By Malavika Vyawahare
Humans are driving species to extinction 1,000 times faster than what is considered natural. Now, new research underscores the extent of the planet's impoverishment.
A baby African elephant at Kruger National Park. Rhett A. Butler
A Bornean rhino. Jeremy Hance and Tiffany Roufs / Mongabay
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By Derrick Z. Jackson
No punishment has yet fit the crime of the Flint water crisis, complete with its child poisoning and lethal outbreak of Legionnaire's disease. After a prior investigation fell apart in 2019, Michigan state prosecutors unveiled a slew of fresh charges against nine figures involved in the fateful penny-pinching move to switch Flint's water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River in 2014. The river's waters, made corrosive from decades of industrial pollution, ate at Flint's old water pipes, releasing lead into drinking water and into the brains of thousands of children.
By Kenny Stancil
A growing number of people around the world are calling for the public ownership of seeds, which they say is essential for a more democratic and ecologically sound food system, as the coronavirus-driven spike in empty supermarket shelves and the continued loss of biodiversity this year sparked a rise in the popularity of saving and swapping seeds and shed more light on the negative consequences of allowing a handful of agrochemical corporations to dominate the global seed trade.
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By Michael Svoboda, Ph.D.
Looking for climate-oriented gifts that can be purchased, delivered, and enjoyed under COVID-safe, socially-distanced conditions? Look no further.
1. The Fragile Earth: Writing from The New Yorker on Climate Change, edited by David Remnick and Henry Finder (Harper Collins 2020, 560 pages, $29.99)<p>The <em>Fragile Earth</em> tells the story of climate change – its past, present, and future – taking readers from Greenland to the Great Plains, and into both laboratories and rain forests. It features some of the best writing on global warming from the last three decades, including Bill McKibben's seminal essay "The End of Nature," the first piece to popularize both the science and politics of climate change for a general audience, and the Pulitzer Prize – winning work of Elizabeth Kolbert, as well as Kathryn Schulz, Dexter Filkins, Jonathan Franzen, Ian Frazier, Eric Klinenberg, and others. The result, in its range, depth, and passion, promises to bring light, and sometimes heat, to the great emergency of our age.</p>
2. Tales of Two Planets: Stories of Climate Change and Inequality in a Divided World, edited by John Freeman (Penguin Random House 2020, 320 pages, $18.00 paperback)<p>In the past five years, John Freeman, previously editor of Granta, has launched a celebrated international literary magazine, Freeman's, and compiled two acclaimed anthologies that deal with income inequality. In the course of this work, one major theme came up repeatedly: Climate change is making already dire inequalities much worse. In this new book, Freeman engages some of today's most eloquent storytellers – including Margaret Atwood, Lauren Groff, Edwidge Danticat, Tahmima Anam, Yasmine El Rashidi, Eka Kurniawan, Chinelo Okparanta, and Anuradha Roy – many of whom hail from places under acute stress. His is a literary all-points bulletin of fiction, essays, poems, and reportage about the most important crisis of our times.</p>
3. All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson (Penguin Random House 2020, 448 pages, $29.00)<p>There is a renaissance blooming in the climate movement: leadership that is more characteristically feminine and more faithfully feminist, rooted in compassion, connection, creativity, and collaboration. <em>All We Can Save</em> illuminates the expertise and insights of dozens of diverse women leading on climate in the United States – scientists, journalists, farmers, lawyers, teachers, activists, and designers, across generations, geographies, and race – and aims to advance a more representative and solution-oriented public conversation on the climate crisis. Curated by two climate leaders and intermixing essays with poetry and art, this book is both a balm and a guide, bolstering our resolve never to give up on one another or our collective future.</p>
4. Future Sea: How to Rescue and Protect the World’s Oceans, by Deborah Rowan Wright (University of Chicago Press 2020, 200 pages, $22.50)<p>The world's oceans face multiple threats: the effects of climate change, pollution, overfishing, plastic waste, and more. Such widespread environmental threats call for a simple but significant shift in reasoning to bring about long-overdue, elemental change in the way we use ocean resources. In <em>Future Sea</em>, ocean advocate and marine-policy researcher Deborah Rowan Wright provides the tools for that shift. A passionate, sweeping, and personal account, <em>Future Sea</em> not only argues for systemic change in how we manage what we do in the sea, but also describes steps that anyone, from children to political leaders (or indeed, any reader of the book), can take toward safeguarding the oceans and their extraordinary wildlife.</p>
5. The New Map: Energy, Climate and the Clash of Nations, by Daniel Yergin (Penguin Random House 2020, 512 pages, $38.00)<p>The world is being shaken by the collision of energy, climate change, and the clashing power of nations in a time of global crisis. The "shale revolution" in oil and gas – made possible by fracking technology, but not without controversy – has transformed the American economy, ending the "era of shortage." Yet concern about energy's role in climate change is challenging our economy and way of life, accelerating a second energy revolution in the search for a low carbon future. All of this has been made starker and more urgent by the coronavirus pandemic and the economic dark age that it has wrought. A master storyteller and global energy expert, Daniel Yergin takes the reader on a riveting journey across the world's new map. He poses the great questions of this era of political turbulence and points to the challenges that lie ahead.</p>
6. Solved: How the World’s Great Cities Are Fixing the Climate Crisis, by David Miller (University of Toronto Press 2020, 208 pages, $29.95)<p>Taking cues from progressive cities around the world, including Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Oslo, Shenzhen, and Sydney, David Miller, director of International Diplomacy for the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, summons every city to make small but significant changes that can drastically reduce humanity's carbon footprint. Solved demonstrates that the initiatives cities have already taken to control the climate crisis can make a real difference in reducing global emissions if implemented worldwide. As much a "how to" guide for policymakers as a call to action for concerned citizens, Solved aims to inspire hope through its analysis of what can be done – now, today – to pave the way to a 1.5-degree world.</p>
7. Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, by Pope Francis (Simon & Schuster 2020, 160 pages, $26.00)<p>In the COVID crisis, Pope Francis saw the cruelty and inequity of our society exposed more vividly than ever before. He also saw, in the resilience, generosity, and creativity of so many people, the means to rescue our society, our economy, and our planet. In direct, powerful prose, Pope Francis urges us not to let the pain be in vain. In <em>Let Us Dream</em>, the Pope offers an inspiring and actionable blueprint for building by putting the poor and the planet at the heart of new thinking. For this plan, he draws not only on sacred sources, but on the latest findings from scientists, economists, and activists. Let Us Dream is an epiphany, a call to arms, and a pleasure to read. With this book, and with open hearts, we can change the world.</p>
8. Stand Up! Speak Up! A Story Inspired by the Climate Change Revolution, by Andrew Joyner (Penguin Random House 2020, 40 pages (for 4-to-8-year olds), $17.99)<p>Celebrate young climate change activists in this charming story about an empowered girl who shows up, listens up, and ultimately, speaks up to inspire her community to take action against climate change. After attending a climate march, a young activist is motivated to make an effort and do her part to help the planet … by organizing volunteers to work to make green changes in their community, from cleaning a lake, to planting trees, to hosting a clothing swap and more! Here is an uplifting picture book that is an important reminder that no change is too small – and no person is too young – to make a difference. With simple text and lively illustrations, Andrew Joyner has given young children a timely story about activism, community, and hope.</p>
9. Our Only Home: A Climate Appeal to the World, by The Dalai Lama and Franz Alt (Hanover Square 2020, 176 pages, $19.99)<p>Saving the climate is our common duty. With each passing day, climate change is causing Pacific islands to disappear into the sea, accelerating the extinction of species at alarming proportions and aggravating a water shortage that has affected the entire world. In this new book, the Dalai Lama, one of the most influential figures of our time, calls on political decision makers to finally fight against deadlock and ignorance on this issue and to stand up for a different, more climate-friendly world and for the younger generation to assert their right to regain their future. From this beloved world religious leader comes an eye-opening manifesto that empowers the generation of today to step up, take action and save our environment.</p>
10. The 2084 Report: An Oral History of the Great Warming: A Novel, by James Lawrence Powell (Simon & Schuster 2020, 240 pages, $27.00)<p>2084: Global warming has proven worse than even the direst predictions scientists had made at the turn of the century. No country – and no one – has remained unscathed. Through interviews with scientists, political leaders, and citizens around the globe, this riveting fictional oral history describes in graphic detail the irreversible effects the Great Warming has had on humankind. In short chapters, The <em>2084 Report</em> brings global warming to life, revealing a new reality in which Rotterdam doesn't exist, Phoenix has no electricity, and Canada is part of the United States. Characters describe the issues they confront in a world they share with the next two generations. Simultaneously fascinating and frightening, The 2084 Report will inspire you to take action.</p>
11. A Diary in the Age of Water: A Novel, by Nina Munteanu (Inanna 2020, 328 pages, $22.95 paperback)<p>Centuries from now, in a dying boreal forest of what used to be northern Canada, Kyo, a young acolyte called to service in the Exodus, discovers a diary that may answer her yearning for Earth's past – to the Age of Water, when the "Water Twins" destroyed humanity in hatred. The diary spans a twenty-year period in the mid-twenty-first century life of 33-year-old Lynna, a single mother who works in CanadaCorp, an international water utility. A Diary in the Age of Water follows the climate-induced journey of Earth and humanity through four generations of women, each with a unique relationship to water. The novel explores our concepts of what is "normal" – as a nation and an individual – in a world that is rapidly changing.</p>
12. The Ministry for the Future: A Novel, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Hachette Book Group – Orbit 2020, 576 pages, $28.00)<p>From legendary science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson comes a remarkable vision of climate change over the coming decades. The Ministry for the Future is a masterpiece of the imagination, using fictional eyewitness accounts to tell the story of how climate change will affect us all. Its setting is not a desolate, post-apocalyptic world, but a future that is almost upon us – and in which we might just overcome the extraordinary challenges we face. It is a novel both immediate and impactful, desperate and hopeful in equal measure, and it is one of the most powerful and original books on climate change ever written. (Editor's note: Readers can find YCC's review of this book <a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/10/the-ministry-for-the-future-a-novel-by-kim-stanley-robinson/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a> and an interview with the author <a href="https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/11/a-crucial-collapse-in-the-ministry-for-the-future/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p>
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By Bret Wilkins
In a year in which the United States has already suffered 16 climate-driven extreme weather events causing more than $1 billion in economic damages, and as millions of American workers face loss of essential unemployment benefits due to congressional inaction, a report published Monday reveals the Trump administration has given fossil fuel companies as much as $15.2 billion in direct relief — and tens of billions more indirectly — through federal COVID-19 recovery programs since March.
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By Lynne Peeples
Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.
In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.
Unintended Consequences<p>Chemists first discovered disinfection by-products in treated drinking water in the 1970s. The trihalomethanes they found, they determined, had resulted from the reaction of chlorine with natural organic matter. Since then, scientists have identified more than 700 additional disinfection by-products. "And those only represent a portion. We still don't know half of them," says Richardson, whose lab has identified hundreds of disinfection by-products. </p>
What’s Regulated and What’s Not?<p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently regulates 11 disinfection by-products — including a handful of trihalomethanes (THM) and haloacetic acids (HAA). While these represent only a small fraction of all disinfection by-products, EPA aims to use their presence to indicate the presence of other disinfection by-products. "The general idea is if you control THMs and HAAs, you implicitly or by default control everything else as well," says Korshin.</p><p>EPA also requires drinking water facilities to use techniques to reduce the concentration of organic materials before applying disinfectants, and regulates the quantity of disinfectants that systems use. These rules ultimately can help control levels of disinfection by-products in drinking water.</p>
Click the image for an interactive version of this chart on the Environmental Working Group website.<p>Still, some scientists and advocates argue that current regulations do not go far enough to protect the public. Many question whether the government is regulating the right disinfection by-products, and if water systems are doing enough to reduce disinfection by-products. EPA is now seeking public input as it considers potential revisions to regulations, including the possibility of regulating additional by-products. The agency held a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/dwsixyearreview/potential-revisions-microbial-and-disinfection-byproducts-rules" target="_blank">two-day public meeting</a> in October 2020 and plans to hold additional public meetings throughout 2021.</p><p>When EPA set regulations on disinfection by-products between the 1970s and early 2000s, the agency, as well as the scientific community, was primarily focused on by-products of reactions between organics and chlorine — historically the most common drinking water disinfectant. But the science has become increasingly clear that these chlorinated chemicals represent a fraction of the by-product problem.</p><p>For example, bromide or iodide can get caught up in the reaction, too. This is common where seawater penetrates a drinking water source. By itself, bromide is innocuous, says Korshin. "But it is extremely [reactive] with organics," he says. "As bromide levels increase with normal treatment, then concentrations of brominated disinfection by-products will increase quite rapidly."</p><p><a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15487777/" target="_blank">Emerging</a> <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.7b05440" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">data</a> indicate that brominated and iodinated by-products are potentially more harmful than the regulated by-products.</p><p>Almost half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, where saltwater intrusion can be a problem for drinking water supplies. "In the U.S., the rule of thumb is the closer to the sea, the more bromide you have," says Korshin, noting there are also places where bromide naturally leaches out from the soil. Still, some coastal areas tend to be spared. For example, the city of Seattle's water comes from the mountains, never making contact with seawater and tending to pick up minimal organic matter.</p><p>Hazardous disinfection by-products can also be an issue with desalination for drinking water. "As <a href="https://ensia.com/features/can-saltwater-quench-our-growing-thirst/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">desalination</a> practices become more economical, then the issue of controlling bromide becomes quite important," adds Korshin.</p>
Other Hot Spots<p>Coastal areas represent just one type of hot spot for disinfection by-products. Agricultural regions tend to send organic matter — such as fertilizer and animal waste — into waterways. Areas with warmer climates generally have higher levels of natural organic matter. And nearly any urban area can be prone to stormwater runoff or combined sewer overflows, which can contain rainwater as well as untreated human waste, industrial wastewater, hazardous materials and organic debris. These events are especially common along the East Coast, notes Sydney Evans, a science analyst with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG, a collaborator on <a href="https://ensia.com/ensia-collections/troubled-waters/" target="_blank">this reporting project</a>).</p><p>The only drinking water sources that might be altogether free of disinfection by-products, suggests Richardson, are private wells that are not treated with disinfectants. She used to drink water from her own well. "It was always cold, coming from great depth through clay and granite," she says. "It was fabulous."</p><p>Today, Richardson gets her water from a city system that uses chloramine.</p>
Toxic Treadmill<p>Most community water systems in the U.S. use chlorine for disinfection in their treatment plant. Because disinfectants are needed to prevent bacteria growth as the water travels to the homes at the ends of the distribution lines, sometimes a second round of disinfection is also added in the pipes.</p><p>Here, systems usually opt for either chlorine or chloramine. "Chloramination is more long-lasting and does not form as many disinfection by-products through the system," says Steve Via, director of federal relations at the American Water Works Association. "Some studies show that chloramination may be more protective against organisms that inhabit biofilms such as Legionella."</p>
Alternative Approaches<p>When he moved to the U.S. from Germany, Prasse says he immediately noticed the bad taste of the water. "You can taste the chlorine here. That's not the case in Germany," he says.</p><p>In his home country, water systems use chlorine — if at all — at lower concentrations and at the very end of treatment. In the Netherlands, <a href="https://dwes.copernicus.org/articles/2/1/2009/dwes-2-1-2009.pdf" target="_blank">chlorine isn't used at all</a> as the risks are considered to outweigh the benefits, says Prasse. He notes the challenge in making a convincing connection between exposure to low concentrations of disinfection by-products and health effects, such as cancer, that can occur decades later. In contrast, exposure to a pathogen can make someone sick very quickly.</p><p>But many countries in Europe have not waited for proof and have taken a precautionary approach to reduce potential risk. The emphasis there is on alternative approaches for primary disinfection such as ozone or <a href="https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/eco-friendly-way-disinfect-water-using-light/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ultraviolet light</a>. Reverse osmosis is among the "high-end" options, used to remove organic and inorganics from the water. While expensive, says Prasse, the method of forcing water through a semipermeable membrane is growing in popularity for systems that want to reuse wastewater for drinking water purposes.</p><p>Remucal notes that some treatment technologies may be good at removing a particular type of contaminant while being ineffective at removing another. "We need to think about the whole soup when we think about treatment," she says. What's more, Remucal explains, the mixture of contaminants may impact the body differently than any one chemical on its own. </p><p>Richardson's preferred treatment method is filtering the water with granulated activated carbon, followed by a low dose of chlorine.</p><p>Granulated activated carbon is essentially the same stuff that's in a household filter. (EWG recommends that consumers use a <a href="https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/reviewed-disinfection-byproducts.php#:~:text=EWG%20recommends%20using%20a%20home,as%20trihalomethanes%20and%20haloacetic%20acids." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countertop carbon filter</a> to reduce levels of disinfection by-products.) While such a filter "would remove disinfection by-products after they're formed, in the plant they remove precursors before they form by-products," explains Richardson. She coauthored a <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.9b00023" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019 paper</a> that concluded the treatment method is effective in reducing a wide range of regulated and unregulated disinfection by-products.</p><br>
Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992, and is still one of relatively few full-scale plants that uses the technology. Courtesy of Greater Cincinnati Water Works.<p>Despite the technology and its benefits being known for decades, relatively few full-scale plants use granulated active carbon. They often cite its high cost, Richardson says. "They say that, but the city of Cincinnati [Ohio] has not gone bankrupt using it," she says. "So, I'm not buying that argument anymore."</p><p>Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992. On a video call in December, Jeff Swertfeger, the superintendent of Greater Cincinnati Water Works, poured grains of what looks like black sand out of a glass tube and into his hand. It was actually crushed coal that has been baked in a furnace. Under a microscope, each grain looks like a sponge, said Swertfeger. When water passes over the carbon grains, he explained, open tunnels and pores provide extensive surface area to absorb contaminants.</p><p>While the granulated activated carbon initially was installed to address chemical spills and other industrial contamination concerns in the Ohio River, Cincinnati's main drinking water source, Swertfeger notes that the substance has turned out to "remove a lot of other stuff, too," including <a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-contamination-pfas-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">PFAS</a> and disinfection by-product precursors.</p><p>"We use about one-third the amount of chlorine as we did before. It smells and tastes a lot better," he says. "The use of granulated activated carbon has resulted in lower disinfection by-products across the board."</p><p>Richardson is optimistic about being able to reduce risks from disinfection by-products in the future. "If we're smart, we can still kill those pathogens and lower our chemical disinfection by-product exposure at the same time," she says.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-disinfection-byproducts-pathogens/" target="_blank">Ensia</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649953730#/" target="_self"></a></p>
By Priyanka Jaisinghani
COVID-19, "stay-at-home" orders and enforced physical distancing has made us more dependent on digital when it comes to connection and communication at both a local and global level.
Civic Engagement Redefined<p>Long-lasting impact requires changes from the bottom up. Civic engagement means working to make a difference in our communities to promote quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.</p><p>We're seeing how, across multiple issues, young people are becoming active participants in driving dialogues with policy-makers, on a state and federal level. In addition, they are empowering the citizens of the communities in which they reside, taking an active role in shaping the future we hold.</p>
1. Racial Justice<p>Across the U.S., we saw the rise of the racial justice movement through Black Lives Matter. Hundreds of protestors came to the streets, from New York to Nevada, acknowledging, supporting and condemning the long-existing inequalities faced by the black community. We saw this movement propel beyond the streets, throughout social media, and to the polling stations.</p><p>Young activists were demanding not only awareness but also change. In this digital space, young people started sharing resources and information for others to educate themselves about the pressing need for racial justice. They were able to mobilize support to inform, educate and shape citizen action. They shared links to petitions, offered advice for safe protesting practices, created templates for emailing authorities, listed bail funds and black-owned restaurants and businesses in need of support. They used social media to support the various needs of this movement – and continue to do so.</p>
2. Climate Change<p>The youth-led climate change has become dominant online. Every Friday, young people lead a digital #ClimateStrike to raise awareness of important legislative initiatives and create tangible ways for individuals to get involved in the fight against climate change.</p><p>As a leading example, to commemorate this year's Earth Day, youth held a 72-hour, live-streamed "digital march" with protests, speeches, and more. This "digital march" was attended by more than 200,000 viewers. Young people are pivoting their strategies and applying them to a digital space. We know when the streets are safe again, they will continue their activism by marching to raise awareness both on the streets and digitally.</p>
3. Voting Rights<p>Voting is another pertinent issue coming to the fore. In <a href="https://news.gallup.com/poll/315761/lack-voting-information-hamper-youth-turnout.aspx" target="_blank">a Gallup poll</a>, four out of five (79%) young people say "the coronavirus pandemic has helped them realize how much political leaders' decisions impact their lives"; three in five say "they are part of a movement that will vote to express its views."</p><p>As a result of these changing attitudes, young people are having conversations with their families and finding ways to get politically active. They're donating funds to campaigns, volunteering their time to raise awareness around voting and creating social campaigns to try to influence other people to vote and register to vote.</p>
How social media is used in the U.S. for political issues. Statista<p>It's inspiring to see young people around the world deeply engaged in the digital space and continuing their activism. They have played a critical role in calling for change and transformation in society. From climate to health to politics, young people are the most affected. The only way to make progress is to build back better. They're building upon existing issues and movements, creating new alliances and driving conversations and action. This generation is also building upon the same values and ideas of those before them to change the status quo and find ways to enact change for a better future.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels.
<div id="815e9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="eb5133bc08c84a247e6c577bb4c4ba59"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318967338482364416" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Yes! @SenJeffMerkley just introduced new legislation that would stop banks and other financial institutions from fu… https://t.co/Bk15N9Sewk</div> — Stop the Money Pipeline (@Stop the Money Pipeline)<a href="https://twitter.com/StopMoneyPipe/statuses/1318967338482364416">1603301293.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="f84b7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f6742078b73d4f72ad0cdb0b28c45bf8"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318975843717287936" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">"When there’s an out of control fire, the worst thing you can do is pour more gas on it. It’s time for Congress ste… https://t.co/YfjbtiWeRY</div> — 350 dot org (@350 dot org)<a href="https://twitter.com/350/statuses/1318975843717287936">1603303321.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="f35ca" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f0306ad9e315c3763299c349c4056f90"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318969691767930880" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">BREAKING: @SenJeffMerkley just introduced new legislation that would help end the financing of fossil fuels! 👏👏👏 W… https://t.co/831xi0UPfo</div> — Moira Birss (@Moira Birss)<a href="https://twitter.com/moira_kb/statuses/1318969691767930880">1603301854.0</a></blockquote></div>
By Isabella Garcia
September in Portland, Oregon, usually brings a slight chill to the air and an orange tinge to the leaves. This year, it brought smoke so thick it burned your throat and made your eyes strain to see more than 20 feet in front of you.
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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.
“Rather than a Moonshot 🌕, we need Earthshots 🌍 for this decade.” Watch Prince William’s @Tedtalks talk in full:… https://t.co/m5NCj6TQzH— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge)1602408749.0
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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By Jan Ellen Spiegel
It wasn't so long ago that the issue of climate change was poised to play a huge – possibly even a decisive – role in the 2020 election, especially in the race for control of the U.S. Senate. Many people supporting Democratic candidates saw a possible Democratic majority as a hedge against a potential Trump re-election … a way to plug the firehose spray of more than 100 environmental regulation rollbacks and new anti-climate initiatives by the administration over its first term.
Potential Climate Voters<p>In a September 1 memo on climate and the election, Andrew Baumann, vice president of the consultants Global Strategy Group, wrote: "Few issues have seen as dramatic a shift in public opinion as climate change has over the last few years. Only marriage equality and the recent shift in views around racial justice outpace the rapid growth in the salience of climate change as an issue."</p><p>Calling it a "winning political issue" the memo says: "First, it is clearly a motivator for both younger and Latinx voters. Second, it has the power to move swing voters, particularly center-right white women."</p><p>Baumann points to a finding that when a group of such women were asked generic ballot questions, Democrats trailed by nine percentage points. But when the question was revised as a choice between:</p><p>"A Democrat who supports taking strong government action to combat climate change.<br>A Republican who opposes taking strong government action to combat climate change."</p><p>… the result was a 29 percentage point shift, putting Democrats ahead by 20 percentage points among that same group.</p><p>"I think it is playing a role," says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, a longtime outspoken climate activist who is on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and also on the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. If Democrats win back the Senate, he stands to play an even more pivotal climate role as part of the majority. He is not up for re-election this year.</p><p><span></span>"I think from the Democratic side it's playing a role in generating enthusiasm – particularly making younger voters feel that they have a real stake in this election. On the Republican side, I think things have moved enough that candidates can no longer get away with simply scoffing about climate change."</p>
Climate a Top Concern for Youths, Latinx<p>So who's still thinking climate? Mostly young voters – 18 to 25 or 29 and Latinx voters.</p><p>Climate and the environment are the top concern among young voters, just above racism and healthcare according to <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CIRCLE</a>, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, which focuses on the political life of young people in the U.S. For Latinx youth, it drops a bit but remains in the top three.</p><p>The issues young people care about have an impact on how they volunteer their time, says Kristian Lundberg, an associate researcher at CIRCLE. He says that's played out most notably through the Sunrise Movement, which focuses on climate change and the environment along with other key activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives.</p><p>He points to polling this summer that showed that 83% of 18-to-29-year-olds felt they had the power to change things. "Young people feel much more empowerment than in 2016 and 2018," Lundberg says. "It's intentional these movements are carving out space for young people. It's an important strategy."</p><p>In positions of power in these organizations, young people have developed peer-to-peer outreach on activism. And Lundberg says young people have made the leap that connects activism to voting as a lever for change. "In the past in very close races, young people breaking heavily have provided the margin of victory," he says.</p><p>CIRCLE is highlighting 10 U.S. Senate races as ones in which young voters can be decisive. Several of them have notable climate or environmental components – most prominently the Colorado and Montana races.</p><p>The Republican incumbents in each state – Cory Gardner in Colorado and Steve Daines in Montana – are running against a popular Democratic governor – John Hickenlooper in Colorado, now out of office — and Steve Bullock, still the governor of Montana. Both governors have had to balance their state's fossil fuel economic interests with supporting climate change solutions.</p>
Tying Climate Change to the Economy<p>In August, Data for Progress, a progressive research think tank, released polling on climate change – including in the battleground Senate elections in Arizona, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina – showing voters back a Senate candidate supporting strong climate action.</p><blockquote>Climate change as 'mobilizing issue … key persuasion issue.'<br></blockquote><p>It also showed that linking climate change to the economy may be key. That means talking about clean energy and jobs together, says Danielle Deiseroth, climate data analyst for <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank">Data for Progress</a>. She says that in addition to jobs, climate change issues include climate justice and economic equality – both of heightened interest because of fallout from western wildfires.</p><p>"Climate change, we've observed over the last year or so, is a key mobilizing issue and a key persuasion issue," she says. "Climate issues can only grow support for Democratic candidates.</p><p>"I think it's pretty naive to say climate is the key issue for voters. For a lot of voters it really exemplifies so many things that are wrong with the Trump presidency," Deiseroth says.</p><p>So a factor among others. Helpful, but pivotal only in narrow circumstances.</p><p>At the League of Conservations Voters, a progressive environmentalist organization putting a lot of money and effort into the 2020 races, Senior Director of Political Affairs Craig Auster says: "I'll push back that climate change doesn't matter or isn't registering."</p><p>"It's still showing up in several Senate races. It's been playing a role in almost all of them."</p><p>Candidates are still talking about it, he says, pointing to Colorado, Montana, Iowa, and other states where ads are addressing climate and environmental issues. That shows the candidates believe their opponent is vulnerable on the issue or they're strong on it, he says.</p><p>Like others, Auster calls climate a motivator.</p><p>"Climate change matters," he says. "We have proof point after proof point about what's happening, whether it's a hurricane, a superstorm, derechos in Iowa, or wildfires out west.</p><p>"Pre-COVID it was top tier for Democratic voters along with healthcare. If COVID didn't happen I think climate would be a big deal."</p>
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