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AOC’s Green New Deal has changed the trajectory of the 2020 race in a big way

Steven Li

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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.

Warren, O'Rourke, and Booker answered that climate change is the number one geopolitical threat.
Warren, O’Rourke, and Booker answered that climate change is the number one geopolitical threat.

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.

Inslee might be getting what he wants. We'll find out soon.
Inslee might be getting what he wants. We’ll find out soon.

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…

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Opinion

Opinion | Food Waste is the World’s Dumbest Environmental Problem

Outrider Foundation

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Food Waste

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.

Food Waste

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.

A vast field of piles of rotting tomatoes and green beans in Florida.

A vast field of piles of rotting tomatoes and green beans in Florida | Getty Images

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.



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Opinion | Americans care less about the environment than the rest of the world

Ari Kelo

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america environmental concern

In the past five years, the world has become increasingly concerned with the environment. According to a study published by Glocalities, the global percentage of people “worried about the damage that humans cause to the planet” rose from 71% in 2014 to 77% in 2019 — a 6 percent increase. Despite this increase in global environmental concern, however, the United States still lags almost 10% behind.

Only 68% of Americans show concern for human-created environmental damage. So why do Americans have more environmental apathy than the rest of the world?

Environmental concern is on the rise everywhere

Although fewer Americans care about environmental damage than the rest of the world, it’s important to note that both populations are showing an upward trend. Since 2014, about 7% more Americans show concern for the environment. This rise in concern among Americans parallels the global rise.

This is good news. Maybe now the world will focus more on its environmental footprint. And with eco-consciousness gaining traction at the global level, the world may be able to unite on this front.

Indeed, the rise in environmental concern seems to transcend typical social boundaries. The trend appears in economies both big and small, advanced and upcoming. It spans across age, gender, education levels, and political ideology. It seems to be a war not on culture but on “greed, ignorance and reckless exploitation” according to the trend report. This rise in momentum is an opportunity to unite against the damages we inflict on our environment.

U.S. politics may explain environmental apathy

Although on average American voters worry less about environmental damage than the rest of the world, American Democrats actually care more than the global average. This year, a whopping 83% of Democrats expressed environmental concern. This is 6% more than the global average.

But there’s a steep division drawn on U.S. party lines. Where 83% of Democrats demonstrate environmental concern, only roughly 58% of Republicans share the sentiment. So why does the percentage drop a whole 25%?

In short, we’re not too sure. The news we consume, our socio-economic statuses, and educations may all play a role. Another factor could be the divide between urban and rural communities — the effects of climate change are most exacerbated in cities.

But one thing is certain. Although Republicans and Democrats are strongly divided on the environment, the younger generation has shown far more concern across the political spectrum.

In fact, young Republicans have shown the highest increase in environmental concern. 67% of Republicans aged 18 to 34 said they are worried about environmental damage. That’s nearly equal to the national average. It very well may be that age is as large of a factor as politics in determining eco-consciousness.

So with environmental concern among America’s youth on the rise, the U.S. may soon catch up with the rest of the world. When it does, it will have a lot of work to do.

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Energy storage is paving the way for new economic models

Elisha Israel

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Energy Storage

As the world moves towards the mass adoption of renewable energy, some questions come to mind. Which energy sources are most practical for the future? How do we rebuild an energy infrastructure and economy that works? What economic models are best for this new energy economy? Energy storage can answer some of these questions.

Energy storage is picking up speed

At the moment, the installation rate of solar panels is rapidly accelerating. And partially, massive reductions in price are facilitating this growth trend. Energy storage is beginning to follow a similar trend line. Specifically, we are rapidly nearing a time when we’ll be able to store excess energy to cover the energy needs of energy customers.

But does a centralized energy infrastructure make sense for our future? Well, provided there will always be some element of interconnection, some entity should maintain a functional level of grid-based energy transmission. On the other hand, as energy storage becomes more accessible, an interesting future opportunity presents itself.

An interesting market opportunity arises

Imagine a future where every building functions as an autonomous energy unit. While this may stay grid-connected, each building could have the ability to both generate and store its own electricity. Once each building has generated and stored enough electricity for its own needs, there’s an opportunity to sell the excess energy on the market.

There is a similar opportunity with vehicle-to-grid energy transactions too. Since there will be so many vehicles that are stagnant overnight, they can also leverage energy storage in a peer-to-peer energy transaction.

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