The United States Postal Service is facing serious financial problems because of the arrival of the electronic age and fierce competition from commercial rivals, FedEx and UPS. As the USPS struggles to remain quasi-competitive, even as a subsidized institution, many wonder, whether the USPS is even relevant in this day and age (Rosenthal, 2011). In order to stay afloat amid reduced usage by consumers and business as more communications goes online, the USPS has primarily catered to advertisers with it’s only remaining currency, the addresses of every person in the United States and a captive channel to reach them, in effective becoming a direct mail company (Rosenthal, 2011). Of course, as consumers, most of us receive hundreds or thousands of pieces of junk mail annually, offering new credit cards, value-paks of coupons, and ten-dollar pizza offers, which we throw away or at best, recycle. Miller and Spoolman (2010) suggest waste reduction is a key strategy for dealing with the problems of solid waste and I can think of no greater candidate than junk mail.
The Native Forest Network (2003) estimates that 100 million trees are cut down to produce 4.5 million tons of junk mail in the U.S. every year, where as much as 40% of it is thrown away unopened. Rosenthal (2011) cited nearly 5 million tons of waste that “costing cities an estimated $1 billion to dispose of it” (p. 1).
Instead of continuing to fund an outdated and irrelevant institution, the USPS should be phased out over the next decade, as the country moves the remaining first-class mail online. For the few transactions that cannot be done online, let FedEx or UPS do the job. In the meantime, it is time to stop the useless, wasteful, junk mail industry in its tracks. Some might argue, that businesses could be harmed with the dissolution of the USPS direct mail practice, given that prices for shipping and 1st class mail would likely go up (Orsini, 2011). However, many business are already pushing consumer interactions online to save money on printing and mailing costs, in a bid to be more efficient (Orsini, 2011). We should no longer allow the federal government to monetize its monopoly on the mail service by subsidizing harmful environmental practices that offer little if any benefit to U.S. citizens.
And while we are waiting for that to happen, the Native Forest Network (2003) offers several useful tips for reducing the amount of junk mail received. Although, perhaps I’ll just chop down my mailbox.
Miller, G. T., & Spoolman, S. (2010). Environmental science (13th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.
Native Forest Network. (2003). Native Forest Network’s Guide to Stopping Junk Mail Retrieved December 23, 2011, from http://www.nativeforest.org/stop_junk_mail/nfn_junk_mail_guide.htm
Orsini, P. (2011). Finding Alternatives as Business Postage Costs Increase. CNBC, 1. Retrieved from http://www.cnbc.com/id/45556976?__source=google%7Ceditorspicks%7C&par=google
Rosenthal, E. (2011). The Junking of the Postal Service. The New York Times, (Sunday Review), 1. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/sunday-review/the-junking-of-the-postal-service.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2
• Politician: What are the odds that human behavior is causing climate change?
• Scientist: Highly likely.
• Politician: So you are saying it might not be us?
Global climate change is perhaps the most complex challenge ever to face humanity. It remains to be seen whether humanity is up to the challenge and can frame a global response to mitigate the risk to the planet and human society, because there is significant debate on the issue and policymakers around the globe appear to disagree on the science and the response because of political, social, and economic reasons. The public debate leaves concerned individuals confused about whether and how to take action and with more questions than answers: Is climate change real? Is climate change a result of human activity? What impact will climate change have? What needs to change? In their book, The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change: A Guide to the Debate, Dessler and Larson (2006), provide a definitive guide that summarizes both the science and the political dynamics of climate change, and includes recommendations for policymakers. Through Dessler and Larson’s treatment of the issue, this author learned that the climate is definitely getting warmer, that human activity is probably responsible, and more importantly, that inaction is irresponsible, given the possible outcomes.
Climate change may ultimately affect the lives of every person on the planet; therefore, individuals need to understand the science of climate change and the dynamics of the debate in order to make informed personal and political choices. Often, information on climate change contains bias for or against a particular position. Dressler and Larson are surprisingly effective at maintaining a detached, rational, and unbiased perspective, clarifying the differentiated roles between scientists and policymakers and separating positive and normative arguments to provide the reader clarity on the climate change science. After providing background on the inherent skepticism of the scientific community, the author’s then summarize the overwhelming, peer-reviewed, consistent, evidence of the warming of Earth’s surface temperature; including direct surface air temperature, glacier data, sea-level change data, sea ice data, ocean temperature, satellite measurements, and data from a variety of climate proxies. The earth is getting warmer, but is it a result of human activity? The author’s conclude that human activity is likely the cause of increased warming, because of the measureable increase in CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and their basic physics. In addition, the rise of CO2 correlates very closely, in both magnitude and frequency, with the rise of the surface temperature. Again, the author’s do an excellent job separating the positive and normative arguments, while summarizing the science of climate change. However, when discussing the potential impact of climate change, there was far more uncertainty, but informative descriptions of promising efforts to reduce uncertainty through computerized climate models. Of course, the primary argument for change was one of risk; given climate change is happening, is probably caused by greenhouse gas emission, and is likely to have far reaching and perhaps devastating consequences for human society, inaction is responsible.
When the discussion turned to potential solutions, post-Kyoto political and economic solutions to reduce emissions occupied most of the dialogue, giving adaption and geo-engineering strategies short treatment. In addition, the potential solutions did not incorporate enough perspective from social sciences that might offer benefits to those seeking to address the need for change. For instance: What leadership lessons can environmental scientist draw from other fields? What is the psychology of climate change? What mass communication phenomenon is at work in the public debate and who are the gatekeepers? How can digital media reshape the debate?
In the end, this author found Dessler and Larson’s work to be an excellent guide to understand the science and politics of global climate change. Before reading this book, this author was like many, who allow the misleading public debate to legitimize inaction. The earth is warming because of human activity and if emissions are not reduced right away, the consequences will likely be disastrous. Inaction is simply irresponsible.