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Fossil Fuel Industry Looks to Profit With Plastics
By Ajit Niranjan
In the last 10 years, companies including BP, ExxonMobil and Shell have invested $89 billion (€82 billion) in 210 chemical projects linked to America's shale gas boom alone, according to the American Chemistry Council. And a further 133 projects are being planned or in the process of being built.
Petrochemicals, which make up 99% of all plastics, are the versatile building blocks of modern life. Derived from petroleum and fossil gas, they are found in clothes, paper, fertilizers and cleaning products — and even food preservatives and medicine.
Petrochemicals are rapidly becoming the largest driver of global oil consumption, a report by the International Energy Agency found in 2018. They are set to account for a third of the growth in demand to 2030 and half of the growth to 2050, ahead of trucks, planes and ships.
As demand for fuel peaks, petrochemicals may be the "last man standing," said Theo Jan Simons, a plastics and chemicals expert at consultancy McKinsey.
Energy companies have recognized that shift in official documents.
Saudi Aramco said in a recent investor report that its chemical investments have removed risk from its portfolio. Shell, in a 2018 energy transition report, said that strong earnings from its downstream business — which includes petrochemicals — have helped offset a downturn in oil and gas prices.
ExxonMobil said last year that growth in chemicals could counter falling fuel demands from electric cars, Mother Jones reported earlier this month, while BP has excluded petrochemicals from its recent pledge to go carbon-neutral by 2050.
With fuel demand depressed by coronavirus and a price war threatening to pump out more oil, the industry's traditional revenue streams are on even shakier ground. That could spur them to make more petrochemicals for a market that some analysts warn is already saturated.
Plastic Pollution Already Dangerous
Plastic production has increased about 200-fold since 1950, but only 9% of the plastic ever made has been recycled, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances in 2017. The rest of the waste was burned or thrown into landfills and nature, where it is growing into a symbol of ecological neglect.
What's more, plastic also carried a carbon footprint in its production and when burned as waste. This is responsible for about 2% of global emissions, though the net effect on the climate may be lower, because plastic packaging reduces food waste and lightweight plastics save fuel in transport.
The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) projected in a report last year that annual global plastic emissions will rise from 0.86 gigatons of carbon dioxide in 2019 to 2.8 gigatons by 2050 — or the equivalent of building 400 medium-sized coal plants.
Supply, Demand for Plastics an Illusion?
Despite its many uses, some experts say the proliferation of plastics is not driven by demand.
For decades, oil and gas companies needed to create markets for byproducts or manage them as waste streams, and responded by creating new markets, said Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for Environmental Law and lead author of the report on plastics and climate change.
"We're seeing that very clearly with the market for single-use plastics. Much of that increase is driven not by consumer demand but [the] need to offload supply," said Muffett.
A spokesperson for Shell disputed this, saying that the company was expanding its chemicals business to meet the rising demand from economic growth. Echoing this, Simons, the McKinsey consultant, also said the rise in petrochemicals is in line with growth of the overall economy.
Still, in a market beset by green technology and volatile geopolitics, petrochemicals may represent a more stable source of revenue than fuel.
There is a growing emphasis by the fossil fuel industry to make more plastic because of falling oil demand and prices, said Kevin Stairs, chemicals policy director at Greenpeace EU.
A price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia on the back of the coronavirus pandemic pushed oil prices down 30% at the start of March. The fall, according to market research from Wood Mackenzie, is set to result in a "severe overcapacity" of ethylene, the biggest petrochemical by volume and value and the foundation of plastic bags and bottles. Other experts argue that a slowdown in the economy might decrease demand and spur the industry to cut production.
Plastic Falling out of Favor With the Public
From coastal villagers lamenting spoiled beaches to citizens concerned about microplastics in drinking water, communities have pressured governments into regulating plastics.
Across Africa, 34 countries have banned or taxed single-use plastics, according to the United Nations. China and India plan to phase them out by 2022. A rise in alternative materials and a shift toward circular economies have put petrochemical producers under pressure, said Hans-Josef Fell, president of think tank Energy Watch Group.
Oil and gas companies have taken a "huge gamble" on demand for plastic that hasn't materialized, said Muffett. "What they're running up against is that the global south is increasingly rejecting plastics in a growing number of forms."
As more and more countries turn away from plastic, "the case that there's some massive unmet market out there begins to crumble," he added.
Reposted with permission from DW.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
The Bundestag and Bundesrat — Germany's lower and upper houses of parliament — passed legislation on Friday that would phase out coal use in the country in less than two decades as part of a road map to reduce carbon emissions.
Preparing for the Future<p>Coal-producing regions in the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg will have access to €40 billion ($45 billion) to help absorb the impact. Those funds are also expected to go towards restructuring regional economies, re-skilling workers and expanding local infrastructure.</p><p>Financial compensation is also be available to coal plant operators who face losses as a result of the early phaseout. However, compensation is contingent on operators announcing plans by 2026 to shutter plants and cease other emissions-intensive activity.</p><p>Michael Vassiliadis, who heads the IG BCE trade union, called the measures a "historic landmark." He said the package has provided a safety net for workers affected by the phase out and would provide them with the necessary support to transition to future sectors.</p>
'Historic Error'<p>However, not everyone agrees that the measures are enough to mitigate climate change.</p><p>Environmentalist activists say the legislation falls short of its ultimate aim, with Greenpeace managing director Martin Kaiser describing it as a "historic error."</p><p>German Green party chief Annalena Baerbock said the legislation was "oblivious to the future" and instead called on the government to complete Germany's coal phase out by 2030 the latest.</p><p>Earlier this year, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/germans-most-worried-about-refugees-climate-change/a-51947417" target="_blank">a DeutschlandTrend survey</a> found that 27 percent of Germans believe climate change is the most pressing issue facing the country, just slightly behind refugees and immigration policy.</p><p>Germany is seeking to establish a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. The European Commission has also pushed forward with similar plans for the EU.</p>
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By Tara Lohan
Would you like to take a crack at solving climate change? Or at least creating a road map of how we could do it?
When you build a tool like En-ROADS, who are you hoping uses it?<p>The tools that we build are used by quite a range of people, which is one of the exciting things about them.</p><p>Before En-ROADS we had a tool called C-ROADS, which was used in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. During the negotiations in Copenhagen it allowed people to add up what each country was offering to do in terms of emissions cuts and calculate what that would mean for the global temperature at the end of the century. That was of interest to the U.S. State Department under President Obama and negotiating parties from other countries.</p><p>As a young bunch of scientists, it was fairly thrilling to hand our results to a colleague who took them to [science advisor] John Holdren, who took them to the president.</p><p>Today we find En-ROADS having quite a lot of traction in the upper levels of companies and governments, but one thing we've learned over the years is that those high-level leaders really can't move further or faster than the civil society is ready to.</p><p>So we invest quite a lot in supporting teachers — university and high school — and advocates. We're in the middle of a second round of webinars training around 1,000 people to use En-ROADS so they can teach others.</p><p>These are people all around the world. One is interested in going to her members of Congress with her laptop and using the simulation to advocate for a better future for her kids.</p>
What does En-ROADS do differently from other computer simulations?<p>One thing we talk about is the democratization of this information. En-ROADS isn't breaking new scientific ground that other computer simulations of climate change don't do. In fact, often we're relying on that cutting-edge research of other groups.</p><p>But we have paid attention to making it run fast and making it freely available online, where most of these other tools aren't designed for those purposes. They're doing scientific research for other scientists. Top leaders can often get the input of those academics if they have a question or a scenario, but it's unlikely that a politically active mom who's trying to influence her member of Congress would have access to those kinds of tools. Whereas if she puts in the time to learn, she can use En-ROADS.</p><p>I think more and more, and especially in the last few years, we come across people who have the impression that [the climate crisis is] pretty much hopeless. "It's too late. We've left it too long." And En-ROADS, for those people, is motivating because it shows that the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement to keep temperature increase well below 2 degrees [Celsius] is still physically possible. There's a huge amount of social and political will needed to do it, but it's within reach.</p>
Your organization is guided by a practice you call “multisolving.” What is that?<p>In the early years of working with models like C-ROADS and En-ROADS, we were really focused on tons of greenhouse gases and how to limit those. And clearly that's the core of the problem. But what we found in Copenhagen was that, despite our group and a few others who were doing this analysis actually being heard, and being on the front page of top newspapers, it didn't lead to more ambitious pledges from countries.</p><p>There was a soul-searching moment for me and for Climate Interactive in realizing that just being good scientists within this narrow bound of counting tons of carbon isn't getting us onto the path we need to be on.</p><p>That got me interested in this question of what else would be different in a world that has gotten off of fossil fuels. This was around 2009-2010. I hired the best researcher I knew, and she went away and came back and handed me this report.</p><p>It said that the benefits of being off fossil fuels, when monetized — when you took all the lives saved, all the healthcare costs saved, all the jobs created — the savings were of the same order of magnitude as the cost.</p><p>I thought she had made a mistake. Because I had worked my whole career trying to convince people that it's going to be <em>hard</em>, it's going to be <em>expensive</em>, but we <em>need</em> to get off fossil fuels. And she was saying that if you just widened your scope and looked not just on the carbon side, but you looked at the lives and health and community well-being, we were going to reap all these benefits.</p><p>I felt like I had been spending my life on a problem that was framed in a way where we would never be able to solve it. But by expanding our view, the things we were missing — basically political will, political power and budgetary power — seemed like maybe they could be aligned.</p><p>After that, for a long time we talked about the "co-benefits," and that that was kind of the word at the time. And many people still use it. We ended up dissatisfied with that word because it sounds like climate change is the main benefit, and then there are these other nice co-benefits.</p><p>That's still putting CO2 at the center of the world.</p><p>To a parent who's been in the emergency room all night with a child with asthma, is protecting the climate 100 years from now the main benefit of closing the neighborhood coal-fired power plant? Or is ending asthma the main benefit and climate is a nice co-benefit?</p><p>So we made up the word "<a href="https://www.climateinteractive.org/programs/multisolving/" target="_blank">multisolving</a>" to talk about how all these problems matter.</p>
What does this look like in action?<p>We learned that by and large our systems are not set up to allow people to take advantage of these synergies. And just to give you one example, if a country is going to go on a low-carbon transportation plan, those are going to be costs that are felt by the ministry of transportation. But the savings are largely going to be felt by the ministry of health. There'll be less hospitalization, fewer premature deaths, less cardiovascular and respiratory illness, less premature birth. But the way current governments are set up, no transportation minister is going to get much political appreciation or an incentive by saving money for the health ministry.</p><p>So for the last few years we've been working more and more on how to bring people together, to build the relationships that are needed to take advantage of these synergies because — until people can shift their systems around in a way where they can act together across these different silos and boundaries and jurisdictions — this will all just stay theoretical.</p><p>One place we have been doing this is in Atlanta with a group called Partnership for Southern Equity. We're creating a community network, the <a href="https://sites.google.com/view/justgrowth/just-growth-circle?authuser=0" target="_blank">Just Growth Circle</a>, that can be mobilized to have influence, decision-by-decision, on the kind of pattern of growth and development that will eventually change a whole city.</p>
That kind of deep-relationship building isn’t something that can be done quickly. How do you balance that kind of work to establish these interconnections with the urgency of the climate crisis?<p>Wendell Berry said, "To be patient in an emergency is a terrible trial." But we're in the kind of emergency that calls for patience. Time is very short and yet to make the kind of changes we need to make requires trust and relationships that can't be rushed and can only be cultivated. All you can do is create the conditions for them.</p><p>If you have urgency — if you need to bring things to scale, if you're looking for transformation and not incremental change — then actually this very slow and patient work of building trust and relationships is the way that you get to a very fast and transformative change.</p>
Has anything shifted in your thinking in the last few months during this global pandemic?<p>There's been a lot of talk about opportunities for transformation within the pandemic, especially about the need for low-carbon solutions. The other side is the social safety net. A lot of what we need to do to help people through the pandemic is also what the smart people behind the Green New Deal have said from the beginning needs to be part of the plan.</p><p>When they talked about universal healthcare, childcare, gender equity programs and the job training side of it, lots of people responded that they were way outside their lane. "What does this have to do with carbon?" But the pandemic is showing us that if you want a society to be able to pivot rapidly, you need a social safety net to support people.</p><p>If you want to pivot to green infrastructure, if you want low carbon infrastructure, you're changing a whole workforce in a generation. The social safety net is the lubrication that allows that to happen with less friction.</p><p>The social safety net we need to build to get through the pandemic could be built to also carry us through the transition to a climate-safe economy. It's not the technical side of this transition, but it is the taking care of each other through the transition. That may sound selfless, but it's also highly practical because the transition isn't going to happen if we can't move a whole society very quickly.</p>
By Elana Sulakshana
Rainforest Action Network recently uncovered a document that lists the 11 companies that are currently insuring the controversial Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline in Canada. These global insurance giants are providing more than USD$500 million in coverage for the massive risks of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, and they're also lined up to cover the expansion project.
Who’s insuring the pipeline? (2019-2020)<p>Here's the list of insurance companies that are providing coverage from August 2019 through August 2020:</p><ol><li>Zurich (Switzerland)</li><li>Lloyd's (UK) </li><li>Liberty Mutual (US)</li><li>Chubb (US)</li><li>AIG (US)</li><li>WR Berkley (US)</li><li>Starr (US)</li><li>Stewart Specialty Risk Underwriting (Canada)</li><li>Energy Insurance Mutual (US) </li><li>Temple Insurance (Germany), a Canadian member of the Munich Re group</li><li>HDI (Germany), which is owned by Talanx / Hannover Re</li></ol>
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By Leah Campbell
After several months of stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many households are beginning to experience family burnout from spending so much time together.
What is Family Burnout?<p>How do you know if you're experiencing family burnout resulting from COVID-19 togetherness?</p><p><a href="https://www.communitypsychiatry.com/providers/dr-pavan-madan-m-d/" target="_blank">Dr. Pavan Madan</a> is a board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist with <a href="https://www.communitypsychiatry.com/" target="_blank">Community Psychiatry</a>, the largest outpatient mental health organization in California. He explained there are three main symptoms to look out for. They are:</p><ul><li>feeling physically or emotionally exhausted</li><li>not being able to handle usual tasks</li><li>feeling annoyed easily</li></ul><p>These are symptoms a large number of people may be feeling right now, with exhaustion <a href="https://patient.info/news-and-features/why-lockdown-is-making-us-feel-exhausted" target="_blank">being reported across the internet</a>. Also, despite the fact that people are home and seemingly have all the time in the world on their hands, this inexplicable fatigue is becoming a common phenomenon.</p><p>In fact, Madan said, "Although no clear data is available, a <a href="http://bpinetwork.com/parental-burnout-crisis-in-corporate-america" target="_blank">2018 survey</a> found that half of all parents experience burnout — and this was prior to the pandemic."</p><p>Given the heightened rates of family togetherness now, it stands to reason those numbers are much higher, especially for single parents.</p>
The Additional Toll Faced by Single Parents<p>For single parents still working, now depleted of their normal childcare assistance, the pandemic may mean more to do and fewer opportunities for self-care than ever before.</p><p><a href="https://journeyswithprairie.com/prairie-conlon-licensed-therapist/" target="_blank">Prairie Conlon</a> is a licensed mental health professional and clinical director of the telehealth company <a href="https://www.certapet.com/" target="_blank">CertaPet</a>.</p><p>She explained, "In a two-parent household, division of tasks allows each parent to have some relief, but single-parent households typically take on all of these tasks themselves, which can absolutely lead to burnout quicker."</p><p>For single parents in a pandemic, there's no partner to help share responsibilities and there are few, if any, opportunities to get away and breathe by oneself. The result can easily lead to family burnout.</p><p>"One of the earliest signs of burnout is having less patience," Conlon said, "whether it's snapping at your kids or making a microwave dinner."</p><p>There are other factors that can contribute to family burnout in the time of COVID-19 as well.</p><p>"How demanding your job is or how the rest of your family is handling quarantine can further exacerbate burnout," Conlon said.</p>
Family Burnout Can Affect Romantic Relationships Too<p>Months together in quarantine can also be a strain on romantic relationships.</p><p>A <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/alexandrasternlicht/2020/04/23/couples-in-quarantine-only-18-are-satisfied-with-their-communication-during-coronavirus-pandemic/#178957045807" target="_blank">recent Forbes article</a> reported on a survey that found only 18 percent of respondents were happy with the communication within their relationships since the pandemic began. And in China, an <a href="https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200601-how-is-covid-19-is-affecting-relationships" target="_blank">unprecedented number of divorce requests</a> were filed as soon as marriage offices began reopening.</p><p>Will we see similar numbers as our states continue reopening here in the United States?</p><p>"When one person in a relationship is experiencing burnout, the other can typically pick up the slack, but when both are, it can be a struggle to connect and feel your best," Conlon said.</p><p>The impact on marriages and romantic relationships is considered part of the <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-intelligent-divorce/202004/how-covid-19-affects-marriage-and-how-adapt" target="_blank">collateral damage</a> of COVID-19. In times of high stress, it may not always be the best thing to be locked at home together, incapable of getting the space and clear head that's often needed to work through marital discord.</p>
It’s Not Just Parents and Adults — Kids Can Experience Family Burnout As Well<p>It's important to remember that amidst all this, adults aren't the only ones experiencing burnout.</p><p>"Burnout in children often presents as anxiety, being irritable, poor academic performance, or staying isolated from peers and not expressing interest in playing," Madan said.</p><p>A recent <a href="https://time.com/5854243/coronavirus-lockdown-impact-children/" target="_blank">survey in Italy</a> found that children are experiencing psychological impacts as a result of lockdown. They're more irritable, having trouble sleeping, and many are regressing developmentally.</p><p>"Compared to younger children, teenagers may be more likely to experience burnout due to higher academic workload, greater need for peer interaction, and more frequent conflicts with parents," Madan said.</p>
How to Reduce the Impact of Burnout in Your Household<p>But just because so many are experiencing burnout doesn't mean it can't be helped.</p><p>"Burnout can be prevented by having a better balance between family time versus me time," Madan said.</p><p>When dealing with kids who may be acting out as a result of lockdown stress, he suggests parents try using encouragement and positive reinforcement over punishment techniques.</p><p>This gentler approach may be best for helping to redirect kids while also honoring the life struggles we're all facing right now.</p><p>"Having a routine for sleep, meals, and study time can help children feel prepared for the next activity and avoid some conflicts," Madan explained.</p><p>How can parents manage their own feelings of burnout?</p><p>"Parents must consider stress management techniques at work and aim towards a better work-life balance," Madan said.</p><p>Conlon agreed, adding that those in two-parent households can help each other by giving one another time off from household obligations and child-rearing duties every once in a while.</p><p>Conlon suggested telling your partner to go out for a walk, or ask for the chance to sit in the tub with a book uninterrupted for the next hour. He explained that mini-breaks such as these can do both parents a world of good.</p><p>"For the kids, try to switch up their activities — take them bike riding, to the pool, or to the park," she said.</p>
Knowing When to Ask for Help<p>It's important to recognize there's a difference between having a slightly shorter fuse and feeling like you're actually on the edge of combusting.</p><p>"When burnout symptoms are moderate to severe, consider getting professional consultation with family therapy, individual therapist, or psychiatrist depending on the situation," Madan said.</p><p>While it may seem as though COVID-19 has made seeking mental health help more difficult, that's simply not the case. In fact, it may currently be easier to get that help than ever before, as many insurance companies have <a href="https://www.ahip.org/health-insurance-providers-respond-to-coronavirus-covid-19/" target="_blank">removed deductibles and copays</a> for telehealth appointments.</p><p>"Parenting is not easy and burnout is fairly common," Madan explained. "I advise parents to take care of themselves not only for their own well-being, but also to model good behavior for their children to emulate now and for the years to come, even when we are back to 'normal.'"</p><p>Experts emphasize that it's OK to honor your own needs and recognize you may require additional help right now.</p><p>Most mental health practitioners are welcoming telehealth visits, and with antidepression and anti-anxiety prescriptions <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/depression-during-covid-19" target="_blank">both on the rise</a>, you're certainly not alone if you decide you need that additional assistance right now as well.</p><p>The most important thing is that you take care of yourself. After all, your family needs you to be healthy and whole.</p>
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By Danielle Nierenberg and Alonso Diaz
With record high unemployment, a reeling global economy, and concerns of food shortages, the world as we know it is changing. But even as these shifts expose inequities in the health and food systems, many experts hope that the current moment offers an opportunity to build a new and more sustainable food system.