BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- NOVEMBER 2019 


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More Worrying Environmental News - Now What?

The reports just keep rolling in, each adding to mounting evidence of humankind’s treading on perilous ground. But, as the just concluded ”UN COP25 Conference” in Madrid has made clear, contemporary action is unpromising.

The recently released “NOAA Arctic Report Card 2019” from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce is hugely sobering. Perhaps not so surprising is its showing of record levels of melting sea ice and of glaciers on land, all happening at an accelerating rate. (There is an enormous mass of water going into the ocean every second from Greenland alone, feeding into the rise in oceans globally.) However, this report is most striking in that it presents evidence that permafrost is indeed becoming the much-dreaded magnifier of climate change. (The permafrost thawing is releasing lots of extra carbon into the atmosphere as CO2 and methane.)

Evidence of fish species decline and migration is also unnerving. The changes are affecting the entire ocean ecosystem, thus impacting the humans that depend on the fishing industry for sustenance in their historically fixed geographic locales.

The international “Emissions Gap Report 2019” is similarly discouraging. This annual global report informs us about where greenhouse gas emissions are heading versus where they need to be if the world is to get back on track towards the previously stated goal of holding temperature rises close to 1.5 degrees Celsius. For meeting that goal, then emissions need to fall by 7.6 per cent each year over the next decade!

The really bad news of this latest report from the UN Environment Program is this:  At the current trajectory, we seem to be headed toward a temperature rise of over 3°C. That amount of change forecasts vast mass extinctions and large parts of the planet becoming uninhabitable. The report’s good news is that technologies and policy knowledge already exist to cut emissions. However, transformations must begin now to close the #EmissionsGap.

Given the intensifying evidence from various scientific bodies, humanity needs to supercharge its #ClimateAction ambition immediately. As a constituency of individuals, we Brights can endeavor to keep ourselves informed of what is happening, and of what is required of the citizenry. Then, we each can decide how best we personally will pursue and propel positive movement within our own spheres of influence.

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Anti-Science Thwarting Knowledge

It’s pretty clear that we in the constituency of Brights are not looking to paranormal agency, or to supernatural entities, or to divine revelation for our explanations of these changes in nature. Instead, like brights of all stripes across the globe, we view the methods of science as the best means by which humanity can learn what is actually happening in the world.

Consequently, many of us are probably paying quite serious attention to the escalating evidence that is being provided to the global public by means of contemporary scientific enterprise.

It should be disturbing, however, that not everyone is paying that type of intense attention to what science has to say. Even more troubling may be the fact that science itself is under actual assault in certain places, principally in the United States. Some European analysts, looking for causation, have presented the basis as one of ideology.

Whatever the source of climate change denial in the U.S., it is clear that numerous Americans carry the view that, despite what science says, the reported climate changes are not to be of any concern. These changes are not recognized as human-caused, or simply thought of as not occurring at all! (Often heard is: “the climate has always changed!”)

Moreover, there are actually legislators and policymakers within government agencies who not only publicly disavow climate change but actively work to undermine the very scientific activities established to yield reliable public information. Attacks on independent government science within the U.S.  have worsened to the degree that momentum is building for bipartisan congressional action to create national safeguards that will ensure the proper role of science in policymaking ("Scientific Integrity").

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Changing Human Minds

Overall, it appears that mind’s may not be easily changed. It is, to some extent, the nature of human beings with which one must reckon in any effort to change someone's mind.

Research is still somewhat mixed on the relative value of providing anecdotal stories/testimonials vs. offering statistical evidence in persuading others to abandon fallacious narratives. So, what do we Brights personally do to bolster scientific understanding and/or counter efforts to discredit the scientific consensus about climate change?

Perhaps we start by acknowledging the difficulty of the task, recognizing that fellow citizens are not likely to be “argued out” of their beliefs. The long-deceased American social psychologist Leon Festinger is noted for describing the challenge, saying:

“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” 

Given the difficulty of awakening fellow citizens to the reality that science is presenting, the good news for Brights is that relatively new players have come forward, directly addressing the difficulty of changing minds in order to reduce the prevalence of the climate denial that is undercutting science. For example, the Ensia journalistic network is providing media content exactly toward that end. It states:

“Today, in a world where the media and the very idea of truth are under attack, Ensia represents a credible, nonpartisan voice shedding light on how we address the challenges we face living on a planet as the environment changes around us.”

Recent events offer further cause for some degree of optimism. 

Settled worldviews are undergoing some changes. Long-accepted narratives are being reconsidered (e.g., as established environmental organizations have begun to re-think their relationships to corporate powers).

Even the visual image of the planet from space is now being challenged. Its amorphous top-down picture may in some sense undercut the type of ground-based efforts that are sorely needed to close the emissions gap.

Localized activism efforts are in fact emerging with new vitality (e.g., as indigenous peoples rise up against resource grabs).

But...  Psychologist Festinger, again:

“We have all experienced the futility of trying to change a strong conviction, especially if the convinced person has some investment in his belief. We are familiar with the variety of ingenious defenses with which people protect their convictions, managing to keep them unscathed through the most devastating attacks.”

So, must we Brights, as so many are now demanding, do something?  To a large extent, “Mother Nature” is prompting action. Still, whatever we each decide is best to do, however we choose to proceed, it helps to strongly consider the “human nature” challenges we will confront. 

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Human Morality in Action

>> Thoughts and Prayers: Any Moral Value?

After mass shootings and wild fires, tornados and hurricanes, there is often increased public debate over the value of "thoughts and prayers" as being useful (or not useful) response. 

New research by a University of Wyoming economist indicates that people who offer prayers for victims of natural disasters may be less likely to donate to those victims. The tentative explanation offered? Religious people believe that prayer directly impacts other people's well-being—in other words, the belief is that prayer itself is a "moral action" similar to a charitable donation. Consequently, prayers can serve as a substitute for donations.

This new study “Thoughts and Prayers: Do They Crowd Out Donations?” found that people who prayed for hurricane victims before donating gave less than they would have otherwise. Those who prayed believed that prayers improved the victims' well-being, and they donated less. (The results are not fully conclusive since offering only small donation amounts as options showed no impact.)

>> Moral Motivations vs. Perceived Efficacy

The aforementioned study cites other social science studies regarding the economic value felt by disaster victims. One such study, “The Value of Thoughts and Prayers” had found that perceived help actually varies depending on the victims themselves. While Christian hurricane victims perceive significant help from prayers on their behalf, the atheist and agnostic victims feel otherwise. These folks without god-belief are actually “prayer-averse” - if the prayers come from Christians. They consider the “help” to carry negative value (i.e., in a sense, they’re “willing to pay to avoid” receiving such prayers.)

To quote from the co-authors’ conclusions: “While Christians value such gestures from fellow believers, nonreligious people negatively value such gestures from Christians and are indifferent to receiving them from other nonreligious people.”  They are considering the “help” to have negative monetary value (i.e., in a sense, they’re “willing to pay to avoid” receiving such prayers.)

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BC’s Own “Human Interest” Story

As was conveyed in last month’s bulletin, we at Brights Central are delighted to be back in action with another round of evolution poster disseminations.

Pictured here is Brandi (a frequent visitor to BC). She is taking a “look” at some of the mailing tubes that Kelly, who holds the projects coordinator position at BC, has gathered for a round of roll-ups of the Earth and Life: changes over time poster, a necessary step in making them ready for mailing.

Kelly is very hands-on in her Poster Project capacity, and as BC resumes the disseminations, it is here that a unique talent of hers has once again come to the forefront: Kelly can roll up a 5 ½ foot-wide poster like no one else. In her hands, the item receives a very snug placement within its narrow mailing tube without any wrinkling, and she can also roll into the mailing a nice “Thoughts on Use” handout The additional item a resource for the teacher, offering helpful guidance for the poster's curricular use. Again, no crumpling. No one else seems able to co it! 

* A brief trial of the next size larger tube size to “make the job possible (for anyone)” had to be abandoned since, with that method, the poster actually was at greater risk. It required the use of packing material to prevent damage to the poster in transit.

Now that we have abundant posters stacked in the office along with plenty of corresponding mailing tubes, we at BC acknowledge having directed all Poster Project funds to the printing and mailing tubes. Now we will welcome from interested Brights the separate support needed to send these posters on their way to teachers.

With just a $20 donation toward domestic postage for mailing, you will ensure that well over 1500 students will, across 3 years of poster use under the guidance of their dedicated teachers, be helped to acquire a richly exacting naturalistic understanding of life.

(The 3-year term is estimated for normal wear and tear, if the poster is not professionally laminated, although many teachers will immediately upon its receipt, choose to have that task done.) 

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An Occasional “Close Encounter” (USA)

Brights Central has another tale from the office that is less pleasing to report.  

Reason: Through the Brights’ Poster Project, we at BC just do not often encounter a high school biology teacher loathe to teach about evolution. However, this past week we heard from a teacher that was not so happy to learn about our free instructional resource, the Earth and Life: changes over time poster. This Californian was displaying doubt about the legitimacy of perpetuating the concept of evolutionary change, saying: “Evolution is a theory in crises!”[sic].

Evolution is, of course, a bedrock principle of biology.

Here at BC, our communications with high school science teachers are almost wholly with those desiring their pupils to thoroughly understand evolutionary explanations. These are the instructors who are decidedly enthusiastic about our unique visual resource for teaching the subject. So, it is not often (and therefore disturbing) when we do encounter a “biology teacher” (scare quotes) who simply does not, in our view, fit the definition.

Last week's experience was simply providing us a data point in the disturbing statistics about high school biology teaching in the United States. We want to remind Brights of the Penn State study that had revealed the apalling extent of American high school biology teachers’ disinclination to teach about evolution. The study’s authors had examined data from the National Survey of High School Biology Teachers, noting: "Considerable research suggests that supporters of evolution, scientific methods, and reason itself are losing battles in America's classrooms." A Science News article had summarized the aforementioned study, concluding that science was being weakened by science teachers themselves.

One of the authors to the aforementioned study has gone further in investigating classroom science, and it appears now that some of the same problems of teaching authentic scientific civic literacy are now extant in teaching about climate change.

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When Shopping Boosts Your Charitable Giving

December is a good time to remind you that The Brights' Net is both a USA tax-exempt 501c3 nonprofit organization (Federal Tax ID Number 56-2385064) and a USA charity registered at iGive.com.

This means that you have plenty of "free" charitable giving potential through whatever shopping you may do. You can reach over 2,300 different stores that sell online while simultaneously benefiting the Brights initiative with the purchases you make. 

And, though the reminder may come in December; it works in the New Year and beyond, too!

The nonprofit commission percentages vary by company, but most anything purchased online via the iGIve link sends along a percentage of the sale – at NO additional cost to you! 

The starting point is taking a few steps to register your future shopping efforts via the Brights' iGive page. It is a [mostly] painless way to spread some cheer to the Brights' endeavor while doing online shopping. Your friends may do this, too!

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Showing Our Stuff!

Among other items in The Brights Kiosk (at Zazzle), you’ll find this handy "Living on the Bright Side of Life” organic materials grocery tote. Watch for sales!

Lots more swag (barware, stickers, frames, apparel awaits you at The Brights' Shop (at Cafe Press). Shown below is an automobile license plate frame (the URL for the website is available if it should be of interest to any onlookers.)

Please note that all the items of Brights’ merchandise offered to you through these commercial outlets are provided as a service to members of the constituency. This means that Brights Central has opted for the minimal percentage markup allowed by those companies. There are a few items available direct from Brights Central, and these are offered at cost.

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