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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.

Opinion

Opinion: We Need To Change The Way We Frame Climate Data

Brian D'Souza

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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 info@mediusventures.com to work together to make environmental coverage digestible to the public.

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Advocacy

The World’s Biggest Brands Commit To Tackling Plastic Pollution, But What Else Can Be Done?

Belinda Chiu

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Plastic Pollution

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.



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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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