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U.S. House Approves Faster LNG Exports

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U.S. House Approves Faster LNG Exports

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that will speed up the process of liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports.

Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), the Department of Energy will have 30 days to approve LNG exports to non-Free Trade Agreement countries after an environmental review of the LNG facilities. The bill received bipartisan support, passing 266 to 150.

A House bill received bipartisan support to expedite the approval process for LNG exports. Photo credit: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

"The economic impacts alone make natural gas exports a winning policy, but the geopolitical impacts are an incredible benefit as well and have been ignored for far too long," Gardner said, according to The Hill. "Allies around the world have told us that they would greatly benefit from American LNG. It is time to help our friends abroad. It is time to create jobs here at home."

Opponents, however, say the jobs talk is used to cloud the government's desire to expand fracking and natural gas. They fear more incidents like the LNG explosion near the Washington-Oregon border earlier this year when shrapnel struck a 14.6-million-gallon storage tank, causing a slow leak that displaced nearly 1,000 residents and workers.

"[House Resolution 6], formally known as the Domestic Prosperity and Global Freedom Act, hardly provides prosperity or freedom," Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement. "Proponents argue that exporting LNG will create jobs for Americans, while somehow making the U.S. more energy independent, Unfortunately, this is all hot air, a guise for opening up new markets and for fetching higher gas prices in Asia."

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), though, says speeding up the approval process is a different animal than actual construction.

"Rushing the DOE review is not going to speed up the construction of these projects," he said. "We need the construction of the infrastructure for the export of natural gas."

Environmental groups like the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and 350.org  spent ample time and resources fighting against the expansion of LNG, particularly Cove Point, a controversial LNG export proposal from Dominion Resources less than 70 miles south of the White House. Earlier this month, a DOE report unintentionally showed that exporting LNG to Asia would be worse for the environment than building another coal-fired power plant in China.

Gardner is challenging U.S Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) for his seat this fall. Udall introduced a similar LNG bill that makes the review period 45 days. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is expected to vote on Udall's bill in the near future.

“Ultimately, LNG exports will increase demand for fracking in the United States," Hauter said. "Hydraulic fracturing negatively impacts local communities, as it introduces a heavy amount of industrial activity that damages air, water, and public health. Over 420 communities in the U.S. have taken action against fracking. Proponents of fracking and LNG exports fail to explain how costly and challenging it will be for export facilities to process and ship LNG. Federal officials and the oil gas industry have grossly over-exaggerated the amount of gas under U.S. soil. 

“We cannot allow the oil and gas industry to exploit our lands, communities and workers for the sake of profits."

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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.

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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