Our Daily Planet's Bright Ideas

Bright Ideas is a weekly featured opinion piece authored by policymakers, thought leaders & experts highlighting steps we can take toward a more sustainable future brought to you by people that know these topics best.

Reason For Hope If We Go Bold

Blue Planet 2 BBC

By Scott Nuzum

My four-year-old loves the fantastical flora and fauna of the marine environment so the other day we decided to watch Blue Planet 2. What began as a joyous attempt to showcase the wonder of the oceans soon took a melancholy turn as we silently watched an exhausted walrus mother and pup struggle to find pack ice on which to rest. After a few minutes, my daughter sought confirmation of something that had clearly bothered her. “Papa,” she said, “if those walruses don’t have ice, they’ll die.” Amazed (but not surprised) by my young child’s ability to reason, I took a deep breath before responding. “Yes,” I replied, “without ice, the walruses would die, but people are working to ensure that doesn’t happen.” I hated to sugarcoat the truth and I worry that I have overstated current efforts to save both the walrus and humanity itself.

It is an extraordinary time to be alive and after seven decades of relative peace and prosperity, living standards have improved for billions. Indeed, public health campaigns have eradicated diseases and lengthened lifespans, and economic growth has lifted billions of people out of dire poverty. Moreover, this sustained period of global peace and prosperity has spurred the proliferation of many new and exciting technologies, allowing us to reach the Moon, decipher the human genome, and wirelessly communicate with one another from across rooms and oceans.

But it is also true that the benefits of peace and prosperity have been neither uniform nor equitable. For decades, many of us (myself included) have been able to engage in mindless consumption—of energy, of natural resources, of durable and non-durable goods—at an unsustainable rate. Only now, as a wave of environmental and technological disruption washes over us, are we beginning to appreciate the disruptive effect of our collective actions.

Signs of Disruption

Signs of disruption and its societal impacts have long been evident. For example, the destruction of various ecosystems and wasteful water use practices have dramatically altered water cycles leading to shortages, restrictions, and difficult questions over resource access. Likewise, the use of fossil fuels has pushed global carbon dioxide concentrations to levels not seen in hundreds of millions of years. According to the IPCC, “[h]uman-induced global warming has already caused multiple observed changes in the climate system.” Without drastic and immediate action, our planet is on a trajectory to exceed 2 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100, if not sooner. According to the IPCC, this would almost certainly amplify the impacts we’re already experiencing and lead to the inundation of coastal communities, the further alteration of ocean chemistry due to ocean acidification, and the complete loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic.

Environmental disruption is a major challenge and constitutes an existential threat to humanity. But it is not the only brand of disruption we face in our modern world—technological disruption is now impacting society with full force. Advances in artificial intelligence and robotics are disrupting the workplace to such an extent that Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute estimates that 47% of the US workforce is at risk of automation. On top of this, big data and the internet of things are fundamentally altering our humanity. These technologies have so eroded the concept of personal privacy that it is now nearly impossible to go anywhere—virtually or physically—without revealing intimate details of one’s life.

Why Haven’t We Acted?

While our collective inaction to counter disruption seems, in retrospect, more than negligent, it’s not actually surprising. The reason we haven’t acted is really quite simple: environmental disruption hasn’t so fundamentally altered our sense of permanence of place. But it could. Nor has technological disruption so fundamentally altered our individual sense of what it means to be human. But it could. The sooner we come to terms with these truths, the more likely we are to be able to stave off the worst of the potential impacts.

Reason to Hope

As humans, our relatively brief lifespan is a blessing—it instills in us an ability to hope for the better and motivates us to do as much as we can in a short amount of time. We must acknowledge that the future will be different than the past—indeed it always has been—and we must recognize that we have some degree of agency over that future. While some may question the need for or the practicality of bold solutions to disruption—climate change included—for my generation and for my daughter’s generation, there is no choice.

A piecemeal, incrementalist approach will not suffice—it will only accentuate the impacts of disruption. Instead, we must seek an “all in” strategy from our leaders and work to build a movement to ensure that we have both the political will and the necessary structural conditions to meet all forms of disruption head-on. This will require a global effort, the scale of which has been unseen in human history and will necessitate coordinated government strategy, cooperation among public and private sectors, and a massive mobilization of resources.

Beyond that, we must seek to harness positive disruptive outcomes as a means of addressing negative disruptive consequences. For example, we should apply disruptive technologies as tools to help us address the most acute impacts of environmental change. Likewise, we must reframe our collective challenges as opportunities to improve conditions for all. While this mindset will not make the very real and acute impacts go away, it will show us that each of these challenges is interconnected, just as each one of us is connected. Unlike any generation in history, we have the tools and capabilities to unite as a global community for the common good.

As a lawyer and a futurist, I have spent much of my adult life feeling pretty down on the prospects of the human race. It was only when I had children that I regained my hope. Minutes after witnessing the plight of the walruses, my daughter raced to our kitchen to get ice packs from the freezer. “What are you doing,” I inquired. “An experiment to help the walruses,” she replied. While we can draw inspiration from their hope, it shouldn’t be up to today’s four-year-olds to solve the global crises they stand to inherit. Rather, the responsibility should fall on those of us who’ve enjoyed the fruits of peace and prosperity to leave the world a better place than we found it.

Scott Nuzum is a Washington, D.C. based father, husband, attorney, and futurist. He previously worked at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (2009-2012) and the U.S. Department of the Interior (2012-2014).

The Endangered Species Act Is Now the One That Is Endangered

Photomontage: CNN

By Beth Allgood, U.S. Country Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare

According to a 2019 independent survey conducted on behalf of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), a vast majority of Americans affirmed that it is ‘very important’ for the United States to protect endangered species both domestically and across the globe. Three in five strongly supporting the Endangered Species Act, the nation’s landmark wildlife legislation, with seven in ten respondents claiming they are ‘more likely’ to vote for a candidate who supports protecting endangered species and a majority also supporting funding of wildlife protection programs outside the US. With this overwhelming support for the protection of endangered species among the general public, it is shocking that that one of the greatest conservation challenges faced at this moment is the preservation of the Endangered Species Act itself.

Sadly, this is the situation we find ourselves facing as the current Administration prepares to release final regulations, which we expect will significantly undermine the Act, crippling one of the most effective and overwhelmingly bipartisan legislative tools available to save wildlife from extinction. Proposed changes to the law would impose broad harm to key areas, including the weakening of effective protections for threatened species, discouraging the designation of critical habitats, and allowing economic considerations when evaluating species listing decisions, rather than basing those decisions on sound science. These are monumental shifts in the breadth and depth of the Act and put species in grave risk at a time when wildlife is in most need. There is however, no shortage of public outcry to these changes – over 800,000 people submitted comments opposing the rule change.

The effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act is indisputable. This bedrock legislation has prevented more than 99 percent of listed species from going extinct, our own iconic bald eagle among them. The Act provides a framework through which to strengthen citizen stewardship for wildlife, while serving as a model for species conservation across the globe. Put simply, the protections afforded to imperiled species under this legislation are the key driver behind the U.S. achieving unsurpassed success in terms of species recovery versus any other nation in the world.

The most comprehensive global assessment on biodiversity ever undertaken was released this year by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The conclusions were alarming— as a result of human activities, nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is only accelerating. In fact, more than one million species are at risk of extinction. Regrettably, this is reinforced by a recent Living Planet Index that highlights the fact that the world is on track to lose two-thirds of its wild animal populations by 2020. The weakening of key protections of the Endangered Species Act represents the antithesis of the actions that we truly need to take at a national and societal level at this immensely critical point in time. We are rapidly approaching a point of no return.

All species are linked inextricably to our own well-being, to our livelihoods, economies, food security, and yes, even to our overall survival. In fact, there is a growing movement for the inclusion of non-financial indicators to be factored into a country’s ‘well-being index,’ to more accurately reflect the true state of a nation’s ‘prosperity,’ and to do away with treating wildlife as a simple commodity. But, even when measured in traditional monetary terms, a report released this week on Climate Change and Land by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), estimates the value of global ecosystem services to be equivalent to global GDP.

The Endangered Species Act represents an appreciation of the long-term value of both the protected environment and the species that reside within it. Whether that value is long-term human well-being or the intrinsic value of species and the planet itself, the principles upon which the law was founded have only strengthened over time, reflecting the realization by the majority of a fundamental overlap between people, the planet, and its animal species.

At IFAW, we know that the problems we are up against are urgent and complicated. But solutions do not have to be. And the Endangered Species Act represents a culturally significant solution that is scalable, effective, and sustainable — one that enjoys overwhelming buy-in from citizens and neighbors, friends and families. It is a milestone solution that must not only be maintained but enhanced to reflect the ever-increasing urgency of the global threats faced today. We call on all people to protect the Act and to take a proactive role in protecting wildlife and preserving wilderness for generations to come. And we call on policymakers to put their thumbs on the scale for endangered species and habitats. It is only through upholding the tenets of the Endangered Species Act that we can begin to foster a glimmer of hope in what feels far too often to be a bleak future.

This is the third in a series of Op/Eds submitted by IFAW on the importance of animals and wildlife to humans.  

Beth Allgood, IFAW

The Cornerstone of Community Engagement Within Conservation

Community members celebrate progress protecting the Engong Narok site in Kenya. Photo:  Untold Africa

By Azzedine T. Downes,  President and CEO, International Fund for Animal Welfare

At key moments in any movement, it is important to take a step back and take stock. For those of us actively engaged in the race against extinction, this is one of those moments. I lead the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), a global non-profit dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of animals back into the wild. For over half a century, IFAW has been driven by its unwavering mission of helping both people and animals thrive together. Though we recognize that competing forces are often at play and successes are hard-won, it is my firm belief that one element in particular— local community engagement— lies at the crux of the solutions we champion and is essential to preserving the sanctuary of our shared earth.

Like all influential movements throughout history, there are periods of progress, setbacks, and moments of intense uncertainty. The totality of these events ultimately defines the success or failure of the movement itself. Where does our movement stand now? As I take stock, I offer the following declaration: Conservation of nature as a whole, when looked at over time, cannot fundamentally be called a success. One may be taken aback by this but it must be viewed through a lens of objectivity — as scientists, as concerned citizens, or most importantly, as a global community bound by a common purpose.

According to a May 2019 report released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), “Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world.” This is on par with a recent Living Planet Index that highlights the fact that the world is on track to lose two-thirds of its wild animal populations by 2020. This is remarkable considering that the world’s 7.6 billion people represent just .01% of all living things.

In other words, humanity has caused the loss of an estimated 83% of all wild mammals and one-half of all plants. This is not a disturbing trend—it is a simple cause and effect. No endeavor, regardless of how noble its objectives, can ultimately be considered a success if two-thirds of its resources are decimated. So this stark reality forces us to ask ourselves ‘What do we need to do to make conservation a success?’ Again, the answer lies inextricably in this concept of community engagementthe need to involve all people in the meaningful dialogue of conservation. Both those who live with wildlife and those who do not.

When looking through the chronicles of conservation history, it is a glaring and unfortunate reality that those communities that most closely live with wildlife have traditionally not been involved in this meaningful dialogue. This is true almost without exception. A key guiding tenet within IFAW is that if we are successful at involving communities in the dialogue of conservation, then we will surely achieve a state that is safe—a state that is healthy—a sanctuary that can ultimately be preserved.

Historically, the act of conservation has been left in the hands of ‘experts,’ particularly for problems that have overwhelmed us. Thus, the concept of conservation has existed largely on its own—separate from what is actually happening around the animals themselves. This has given rise to the notion that both animals and people are not ‘complementary,’ when the reality is that they are deeply interwoven. Have these ‘conservation experts’ sought wisdom at the local level from individuals who have lived alongside these animals for generations? The answer is likely not.

The experts have themselves perpetuated this idea of fortress conservation—that access to nature must be restricted to ensure its protection. In essence, establishing carefully relegated national parks with no real wildlife spaces left. Since we know that around 80% of animals spend over 80% of their time outside of relegated national parks, how can the community not be involved in the development of a long-term solution? Because communities often directly interact with threatened species, they possess invaluable experience and wisdom—elements that form building blocks for sustainable change from the grassroots level to the international arena. Behavior change itself is rarely a sustainable conservation strategy when imposed from outside the community. If success is to be long-term, the community must accept that change from within.

At IFAW, we work hard to implement innovative projects that do not treat wildlife as a commodity but actually reinforces ways to work with and within the local communities. That is what we strive for in every case. For if humanity as a whole continues to treat wildlife as a commodity, conservation will have no chance for success. Our approach is cohesive, paying attention to both animals as well as the outlying community, recognizing the inherent value and role of each.

The problems we are up against are urgent and complicated. However, at IFAW, we believe in the community—in the collective movement. As an organization, we have chosen to adopt a different narrative from the doomsday approach often seen in the conservation movement—we choose a narrative based on reason and science and in the immense power of community—bringing everyone along in the push for progress. It is at that key moment when we will be best positioned to protect the sanctuary of our earth.

 

Maasai Celebration of Kitenden Conservancy in Kenya Photo: Untold Africa

Room to Roam

By Beth Allgood, U.S. Country Director, International Fund for Animal Welfare

The plight of endangered wildlife has been brought sharply into focus in recent months by an alarming report from some of the world’s most renowned scientists warning that nature is in rapid decline globally with the rate of extinction accelerating beyond levels previously imagined. Without question, this does not bode well for humans. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

Some of the obvious solutions to this problem – creating more parks through ‘fortress conservation’ to protect habitat and restricting some activities on privately-owned lands – may be first steps, but these alone cannot reverse biodiversity loss. Just like people, many of the most majestic and endangered wildlife needs room to roam, unable to thrive if corralled by residential developments or other man-made obstacles including roads, walls, or other impediments. Protected areas are often fragmented and far apart – like islands separated by impassable seas of development.

To effectively protect and support global biodiversity, we must ensure that protected areas are not isolated from one another. And one way to achieve that is to help connect protected areas of critical wildlife habitat by creating ‘wildlife corridors.’ With their migration pathways protected, wildlife is able to move more freely, appropriately, and safely, across landscapes and marinescapes to meet their basic needs including food, water, reproduction, and social structure.

At IFAW, we are working with communities around the globe to ensure such wildlife corridors for some of the world’s most critically endangered species. In India, for example, we began working in 2005 with local partners to identify key wildlife corridors needed for Indian elephants, whose total population had shrunk to less than 28,000 in 2017. Although total elephant reserves across India cover approximately 65,000 kilometers squared, loss and degradation of the migratory corridors were causing a significant increase in the incidents of human-elephant conflict. Today, IFAW’s work has helped grow the number of critical wildlife corridors to 101, reducing the loss of elephants and the overall incidents of human-animal conflict.

These corridors are unique in that they not only help provide safe passage for the animals, but they actually facilitate their protection when they cross international borders. In Malawi and Zambia, IFAW has worked since 2015 with wildlife management in both countries to improve law enforcement focused on a transboundary landscape conservation area that covers Kasungu National Park in Malawi, as well as Lukusuzi and Luambe National Parks in Zambia. If elephant poachers cross the border while fleeing rangers from Malawi, rangers from Zambia are prepared and awaiting them on the other side, and vice versa.

Unbeknownst to many, the work on wildlife corridors extends into the ocean as well. The Bay of Bengal, just northeast of Sri Lanka, is home to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, which currently sit directly over a critical feeding area for blue whales. If that lane were pushed south by approximately 15 miles, over time, hundreds of blue whales would be saved – and trade would continue as effectively as before. IFAW is working to make this a reality. Partnering with scientists, shippers, mariners, local whale watch operators, and others, we’re making an effort to persuade Sri Lanka’s authorities to modify these routes and ensure coexistence.

Closer to home, we need the same kind of ocean corridors to protect North Atlantic right whales. For hundreds of years, the North Atlantic right whale has inhabited waters from New England and Canada to the coasts of Georgia and Florida, areas heavy with both shipping traffic and commercial fishing which have introduced lethal threats to the whales as a result of unintentional ship strikes and chronic entanglements in fishing gear. Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands, the population was most recently estimated to number just 411 individuals. With eight deaths already confirmed so far in 2019, IFAW is actively urging the U.S. and Canadian governments as well as other stakeholders to take immediate action to protect right whales and to preserve their habitat. We know this iconic marine mammal is at a tipping point and the population will not recover without serious intervention. We’ve so far succeeded in securing and maintaining reasonable ship speed limits in critical areas and worked with mariners to increase their awareness of whales in shipping lanes. Now, we’re working to provide focused government and private funding to encourage alternative fishing gear to reduce the threat of deadly entanglements while maintaining sustainable fisheries and industry.

Currently, there is a bipartisan bill to protect wildlife corridors throughout the United States and despite the deep partisan divides, it is working its way through the corridors of Congress towards passage. If passed, it would establish a system of wildlife corridors on Federal lands as well as waterways, support Native American tribes who are creating such corridors on their lands, and provide funding for efforts on state, local, and voluntary private lands that will ultimately be a win for all species. By supporting the establishment and preservation of these safe corridors between protected spaces across the nation, the Act would promote species survival, which in turn would benefit humans.

In order to survive and thrive, we need healthy ecosystems – of which native species are an integral part. We have a ways to go when it comes to the protection of species throughout their range, but there are signs of progress that wildlife will have the room needed to roam. By protecting habitats, ensuring safe passage, and helping endangered wildlife to flourish—we can save other species. And ultimately our own.

Can America Regain the Ability to Think Big?

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin during the Apollo 11 moon landing. Image: NASA

By Miro Korenha, founder and publisher of Our Daily Planet

In 1961 President Kennedy announced before a joint session of Congress the audacious goal of putting a man on the moon before the end of the decade. He stated,

“These are extraordinary times and we face an extraordinary challenge. Our strength as well as our convictions have imposed upon this nation the role of leader in freedom’s cause. No role in history could be more difficult or more important.”

And indeed, they were extraordinary times. Just as the Soviet Union was accelerating its space program, the United States wanted the achievement of sending the first human to the moon to embody the core tenets of our national identity: the ability to think big, push the bounds of what’s possible and to use the ingenuity of our citizens to get us there. On July 20th, 1969, exactly 50 years ago today, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins achieved President Kennedy’s extraordinary vision and captivated the entire world with America’s historic achievement.

The era of the Space Race left young Americans feeling hopeful about what their government could achieve. Just as their parents’ and grandparents’ generation experienced during the New Deal, these young people trusted their government to act boldly in solving seemingly insurmountable problems. President Kennedy didn’t say that America would try to put a man on the moon, he said that we would do it and even after his assassination the triumph of the Apollo 11 mission was a defining moment of a generation.

I wasn’t born until nearly two decades after the moon landing so my sense of awe and pride has only been cultivated in school and through the anecdotes of those who sat by their TVs to witness the landing firsthand. My generation has been alive at a time of rapidly declining trust in the government and my entire life I’ve only experienced lawmakers and presidential administrations who just can’t seem to do big things. Sure, important accomplishments have been enacted in my 32 years on this Earth, but the messages of “caution” and “incrementalism” and “you can’t do it all at once” have defined the tone of these three decades.

I often wonder if my generation will have our own equivalent of the space race. When my children ask me “what was it like?” as I recently asked my own mom of the moon landing, I want to reply “it changed our world” as I detail how my peers and I helped enact the Green New Deal and reshaped the trajectory of our planet away from climate catastrophe. The transition away from fossil fuels to a more just, clean energy world is the legacy I want all Millennials to be able to share with their kids and grandkids.

I understand that the Green New Deal has a lot of detractors, including the likes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who labeled it “the green dream.” But what’s puzzling to me is that the people who today are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, are the same ones who think the best plan we have to curb climate change and ensure a habitable planet is somehow too expensive and unrealistic.

Here’s a history lesson: at the end of the Apollo missions in 1972, the U.S. had spent about $25 billion on the program, which is the equivalent of about $150 billion in today’s dollars.  And mind you, this was money spent on something that we didn’t need but rather something that wanted to accomplish.

During the Space Race, there was a staggering number of accidents, jet crashes, equipment failures, and explosions that cost hundreds of millions of dollars—failure was an expected part of getting to where we needed to go. In today’s world lawmakers are so afraid that if their idea crashes on the first try or doesn’t go exactly as planned that it’s a failure overall and that the political fallout will be too great to try anything similar in the future. Just look at what happened with solar energy company Solyndra after it defaulted on its loan which was backed by President Obama’s Department of Energy. Even though the loan program that funded the company made taxpayers billions of dollars through its portfolio, the “scandal” was used as an example by the political right to vilify the Energy Department and that made the government reluctant to invest in renewable energy after that.

If we’re going to stop climate change—one of the greatest threats humanity has ever faced—then we have to try things that are risky. Some ideas will fail while others will flourish to create incredible outcomes that will fundamentally change how we do things. I can’t tell you what happened to the generation that’s in power right now, most of them witnessed the moon landing and the other groundbreaking moments of the 60s and 70s and despite it all, managed to lose the ability to believe that America can achieve the impossible.

I want more for my generation because these are extraordinary times and we’re certainly facing an extraordinary challenge. Even if our parents have lost the ability to think big I want us to listen to their memories of the moon landing—a moment so beautiful that it stopped the entire world at the same time—and imagine how we might harness that forgotten spirit to alter the fate of the planet being handed down to us. A planet that Apollo 11 astronaut Mike Collins described as “so fragile out there” upon seeing it for the first time from space.

(If you have a moment, watch what the Apollo 11 flight looked like from mission control. Especially at about 7:16:00 where the astronauts see the Earth)

 

This is an excerpt of an Op/Ed that was first published in The Washington Post.  It is reprinted with their permission.  

Monica Medina, an adjunct professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, is an independent consultant and co-founder and co-publisher of the environmental newsletter Our Daily Planet.

When it comes to environmental policy, it’s hardly “America First.” In fact, according to Yale University’s environmental performance ranking, it’s America 27th, compared with other nations. Despite this inconvenient truth, President Trump this week boasted of his team’s hard work to ensure our country has “crystal-clean” water and air. The sham event had to be moved indoors thanks to epic storms and flooding in Washington. Good thing — otherwise lightning might have struck him for all his lies.

Trump took credit for protecting our most vulnerable citizens from pollution and for creating clean energy jobs by unleashing innovation and reshoring fossil fuel jobs. But here’s the truth: Like ruthless hit men, the president and his administration have systematically whacked many of this country’s most important environmental protections. It’s time to hit back with reality.

When it comes to crystal-clean air and water, the administration has knocked off 50 key environmental rules, including Obama administration rules to reduce coal power plants’ pollutionincrease car fuel efficiency and define which bodies are subject to the Clean Water Act. And the regulatory rollback is far from over; another 30 anti-environmental actions remain in progress.

Harvard University scientists estimate that the removal of these regulations will result in tens of thousands of premature deaths annually, as well as lost work and school days and destruction of property. Worst of all, the administration has turned its back on the most vulnerable, thwarting enforcement by dropping environmental inspections to their lowest number and referring the fewest environmental crimes cases to the Justice Department since 2001.

The dirty dealing doesn’t stop there. As for clean-energy innovation, Trump … mocked wind power, laughably claiming turbines cause cancer (actually, Mr. President, toxic pollution does that). The only thing he hasn’t managed to extirpate is the market success of renewable energy, the source of all those clean energy jobs he “created,” which has happened despite the president’s actions, not because of them.

Yes, the administration has cleaned up of a few waste sites, but officials have also jammed through new leases on federal lands for oil, gas and mineral development that will create hundreds more toxic messes. The few pristine areas remaining haven’t even escaped Trump’s crosshairs. The administration is preparing leases for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Arctic Ocean and has vastly reduced the size of national monuments protecting sacred Native American sites.  ….

And as for loving God’s creatures, the administration has loosened the key provisions of the law protecting species from extinction and allowed the importation of “trophies” of endangered species such as lions, giraffes, and elephants into the United States by big-game hunters.

Since his first day in office, the president has acted with absolute disregard for the well-being of all Americans but particularly children, the elderly and the poor. His administration has kowtowed to the chemical and fossil-fuel industries (reportedly wining and dining with them immediately after the president’s victory lap speech on Monday)….

Any environmental success the president can claim is likely the result of the hard work of prior administrations (Republican and Democratic) and a system of environmental laws and standards that he openly disregards and is actively trying to destroy. After bragging about how much he digs coal and loves to wipe out burdensome regulations, the only thing that’s crystal clear is that the president is lying to cover his dirty tracks.

You can read the full Op/Ed by clicking here.

No Better Time for a Forum on Climate Change

Photo: Saul Loeb

By Miro Korenha and Monica Medina, co-founders Our Daily Planet

Out of 4 hours of air time, just a mere 14 minutes and 10 out of 170 questions were devoted to climate change during both nights of this week’s Democratic presidential primary debates. Certainly, other issues are important but climate change has been deemed by experts as the “single greatest threat facing humanity” and regrettably was sidelined as a secondary topic despite growing support for a single-issue climate debate.

While this is still a vast improvement over primary debates in 2015 (where climate was hardly mentioned at all) it goes to show that the media’s assertion that climate change is a “ratings killer” plays a big part in how the moderators were willing to delve into the topic. Moreover, moderator Chuck Todd’s questions were largely focused on the cost and obstacles of implementing climate change policies instead of the immense risks and costs that would be incurred if nothing is done. While it wasn’t expressed outright, you could reasonably get the sense from the moderators’ questions that they indeed might buy into the notion that action on climate change comes at the direct cost of the economy.

To be fair to MSNBC, 2 nights with 10 candidates (and their large personalities) was a herculean task to produce and was compounded by the fact that candidates rarely stuck to the 30-second response time limit. For many Americans, it was the first time they heard the bulk of the 2020 hopefuls speak yet the candidates were looking to create viral moments instead of engaging in true discourse as the format of the debate did not allow for it.

All this meant that climate change was the true loser during the first round of the Democratic debates. Aside from Governor Jay Inslee who is running his entire campaign focused on climate change, most candidates didn’t delve into the specifics of how their climate plans might protect Americans and help us transition to a clean energy future. The American people deserve more than this, they deserve a forum where candidates can deliver their message on climate change action without having to worry about hitting all the other talking points on their list. Simply put, we need a genuine conversation about climate change and preferably one between candidates and the Americans that will be most affected by its ravages: young voters.

At Our Daily Planet, we have been thinking about this for a while and wanted to establish an opportunity for candidates to get back to the battle of ideas rather than the battle of Tweet-able personalities when it comes to an issue as critical as climate change. We read our readers’ comments, saw their tweets, and especially listened to what our student and GenZ readers were saying when they were asking for someone to create a space where an earnest climate change discussion could occur. It’s for this reason that we reached out to the Institute of Politics and Public Service at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy to partner on an event that would make students the central component of a town hall on climate issues and allow them to ask the questions.

Climate Forum 2020 will not only allow candidates an opportunity to discuss their vision for addressing and limiting the effects of climate change but it will facilitate a dialogue between those vying to become the next president and some of the most engaged and impassioned American voters. Thirty-second answers just don’t cut it when it comes to an issue as urgent as climate change—one that scientists have told us we have roughly a decade to address in earnest before we witness irreversible consequences. We’re the last generation that can do something about climate change and we haven’t any time to lose, yet we must also remember that the first step of any bold climate plan begins with a conversation between a candidate and the electorate that has the power to put him or her into office. We’ve set the stage for this groundbreaking conversation, now we hope that the candidates do their part and show up ready to share their vision for a habitable planet.

How Do the Democratic Candidates Stack Up on the Climate Crisis?

By Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

The first of the Democratic debates will take place this week. The Democratic Party refuses to hold a debate focused on climate change, and the candidates are likely to get only one question – if that – on this important topic. The New York Times asked all the candidates this week if they think we can beat climate change – and you can see their answers here. But the real question is how do they plan to do it if elected President?

We looked at their web sites, public remarks, and various interviews and compiled a “cheat sheet” of their positions on a series of climate change issues organized by debate night – you can see them below. We broke it down for you so that the candidates who have put together a serious plan on addressing the climate crisis stand out.  The charts are easy to read — if there is a check mark in a box they have stated a position that is supportive of climate action — if it is empty it means they have not that we could find or they oppose.  It is as simple as that.

In the top tier of candidates who have seriously considered what to do about the climate crisis are Governor Inslee, who is running primarily on the issue of climate change, Vice President Biden, who put together a very comprehensive plan, Beto O’Rourke and Senator Warren who have fairly comprehensive if more issue-specific plans, and little known candidates John Delaney and Senator Bennet, who have more “moderate” but detailed plans. There are many candidates who have not said much beyond expressing support for the Green New Deal, but who have significant records in Congress to run on. In this category, we would put Senators Sanders and Booker, Representative Gabbard, Governor Hickenlooper, and Mayors De Blasio and Buttigieg. For the rest of the field, it is hard to know how much of a priority the climate crisis is, and what they would actually do if elected.

Considering all the issues under the climate crisis umbrella, general support for the Green New Deal framework and rejoining the Paris Agreement are two topics on which most of the candidates have taken a position – and thus do not provide much differentiation between them. In our view, the “Top 5” issues to consider when assessing the seriousness of the candidates are:

  1. Does the candidate put a date on when they want the U.S. to be carbon neutral, and does he/she say how much they are willing to spend to get there? And how aggressive is each of those things?
  2. Does the candidate look beyond clean energy — is he/she willing to put in place policies that will make needed changes across many sectors of the economy and society?
  3. Does the candidate have a climate security plan beyond rejoining the Paris Agreement?
  4. Does the candidate have a proposal on environmental justice, reigning in pollution generally, and conserving our parks and natural resources, as well as protecting frontline and vulnerable communities?
  5. Does the candidate believe that displaced workers in fossil fuel industries deserve public support, and will he/she take the “no fossil fuel contributions” pledge?

In our view, any candidate who now or in the future takes a pro-conservation/pro-climate action position on all five of these issues deserves an “A” on addressing the climate crisis. But without a debate or town hall type forum, we may never know the answer for many of the candidates. On questions that are this important to both the electorate and our country’s future, that is a real shame. In the meantime, here is our cheat sheet. We will continue to fill it in as the candidates take positions on these topics so that it will be a resource for all the voters who care about them. And if we missed something in these charts, please let us know and we will fix it.

To Go Deeper: Here are links to the plans of the candidates who have them: Marianne Williamson, John Hickenlooper, Andrew Yang, Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Michael Bennet, John Delaney, Tulsi Gabbard, Jay Inslee, Beto O’Rourke, Tim Ryan, Elizabeth Warren.

*The Biden Campaign asked Monica for advice before they rolled out his plan and she gave it. We thought you should know.

Millennial Spotlight: Jenny Hogrefe of KIND®

Jenny Hogrefe is the Wellness and Sustainability Manager at KIND Snacks. KIND is a food company with a mission to spread kindness and create snacks made with nutritionally-dense ingredients that avoid secret ingredients, artificial flavors, preservatives, and sweeteners.

ODP: How did you choose your career in corporate sustainability?

JH: I was raised in a very “environmentally aware” household so being mindful of my impact was part of my upbringing. As cliché as it sounds, all it took was watching An Inconvenient Truth for my passion for environmental issues to crystalize. I came to realize that if there is no planet, trying to advance other causes would be pointless so I decided to channel my passion, energy and skills towards advocating for the environment/preserving our natural resources, and haven’t looked back since. I landed at KIND because I have always liked the idea of working “on the inside” as a change agent, helping to advocate and advance more sustainable, ethical practices.  What I love about this company is that while we’re a very healthy, well-run business, we think of KIND as a not-only-for-profit, striving to not only get healthy snacks in the hands of millions of people, but also meaningfully contribute to the world and society at large.

ODP: As a Millennial do you think you bring a unique perspective to your workplace as issues like climate change and global pollution will have an outsized impact on your generation? 

JH: Every time I hear this narrative I try to challenge it. Not because it isn’t true — climate change/pollution will impact future generations more deeply than the older generations alive today — but because it suggests that climate change has not already arrived. It has — we are witnessing more extreme weather events across the globe, with no signs of slowing. Whether that’s the record high temperatures, sea level rise, Arctic sea ice decline, a warming ocean, I could go on — there is a ton of evidence that climate change is not some far off-event. Generally, I find that our generation is more dissatisfied with the status quo and that lines like, “that’s just how we do things” have much less resonance with us. Many of us feel an innate responsibility to evolve beyond business as usual, probably because we realize it is not going to serve us in the long-haul.

ODP: What keeps you hopeful when it comes to the fate of our planet? There’s certainly a lot of doom and gloom but what prevents you from giving up?

JH: It’s the people doing the good work, fighting the good fight and developing real solutions that keep me hopeful. I enjoy listening to the Climate One podcast, which often centers on people who are driving solutions forward, as well many of the features in Our Daily Planet. A couple of people who really stand out to me, and who I deeply admire for their advocacy and leadership are:

    • Rhiana Gunn-Wright, architect of the Green New Deal
    • Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist who has galvanized millions of other young people, encouraging them to raise their voices and advocate for climate solutions
    • Katharine Hayhoe, the climate scientist and evangelical Christian who is helping prove that climate science and religion can go hand in hand  
    • Annie Leonard, head of Greenpeace USA and creator of the Story of Stuff. I had the pleasure of watching her speak at The New School last summer (you can watch here), it was a thought-provoking talk that left me energized
    • Jay Inslee, bringing climate change to the forefront of a presidential campaign — showing the intersection of the issues Americans care about and the realities of climate change, and challenging the DNC to put the issue where it deserves to be: front and center on a debate stage

Talking Renewable Energy with Cloverly Co-Founder Dave Folk

Dave Folk is the co-founder of a company called Cloverly which calculates the carbon impact of common internet activities — like e-commerce shipments, rideshare, and on-demand deliveries — and then purchases carbon offsets to make those activities carbon neutral. Cloverly shows the buyer, in real time, the source of the offset and through its algorithm matches customers with the closest source of renewable energy for localized impact.

ODP: Before founding Cloverly you worked in marketing for an electric utility, what need did you see for a company like Cloverly to democratize how people can buy carbon offsets? What did it take for you to leave a secure job and found this start-up? 

DF: It always felt somewhat esoteric to participate in that market; and we saw that there were very few companies effectively making it simple and easy for the average person to decrease the carbon impacts from modern conveniences like e-commerce. Environmentally conscious consumers want to lower their carbon footprint, but sometimes that’s not easy. Cloverly decreases the friction for those customers looking to buy offsets, and we hope that by making it easy more people will participate. You often need to take risks to make a difference, but if we believe that we can truly have an impact than any risk is worth it.

ODP: As a Millennial, you’ve grown up in the midst of a rapidly warming and changing planet. Did the urgency of climate change at all affect the career path you chose? 

DF: It’s really the desire to have purpose in my work that’s driven my career decisions. I feel like our generation doesn’t mind looking at the status quo and asking: “is there a better way to do this?” The solutions that will help us mitigate climate change are opportunities to do things better, and that’s a great purpose to get up in the morning for.

ODP: Cloverly provides data about the specific local renewable energy projects that folks who use your platform are supporting. Why was it important for you to provide such a granular piece of information?

DF: We want to bring transparency to what has often been an opaque market. If you’re choosing to offset your purchase online with Cloverly we want you to know exactly where the carbon offset or Renewable Energy Credit came from, when it was created etc. This is table stakes for us, and how we believe the market should operate.