Thanksgiving in the United States is a time where families gather to reflect upon their collective good fortune and resilience. It’s also a time for Pickup Football, Pumpkin Pie, and for many…. the inevitable political argument!
In response, many of our wise matriarchs establish a “no political discussions at the dinner table” policy to encourage only light heartedness and bonding. But, as environmental and economic threats to our societies gather in storm, it is a pivotal and important time to have discussions about policy and habit that can affect the future of our planet.
An increased number of people in our world, in our societies, in our communities, and at our dinner table are becoming “ Biosphere Conscious”. A biosphere is the ecological system integrating all living beings and their relationships , and globally it makes up just .0007% of the volume of the planet. Us who are Biosphere Conscious have diagnosed many detrimental effects that human policy and habits are inflicting on this delicate system, and we are looking to implement solutions and fast.
But as we reach consensus on the diagnosis, we are finding that deciding how to change our policy and habits to address the problem, can be just as complex, polarizing, and disagreeable as realizing there is a problem to begin with.
If your Thanksgiving dinner involves political discourse with those whose environmental policies oppose your own, we thought we’d help the conversation along with five climate topics we think you’ll be able to agree on.
Topic 1: Fix Our Potholes!
We don’t think even the most extreme climate lethargist could disagree with this one! Running over potholes increases the load resistance of your car tires, decreasing momentum, and increasing fuel consumption. Fixing potholes or, even better, preventative maintenance before potholes form, can reduce greenhouse gases by up to 2 percent. Drivers would also monetarily save 2-5% on their average car maintenances, tire wear, vehicle repair, and fuel consumption costs.
Topic 2: Reduce Our Food Waste!
While the remains of Grandma’s famous stuffing may be fought over until the last crumb, this is unfortunately not the case for 35% of the food we in high income countries consume .
Contrast that with the statistic that a third of the world’s labor force is devoted to food production , and that hunger is a condition of life for 800 million worldwide , we are not only dealing with immense waste of energy & carbon, but of human resources and productive capacity.
Education in developed nations such as; teaching consumers to accept oddly shaped carrots, to not throw away unspoiled milk, and to properly estimate how many meals you will cook in a week, will have huge ROI in terms of carbon cost and will allow food producers to waste less as well.
In lower income countries where food waste is primarily unintentional, investments in infrastructure will have the highest ROI. So, support investment in developing nations, and find the “ugliest” Carrot in the bowl to enlighten your family on its inner beauty!!
Topic 3: Stop the Flow of Junk Mail!
9,600 mail order catalogs are delivered every three second in the United States, 97% of which are disposed of the day they arrive. We need to stop the flow! Whether implementing government policy, communicating with corporations that their practices are wasteful, or setting up personal road blocks, a good first step is discussing!
When you can’t reduce or reuse, recycle! Despite the onset of electronic media, paper use globally is still on the rise, particularly in the sector of packaging materials. The United States recycles only half of the paper it uses, but parts of Europe have reached 75%, and South Korea is known to reach 90% in good years. Unlike the infinite recycling potential of materials like aluminum and glass, paper’s fiber lengths get shorter every cycle. Therefore it can only be recycled an average of 5-7 times. Despite the downcycle, it is massively worth it. Manufactured products that utilize recycled paper fiber instead of virgin paper, emit 70% less CO2 or CO2 equivalent, and use 75% less water, and depending on the manufacturing practices no bleaches or harmful chemicals. So with virgin paper production accounting for 7% of the world’s annual emissions (higher than that of aviation), it is absolutely crucial for consumers to recycle as well as to source products that utilize recycled materials.
Topic 4: Run the AC less & Dispose of Refrigerating units properly!
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had to don a sweater in your frigid office after just stepping out of the balmy outdoors. Why - just why? Some say it’s bad for productivity, and others say the cold office temperatures are based on outdated models that favor the higher metabolisms of men. And when electricity is distributed between sectors, energy consumption in residential & commercial buildings account for 30% of the U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Let’s stop fighting the seasons and lesson up on that AC!
But larger than the threat of a working refrigerating unit, is one that is no longer in use. In fact, mandating the proper disposal / reuse of refrigerating units such as air conditioners is possibly the most influential factor in mitigating the greenhouse effect. This is because of the HydroFluoroCarbon (HFC) gas trapped inside. HFC gas’s warming capacity is greater than that of Carbon Dioxide by a factor of 1,000-9,000 depending on the chemical composition. Luckily, in October of 2016, an agreement to amend the 1987 Montreal Protocol (which banned ozone depleting CFCs and HCFCs) aligned 170 countries to the mission of phasing HFCs out of use between 2019-2028. However, during that phase out period, another 700 million refrigerating units will come online. Properly disposing of the existing and soon to come refrigerating units, as opposed to its alternative, could be the difference between an entire degree Fahrenheit in the effort to stabilize global temperature.
While it’s no glamorous topic, we need strict public and corporate policy, as well as citizen participation in the careful diffusing of our refrigerating units. Never throw your refrigerating unit in the normal landfill. Research and dispose of properly!
Topic 5: Bring Out the Vote!
In representative democracies, one of the most important actions you can take is to vote for policy makers who you believe represent your interests. Recognizing all of the flaws in our great experiment should not deter you from participating in the system.
We hope you liked the article and that it will lead to productive discussion!
Where these topics too easy? Are you no pacifist?
Keep reading for three more polarizing topics that could get the mashed potatoes flying. (and why these topics don't have to be as controversial as they seem.)
Topic 1: Family Planning
The greater the number of humans, the greater the strain on our world environment. Yet, policy around population have a high probability of becoming coercive, cruel, and corrupt.
But if you approach the issue from a lens that focuses on meeting women’s expressed needs: “empowerment, equality, and well-being [can become] the goals, benefits to the planet [become only] side effects. ” One of those needs are expressed by over two hundred and twenty five million women worldwide, who want the ability to choose whether or not to become pregnant .
Populations increase in stability, health, and dignity, when women have children by choice rather than by chance. Securing the right to voluntary contraception is not only a moral necessity but would have powerful ripple effects on the life expectancy of children and mothers. And better life expectancy is a good thing!
The effects that health, safety, and women’s empowerment have on a stable population might surprise you. In fact, in a relatively short time span, a drop in child mortality rate is equally correlated with a drop in birth rate . Empowering women to have choice over their reproduction directly correlates with lowering child mortality.
Therefore, empowering women is the quickest and most ethical path towards a stable population and a decreased strain on our world’s resources.
Topic 2: Mass migration policy
The movement of human beings across geopolitical borders can be a hot topic of discussion these days. In fact, many would prefer if everyone would just keep still and quit moving around! “I can’t relax when people are always moving around” your uncle might say. “Yes”, your uncle continues in between gulps of spiked cider: “keep still on the spherical rock in infinite space. Keep still on the spherical rock with imaginary geopolitical borders that have been drawn in according to the economic reality of the time . Do not pause to reflect that free movement of global capital will necessitate a free movement of a global labor force to meet the demands that are created by the free movement of capital. That is a complex idea and you won’t understand it. Just keep still on the rock!!!”
Unfortunately, what many fail to realize when attempting to address this problem, is that the economic and political motivations that necessitate human migration, are only going to be exacerbated in the coming decades. “ Climate change can increase the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, causing populations to move from an area quickly. It can also intensify slow-onset disasters like drought, crop failure, and sea level rise, affecting long term migration trends. ” Additionally, “half the world’s population lives in cities and 13% of our cities live less than 10 meters above sea level ”
So, whether your (otherwise very kind) uncle has a problem with the 13.2 million LPRs (lawful permanent resident) living in the United States , or the 12 million “illegal aliens” taking up residence , dealing with this scale of human displacement is amateur compared with the possible 500.5 million humans that may get displaced from big cities as warming oceans and rising sea levels make safe occupation of those areas economically inviable.
Topic 3: Bring Out The Vote (and Suppress the Corporate Vote)
No matter your political affiliation, it is widely understood that corporations have a powerful influence in shaping the laws and policies of our governments. Many corporations rely on market failures such as offsetting harmful costs of business onto the public and the environment in order to maintain profitability. Implementing policy to promote Extended Producer Responsibility would be damaging to these sorts of companies and it’s therefore in their best interest to lobby and create propaganda in opposition. Other corporations rely on the status quo to maintain profitability. These companies rely on policy to stifle innovation through monetary or other incentives. An example of the latter is the oil and gas industry. Their reality is that if the world is able to meet its Paris Agreement Goal and prevent warming over 1.6 degree Celsius, it will leave the Oil & Gas industry with 2.2 trillion USD of “Stranded Assets” by 2030.
This scale of economic shift comes with risks as well as potential detriment to the lives and businesses of many people and it should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the oil & gas giant’s response to this risk has not been to seriously invest in long term solutions such transitioning to low-carbon energy alternatives and carbon capture. Instead, it’s doubled down on its fossil fuel discovery initiatives and has “ spent over 1 billion USD in the three years following the Paris Agreement on misleading climate-related branding and lobbying.” National governments have responded favorably and “ rather than being phased out, fossil fuel subsidies are actually increasing...in 2017, 6.5% of global GDP (5.2 trillion) was spent on fossil fuel subsidies .
Many point to Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission as a landmark case that shifted influence from average citizens to powerful corporations. However, additional aspects of our political structure such as First Past the Post voting, voter suppression, and Extreme Gerrymandering have been deflecting representation away from the citizen for long before then.
There are a couple of bold ideas to combat the influence of large corporate lobbying, and other ideas that might make you scratch your head and ask why they are not already in place.
One idea is to allocate a certain amount of money per year for each citizen to only be contributed to a political campaign. For example, if each voter was given $100 every 4 years to contribute to a presidential election. In the 2016 presidential election, the 138 million Americans that voted would have distributed 13.8 Billion USD, washing the 351.5 Million USD Super PACS spent by a factor of 39 to 1. Another strategy is to simply decrease voter suppression and therefore the power of corporate lobbyists through a Voting Holiday. Of the 19 million registered voters who did not vote in 2016, 14.3% said their schedules were the reason they didn’t cast a ballot . We need to work diligently to maintain our representative voice, and that means voting for people who want more voting.
So, you’ve just given a passionate speech!
You’ve inspired your sister, you’ve made your grandma proud, you’ve apologized for breaking the table ornament with an expressive gesture… everything is feeling grand!
But your Poppa who lovingly (annoyingly) always plays the devil's advocate, questions you with a rebuttal.
Here are some of the more common ones and our opinion on them:
“How and why would we pay for it?”
It’s not necessarily a question of how and why, but who and when. Climate change is expected to be responsible for a 36% decrease in U.S. GDP in this coming century. In the most recent National Climate Assessment, authored by over 300 experts across a wide array of scientific, economic, and political fields, it was estimated that “ Rising temperatures, the erosion of topsoil in farming states, and erratic weather events are expected to drive food costs up by as much as 84% by 2050. ” “A 21-year-old college student graduating in 2015 is expected to lose $126,000 in lifetime income due to climate change and the generation as a whole is expected to lose $8.8 trillion in lifetime income. ”
Even those who are traditionally fiscally conservative believe climate change mitigation is a pragmatic investment.
Formal secretary of defense under President Trump, Jim Mattis, urges: “ Climate change I believe is a reality. We are dealing with open waters that used to be ice fields” [but for those who don’t believe it to be a reality] “ wouldn’t you want to take an insurance policy just in case it was right?... For those who are adamant there is no climate change, you have looked at the receding sea ice and have different explanations, why [still] wouldn't we take an insurance policy and take prudent steps to make sure the generation that's coming up is not going to get caught flat footed by this.”
The possibility of avoiding the costs of climate change are negligible. But the question of “how” remains. It is an absolutely valid and important question that needs to be discussed using both an economic and ethical mindset . Stakeholders of all ages, conditions, geographies, political orientations, and more need to be present. And it will take more than a short article to begin a well-rounded discussion. However one thing it is important to remind people of, is that many of the infrastructure and policy improvements necessary to mitigate climate change will stimulate, not detract . Preventing climate change doesn’t only have to have positive benefits on future generations, it can add to the wealth and health of the present economy as well.
“If you are against pollution than stop driving and flying in airplanes”
Rebuttals like this typically are an attempt to shame someone into shutting up. But remember that participating in the world as it is does not disqualify you from trying to improve it. The inventor of the light bulb worked by candlelight and the inventor of the engine rode a horse.
“These things always have unintended consequences”
Ripple effects are a common denominator of any change. If there is agreement that the status quo is unacceptable, then a policy having unknown consequences is not a valid reason to reject it. Having too many unknown consequences is, which is why it is crucial to study the history and variables in order to have the full spectrum of stakeholders at the table.
What opposers to change also often forget is that many unknown consequences are positive. Especially those pertaining to changes meant to strengthen & protect the world’s natural systems. An example would be the 1970’s congressional effort to remove lead from gasoline, which had been blowing from American Tailpipes into the local atmosphere at a rate of 200,000 tons per year . A counter effort made by the corporate stakeholders (who utilized the lead to make the refining process more efficient) came to a pinnacle when Ronald Reagan crippled the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to draft new legislation or enforce old ones.
Luckily, a group of Republican and Democratic representatives took political action to defend the public from this deadly externality. The effort was successful and in the twenty year period between 1970-1990 we had almost entirely phased out the use of lead in gasoline . It was well known that high levels of lead in children's blood caused neurological damage and stunted mental development. But it was not predicted that the plummet in blood toxicity levels would be up to 50% responsible for the major drop in crime in almost all U.S. cities during the 1990s.
So whenever you are describing a proposed solution to an injustice and you are met with the objection “that efforts to intervene in markets or engage in “social engineering” always have unintended consequences…” ask them to “note that sometimes those consequences are positive.” and “When [objectors] say that markets offer better solutions than do regulations, let them step forward and explain their plan to eliminate the dangerous and unfair externalities generated by many markets.”
About the Author: Brett Bischof is a packaging engineer and eco-geek by schooling. He is a key team member of EcoEnclose's Business Development and Product Development departments. On the weekends you'll likely find him skiing, cycling, cooking, or tapping on his laptop at a Cafe