Can the Environmental Movement Carry a ‘Green Wave’ Into 2020?
By Nathaniel Stinnett
Americans are finally beginning to understand the severity of the climate crisis. Nearly three-quarters of Americans now say global warming is "personally important" to them, even as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that we have just 11 years to take dramatic action to avert climate catastrophe.
I guess we should see this as good news — better late than never — but a crucial question remains: Does America have the political will to enact the big changes needed to address climate change before it's too late?
There's a simple answer: Yes, but only if environmentalists vote.
The 2018 midterms were something of a high-water mark for turnout of environmental voters. More than 8 million "environment-first" voters flocked to the polls last November, a robust showing that has spawned renewed interest in a Green New Deal and carbon pricing — although not nearly enough interest to actually pass such measures.
Now, imagine how politicians would react to these kinds of initiatives if twice as many environmentalists turned up to vote.
It's not an impossibility. In the 2016 presidential election, 10 million environmental voters stayed home in an election that was decided by fewer than 80,000 votes. Even if only half of them started voting, that would be a "green wave" impossible for any politician to ignore.
Simply put, politicians will always go where the votes are. If environmentalists aren't voting, we'll continue to be ignored. If we show up to vote, politicians will follow. If you're not convinced, look at the host of Democratic presidential candidates now scrambling to appeal to the growing block of Democratic climate voters.
At the Environmental Voter Project, our goal is to turn these millions of non-voting environmentalists into an army of super-voters who drive policy-making at the local, state and federal levels.
And we're already making progress.
Earth Day voter registration event in Mill Valley, California.
Fabrice Florin / CC BY-SA 2.0
In the 2018 midterms, the Environmental Voter Project targeted more than 2.1 million unlikely-to-vote environmentalists in six states (Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Nevada and Pennsylvania). Ultimately, our efforts resulted in 58,961 new environmental voters being added to the electorate.
How'd we do it? By treating people as social beings — not rational beings — plus a healthy dose of peer pressure. We don't try to rationally convince people of the importance of voting; instead we appeal to how they wish to be viewed by their friends and neighbors. Using the latest behavioral science research, we tap into widely accepted societal norms: our desires to be good citizens, to fit in with our peer groups and to not be left behind. We often remind environmentalists that their voting records are public, and that most of their friends or neighbors voted in the recent election.
For instance, we mailed voters copies of their public voting histories and increased turnout by as much as 3.4 percentage points in some states. Our volunteer canvassers asked non-voters to sign pledges to vote, and then we mailed those pledges back before Election Day, increasing turnout by 4.5 percentage points. Our digital advertisements said things like "Be a good voter," "Your neighbors are voting; are you?" and "Who you vote for is secret; whether you vote is public record." These simple messages increased turnout 0.4–1.2 percentage points.
Some of our turnout techniques had different results with different demographic groups — direct mail did better with older voters and people of color, whereas text messages performed better with younger voters — but most interventions ended up increasing turnout well over 1 percent, which is a big deal in politics.
In short, these techniques work. We're turning non-voters into voters.
The best part is that habits are sticky, which means that many of these new voters will keep showing up, and campaigns will start paying attention to them as regular voters. Just three years after launching, the Environmental Voter Project has already created 93,423 environmental "super-voters" — people who previously did not vote, yet now vote so consistently that politicians are fighting for their attention.
This is the kind of concerted, year-round mobilization effort the environmental movement needs. We must treat every election — no matter how small — as an opportunity to turn non-voters into voters. And in 2019, voting in your local city council, mayoral or statewide elections is particularly important — not just because of the impact on local and state policy-making — but also because it tells 2020 candidates which new voters they need to pay attention to.
To encourage these consistent voting habits, the Environmental Voter Project is treating 2019 as if it were 2018 or 2020. We've already worked with thousands of volunteers to mobilize environmental voters in more than 60 elections since last November's midterms — from municipal elections in Las Vegas, Jacksonville and Colorado Springs to state legislative races in Pennsylvania and county-wide ballot measures in Georgia. Before 2019 is over, we're expecting to contact more than 2 million environmental voters in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Nevada and Pennsylvania, and we may expand into additional states beyond that.
Clearly, the momentum is shifting. We saw the beginning of a green wave in 2018, but we're not yet a big enough voting block to bring about the enormous policy changes that we need. So we need to start showing up.
The United Nations says we have 11 years left to avert climate catastrophe. As environmentalists, it's our duty to spend these next 11 years voting in every election and mobilizing other environmentalists to vote too. And we must start now.
Together, we can turn this growing green wave into the sea change we need to force politicians to act before it's too late.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Revelator, the Center for Biological Diversity or their employees.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.
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After sustained declines in the number of COVID-19 cases over recent months, restrictions are starting to ease across the United States. Numbers of new cases are falling or stable at low numbers in some states, but they are surging in many others. Overall, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of new cases a day, and by late June, had surpassed the peak rate of spread in early April.
Seven day rolling average of number of people confirmed to have COVID-19, per day (not including today). This chart gets updated once per day with data by Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins university doesn't provide reliable data for March 12 and March 13. Johns Hopkins CSSE Get the data
To Have a Second Wave, the First Wave Needs to End.<p>A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn't a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends.</p><p>But with talk of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/27/new-covid-19-clusters-across-world-spark-fear-of-second-wave" target="_blank">second wave in the news</a>, as an <a href="https://www.american.edu/cas/faculty/mhawkins.cfm" target="_blank">epidemiologist and public health researcher</a>, I think there are two necessary factors that must be met before we can colloquially declare a second wave.</p><p>First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations.</p><p>Many countries in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">Europe and Asia have successfully ended the first wave</a>. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/08/new-zealand-abandons-covid-19-restrictions-after-nation-declared-no-cases" target="_blank">New Zealand</a> and <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/08/how-iceland-beat-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">Iceland</a> have also made it through their first waves and are now essentially coronavirus-free, with very low levels of community transmission and only a handful of active cases currently.</p>
Different States, Different Trends<p>Looking at U.S. numbers as a whole hides what is really going on. Different states are in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html" target="_blank">vastly different situations right now</a> and when you look at states individually, four major categories emerge.</p><ol><li>Places where the first wave is ending: States in the Northeast and a few scattered elsewhere experienced large initial spikes but were able to mostly contain the virus and substantially brought down new infections. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/new-york-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">New York</a> is a good example of this.</li><li>Places still in the first wave: Several states in the South and West – see <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/texas-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Texas</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/california-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">California</a> – had some cases early on, but are now seeing massive surges with no sign of slowing down.</li><li>Places in between: Many states were hit early in the first wave, managed to slow it down, but are either at a plateau – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/north-dakota-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">North Dakota</a> – or are now seeing steep increases – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/oklahoma-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Oklahoma</a>.</li><li>Places experiencing local second waves: Looking only at a state level, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/hawaii-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Hawaii</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/montana-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Montana</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/alaska-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Alaska</a> could be said to be experiencing second waves. Each state experienced relatively small initial outbreaks and was able to reduce spread to single digits of daily new confirmed cases, but are now all seeing spikes again.</li></ol><p>The trends aren't surprising based on how states have been dealing with reopening. The virus will go wherever there are susceptible people and until the U.S. stops community spread across the entire country, the first wave isn't over.</p>
What Could a Second Wave Look Like?<p>It is possible – though at this point it seems unlikely – that the U.S. could control the virus before a vaccine is developed. If that happens, it would be time to start thinking about a second wave. The question of what it might look like depends in large part on everyone's actions.</p><p>The <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1086%2F592454" target="_blank">1918 flu pandemic</a> was characterized by a mild first wave in the winter of 1917-1918 that went away in summer. After restrictions were lifted, people very quickly went back to pre-pandemic life. But a second, deadlier strain came back in fall of 1918 and third in spring of 1919. In total, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm" target="_blank">more than 500 million people were infected</a> worldwide and upwards of <a href="https://theconversation.com/compare-the-flu-pandemic-of-1918-and-covid-19-with-caution-the-past-is-not-a-prediction-138895" target="_blank">50 million died</a> over the course of three waves.</p><p>It was the combination of a quick return to normal life and a mutation in the flu's genome that made it more deadly that led to the horrific second and third waves.</p><p>Thankfully, the coronavirus appears to be much more <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351" target="_blank">genetically stable</a> than the influenza virus, and thus less likely to mutate into a more deadly variant. That leaves human behavior as the main risk factor.</p><p>Until a <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-needs-to-go-right-to-get-a-coronavirus-vaccine-in-12-18-months-136816" target="_blank">vaccine or effective treatment is developed</a>, the tried-and-true public health measures of the last months – <a href="https://theconversation.com/this-simple-model-shows-the-importance-of-wearing-masks-and-social-distancing-140423" target="_blank">social distancing,</a> <a href="https://theconversation.com/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-the-science-is-simple-and-im-one-of-100-experts-urging-governors-to-require-public-mask-wearing-138507" target="_blank">universal mask wearing</a>, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces – are the ways to stop the first wave and thwart a second one. And when there are surges like what is happening now in the U.S., further reopening plans need to be put on hold.</p>
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Gluts of food left to rot as a consequence of coronavirus aren't just wasteful – they're also likely to damage the environment.
Methane on the Rise<p>Not only is this a tragic waste of food at a time when many are going hungry, it is also an <a href="https://donatedontdump.net/2014/07/07/the-effects-of-food-waste-on-the-environment-by-junemy-pantig/" target="_blank">environmental hazard</a> and could contribute to global warming. Landfill gas – <a href="https://www.epa.gov/lmop/basic-information-about-landfill-gas" target="_blank">roughly half methane and half carbon dioxide (CO2)</a> – is a natural byproduct of the decomposition of organic material.</p>
Food decay leads to production of greenhouse gases, methane and carbon dioxide. EPA<p>Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 28 to <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full.pdf" target="_blank">36 times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat</a> in the atmosphere over a 100-year period, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.</p><p>"Many export-oriented producers produce volumes far too large for output to be absorbed in local markets, and thus <a href="https://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=2333" target="_blank">organic waste levels have mounted substantially</a>," says Robert Hamwey, Economic Affairs Officer at UN agency UNCTAD. "Because this waste is left to decay, levels of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas, from decaying produce are expected to rise sharply in the crisis and immediate post-crisis months."</p>
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Food Prices Collapsing<p>The excess has also seen prices collapse. The <a href="http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/foodpricesindex/en/" target="_blank">FAO Food Price Index</a> (FFPI) averaged 162.5 points in May 2020, down 3.1 points from April and reaching the lowest monthly average since December 2018. The gauge has dropped for four consecutive months, and the latest decline reflects falling values of all the food commodities – dairy, meat, cereal, vegetable – except sugar, which rose for the first time in three months.</p><p>All this while the pandemic is exacerbating other global food trends.</p><p>"This year, some 49 million extra people may fall into extreme poverty due to the COVID-19 crisis," said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the UN. "The number of people who are acutely food or nutrition insecure will rapidly expand. <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGhLKAbNDiY&feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">Even in countries with abundant food, we see risks of disruptions in the food supply chain</a>."</p>
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