump weighed in to say he was cancelling the lease for Starbucks in his hotel because they aren’t putting Merry Christmas on their cups this year. Fact check for you Donald, they haven’t put Merry Christmas on their cups before – just snowflakes, decorations, evergreen trees and snowmen. None of which have any Christian connotations in the first place. (Decorated evergreen trees or Christmas trees come from pagan Winter solstice rituals).

Extremists getting their bible in a knot need to remember that religion is a choice. And no company has to legally or morally promote it. That’s what the church is for. Not coffee cups.

Call me Scrooge and Happy Winter Solstice.


Twitter- Red Cup

Don’t take a seat. Let the kids stand up.

“Sit still and quit fidgeting!”

How often did we hear that when we were in school? I know my kids heard it plenty but I don’t think it ever did much good. Kids need to move.

Turns out research has shown that the the “sit still” command is counter productive and possibly even detrimental.

Let them stand instead.

Kudos to a Saskatchewan Grade 1 teacher, Justin Sauer, who introduced standing desks to his class last September. In stories by both the CTV and CBC story on standing desks in Saskatchewan news networks, Justin reported not only improved attention span but positive reports from the parents as well. Another teacher in Toronto, also introduced standing desks when she found she was asking the kids to sit down too often. The standing desk turned out to be a great solution, even for the most hyper of students.

(Some of the comments on the CBC post were a little humorous though with people worried about the kids getting tired by standing that long. How soon we forget what a being a child is like.)

The biggest hindrance is probably not proving the worthiness of the idea. The research is pretty clear (no matter what the seated naysayers say). The problem may be cost. Justin Sauer efficiently converted old desks from storage into standing desks but not all schools may be that resourceful.

In the States, a movement to combat this may be starting, if the dynamic Tim Ferriss, the author of the 4 Hour Workweek and 4 HourBody, has any effect (he does). He recently posted a call for a movement to bring standing desks to schools in the United States. Research with primary school students in Texas A & M University showed that children quickly took to the standing desks and preferred them over sitting. The trial was done as a way to help alleviate the growing obesity problem but a welcome side effect was that the kids were more attentive too.

Ferriss is working  StandUpKids – a not for profit to encourage adoption of standing desks in schools. They are aiming to equip one school first and spread across the United States.

We need a movement like this in Canada. As a mother, I have seen my children struggle with sitting (and heard about it from their teachers). I moved to a standing desk myself after doing some research on neck and back problems. It makes sense.

Sitting at a desk is not conducive to learning.  Don’t hold them back. Let them stand up.


The Texas study is published in the International Journal of Health Promotion and Education.

Research on advantages of standing over sitting for obesity, ADHD, and learning.