Saturday, May 12, 2012

Saturday Short Subjects: Calculating Your Handprint

It’s easy to succumb to the feeling of being hopeless or powerless if we read too many  op-eds such as the one from James Hansen published in the New York Times this week. This piece reinforces the idea that we are in big trouble already and makes the claim that if Canada proceeds to exploit the oil in its tar sand reserves that it will be “game over” for the planet. Hansen, the director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, calls for a drastic but reasoned change of our energy course, and for the American public to rise to the challenge. He is pretty much preaching to the choir when it comes to readers of this blog. 

Back in March, Time published a list of “10 Ideas That Are Changing Your Life.” Number 3 was “Handprints,” the idea of Gregory Norris, lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health. Norris had discovered that his students, after calculating their carbon footprints, often expressed the opinion that the planet would be better off if they had not been born. The students were simply overwhelmed by too much bad news. [The same thing can happen by reading to many Op-Eds.]

What was missing was the notion that each person CAN make a positive contribution to the planet. To make these benefits as tangible as footprints, Norris developed the concept of “Handprints,” and set up a website with an app in beta which lets you calculate your handprint and pledge ways you intend to enlarge it. [While you want your footprint to get smaller, you want your handprint to grow.] You then share the action through various social media networks (Facebook for now, but Twitter and Google+ soon). As friends make the same pledge, your handprint increases.

Time interviewed cognitive scientist Elke Weber about the concept. Weber feels that the handprint might remedy the difficulty many people have in moving from awareness of global warming to taking action to bring about change. “If we have a positive goal in mind that we can take small, manageable steps toward, we feel good —and are more likely to keep going. Step by step by hand.”

Small steps certainly work for me. It’s been a lovely spring day. This morning I helped plant a tree, a Yoshino cherry, in Wooster Square, as it turns out in front of the house of an old friend. I heard a beautiful baby girl was born in Denmark. And I’m about to go back to handprinter to make my pledge. For now you’ll have to look for it on my Facebook page.

If anyone still needs a Mother’s Day gift, just go to, make a pledge, and tell your mom what you did. If she’s like me, it will make her heart sing. 

Have a great weekend.

Why Saturday Short Subjects? Some readers may recall  being dropped at the movie theater for the Saturday matinee — two action-packed feature films with a series of short subjects (cartoons or short movies, sometimes a serial cliffhanger) sandwiched in between. Often the short subjects were the most memorable, and enjoyable, part of the morning. That explains the name. The reason behind these particular posts is that we are all short on time. My Short Subject posts should not take me as long to write or you as long to read (or try).

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