J500 Media and the Environment

Laugh and They’ll Laugh With You (Hopefully) by KaylaReg

I lived with the female version of Ras Trent for two years of college.

She was completely unmoved by what her brain was like on drugs or how she too could kill her younger sibling while driving under the influence.

Only one anti-drug campaign I know of ever made her stop and think, simply because it was so funny that she didn’t know what she was watching.

Like it or not, we live in a world of multiple and sometimes conflicting truths, where reality is often different for each person. In such a world, laughter can be the best tool for putting all of its complexities in perspective.

William McDougall, one of the theorists discussed in Dr. Jim Lyttle’s research on humor, claims that laughter gives us a sort of release from the stresses of living in a conflicted society. It’s why we laugh at the satiric hyperbole of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. We understand the absurdity of the movie because we see very real reflections of it every day, like Atrazine in our water and fast-food being likened to cocaine. When we can find humor in even what seems to be the most desperate of dilemmas, the situation can’t paralyze us in fear and we can still work to fix it.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure whether people are seeing much humor in things these days.

Consider this video telling us that if we don’t shape up immediately, global warming will kill our daughters and we will be responsible.

Buzzkill, right?

This is my very basic illustration of the paths of humor. Laughing at an out-group will set a norm for exclusion. Self deprecation will allow members of an out-group feel comfortable. Shared laughter creates a bond and sense of community between groups.

Such advertisements are just begging for parody from Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and John C. Reilly’s Green Team and the psychotic earth day spokesman. At least these videos make environmentalism look better than the “tree people” of this Ali G Show episode and it couldn’t hurt environmentalists to take a little ownership over such self-deprecation. It works for politicians, and few things are more political today than Mother Earth.

Since the political polarizing of environmentalism, the saviors and enemies of our planet are seen in terms of left and right, Democrat and Republican and who signed what legislation and who worked against it. Such absolutes construct artificial dividers of people based on opinions and affiliations, undermining the whole “we’re in this together” idea of the environment.

According to Lyttle, anthropomorphic and sociological studies have repeatedly shown that shared laughter creates a sense of community among diverse populations and reflects tolerance, acceptance and sympathy towards others. Remember what The Cosby Show did for defusing stereotypes and empowering the black community?

We can bash the Monsantos of the world all day and night, but it won’t get the average farmer to stop using its products. If anything, demonizing Monsanto products (that frankly help many farmers support their family) only excludes its customers from the conversation, throwing away any knowledge the group could have offered.

If environmental leaders want people to jump on the bandwagon, they might want to take a hint from the Huxtables and stop taking everything so seriously.

Green Police, a Super Bowl advertisement for a hybrid car, is a great example of how environmentalism can poke a little fun at itself and still reinforce a positive, progressive message. Jack Black’s Earth to America promotion encouraged me to be part of a movement towards progress, not a frenzy to stop a speeding train. I wanted to learn more about coal and clean air after I giggled at the Cohen Brothers’ This is Reality video.

Ultimately, laughter influences our attitudes, understanding, and brings people together better than any amount of finger-pointing or doomsday warnings ever will.

Swami Beyondananda argues that by embracing societal conflicts with humor, we’re better able to process its paradoxes and see solutions that fall outside of our normal thinking. No better example exists than America’s greatest humorist Mark Twain. By making us laugh at the often complicated and multiple truths of humanity, he completely changed American perception of slavery and racism.

So even though Ed Begley wants you to know that “there’s nothing funny about climate change,” I’m going to respectfully disagree. I’m sure we can find plenty of humor in climate change as well as everything else in life, and it’s something to be embraced.

Lighten up, principal Begley. It’s time to have some laughs.

-Kayla R.

Sustainability = Constant Change by Dave Dunn

My personal definition of sustainability is: Constantly lessening environmental impacts to the point where needs are, and will always be, met.


Leapfrogging, or Leapsheeping here

As I sit here in our office/basement for yet another afternoon of environmental videos and readings, I’m often distracted by our “new” bookshelf, and thinking about what the hell I’m going to do with the coffee table that’s way too big for our living room. But one thing that really stuck with me from the videos & readings was Steffan’s discussion about leapfrogging…and that’s the basis of my definition of sustainability.

Why not bypass older ways of doing things if they are less efficient, more expensive, and polluting, and go directly on to more advanced and/or environmentally friendly ones? It’s sad to think we’re sitting around with solutions to environmental problems going unused, like technology to halt global warming.

Can change happen overnight and the planet be eternally sustainable? Doubt it. The “constantly lessening” part of my definition portrays a realistic approach. It means utilizing all available technology and methods to reduce impact. Maybe we should no longer tolerate the excuse of ignorance .

On a individual level, my definition means lessening your impact every year, if not every month or every day. What really was struck me from Leonard’s discussion was that 99% of consumer goods are thrown out in 6 months. That seems to be one way to measure sustainability progress. And I believe in many ways being more thrifty is also just being smarter.

Our semi-recycled bookshelf

Our recycled bookshelf

In our case, our “new” bookshelf is actually our old desk (with the exception of a few pieces of hardware needed to attach it to the wall).

Scrapile storage shelf

Scrapile storage shelf

I used the other remaining hardware from the old desk and scrap wood from a friend to make a new shelf in our storage room. Now I’m thinking about what to with that darn coffee table.

Our recycling of household/building materials is no where near the level or ambitions of Scrapile of Brooklyn as discussed by Seireeni. And I don’t think we’re anywhere near the point of sustainable living to ensure needs will always be met. I don’t know what that point is, but if everyone constantly makes progress maybe we’ll never know…and that’s the point of sustainability, right?

-Dave D.

Sometimes this is “balanced”. by Dave Dunn
July 10, 2009, 11:43 am
Filed under: Energy + Climate, J840 Week 4, Society + Media | Tags: , , ,

scale I came home one night after the 10 o’clock news feeling good about the story I did, feeling like “I did my job”. It was a story about a complex and heated issue, each side got equal time, it was unbiased and balanced. But I knew the majority of people supported one side, including me…so did I do my job?

The story wasn’t about global warming, but it’s similar in that it’s also a complex and heated issue. (ha ha!) As noted in the AEVS Survey, while there is general consensus among the science community that global warming is real and about certain causes and potential effects, there are still some skeptics. But let’s say the ratio is 90-10. So to be objective and “balanced” in a news story dealing with global warming, should 10 percent go to skeptics and 90 percent to other side? Or maybe more considering the AEVS shows most Americans believe global warming is happening and are concerned about it? It definitely shouldn’t be 50-50, right?

I believe Journalists trying to pinpoint the weight/air-time/print-space to give each side can be a slippery slope. If you agree with John Merrill, that journalists are essentially nothing more than Circus Clowns, it’s asking for disaster. But as Iggers points out, journalists don’t get hired without experience and degrees in larger markets (like top 60 for TV, and of course–national networks & publications). And I believe in most cases these journalists are more, maybe not objective, but FAIR in storytelling. (I don’t know if there can be true objectivity across the board in journalism, unless we’re all robots or something.)

Thinking about advocacy journalism, if allowed whenever and wherever, news might as well turn into opinion (and/or blogs). But it may be more acceptable on environmental issues. I mean, who can argue that trashing the environment is a good thing? There may be a trade-off socially, economically, jobs, etc. And I think the other side needs to be acknowledged, but doesn’t have to get equal time. Advocacy journalism about the environment could be seen as just doing a good thing.

But as I go forward, if it’s known that the majority of people are on one side of any issue, I like it to get the majority of coverage. Is that advocacy journalism, or just fair and “balanced”?

-Dave D.

About Me: Trey Williams by TreyW

“Clowns”…”Bees”…”Those creepy twins from ‘The Shining'” That’s a sample of the answers my friends gave as we sat in the north dining hall of the University of Notre Dame reflecting on our biggest childhood fears, one of the many mindless dinner conversations we had in our college years. Given their relatively reasonable answers, I guess I should have been less shocked by the awkward looks I recieved upon revealing my biggest childhood fear.

“Global Warming” I said without even looking up from my flank steak. As the words left my mouth, I was so busy thinking of the scrawny boy in the early 90s who literally hyperventilated as he listened to Nick News’ Linda Ellerbee describe the rising tides and diminished food supplies that would result from Global Warming that I didn’t even notice the slack jawed gazes of friends. Had they known the boy rather than the man (not that they are all that different) they wouldn’t have been so surprised.

Nick News with Linda Ellerbee circa 1992

Nick News with Linda Ellerbee circa 1992

I spent most of my elementary school years on a military base near coastal North Carolina. With two working parents, my younger brother and I were free to run amuck in the pine tree forests and grassy fields of the not-so-deep south. When our parents were around, the four of us spent a lot of time breathing the salty air on the shore. It’s no wonder that I developed a love for nature before I was even 6. That love is what made the animated images of Global Warming on Nick News all too terrifying to a kid already prone to panic attacks and led him to form the “Clean Up Kids” at school and get his family to recycle…before it was cool.

Now 25, my fear for our world lingers. I’m too young to think that the world of the future is “not my problem.” God willing, I’ll still be alive when the world takes the turn that experts predict. Even if I weren’t around, I love my sister, only 12, too much to be ok with leaving her a pillaged planet.

Me and my sister at her dance nationals competition, Myrtle Beach, SC

Me and my sister at her dance nationals competition, Myrtle Beach, SC

I hope that my fledgling career in interactive marketing leads me to opportunities to innovate the way companies communicate. Though only a small piece of the puzzle that is reversing Global Warming, corporations have a civic duty to make the necessary adjustments to their operations to protect the planet. At least, that’s what Mrs. Ellerbee told me.

*Trey Williams*

About Me: Ian Nyquist by IanN
June 10, 2009, 6:50 am
Filed under: J840 Week 1 | Tags: , , , ,

I live with my wife, Tiffany, and our little Corgi, Winston (below), in an old house in Westwood that we are restoring. I manage electronic content, including web design, copy writing, and social media, for a non-profit professional organization, but I am more interested in literature as a vocation.


I am excited about this class because one of my first epiphanies about the power of words was related to environmental matters. Several years ago, it seems, that the phrase “global warming” changed to  “climate change” in the public discourse. “Climate change” sounds as threatening as adjusting the climate controls of a Cadillac when compared to the somewhat alarming phrase “global warming.”  I think this change in phrase was successful in that it made the debate seem less urgent and took some of the steam out of efforts by environmentalists to make more progress on this front. Later, I found out this wasn’t just happenstance. Republican strategist Frank Luntz coined the phrase through extensive focus group testing to try and re-frame the issue. The phrasing was adopted as official policy during President Goerge W. Bush’s term. Luntz has also pushed to replace the term “oil drilling” with the softer “energy exploration.” Words help shape perceptions — especially when it comes to more abstract issues — it would seem.


I would also like to share a story called “A Drop of Water” from a book titled Zen Flesh, Zen Bones that I think it is fitting for this class:

“A Zen master … asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath. The student brought the water and after cooling the bath, threw onto the ground the little that was left over. ‘You dunce,’ the master scolded him. ‘Why didn’t you give the the rest of the water to the plants? What right have you to waste even a drop of water in this temple?’ The young student attained Zen in that instant.”

–Ian Nyquist

Do you love your mother? by marybethw


How much do you love your mother? Enough to set aside a day to celebrate her? Enough to turn out the lights for her? Enough to rethink your food choices for a day? Well, starting in 1970 people across the country have held celebrations for her and, more recently, have started going dark, and looking more closely at their plates. 3393791445_e48e507470_o

Beginning in 1970, when the first Earth Day drew millions, groups and cities have started their own celebrations. When I was in high school, our Earth Club participated in Baton Rouge’s Earth Day activities. Although I have since attended activities, this year I am reprising that participation. As part of Animal Outreach of Kansas (AOK), I am going to participate in Lawrence’s celebration in South Park.

Recently, however, I’ll admit, I forgot to turn my lights off. In 2007, Sydney, Australia went dark; in 2008 others joined in across the globe. The 2009 Earth Hour goal was 1 billion people going dark on 28 March. The point? To both reduce greenhouse emissions by turning out the lights for an hour and to raise awareness of global warming.


Similarly, annually, FARM sponsors Meat Out, which asks people to go meatless for a day. While this event focuses on animal issues, doing as your mother always taught you, eating your veggies, can help the planet. Although this Saturday will be the city’s Earth Day celebration, AOK is also hoping to raise awareness of animal issues and the relation to other earth issues, such as global warming.

I’m looking forward to Saturday (fingers crossed it doesn’t rain!) and getting more vocal. I encourage you all to come out for some good food and good times. Come on, show your mother you care.

~ Mary Beth

Photo from: Flickr via Earth hour site

Methane Madness by meganr21

Every day some news story contains information on global warming and greenhouse gases – what they are, where they come from, and what their impact is. Despite all the coverage, people are still in the dark about many of the culprits of global warming. Let’s explore my favorite greenhouse gas and an offender responsible for it’s production. 

CH4 is a greenhouse gas most commonly called methane. When we hear the word methane, most people either think of natural gas, cows, global warming or it stinks. Termites aren’t even on the radar, yet some scientists believe that between 7-20% of the worlds methane emissions come from some species of these tiny insects.

 Just like in cows, methane in termites is a natural byproduct that is part of the normal digestion process. Plant matter like grasses and wood are hard to digest, so many animals have special bacteria in their guts to help break down food, the result – Methane.

While 60% of global methane emissions are thought to be a result of human activities, there are many natural sources that contribute to global warming as well. Besides termites, wetlands, oceans, the rain forest and soils are all natural sources of soils. 

So next time you’re listening to the news and someone is talking about global warming and greenhouse gases, ask yourself, ‘are they only talking about the most common human impacts or are they considering the natural contributions too?’ 

Megan Richards

Photo Credit: cartoonstock.com