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EnviroPod: Fairfax County’s Nifty Podcast on All Things Environmental

Adapted from the Public Works and Environmental Services website

The Department of Public Works and Environmental Services helps residents learn how to support the county’s environmental efforts. In 2019, DPWES launched monthly EnviroPod episodes, which air from Apple Podcasts.

Scott Coco of Communications Productions, Fairfax County has now interviewed county leaders on 27 topics of interest to naturalists and gardeners. Here’s a selection of particular relevance to the Fairfax chapter:

Episode 22 – Food-Scraps-to-Compost Program with Christine McCoy

Fairfax County’s EnviroPod

Christine McCoy, Education and Outreach Specialist, Solid Waste Management Program, talks about the new food-scraps-to-compost program. Residents are welcome to bring their food scraps to two locations in the county: the I-66 Transfer Station on West Ox Road; or the I-95 Landfill Complex in Lorton. More information is available on the county website.

Episode 19 – Stream and Watershed Health with Shannon Curtis

Fairfax County’s EnviroPod

Shannon Curtis, Chief, Watershed Assessment Branch, Public Works and Environmental Services, talking about human activity on the land and how that affects stream and watershed health.

To send topic ideas to the county, email SWPDMail@FairfaxCounty.gov.

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.

Find the list, ways to engage, and lots of resources here.

The UN asked musician AY Young to be its only US ambassador on behalf of the 17 SDGs–because he powers all of his concerts with renewable energy.

Fairfax County Community-Wide Energy and Climate Action Plan Seeks YOUR Input

Fairfax County is developing its first-ever Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) and your input is needed! Only three percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the county come from local government and school operations, the rest are from cars and trucks on our roads, energy use in our buildings, waste management processes, and other community sources.

It’s up to all of us to take steps, even small ones, to reduce our emissions so that our families, friends, neighbors, and future residents of Fairfax County are spared the consequences of climate change and can thrive in a clean, healthy, prosperous community. Join one of three virtual public meetings in late August and early September and take the CECAP public survey to share your opinions and suggestions. Your input will be considered by the CECAP Task Force as they make decisions about climate change mitigation goals, strategies, and actions we can take in the years to come.

Listen to Science Friday’s “The Climate Is Changing—But Can We?”

34:02 minutes

Ira Flatow’s Degrees of Change series has looked at some of the many ways our actions affect the climate, and how our changing climate is affecting us—from the impact of the fashion industry on global emissions to the ways in which coastal communities are adapting to rising tides.

Climate journalist Eric Holthaus and Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, founder of the Urban Ocean Lab, talk with Ira about creating a climate revolution, the parallels between the climate crisis and other conversations about social structures like Black Lives Matter, and the challenges of working towards a better future in the midst of the chaos of 2020. 

Join the Next Rare Conversation!

In June, Rare welcomed Sarah Stein Greenberg, Executive Director of Stanford’s d.School, for its first Rare Conversation on innovating for sustainability (43 mins).

In August, they will speak with Robert Frank, Cornell University professor and author of the book, Under the Influence, about the power social forces have for motivating climate-friendly behavior. Dr. Frank will discuss Can Peer Pressure Solve Climate Change?

Thursday August 13, 2020 | 2:00 PM EST
Register here

For FMN members: both talks are on the Continuing Education calendar.

Conduct a food waste audit for the benefit of your budget and the planet

According to End+Stems’ Alison Mountford, it’s hard to measure household food waste at the scale of the individual home. She reports that 40% of all food produced is wasted and that 67% of the we waste at home is edible. In other words, the average family of 4 is throwing out upwards of $2100 worth of food annually. However, few people can say how much they themselves are wasting, why they wasted it, or which foods are most commonly going to waste.

Because it’s easy to overlook what goes in the trash, she recommends a food audit similar to a food journal. For 1 week, you and your family/housemates keep track of all edible items that throw out. Afterwards, you have a starting point to make simple changes to your household norms and routine.

Here’s the plan and the advice in full, including a free worksheet and access to a Canva template so that you can see what you’re finding.

Ends+Stems is laying the groundwork to conduct the first study to measure how much less food you waste when you plan meals and shop from a tailored grocery list.  

Consider writing to Ends+Stems at hello@endsandstems.com with the subject line “Food Waste Audit” to be part of an inaugural study to truly change how we act for the planet.

Want people to adopt climate-friendly behaviors? Understand what motivates them.

Reposted from the Rare blog

Brett Jenks

In her column this week, Axios’ Amy Harder offers “confessions of an energy reporter,” and admits that even she — someone fluent in facts about climate change — isn’t likely to adopt climate-friendly behaviors unless she is incentivized economically to do so.

Harder cited research Rare conducted that identified seven behaviors which, if adopted by 10 percent of Americans, could help us meet our greenhouse gas reduction obligations under the 2015 Paris Agreement. These behaviors, drawn from the great work done by Project Drawdown, are things individual people and households can do — things like adopting a plant-rich diet, purchasing an electric vehicle, installing rooftop solar, and purchasing carbon offsets.

But Harder is skeptical:

Voluntary action can be helpful and inspiring. But ultimately most experts agree systemic change on a global scale — led by governments implementing economic policies — is necessary to adequately address climate change. So, I’m not losing sleep over my flying and eating habits — and I’ll only make big changes if the price tags get a lot bigger.

I loved Harder’s column for a couple of reasons. And not just because she referenced Rare, the conservation nonprofit I run.

First, she crystallizes what has been missing from efforts to drive individuals to adopt more sustainable behaviors — our understanding of human behavior and motivation.

Take the example Harder’s cites — a study that says economic incentives are more effective than moral persuasion at getting people to reduce their energy consumption. If you dig into that study, you’ll see it violates the cardinal rule of behavior change: failing to understand what motivates the target actor. The economists drafting this study attempting to “morally persuade” people with the following text message:

“Substantial energy conservation will be required for the society in ‘critical peak-demand hours’ on summer and winter peak-demand days, in which electricity supply will be very limited relative to demand.”

This might convince a robot, but it is far from compelling for the rest of us.

I would instead look at energy consumption studies that test messages that are morally compelling for the target actors.

Take, for example, this study which compares how much energy people conserve when they are told about the money they could save versus their impact on childhood asthma and cancer. Now, if people only respond to financial incentives, then we would expect to see energy reduction in the first case and no effect in the second. But what the study found is that people consume far less when they consider the health impact of their behavior on themselves and others. By focusing on, and taking seriously people’s motivations, we can achieve greater changes in behavior than simply focusing on economic consequences.

Second, her reflections include motivations outside of the moral versus economic dichotomy. As Harder points out, her own health, and her family traditions — not just economics — influence her decisions.

When I’m home on my family’s cattle ranch in Washington state, I eat beef almost daily. Burgers. Steak. Prime rib. Pot roast. Hot dogs. Meatloaf. Cube steak. You get the point.

So, what if those around Harder changed their behavior? Would she still wait for an economic incentive? Social science suggests not. After all, we are social animals who move with the herd. We all know what happens to the wildebeest who is left behind.

All this goes to show how our understanding of people’s motivations and human decision-making is the game-changer for driving personal action on climate change.

For decades, the environmentalist’s toolkit for promoting pro-environment behaviors has generally depended on passing laws and regulations, running awareness campaigns, or offering economic incentives or disincentives

But what if we could design interventions that are more closely aligned with how people actually make decisions and understand what truly motivates them? At Rare, we’re working to weave three strategies that take into account human behavior and motivation into the climate playbook:

  • Appeal to people’s emotions. People are predictably irrational. Using emotions, especially positive ones like pride can effectively drive people to adopt sustainable behaviors. We see that on display in spades in the study I referred to earlier. By understanding that people find health, particularly the health of children, to be emotionally compelling meant that appealing to those concerns was far more effective at reducing energy consumption than appealing to financial benefits.
  • Shift social norms. People are social animals. We move with the herd. Recent research into “dynamic norms” suggests that people are more likely to adopt climate-friendly behaviors if they sense that others are starting to adopt them — that norms are shifting. Take reducing water or energy consumption as an example. Numerousstudieshave found that when people are shown that they are consuming more than their neighbors, they reduce their own consumption.
  • Redesign the context around choices. Changing the context and timing around a decision can influence the choice a consumer makes. This is called “choice architecture.” Take switching to a green energy provider. A study in Germany found that setting the green energy option, which was notably more costly, as the default option increased adoption by almost tenfold. This default didn’t change anything financially but took into account that people’s choice is influenced by how that choice is presented.

We are in a golden age of understanding human behavior and decision-making. And the application of behavioral economics, psychology, and other social sciences is gaining steam. Just look at Richard Thaler recently winning the Nobel Prize for his work in behavioral economics. Or the proliferation of government offices designing interventions based on behavioral science, or “nudge” units, in governments around the world.

Don’t get me wrong. We do need systemic change at the international and national level. But let’s face it, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. And in the meantime, we’re not powerless. We’re not limited to voting every couple of years. We know individual behavior can have an impact. And we know that understanding human behavior and motivations, and designing behavior-centered solutions, is a way to get climate-friendly behaviors adopted.

Human behavior helped get us into this climate mess. Hopefully, our understanding of it will help get us out of it.

Virginia Master Naturalist Webinar: Sea Level Rise in Virginia

Sea level is rising faster in Virginia than along the rest of the Atlantic coast. Rising water levels bring flooding, increased erosion and shifts in plant and animal communities. In this webinar, we will explore the causes of sea level rise and how sea level rise is projected to change into the future. We will look at some of the impacts to the human and natural world and then discuss the possibilities and limitations of different adaptations.

Dr. Molly Mitchell is a researcher in the Center for Coastal Resources Management, at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. She has spent the past 18 years studying marsh ecology, change, and restoration practices in the Chesapeake Bay. She is actively engaged in both research and advisory efforts to help the state and localities to manage natural resources in the Bay and understand the impacts of different decision-making pathways. Her recent research focuses particularly on sea level trends and variability and their impact on natural systems.

When: Tuesday, May 14, 2019, 12:00 pm

Meeting Number: 279-703-359

Link to Join: Join Webinar

Link for recordings of this and past webinars:

VMN Continuing Education Webinar page

Photo: Dr. Mitchell measures water elevation in a living shoreline.

Photo by CCRM.