Notes from a rare planet: Putting a face on philanthropy and humanitarian work


A lemur in Madagascar, courtesy of luc legay on Flickr.

Nicholas Kristof’s Advice for Saving the World

  • On putting a face on philanthropy and humanitarian work: “As we all vaguely know, one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.”
  • “What would happen if aid organizations and other philanthropists embraced the dark arts of marketing spin and psychological persuasion used on Madison Avenue? We’d save millions more lives.”
  • “If one lesson is the need to emphasize hopefulness, the second is that storytelling needs to focus on an individual, not a group.”
  • “The recent research in social psychology offers a couple of central lessons. The first is a bit surprising: We intervene not because of stories of desperate circumstances but when we can be cheered up with positive stories of success and transformation. For example, one experiment found that people are quite willing to pay for a water-treatment facility to save 4,500 lives in a refugee camp with 11,000 people in it, but they are much less willing to pay for the same facility to save 4,500 lives when the refugee camp is said to have 250,000 inhabitants. In effect, what matters is saving a high proportion of people, not just a large number of lives.”

NASA Says Chile Earthquake Shortened Earth’s Day

  • “Gross said that even though the Chilean earthquake is much smaller than the Sumatran quake, it is predicted to have changed the position of the figure axis by a bit more for two reasons. First, unlike the 2004 Sumatran earthquake, which was located near the equator, the 2010 Chilean earthquake was located in Earth’s mid-latitudes, which makes it more effective in shifting Earth’s figure axis.”
  • “Second, the fault responsible for the 2010 Chilean earthquake dips into Earth at a slightly steeper angle than does the fault responsible for the 2004 Sumatran earthquake. This makes the Chile fault more effective in moving Earth’s mass vertically and hence more effective in shifting Earth’s figure axis.”

Forests are growing faster, ecologists discover; Climate change appears to be driving accelerated growth

  • “Speed is not a word typically associated with trees; they can take centuries to grow. However, a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found evidence that forests in the Eastern United States are growing faster than they have in the past 225 years. The study offers a rare look at how an ecosystem is responding to climate change.”

French company prepares to ship illegally logged rainforest wood from Madagascar

  • “Delmas, a French shipping company that has been under pressure for facilitating the destruction of Madagascar’s rainforest parks, has been cleared to begin picking up contraband rosewood as soon as Monday, report local sources in the Indian Ocean island nation. Leaders behind last year’s military coup — which displaced the autocratic, but democratically elected President Marc Ravalomanana — have signed off on the shipment.”
  • “Madagascar’s most biodiverse rainforest parks have been ravaged by the logging. Tens of thousands of hectares of protected forests have invaded by loggers hired a smuggling syndicate linked with local vanilla barons. The trade has been associated with a rise in commercial bushmeat trafficking of lemurs and other endangered wildlife. Traders and loggers have threatened conservation workers, including breaking the feet of a park ranger in an August attack.”

Rare and Paul Butler were mentioned in a WaPo op-ed about the power of emotional appeals to spur great change

  • “In “Switch,” the authors tell a story about the St. Lucia parrot — a magnificent, colorful creature that lives only on that Caribbean island. Biologists were writing the species’ eulogy when conservation activist Paul Butler found himself charged with figuring out how to save the parrot. Butler had ideas: create a bird sanctuary, license eco-tourism and muscle up the punishments for harming the parrot. But he also had a problem. Most people on St. Lucia didn’t know about the parrot, let alone care, and some people even ate the poor bird. What to do?”
  • “Instead of making an analytical case, Butler went for the emotional. He appealed to St. Lucians’ national character. The message: We are the kind of people who take care of our own. This bird is ours alone, and we must protect it. He built popular support for new laws, and today, there are seven times as many parrots happily squawking on the island.”
  • Michele Bee

    Nicholas Kristof: good suggestions for evoking interest in a specific cause