Archive for November 18th, 2010
I certainly have found that to be true. David Roberts at Grist:
I wrote yesterday about the role of habit in human institutions and culture and the futility of trying to change habits through appeals to the rational mind. A few people asked, "Well then, smartypants, how do we change habits? What works?" I got a glimpse of an answer a few days ago.
I spent most of the day Sunday in an intensive workshop run by Dr. Doug McKenzie-Mohr, a professor, consultant, and author of the book Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community-Based Social Marketing. At a broad level, the workshop was focused on how to encourage sustainable behaviors, but more specifically, it was on the nuts-and-bolts details of how to construct an effective behavior-change program.
I’ll spare you most of the gory details (though they were oddly fascinating) and just share the main insight I took away from it.
Many folks, including me, are bullish on the role that behavior change can play in the climate effort. You may have heard about the "behavioral wedge," the idea that changing consumer behaviors can be one of the famous wedges of the climate solution pie. Certainly the rest of the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference has been filled with some fairly grand pronouncements.
On that score, McKenzie-Mohr’s workshop was somewhat sobering. While the overall potential for behavior change may be high, changing people’s habits in a systematic way turns out to be a painstaking, labor-intensive undertaking.
Lots of people seem to hope/wish that it were simple. Many, many (many!) people cling to the notion that the way to motivate behavior change is simply to give people more information. Untold sums of money have been spent sending people brochures or sending them to websites where they can learn more; the results of those programs are almost uniformly dismal. Information is not motivation.
Others cling to a different illusion: that price alone can shift behavior, that financial self-interest is a kind of ur-motivation, trumping all others. Carbon pricing, according to the economist’s dream, will drive cascading behavior change across the entire economy. In fact, as McKenzie-Mohr illustrated at length, programs driven by economic incentives (rebates, etc.) have underperformed again and again. As he told me later, he’s a supporter of ecological tax reform, but we should be realistic:
The most that price can really do is enhance motivation to act. If we get the prices right, it does not make it any easier for the person who does not have a vehicle, or is physically disabled, to get down to the hardware to pick up a programmable thermostat. It just makes them feel more anxious about the fact that they ought to be doing it. How do we make it easier for people to make the transitions over to these other behavioral choices?
There is, it seems, no one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, McKenzie-Mohr stressed over and over that the first step in changing a behavior is to isolate it into a kind of indivisible unit. For each desired behavior change, there will be a unique set of barriers and benefits; successful programs will reduce the barriers and increase the benefits (or, he noted, raise barriers and reduce benefits of competing behaviors).
Here’s an example: . . .
A month ago, the Obama administration lifted the moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, which at a minimum, should have meant that Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) would finally lift her ridiculous hold on Jack Lew’s OMB nomination.
Lew was poised to be confirmed easily as White House Office of Management and Budget’s new director, but Landrieu intervened, blocking the nomination until the drilling moratorium was overturned. What do Lew and the OMB have to do with drilling? Nothing. She was looking for a hostage, and he was a convenient choice.
More than a month later, the center-right Louisianan, still inclined to put the oil industry’s needs above all else, still can’t bring herself to do the responsible thing.
“My position is unchanged,” Landrieu, of Louisiana, told reporters on a conference call. “I’m very sympathetic to the administration’s position. I understand how difficult it is to go without a point person for the budget.”
Landrieu said she would consider lifting her block on Lew when a “clear path forward” is made for issuing permits for deepwater drilling in the Gulf.
“When that happens, I’ll consider releasing my hold,” she said.
Landrieu first demanded that the moratorium be lifted, and it was. But now she won’t release her hostage until she’s satisfied with the rate at which drilling permits are released — at which point she’ll “consider” letting the government function again as it should.
Keep in mind, Landrieu doesn’t object to Jack Lew. On the contrary, she’s described him as an “outstanding” choice to head the OMB, and would be more than happy to vote for his confirmation — just as soon as the oil industry seems fully satisfied. Until then, she just doesn’t care about the consequences.
In this case, those consequences aren’t just minor inconveniences. The Office of Management and Budget is poised to start writing the 2012 budget, and it needs a budget director. But there is no budget director, because Mary Landrieu, in a move that’s been fairly described as “both absurd and irresponsible,” has decided her demands are more important the administration’s ability to govern.
Landrieu’s reckless stunt is an embarrassment to the institution, and makes the need for Senate reform even more painfully obvious.
UPDATE: More here.
Dismantling the arguments against the New START treaty on the NewsHour last night, Richard Burt, the Reagan administration’s chief U.S. negotiator for the original START treaty, noted that “there are only two governments in the world that wouldn’t like to see this treaty ratified, the government in Tehran and the government in North Korea.”
Aside from the fact that nearly 75 percent of Americans want to see it ratified, Burt also warned that, if the treaty fails, not only would “we miss the opportunity to improve relations with the Russians, who have supported us on Iran and U.N. sanctions and increasingly in Afghanistan,” but the U.S. would also “lose all credibility on the problem of stopping nuclear proliferation.”
Discussing the jockeying over the treaty on Rachel Maddow’s show last night, The Cable’s Josh Rogin made a similar point, noting that a failure to ratify New START “hurts Obama’s credibility to negotiate future treaties with any other countries around the world.”
But as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has already — repeatedly — admitted, the GOP’s main goal is making sure that President Obama is “a one term president.” Severely handicapping the President’s ability to credibly conduct American foreign policy — regardless of the actual consequences — is just one tactic in that larger effort.
Very much related, a fairly comprehensive new report on Iran from the Stimson Center and the U.S. Institute of Peace describes how Iranian political jockeying has impacted U.S.-Iran diplomacy over the years:
Iran’s domestic politics have repeatedly undercut US efforts to engage Tehran. In a country where the political system is based in part on an enduring hostility to US political, economic, and even cultural power, Iranian leaders are fearful of any wider solution to the nuclear program that points to rapprochement with Washington. Supreme Leader Khamanei is the most powerful representative of this intensely suspicious view of the US, and thus may resist a wider normalization of relations with the US.
The rise of a new generation of ultra-hardliners, whose most visible spokesman is President Ahmadinejad, poses a host of further challenges. Iran’s president and his allies view the quest for an independent nuclear fuel cycle as central to Iran’s efforts to forge a new alliance of middle-size powers that can challenge the “hegemony” of the capitalist Western countries. That is why their on-going efforts to quell the Green Movement and seize political control from more mainstream conservatives poses a real threat, not merely to many Iranians, but to the region as a whole.
Leaving aside the obvious point about the mutually reinforcing relationship between Iran’s ultra-hardline neoconservatives and the U.S.’s, just as it’s important to try and understand how Iranian domestic politics affects Iranian foreign policy and U.S. perceptions of Iranian aims, we also have to consider this in the other direction: How might Iranians might view the ability of a small group of Republican ultra-hardliners to scuttle as manifestly reasonable and bipartisan a nonproliferation treaty as START? What does it say to them about President Obama’s ability to ratify any future treaty with Iran, which would likely be far more controversial? Will a failure of START strengthen those Iranian voices — either inside the government or out — who oppose nuclear weaponization? Or will it strengthen the hardliners who see the international nonproliferation regime as a joke, and argue that a nuclear weapon is essential for Iranian power and prestige?
In an op-ed in Politico today, Center for American Progress president and CEO John Podesta noted the importance of ratifying New START vis-a-vis Iran and Russia. “The U.S.-Russia “reset” has paved the way for greater Russian cooperation on pressuring Iran to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons and on supply and support for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. If New START goes down, or is further delayed, Russian cooperation could wane, if not end,” he wrote.
I simply do not understand how the GOP thinks. Their main goal seems to be to bring down Obama regardless of the cost to the nation.
From the Center for American Progress in an email:
Last weekend, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association — the banking industry’s largest trade group — explained that the financial services industry is eagerly anticipating conservative control of the House of Representatives. "We had been disappointed with a number of legislative outcomes with the past Congress, and so we look forward to better outcomes with this Congress," he said, adding that "banks expect a corrections bill to peel back some of the financial regulations passed into law this year." Indeed, Wall Street has made no secret of its desire to water down and roll back provisions in the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform law, which President Obama signed in July. Dodd-Frank is the most thorough upgrade of the nation’s regulatory structure since the Great Depression, and while complete repeal is unlikely due to the President’s veto power, the banks are counting on their House Republican allies to weaken the bill in other ways, such as withholding funds or scheduling hearings designed to slow the regulators’ rule-making process. Already, the two leading candidates to chair the House Financial Services Committee next year — Reps. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) and Ed Royce (R-CA) — have made known their desire to weaken certain provisions, while incoming presumptive House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told CNBC that Republicans intend to deny regulators the funds to implement Dodd-Frank. "The House has the power of the appropriations process and the leverage that comes with that essentially puts us in a position to deny the administration funding for promulgating the regulations," Cantor said.
Scottish Heather today—and I find that I prefer Sweet Gale, though both soaps provide excellent lather, today worked up with an Omega artificial badger brush. Three smooth passes with the Fat Boy with a previously used Swedish Gillette blade, a splash of Klassik, and I’m ready for Pilates, more or less.