You Are What You Read

2009•02•24 Brendan F.D. Barrett Osaka University

Just this month, the New Scientist warned that the general public tends to think that climate scientists are less certain about their conclusions because of the language they use.

Terms such as “likely” or “very likely” do not sound convincing and using them encourages climate skeptics and public apathy.

If scientists are losing the war of words on climate change, then most green institutions are compounding that loss by not taking advantage of the power of the web to reach out and involve people.

As tough as climate change realities may be to recognize, are the citizens of the globe making the effort to inform themselves, or is the task too daunting?

In the huge wide ocean of information available, what are you reading? Do sites that talk of sustainable living resonate with you? Have you no interest in reading full expert reports? Would you like someone to summarize what is going on and what needs to be done in a clearer, more concise way?

Or do you perhaps simply feel that the web’s tentacles are too sticky to cut through in order to find data and news that you would like to read?

Those of you who have been following Our World 2.0 for the past few months will have recognized that we are striving to share original stories in the form of easy to read articles and short video briefs.

As you can guess, we like to keep plugged into a network of websites around the world that offer information and insight on the issues of climate change, oil and food security. In this article, we want to share those sites with you and hope that you will give feedback and tell us about sites that you find equally valuable.

So, let’s begin with some webzines and blogs.

Webbers united

There are some websites that are using Web 2.0 services very effectively and include news feeds, video or even social networking tools like Facebook, Twitter, Digg or StumbleUpon (for an example, click the green Share icon above) to encourage readers to jump in.

We tend to get a lot of newsy stuff from Treehugger, which is part of the Discovery group and aims to mainstream sustainability by providing green news, solutions and product information. Part of the Treehugger online magazine promotes interaction through forums (with over 7,000 members) and Twitter.

Wired Magazine also contributes articles on environmental issues, but with a strong technology leaning. Take for example the story on the new climate change game – Flower.

Other good sources of green news include Red, Green and Blue (a Green Options Media production), which presents views from across the political spectrum. Again, you have the option to follow the news using Twitter or a regular news feed.

We follow two other interesting sites from the United States. One is Yale Environment 360, published by the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University. The other is Climate Progress a self-described insider’s view on climate science, politics and solutions that is the personal blog of Joseph Romm, former energy advisor with the Clinton Administration.

Offering another very interesting perspective on climate and energy concerns is the Breakthrough Institute, focusing on the politics of possibility. You may recall that we interviewed Chairman Ted Nordhaus back in July 2008, when he visited the UNU in Tokyo.

At the same time, we also interviewed Alex Evans and David Steven, and we have been following their blog – Global Dashboard – with great interest since it focuses on global risks and how to respond to them.

But we are not just looking at webzines and blogs in the USA and the UK. For instance, here in Japan you can get up-to-date news on green activities from the Japan for Sustainability website (which only recently became a blog) and from, a  Tokyo-based guide to a greener future

On the question of fuel

Recently, we came across Gas 2.0, a blog that looks at the on-going revolution around biofuels and oil, “exploring the technologies and substances that are the future of transportation.” This is another Green Options Media production, so the question becomes, who are they? Well, they describe themselves as a growing network of environmentally-focused blogs based in San Francisco.

If you are interested in data, then the Oil Drum is a good starting point and includes discussions about energy and our future. It is also an avenue into the whole discussion of peak oil and energy crisis related topics through their blog roll.

The other place to look for information on these topics is the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, an informal network of scientists working to define and evaluate the world’s endowment of oil and gas.

For a contrasting view, you could look at the work of the Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA), which has 200 staff worldwide, and provides advice to international energy companies, governments, financial institutions, and technology providers. Note that CERA site does not currently provide for reader interaction or feedback.

If you are looking for insights on what is happening in India and Asia, then one good place to start is the Energy Research Institute, although at present it does not include any Web 2.0 services.

Official stuff

In the world of climate change science, all roads lead to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC, for short, brings together over 2,500 scientific experts to write and review assessments of climate change and its impacts. The IPCC website is an excellent place to download reports that highlight the latest scientific understanding of climate change and lots charts and figures. It is shame that the IPCC does not have a news feed.

Two other places to go within the UN family are UNEP (the UN’s environment agency) and UNFCCC, the agency that supports the international negotiations aimed at preventing climate change from worsening. On the latter website, you can see a clock ticking down, marking the countdown to the next round of negotiations to take place in Copenhagen from which we hope to get a new agreement for real international action to prevent catastrophic climate change.

On energy issues, for the big picture, you could look at the website of the International Energy Agency, but bear in mind they only give policy advice to 28 member countries. For a more pro-renewable energy perspective, see Energy Watch Group, an international network of politicians and scientists supported by the Ludwig Bölkow Foundation of Germany.

On oil, you may want to look at what OPEC is up to and on broader energy issues, the US Energy Information Administration has reams of data.

With food, it is always useful to begin with the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, and its new programme on food security is a good place to start.

Some reflections

Writing this article has been something of an eye-opener. We realized it is all too easy to simply visit a website and start reading its news, without taking a look at who is writing it. So we have been careful to look at the “about” sections in a little more detail, because the issues in question are ones in which many have a vested interest, and it is wise to be aware of the motivations behind all points of view. Is there a spin given to a topic and if so, does it denote a genuine desire for positive change, or does it hope to protect the status quo? Is it greenwash?

Another point is that once we start writing about the sites that we regularly visit, we notice how they are connected to other sites that also look very interesting. A lot of things are happening around our key topics these days. This is why the present article will be the first of a series.

When you look at the language used by the different websites, you can note that the official websites tend to be very conservative and use rather guarded language, while the webzines and blogs provide analysis and opinion. However, the bigger challenge we all face is how to use the web to reach out to the maximum number of people. We are all at the very beginning of learning how to do this, but we better get a move on.

In Our World 2.0 we want to dig deeper and try to find more blogs and webzines on climate, energy and food to share with you, especially from outside the UK, US and Japan.

On the one hand, we have been innovative in obtaining first hand and very personal indigenous perspectives on climate change that are unfiltered by narration or conventional scientific information. On the other, we have to try harder to source information directly from universities, think-tanks, civil society groups and blogs of the “Global South”.

We would like you to assist us in this quest by telling us about your favourite sites, including those in other languages, in the comments section below.

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You are what you read by Brendan Barrett is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Brendan F.D. Barrett

Osaka University

Brendan F.D. Barrett is a specially appointed professor at Osaka University in the Center for Global Initiatives and an adjunct professor at RMIT University School of Media and Communications. His core areas of expertise include ethical cities, urban transitions, sustainability science, and science/research communication.

Brendan worked with the United Nations in Japan between 1995 and 2015, with the UN Environment Programme and the United Nations University (UNU). He is currently a Visiting Professor at the UNU Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability.

Previously at UNU he was the Head of Online Learning and Head of Communications where he oversaw the development of interactive websites and video documentaries on complex social and environmental concerns. As a result, Brendan has extensive experience in science communications and launched the Our World web magazine in 2008.