Celebrity Endorsement of Environmental Causes: Does It Work?
By Elliot Douglas
In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."
The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.
“Rather than a Moonshot 🌕, we need Earthshots 🌍 for this decade.” Watch Prince William’s @Tedtalks talk in full:… https://t.co/m5NCj6TQzH— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge)1602408749.0
But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.
With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?
'Count Me In'
"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.
Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.
"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.
"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."
Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.
German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.
"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"
"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.
Assessing Success Is Complex
But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.
"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.
Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.
"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."
A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.
"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.
Awareness Is Not Enough
Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.
"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."
But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.
"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."
However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.
Choosing the Right Celebrity
Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.
For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.
"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."
McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.
But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.
But Does It Really Work?
While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.
"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.
This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.
The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.
"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."
Reposted with permission from DW.
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The Big Idea
Consumers are more likely to choose a plant-based meat substitute when the restaurant's advertising highlights the social benefits of doing so rather than its taste, according to recently published research I conducted with a colleague. We also found that showcasing the social costs of meat consumption also leads to a preference for plant-based "meats."
To reach this conclusion, we conducted two online experiments to examine the advertising of plant-based burgers and meatballs. Participants were recruited via the crowdsourcing website Amazon Mechanical Turk.
In the first one, 156 participants were shown one of three commercials for a plant-based burger. They saw either a social appeal ("good for the environment and animal welfare"), a health appeal ("good for your health – no cholesterol and more fiber") or a taste appeal ("tasty and delicious – just like a beef burger"). In all three commercials, we presented nutritional information that showed plant-based burgers had similar levels of calories and protein as that of beef – which is generally true in the real world.
They were then asked to record their burger preference on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 indicated they definitely wanted a conventional beef burger and 7 meant they definitely wanted the plant-based version.
Participants exposed to the advertising that appealed to their social conscience were more likely to select the plant-based burger than those who saw the health or taste-based ads. Our research found that the social appeals worked because they induced positive feelings of doing something good for society.
The health appeal was ineffective because the nutritional value of the two burgers is so similar. Appealing to taste didn't work because American consumers believe the taste of beef is superior to that of plant-based meat.
In a second study, we provided 160 different participants with information on the social and health costs of meat consumption. We then asked them to state their preferences for a beef meatball sandwich or a plant-based one on the same 7-point sliding scale. Similar to the appeal to the social benefits, highlighting the costs led to a stronger preference for the plant-based version.
Why It Matters
Americans on average consumed about 58 pounds of beef and veal in 2019 – compared with a global average of 14 pounds – and a recent Gallup poll found that two in three U.S. adults say they eat meat "frequently."
But the production of beef creates 60 times the volume of greenhouse gases as peas, which is one of the vegetables that go into meat substitutes such as the Beyond Burger. Research has also found that plant-based meat substitutes require far less energy, water and land then beef.
Growing consumer concern over beef's large environmental footprint is one of the reasons major U.S. casual restaurant chains have been adding meat-like options to their menus in recent years. For example, Burger King boasts the Impossible Whopper, Subway offers the Beyond Meatball Marinara and Starbucks sells a breakfast sandwich made with Impossible sausage.
But Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, the two main plant-based brands, tend to market their vegetarian burgers with claims of tastes and textures that are similar to that of meat.
Our research suggests that highlighting the social benefits of plant-based menu items would convince more consumers to choose them over meat-based options, thus reducing overall meat consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
We plan to examine if the effectiveness of social appeals carries over to healthier plant-based menu items such as Hawaiian poke bowls with fake fish.
Also, it would be interesting to conduct cross-cultural comparisons. Impossible Foods' offerings are now available in Asian markets, including Singapore, Hong Kong and mainland China. We want to investigate how Asian consumers respond to meat-like products given different regional traditions and habits of meat consumption.
Anna Mattila is the Marriott Professor of Lodging Management, Penn State.
Disclosure: Anna Mattila receives funding from The Marriott Foundation.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
One of the world's best restaurants is giving up meat.
Eleven Madison Park (EMP), a New York City fine dining establishment that was named the first of the world's 50 best restaurants in 2017, announced Monday that it would reopen June 10 with an entirely plant-based menu.
"In the midst of last year, when we began to imagine what EMP would be like after the pandemic – when we started to think about food in creative ways again – we realized that not only has the world changed, but that we have changed as well," chef Daniel Humm wrote in an announcement posted on the restaurant's website. "We have always operated with sensitivity to the impact we have on our surroundings, but it was becoming ever clearer that the current food system is simply not sustainable, in so many ways."
Eleven Madison Park, a New York City fine dining establishment that was named the first of the world's 50 best restaurants in 2017. Eleven Madison Park
EMP first opened its doors in 1998, and Humm joined it as executive chef in 2006, according to The New York Times. Since then, the restaurant has earned many accolades, including three stars from Michelin and four from The New York Times.
The move reflects a growing shift away from meat in fine dining as concerns about the climate crisis mount. Studies have shown that raising meat emits more greenhouse gas emissions than growing vegetables or legumes, and also requires more land and water while polluting more overall. In recent signs of this growing awareness, a vegan restaurant in France earned a Michelin star for the first time this January, and, just last week, the website Epicurious said it was no longer publishing or promoting new beef recipes.
Chef Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park Restaurant on Feb. 27, 2013 in New York City. Neilson Barnard / Getty Images for Blancpain
EMP is one of the most famous restaurants to move away from meat, according to CNN, but its high-end status may limit the reach of its decision.
"[T]here are limits to what you can do through the medium of a Michelin-starred restaurant," Observer restaurant critic Jay Rayner told The New York Times. "Chefs should obviously continue sourcing their ingredients responsibly, in light of the climate emergency, but at the end of the day, you're still cooking for rich people, and you might question their commitment to these things."
Meals at EMP will still cost $335, and, even at this price-point, it is not easy to obtain a reservation, so a very small percentage of people will experience the shift from dishes like lavender honey glazed duck or butter poached lobster to the new, plant-based meals Humm and his team are now working to perfect.
However, Yale University history professor Paul Freedman said that Humm's influence as a chef meant the decision could have a larger impact on dining culture.
It could, he told The New York Times, "have an influence on the best restaurants in places like Midland, Texas — affluent places that are not Los Angeles or San Francisco or New York."
Humm is also working to expand EMP's offerings to the less affluent. During the pandemic, the shuttered restaurant prepared nearly one million meals to New Yorkers experiencing food insecurity with help from the nonprofit Rethink Food. Once the restaurant reopens, Humm said that he would continue that work, and that every meal at the restaurant would fund food for hungry New Yorkers.
"It is time to redefine luxury as an experience that serves a higher purpose and maintains a genuine connection to the community," Humm said in the announcement. "A restaurant experience is about more than what's on the plate. We are thrilled to share the incredible possibilities of plant-based cuisine while deepening our connection to our homes: both our city and our planet."
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Coffee has enormous cultural significance. It's a staple of culture, cuisine, and everyday life for people all over the planet. Americans alone consume 400 million cups of coffee per day, and the crop is a highly traded commodity of huge importance to global economies.
These millions of cups aren't without consequence, however. The growing, processing, and transportation of coffee – everything that happens before it's poured into our mugs – have large-scale environmental and social repercussions.
Grown in tropical regions around the equator – called the "Bean Belt" – coffee beans travel far before ending up in our cabinets. Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia are the top producers of coffee – so, for those living in the continental United States, "local" coffee isn't an option, and its impact will always be substantial.
Increased demand and the undercutting of smallholders in coffee production have led to more destructive growing practices, including monocropping and replacing shade-grown coffee with sun-grown. Extreme exploitation of labor is also tied to coffee production, and farmers typically earn only between 7-10% of the retail price of their product – and less than 2% in Brazil – according to the Food Empowerment Project.
Beyond its production, the way we choose to prepare and consume coffee can also create avoidable waste: from filters to mugs, to spent coffee grounds. Luckily, there are ways to choose and consume your coffee more consciously, from choosing the product to how it's prepared.
Here are a few tips for a more sustainable and responsible coffee routine if you can't kick the habit.
1. Choose Consciously
Doi Chaang coffee on display for sale inside a coffee shop in Chiang Rai. Artur Widak / NurPhoto / Getty Images
When perusing the coffee aisle, look at the packaging for legitimate labels and third-party certifications. Real certifications will let you know that the coffee's production processes followed specific environmental and/or humanitarian regulations.
Be very wary of greenwashing as well: many companies will stamp illegitimate certifications on their packaging – like "100% All Natural," or "Certified Sustainable" – which don't represent any real standards and mislead consumers, giving the appearance of sustainability and responsibility without any basis.
The "local" label is another one to avoid; no coffee is "local" if you live in the continental U.S., regardless of what the packaging might tell you (locally roasted, maybe, but not grown).
There are a few legitimate certifications that consumers can look for when purchasing coffee:
Shade-grown coffee employs natural processes in coffee-growing, as overhead trees drop leaves and bark that suppress weeds and deliver nutrients to the soil, while also providing a habitat for wildlife and preventing soil erosion. Because of its higher yield, sun-grown coffee – that is, coffee grown in wide-open spaces – became popularized in the 1970s, but has reduced biodiversity and necessitated greater use of pesticides and fertilizers by farmers. Deforestation is already linked to coffee production and has only accelerated with the rise of sun-grown coffee and increasing global demand.
Many of the following certifications mandate that a certain percentage of coffee produced by a farm is shade-grown.
Rainforest Alliance Certified
Rainforest Alliance Certified Coffee includes environmental, social, and economic criteria. Growers certified under this label must follow a list of standards set by the Sustainable Agricultural Network, which addresses deforestation, bans the alteration of waterways and dumping of wastewater, restricts the use of pesticides, and requires farms to pay workers at least the federal minimum wage. The Rainforest Alliance certification is being upgraded this summer to address more issue areas and employ newer technologies to verify compliance on farms.
The seal has faced criticism, however, for requiring only 30% of the coffee in a package to have followed these standards, and for not including a fixed price for growers or a provision for organic cultivation.
Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center Bird Friendly Coffee
The requirements for Bird Friendly Coffee are often considered more stringent than those of the Rainforest Alliance, mandating coffee be 100% organic and 100% shade-grown. The seal aims to protect the habitats of migratory birds and requires that a farm be certified organic, maintain a healthy soil base, and employ zero use of pesticides.
The checklist requires, among other qualifications, at least 40% of a coffee farm to be covered in shade and grow 10 different tree species at a minimum to discourage monocropping.
Fair Trade Certified
Fair trade standards primarily focus on supporting farmers and workers. The major labels indicating that a product is fair trade certified are Fair Trade USA and Fairtrade America – the U.S. member of Fairtrade International. Both protect farmers against price fluctuations by setting a price floor that requires a minimum price per pound of coffee, plus additional funds for community development.
These labels have their own complications, as there are many other political and economic complications for farmers, including debts from previous price fluctuations; but, they are a step in the right direction.
The word "fair trade" is also ripe for greenwashing, stamped onto packages with no standards behind it. Be sure to verify whether a product is actually fair trade certified by one of these organizations when purchasing coffee.
USDA OrganicLike other certified-organic products, this label verifies that a farm has followed strict environmental standards, which prohibit synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Products labeled "100% organic" follow these guidelines completely, "organic" products must contain at least 95% organically-produced material, and anything indicating it was "made with organic ingredients" must contain at least 70%.
2. Replace Disposable With Reusable
Hiraman / E+ / Getty Images
Given all of the complex, energy-intensive processes that go into producing coffee, the environmental footprint of your morning cup goes far beyond plastic waste – but, with 64% of Americans drinking at least one cup a day, that resulting waste is nothing to scoff at.
When brewing coffee at home or grabbing one on-the-go, consider replacing the following:
Coffee filters are like any disposable product: they require energy and resources to produce and then end up in landfills when disposed of. Many of these filters are also chemically bleached with oxygen or chlorine, which has further environmental consequences.
Compostable filters are a partial solution, as they do reduce the overall volume of waste, but still must be created and transported before ending up in your coffee machine.
Luckily, many reusable alternatives can easily replace a disposable filter in traditional coffee machines or pour-over appliances: often made of plastic, metal, or a washable fabric (usually linen or cotton), they should be emptied and rinsed between each use.
Twenty-five percent of Americans have reported using single-cup coffee brewers, although it's no secret that single-use coffee capsules are an incredible source of waste, given that many aren't designed to be recycled or composted. If every K-cup thrown into landfills were lined up, it would wrap around the globe more than ten times.
If you can't quit the coffee-capsule method, stainless steel capsules can be purchased for most single-serve coffee machines. Some compostable capsules have been developed, but, like coffee filters, these too had to be produced and transported, expanding their environmental impact far beyond that of a reusable alternative.
What about coffee on-the-go?
Fifty-eight billion paper cups are thrown away every year in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and their inner polyethylene coating is expensive to recycle, so most of those 58 billion are sent directly to landfills.
A durable, reusable mug for to-go coffee can cut out this waste – around 23 pounds of trash each year, for a daily coffee drinker – and last for years, or even decades. Collapsible coffee mugs can be easily stored in a bag for when you're in a pinch.
Buy in Bulk
Skip the single-use packaging if you can. Many grocery stores will sell coffee beans in bulk, poured into your own reusable bag, and paid for by weight.
3. Consider Your Vessel
Besides choosing reusable alternatives to single-use items, you can also brew your coffee by methods that inherently require less energy.
Think of the energy used by a typical drip-coffee machine: the hotplate left on for hours, the digital display, and the phantom energy sucked up whenever it's plugged in. Appliances like these are usually cheaply made, and planned obsolescence will guarantee the need to purchase a newer model within a few years. Large coffee pots also produce much more than a single cup, often leading to wasted coffee down the drain.
Manual brewing methods require far less energy, such as French presses and Moka pots, which skip the disposable filters and require only the energy needed to boil the water. Pour-over coffee carafes can produce enough for multiple people and are very compatible with a linen coffee filter.
For those with an affinity for iced coffee, cold brew is perhaps the least energy-intensive of all, with time being the main component.
4. Don't Waste It
Natalia Rüdisüli / EyeEm / Getty Images
The average mature coffee tree will produce only about two pounds of beans per year – so, given the environmental and social impacts of its production along with that low yield, it's important to make sure that no coffee is poured down the drain.
When you find yourself with leftover brew, save it in the fridge for tomorrow's iced coffee, or freeze it in an ice cube tray to add to cold brew or smoothies.
5. Compost the Grounds
MonthiraYodtiwong / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen and can be given a second life through composting. Some gardeners even sprinkle spent coffee grounds around their plants to repel slugs and snails without the use of insecticides.
Explore options for composting at home or in your neighborhood, and keep those nutrient-rich grounds out of landfills.
While making our morning coffee might seem as simple as pulling the grounds out of the cabinet and boiling the water, we should be aware of the complex processes that brought these beans to our kitchens, especially as climate change begins to impact our coffee consumption.
Some argue that the only truly responsible action would be cutting coffee out of our lives altogether – but, incorporating more realistic methods by which to reduce the impact of our morning cup will help ensure that both the environment and workers are being protected.
Linnea graduated from Skidmore College in 2019 with a Bachelor's degree in English and Environmental Studies, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. Most recently, Linnea worked at Hunger Free America, and has interned with WHYY in Philadelphia, Saratoga Living Magazine, and the Sierra Club in Washington, DC.
Linnea enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors, reading, practicing her German, and volunteering on farms and gardens and for environmental justice efforts in her community. Along with journalism, she is also an essayist and writer of creative nonfiction.
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By Christina Choi
When my five-year-old notices her dad running the water for any reason at all, she yells (at the top of her lungs and in a robot voice, of course), "ALERT. ALERT. WASTING WATER ALERT. ALERT, ALERT!" It makes me laugh but also warms my heart every time, knowing the importance of saving water—and the planet in general—is already ingrained in her mind.
Her behavior is not particularly surprising: Like many of my fellow Korean Americans and other Asian Americans, as well as Indigenous Pacific Islanders, the values of protecting and conserving resources are values I grew up with myself.
From when I was a young child, my parents—especially my mom—were constantly reminding me to turn off the faucet while I brushed my teeth, shampooed my hair, soaped the dishes, and any other time I wasn't actively using the water. My mom reused glass and plastic containers and utensils until they were practically disintegrating (BPA alert!). "Turn off the lights," she would say. "Don't waste electricity." "Eat every grain of rice in your bowl," she'd chide. "We don't waste food."
Such teachings probably play into the stereotype that Asians are overly frugal (read: cheap), but what many people may not realize is that these principles, at least in my personal experience, are deeply intertwined in our ancestral history.
Choi's maternal grandmother in Gunsan, South Korea, in the early 1960s. Christina Choi
All four of my grandparents survived the harshest decades of Japan's colonization of Korea, which lasted from 1910 to 1945. But their trauma didn't stop there. After World War II ended Japan's occupation, the United States and Russia didn't allow the Korean people to determine the future of their own country. To satisfy their own foreign policy interests, they instead split the peninsula in half—literally tearing families apart. Just five years later, in 1950, the Korean War broke out when North Korea invaded the South. Three catastrophic years followed, ending with the tragic deaths, injuries, or disappearances of an estimated 5.5 million people—many of them civilians. While the fighting stopped in 1953, there was no formal peace treaty between the two Koreas. Nearly 70 years later, the conflict is technically still not over.
From left: Choi's maternal grandparents in Gunsan, South Korea, in the early 1960s; Choi's parents in Seattle in the early 1980s. Christina Choi
My dad and mom, born near the end of Japanese colonization and in the middle of the Korean War, respectively, learned from their parents to never take anything for granted; everything could be taken away in an instant—including their own homeland. They were taught to appreciate the beauty of Korea's mountainous lands and free-flowing waters, for they could be stolen or destroyed at any moment. Before emigrating as adults to the United States in the 1970s, my parents witnessed decades of frenetic postwar economic recovery combined with extreme political corruption, as well as occupation by American troops—who still remain.
Colonization, imperialism, war, instability, corruption…it's no wonder that the importance of protecting our resources has been passed down through generations. My mom's "nagging" makes perfect sense. Add to this the fact that Korea—like many Asian cultures—is a collectivist society: Korean culture emphasizes the interconnectedness between people, and therefore we should all act so that we do not burden or harm others; it is the idea that the we transcends the I, be it in the context of family, the workplace, community, country, or, in this case, the planet. Simply put, we all do our part for the greater good. (Recent studies have also linked collectivist values to better, more effective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.) And it's this heritage, reinforced with the knowledge I've gained from working at NRDC, that has nurtured my daughter's early embrace of protecting the planet and every living being on it. In some ways, the essence of environmentalism exists within us.
And yet, the environmental movement in the United States didn't ever reach out to me—I had to go to it. Despite Asian Americans' 250-plus years in this country, with the first recorded arrival of Filipinos in Louisiana in 1763, we have been constantly erased, and continue to be, from the nation's history, identity, and conversations, as well as from key statistics on public health and well-being, such as how the pandemic affects our communities.
Even now, after almost six years at NRDC, I see how Asian Americans—a faulty categorization that lumps together more than 20 different ethnicities and cultures originating from 48 countries—are left out of the narrative at environmental organizations, despite the fact that research shows that we care…quite a lot. In fact, according to a 2012 National Asian American Survey, 70 percent of Asian Americans consider themselves environmentalists, compared to the national average of 41 percent.
In California, where 15 percent of the population is Asian American, the data is even more impressive. An extensive study by the California League of Conservation Voters titled Asian American Environmentalists: An Untapped Power for Change in California found that a great majority of Asian American voters in the state—83 percent—describe themselves as environmentalists; 71 percent support environmental laws; and 61 percent believe we can protect the air, land, and water while creating jobs. In that state, 85 percent of Asian American voters said they are likely to vote for environment-focused ballot measures.
When it comes to the climate crisis, the trend continues: According to the nationwide 2020 Asian American Voter Survey, 77 percent of Asian Americans support stronger federal policies to combat climate change, while a study last year by the Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America showed that 86 percent of Asian Americans agree that acting now on climate change would provide a better life for their children and grandchildren, compared to 74 percent of the general U.S. population.
Beyond the connection to our cultural values, we also care about the environment because we have to: Pollution and climate change are harming us directly. But as a result of the pervasive "model minority" stereotype, we receive little support from environmental justice work as well. The assumption is that all 20 million of us (and growing) are successful doctors, lawyers, or engineers living the "American dream"—surely no Asian American lives on the frontlines. Yet, according to the Pew Research Center, incomes vary the greatest among Asian Americans in comparison to other racial groups. In New York City, Boston, and California, one in four Asian Americans lives in poverty—many of them restaurant and hotel workers, employees in salons and laundries, and e-bike delivery workers. The highest poverty rates across the United States are found in Bhutanese and Burmese communities—33.3 percent and 35 percent, respectively; the overall U.S. poverty rate is 15.1 percent.
Just one example of a group of Asian Americans facing environmental injustice is the Laotian community in Richmond, California, where a Chevron refinery spews toxic pollution throughout their neighborhoods. For all these reasons, it is crucial that the larger white-dominant environmental movement wakes up and recognizes Asian Americans.
The origins of my strong foundation in conserving the earth's resources are my own, an unbroken thread stretching for generations, but I suspect that the values of many of those 70 percent of Asian Americans who self-identify as environmentalists have been similarly shaped by their ancestry. And maybe one day, their kids and mine, with her "water alerts," will become a powerful Asian American voice—one that the future environmental movement won't want to waste.
Reposted with permission from NRDC.
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By Jessica Corbett
As scientific studies continue to show the necessity of sweeping societal reforms to reduce planet-heating emissions, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer joined with Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee Chair Sherrod Brown on Tuesday to unveil a plan — backed by green groups and union leaders — that would invest $73 billion in electrifying public transit.
"Today, there are approximately 70,000 mass transit buses and 85,000 cutaway vehicles and transit vans in America. Approximately 2% of those buses are zero-emission vehicles," according to a summary document from the senators. "The federal government can and should be in the business of aiding transit agencies in shifting their bus fleets to zero emissions."
The Clean Transit for America Plan from Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Brown (D-Ohio) is intended to not only combat the climate emergency and improve air quality with zero-emission fleets, but also establish a workforce training program that will create well-paying union jobs. Schumer said he intends to ensure it is included in the American Jobs Plan, part of President Joe Biden's recently introduced infrastructure proposal.
"To reduce the carbon in our atmosphere and address the climate crisis, we must transform our transit system," declared the Senate majority leader. "The Clean Transit for America proposal will replace dirty, diesel-spewing buses, create new American jobs, help save the planet, and protect public health, particularly in our country's most vulnerable communities."
Brown asserted that "Americans deserve world-class public transportation that is delivered with modern, zero-emission buses built by American workers," and their plan "is the kind of transformative investment we need in public transit that will put Americans to work, connects people with opportunity, and invests in the communities that have been left on their own by Washington and Wall Street for too long."
Today @SenSherrodBrown and I are introducing our Clean Transit for America plan to replace dirty diesel buses with… https://t.co/hVfD0AgqQw— Chuck Schumer (@Chuck Schumer)1620147821.0
"Transit is the very fabric of our communities: It's what keeps us connected, brings us to and from school and work every day, allows us to buy groceries, receive medical care, and enjoy parks," said Lauren Maunus, advocacy director of the youth-led Sunrise Movement — also a key supporter of the Green New Deal Resolution that calls for a 10-year mobilization ensuring "a fair and just transition for all communities and workers."
"If we're going to beat the climate clock and stop polluting toxic fumes into our neighborhoods, we must swiftly transform every aspect of our current transportation system to reach zero emissions," Maunus said Tuesday, welcoming the plan to electrify the nation's bus fleet as "a key step towards fully transitioning our transit systems, while strengthening services vital to the health of our communities."
Katherine Garcia, acting director of Sierra Club's Clean Transportation for All Campaign, said the plan "means healthier communities and a healthier economy," while Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins, a director for policy and partnerships at the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the proposal "big and bold" and urged Congress to enact it "as soon as possible."
Advocates at the Environmental Defense Fund, GreenLatinos, the League of Conservation Voters, Moms Clean Air Force, and the Union of Concerned Scientists also applauded the proposal. Several campaigners noted that the plan will, as Garcia put it, "prioritize communities with the worst air quality to address decades of inequitable transportation policy."
The Clean Transit for America plan to shift to 100% electric buses means healthier communities and a healthier econ… https://t.co/niSO91co3H— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1620169616.0
"Transitioning to 100% zero-emission buses is an essential infrastructure and environmental justice priority," said Marcela Mulholland, political director at Data for Progress. "By moving our public transit systems to zero-emission fleets, the Clean Transit for America bill sets us on a path toward a world free from climate chaos and a country where there is clean air and quality public transit in every neighborhood."
The proposal was also praised by the president of the American Public Transportation Association as well as organized labor leaders including John Costa of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Lonnie R. Stephenson of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and John Samuelsen of Transport Workers Union.
"By ensuring that frontline transit workers gain the skills and training necessary to run the public transportation systems of the future, paired with a guarantee that no workers will be displaced by their proposal," said Greg Regan, president of the AFL-CIO's Transportation Trades Department, " Sens. Schumer and Brown send a strong message that, when policy is shaped correctly, workers and the communities they live in can both benefit from technological change."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.