With the 2020 elections underway, climate policy is starting to take center stage. Now, most top Democratic candidates have some plan to tackle the issue, and some even have multi-trillion-dollar proposals to combat it. But it wasn’t always that way. In 2015, Bernie declared climate change “the largest threat to national security,” yet the issue was far from mainstream. Could AOC’s Green New Deal have anything to do with it?
The Green New Deal
In February of 2019, AOC released an outline of her Green New Deal. The ambitious plan aims to have the United States fulfill its entire power demand through zero-emissions energy sources, overhaul transportation systems that contribute adversely to the environment, and more.
Certainly, the Green New Deal has set the tone for the elections in 2020. Washington Governor Jay Inslee might be most notable for his climate platform, but we can’t forget about Harris, Warren, O’Rourke, Booker, or Biden either.
The last election, few took climate policy seriously. Times are different now and you can thank AOC for that. Whether or not you agree with the Green New Deal, you have to admit that AOC has put climate policy on the map.
And here’s why.
The First Democratic Debates
Some would argue that climate change still isn’t mainstream and they’d cite the amount of time dedicated to discussing the issue in the first Democratic debates. Specifically, only 7 minutes were allotted in discussing the issue of climate change.
Now, you might argue something along the lines of “Well, of course, immigration and guns got more time — they’re more important issues!” And you’d be somewhat right: social issues have long been important, especially to the Democratic party. The problem with that argument though is that it implies there’s a direct correlation between time spent on an issue in the debates and the importance of that issue. In most cases, there is, but on climate, the DNC is dead wrong.
Let’s take a step back and entertain a couple of points.
Warren, O’Rourke, and Booker answered that climate change is the number one geopolitical threat. For a second, let’s disregard the fact that climate change really isn’t a “geopolitical threat” per se. Did these candidates really think that climate change is a “geopolitical threat”? Well, we’ll never really know, but I have a hunch they didn’t. Just look at the news cycle — that answer paid dividends in a big way.
Discussion of climate change was present on the second night too.
It started with Eric Swalwell mentioning “If we’re going to solve the issue of climate chaos, pass the torch.” Bernie in response to Swalwell’s reiteration of “passing the torch,” mentioned that it wasn’t a generational issue; instead, it would come down to “who has the guts to stand up to the fossil fuel industry…”
Of course, there was a more direct discussion of climate change too. Harris reaffirmed her support for the Green New Deal and mentioned that as president, she would reenter the United States into the Paris Agreement. Buttigieg voiced his plan to institute a carbon tax. Hickenlooper believes that working with the oil and gas to move the needle. Biden voiced that as president, he would build 500,000 recharging stations across the United States. Sanders mentioned he would move the United States away from the fossil fuel industry.
When the candidates were asked about what issue they would tackle if they could only tackle one, answers were pretty spread out.
Bennet also mentioned climate change. Andrew Yang said UBI, the centerpiece of his platform, but sees it also help with climate change. Hickenlooper also mentions climate change.
Conclusions and Next Steps
Though the Green New Deal likely won’t be signed into law, it has created a standard for Democrats. Though climate change isn’t a centerpiece of anyone’s platform other than Inslee’s, the issue will undoubtedly continue to be discussed.
On August 22nd, DNC officials will meet in San Francisco to discuss potentially having a climate debate or forum. In the case of a forum, candidates would discuss instead of debate.
Climate change has come a long way as an issue. For all the complaints about the issue only getting 7 minutes of discussion in the first Democratic debates, that’s already more than the issue got in the entire 2016 election.
Now, obviously AOC wasn’t the first to take political action against climate change, but she should be credited with making the issue mainstream. You wonder if candidates would even bother discussing climate if AOC’s Green New Deal didn’t exist…
Opinion: We Need To Change The Way We Frame Climate Data
Though we already know climate data is far from being able to convince everyone that climate change exists, it also hasn’t really impacted the general public in ways that you might expect.
Sure, climate change climatologists have repeatedly proven some of the scary statistics you’ve seen in headlines. And sure, despite all the evidence in the world indicating that global temperatures are rising, dissenters will habitually turn the other way.
Are we really going to die in 50 years? Is it really true that some cities will be underwater in the coming years? You might be skeptical about some of these assertions and if you are, you wouldn’t be alone.
That’s because people don’t necessarily digest headlines like those well, according to a Stanford study that dives into how the framing of certain statistics (which encapsulates climate data) can have drastically different impacts on readers.
Here are just a couple of explanations that justify why that’s the case.
The Uncertain Strength of Certainty
Intuitively, you would think that it makes sense for people to believe more in precise data predictions. What is surprising though is how and why readers decide what data to ignore.
Researchers discovered that the American public generally found data indicating specific worst and best case scenarios a whopping 8% more credible than a middle estimate.
That is, “We’re all going to die in 75 years” may be less believable than “We’re all going to die in 50 or 100 years.”
Obviously scientists want to provide the public with as much exact data as possible, but absolute certainty is not always attainable. And especially as it relates to climate data, there comes a level of responsibility to convey data properly. Miscommunication about climate data, which comes from media and beyond, is costing lives. Clearly something needs to change.
Ambiguity Often Decreases Credibility, But Not Always With Climate Data
Oftentimes, scientists lose credibility with their audiences when there are ambiguities in their research or convey information in ways that seem very general. Similarly, with a lot of uncertainty related to the climate change topic, it can be important to admit so.
The study’s co-author, Stanford University Professor Jon Krosnick, explained that detailing an array of possible climate outcomes increased scientists’ credibility with non experts.
However, he also noted that this credibility “may be nullified when scientists acknowledge that … the full extent of the consequences of those predictions cannot be quantified.”
That’s interesting, but it cuts both ways. Should scientists rigorously quantify climate change’s impacts even in areas where it can be near-impossible to do so? Or should they maintain a level of ambiguity so they avoid the risk of being entirely wrong down the line?
Worst Case, Worst Credibility
The Stanford study was also consistent with other researchers’ findings. In a similar study from the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), researchers found an interesting caveat. Readers hate worst case scenarios.
ACSH writer Dr. Charles Dinerstein remarks that worst case scenarios made literally no impact compared to middle estimates. He explains “they serve as clickbait or confirm an echo chamber belief, rather than facilitating discussion.”
Apparently, we have become so jaded that headlines like “We are all going to die in 50 years” are met with defeat instead of action.
Apathy is what drives newer movements like BirthStrike to prop up; that is, if we’re all going to be killed off by climate change, why even bother to have another generation?
This defeatist attitude is why the framing of climate data needs to change.
Summary: What Can Scientists Do To Make Climate Data More Digestible?
Environmental researchers must produce objectively true climate data, but they also have to appear credible to an often irrational public. Scientists don’t necessarily write from a subjective perspective per se, and their intent is generally to inform rather than persuade. But they should perhaps look to also persuade readers that their findings are true and not just alarmist.
If successful, this can implicitly convince readers to take action (or at least believe climate change exists). And finding that sweet spot is challenging; part of that might include accounting for both the best and worst case predictions as specifically as possible. Additionally, underscoring the idea that not everything is directly measurable may also give readers a fuller idea of what’s happening.
Scientists don’t have an obligation to convince the general public of anything when they’re submitting papers to peer-reviewed journals. After all, their papers are read over by field experts. But the framing of the climate data they collect, done poorly, is literally a matter of life and death.
Final Note: We encourage scientists working in the climate science field to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org to work together to make environmental coverage digestible to the public.
The World’s Biggest Brands Commit To Tackling Plastic Pollution, But What Else Can Be Done?
After World War II, the world experienced a plastics boom, with production growing at an exponential rate thanks to the material’s versatility and durability. Plastic touches nearly every aspect of our lives, from the materials used to construct buildings and homes, vehicles, and technology, to household products, clothing, and shoes. It is estimated that we have produced more than 8.3 billion tons of plastic since this time, of which less than 10% is recycled. That’s where the plastic pollution problem comes in.
Many countries in the Global North turned to China to recycle their plastics, but ever since China changed its policy, the United States and many other countries are forced to find other avenues for taking care of their plastic waste and address the plastic pollution crisis back home.
Who is responsible for the crisis and what is being done?
Plastic pollution activists and coalitions have emphasized the responsibility that the world’s largest brands play in addressing this global crisis. Civil society members from more than 80 countries hosted brand audits through clean-ups during the #BrandAudit2019 initiative, calling on these brands to change their practices of manufacturing and selling products in single-use plastic packaging.
Some big brands have taken responsibility for their role in plastic pollution and have taken action. Coca-Cola announced its World Without Waste initiative with the goals to achieve 100% recycled packaging using 50% recycled materials, and by 2030 collect and recycle one bottle or can for every item sold. Unilever made a similar announcement, promising to cut its use of virgin plastics by 50%, and collecting and processing its plastic packaging.
One social enterprise is making it a little bit easier for big brands to shift their single-use plastic packaging practices. TerraCycle recently launched the Loop Store, a global circular shopping platform that allows customers to purchase products in zero waste packaging. Following the “milkman model”, products sold through the Loop Store are stored in reusable containers that are collected, washed, and reused again.
Innovations in tackling plastic pollution
Dutch inventor Boyan Slat founded The Ocean Cleanup, an ambitious project that aimed to collect the massive volume of plastic found in the oceans globally. At 2,000 feet in length, this plastic collection device has successfully collected plastic since its initial trials. Other entrepreneurs are developing products made from plant-based materials, such as utensils made from avocado seeds and creating faux leather using nopal, or producing products that do not require plastic packaging, in efforts to reduce our reliance on products made with plastic.
Consumers, recognizing the power they hold by their purchasing behaviors, are also raising their concerns with companies to change their practices. In a recent petition to Trader Joe’s, customers called on grocery chain to reduce their reliance on plastic packaging, garnering over 120,000 signatures. The company acknowledged this grassroots call for change, providing a status update since their announcement in late 2018.
Conclusions and the future for tackling plastic pollution
While there is hope hearing the world’s biggest brands acknowledge the role they play in and their plans for curbing plastic pollution, it is evident that is not enough. It takes more than a few companies to set green goals in order to move the needle forward. We need to continue holding big brands accountable, foster and support new ideas that open new horizons for plastic packaging and waste, and change our own behaviors to start addressing the global plastic pollution crisis.
Belinda C. Chiu is a public health professional and contributing writer at The Rising. She studied Social and Behavioral Interventions at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and is passionate about climate advocacy, sustainable development, and zero waste. She is the founder of A Healthy Blueprint, a resource for individuals looking to reduce their environmental footprint. She serves as Associate on the Youth Engagement team at Women Deliver, a leading global advocacy organization for gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women.
Opinion | Food Waste is the World’s Dumbest Environmental Problem
Wasting food has been called the “world’s dumbest environmental problem.” Every year, the average family of four in the U.S. tosses roughly $2,000 in food; 30 to 40 percent of food produced in this country ends up discarded.
At dinner, our parents urged us to finish everything on our plates. Beyond the moral and economic reasons to do so, it turns out there’s a significant environmental one, too. When food winds up in landfills it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is far more potent than the poster child of greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, which primarily comes from fossil fuel use.
In fact, if food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the United States. Few people realize that when they shove some grapes into the bottom drawer of their refrigerator and forget about them, they are contributing to climate change.
Throwing out food at home is only part of the problem. As the Natural Resources Defense Council noted in a report last year, “We leave entire fields unharvested, reject produce solely for cosmetic reasons, throw out anything past or even close to its ‘sell by’ date, inundate restaurant patrons with massive portions, and let absurd amounts of food rot in the back of our fridges.”
When we toss food, we’re not just wasting calories; we’re also squandering the energy used to grow crops and raise cattle, as well as the energy required to ship, refrigerate and package food.
It’s time for people, restaurants, supermarkets, and farms to factor this cost to the environment when they over-order or carelessly discard edible food. The federal government has recognized the need to address this problem; in 2015 the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency set a goal of cutting food waste in half by 2030. It’s doable, and we all have a role to play.
In May, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue hosted a food waste roundtable in Washington.
“Our nation’s agricultural abundance should be used to nourish those in need, not fill the trash,” Perdue said. “So many people work on food waste issues in their own spheres, but it’s time to change the culture and adopt a holistic approach to get everyone working together and sharing ideas.”
Overseas, some governments are taking more aggressive actions to stem food waste. France, for example, bans grocery stores from tossing edible food. South Korea prohibits food waste from landfills and requires people to separate food waste from their regular trash.
While those mandates might prove politically unpalatable in the United States, some states are taking more modest steps, such as restricting how much food waste can be sent to landfills, and we should encourage those laudable efforts. But real progress will come when people and businesses step up to solve this problem. And many already are doing so.
The Food Waste Reduction Alliance—a collaborative effort of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the Food Marketing Institute and the National Restaurant Association—is working to standardize the confusing panoply of labels that consumers use as cues to determine if food is still safe to eat.
There are also organizations like Food Cowboy, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine and Meal Connect, which bring technology to food donations—allowing farms, grocery stores, and restaurants to donate their excess food to food banks. Some supermarket chains are also taking steps to sync unused food to groups feeding the needy. Trader Joe’s has Donations Coordinators at its stores, who work to bring unsold food to nonprofit organizations.
Then there’s “ugly food”—produce that looks weird or misshapen but is identical in taste and quality to properly proportioned fruits and vegetables. Companies like The Misfits sell imperfect-looking produce at a discount. As the company says, “Crooked cucumbers, misshapen tomatoes or not-so-red Red Peppers are just as delicious and nutritious as ‘the other guys’—and less expensive!”
If we could take these solutions and scale them, the food we’d save could feed millions of hungry people, conserve resources, and make a big dent in one of the biggest sources of climate change.
It won’t take a rocket scientist to solve this dumb problem. We can do it ourselves.
This article was originally published by the Outrider Post and republished with permission as a part of a partnership between The Rising and the Outrider Foundation.
The Outrider Foundation is a non-profit organization focused on advancing science-based literacy on global risks that affect the well-being of the planet. Content posted on this column has been syndicated from the Outrider Post as a part of a partnership between The Rising and the Outrider Foundation.
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