Speakers' Corner: Communications

Pivot Green members are a vocal group who often send out correspondence to newspapers, politicians, corporations, and other environmental groups. Some samples of longer work can be seen below.

Make every day Earth Day: actions you can take to save our planet

April 22, 2022

 

With climate change in the news – or more specifically the impact of – it feels most days our fragile planet is top of mind, particularly on Earth Day. We here at Pivot Green suggest Earth Day is an opportunity to pledge to do something.  We can’t single-handily turn the ship around, but collectively?   We can try and, in the process, reap other benefits including feeling a little less guilty. The following 16 tips comes from the Pivot Green members. We hope you find an idea or two here that you can put into action:

 

  1. Walk, don’t drive to all locations within 5 km of your home. It seems minor, but you will be healthier, happier, and reduce your carbon imprint. 

  2. Put your blue box out only when it’s full to reduce the collection vehicle idling time.

  3. Buy everything you can in concentrated form.  Think orange juice plastic jugs versus compact cans in the frozen food section. Less packaging and more efficient shipping.

  4. Shop local – it benefits everyone by reducing environmental impacts, supporting communities, and providing good jobs for neighbours.

  5. Put a donut rim of mulch around your trees (If you are lucky to have them) to protect them from mechanical damage.

  6. Stop idling your car while waiting and skip the drive-through lane and park. 

  7. Stop investing your savings in companies that are harming the planet. There are many green stocks now available. And here’s a bonus…many of them are performing as well or better than other investments. 

  8. Donate your gently used clothing to your local Goodwill or thrift store and buy used clothing. Buying used clothes saves over 80% in GHG emissions. Buying less (in general) is also a great way to address the cost of inflation.

  9. Skip the plastic wrap by using beeswax sheets, bowl covers and reusable containers to store leftover food.

  10. Plant a tree in your yard or organize to have a tree/some trees planted where you live. Plan to water them for the first 3 years

  11. Reduce take-out food container waste by reusing the containers.

  12. Take a local holiday.  If you must fly, consider donating to Tree Trust to support legacy trees in your community. Legacy trees are carbon capture heroes.

  13. Buy and eat locally-produced fruits and vegetables.

  14. Check your fridge and eat leftovers before they become food waste.

  15. Join a local carbon-action group like Climate Action Network or other local carbon organizations.

  16. Make an appointment for a home energy audit to reduce your carbon footprint and improve the comfort of your home. Canadian service providers can be found here

 

Teachable moment

Lessons from COVID-19 can help us change the world by starting small, Derek Stephenson and Tom Scanlan write.

Ottawa Citizen

30 May 2020

During a recent interview, Samantha Power, once Barack Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, said that people overwhelmed by a monumental crisis often lose sight of how to enact meaningful change. Her solution is intriguing: “Shrink the change.” Try something manageable and see where it takes you.

Which is exactly what COVID -19 has us doing. We are responding to the need for major changes to fight the virus by making minor ones in our own lives — in how we work and how we relate to each other. We are physically distancing, staying at home and helping our neighbours, all for the greater good. As a result, we are also helping the environment: lower carbon emissions, less pollution and even some much-needed peace and quiet for West Coast orcas because boat traffic is down.

But now we are starting to relax the measures we’ve taken and, once the virus is on the run, factories will swing back into action, traffic congestion will return and global temperatures will start to rise.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We have fought the virus by listening to our scientists. Why don’t we do the same with climate change? It’s a pivotal moment, so let’s use the lessons learned from COVID-19 to pivot green.

Leading environmentalists are calling for drastic measures. But there is also a golden opportunity to pitch in by thinking small. Will it make a difference? We think so, for one simple reason: We’ve seen it happen before.

In 1976, we helped form an environmental foundation called “is five.” The name evoked synergy (the notion that two times two can equal five), and its strategy was simple: Mount positive action on a personal level. Help people reduce energy use, build a garden without chemical pesticides, drive less, eliminate waste. We launched dozens of projects. One of them caught fire.

Back then, to recycle glass bottles or jars in Toronto, you had to cart them to one of perhaps a dozen drop-offs across the city. Beginning with a few streets in the Beach district, we offered to pick up the glass if residents left it at the curb. Our recycling staff (of two) and their beat-up pickup were soon overwhelmed. People were so grateful that some left cookies along with their bottles. Before long, we were expanding the program.

From these baby steps, the world-renowned blue-box recycling program was born. Kitchener was the first to provide its residents with those unmistakable containers, which soon were seen across Ontario, then the country, before being exported to the United States, Europe and most recently (according to posters spotted in a rice paddy) Vietnam.

Was it a fluke? We think not. COVID-19 has shown governments everywhere that, faced with a common threat, people will alter how they live. Now the focus can shift to an even bigger threat, and many of the grassroots initiatives sparked by the crisis are worth preserving.

For example, a Montreal company is providing free bikes so essential employees can get to work more easily. Providing bikes to employees who live within riding distance as part of their benefits package could change travel patterns in cities.

In Toronto, a woman has started a small business connecting people who have lawns with others who are looking for a spot to plant a food garden. And, even before COVID-19, a west-end restaurant had started reducing its prices on Sunday to ensure it ended the week with nothing going to waste.

Both these initiatives could be replicated elsewhere. Food production has a massive effect on the environment, and no less than 58 per cent of all that’s produced in Canada is wasted. Reducing restaurant waste and growing food on empty lawns could have a major environmental impact. These are just a few small ideas with the potential to blossom.

COVID-19 has demonstrated how fragile life is. But if we can flatten a curve, we can pivot away from a lifestyle that is unsustainable. All we have to do is act together — and start small. Or, as Samantha Power reminds us: “The big solutions usually come through incremental change.”

Derek Stephenson was the Research Director for the is five Foundation and is now president of Strategy Matters Inc. He is a leading global expert on sustainable circular economies. Tom Scanlan is the former director of is five communications, and the author of seven elementary and secondary school urban geography textbooks.

 

An Old Dog Learns New Tricks: Applications of Social Psychology to Encourage Canadians to Conserve Energy

 

Peter Love, June 2021

For 50 years I have been involved in creating and managing voluntary energy efficiency programs, as well as managing agencies set up to design and deliver those programs. It is amazing to me that so few of the lessons from social psychology, and behavioural psychology in particular, are used in these programs.  Through both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I never took a psychology course and (although, like many, I have read a few of the popular books on the subject including Nudge, The Undoing Project, Fostering Sustainable Behaviour, and The Power of Habit). 

At age 70, I decided to change that and returned to university to take courses in psychology and social psychology.  I believe that two of the social psychology principles I learned about in my coursework—social identity theory and the theory of delayed gratification – can be used to encourage energy conservation.

Social Identity Theory Applied to Energy Conservation

Social identity theory explains why and when individuals categorize themselves as group members and identify with that group.  This then influences an individual’s self-concept which can, in turn, influence their behaviour.  Applied to energy conservation, the majority of people do not see themselves primarily as environmentalists but as part of one of many other possible groups.  While some of these groups are based on highly context-specific features (age, gender), others are based on characteristics such as family status (parents/grandparents), careers (professionals, union), activities (hobbies, recreation) or other types of groups.  

The messaging members of these groups receive from others in their group or in the media typically does not encourage these specific groups to conserve energy and likely does not even mention it as an issue.  The messaging members of these (non-environmental) groups currently see in most public media encouraging energy conservation is often focusing exclusively on the environmental benefits and thus not speaking to the core interests of their self-identified group. It is thus very easy for members of these groups to ignore energy conservation messaging. 

As noted by Calin O’Connor in the “Facts Aren’t Enough” podcast, when people do not see others whom they trust (such as other members of their self- selected group) behaving in a desired way, they will not change their own behaviour.  Furthermore, non-environmentalists are also unlikely to know that their neighbours may actually be conserving energy because such measures are not visible but hidden behind walls, inside appliances and in basements.  This is unlike the very popular blue box recycling program where everyone can see that their neighbours are participating and are therefore more likely to participate themselves.

Energy Conservation Approaches Based on Social Identity Theory

To address the barrier to increased energy conservation associated with the social identity theory, and also link energy conservation to an action that can help address climate change, a wide range of role models could be identified who support greater energy efficiency as a means to combat climate change.  These role models should be well known and respected by individuals within selected non-environmental groups.  The messages would be designed to link the core interests of each particular group with a related benefit that would come from halting climate change.  They would also focus on energy efficiency as something each individual can do to take action on this issue. 

Examples of actions based on social psychology would include:

  • call to parents/grandparents to leave a better world for their children/grandchildren;

  • call to gardeners/bird watchers/canoeist/cottagers/outdoors enthusiasts to protect wilderness and wildlife, hunter/fisherman about the loss of wildlife habitat through climate change;

  • call to farmers about the loss of crop land and water shortages, and;

  • calls from community leaders, sports and entertainment celebrities and religious leaders stressing humanity’s need to look after the earth. 

 

Such messages could be distributed to media channels popular with each different group.  Similar initiatives have been undertaken in the past although none have been as focused as this initiative. 

These approaches are similar to the Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain’s successful campaign to have environmentalists/cottagers/ hunters/fishermen/maple syrup producers/outfitters and others join their coalition in the 1980’s.  In this case, unique messaging was developed for each different group. 

A more recent example is a video produced by the UK group Climate Outreach which include short comments from gardeners, grandparents, bird watchers and soccer players on why they support action on climate change.  In this example, although the focus was on climate change, all these messages were contained in one video and not unique to a specific target group.

Theory of Delay of Gratification Applied to Energy Conservation

The theory of delay of gratification describes the act of resisting the impulse to take a reward immediately in the hope of getting a bigger reward in the future.  This theory impacts energy conservation behavior in two main ways:

  • to use existing equipment more efficiently (e.g. turn off lights, use programable thermostats, walk/bike, etc.) and;

  • replace older equipment with new more energy efficient versions (e.g. LED lights, EnergyStar appliances, LEED buildings).

 While newer energy efficient products will save money in the future, they typically cost more than the less energy efficient alternative.  They require consumers to wait a few years before they get their money back in energy cost savings. This period is referred to as the payback period.  While some studies have estimated this period to be as low as 3 years, it is believed by some to be as low as 1 year.  In terms of return on investment (ROI), a 3 -year payback period is equivalent to a 33% ROI and a 1-year payback to a 100% ROI which is many times more than can be gained by investing in stocks or bonds. 

Energy Conservation Approaches Based on Delayed Gratification Theory 

To address the problem associated with delayed gratification, instead of positioning purchases of energy efficient products as a cost, public messaging should position them as investments.  This means that instead of referring to annual energy savings or payback periods, savings should be expressed in terms of ROI.  

An example of this type of messaging has been used to compare the relative risk/return of energy efficiency in commercial buildings (low risk and hi return) with other investments such as government bonds (low risk & low return), equity in large companies (medium risk and medium return) and small companies (high risk and potentially high returns).   The results are illustrated in Figure 1.

Picture1.png

Figure 1: Relative Returns and Risks of Energy Efficiency Investments

Source: Love, Peter.  Fundamentals of Energy Efficiency (2018), p. 25 (adapted from Ehrardt-Martinez and Laitner (2008).  “The Size of the US Energy Efficiency Market: Generating a More Complete Picture”.  American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), Washington, DC.)

Another approach to address delayed gratification is to offer some form of visible recognition when someone buys an energy efficient product.  This could be in the form of a sticker (such as used when people give blood), lapel pin, certificate suitable for framing or a plaque for an entire house (as is done for LEED certified buildings).

Conclusion

Based on the research undertaken for this paper, it is clear that there is a large opportunity to apply social psychology theories to identify better ways to encourage more Canadians to conserve energy.  After spending most of my career on energy policy, reading relevant papers and attending key conferences, it is surprising how little recent research there has been in this area.  The main annual conference where these topics should be discussed (Behavior, Energy and Climate Change) seems more focused on identifying and reviewing best practices.  Most of the references on this topic in one of the most recent and well-respected textbooks on environmental psychology by Robert Gifford are almost all 20-30 years old.  This is very fertile ground for further research.

About the author:

Peter Love is a Professor at Yorkville University and an Adjunct Professor at York University where he teaches courses on energy efficiency and sustainability and has written a free on-line text book on energy efficiency policy and programs.  He provides strategic and policy advice and serves on several corporate and non-profit boards including Efficiency Capital, International Solar Solutions, Lightspark, Toronto 2030 District (Chair Advisory Committee) and the Royal Canadian Institute for Science (past Chair).  Previous roles have included Chief Energy Conservation Officer of Ontario and member of the team at Pollution Probe in the 70’s that developed the 3 R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle.

 

Reflections on the recent IPCC assessment report

Peter Love, September 2021

Anyone reading this has probably already read the key headlines from the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Sixth Assessment report,  such as Global warming is dangerously close to spiralling out of control,  Unless immediate, rapid, and large-scale action is taken to reduce emissions, and Red alert.  This note will therefore focus on six important reflections that received less coverage.

Here are the six reflections which have generally been overlooked.

1. The Authors – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a United Nations body established to assess the science related to climate change, with members from 195 countries. IPCC reports are compiled by thousands of atmospheric scientists, climate modelers, oceanographers, ice experts, economists and public health experts who work on a volunteer basis.  It is often cited as the biggest peer-review exercise in the world.  The IPCC does not conduct research itself but draws on thousands of published studies.  As scientists, where there is uncertainty or even a lack of definitive findings, they openly express this.

2. Changes from Previous Reports – The latest report is the Sixth Assessment, the last, the Fifth Assessment report, was issued in 2013.  The following is a summary of some of the bigger changes outlined in this updated report:

  • Human impact – It has moved from “warming is unequivocal” in 2007 to “human influence is clear” in 2013 to “unequivocal human impact” and “a principal driver”.

  • Temperature increase since 1850/1900 average – increase of 0.1 o C since 2013 to 1.09o C (with a range of 0.95-1.2) in 2021.

  • Global water system – from “likely affected” in 2013 to “high confidence detected changes in global water system” due to GHG emissions;

  • Extreme events – from “human influence detected” in 2013 to a full chapter on this issue in 2021 concluding that it is an “established fact that human-induced greenhouse gas emissions have led to an increased frequency and/or intensity of some weather and climate extremes since 1850, in particular for temperature extremes. Evidence of observed changes and attribution to human influence has strengthened for several types of extremes, in particular for extreme precipitation, droughts, tropical cyclones and compound extremes”;

  • When temperature likely to increase by 1.5o C – from 2030-2052 in 2013 to early 30’s in 2021;

  • Temperature history over last 60 million years (demonstrated in the figure below);

Picture1.0'.png

Figure 1


Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Technical Summary. In Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report, page TS-101

3. Impact of Warming – To some, especially in Canada, the idea of a warmer climate might sound appealing.  The previous IPCC report contained the potential impacts on food, water, ecosystems, extreme weather events and the risk of abrupt and major irreversible changes at different temperatures.  The following table (Figure 2) is from the Technical Summary, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis.

 

4. Models and Scenarios – The findings are based on the results from 23 models under five major scenarios that include a range of socio-economic as well as climate science assumptions.  The report emphasizes that they do not assign a probability to any of these scenarios as they are intended to present a range of likely outcomes.    

 

5. Mitigation and Adaptation – The report makes brief mention of these two main approaches to reducing GHGs but notes that this will be the subject of a subsequent report expected later this year.

6. Other World Issues – Perhaps not surprisingly, the report makes limited reference to other world issues such as wildlife/habitat destruction, air/water pollution, depletion of soils or national/international inequality.  It thus leaves it to others to decide where their issue should rank in terms of public importance.

Picture1.png

Figure 2    

 

Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Technical Summary In Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report, page TS-54

 

Reflections on COP26

26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties, organized by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC)

 

Peter Love, November 2021

 

I did not attend the COP26 meeting in Glasgow but will say at the outset how very proud I am that my oldest daughter was there and speaking on behalf of the B Corp movement in the UK.  I will assume that most of the people who read this have been following the discussions and have read many summaries so I will not repeat those here.  Instead, the following are a few of my reflections on issues that I consider of most interest.  As I think it is important to see what was actually agreed to, not what was reported to have been said, I have included direct quotes from the final pact.

The Final Pact

The final report is relatively short (8 pages) and written using clear language .  Officially called the Glasgow Climate Pact, it starts with nine acknowledgements of previous decisions and scientific facts re: climate change.  It then has 71 paragraphs, organized into 8 sections.  Interestingly, the wording of each of the 97 articles starts with a verb which is italicized for emphasis: urges, calls upon, decides, emphasizes, etc.  The order of these sections is revealing; it starts with “Science and Urgency” which is logical followed by sections on “Adaptation” and Adaptation Finance”, a clear signal of how important adaptation (reducing the negative impacts of climate change) has become compared to mitigation (avoiding/reducing emissions causing climate change).The fourth section is on “Mitigation”, the fifth is on “Financing, Technology Transfer and Capacity Building for Mitigation and Adaptation” and the sixth “Loss and Damage” returns to the issue of adaptation.  The last two sections deal with “Implementation” and “Collaboration”.  The final version is surprisingly different from the proposal recommended by the President of the FCCC on Saturday, November 13th with 29 of the original 97 paragraphs removed, a few major edits (discussed below) and a few added.

Adaptation

Article 11 “urges developed country Parties to urgently and significantly scale up their provision of climate finance, technology transfer and capacity-building for adaptation so as to respond to the needs of developing countries….” While strong, it is not as specific as a previous version of this paragraph which called for “at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation to developing countries.”  This paragraph was a response to compelling pleas made by developing countries who noted that it was developed countries who created the problem and demanded that more be spent on adaptation.

Impacts of Even Small Changes

Article 16 “recognizes that the impacts of climate change will be much lower at the temperature increase of 1.5 0C compared with 2 0C and resolves to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 0C.”  While 0.5 0C may seem small, the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report noted that “every additional 0.5 0C of global warming causes clearly discernible increases in the intensity and frequency” of severe weather events such as heat waves, heavy rains and droughts (Hello, BC!).

Revisit/Strengthen 2030 Targets Annually

While articles 17 and 18 “recognize” that further action is required to keep temperatures below 1.5 0C, the working is much weaker than the previous version which “requests Parties to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022.”  This would have been a major change as countries were previously supposed to submit new or updated plans every 5 years.  The final wording keeps the 5 year update in place.

Phase-Down of Unabated Coal and Inefficient Fossil Fuel Subsidies

Article 20 is probably the most well known of all the articles and is the one that India, with the support of a few other countries including China, sprung on delegates at the last minute.  It starts with a call to the transition to low-emission energy systems and ends with “… accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, while providing targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards a just transition.”  The five key weasel words here are “phase-down” (changed from phase out), “unabated” (thus allowing burning of coal as long as it also includes carbon capture, utilization and storage, CCUS), “inefficient” (very vague term), “national circumstances” (could be used to permit continued use of coal)  and “just transition” (acknowledging that coal and fossil fuel subsidies will be required during the unspecified transition period).  As many have remarked, it is at least the first specific mention of coal and fossil fuels by a COP meeting.

Meaningful Youth, Indigenous and Female Participation

Article 64 “urges Parties and stakeholders to ensure meaningful youth participation and representation in multilateral, national and local decision-making processes….”  Article 66 “emphasizes the important role of indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ culture and knowledge in effective action on climate change and urges Parties to actively involve indigenous peoples and local communities on designing and implementing climate action….”  Article 68, added at the end, “encourages Parties to increase full, meaningful and equal participation of women in climate action and to ensure gender-responsive implementation and means of implementation….”

Side Agreements

There were a number of announcements during the conference that involved various countries, including Canada.  These included the Powering Past Coal Alliance  (more than 40 countries agreeing to phase out use of coal to generate electricity), US/China joint climate change pledge to slow global warming, the agreement to end deforestation by 2030 (more than 100 countries including Brazil), Industrial Deep Decarbonization Initiative (countries would require green factors to be considered for the purchase of materials including steel), selling only electric vehicles by 2040 (agreed to by 24 countries and 6 major auto manufacturers) and the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (consortium of 450 banks, asset managers and insurers who committed $130 trillion to transition global economies by 2050).

The burning (!?) question I am left with is this:  Do we have enough time for the type of incremental improvements that were made in Glasgow, what Barak Obama referred to as “moving the ball down the field”, and others have referred to as “not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good”?   Or did we need stronger targets and REAL action now to avert the worst that might be in store for us?  I sincerely hope it is the former but there is a fear that it might be the latter.

Peter Love is a Professor at Yorkville University and an Adjunct Professor at York University where he teaches courses on energy efficiency and sustainability and has written a free on-line text book on energy efficiency policy and programs.  He provides strategic and policy advice and serves on several corporate and non-profit boards including Efficiency Capital, International Solar Solutions, Lightspark, Toronto 2030 District (Chair Advisory Committee) and the Royal Canadian Institute for Science (past Chair).  Previous roles have included Chief Energy Conservation Officer of Ontario and member of the team at Pollution Probe in the 70’s that developed the 3 R’s: reduce, reuse, recycle.