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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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
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