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How to Engage Trump Supporters on Sustainability

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Last week’s US election was both a shock and a disappointment for many people around the world. It’s important to think about what happened and why. There are important lessons to learn for all, including those of us working for a more sustainable society.

What’s clear is that there are a lot of people in America who are struggling, people whose lives had fallen outside of the traditional scope of the compassionate liberal vision, with its focus on “underrepresented minorities.” As ironic as it seems, this election was decided by primarily white, working class voters, who had come to feel that they were underrepresented. Donald Trump spoke to these people. Whether or not he will help them remains to be seen, but when a person is suffering, what they want first is to be seen and heard.

The reason this matters in the sustainability fight is, that for these voters, the issue is not one they felt they could afford to pay attention to. When a man who is barely scraping by, has to drive 50 miles each way to a minimum wage job in a beat-up old pickup truck to feed his family, all he wants to know is how much will gas cost. Not only can he not afford a Prius, he wouldn’t want one. He needs that pickup to do odd jobs with, collect firewood, and find other ways to make ends meet.

Many of these people have lost the good-paying jobs they once counted on, in areas like manufacturing and the energy sector. These jobs were often swept away by changes in technology, as well as by global trade. Robots, ATMs, self-checkout lines, and soon, autonomous cars and trucks continue to squeeze out livelihoods, as does the export of manufacturing jobs to lower wage countries. Environmental concerns have also been cited, in slowing down coal production, for example, though cost competition from natural gas has been a far bigger factor. Laying all this at the feet of the president is a bit unfair. Most of these decisions are made by company executive, sometimes because their products are not competitive.

Democrats are angry and scared, but calling these people names, or painting them with the flaws of their candidate will not be helpful. All that can said definitively is that they felt strongly enough about the need for change to overlook those faults.

The biggest block of Trump supporters was rural, while the smallest came from big cities.  While demographers talk about the migration to cities and planners are looking at how make those cities sustainable as the potential salvation of our planet, there are still plenty of people—enough to swing an election—still living in the past century, for whom this is a corner they haven’t gotten to yet.

Many of these supporters come from areas that lack diversity. They have not had the opportunity to go to school with or become friends with children from other backgrounds while growing up. I don’t mean to oversimplify the issue of racism here, or in any way excuse it, but those who have had firsthand experience of other groups tend to be more tolerant. There is also the question of education, and perhaps even more disturbing is the impact that the right-wing media echo chamber (e.g. Fox News, Limbaugh, etc.) have had by spreading false information couched in inflammatory rhetoric.

These are the patterns and trends that now potentially block the path to a sustainable future. On the plus side, these folks obviously love their families, care about their children’s future and their own health. Many of them surely love the land and are sad to see it  being despoiled. If provided with the facts of the situation, they will see that a flourishing, sustainable future is in all of our best interests.

The Road Beyond Paris: A Tale of Three Countries

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Once the COP21 agreements are hammered out and signed, there will surely be celebration that the words point to commitments that whole world is finally taking the problem seriously and that the pace of progress will undoubtedly be increased. It won’t be perfect, but it will certainly be the best agreement we’ve had yet.

Then there will be the morning after, when the party’s over, when we all wake up and get back to work and try to figure out, what exactly are we going to do now. Let’s take a look at what some countries that, while clearly not the largest emitters, have taken action early and effectively, and therefore could be considered role models, have done.

Germany has perhaps been the most visible leader, making huge public commitments to solar power, despite not being in a particularly sunny locale. Germany, which is already receiving 28% of its electricity from renewables (more than they get from coal), set out on their journey back in 1991, by investing in a feed-in tariff that guaranteed that those homeowners installing solar on their property would see a financial benefit. The program, which came to be known as Energiewende, or Energy Transition, has led to the effective decoupling of carbon emissions from economic growth. Germany, the world’s fourth largest economy saw their economy grow by 1.5% last year, even as energy consumption fell. This notion of decoupling, which is beginning to take hold on a global scale, is crucial to a successful climate battle.

Germany has achieved this even as they took on the additional challenge of phasing out their nuclear program, in response to concerns over safety and received close to one million refugees. Consumers will bear some of these costs, but they are committed to leaving their children a cleaner, more sustainable world.

A Look at Climate Change and the Talks in Lima

Denmark Announces 100% Renewable Goal

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Denmark has just one-upped its status as the most cutting edge sustainable country in the world. They have committed to a goal of 100% renewable energy by the year 2050. That goal is not just limited to electric generation as other countries have done. They are including transportation as well. No burning of fossil fuels by 2050.

If that seems like an unrealistically lofty goal, keep in mind that these are the Danes we are talking about, who already get over 40% of their electricity from over 5,000 wind turbines, with every intention of making that 50% by 2020. Fossil fuel consumption is expected to fall by 20% over that same period.

While wind has carried most of the weight going forward, the latest initiative is more comprehensive. For starters, energy efficiency will play a major role. An intermediate target is looking for a 7% overall decrease in consumption from 2010 levels by 2020. Energy companies will be given specific targets.

Industrial heating and cooling is also a major part of the plan. Biomass will be substituted for coal on a large scale, for both heating and electricity. Subsidies will be provided for geothermal energy.

Also included are subsidies for energy efficient production processes, combined heat and power (CHP) applications, biogas, and smart grid. You could say the Danes are leaving no stone unturned in their search for a totally clean energy future.

What makes Denmark so successful while so many other nations are falling short?

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