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Zone-Based Approach Is Key Component of Smart Solar Report

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Zone-Based Approach Is Key Component of Smart Solar Report

The Wilderness Society

Anticipating a major announcement by the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) and U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in late October, The Wilderness Society has released Smart Solar, a report that shows why there is great support for the department’s commitment to focusing solar development in low-conflict solar energy zones on public lands. As shown in "Smart Solar," people from many walks of life—sportsmen, ranchers, regulators, members of Congress and others—endorse guiding solar development to areas with low environmental conflicts and high solar resources.

Smart Solar gives an armchair tour of the areas under consideration by the BLM. DOI and the BLM are expected to publish a supplement to the Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement at the end of the month that would address some of the concerns and recommendations they received in tens of thousands of comments from people across the nation earlier this year.

“Smart Solar illustrates the critical thinking that has gone into BLM’s solar energy program across the west,” said Alex Daue, renewable energy associate at The Wilderness Society, and primary author of the report. “There is great value in the BLM developing a roadmap for the future, to create predictability for solar developers while working with local stakeholders to reduce conflict and avoid impacts to wilderness quality lands and key wildlife habitat.”

The backbone of the BLM’s solar program is the agency’s Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) scheduled for completion in 2012. The draft PEIS, published in December 2010, elicited over 80,000 public comments, highlighting the importance of this effort and the great interest in putting in place a sustainable solar energy program for our public lands. The supplement to the PEIS is expected to refine the current 24 proposed zones and create a process for identifying additional zones going forward. The BLM has said the solar program is likely to also include some kind of variance process that would allow consideration of appropriate sites outside of zones.

“There are certainly opportunities to improve BLM’s plan. Smart Solar lays out some ways to strengthen the program, and it can also help guide citizens to better engage in the public process for their public lands,” said Daue. “The PEIS is more than just a document—the decisions made through this process will provide a foundation for a smart solar energy program on our public lands for the next two decades. Smart Solar identifies very specific ways to do that well.”

In general, focusing solar development in low-conflict zones offers many benefits and can facilitate responsible development while minimizing impacts. Smart Solar addresses various issues in the states covered by BLM’s plan:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Utah

“Solar energy is vital to our energy future in the west,” said Daue. “We have terrific solar resources that can help us reduce the impact of electricity generation on our air, water and climate. Without a focus on low-conflict zones, the amazing wildlife, vast wildlands and fascinating and precious archeological sites that make the west such a special place to live could be threatened. For example, 1.5 million acres of citizen-inventoried wilderness lands could be open to solar development if the BLM does not truly focus permitting and construction of solar projects in low-conflict zones. The BLM has committed to a zone-based solar energy program, and we will be working to ensure the final program reflects that commitment. With smart up-front planning, we'll have more power from renewable energy, get it to consumers sooner and at a lower cost, create thousands of new jobs, and provide a cleaner, healthier future for our children.”

To view Smart Solar in its entirety, click here.

For more information, click here.

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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.

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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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