SciPolBites is a series of reflections from NSPN members about current issues in science and policy. In this SciPolBite, four members share their perspectives on addressing the ongoing climate crisis, from individual responsibility to local advocacy to recent successes.

Meredith Gutiérrez (@merelairgutz)

The Climate Crisis: Individual Actions Turn into Collective Action

Human-caused global warming has occurred since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, and in the last 60 years, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by more than 30%. Before world leaders gathered at COP26, the IPCC confirmed that irreversible ocean and sea ice changes are guaranteed even if all greenhouse gases were ceased today. With all the climate disasters that have occurred in the past few years, including hurricanes, wildfires, and heat waves, climate anxiety is more than understandable.

In an effort to curtail these emissions, various actions based on individual choices have been suggested, with lots of focus on reducing plastic usage in favor of reusable items (straws, bags, etc.). While these are definitely worthwhile endeavors, they will not solve the climate crisis on their own. In fact, it was found that the term “carbon footprint” was coined by British Petroleum (BP) as a way to push the blame and responsibility for the climate crisis onto individuals and their everyday actions. So, if reducing your carbon footprint won’t make a big difference to save the environment, what can individuals do to help curtail the climate crisis?

Exercise your right to protest
This First Amendment right may not be as openly discussed as freedom of religion or freedom of speech, but it is just as important. Collective action has made a huge difference in the success of climate initiatives, such as the recent fossil fuel divestment of Harvard University and other universities with large endowments. These divestments ensure that university money can go to student-centered initiatives rather than the fossil fuel industry. Protesting climate issues is one of the most effective ways to hold governments and companies accountable for their climate-related actions.

Use your voice to vote and help others vote
Voting is important not only in federal elections, but also in state and local elections, since the decisions made there have more direct impacts on your everyday life. To the extent that information is available, you should research the candidates on the ballot and any ballot questions, referendums, or initiatives, to see their stance on climate issues that align with your values. Access to voting is a concern in many states around the U.S., so you can help others vote by volunteering as a poll worker, offering rides to and from polling stations, and pressuring your local and state election boards to provide more options for voting to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to use their voice to vote.

Remember that you’re not alone
A recent review in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences determined that U.S. adults can be characterized in one of six categories when it comes to their belief, concern, and motivation around the climate crisis. The article, titled “Global Warming’s Six Americas: a review and recommendations for climate change communication,” determined that over half of U.S. adults (51%) are either alarmed or concerned about the climate crisis, while only 7% are dismissive. This is encouraging, not only because 51% of U.S. adults are knowledgeable enough to be engaged in helping mitigate the climate crisis, but also because 93% of U.S. adults are open to having a conversation about the climate crisis and the ways it will directly affect them. Having these conversations with people in your lives is another individual action you can take that will have rippling effects and help make a huge difference.

Individual actions for the climate crisis don’t have to be scary, performative, or expensive; they start with having honest discussions with the people around you, including those in power, and together, we’ll make real change.

Andrew George (@AndrewGeorge47) and Lia Kelinsky-Jones (@LKelinskyJones)

The Climate Crisis: All Politics Are Local

The drivers of the climate crisis are clear; however, the cascading and compounding impacts are hard to overstate. The climate crisis will not spare anyone from its impacts. That said, the impacts will be felt most by those who can least afford hardship. For example, in Blacksburg, Virginia, a well-resourced semi-urban center in rural Central Appalachia, increased temperatures will negatively impact farm workers who lack protections from extreme heat, and flooding may impact frontline communities who have higher levels of poverty. Worse yet, climate-related food insecurity will compound these impacts. Like Blacksburg, many local governments are planning for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Wicked problems require solutions that include diverse stakeholders and knowledge; however, many local governments may lack resources for such partnerships. Here, we provide a local case of collaborative climate change policy work to illustrate how researchers can engage with practitioners to tackle the climate crisis.

As the Advocacy Chair for the Science Policy, Education, and Advocacy Club at Virginia Tech [Lia], I established a partnership with the town of Blacksburg to develop regional recommendations to prepare for climate threats. Blacksburg has a sustainability planner on staff, however, climate change’s complexity demands collaborative solutions. Moreover, less-resourced nearby localities do not have a sustainability planner, an inequitable issue further underscored by the region’s history of resource extraction and environmental justice.

I helped develop three policy one-pagers focused on an equitable and climate-resilient food system. These recommendations, designed for a future regional food policy council to consider, were the result of an extensive literature review, benchmarking of 100+ similar localities, conversations with Virginia Tech faculty, and coaching provided by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Regular partner meetings ensured our work (the one-pager was their idea!) reflected town needs and resources. Now in its second year, a master’s student is building on the project to investigate resources and climate solutions with regional food system stakeholders.

Now let’s talk about what you can do! Look at the Mayor's Climate Agreement or Global Covenant of Mayors to find localities near you engaged in climate planning and reach out to offer your research support. Connect with research4impact to be matched with a practitioner in need of support. Link up with the Union of Concerned Scientists or Local Science Engagement Network to gain resources on local science advocacy. Remember, it isn’t going to take us doing the absolute right thing, it is going to take everyone doing what they can.

As Civic Science Fellows, Lia is leading an effort to map university-community policy engagement across the United States and Andrew is developing a digital platform for fostering effective, sustainable collaborations between scientists and policymakers at the state and local level.

Stephanie Taboada (@Latina_PhDing)

The Climate Crisis: A Success Story

Renewable natural gas (RNG) has been a buzzword within the energy field for some time now. This is because RNG is a clean energy source that is interchangeable with fossil natural gas since both are primarily made up of methane. RNG can therefore be injected into the existing gas grid and used in the same applications. The applications include transportation fuel, electricity generation, and heating.

RNG is made from biogas. Biogas is produced through the anaerobic decomposition of organic materials. It is typically composed of 35% to 44% carbon dioxide and 55% to 65% methane. The amount of carbon dioxide and methane varies according to the type of organic material used.

The environmental benefit of RNG is that it is carbon neutral because it utilizes organic waste that would otherwise release emissions into the atmosphere if not used for RNG production.

California has become the epicenter of the RNG market due mainly to the passing of the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). LCFS requires that all providers of transportation fuels mix their fuels with biofuels, such as RNG. Providers that mix fossil fuels with biofuels produce credits that can then be sold. Fuel providers that do not utilize biofuels have the option to purchase these credits instead, so they remain in compliance with the LCFS. The revenue earned from selling credits allows fuel providers to further invest in clean fuel development, which drives job creation and economic growth. For example, from 2011 to 2018, California’s LCFS generated $2.8 billion in capital investment both in-state and out-of-state and created 20,000 in-state jobs. Additionally, the increased demand for RNG has led to a surge in investments to build RNG production facilities across the country.

Another positive of the LCFS is that it led California’s transportation fleet to achieve carbon negative status, meaning more carbon emissions were removed than added. This is a significant milestone as no other fleet within the United States has achieved carbon negative status.

Seeing the success of California’s LCFS, other states like Oregon and Washington have passed their own version of the LCFS, turning the West Coast of the United States into the primary RNG market. Several other states, like New Mexico, Minnesota, and New York, are considering passing a similar standard. Below is the status of their standards.

In 2021, the Senate in New Mexico approved their version of the LCFS known as the Clean Fuel Standard (CFS). Unfortunately, due to time constraints, the House of Representatives could not vote on the bill. Therefore, the bill is planned to be re-introduced to the state legislature in 2022.

In Minnesota, the Future Fuels Act was introduced to the House of Representatives in March 2021. The act requires the establishment of a CFS. The act is currently under review by the Commerce Finance and Policy Committee.

Meanwhile, in New York, a CFS was introduced to the state legislature in 2021 and is currently under review by the Environmental Conservation Committee.

The downside of having several LCFSs is that the credits generated in one state are not valid in another. A national LCFS, on the other hand, can create this much-needed framework. Additionally, several studies show a national LCFS can lead to increased investment in the clean energy industry. The United States can utilize California’s LCFS as a basis to establish a national LCFS. Most importantly, a national LCFS can reduce carbon emissions from the transportation sector, as was achieved in California. This is significant seeing as the transportation sector is currently the most significant contributor of carbon emissions within the United States.

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