There are several really good documentaries about the growing scarcity of water worldwide and the boondoggle that is the bottled water industry–Flow: For Love of Water and Tapped come to mind, and you can watch them online–but The Story of Bottled Water lasts only 8 minutes, so you can share it easily. Start it on your iPad or computer at work and friends and coworkers will stop by to watch. Show it to your children or students. Post it to Facebook or Tweet to reach thousands more. It’s from Annie Leonard, of The Story of Stuff Project. In clever animation of stick figures, it explains how “manufactured demand” pushes a product we don’t need and adds mountains of plastic pollution to our environment.
(You can’t even feel good about recycling the bottles, as they are merely downcycled into lower-quality plastic that ends up in developing countries’ dumps.)
It has villains too–look at this quote by an industry executive:
And it has potential heroes: all of those who decide not only never to buy or consumer bottled water but urge others to stop the waste, too. Did you know that buying a $2 bottle of water is the equivalent of paying $10,000 for a sandwich? That’s because of the cost of extracting the petroleum that goes into making the plastic and bottles as well as transporting it and shipping them.
By all means organize screenings of the other documentaries–it is really important to stop the incredible waste of resources bottled water represents and to advocate, as Leonard says in the video, for access to clean, safe tap water for the 1 billion people who do not have it. They are apparently working–despite the millions the industry spends on making us think tap water tastes bad and that bottled water (frequently tap water itself) is safer, sales are slowing. This video probably helped. It’s had over 2.5 million views on YouTube. Watch it there if you want to be counted.
You may have heard this story on Morning Edition Monday; if so, you heard the expert say Obama will probably approve the pipeline, but many activists are trying to make sure he doesn’t. The story is very conservative, giving the viewpoint primarily of the oil companies who want to extract the tar sands oil and ship it to Texas refineries; so much for NPR’s liberal bias. It doesn’t give the many good reasons this hard-to-extract oil must stay in the ground, nor note that the oil is destined for Asia, not for the U.S. And it won’t lower gas prices at the pump, either. For all these reasons to be opposed to the pipeline, go to the story at NPR’s website and read the comments at the bottom. There are dozens, nearly all opposed to building the pipeline, and giving the reasons. Neal Jones, an early poster, summed it up this way: “It doesn’t bring jobs, it doesn’t bring oil security, it will increase gas price, and is more polluting than the traditional ‘sweet’ crude from Nigeria, the North Sea and Permian Basin.”
You can also go to two of my posts from last summer on why the tar sands oil must stay in the ground. If you’re convinced, and I hope you are, please go to the 350.org site and take the pledge to stop the pipeline.
Just as I suspected, the Frontline documentary “Climate of Doubt” was a little out of date. In its zeal to drive home its main claim–that a massive propaganda campaign by climate change denialists convinced the public that global warming was nothing to worry about–the program neglected the findings of a recent poll. According to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication it seems that the severe weather events of spring and summer 2012 woke people up: for the first time a majority of Americans believe that our actions are causing the planet to warm. The report says, “more than half of Americans (54%) believe global warming is caused mostly by human activities, an increase of 8 points since March 2012.” Furthermore,
Americans’ belief in the reality of global warming has increased by 13 percentage points over the past two and a half years, from 57 percent in January 2010 to 70 percent in September 2012. At the same time, the number of Americans who say global warming is not happening has declined nearly by half, from 20 percent in January 2010 to only 12 percent today.
So the skeptics and deniers are a shrinking minority. See the “Climate of Doubt” website for related articles that provide context and evidence supporting the documentary’s claims. The hundreds of comments on the program come from the usual mix of deniers and scientific realists; it is dispiriting to see how many of the former persist in sharing their willful ignorance in absolutist terms. But one commenter helpfully shares the name of a new group you can join to take action: Citizens Climate Lobby. Another group everyone should support is 350.org.
May 5, 2012, was the day to “Connect the Dots.” As 350.org explained on Saturday, “Today the world is stepping up to connect the dots between climate change and extreme weather – because climate change is too real and happening too fast to let our leaders continue to ignore it.” That was the motive. The method was to take a photo that illustrated the effect of climate change in your locale and to feature prominently a dot, so that others viewing the 1,000-plus photos on the Climate Dots website would see what havoc weather extremes–record droughts and floods, increased intensity and frequency of tornadoes and hurricanes, and rising sea levels here in the Pacific and in island nations–have already wrought.
Bill McKibben, of 350.org, which organized this, the third annual international day of action on climate change, once again draws out the significance of the mass protests in a blog post that appeared first on Tom Dispatch and was re-posted on Yes! Originally titled “Too Hot Not to Notice? A Planet Connected by Wild Weather” and in Yes! headlined “A Worldwide Effort to Make Climate Change Visible,” the essay makes not just the connection between climate change and its effects but an analogy between this causal connection and tobacco and lung cancer. There is the same denial (termed “skepticism” by the industry that stands to lose in each case–oil and coal now, the tobacco companies then) and a similar lack of in-depth coverage by the news media–until in the case of tobacco evidence was so overwhelming that the media got on board. McKibben makes it clear that despite the recent polls showing that a majority of Americans accept the reality that a warming planet is unleashing unprecedented disasters and want leaders to do something about it, a very real obstacle is the disinformation campaign emanating from the fossil-fuel corporations and the stonewalling of initiatives (such as a cap-and-trade bill) by the legislators they have bought with campaign contributions.
Therefore May 5 was not a culmination but a beginning. As McKibben writes, “It’s time for each of us to get involved in the full-on fight between misinformation and truth.” Tom Engelhardt of Tom Dispatch predicts that doing something about climate change may be a campaign issue, because people are starting to demand controls on carbon emissions (63%, according to a recent poll) and fully three-fourths of Americans support “regulating carbon dioxide as a ‘pollutant.'” When the president brings it up, you know he has read the polls. He quotes the president as saying, “I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way.” Engelhardt suggests that taking a strong position might help Obama get re-elected “if this summer and fall prove just as weather-freaky as our North American winter and spring have been, leaving Republican climate-change deniers and prevaricators in the dust.”
It won’t happen if we don’t keep the issue front and center. Join the movement at 350.org; there are several other projects in the works, including 350 Earth ART, which uses art to spark a global climate movement, and a campaign to end fossil fuel subsidies. A good description of 350.org: “our online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions are led from the bottom up by people in 188 countries.”
If you feel like your power as a citizen is insignificant because you choose your representatives every two years and the president every four, remember that going to the polls is just one way to vote. As the folks at the Better World Shopper remind us, “Every dollar you spend is a vote for the world you want to live in.”
One way to vote every day or at least every week: become a socially and environmentally responsible consumer. To find out which companies are ranked higher because they are aim for sustainability, protect animals, support family farms and local businesses, and/or follow the best human rights and social justice practices, order The Better World Shopping Guide, by Ellis Jones. It’s just $10 and small enough to carry around until you have memorized the best and worst companies in the categories you buy most often–from pet food and chocolate to cosmetics and coffee. Or use the website betterworldshopper.com, starting with the Best 20 Companies. Chances are you already buy products from some of these, like Tom’s of Maine, Method, Organic Valley, Clif Bar, Patagonia, Kettle Foods, Ben & Jerry’s. This will make you feel good, which will sustain you as you realize how hard it is to avoid supporting the worst companies: Proctor & Gamble, Nestle, Kraft, Archer Daniels Midland, GM, GE, and Tyson Foods, all among the worst.
The rankings of best and worst, from A to F (yes, it’s a kind of report card on businesses), are based on a myriad of reliable sources of information on corporate behavior, such as a company’s environmental record, contribution to climate change, donations made, fair trade sources, and ethical business practices. If you spend $18,000 a year on consumer goods and services (the American average), think of it as 18,000 votes for a better world.