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5 Things to Watch for During The Weather Channel’s 2020: The Race to Save the Planet

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5 Things to Watch for During The Weather Channel’s 2020: The Race to Save the Planet
Child boy protest in front of the USA capitol in Washington holding sign saying save our planet. SerrNovik / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Rachel Cleetus

The Weather Channel will be airing today a special on climate change, 2020: The Race to Save the Planet, featuring interviews with eight presidential candidates from both parties. It couldn't come at a more appropriate time: the reality of climate impacts and the opportunities of a just transition to a clean energy economy are crystal clear, and we are desperately in need of federal climate leadership.


2020 Race to Save the Planet will include interviews with five Democratic and three Republican presidential candidates. (President Trump declined to participate). Weather Channel meteorologist Dr. Rick Knabb will be the host.

Here are five things I hope to hear from the candidates:

1. An understanding of the latest climate science and its stark implications. 

The U.S. Fourth National Climate Assessment and the IPCC 1.5 C special report make clear that climate change is already with us, causing significant impacts for people, ecosystems and the economy, and that these impacts will greatly worsen if we fail to make swift and deep cuts in global carbon emissions. Yet the current administration is acting in ways diametrically opposed to the science and rolling back or undermining federal climate policies, while continuing to prop up fossil fuel interests. The administration's continued attacks on climate science are deeply problematic. Our next administration needs to lead with the science and put us firmly on a path to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, if not before.

2. A recognition of the terrible human toll and steep costs of recent climate catastrophes, both here and around the world, and what’s needed to limit these harms going forward. 

People around the U.S. have experienced a devastating series of climate-related extreme weather events recently, including the wildfires burning in California right now, record-breaking flooding in the Midwest and the Southeast, the impacts of hurricane Dorian and other intense storms, and an extreme heat wave that blanketed the nation this July. NOAA data show that so-called billion-dollar weather and climate-related disasters are on the rise, and 2019 is the fifth consecutive year in which the U.S. has experienced ten or more of these types of events. Elsewhere in the world, a series of catastrophic climate-related events have also unfolded this year, including Cyclone Idai, Cyclone Fani, Typhoon Hagibis, record-breaking heat waves in Europe and the Arctic, and flooding in Bolivia and Iran. Extreme weather events displaced more than 7 million people in just the first half of 2019. Our current efforts to respond to these extreme events—as well as ongoing slow moving disasters like sea level rise—are falling far short. We need to invest much more in preparing and protecting communities well in advance, including respecting the human rights of those who are displaced.

3. Excitement about the incredible economic and public health benefits of a clean energy transition and support for a suite of policies to accelerate the momentum already underway. 

We've seen an extraordinary growth in clean, renewable energy resources across the country and are on pace to get to 20 percent renewable electricity by 2020. Double-digit annual cost declines in wind and solar power and battery storage signal the promise of the future. Clean energy has widespread bipartisan support because it means affordable power, jobs and cleaner air and water. We need robust federal policies to ramp up renewable energy and energy efficiency, increase electrification in the transportation and industrial sectors, and invest in enhancing and safeguarding our forests and soils that store carbon. Working across the economy we should aim to get to 100 percent clean energy by 2050, if not before.

4. A commitment to investing in bold climate action that centers justice and equity.

Many communities who have been historically sidelined and discriminated against, who are experiencing a disproportionate health burden of our dependence on fossil fuels and who bear the brunt of climate impacts, want to hear that past injustices will be addressed and their health and well-being will be prioritized in a climate-altered world. Working people whose toil and sweat is the bedrock of our nation's prosperity need to hear that we will invest in creating good quality jobs and diversifying the economy in their communities as we transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy. Many young people on the cusp of being of voting age (and many even younger) have inspired us with their call to action; they deserve political leaders that are doing their best to safeguard their future. Rural communities whose economic struggles are worsened by climate impacts need solutions that work for them. And around the world millions of people living in poverty need climate solutions that also help raise their standard of living. Our next President must connect climate solutions to people's daily life concerns. We won't solve the climate crisis if we don't solve it in a just and equitable way.

5. A complete disavowal of the Trump administration’s shameful and reprehensible withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and details of how the U.S. aims to demonstrate global climate leadership. 

Earlier this week the administration announced its formal intent to step away from the Paris Agreement, and the U.S. withdrawal will take effect on Nov. 4, 2020, a day after the election. This is yet another cheap political gambit from this administration, a deeply cynical move that shows how little it cares about the health and well-being of future generations and our planet. Our next President must not only rejoin the global climate agreement, but also commit the U.S. to doing its fair share to help meet global goals. That includes contributing finance and technology to help least developed nations transition to clean energy and cope with the impacts of climate change, as well as taking meaningful steps to address the needs of the many around the world who will find themselves displaced by climate change, unable to live safely in the places they call home now.

Political will is the biggest obstacle to climate action.

Despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of American voters support climate action and the latest science underscores the growing urgency to act, we continue to see this issue get sidelined and tangled up in partisan politics. We need to hear clearly from the presidential candidates that they understand their responsibility to act, and act boldly.

In the absence of federal action, many states, cities and local jurisdictions have stepped up to do their part. Our next President should partner with the growing number of state and local officials, business leaders, and others who are making transformational climate action commitments.

The next president needs to both make full use of their executive authority under existing legislation such as the Clean Air Act, and also work with Congress on passing a bold suite of appropriations, tax, clean energy standards and other policies to decarbonize the U.S. economy and help communities deal with mounting climate impacts. It's also an urgent imperative to support states and communities whose economies and tax bases are currently dependent on fossil fuels to transition to a more sustainable economic model.

We have many of the technological solutions to cut emissions now (and many more on the horizon); the biggest missing ingredient is political will. The window to forestall some of the worst impacts of climate change is fast closing and the next administration and Congress must act quickly and decisively.

It’s a global climate (and economic, humanitarian and environmental) crisis. Let’s start acting like it.

Scientists have been sounding the alarm on climate change for decades. Just yesterday 11,000 of them joined together to issue the World Scientists' Warning of a Climate Emergency, declaring "clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency."

Anyone running for President in 2020 should have a bold, actionable plan for how they will address the climate crisis. That's just a basic prerequisite for the job.

The Weather Channel calls it 2020: The Race to Save the Planet, but the candidates should make no mistake: it's also the race to save ourselves, our kids and grandkids.

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Sir David Attenborough look at a piece of ice core from the Antarctic during a naming ceremony for the polar research ship the RSS Sir David Attenborough on Sept. 26, 2019 in Birkenhead, England. Asadour Guzelian - WPA Pool / Getty Images

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.

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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