About Me

This blog is primarily geared toward staff at the zoos, aquariums, museums (ZAMs), and other conservation education organizations that are part of our growing global network. We aim to provide you with cutting edge, challenging, and creative information, ideas, and tools to become as effective as possible at communicating about and for conservation with your visitors and the public.

See our ongoing communications research, or join our growing network, at The Ocean Project's website.

June 19, 2008

That Buzz in Your Ear May Be Green Noise

Alex Williams of the New York Times reports on the phenomenon of green noise - static caused by urgent, sometimes vexing or even contradictory information played at too high a volume for too long.

Two years after "An Inconvenient Truth" helped unleash a new tide of environmental activism, green noise pulses through the collective consciousness from all directions. The news media issues dire reports about disappearing polar bears; Web sites feature Brad Pitt arriving at a movie premiere in his hydrogen-powered BMW; bookstore shelves are piled high with titles like "50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth"; shops carry hemp-enriched shampoo and 100-percent organic cotton tampons.

An environmentally conscientious consumer is left to wonder: are low-energy compact fluorescent bulbs better than standard incandescents, even if they contain traces of mercury? Which salad is more earth-friendly, the one made with organic mixed greens trucked from thousands of miles away, or the one with lettuce raised on nearby industrial farms? Should they support nuclear power as a clean alternative to coal?

If even well-intentioned activists are feeling overwhelmed, the average S.U.V. driver must be tuning out. And some environmentalists fear that the public might begin to ignore their message before any meaningful change can be accomplished. For them, it's a time to reassess strategies and streamline their campaigns before it's too late.

Activists and nonprofits must shoulder their share of responsibility, too, for bombarding people with messages. "The groups that are trying to get them to change overwhelm them with information," said Diane Tompkins, a founder of the Curious Company, a market research firm based in San Francisco.

Read the full story.

For more interesting conversation on this topic, check out Dot Earth.

June 13, 2008

Tracking Ocean Legislation

E&E Daily reports that several major pieces of oceans legislation are on the move in Congress this year, ranging from coral reef protections to the Law of the Sea ratification measure, are unlikely to make it into law before 2009, senior congressional staff members and oceans advocates say. Ocean advocates assembled for "Capitol Hill Oceans Week" last week predicted that a shortened, crowded calendar in an election year may leave little room to bring many of their oceans bills to the finish line.

House and Senate staffers predicted some bills could move in the fall but that most of this year's work would be an effort to set things up for the next Congress and the new administration. "It is going to be very difficult to move legislation for the rest of the year, as we get into an election cycle, it is very difficult," said Senate Commerce Committee staff member Kristen Sarri. "A lot of it is laying the groundwork for the next Congress."

Ocean advocates said they would press for final passage for some of the bills as part of the flurry of bills that Congress is likely to take up in its closing weeks after the August break. But they acknowledged it may be an uphill climb for the rest of the year. "It's a presidential election year and we've got a shortened, and let's face it, highly politically charged calendar, so we have to have modest expectations," said Christopher Mann, senior environment officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts. "The clock runs out pretty quick," said House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans staff member Dave Jansen.

Lawmakers introduced a tidal wave of oceans initiatives over the past two years, spurred in part by recommendations from the Joint Oceans Commission Initiative and reports from its predecessors, the Pew Oceans Commission and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

Science Playing Limited Role in Stem Cell Debate

A upi.com story begins by suggesting that, when forming attitudes about embryonic stem cell research, people are influenced by a number of things. But understanding science plays a negligible role for many people.

“More knowledge is good - everybody is on the same page about that. But will that knowledge necessarily help build support for the science?” says Dietram Scheufele. “The data show that no, it doesn’t. It does for some groups, but definitely not for others.”

Along with Dominique Brossard and Shirley Ho, Scheufele used national public opinion research to analyze how public attitudes are formed about controversial scientific issues such as nanotechnology and stem cells. What they have found again and again is that knowledge is much less important than other factors, such as religious values or deference to scientific authority.

“Highly religious audiences are different from less religious audiences. They are looking for different things, bringing different things to the table,” explains Scheufele. “It is not about providing religious audiences with more scientific information. In fact, many of them are already highly informed about stem cell research, so more information makes little difference in terms of influencing public support. And that’s not good or bad. That’s just what the data show.”

On the other hand, a value system held by a much smaller portion of the American public works in just the opposite direction. The attitudes of individuals who are deferential to science - who tend to trust scientists and their work - are influenced by their level of scientific understanding.

This theme is similar in some ways to what The Ocean Project has found in the past on ocean public opinion research. Knowledge does not automatically equal changes in attitudes and behaviors/nor support for one's cause, clearly.

Environmental Skeptics Are Overwhelmingly Politicized

Ben Block reports that a review of environmental skepticism literature from the past 30 years has found that the vast majority of skeptics, often identified as independent, are directly linked to politically oriented, conservative think tanks.

The study, published in this month's issue of Environmental
, analyzed books written between 1972 and 2005 that deny the urgency of environmental protection. The researchers found that more than 92 percent of the skeptical authors were in some way affiliated to conservative think tanks - non-profit research and advocacy organizations that promote core conservative ideals.

The authors say skeptics have every right to voice their opinion. But the statements of a few think tank-supported experts should not be regarded as equal to scientific findings that have been vetted through an intense peer-review process, they say. "We want to allow a cacophony of voices in public policy," Jacques said. "Where we get into problems is where we fail to evaluate the voices; we fail to evaluate the merit of the claim."

Read the full article at the Worldwatch Institute website.

What Condoms Have to Do with Climate Change

Bryan Walsh of Time Magazine reports:

As the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gen. Michael Hayden should have some insight on the biggest threats facing the U.S. But when Hayden recently described what he saw as the most troublesome trend over the next several decades, it wasn't terrorism or climate change. It was overpopulation in the poorest parts of the world. "By mid-century, the best estimates point to a world population of more than 9 billion," Hayden said in a speech at Kansas State University. "Most of that growth will occur in countries least able to sustain it." The sheer increase in population, Hayden argued, could fuel instability and extremism, not to mention worsening climate change and making food and fuel all the more scarce. Population is the essential multiplier for any number of human ills.

Back in the 1970s, Hayden's argument wouldn't have been surprising. That era, which saw the birth of the modern environmental movement (the first Earth Day was observed in 1970), was obsessed with the idea of global limits, that without drastic intervention, we were doomed to overpopulation. Books like Paul Erhlich's The Population Bomb warned that the Earth was reaching the end of its carrying capacity, and that within decades, hundreds of millions of people would starve to death. The only way to avoid this Malthusian fate was rigid population control, which many environmentalists were in favor of.

Fast-forward 30 years, however, and the situation has changed. The mass famines that Erhlich and others prophesized never happened, and while population growth has continued — an estimated 6.8 billion people now live on Earth — and on the whole, the world is better off today than it has ever been. A Green Revolution helped a growing planet feed itself, while the forces of globalization helped lift hundreds of millions in the developing world out of poverty, even as population continued to rise. As the years passed, overpopulation has dropped from the vocabulary of most environmentalists, partially due to the controversies that surrounded state-mandated birth control in countries like China, with its one-child policy. Though simple arithmetic will tell you that the bigger the global population becomes, the harder it will be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, you rarely see the population connection made explicit in major environmental reports. "Environmentalists came to realize how complicated and sensitive this issue was," says Robert Engleman, vice-president for programs at the Worldwatch Institute, and the author of the new book More: Population, Nature and What Women Want. "People didn't want to tell their neighbors and friends how to have kids."

Read the full article on-line.

Investigate More, the book.

June 12, 2008

Leatherback Turtles in the News

The New York Times reports that for the first time since the 1930’s, federal biologists confirmed that a leatherback sea turtle has nested on a Texas beach, at the Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi.

Last Friday, staff conducting a beach patrol found turtle tracks and a few exposed eggs. They were thought at first to be those of a green turtle. But the eggs and the width of the tracks, more than six feet across, were later determined by a park biologist, Cynthia Rubio, to be from a leatherback. The giant, ancient, endangered turtles, some the size of a Smart Car, have until now only been known to nest in four spots in the United States – with about three dozen females a year laying eggs on beaches along the east coast of Florida and slightly larger nesting populations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. There is evidence of nesting in North Carolina as well.

Wednesday also saw a champion in the “Great Turtle Race,” in which students and turtle fans tracked the meanderings of 11 radio-tagged leatherbacks in the Pacific Ocean. The first to reach the International Date Line was a turtle named Saphira II, sponsored by the Bullis Charter School of Los Altos, Calif.

The Census of Marine life reorts that following in the wake of a last year's Great Turtle Race success, the Great Turtle Race II: The Olympiad is being followed by school kids around the world. The race tracks eleven critically endangered Pacific leatherback turtles as they migrate from breeding grounds in Indonesia to foraging grounds out in the Pacific Ocean, or from the California coast to breeding sites in Indonesia.

Organized by TOPP, the Leatherback Trust, Drexel University, The Global Cause Foundation, and the Sea Turtle Restoration project and supported and sponsored by an international assemblage of conservation groups, public agencies, and educational institutions, the Great Turtle Race II aims to educate the public about the life cycle, migrations and ecology of the leatherback sea turtle, as well as efforts to conserve this 100 million year old species. To view the race, root on your favorite turtle, learn more about leatherbacks and conservation efforts, or get involved please visit: The Great Sea Turtle Race II.

June 11, 2008

Targeting Behavior Workshop

What is Targeting Behavior?

Conservation International’s Targeting Behavior methodology is a systematic approach to research and participatory planning that empowers people to identify targeted learning needs and develop practical and integrated solutions. Programs are designed to target key audiences who can leverage conservation action in priority areas across the globe, including communities, businesses, governments and the urban public. Targeting Behavior strategies combine the research methods and targeted messaging used by social marketing campaigns, the development of creative and experiential learning tools used by education and training programs, the use of mass communications to effectively reach many people, and the ability to influence policy and business practices through advocacy.

All in all pretty well aligned with the Ocean Project mission. As a result, The Ocean Project is pleased to announce that Conservation International will be teaching a short course, entitled Targeting Behavior: Designing Programs to Catalyze Conservation Action, at the Society for Conservation Biology’s Annual Meeting in Chattanooga, Tennessee July 11-13, 2008. Further description and registration is available at SCB’s website.

World Ocean Day 2008

World Ocean Day passed with record high temperatures for June 8th in much of the northeast United States. Just another favor of Mother Nature to get us all to the ocean. Many organizations registered their event with the Ocean Project's World Ocean Day Event List service. Stories of fun times had continue to pour in from around the world. Check out these two event pictures from the USA and Costa Rica:

One of many captured moments of fun and frolic for the sake of the ocean sent from The Ocean Project's partners

The beach communities surrounding Playas del Coco, Guanacaste, Costa Rica, collaborated to celebrate World Ocean Day 2008. Marine artist, Carlos Hiller, with the help of more than 70 local children (working through nonprofit children's association, Proyecto de Luz), created this beautiful community mural.

And, of course, start making plans for next year.