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Christie Aschwanden's Posts


Want to save the planet? Shrink your habitat — not just your apartment

map with pinA few weeks ago, internet millionaire Graham Hill wrote an essay for The New York Times about the virtues of “living with less.” Hill explained that he has but a scant six shirts and 10 “shallow bowls” in his 420-square foot New York studio -- a lifestyle familiar to many non-millionaires in Manhattan. He raved about how much happier and more simple his life became after he ditched the 3,600-square-foot Seattle residence, the SoHo loft, the turbocharged Volvo, and personal shopper. Thus unencumbered, he traveled the world with Olga, an “Andorran beauty.” His life was full of love and adventure.

As Hamilton Nolan wrote at Gawker, “It's easy not to have material things when you can just buy whatever you need, whenever you need it.” And while Hill tells us that consumerism is “pushing our planet to the brink,” he admits to at least one lingering climate sin -- a not-so-little travel habit.

I’m in no position to scold. I was once a frequent flier too. As the daughter of a pilot, I spent the first 30 years of my life jetting around the globe, never stopping to consider the climate consequences of my travel habit. Then, two years ago, I decided to quit cold turkey during an experiment that turned my world inside out.

My pledge was simple: to spend a year staying put. I swore off air travel and drew a 100-mile radius circle around my little farm in western Colorado. For 365 days, I’d live inside this “100-mile habitat.”

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


The anatomy of denial: Why truth doesn’t always win

Photo by Ian Pattinson.

Cross-posted from The Last Word On Nothing.

I recently attended the Science Writing in the Age of Denial conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The event explored the phenomenon of denial and what it means for science writers. How can journalists effectively convey science when its uncomfortable truths face organized resistance?

I walked away from the event feeling both energized and frustrated. Denialism is easy to spot, and conference speakers like Sean B. Carroll and Naomi Oreskes were especially adept at characterizing and documenting it. During his keynote talk, Carroll outlined a “denialism manual in six steps,” which he adapted from a history of chiropractors and vaccination published in 2000.

Step 1: Doubt the science.
Step 2: Question scientists’ motives and interests.
Step 3: Magnify legitimate, normal disagreements among scientists and cite gadflies as authorities.
Step 4: Exaggerate potential harms (scare the hell out of people).
Step 5: Appeal to personal freedom (I’m an American and no government official can tell me what vaccinations I need).
Step 6: Show that accepting the science would represent a repudiation of a key philosophy.

Read more: Climate Skeptics