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Jay Inslee’s Latest Climate Plan Targets the Fossil Fuel Industry

Politics
Jay Inslee’s Latest Climate Plan Targets the Fossil Fuel Industry
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announcing his run for President on a climate-focused campaign. Karen Ducey / Getty Images

In his latest bid to be the 2020 climate candidate, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled a plan Monday to target the fossil fuel industry by both phasing out extraction and making it pay for the damage it has already done.


The plan would end subsidies for oil, natural gas and coal companies, ban drilling on federal lands and waters, phase out fracking and institute a "Climate Pollution Fee," The Hill reported.

"To build a clean energy economy, we must transition off of fossil fuels, and we will need a President who is willing to stand up to the fossil fuel corporations," Inslee said in a statement reported by The Hill.

Inslee's "Freedom From Fossil Fuels" Plan is divided into five main components.

1. "Ending Fossil Fuel Subsidies"

The U.S. currently pays $26 billion to fossil fuel companies in direct support a year, the most of any G7 nation. Inslee's plan seeks to end this state of affairs by closing tax loopholes, recuperating payments for fossil fuel extraction on public lands and ending federal support for the industry, such as transitioning the Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy into the Office of Industrial Decarbonization. Overall, the plan would eliminate almost $20 billion a year in subsidies, according to The Hill.

2. "Banning New Federal Leasing and Phasing-Out Fossil Fuel Production"

Inslee promised a ban on new fossil fuel leasing on day one, and then pledged to work with Congress to make the ban permanent. His plan would work to phase out fossil fuel extraction off of public lands as well. It also seeks to develop a "G.I. Bill" for fossil fuel workers caught up in the transition to cleaner energy. Finally, he promised to work with Congress on a national fracking ban, similar to the state-wide ban he signed in Washington this year.

3. "Holding Polluters Accountable"

Inslee would work with Congress to create a "Climate Pollution Fee" that would start small and increase over time to incentivize a rapid transition to cleaner energy sources. The revenue would go to helping vulnerable communities adapt to the climate crisis, as well as funding environmental protections and economic development. He would also impose a "Carbon Duty" on imports from countries without strict climate laws. Inslee also pledged to enforce and strengthen existing environmental laws, and reverse Trump administration rollbacks, such the newly-released replacement for the Clean Power Plan that is more lenient on coal-plant emissions.

4. "Rejecting New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure"

Inslee would work with Congress to develop and apply a "Climate Test" to all new infrastructure projects. He would also direct federal agencies to reject oil and gas pipelines that would contribute to global warming and harm the local environment, and withdraw permits from existing projects like the controversial Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. The plan also outlines steps towards ending fossil fuel exports.

5. "Improving Corporate Climate Transparency"

Finally, Inslee would work to make sure corporations are accurately reporting their climate pollution and risk by taking measures to encourage the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to enforce rules requiring companies to disclose climate-related risks and reverse the more lax approach taken by the Trump administration. Inslee would also direct federal agencies to work towards avoiding a financial crisis driven by the climate crisis.

Inslee's plan won approval from Greenpeace, who called it "the most comprehensive to date to end the fossil fuel industry's stranglehold on our democracy and clear the way for a future built on clean, renewable energy," according to The Hill.

"This is now the gold standard that all other candidates must meet if they hope to win over the millions of voters and young people demanding climate leadership from the next president," the organization said.

It is the latest climate-focused plan announced by Inslee, following his promise to shutter all coal plants by 2030, encourage clean energy construction and target anti-corruption laws at climate deniers abroad, as The Huffington Post reported. But this latest plan focuses specifically on the industry most responsible for industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

"When you're in a hole, you have to stop digging," Inslee told The Huffington Post of his latest plan. "We have to stare the fossil fuel industry in the eye and say, 'The gravy train is over.'"

Inslee is polling at one or two percent against other Democratic primary contenders, The Hill reported, and The Huffington Post says his latest plan will likely not win over voters in fossil-fuel producing states. But it does come days after a Yale Program on Climate Change Communication survey found that 57 percent of Americans think the fossil fuel industry owes owes a "great deal" or "moderate amount" in damages wrought by the climate crisis, The Huffington Post reported.

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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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