If Polls Ruled: Would we continue to have freaky storms like Juno?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series If Polls Ruled

Snowfall recorded January 27 2014

Juno—the massive winter storm pounding New England—isn’t quite the historic storm the National Weather Service predicted. But climate change scientists attribute Juno (and the severe, variable weather we’ve had in recent years) to global warming.

If polls ruled, what would the majority of Americans want done?

In his State of the Union address, Obama heralded the historic agreement between the U.S. and China to cut or limit carbon emissions. A majority of the American people favor proposals to reduce carbon emissions, reports Gallup. In March 2014, 65% of Americans said that they favored “setting higher emission standards for business and industry.” And, almost as many (63%) favored “imposing mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases.”

These majorities, however, are lower than they used to be. Gallup’s data shows a downward slide in support for these two emissions proposals. In 2003, for example, 80% of Americans favored setting higher standards for business and industry, and 75% favored imposing mandatory controls on emissions and greenhouse.

Meanwhile, one of Congress’s leading global warming skeptics—Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma—just voted in favor of a resolution that “climate change is real and not a hoax.” However, he continues to scoff at the idea that climate change has anything to do with human activity.

Do you favor higher emission standards for business and industry?

Do you support imposing mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases?

Should public opinion set climate policy?

Your viewpoint matters …

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Thanksgiving: Is “mutant turkey” on the menu?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Thanksgiving
Turkeys in a turkey farm

A TYPICAL TURKEY FARM—This photo from Wikimedia Commons shows a flock of “Broad Breasted Whites,” the variety of modified turkeys that comprise the majority of Thanksgiving turkeys sold these days.

At the Thanksgiving table, what’s your choice: White or dark?

How about: Mutant?

Many Americans prefer white meat, and the nation’s poultry producers have learned how to breed large, fast-growing turkeys with lots of breast meat. In fact, today’s turkey is a giant compared to turkeys of yesteryear, reports Mother Jones.

In the 1930s, the average turkey weighed 13.1 pounds. This year, the average turkey weighs 29.8 pounds—and some male turkeys can weigh as much as 50 pounds.

That’s a lot of white meat!

Before the 1950s, the turkeys that found their way to the Thanksgiving dinner table were pretty much the same as wild turkeys. Since then, poultry farmers have breed turkeys to favor genetic traits for large size and fast growth. This results in more white meat, which consumers desire, but also produces birds that are so heavy they can’t support their own weight. Today’s giant turkeys are bowlegged and stooped. They are so big that natural reproduction isn’t possible and artificial insemination must be used.

What’s your opinion of factory farming?

To what extent do farming methods influence your consumption?

What choices do you make regarding Thanksgiving dinner?

Care to read more?

Each year, journalists report on the fate of turkeys nationwide. From an environmental perspective, you might want to read Mother Jones magazine’s first report this autumn, headlined “Butterball Goes ‘Humane for Thanksgiving. Really?“as well as the magazine’s more recent story, “Look How Much Bigger Thanksgiving Turkeys Are Today.” For an even deeper look into the farming and marketing of turkeys—with a stronger environmental slant—check out this story in the environmental magazine, The Grist, headlined “Calling Fowl: How to pick the most humane turkey for Thanksgiving.”

This is sure to spark conversation among family and friends, so … please …

Share this with friends!

You can share this with friends by using the blue-“f” Facebook or envelope-shaped email icons and asking friends to read this series with you. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them to spark discussion in your class or small group.

Star-Spangled Music Week: ‘Old Glory’ versus … a Panda?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Star-Spangled Music Week

Bao Bao the Panda at the National Zoo in Smithsonian videoIf you had to pick the most iconic symbol of America, what would it be?

Would it be ‘Old Glory,’ the Stars and Stripes that was raised at Fort McHenry in 1814 and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that became our national anthem?

A portrait of George Washington, the father of our nation?

Something or someone else?

All summer long, the Smithsonian Institution has run its Summer Showdown, asking Americans to vote online for the most iconic symbols from among the Smithsonian’s collections. The contest has four categories—science, art, culture, and history—and six contenders in each one. More than 90,000 online votes were cast. After three rounds on voting, the finalists in each category are:

  • Science—Bao Bao, the giant panda cub born at the National Zoo.
  • Art—a portrait of George Washington.
  • Culture—A photo of Woody Gutherie.
  • History—Old Glory, the flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814.

Of these four, the finalists were—Old Glory and Bao Bao. In the final throwdown, I predicted that Old Glory would win. After all, this September is the 200th anniversary of the birth of our national anthem.

But it’s hard to beat an adorable panda. When the Smithsonian announced its winner, it was Bao Bao. The cub was born in August 2013, and is one of fewer than 2,000 pandas in existence. Here’s a Smithsonian video about Bao Bao’s first year …

How would you rank the 4 finalists?
Do you agree with Bao Bao as the #1 iconic symbol?
Is there another symbol that stands out for you?

Pothole Nation: Your cost? You’ll pay $377

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Pothole Nation
TRIP national transportation research group

CLICK on this image form the TRIP website to read the group’s pothole report.

Today is Tax Day! The IRS tax filing deadline is a perfect time to talk about potholes, use taxes, and cost shifting. Politicians are afraid to raise taxes to maintain good roads, but are you getting taxed anyway?

This winter has been one of the harshest ever, taking a toll on the nation’s roads, highways, and bridges. American drivers are paying for it in frazzled nerves, aggravation, and money. Taxes may not go up, but you pay anyway.

Driving on pothole-riddled roads in urban areas costs the average driver about $377 per year in car repair, maintenance, additional fuel consumption, and worn tires, according to TRIP, a national transportation research group in Washington, D.C. That amounts to $80 billion nationwide. In the worst places, the cost is $800 per year.

In effect, these added costs are a form of use or excise tax. The more you drive, the higher your anticipated costs due to bad roads. It’s a form of cost shifting. You don’t pay actual taxes to a government, but you pay anyway for maintenance and repair. The only way to avoid this secret tax is to not drive.

But, all is not tax on Tax Day. Several stores and retailers offer freebies to offset the pain of Tax Day, according to an article in the Huffington Post. For example, Arby’s offers free fries (with a coupon), Boston Market offers discounts, McDonald’s offers a free small coffee in the morning hours, and Office Depot will shred five pounds of paper for free.

Have you experienced car damage or excessive wear because of potholes?

How do you feel about this secret potholes tax?

Pothole Nation: Who’s to blame?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Pothole Nation
New Orleans Brightmoor pothole

POTHOLES ARE EVERYWHERE! Think it’s a “Northern problem”? This monster is on a side street in New Orleans. Photo by Bart Everson, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

Do you have a pothole you love to hate?

Spring is finally here, giving us mild weather in which to enjoy the aftermath of the polar vortex: potholes. Tire-popping, frame-rattling, axle-snapping, backbone-jarring potholes. What’s the state of roads where you live? Who’s to blame for all the potholes?

The issue of potholes is a great values question because it involves so many principles and priorities. We loathe taxes but we want government services like durable roads. We can blame the potholes on local and state politicians, or the trucking industry, or poor urban planning, or global warming, or more. Maybe we just drive too much.

Michigan, my home state, spends less money per capita than any state in the union on roads and bridges, according to U.S. Census data. Neighboring states in the Midwest spend much more. But this hasn’t stopped the pothole problem in the region. Chicago has so many big potholes that a spoof appeared claiming that “missing plane found in Chicago pothole.” This was poor taste but it made a point.

A new poll of Michiganders reports that 28% blame the state legislature. Almost the same percentage (24%) blames Governor Snyder. Republicans are more likely to the blame the legislature, the poll finds, while Democrats are more likely to blame the governor—though they placed plenty of blame on the Republican-controlled legislature as well.

Fingers were also pointed at county government (9%), local government (7%), and special interest groups (8%). Only 5% laid blame on the voters. Twenty percent didn’t have an answer or were undecided.

What’s the state of roads where you live?

Where’s the pothole you love to hate?

Who’s to blame for all the potholes?

Dogs, Bees and Us: A link between cruelty to animals and humans?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Dogs, Bees and Us
The Humane Society of the United States website

VISIT The Humane Society of the United States website for more information. Just click on this small snapshot fro the HSUS website.

Cruelty is the dark side of human-animal interactions.

Did you know that there is no national accounting of cruelty to animals? We have uniform accounting, each year, of crimes against humans—but not so for animal abuse and other attacks against animals. The U.S. Humane Society (HSUS) reports:

“The shocking number of cruelty cases reported daily in the media is only the tip of the iceberg. Most cases are never reported, and most animal suffering goes unrecognized and unabated. Although there is no national reporting system for animal abuse, media reports suggest that it is common in rural and urban areas. Cruelty and neglect can also cross socio-economic boundaries.”

Despite the lack of national reporting, the HSUS has collected and summarizes a lot of data from media reports. And, if these reports move you to do something, HSUS provides a Take Action page as well. Of course, most of us are deeply troubled when we hear of such abuse.

And, my question today may add to your concern: Can cruelty to animals predict cruelty to humans?

Researchers are sure there’s a link, as Marc Bekoff summarizes in Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed, the book we’re consulting this week. He focuses on the work of Australian psychologist Eleonora Gullone, from her book Animal Cruelty, Antisocial Behaviour, and Aggression: More than a Link. She notes that “mild and isolated forms of animal cruelty may be part of normal exploratory developmental behaviour” in children. But “persistent or recurrent cruelty to animals” is associated with, precedes, and predicts later anti-social behavior, aggression, and violence toward humans.

Once again, the HSUS has helpful information, including various connections between animal and human cruelty. Here are some of them:

  • Animal abuse can reveal people who are also engaged in criminal activities, as well as reveal family violence.
  • Cruelty to animals can be a “warning sign for at-risk youth.”
  • One of the predictors of domestic partner abuse is cruelty to companion animals.
  • A history of animal abuse in childhood may translate into tolerance of interpersonal violence in adulthood.

Have you observed the cruel side of human-animal interactions?

Have you seen a link between cruelty to animals and to humans?

Dogs, Bees and Us: Are we more affectionate with animals than humans?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Dogs, Bees and Us

Rob Pasick book Conversations with My Old DogDo you know about Jane Goodall’s “Roots & Shoots” program? Founded in 1991 by the famed primatologist, it is a “program about making positive change happen—for our people, for animals and the environment.” Marc Bekoff, author of Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed, teaches for the program, and for years, has done so for inmates at the Boulder County Jail in Colorado. (All this week, we’re looking at Marc’s new book; you might also enjoy an interview with Bekoff.)

What does Marc Bekoff’s experience with inmates tell us?

“Many inmates find it easier to connect with animals than with people,” writes Bekoff. “Animals don’t judge them.” The inmates “trust and empathize with animals in ways they don’t with humans.” To model healthy relationships, Bekoff tells the inmates about the social behavior of animals who live in groups, such as wolves, and how they cooperate with and depend on one another.

But, I think, the observation that it’s easier to connect with animals extends beyond the prison population.

“People are able to express more emotions and physicality with their pets than with one another,” says Rob Pasick. A practicing psychologist and consultant, Pasick also is author of Conversations with My Old Dog.

We play with, touch, and talk to our pets in ways that are outside social norms for most human-to-human interactions. “Pets give us permission to do things that would be made fun of” otherwise, says Pasick. Pets can be “substitutes for interactions we wish we had with people,” but that society does not value, sanction, or permit.

Do you know people who connect more easily with animals than humans?

What does this tell us about society and what we value?