Tag Archives: social

Here’s why Twitter’s political ad ban gives Big Oil a free pass

If you’re fortunate enough not to have a Twitter account, then you might have missed the news that the website’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, took the unprecedented step of banning political ads last week. In a Twitter thread (what else?), Dorsey explained the logic behind the move, which sets the social network apart from major competitors like Facebook, which has not banned much of anything, including neo-Nazis, in the name of “free speech.” “We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” he wrote.

Twitter’s decision, which will take effect on November 22, was hailed as a win for democracy and civic discourse. In a tweet, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York called the move a “good call,” adding, “if a company cannot or does not wish to run basic fact-checking on paid political advertising, then they should not run paid political ads at all.”

But there’s a significant downside to Twitter’s decision. Ads that “advocate for or against legislative issues of national importance,” like immigration, health care, and, yes, climate change, are on the chopping block. And when it comes to the issue of climate change, Twitter’s new policy gives oil and gas companies a leg up, and the folks who want to regulate those companies a kneecapping.

In recent years, Big Oil has finally wiped the smog off its glasses and read the writing on the wall: the public knows that a shortlist of multinational corporations are responsible for the lion’s share of the world’s planet-heating emissions. So those corporations shifted tactics lickity-split. Instead of denying that climate change exists, fossil fuel companies want you, and government regulators, to think that they’ve changed their oily ways. ExxonMobil says it’s investing heavily in developing a clean biofuel from algae. Shell produced several climate change manifestos with hopeful titles like “the Sky scenario” that it says have the potential to stop climate change. Chevron is saving turtles in the Philippines.

The problem is that these great initiatives are just a tiny sliver of what Big Oil actually does, which is — you guessed it! — dig up and sell oil. Algae biofuel is Exxon’s hobby (read: marketing ploy), oil is its day job. But it wants you, the consumer, to think that its top scientists are in the lab day and night working tirelessly to save the planet. Meanwhile, in Congress, these same companies are spending hundreds of millions every year to lobby against any kind of climate regulation that will hurt their bottom lines.

Twitter’s new policy allows ExxonMobil to keep filling up your newsfeed with ads about a biofuel that isn’t going to be commercially viable for at least another decade. But it bans a politician from buying ad space to tell you that, if elected, they plan to go after Big Oil.

Exxon’s efforts may not appear overtly political, but they absolutely are. Trying to hoodwink voters and regulators so that the government doesn’t hold polluters accountable is fundamentally at odds with Dorsey’s vision of earning reach instead of buying it. Has Big Oil earned the right to clog our newsfeeds with pictures of green gunk that’s ostensibly going to save the earth? Certainly not.

Twitter has put us in a tough spot. Yes, it’s good that, pretty soon, politicians and dark-money-fueled super-PACs won’t be able to force whatever nonsense they want onto the public. But the new ban will also tilt the online playing field in favor of companies that want to keep burning fossil fuels and against the politicians and groups that want to legislate them out of existence. Which is all to say that regulating civic discourse on social media is a gargantuan task and one that’s nearly impossible to do right. If you came here looking for an answer to this ethical dilemma, I’m sorry to disappoint. Go tweet @jack.

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Here’s why Twitter’s political ad ban gives Big Oil a free pass

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As Hurricane Dorian aid stalls, frustrated Bahamians take relief into their own hands

When the floodwaters of Hurricane Dorian receded, Crystal deGregory decided it was safe to step out of her mom’s home in Grand Bahama. Driving around, she spotted people drying out their drenched belongings, while others rummaged through the rubble and what was left of their homes after the catastrophe.

Hurricane Dorian is tied for the most powerful Atlantic hurricane to make landfall on record, after battering the Bahamas with up to 220 mph winds for 40 hours straight last weekend. As of Friday morning, Hurricane Dorian’s official death toll was at 30, but thousands are still missing, and the islands’ health minister has warned that the final death count will be “staggering.”

The material devastation is staggering, too. According to a report by the insurance agency Karen Clark & Company, the Category 5 storm could cost the Bahamas a total of $7 billion in insured and uninsured losses.

As the death toll rises and Bahamians await food, water, and other supplies, there is a growing sense of frustration toward government officials. “The government is doing what governments do, what they think is best regardless of whether or not it is,” DeGregory, a historian and writer, told Grist. “But when you don’t tell the complete truth, you erode public trust.”

In the absence of a coordinated government response, many Bahamians, including deGregory, have turned to social media for help, promoting GoFundMe campaigns, looking for missing persons, and sharing information about available resources. “I’ve long been on Twitter to raise awareness on important issues,” deGregory, whose tweets summarizing the state of affairs in the Northern Bahamas went viral on Friday. “Today’s advocacy is for the most important issue, and that is human lives.”

Although Hurricane Dorian damaged electricity networks on Grand Bahama and Abaco islands, most phone networks have been restored since the storm subsided. And as one of the few people with any signal during the storm, she immediately turned to social media so that “people can be aware of what is happening in the Bahamas, and that it encourages them to give us aid.” For the past week, DeGregory has using her Twitter account to signal-boost other Bahamanians’ requests for aid, on-the-ground reports, complaints about government inaction, and expressions of strength and resilience

“Social media can be used for noble causes,” deGregory said. “The Bahamas is a great example of this. Other nations will be wise to learn from this, even if it was a painful example.”

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As Hurricane Dorian aid stalls, frustrated Bahamians take relief into their own hands

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How do countries cover climate change? Depends how rich they are.

Deadly heat waves, violent downpours, wildfires that seem to get more intense every year — the climate crisis leaves no part of the globe untouched. But around the world, the media spins warming and its effects differently. The No. 1 sign of how the press in a given country talks about it? Wealth.

Richer nations tend to politicize the issue, while poorer nations more often present it as a problem of international concern, according to a new study published in the journal Global Environmental Change. Researchers in Kansas and Vietnam analyzed more than 37,000 news articles from 45 countries and territories using computer algorithms and found that the strongest predictor of how a given country’s press will cover climate change is Gross Domestic Product per capita. In short: The way a country’s media reports on global warming is based on the resources available to combat it.

Richer countries: ‘Is there even a problem?’

Coverage in affluent countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and Spain, focuses on the political debate over how to use ample national resources to address global warming — or whether to do so at all.

Rich countries also tend to frame global warming as a scientific issue — which makes sense, considering that they can devote more dollars to science research. But the study also found that science wasn’t always portrayed accurately. Outlets in richer nations often highlight the voices of people who deny the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is caused by humans. (That consensus among scientists, for the record, has now likely passed 99 percent). It’s a recurring problem: A new study in the journal Nature Communications found that between 2000 and 2016, prominent climate deniers were featured in a whopping 50 percent more articles than hundreds of scientists.

The media in rich nations “really like the conflict” and tend to “portray climate change as an issue that has not been settled,” said Hong T. Vu, lead author of the study looking at rich vs poor nations and an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Kansas.

Poorer countries: ‘We’re all in this together’

In contrast, poorer countries, such as Gambia, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka, simply can’t afford to deny climate change — or adapt to it as easily as wealthier countries do. They rely on aid from richer nations to help fund their efforts to stave off warming’s effects, a trend that shows up in the news. An editorial in the Fiji Times earlier this year, for instance, says that curbing the effects of climate change demands a “global effort.” It also points to the influx of climate adaption money coming into the Pacific region from international agencies.

Asking richer nations to contribute more to climate action efforts may sound like charity, but well-to-do nations contribute way more than poorer nations to carbon dioxide emissions to begin with, and that they generally stand to fare better under warming conditions. A study from Stanford University earlier this year found that climate change is widening the economic gap between countries, simultaneously making rich ones richer and poor ones poorer.

Everyone: Too few solutions

Researchers did find some across-the-board trends when they analyzed coverage in both rich and poor nations. After looking at thousands of articles, Vu’s team determined that the most common frame in climate change coverage was international relations, followed by its effects on the economy. The least popular frame for coverage? Social progress. Only 4 percent of stories covered new lifestyle changes or societal developments related to our overheating planet.

“If we look back, climate change has been in the public discussion for 30 years, and we are not doing very well in communicating it,” Vu said. He hopes that the media can figure out how to communicate the issue as an urgent problem that requires meaningful policy action while simultaneously encouraging people to see the role they can play in remedying our planetary predicament.

He probably wouldn’t mind if it would stop sowing confusion about the science, either.

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How do countries cover climate change? Depends how rich they are.

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The Goodness Paradox – Richard Wrangham


The Goodness Paradox

The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution

Richard Wrangham

Genre: Life Sciences

Price: $13.99

Publish Date: January 29, 2019

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

“A fascinating new analysis of human violence, filled with fresh ideas and gripping evidence from our primate cousins, historical forebears, and contemporary neighbors.” —Steven Pinker, author of  The Better Angels of Our Nature We Homo sapiens can be the nicest of species and also the nastiest. What occurred during human evolution to account for this paradox? What are the two kinds of aggression that primates are prone to, and why did each evolve separately? How does the intensity of violence among humans compare with the aggressive behavior of other primates? How did humans domesticate themselves? And how were the acquisition of language and the practice of capital punishment determining factors in the rise of culture and civilization? Authoritative, provocative, and engaging, The Goodness Paradox offers a startlingly original theory of how, in the last 250 million years, humankind became an increasingly peaceful species in daily interactions even as its capacity for coolly planned and devastating violence remains undiminished. In tracing the evolutionary histories of reactive and proactive aggression, biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham forcefully and persuasively argues for the necessity of social tolerance and the control of savage divisiveness still haunting us today.

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The Goodness Paradox – Richard Wrangham

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How Harvard’s investments exacerbate global land and water conflicts

In late May, an open letter appeared on Medium penned by Kat Taylor, an overseer of Harvard’s investment fund. Taylor was resigning her position in protest because portions of the university’s multi-billion-dollar endowment have gone to “land purchases that may not respect indigenous rights” and “water holdings that threaten the human right to water.”

“We should and would be horrified to find out that Harvard investments are actually funding some of the pernicious activities against which our standout academic leadership rails,” she wrote.

A similar letter appeared in 2014, this time written by an international group of leaders from civil society organizations, like the Croatan Institute and the Global Forest Coalition. “Four decades ago, Harvard was in fact a leader in the movement for more responsible institutional investment,” the coalition wrote. “Today Harvard can no longer claim to play such a role.”

Harvard began investing in farmland in the aftermath of the world food price crisis in 2007, which made agricultural land desirable, and the financial crisis in 2008, which increased the appeal of more tangible assets. In the subsequent decade, the Harvard Management Company, as the school’s investment arm is known, has purchased large swaths of farmland in Brazil, South Africa, Russia, the Ukraine, New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S.

The elite university has quietly become one of the largest owners of farmland in the world, according to a new report by GRAIN, an international nonprofit supporting small farmers, and Brazil-based Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos (Social Network for Justice and Human Rights). The investigation found that Harvard’s estimated 1 billion dollars of investments are often made without due diligence or respect for the people who have lived for generations on the land it acquired.

“This is a really tough document to read about essentially how Harvard has blood on its hands,” says Keisha-Khan Perry, a professor of Africana studies at Brown whose research focuses on black social movements and land rights within the Americas.

The report extensively documents many Harvard-financed land acquisitions that directly led to the devastation of indigenous peoples, the creation of internal refugees, and the destruction of sacred and ecologically important areas. Among numerous examples: Harvard’s investors acquired several South African farms. Post-apartheid land reforms had granted property rights to black workers who once worked the land and their families. After taking over these parcels in 2011, Harvard put in place farm managers who restricted those families’ rights, including for grazing their cattle and accessing family burial sites. The managers also imposed a system of penalties that could result in the expulsion of a family if any of its members disobeyed the restrictions.

Perry notes that the school’s large-scale investments in indigenous land — which she says is part of a broader phenomenon known as “land grabbing” — can contribute to ecological degradation, land conflicts, and even warfare. “It’s almost like investing in gold in Sierra Leone, or oil in Nigeria, or diamonds on South Africa,” she explains.

A Harvard Management Company spokesperson, Patrick McKiernan, pushed back against characterizations like the ones made by Perry and the new report. “Harvard Management Company focuses on environmental, social, and governance matters for all of its investments, to ensure long-term value for both the asset and the communities in which we invest,” he wrote to Grist. “This commitment to responsible investing involves working with relevant constituents, including local authorities, to address any issues that arise during our investment, even if they predate HMC’s involvement.”

Harvard’s most extensive and conflict-ridden land acquisitions have occurred in Brazil. The university acquired nearly 300,000 hectares of land in the Cerrado, the world’s most biodiverse savannah that’s home to 80 different indigenous ethnicities. The area has become a “new frontier,” as the report notes, for soy, sugarcane, and large-scale monoculture commodities — which makes it a safe investment.

The investigation documents what happened in Baixão Fechado, one village that was impacted by these investments. Activities on two farms Harvard acquired have resulted in mass deforestation and the diversion of water used by the local community for agricultural irrigation. “[Residents say] the large amounts of water the farms use for irrigation, have badly affected their access to water which was previously plentiful and of good quality,” the report notes. “The situation has become so bad that the village has had to start bringing in water by trucks.”

Further, pesticides used on the Harvard-owned land have also contributed to health problems, the contamination of fishing grounds, and the destruction of crops, all of which disrupted the local community’s “way of life,” according to Perry.

In the northeastern part of the Cerrado, there’s a widespread practice of falsifying property titles to legitimize the occupation of public lands — a form of land grabbing. As the report explains, the lands are fenced to give the appearance of a farm and the fraudulent titles are then sold to companies often connected to foreign investors. The report notes that Harvard channeled funds through three different business groups in this region and acquired land from a Brazilian businessman well-known for this scheme.

It’s this deliberate or neglectful disregard of the region’s sociopolitical context and history that Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos’ Maria Mendonca, one of the authors of the report, finds highly troubling.

“Any casual look into what’s happening in that part of Brazil should have set off alarm bells,” she explains. “If they just looked into the historical records of these land areas, they would have been able to see that there are existing land conflicts, and they should have stayed away from that.”

There’s a better way to invest in the region, Mendonca says: Harvard and others could promote organic agriculture and invest in the region’s hundreds of small farming communities who have worked the land for generations.

“That’s not what they’re doing,” Mendonca says. “They fence the area, they displace people, and then they pollute the water, the soil, the land.”

Institutions are actually attracted to Brazil in part because of the country’s history of violent land grabs, says Madeleine Fairbairn, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who studies agriculture systems and land rights. That’s because Brazil’s land is concentrated among relatively few owners so institutional investors can acquire large swaths of property with very few transactions, she says

Even so, Fairbairn notes, that’s no excuse for not performing due diligence on investments. “Unfortunately, many investors fail to ask the difficult questions about how the previous owner came to control such a great big expanse of Brazilian savannah in the first place,” she explains. By naming subsidiaries that Harvard Management Company used to acquire farms, as well as tracking where the properties were located, Fairbairn says GRAIN and Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos are “pulling back the veil that shields institutional investors from public scrutiny.”

It’s not only Harvard and other universities that are invested in this farmland. Professors and other employees are passive participants, as well: Their retirement plans are often managed by the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association. The association, as the reports shows, acquired more farmland than any other pension fund. “We cannot continue to say that we do not know where our money is being invested,” says Perry, the professor at Brown, a university that has a $3.5 billion endowment. “At some point, as faculty, as the report urged, we need to figure out how to make a case for divestment.”

In her resignation letter, Kat Taylor — the former overseer of Harvard’s investment fund — says she made that same case for years, but her “soft power approach” failed to move the needle. Left with no other recourse, she felt that resigning publicly was the only card she could play — a last-ditch effort to get Harvard to rid itself of these controversial investments. (The decision was largely a symbolic gesture, given that her six-year term was to conclude the next day.)

“For Harvard to continue to profit from activities that might and likely do accelerate us toward climate disaster, enslave millions to unfair labor practices, or proliferate more and more weapons in society that threaten especially young lives is unconscionable,” she wrote. “I fervently hope that all of you will demand accountable financial transactions on behalf of us all as I have tried to do.”

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How Harvard’s investments exacerbate global land and water conflicts

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Surprise! It’s winter and half of America is brutally cold.

In 2017, I couldn’t stop trying to identify corvids. It’s harder than you might think. My latest challenge: a photo of a black bird on the ground. It’s got the fluffy neck feathers of an adult raven and the blue eyes of a baby crow. I’m going with: Raven.

Turns out it’s an Australian raven, a species identifiable by their bright blue eyes. By the rules of #CrowOrNo, I win, because I correctly guessed it’s not a crow. (Though in fairness, I’d call it a draw.)

#CrowOrNo is a weekly Twitter challenge hosted by University of Washington crow scientist Kaeli Swift. Each week, she posts a picture of a bird, which always — to the untrained eye — looks an awful lot like a crow. For a few hours, the eager public submits guesses as to whether it’s a crow, or no. After the big reveal, she explains the clues to use to tell crows from their cousins.

The challenge helps illustrate the large and surprisingly complex world of corvids, a smart family of big-brained birds that includes crows, ravens, and jays. It also shines light on some great crow-themed mysteries, like why some crows have caramel-colored feathers.

For me, the more I learn about crows, the more I see the extraordinary in the most seemingly ordinary birds — like the fact they can recognize faces and might even give gifts.

That’s the value of taking science out of the lab to the social media sphere, like Swift is doing. And, crow or no, I think we could all use a little more science in our lives.

Jesse Nichols is a contributing assistant video producer at Grist.

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Surprise! It’s winter and half of America is brutally cold.

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Resilience Practice – Brian Walker & David Salt


Resilience Practice

Building Capacity to Absorb Disturbance and Maintain Function

Brian Walker & David Salt

Genre: Nature

Price: $27.99

Publish Date: August 6, 2012

Publisher: Island Press

Seller: INscribe Digital

In 2006, Resilience Thinking addressed an essential question: As the natural systems that sustain us are subjected to shock after shock, how much can they take and still deliver the services we need from them? This idea caught the attention of both the scientific community and the general public. In Resilience Practice , authors Brian Walker and David Salt take the notion of resilience one step further, applying resilience thinking to real-world situations and exploring how systems can be managed to promote and sustain resilience. The book begins with an overview and introduction to resilience thinking and then takes the reader through the process of describing systems, assessing their resilience, and intervening as appropriate. Following each chapter is a case study of a different type of social-ecological system and how resilience makes a difference to that system in practice. The final chapters explore resilience in other arenas, including on a global scale. Resilience Practice will help people with an interest in the “coping capacity” of systems—from farms and catchments to regions and nations—to better understand how resilience thinking can be put into practice. It offers an easy-to-read but scientifically robust guide through the real-world application of the concept of resilience and is a must read for anyone concerned with the management of systems at any scale.

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Resilience Practice – Brian Walker & David Salt

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The Tribe of Tiger – Elizabeth Marshall Thomas


The Tribe of Tiger
Cats and Their Culture
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

Genre: Life Sciences

Price: $2.99

Publish Date: July 14, 2015

Publisher: Open Road Media

Seller: OpenRoad Integrated Media, LLC

From the majestic Bengal tiger to the domesticated Siamese comes a meditation on cats from the bestselling author of The Hidden Life of Dogs and The Social Lives of Dogs From as far back in time as the disappearance of the dinosaurs, cats have occupied an important place in our evolutionary, social, and cultural history. The family of the cat is as diverse as it is widespread, ranging from the lions, tigers, and pumas of the African and Asian wilds to the domesticated cats of our homes, zoos, and circuses.   When she witnesses her housecat, Rajah, effortlessly scare off two fully-grown deer, acclaimed anthropologist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas starts studying the links that bind the feline family together. Immersing herself in the subtle differences of their social orders, feeding behaviors, and means of communication, Thomas explores the nature of the cat, both wild and domestic, and the resilient streak that has ensured its survival over thousands of years. “The latest animal book from the author of The Hidden Life of Dogs will have ailurophiles purring.” — Publishers Weekly , starred review   “Thomas enjoys the complexity and subtlety of feline society and rejects many of the oversimplifications that have become ‘popular knowledge’ concerning cats.” — The New York Review of Books   “Insightful.” — Booklist Elizabeth Marshall Thomas is an acclaimed American anthropologist and author who has published a variety of fiction and nonfiction, including the international bestsellers  The Hidden Life of Dogs  and  The Tribe of Tiger . After spending her early life in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Thomas studied at both Smith and Radcliffe Colleges, and in 1962 won a Guggenheim Fellowship for Social Sciences. She currently lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

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The Tribe of Tiger – Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

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Green Your Tailgating, No Matter Your School’s Colors


What happens when you get 92,000 people together in one place on a Saturday before a football game? Tailgating is one of the most fun parts of watching a football game (both college and pro), but it isn’t one of the most environmentally friendly. Have you ever seen what those parking lots and lawns look like after a game?

Image source

Even when trashcans are provided, trash is littered everywhere. The residents, cities and schools end up spending lots of time trying to clean up the trash from the event. Even with recycling programs in place, all the recyclables never seem to end up in the right collection bin.

However, there are some practical ways that fans can green their tailgating and still have fun. Ready to find out how? Green 32, green 32 … set … hike.

1. Reusable plates, utensils and cups

Even the red Solo cup has a reusable cousin. Recycled plastic plates, reusable utensils and cloth napkins can be used for tailgating, and you can save them and use them again at the next game. These products are more durable than the traditional disposable products and can be tossed in the dishwasher when you get home.

2. Recycle at home

Keep a bag or box in your tailgate area and take your empty cans and bottles home to recycle, or drop them off on your way out of town at the local recycle center.

3. Low-waste or zero-waste food

Avoid individually packaged foods, buy in bulk and bring fresh food whenever possible. This will cut down on the amount of waste that you have to dispose of at the end of the day. Food scraps can be composted; just toss them in a bag to take home and compost.

4. Take an extra trash bag and share with a neighbor

Perhaps a neighboring fan forgot to bring their own trash bag. By sharing, you are helping keep the area clean. Before you leave for the day, perhaps you could pick up just a few pieces of trash from the surrounding area for any fans who may not be as tidy (or may be too intoxicated to realize what they’ve done).

5. Leave only footprints, take only memories

It’s a pretty easy concept, really — take everything you brought with you. Don’t leave any games, broken chairs, tables or trash behind. When thinking about souvenirs for the day, consider the items carefully and make sure they are durable.

It amazes me just how bad these parking lots and lawns can look after a game. We all know better, so let’s enjoy the football season sustainably.

What “green” tailgating tips do you have to share? Leave them in the comments.

Feature image courtesy of Daniel X. O’Neil

Latest Posts

Calley Pate

A self-described eco-junkie, Calley Pate is the owner and editor of

The Eco Chic

blog covering eco-friendly living, cloth diapers, parenting, photography, and life in general. Her passion growing up was the arts and the ocean. After working as an environmental contractor, Calley took the leap into blogging full time in 2011.Calley is also Marketing & Social Media Manager for Kelly’s Closet cloth diaper retailer.

Latest posts by Calley Pate (see all)

Green Your Tailgating, No Matter Your School’s Colors – September 6, 2017
9 Eco-Friendly, Upcycled Thanksgiving Decoration Ideas – November 20, 2015
The Upcycled Office Space – November 9, 2015



Green Your Tailgating, No Matter Your School’s Colors

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What Do Millennials Spend All Their Money On?

Mother Jones

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A few days ago, Australian real-estate mogul Tim Gurner had some harsh words for millennials who are unhappy that they can’t afford to buy a house:

“When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each,” he said. “We’re at a point now where the expectations of younger people are very, very high. They want to eat out every day; they want travel to Europe every year.

“The people that own homes today worked very, very hard for it,” he said, adding that they “saved every dollar, did everything they could to get up the property investment ladder.”

This prompted a snarky, avocado-centric Twitter meme for a while, and the next day the New York Times even tried to fact check Gurner’s claim:

According to the Food Institute, which analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics expenditure data from 2015, people from 25 to 34 spent, on average, $3,097 on eating out. Data for this age group through the decades was not readily available….As for Mr. Gurner’s second suggestion — skipping the European vacation — there is indeed an opportunity for savings, but research suggests millennials are the generation spending the least on travel.

This is some strange stuff. In its current form, the BLS Consumer Expenditure Survey goes back to the 80s, so this data is indeed available through the decades. Still, at least this is an attempt to take Gurner seriously: he’s not literally complaining about avocados on toast, but about a cavalier attitude toward money in general. So let’s take a look at that. First, here are total expenditures for 25-34-year-olds:

As you can see, millennials spend a smaller proportion of their income than 25-34-year-olds did a generation ago. In the Reagan era, this age group spent 91 percent of their income. Today’s millennials spend only 81 percent of their income.1 Still, thanks to rising incomes their total expenditures clock in about $3,000 higher (adjusted for inflation) than young households in the 80s.

But do they spend a big part of that income on fripperies, like lavish vacations and expensive dinners out? Let’s look:

Three decades ago, 18-34-year-olds spent 10.5 percent of their income on entertainment and eating out. Millennials spend 8.6 percent. In real dollars, that represents a small decline. In other words, millennials are more frugal about dining and entertainment than past generations.

So what do millennials spend their money on each year? They may have $3,000 more in disposable income than young families of the 80s and 90s, but they also spend:

About $1,000 more on health care.
About $1,500 more on pensions and Social Security.
About $2,000 more on overall housing (rent, maintenance, utilities, etc.).
About $700 more on education.

If they’re not buying houses, this is why. It’s not because houses are more expensive: the average house costs about a third more than it did in the 80s and early 90s, but thanks to low interest rates the average mortgage payment is about the same or even a bit lower. But it’s tough to scrape together a down payment when you’re already running a tight ship on dining and entertainment and paying more than previous generations for health care, education, retirement, and student loans.

That said, I’ll add one more thing: our perceptions are probably a bit warped about this. Millennials who write about this stuff tend to live in media centers like New York or San Francisco or Washington DC, where housing is extremely expensive. Even with a decent income it’s hard to afford anything more than a cramped apartment. In the rest of the country things are different, but we don’t hear as much about that. Caveat emptor.

1The share of income not counted as expenditures includes taxes, student loans, credit card payments, savings, etc.

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What Do Millennials Spend All Their Money On?

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