Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Art of the Year-End Donation

National and local news tell us that we’ve done pretty well in transferring wealth to Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart and the like at this year’s end.

Presumably we got something in return that was of value to us.

When it comes to the year-end ‘ask’ for donations from social, environmental and arts organizations, the same question of value arises.

Of course, many organizations hope for the large benefactors who are looking for some tax benefit in making a donation. Most of us 99 percent do what we can for those causes we believe in. If it isn’t a tax benefit, what value am I getting in making a donation to what I might consider a worthy cause?

The art of making the ‘ask’ is a promise to fulfill a basic sense of altruism in us. If we are civilized, we want to help and we want what we donate to make a difference.

It’s almost a no-brainer to feel good about giving to meet a local, immediate need. Local food banks, children and women’s shelters, and homeless winter shelters are pretty high on that list.

Human health, especially protecting mothers’ milk and vulnerable children, is another place that promises a return on one’s donation. Child literacy and mentoring at-risk youth, too.

I honestly find it very difficult to respond to year-end ‘asks’ from arts organizations and higher academic institutions. I’m sure the need is there and the prices of admission to be entertained or educated doesn’t cover costs— but I find myself leaving those to the patrons and alumni who can afford to give.

Saving the whales and the rain forests, saving Puget Sound, fighting climate change and many Big Causes I find need to be unpacked into specific campaigns that directly relate to accomplishing the bigger cause. The $50 you donate doesn’t really mean the group will buy 50 trees to plant with that money but that’s the idea when It comes to Big Causes.

The art of the ‘ask’ focuses on the immediacy and the urgency of the cause and the consequences of not meeting the need. The ‘ask’ needs to describe how the organization you are donating to is uniquely suited to meet the need.  It helps to have others testify to the need and to the organization’s ability to meet that need. It is essential that everyone who donates be told, exactly, how their donations made a difference.

Read the ‘asks’ you are being sent and see how artful they are in hitting the chords that resonate with your values. Then make those year-end donations. Some folks are in tough financial times; many are much worse off. Where can you make a difference?

Care to share why you donate?

--Mike Sato

Monday, December 26, 2011

Smokin’ and Talkin’ and Textin’ While Drivin’

I stopped smoking a few years ago. These days, while driving, I sometimes answer my cell phone or make calls.

Last week, Deborah Hersman, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, gave an impassioned plea for drivers to stop using cell phones while driving.

I know she’s right. Using the cell phone while driving is distracting and dangerous. I also know that “Just Say NO” doesn’t work to change people’s behavior.

Matt Richtel in his New York Times article “Reframing the Debate Over Using Phones Behind the Wheel” unpacked some of the motivators that make cell phones so compelling.

Like smoking, being able to communicate anywhere may have a cool factor like smoking had years ago. Cell phones relieve restlessness and boredom. The compulsion is powerful: “People do not know when an urgent or interesting e-mail or text will come in, so they feel compelled to check it all the time.”

We are social animals. “The ring of a phone or the ping of text becomes a promise of human connection.” Information has a value that is lost over time. Answer it now; send it now.

Consider this a good social marketing exercise to think about what it will take to change societal values and behaviors surrounding using cell phones while driving.

How about a technology fix  that would block cell phone signals while a vehicle is in motion? That would stop cell phone use but also insure that my family and friends would choose never to ride with me.

Tough laws, enforcement and education have worked in effecting changes in drunk driving, seat belt and helmet laws.

As a smoker, I heard all the health reasons to stop smoking. Shown all the ways second-hand smoke hurt those around me. Figured out how much the habit was costing me. I’m sure there were smokers who quit for those reasons. I quit but not for any of those reasons but quit because it was something my father wanted me to do and, after he passed away, I thought there was at least one hard thing I could do for him. And I did it.

Different motivators work for different folks.

Smokers quit for a number of different reasons. Smokers die. Smokers get taxed heavily. Smokers have fewer and fewer public places where they can smoke.  Smoking is no longer a societal norm because of a combination of education, regulation and enforcement.

Maybe messaging that says “driving while texting is just not cool” would work for a social segment. Maybe “driving while phoning is dangerous to your health” would work for another. Or “practice safe text.” Or even an abstinence pledge for others.  More research is needed here.

In the meantime, maybe cell and smart phone manufacturers would include an easily activated message and voice mail feature that says, “Hey dudes, I’m driving, be back soon.”

If you drive and text and kill yourself, that’s fine with me. But if you hurt or kill others, you go to hell. Maybe those zealots who pushed relentlessly for no-smoking regulations would work to provide a meaningful deterrent by strengthen the penalties for drivers at fault in accidents when they were using a cell phone. (Yes, phone records can be subpoenaed.)

And maybe friends and family, if they can take a moment off from their handheld devices, could remind drivers that “Friends don’t let friends drive and text.”

What do you suggest?

--Mike Sato

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thoughts on Sewage, Shellfish and the Partnership's Action Agenda

Geoduck farming (Protect Our Shoreline News)
Last week’s posting ‘Sewage is good for you’ prompted the following comment from Herb Curl:

"The shellfish industry would it both ways: removing pollutants & providing seafood. It's incredible that shellfish are being grown in Puget Sound estuaries with high levels of pollutants from failed septic tanks. The Big Bend at the southern end of Hood Canal is a major example. Maps of shellfish rearing areas in Puget Sound are available (here).

“Shellfish culture has many downsides including production of pseudofeces from rafts, polluting bottom sediments, hybridization between non-native Mytilus galloprovincialis and native Mytilus edulis, and smothering intertidal acreage with oyster bags and geoduck tubes."

Meanwhile, today’s news clip posting at Salish Sea News and Weather of Chris Dunagan’s story about the Puget Sound Partnership’s draft Action Agenda brought the following comments:

"Regarding Chris Dunagan column on the new draft of the Puget Sound Partnership Action Agenda:  I tried to read it to provide comments.  OMG!  Dense, foggy, huge long detailed tables, 41-page executive summary full of gobbeldy gook, almost impossible to actually find any "action" items/plans.  Woe is us .... "  --Rabbits’ Guy

"The Puget Sound Partnership talks about “restoring” decimated species.  But they say nothing about preventing the final destruction of Puget Sound.  Puget Sound’s death will be collateral damage to the final wave of development in the Basin.

"As we have discovered in Chesapeake Bay, restoration is probably not politically possible.  It requires scraping off most of the development in the watershed and replacing it with forest and LID.  (That is not going to happen any time soon).  Why is PSP focusing on “restoration” when we have an eternity to restore, but only months left to prevent driving the final nails in the coffin?

"The Carnegie Letter to the governor spells out the bare-bottom minimum action that PSP must insist upon if their mission is not to be a total failure.  (NPDES permits must insist on the 65/10/0 development standard.)  PSP has shown no indication that they will endorse the Carnegie action plan.  Is it because PSP’s boss, the governor, has dismissed the CG action plan?" -- Tom Holz

Thanks. It sure is interesting to read your comments.

--Mike Sato

Friday, December 16, 2011

'Sewage is good for you'

(Washington State Archives)
That's Washington Governor Dixy Lee Ray back in 1991 quoted in a 1991 Associated Press story, "Dixy Lee Ray lashes out at environmentalists"

Governor Dixy Lee came to mind with this week's flurry of news that the federal and state governments are putting $4.5 million into the local shellfish industry by cleaning up the poop going into Puget Sound.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, heralded the National Shellfish Initiative as bringing jobs, clean water and more "healthy, tasty food."

Gov. Chris Gregoire's messaging about our Washington Shellfish Initiative was how shellfish are the perfect all-natural environmental cleanup crew.

The juxtaposition of powerful shellfish cleaning up poop and yummy shellfish as "healthy, tasty food" isn't the brand the shellfish industry would market, I'm sure.

The Sierra Club. for one, isn't standing up and cheering for the Initiative.

Previously, some opponents of shellfish aquaculture like mussel rafts have contended that the filter-feeding mollusks make the water too clean and damage the ecosystem.

Which brings me back to Gov. Dixy Lee.

Reporter Hal Spencer ends his 1991 account of the governor's talk to the Pacific Coast Association of Port Authorities with:

"Ray cited an attempt by Los Angeles officials to eliminate al traces of human sewage in the city's harbor. They wiped out a "fine fishery" of anchovy, perch, herring and other species, she said.
"What happened, she said, was that the sewage treatment system robbed the fish of their main food supply. 'Without something to eat, without organic material in the water, the fish cannot survive. You can draw any conclusion that you wish, including that sewage is good for you,' she said to appreciative chuckles from the crowd."
Oh, Dixy.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Well, sir, I guess there's just a meanness in this world"

PHOTO: Dangerous Minds
The line’s from Bruce Springsteen’s song Nebraska.

It came to mind yesterday when House Republicans passed a bill extending the payroll tax break and long-term unemployment payments— along with approving construction of the Keystone oil pipeline from Canada through our nation’s Midwest communities.

How cynical can elected representatives be in getting for industrial capitalists what they want by holding the economic well being of this nation’s workers and unemployed hostage?

Politics is the art of the possible, a phrase coined by Bismark.

House Republicans play "politics," the kind of all-or-nothing governing that give politics a bad name.  When the Democrats play “politics” that way, I’d call a pox on their house as well.

The Keystone pipeline issue should be dealt with as a separate issue. It should not be tagged on to a bill about a worker tax break and unemployment relief.

Eric Cantor (R-VA) said tagging on approval of the Keystone pipeline was justified because pipeline construction was a jobs issue.

It’s not a jobs issue. It’s an energy policy issue. It’s an issue of how local community values stack up against a project where communities bear all the risk and little benefit. Like building a coal export terminal at Cherry Point and transporting coal by rail or building a liquified natural gas terminal and pipeline near the mouth of the Columbia river, do these projects fit our national energy policy?  I’m sure there will be jobs and some local benefits but are those jobs and local benefits in the long-term interests of local community values?

Be honest and have that discussion. Shame on House Republicans.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why I Will Work To Re-Elect Barack Obama in 2012

(PHOTO: Julie Denesha)
I read the speech President Obama delivered in Kansas this week.   I hope you will, too.

I’ve sometimes felt disappointed in the President in the past three years as the reality of governing overshadowed the momentum of the election. While I expect the political attacks from opponents to continue and intensify, I’m disturbed by some of my activist colleagues who talk of withholding support to accomplish policy aims. I don’t forget or forgive the “idealists” who did the same in supporting Ralph Nader and screwed the pooch in the 2000 election.

I told friends and family that I was finally proud to be an American when Mr. Obama was elected president. Not only because we both grew up in Hawaii where so many of the principles of community and caring for others are shared but also because, for the first time, my ideals of truth and justice seemed commensurate with that of the majority of this nation.

After reading his Kansas speech, I want to reaffirm those ideals of truth and justice despite the difficult times of economic decline and political stalemate.

The promise of moving forward to build a national consensus towards the kind of nation we wish to become seems further and further out of reach.

It would be understandable to call it quits.

For most of my professional life I have worked to communicate and to organize around environmental values. I have reveled in the glow of winning an issue that furthers environmental protections and felt the bitterness of defeat when decisions have gone the other way.

As climate change and global warming accelerate, as endangered species decline and go extinct, and as short-term profit taking lays waste to our limited natural resources, it’s sometimes hard to answer the honest question of why continue to get up in the morning to pursue a cause that seems to have such heavy odds against winning.

The answer is that it is not myself alone who believes in these ideals; the cause calls out for giving voice to many others who share the ideals but do not have a voice.

President Obama’s campaign to be elected to a second term is about giving a voice to the many Americans who still hold to the ideals and values so ably articulated in the first campaign— and in the speech given in Kansas. I believe that the ideal of a just and caring nation capable of conducting its business with civil discourse is shared by the majority of the American people.

That is the task before the Obama ’12 campaign—a task to which I will offer my skills, experience and passion.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Whatcom County’s Yew Street "Whack-A-Mole"

 12/7 update: The Whatcom County Council rescheduled discussion of the Yew Street rezone to its Feb. 28 meeting. 

The current Whatcom County Council’s approach to avoiding land use lawsuits is to zone and rezone to accommodate developers at the expense of the public trust.

A good example is the recurring attempts to allow subdivision development along the Yew Street corridor in the Lake Padden watershed, an area shared by both County and City of Bellingham jurisdictions.

Tonight, Dec. 6 at 7 PM, the County Council holds a public hearing to allow more development despite the City’s past opposition to denser development and promises to sue in opposition.

In a Bellingham Herald article on Monday, Dec. 5, Jared Paben reported that, “City Planning Director Jeff Thomas sent a Dec. 1 letter to the County Council reiterating the city’s opposition to the Yew Street Road urban-growth area at this time. In 2007, the City Council then rejected annexing the then-urban-zoned land.

“’A city study at the time found that if the city annexed the land, it would spend $30 million more than it collected in revenue from the properties over a 20-year period,’ Thomas wrote.”

In a letter to the County Council, People for Lake Padden
director Betsy Gross yesterday wrote, “Several years ago, the Lake Padden watershed was given a watershed protection designation, the area was removed from Urban Growth Area status, and a portion of this area was rezoned as an urban reserve, in order to protect the lake from degradation.  It would therefore be unwise to undo these decisions without taking into account their potential for negative impacts on the lake.”

The protection, of course, was done by the “old” County Council which was more receptive to protecting the public trust throughout the county; the current Council has been more receptive to development interests active in the Yew Street area-- and the issue of rezoning for higher density keeps coming up.

The fact that current County Executive Pete Kremen, who supported the urban reserve zoning, will be replacing pro-development councilmember Tony Larson next year may have something to do with this holiday-season effort to rezone the area.

In any case, this is a classic case of development interests being put before the public’s interest. The public benefits don’t pencil out economically, nor do they make environmental sense.

That’s pointed out by Betsy Gross of People for Lake Padden, where citizens are taking water samples and Western Washington University interns are doing water quality analysis of the lake and land use studies of the watershed.

Lummi Nation Natural Resources Director Merle Jefferson used a good phrase to describe how the tribe would be assessing the full range of scientific, economic and social issues associated with the coal export facility proposed for Cherry Point. He said the tribe would be  pursuing a “knowledge-based decision-making process.”

Whack that County Council mole with some real fact-finding and public process, I say. (Disclosure: I live in the Lake Padden watershed and I believe in a “knowledge-based decision-making process.”) I know that’s supported by others: A Year of Sprawling Achievements

December 5, 2011
To: Councilmember Bill Knutzen,
Councilmember Tony Larson
Councilmember Kathy Kershner
Councilmember Ken Mann
Councilmember Sam Crawford
Councilmember Carl Weimer
Councilmember Barbara Brenner
Cc: County Executive Pete Kremen
Whatcom County Council

Mayor Dan Pike

Re: Yew Street Rezoning Proposal

I am writing to you on behalf of the group People for Lake Padden ( <> ) requesting that the Whatcom County Council postpone action on rezoning the Yew Street neighborhood until the county has sufficient scientific and land use information to make a knowledge-based decision that protects the Lake Padden watershed and the health of Lake Padden.

Several years ago, the Lake Padden watershed was given a watershed protection designation, the area was removed from Urban Growth Area status, and a portion of this area was rezoned as an urban reserve, in order to protect the lake from degradation.  It would therefore be unwise to undo these decisions without taking into account their potential for negative impacts on the lake.

People for Lake Padden is a citizen’s initiative which is collaborating with City, County, and University professionals to conduct scientific studies of this lake and its watershed. These studies and community discussion should inform the discussion and decisions regarding the land use designations in the watershed, education and regulatory measures to reduce the amount of pollutants entering the lake through the watershed, and any zoning or rezoning changes.

Results from these studies will be available in 2012 and shared with watershed residents and with the State DOE, the County and the City of Bellingham. It would be premature to move forward now with any rezoning until the public and the county have had the opportunity to review and discuss the findings and recommendations.

Lake Padden is one of the crown jewels enjoyed by many residents of Whatcom County and the City of Bellingham. The health of our lake is determined by how well we manage our activities as stewards of the Lake Padden watershed. Let’s wait until the studies are done to make any decisions about rezoning the Yew Street portion of the Lake Padden watershed.

Thank you,
Betsy Gross, Director
People for Lake Padden
715-1173 <>


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

11/22/63 Where Were You When You Heard President Kennedy Was Assassinated?

That’s what I asked this morning of those who are old enough to remember what they were doing on the 48th anniversary of the president’s assassination.

Our Lady of the North shared this:

“I was in grade 6, Mrs. Patterson's class, at Willows Elementary (Victoria). Our principal came on over the PA system with the news (I think part of the radio broadcast was played for us), and Mrs. Patterson started crying, something very unusual indeed. School was dismissed early and we were all sent home (those were the days when mothers could be counted on to be there to receive us!). Later that day I remember going for groceries at the local shopping centre with my mom, and it was all people were talking about...that day, and for many days afterwards, everywhere I went.

Do you think this same scene would have played out in Seattle if Canada's prime minister had been assassinated?  :) “

As for me, I was in Honolulu, early Friday morning before the big homecoming football weekend. We were assembled in chapel (all-boys prep school) and told. This was the second time I remember really praying; the first time only a year or so earlier when we had been assembled during the Cuban missile crisis. Thank goodness there were adults around to explain to some of the kids why all the football games were going to be cancelled that weekend. Then the weekend of television: Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald, the president lying in state, the funeral march. Thus, I was welcomed to growing up in the ‘60s.

Depending on how old we are and where we grew up, we have ‘defining events’ in our coming of age. What ‘defined’ yours?

--Mike Sato

Friday, November 18, 2011

Get Real; Raise Revenues

Today's Salish Sea News and Weather contained a couple of clips about the looming budget shortfall in the state's budget:

Washington state economist Arun Raha projects that state revenues will drop by $122 million over the next two years. State faces nearly $1.4B deficit    Robert Graef in a Marysville Globe editorial closely reads Governor Gregoire’s proposed list of program budget cuts down into the bone of our state’s social fabric. Blood on the budget axe

Our Man of the South wrote: "Carnegie Group (3 years ago) suggested a way to raise revenue (up to $2 billion / year) without raising taxes.  It was ignored of course."

Here's the letter sent on December 9, 2008 to Governor Christine Gregoire:

"Dear Governor Gregoire:

The State of Washington and most local jurisdictions are feeling the effects of a severe downturn in the economic health of the nation. Proposed budget cuts will hurt many people and many initiatives vital to the public including children, troubled families, and the protection and preservation of our environment, to name a few. Yet there is an untapped source of revenue that ranges into the hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of dollars annually that does not require new taxes.

We are referring to the massive subsidies currently given to the development industry by the state and virtually every local jurisdiction. In a hurried study done by Eben Fodor in 2000, the cost of unfunded infrastructure demands generated by growth exceeded $50,000 for every new dwelling unit constructed. Cost of growth studies by Mazza a few years later, substantiate the subsidies. Similarly, cost of growth studies in other states corroborate the enormous amounts given away for growth. There are no recent cost-of-growth studies available, so numbers may not be current. But it is quite possible that the cost in tax revenue in Washington State to subsidize growth could exceed $2 billion annually.

It is nearly impossible to spend a dollar in this state without providing a subsidy for growth. The cost burdens of subsidies fall on everyone including the very poor. The beneficiaries are the wealthy developers, land speculators, and the relatively wealthy newcomers who can afford the high price of a new home. The state’s citizens have long suffered under this iniquitous system. Our leaders to date have been unwilling to confront the development industry lobby on this issue. But if ever there was a time in history when our leaders have justification to bring equity to taxpayers and simultaneously provide much needed revenue to state and local jurisdictions, now is that time. If there was ever a time when the administration owed so little to the development industry, it is now. If there was ever a time in the last 40 years when the revenue needs were so great, it is now. If there was ever a time when growth threatens to overwhelm us with environmental degradation, it is now. Let us seize the moment.

We recommend that the state immediately put in place capital facilities charges on new dwelling units for the state facility needs generated by growth including but not limited to:
• State Parks
• Schools and colleges capital facilities
• State transportation needs
• Penal system facilities
• Justice systems
• State police capital facilities
• Social and health services capital facilities

We also suggest that the state make the following amendments to state law to allow local jurisdictions to collect and use capital facilities charges for its unfunded infrastructure demands related to growth:
• Expand the list of capital charges for which local jurisdictions may charge to include penal systems, justice systems, power generating and transmission facilities, libraries, city and county administrative facilities, and so on.
• Remove the time limit in which capital facility charges must be spent.
• Allow capital facility charge revenue to be spent anywhere within jurisdiction boundaries.

Finally, we recommend that the state make all grants to local jurisdictions for capital and infrastructure needs contingent on their imposing the maximum allowable capital facility charges in all the categories in which it is legal to impose such charges.

In the near future, the state can apply the general funds no longer needed for subsidies toward the shortfalls in the provision of vital services that it is currently experiencing. In the longer term, lower taxes might be a much needed bonus for state residents.

We have drafted and submitted numerous bills over the last ten years to implement these and other policies designed to cure the inequities of growth funding. We will avail ourselves at your convenience to meet with appropriate members of your staff to brief them on these proposals.

The Carnegie Group of Olympia
Peggy Bruton, Citizen Activist
Thomas W. Holz, Civil Engineer
Robert Jacobs, Former Mayor, City of Olympia
Walter Jorgensen, Former Councilmember, City of Tumwater
Suzanne Nott, Former Candidate, Port of Olympia Commissioner
Jerome Parker, Citizen Activist

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Occupy Everywhere But Stay On Message

My activist friend is among those organizing Occupy Bellingham. The weather has turned cold and wet; I expressed my concern that it would be hard to maintain the tent shelters during the winter. I’m sure that concern has been discussed.

I was down in Portland last weekend counting down to the city’s midnight deadline for clearing Chapman Square of Occupy Portland tents. At midnight the crowds grew and the atmosphere became more festive than confrontational.

A tweet attributed that to “Portland Nice.” It only got serious later Sunday afternoon when the police moved in to clear the area and arrest those who would not leave.

No doubt some folks came to Occupy Portland only as ‘lookie loos,’ but many came to stand with those who occupied the park, the same way thousands had come together in the early days of Occupy Portland.

Unfortunately, the media coverage was all about the confrontation between the police and those in the park. Mayor Sam Adams, Park Commissioner Nick Fish, and the Portland Police Department have become ‘the enemy’ instead of the fat cat bankers, multinational corporate creeps and sleaze-ball politicians.

It is totally legit to carry out a large-scale occupation of a public space in order to call attention to the obscene influence and power one percent of the population has over the 99 percent— and engage people in corrective action. What happened to that message?

I think it was Nick Fish who said that the one percent wasn’t paying for police and other city staff overtime and repairs to the park; it was all the taxpayers footing that bill. That’s not a bill I’d prefer to pay since it doesn’t serve my political purpose.

I want us to get smarter in bringing about real change. How about you?

--Mike Sato

Thursday, November 10, 2011

My Five Things You Should Know About Puget Sound

Map: Sierra Club

The Nature Conservancy recently posted their Five Things You Should Know About Puget Sound  and I’ve been encouraging others to put down what five they’d put forth.

I’d expand the geography to the Salish Sea because we are one big ecosystem family. But let's stay with Puget Sound for now.

My Five:
1. Puget Sound is a deep subject: Its deepest point is 930 feet. 
2. Puget Sound is big: Its basin encompasses about 12,000 square miles.
3. Puget Sound is not all wet: Sequim’s annual average rainfall is only 16 inches. 
4. Puget Sound locals can say “Humptulips,” “Puyallup” and “Poulsbo” without difficulty.
5. With projected population of 5.2 million souls by 2025, Puget Sound will have more people we can entertain with lists like these.

OK, your turn. How about sharing your list of five?

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Still Looking For The Silver Bullet: Tell Me When You Find It

(Dillon School District)
People, smart people, make money teaching us how to communicate effectively. ‘Effectively’ usually means getting someone else to understand what your are saying— and in many cases getting them to do what you would like them to do.

Saying what’s true is important because you’re toast if someone shows it’s not true. But saying what’s true with a human face and a human voice beats saying what’s true with tables, footnotes and reasons every time. Values-talk beats ledger-talk, benefits beat features almost every time.

We have developed a whole range of tools and techniques to ‘talk’ to people. There are great stories about how many of these have worked and why you should use them. It’s hard, however, to take a product, a candidate, a cause and to use all the available tools and techniques.

Not everyone is interested in buying a hybrid vehicle— or can afford one. Who really wants to read President Bush’s memoir? Who do you want to pick up their dog’s poop?

The answer is obviously not ‘everyone.’ Knowing how many hybrids, books and poop you want sold and picked up— and who you want to be buying and picking up— is a great place to start before figuring out which tools and techniques to use.

Set goals.  Know thy audience.  Tell your story in values and benefits.  Say it over and over.  Measure results and adjust your tools and techniques.

I doesn’t hurt to have the right person championing your product, candidate or cause. Right person, right audience, right message.

Those of us who work for causes on small or non-existent communication budgets dream the equivalent dream of one day becoming a millionaire: We dream that one day our message will go viral and circle the globe. We’d love to have that silver bullet.

And, just like becoming a millionaire, we will work hard but it won’t happen.

But here’s another way of looking at  the work we do on good causes, and I heard it from David Domke, author and communications prof at the University of Washington.

Domke said that groups working on climate change, pollution, food safety, environmental justice and other causes have missions and goals that make them seem like disparate efforts competing with each other for people’s attention— and money and time.

He suggested that groups-- without changing their mission or goals -- try to reframe their higher purpose in terms of responsibility, legacy and opportunity to give a sense of common purpose among all causes. ‘Responsibility’ to do what each of us can do to make the world a better place. 'Legacy' to leave something good and positive for the next generations. And 'opportunity' to open the possibilities economic growth associated with doing good things.

I always found Domke’s suggestion compelling in bringing together so much of the work we do as communicators. Not a silver bullet in the sense of tools and technique but a simple and powerful reframing. Great values, good benefits, truth well told.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Still Looking For The Silver Bullet: Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen

Remember The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, published in 2000? We were young then, weren’t we?

One of my colleagues from the Natural Resources Defense Council got us all excited with his excitement about how connectors, mavens and salesmen could bring about the West Coast adoption of marine protected areas.

Gladwell had identified what he called “The Law of the Few.” For a trend or a phenomenon to ‘tip’ into widespread popular acceptance, it required a few influential types of people.

“Connectors” are people with ties in many different areas of society and who can make connections and relationships about a new idea or product.

“Mavens” are people who are knowledgeable and who are turned to by others about making informed decisions about new ideas or products.

“Salesmen” are people whose charisma makes them very persuasive in influencing other people’s decisions about ideas and products.

There we were, ready to change the world for the better, once we could find the connectors, mavens and salesmen who could help us promote marine protected areas to the public and regulators.

The problem was that we couldn’t identify individuals who filled the roles of connectors, mavens and salesmen. Those that we could identify (‘big Rolodex people’) were either doing the work already or were so far removed from marine resource protection that it would take a miracle to get them on board.

The problem wasn’t just with a campaign like establishing marine protected areas; it was in all the areas of environmental conservation where we took Gladwell’s tipping point concepts and tried to apply them to a specific cause or campaign. Connectors, mavens and salesmen were busily connecting, informing and selling what they were already promoting.

It was looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

It’s out of the enthusiasm for a cause that its connectors, mavens and salesmen arise. If a cause didn’t engender enthusiasm, it would never attract its connectors, mavens and salesmen. There are many, many causes — good ones and not-so-good ones. How many of them are you enthused about enough to think they will ‘tip’ ?

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Still Looking For The Silver Bullet: After Al Gore Invented the Internet

It seems likes the Dark Ages when the fax machine was the chosen mode of communicating the written word quickly.

I started using email in or around 1994; People For Puget Sound was an early adopter. So was National Audubon. I was happily amazed when I learned that Helen Engle, the Doyen of Audubon, was an early adopter, too.

In 1994 Willem Scholten worked with People For Puget Sound and the Seattle Library to establish a ‘Green Gopher’ portal that allow access and transmittal of the library cataloge and documents in ASCII format.

Later that year, Scholten helped launch People For Puget Sound’s website, SoundWeb.

Those were good years. Paul Brainard and Denis Hayes of The Brainard Foundation and The Bullitt Foundation, respectively, thought it was necessary for Northwest conservation groups to move into the digital age. They included money funding hardware, software and training in program grants. One Northwest (now Groundwire was born.

Back then, we were so pure. I recall the huge hoo-ha that went on when some Southern lawyer posted a commercial message and sullied the integrity of “The Internet.”

It wasn't easy to do research using the web in the early days. Educator Stephanie Raymond explained to me why it wasn't a good idea to have our intern use the web to research the subject "octopus" as I'd suggested. The entries in those days were predominantly for sex toys.

So, how many emails have you received today? How many hours have you been “surfing” the “World Wide Web”? How many Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn postings have you received today? How many have you sent? Counting how many doesn’t seem to be the point.

I like to think I could have foreseen where we are today back then. No way. How good is your imagination? How will we be communicating in 2025— and will we be understanding each other any better than we were before Al Gore invented “The Internet?”

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Still Looking For The Silver Bullet: 30 Years After 'In Search of Excellence'

If you’re old enough, you’ll remember the excitement that business consultant Tom Peters brought with his seminars and books in the 1980s: In Search of Excellence, Passion For Excellence... Managers in government agencies and electric utilities I knew were swept up and inspired by examples of how to be a successful business: reward action, trust your intuition, listen to your customers, cut red tape, match authority with responsibility...

I think we all liked the kinds of stories Tom Peters told. We liked the story about how astronaut Frank Borman insisted on clean tray tables when he took over as president of Eastern Airlines. If you can’t take care of the tray tables, why should the customer think you can take care of the engines? “Now clean your desk,” we’d joke. We also like the one about how a worker took the initiative to charter an airplane to get some important delivery through. “Get the helicopter,” we’d joke.

The eight ‘themes’ Peters and coauthor Robert Waterman highlighted were:

  1. A bias for action, active decision making - 'getting on with it'. Facilitate quick decision making & problem solving tends to avoid bureaucratic control
  2. Close to the customer - learning from the people served by the business.
  3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship - fostering innovation and nurturing 'champions'.
  4. Productivity through people- treating rank and file employees as a source of quality.
  5. Hands-on, value-driven - management philosophy that guides everyday practice - management showing its commitment.
  6. Stick to the knitting - stay with the business that you know.
  7. Simple form, lean staff - some of the best companies have minimal HQ staff.
  8. Simultaneous loose-tight properties - autonomy in shop-floor activities plus centralized values.
You’d think that with advice like this, American businesses and governments would be in ‘excellent’ shape. Next year is the 30th anniversary of the publication of In Search of Excellence. Maybe the celebration is yet to come but it’s hard to hear much talk these days about Tom Peters and the themes in In Search of Excellence.

Those must not have been the silver bullets we were looking for.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Carl Safina’s Proposal For A Merger of Knowledge and Devotion

Peregrine Falcon (Teddy Llovet)
First of all, you have to read Carl Safina’s blog post, “Knowledge and Devotion; A Proposal For A Merger” because it’s classic Safina: articulate, touching and thought-provoking.

He recasts the dilemma C.P. Snow laid out in his 1950s essay, “The Two Cultures,” bemoaning the gulf between science and cultural humanism, or the gulf between facts and values.

Safina writes: “Jacques Cousteau said, “We protect only what we love.” But to protect effectively, we must fuse head and heart. Then, we can’t just watch, and we can’t just wait; we must also do. The falcon must search the waves, but it also must focus on a target and execute the dive.

“....The broader trick is to harness science’s ability to find out what is really happening, with religion’s tendency to ask, “What is right to do?” Both halves are necessary. Without understanding what is really happening, religious imperatives have barely budged since the Middle Ages. They focus on the Creator yet ignore the creation. And without asking, “What is the right thing to do with our knowledge?,” scientific knowledge counts for little.”

Safina is one of the best examples of meeting the challenge put forth by C.P. Snow in merging science and cultural humanism. In this blog, he manages to describe the flight of the peregrine falcon and quote W.B. Yeats.

In looking to Christianity, he is told by Dr. David P. Gushee, Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University in Georgia, “Science and religion may not succeed in saving the Creation because there are not enough human beings who actually love this distressed world.”

That’s probably the case with Christianity that has a teleological dogma leading to the End of Days. Perhaps Hinduism or Buddhism may serve us better.

In this case, Safina is looking for a religious-like devotion that can ask, in this merger with science, “What is the right thing to do with our knowledge?”

That devotion is not in the dogmas of religion; it is in our cultural humanism— the poetry, the stories, the dramas, the paintings, the sculptures, the dances— of our world’s civilizations. That’s where the merger with knowledge needs to take place, that’s where the key to saving our civilization lies.

Good stuff to think about as the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference winds down today.

--Mike Sato

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Saving the Salish Sea Part 3

(Mary Lynn Stephanson)
I love to say that the whales, salmon and eagles don’t know that on one side of a border people use dollars and cents and on the other they use loonies and toonies. The fact that there is a border in the water dividing what’s now called the Salish Sea makes all the difference to the critters’ health and future.

Native tribes and conservation groups have always thought of the shared waters of British Columbia and Washington as one ecosystem. The governments of Canada, British Columbia, the United States and Washington state came together as the Georgia Basin/Puget Sound Work Group in 1992 and, in 1994, the US/Canada Marine Science Panel issued its report and recommendations.

The scientists found that the most important things to do were to minimize habitat loss, to establish marine protected areas, to protect marine plants and animals, and to minimize the introduction of invasive species.

Now, 17 years later, what do the scientists say the governments’ track record has been in moving forward on these four most important recommendations?

Do we have as much critical habitat today as we did in 1994? If less, how much less?

Do we have more acres of marine protected areas established than we did in 1994? If so, how many more acres?

There certainly are more bald eagles, seals and sea lions but what about the populations of other marine mammals, birds, fish, shellfish and sea grasses? Are they more abundant than they were in 1994? If so, how much more abundant? If not, how much less?

Are there more or less invasive species in the Salish Sea today than in 1994? How much less or how much more?

I’m told that the science is much better now than it was in 1994 and that there is a much better scientific basis for doing the things that need to be done to protect the health of the Salish Sea.

But, to be honest, the whales, salmon and eagles don’t care about science and most people don’t either. Maybe it’s simplistic but what counts for whales, salmon and eagles— and for most people-- is results, not studies and plans.

Use those dollars and cents and loonies and toonies to protect and restore critical habitats, establish marine protected areas, protect marine plants and animals and stop the invasion of alien species. Put that money to erasing that border for the whales, salmon and eagles. That’s our legacy for the Salish Sea.

--Mike Sato

Monday, October 24, 2011

Warming Up For The Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference Part 2
The Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference kicks off tomorrow in Vancouver, BC, and we’ve taken a trip down memory lane in revisiting the substance of the Sound & Straits ‘92 “People’s Agreement” laying out what needed to be done to protect and restore the Salish Sea. Part 1 of this blog dealt with the ‘declaration of principles.’

Here’s the substance of what we thought in 1992 needed to be done in ‘holding the governments of Canada, the United States, British Columbia and the state of Washington accountable.”

• Timely, effective implementation of all environmental agreements.
• Restoration of salmon habitat, as required by treaty.
• Initiating an International Joint Commission investigation and actions to restore and maintain native salmon throughout the region.
• Applying the most stringent environmental protections on either side of the boarder as minimums throughout the region.
• Involving the public in all decisions which affect the Sound and Straits.
• Creating new jobs for military personnel and redirecting resources to more urgent social, economic and environmental problems.
• Protecting the ecological resources critical to all life in the region through creation of a biosphere/sanctuary regional framework.
• Protecting life and habitat through safe shipping and safe oil transport.

So, if you need something to say at the conference when asked what needs to be done to save the Sound and Straits, feel free to crib from the list. Things haven’t changed that much in 20 years.

By the way, the folks who signed the agreement represented a pretty broad range of interests that hasn’t been seen since. They included: Canadian Paperworkers Union, Reach For Unbleached, Sierra Club of Western Canada, Save Georgia Strait Alliance, Tin Wis Coalition, Sliammon Band, Friends of Cortes Island, United Fishermen & Allied Workers Union, SPEC/BC Environmental Network, Greater Victoria Disarmament, Islands Trust, Friends of the San Juans, American Oceans Campaign, People For Puget Sound, Washington Environmental Council, Friends of Boundary Bay, Puget Sounders, Center For Marine Conservation, Wildlife & Visual Enterprises, No Oil Pipeline Ever, No Oilport, Seattle Audubon Society.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Warming Up For The Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference Part 1

Turn Point (
The Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference, formerly known as the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin Research Conference, convenes in Vancouver, BC, October 25-27.  I won’t be going this year but, like holidays, birthdays and anniversaries, the biennial conference occasions many memories.

Looking back 20 years at the time of the U.N. Rio Conference on the environment, I am struck by how doggedly correct — and presumptuous — we were in declaring that “WE, THE PEOPLE of the Sound and Straits, in pledging to work together to restore the ecological and economic health of our home, DECLARE THAT:

  1. The salmon shall be the symbol and indicator of the health of our waters, for in saving the salmon we shall save ourselves.
  2. The most protective environmental standards shall be applied as the minimal standards throughout the region.
  3. The Sound and Straits shall be a Pollution Free Zone by the year 2011.
  4. Bold and innovative solutions that protect our resources shall be recognized and rewarded.
  5. The people of the region shall be informed and involved in all aspects of governance of the region.

Go ahead, laugh at that delivery date for the Pollution Free Zone, but this was the declaration part of what was called the Sound & Straits ‘92 “People’s Agreement” developed by about 40 souls affiliated with U.S. and Canadian native, environmental, labor, peace and other organizations.

I don’t know what kind of silvery words will be used next week when the Ecosystem Conference is convened and no doubt there will be many, but there sure were some golden words in our proclamation:

“The Sound and Straits are a single region of common waters and resources, and strong ties exist among its peoples. The Canada-United States border is a boundary invisible to the region’s water, air and wildlife. As people of the region, we see no border in committing ourselves to the future environmental, social and economic health of the Sound and Straits. We seek to broaden our numbers through the power of individual and corporate responsibility and to include all peoples and organizations sharing the concern that our children inherit a just and sustainable future.

“In the context of global environmental deterioration, we call upon people everywhere to recognize our common global future, to cross boundaries and to work together toward solutions. We recognize that the most serious threat to international security is not military aggression but global environmental collapse.”

So what’s changed for the better, what’s changed for the worse, what’s been ignored in thinking ‘transboundary’ in the last 20 years? Good practice warm-up for next week’s conference.

--Mike Sato

New Whale Trail Signs on Washington State Ferries

Read the 10/18/11 news release about the signs here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

B.C.’s Bragging Rights in the Salish Sea

Orca Pass Stewardship Area
The British Columbia provincial government and the Canadian federal government will have good news to share with Americans when the 2011 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference convenes next week in Vancouver, B.C.

As reported in last Friday’s Vancouver Sun, the governments have announced that a Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area will be in place in a year.

The proposal to protect the habitats and species of the province’s waters and habitats adjoining the U.S. border began 15 years ago and will now move ahead after the province ceded jurisdiction over its seabed to the federal government.

The final management plan is yet to be developed in consultation with First Nations and local governments but the government will be expected to ensure that recreational and commercial activities will not further degrade water quality, habitats or species populations. B.C. conservation groups want no fishing in and around critical habitat areas in the larger conservation area.

It took a decade and more to place a rescue tug funded by the shipping industry at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, to put all the pieces in place to restore the Nisqually Delta, and to take down the Elwha River dams. Damn, these things take time.

The Georgia Strait conservation area proposal was one of the key elements of working towards a transboundary stewardship area extending from the Southern Gulf Islands to the U.S. San Juans.

Ten years ago, conservation groups working on both sides of the boarder developed a GIS methodology to identify and map habitats of species diversity and richness. The stewardship area was call the Orca Pass International Stewardship Area.

Here’s a nice description of Orca Pass, “From Orcas to Oystercatchers: A Community-based Campaign to Protect Transboundary Marine Resources.“

In 2004, San Juan County passed a resolution designating all county waters as an educational stewardship area.

Pulling all the pieces together is hard work: How to bring the rules and regulations of two nations, Washington state and the Province of British Columbia, First Nations and Washington treaty tribes, and local governments together in the spirit of transboundary stewardship has no doubt inspired many a School of Marine Affairs paper and a few presentations to sessions of the BC/WA biennial ecosystem conference.

One strategy to move the transboundary process along was to work in parallel on each side of the border to establish protections and thereby raise the bar for the other side to rise to. Earning and using bragging rights, as it were.

In 2009, a research conference session examined the progress of transboundary efforts since the signing of the 1994 Washington British Columbia cooperation agreement. It inspired many who hadn’t been part of the painstaking process.

This year, the conversation continues in at least one session: “Marine Protected Areas in the Salish Sea – A transboundary exploration.”

Maybe by exercising their bragging rights, the Canadians will prompt tribal, federal and state governments on this side of the border to step up.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What Is A "Constituency" For Puget Sound?

PHOTO: Doug Wilson
I was in a conversation earlier this week that brought up the finding from 2006 that three-quarters of survey respondents though Puget Sound was in good health. By 2008 things hadn't changed that much, and this year's series of focus groups found that most participants generally didn't think the Sound as a whole was that bad off.

Back in 2006, the survey results were interpreted to mean that there was not enough of a solid political constituency to support Puget Sound recovery, and that it was necessary to 'move the needle' above 25 percent and build that constituency to support funding and enhanced regulatory efforts.

I don't think that needle ever got moved nor the constituency built, and, if it were not for federal funding, there would not be what funding there is, no thanks to the recession and the state's budget crises.

Would it matter today if the needle had been moved and half or two-thirds of the people thought Puget Sound to be in not too good of a shape? Would it have been possible to move that needle? Would people be behaving differently today?

Maybe we were looking out of the wrong end of the telescope. People thought the Sound was generally in good shape and they still do. Michael Goldberg of Action Media who conducted focus groups this past summer points out that if you keep telling someone something they don't think is true ("Puget Sound is in bad shape"), they will shut your out and stop listening.

What people think is that Puget Sound is generally in good shape. Try looking at them as a pretty large constituency of like-minded people. Can they be organized to speak with one voice?-- "We've come a long way in improving the health of the Sound and there's still some important things that need to be done to keep the Sound a healthy place for us and for our children and their children."

Go ahead, tell me it isn't that simple.

--Mike Sato

Monday, October 10, 2011

Doing Easy Vs. Hard Stuff

I spent most of Sunday with a group of very savvy and passionate activists discussing, in part, the plight of Puget Sound's health and what's not being done to protect its health.

One emerging theme was the failure of the permitting system established to regulate projects big and small that alter the nearshore and shoreline environments, and the failure to enforce these regulations.

It was noted that there are the big projects by big corporations like gravel mining and coal export companies, but the real 'death of a thousand cuts' is the smaller dock and bulkheading projects, polluted runoff entering through a myriad of drainages, and malfunctioning onsite sewage systems.

It's almost as if the highly-visible, large scale projects done on behalf of the Sound in restoring the Nisqually Delta and un-damming the Elwha River are easier than cleaning up bays and inlets like Samish Bay and Quartermaster Harbor. As politically challenging as those large projects were, the number of interests involved were relatively fewer than the population and interests in a watershed.

"We, people, are the culprits," one activist observed. "And by 2020 we will have an increase in population equal to another Seattle."

"It's easy to be the David fighting the Goliath and making corporations the bad guy," another cautioned. "It's very hard when it gets down to neighbor vs. neighbor and I warn you, it isn't pleasant."

There wasn't a resolution to this discussion-- it's been one that's been confronted for the last 30 years. In larger terms, the discussion is about the proper role of government in exercising the public trust.  It was a good Sunday and a good discussion for any day of the week.

--Mike Sato

Friday, October 7, 2011

My Global Village In Time And Space

PHOTO: Laurie MacBride
This Internet business is something I've come to take for granted but this week I was struck, for a moment, by how it whooshed me up in time and space.

Maybe I'm easily enchanted but I received an email from Laurie MacBride who co-founded Georgia Strait Alliance and retired as its executive director a few years ago. Laurie was letting me know that she's 'gone public' with her photographs and writings in her new web site, Eye on Environment

We've known each other since 1992 when we worked on what we called the 'Sans Boundary Alliance' focusing on water quality and habitat issues affecting the transboundary region of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, Haro, Rosario and Georgia.

The UN Rio Conference on the environment was being held in 1992 and one of the first things we did was get our non-governmental organizations together to hammer out a joint resolution proclaiming that the shared waters of the Salish Sea would be a toxic-free zone by the year 2000.

We were older then; we're younger than that now. Laurie with her note sent in a keystroke took me back 20 years. Her photographs and her notes are singular and illuminating.

The other whoosh was in space when I received an email notiing a new blog post from friend and former KPLU environment reporter Liam Moriarty now living in France and reporting on the European scene in his blog, Salmon Nation Euroblog:  Exploring the Connections Between Europe and the Pacific Northwest

Isn't that a great blog focus for a Pacific Northwest ex-pat in France? Today's piece by Liam is titled, How to Piss Off the Canadians

Laurie, meet Liam. Liam, meet Laurie. My global village in time and space.

--Mike Sato

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thank You, Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs
I've been busy today but every time I come back to the laptop, I find myself thinking about the passing of Steve Jobs. Online, there are many, many fine words being said.

Of course, I'm working on a Mac and this has been a Mac household since I bought a Mac in 1983, along with its MacWrite and MacDraw programs. There was even some kind of spreadsheet program, I recall.

At work, we were still fighting over using the IBM Selectric typewriter and being told not to do our own typing because that was a 'take-away' of jobs from represented (union) clerks.

At home on the Mac I wrote my poems and my short stories, my love letters and resumes, journal entries and letters home to parents. That Mac died along the way but it's still wrapped up and stored somewhere.

Changing jobs and changing times allowed use of the mainframe and desktop PCs. At home, with kids and family, it was always Macs, generations passing through the decades.

I followed the news about Apple, about Steve Jobs going-- then coming back. It was like family talk. After all, after old manual newsroom typewriters, I came to age on a MacIntosh. I would go to work on a PC; I expressed who I really was on a Mac.

Where I worked for the last 20 years started out as a Mac shop and until recently continued to be a Mac shop. I should have been more attuned to the winds of change when only a few of us Mac users were left-- and one day the ax just fell.

I'm not the early adopter today that I was in 1983. My laptap still works well enough to get my work done. I don't put my old Sony Ericsson cell phone out on the table with the Blackberries others have. I am still amazed  about the things I can do with my iPad Touch-- when I can connect up. I was supposed to stand in line for the iPhone5. I guess I will have to wait awhile longer.

I'll think about Steve Jobs when I get one.

--Mike Sato

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Would You Take A Donation From Wal-Mart?

I gave a talk yesterday about doing public relations for not-for-profit organizations to Taimi Gorman's communications class at Western Washington University. I asked students whether, as the PR professionals they were to become, would they recommend taking corporate contributions from Wal-Mart?

The answers ranged from "Yes" ('that's less money they will have') to "Depends" ('what will you have to do in return' and 'who will get upset').  Except for one categorical "NO" ('not as an anarchist organization'), no one chose to answer by drawing a bright line against it.

That surprised me because I've had that discussion and I've recommended drawing that bright line against taking money from Wal-Mart, period. I've argued that, while some people would be upset and some people wouldn't be, it wouldn't be worth it to create a situation of choosing one side instead of the other. And, honestly, is taking that money any different than how a corporate political contribution looks like it 'buys'?

I don't support the Wal-Mart business model and don't think Wal-Mart is good for our communities, period. Does what I personally believe make a difference? Should it? Live long enough and you should get to know the feeling of having to do something you personally don't believe in.

We never got to that part of the discussion in class. I remarked how young and fresh they all were. I hope they all do well.

--Mike Sato

Salish Sea Communications: Truth Well Told

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Working Animals, or, Do Animals Work (For Causes)?

The Environmental Priorities Coalition last week sent out an action alert asking activists to tell the state Fish and Wildlife Commission to approve the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. Kerry McHugh who sent out the alert said that the response was one of the best she’s seen. “Wolves are a lightening rod,” she said.

Jo Bailey sent a video link this morning showing a humpback whale rescue in the Sea of Cortez. The subject line said: Humpback Whale gives show after being freed. WATCH THIS!!! Of course, I watched it. It was awesome; made me thankful for the Earth Island Institute’s Great Whale Conservancy.

From past experience I’ve seen Facebook posts and Twitter feeds featuring whales, bears and wolves rack up the hits— while links to policy and politics issues languish. Animals, it seems, are no-brainer attention-getters when it comes to getting your advocacy message up front.

Does the polar bear on the Arctic ice floe ‘work’?

Atlantic senior editor Alexis Madrigal raises an thoughtful point in his blog Fighting Climate Change Is Not About Environmentalism   He contended earlier that President Obama should say that stopping global warming isn’t about nature or ‘saving the planet’ because some kinds of plants and animals will survive but it’s human infrastructure that’s at risk. “We’ve built cities predicated on one climate and now those places have a new one. Climactic chaos is expensive,” he wrote. Life survives because ecosystems, even those stressed by rising temperatures, are resilient.

But: “Human-built environments, on the other hand, are very efficient and very brittle. They function best in a very narrow set of temperature and precipitation conditions....Now start fiddling with the climate of the place. Most of the time things are fine, but when you hit an extreme that you don't normally (floods, snow, heat, etc), stuff starts to go haywire. The infrastructure you built is encountering conditions it wasn't designed to withstand. And so it breaks.

“Somehow polar bears became the charismatic emblem of what was wrong with global warming; I think we should have made it a mayor instead.”

-Mike Sato