In the ground and off the page: why we’re banning ads from fossil fuels extractors | Membership | The Guardian

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In a bid to reduce our carbon footprint, confront greenwashing and increase our focus on the climate crisis, the Guardian this week announced it will no longer run ads from fossil fuel extractors alongside any of its content in print or online. The move will come into immediate effect, and follows the announcement in October last year that we intend to reduce our net emissions to zero by 2030.

Once upon a time, a newspaper was a rather straightforward business. You generated enough material of interest to attract a significant number of readers. You then ‘sold’ those readers to advertisers happy to pay to get their ideas, products or brands in front of consumers with cash to spend.

Of course, digital disruption over the past 20 years has upended that model, but advertising remains an important part of the media business ecosystem. At the Guardian, it is still responsible for about two-fifths of our income.

But what happens when the readers don’t like the adverts? What do you do when the message that advertisers want to spread jars awkwardly with the work your journalists are doing?

What if your journalists are some of the best in the world at revealing and investigating the deepening climate catastrophe and the disaster that is fossil fuel growth, while some of your advertisers are the very people digging the stuff out of the ground?

This contradiction has bothered us – and some of you – for some time. We came up with a rather bold answer this week: turn away the money and double down on the journalism.

“It’s something we thought about for a long time,” says Anna Bateson, the interim chief executive officer of Guardian Media Group, the Guardian’s parent company. “We always felt it was in line with our editorial values but were cautious for commercial reasons.”

She said it was the logical next step after the Guardian committed last year to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and was certified as a B Corp – a company that puts purpose before profit. But she added that the move had to be weighed carefully, given the fact that the Guardian only recently returned to breakeven after years in the red.

“You have to be careful you are not making cavalier decisions,” she said. “ We are still having to fight for our financial future. But because of the support we get from our readers, it is less of a risk.”

On the advertising side of our business, Adam Foley said there were no complaints at all that potential customers were suddenly off-limits, adding that staff felt that “being part of a company that shares their values” was the biggest motivation for his teams.

“A statement like this reaffirms to all of us that we’re contributing to a business that really lives those values – to the extent where it is prepared to sacrifice profit for purpose.”

The response from the wider world has been a pleasant surprise. Hundreds of you have written in, pledging your support, and in some cases, one-off contributions to start making up the shortfall. (EDS: See below – I’m going to append the best responses below. In print you can use as the panel)

The environmental movement was instantly appreciative, with activists quickly urging our peers to follow suit. “The Guardian will no longer accept advertising from oil and gas companies,” Greta Thunberg tweeted. “A good start, who will take this further?” Greenpeace called it “a huge moment in the battle against oil and gas for all of us.”

Some readers have been calling for the Guardian to go the whole hog and forsake advertising from any company with a substantial carbon footprint. Bateson said that was not realistic, adding that such a move would result in less money for journalism. She said the fossil fuel extractors were specifically targeted because of their efforts to skew the climate change debate through their lobbying effort.

“We are committed to advertising,” she said. “It will continue to be part of our future. We want advertisers who want to be appear alongside our high quality journalism.”

And how will we know if this has worked?
“We will listen to our readers, we will listen to our advertisers. The response so far has been gratifying. If we continue to hear positive noises from our readers and supporters, then it will have been a success.”




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Responses from our supporters

That is such a brilliant decision and it will be tough, but it is the correct one and I am very proud of The Guardian. Barbara Syer

Following the Guardian’s decision to ban ads from fossil fuel companies I’m making a monthly contribution to support its fearless journalism: reader support is essential for independent scrutiny of the powerful in business, finance and politics. Titus Alexander, Hertfordshire, England

I live at present in Canada, home to the Alberta Tar Sands: another name for ecological devastation resulting from fossil fuel extraction. I fully support The Guardian’s action in ceasing to be a vehicle for advertising by fossil fuel extractive companies, and I’m proud to be a supporter. My monthly donation is small, but when I can I will make it much greater. Rosemary Delnavine, Canada

Congratulations. At this time it may be a bold step, indeed, within this industry, but true leaders have to take bold steps for the betterment of the quality of life, and more importantly for the life of future generations. I applaud this decision, and will spread the word. Raphael Sulkovitz, Boston MA

What a bravery! This is what the life on earth needs, thank you. Karri Kuikka, Finland (EDS: please leave her wonderful Finglish intact!)

Keep it up. Here in Canada, we’re still trying to have it both ways — sell the product internationally but discourage buying domestically. As I recall, it was the same with tobacco. Eventually, it took a change in public opinion to solve the problem. As a news source, your efforts are part of this solution. Robert Shotton, Ottawa

I applaud your decision to”walk the talk.” I will therefore continue to contribute to The Guardian. Bob Wagenseil

Bravo yr decision to eschew $ from the FFI. Please do continue to hold to the fire(s) the feet of the deniers and the willfully ignorant. Sydney Alonso, Vermont, US

I am very happy to hear that good news. It’s quite courageous on your part, and I’m happy to support you! Have a great year ahead, you’ll have my continuous support! Julien Psomas

I completely support your plan to refuse ads from fossils, despite the
financial hit to the Guardian. I have made a donation to help out. David Thompson

A very commendable decision, very much in keeping with the Guardian’s position as leader of green issues to leave a better planet for following generations. Richard Vernon, Oxford

Yay! I’m so proud of the Guardian! We can no longer support or fund in any manner the fossil fuel industry if we have any chance of survival as a civilization on this planet. You’ve taken a courageous and moral step that will hopefully embolden others to join you. Good on you! Best, Carol Ross, Missouri, US

Good decision. I’ll support you as much as I can, which unfortunately is not much as I live on age pension only. Keep up the good work, we need it desperately! Ursula Brandt, South Australia

I am absolutely delighted by this decision. So many people pledge to do something about Climate Change, but few actually are willing to get uncomfortable and DO it. I am very proud of you as my favourite source of Information and this only makes a case for me to donate next time to you again. Christiane Gross

It was great reading what The Guardian is doing re the climate. As a Guardian on-line reader from The Netherlands I’m going to contribute monthly now instead of ‘now and again’. The amount will be relatively small as I do not have a great income. I really hope more of your supporters will do so, because it is really great what you are doing.
With kind regards, Aleida Oostendorp, Netherlands

I congratulate you and your team on taking this step regarding fossil fuel companies. The Guardian’s stance on the environment and its excellent coverage of related stories and events is the major reason for my support. Well done, and good luck in the future. Deirdre Moore

Love your new policy about accepting money from fossil fuels. Will contribute more to help make up for the shortfall. Todd Misk

I live on a fixed income with a strict budget so my continuing support of your excellent news organisation represents my commitment to the fight to address climate change. Every step counts. Barbara Hirsch, Texas, US

Only when we speak truth to power can change take place. thank yo for your courageous and expensive decision. Nancy Shepherd, Vermont, US

Love your journalism, especially your investigative work and the climate change topic. And with the bold statement about not receiving any more sponsorship from the fossil extracting companies? Well, the already great newspapers became even more impressive now. Keep up the good work. Miroslav Řezníček, Czech Republic

Thank you for taking the bold step of refusing advertising from fossil fuel extractive companies. I think it is the right thing to do & hope many more companies do the same. We must all work together if we want to save our planet. It is one of the most important issues of our times. Ginger Comstock, New York, US

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7 takeaways from the CNN/New York Times Democratic presidential debate

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7 highlights from the Democratic debate - CNNPolitics

Westerville, Ohio (CNN)Polls show that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is now a front-runner for the 2020 Democratic nomination. And on Tuesday night in Ohio, her 11 rivals acted like it.

And moderate candidates — some, like South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, fighting to climb into the top tier; others, like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, just desperate to make the next debate stage — dropped the euphemisms and pressed their progressive foes in direct and sometimes personal terms.
Here are seven takeaways from Tuesday night’s debate:

    Warren under attack for the first time

    news

      Warren attacked from all sides on the debate stage

    Warren’s months-long march to the front of the polls finally put her in the position of being the most heavily targeted and scrutinized candidate on stage.
    Buttigieg and Klobuchar led the charge, assailing Warren over her answers on health care.
    Warren supports Sanders’ proposal for “Medicare for All” — replacing private insurance with everyone receiving coverage through a government-run plan. And while Sanders has acknowledged that Americans’ taxes would need to increase to pay for the plan, Warren refused to say whether the middle class’s taxes would go up — instead only saying that, because deductibles, premiums and co-pays would be eliminated, overall costs would decrease.
    Buttigieg accused her of dodging a yes-or-no question. “Your signature is to have a plan for everything, except this. No plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion dollar hole in this plan that Sen. Warren is putting forward is supposed to get filled in,” he said.
    Klobuchar accused Warren of being dishonest. “We owe it to the American people to tell them where we will send the invoice,” she said.
    Warren later addressed the question of taxes, when former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke asked her — during a discussion about Warren’s proposed wealth tax and child care coverage — whether she would raise middle-class taxes. “No,” she said — but the moment was mostly lost amid cross-talk.

    Bernie Sanders won the night

    And it had nothing to do with what happened on stage.
    In the debate’s final moments, the Washington Post broke the news that New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez plans to endorse Sanders. CNN then reported that two other members of the “Squad,” Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, will do the same.
    The pick-ups are huge. Some Democratic strategists think that outside of the Obamas, Ocasio-Cortez represents the most influential potential endorsement of the 2020 primary race.
    It also comes at a key moment for Sanders. Warren’s months-long ascent, fueled in part by progressives as she advocated some similar policies to Sanders, was on display Tuesday night, when the rest of the field treated her as the front-runner. If Ocasio-Cortez had supported her, it could have been the beginning of the end of Sanders’ chances.
    Instead, he gets a major injection of energy — and sends the signal that he’s far from done yet.

    Echoes of 2016 as the front-runners fight

    politics

      Warren takes a jab at Biden while complimenting Obama

    For most of the night, as Warren wore the biggest target, Biden slipped into the background. That changed near the end of the debate, when the field’s top tier — Biden, Warren and Sanders — finally unloaded on each other.
    The question that loomed over their: Biden has a lengthy record — but is it one that’s in line with where the Democratic electorate is now?
    It began when Biden touted his record in former President Barack Obama’s administration, pressuring Republicans to vote for measures such as the federal stimulus package.
    “We all have good ideas. The question is who is going to be able to get it done? How can you get it done?” Biden said. “And I’m not suggesting they can’t, but I’m suggesting that’s what we should look at.”
    That’s when Sanders pounced, attacking Biden — in a moment that felt similar to the Vermont senator’s 2016 debates with Hillary Clinton — over legislation Biden had supported and Sanders opposed over the last three decades.
    “Joe, you talked about working with Republicans and getting things done. But you know what, you also got done, and I say this as a good friend,” Sanders said. “You got the disastrous war in Iraq done. You got a bankruptcy bill, which is hurting middle class families all over this country. You got trade agreements like NAFTA and (trade relations) with China done, which have cost us 4 million jobs.”
    Then Warren jumped in.
    Responding to Biden’s assertion that he is best able to get things done, she pointed to her role in creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during the Obama administration.
    Seemingly miffed to be denied a share of the credit, Biden interjected, nearly shouting, “I went on the floor and got you votes. I got votes for that bill. I convinced people to vote for it, so let’s get those things straight, too.”
    Warren responded by thanking Obama — but notably omitting Biden.
    “I am deeply grateful to President Obama, who fought so hard to make sure that agency was passed into law,” she said.

    Trouble for Biden?

    For the former vice president, fading into the background of a debate is a troubling sign because of what it suggests: that his foes view him as less of a threat than they once did.
    But just as the good news had come late for Sanders, the real bad news for Biden’s campaign came even later Wednesday night.
    In a scheduling oddity, reports covering the third quarter of 2019 were due in to the Federal Election Commission by midnight — an hour after the debate ended.
    Biden’s report revealed that his campaign ended September with just $9 million on hand. That’s far short of Sanders’ $33.7 million, Warren’s $25.7 million and Buttigieg’s $23.4 million — and is even below California Sen. Kamala Harris’ $10.5 million.

    A more aggressive Buttigieg

    7 highlights from the Democratic debate - CNNPolitics

      Buttigieg to O’Rourke: I don’t need lessons from you

    The South Bend, Indiana, mayor had made it obvious he planned to come out swinging. In the days before the debate, he’d launched an ad that was critical of Warren and Sanders over Medicare for All, criticized Warren’s grassroots fundraising strategy for the general election as being reliant on “pocket change,” and attacked O’Rourke over his support for mandatory buy-backs of assault-style rifles in an interview on Snapchat’s “Good Luck America.”
    The exchanges with Warren over health care might be the night’s most memorable.
    But he also got a chance to tout an element of his own biography — his military service — in clashing with Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the only other military veteran in the field, over her call to end “endless wars.”
    “The slaughter going on in Syria is not a consequence of American presence, it a consequence of a withdrawal and a betrayal by this President of American allies and American values,” he said.
    Buttigieg also sharply criticized O’Rourke — at one point, in personal terms — over the former Texas congressman’s proposed mandatory buy-backs of assault-style rifles.
    7 highlights from the Democratic debate - CNNPolitics
    “You just made it clear that you don’t know how this is going to take weapons off the street,” he said. “If you can develop the plan further, we can have a debate. But we can’t wait.”
    O’Rourke responded that mass shootings are a “crisis” and that Democrats should make the case for farther-reaching gun control measures. “Let’s decide what we are going to believe in, what we are going to achieve, and let’s bring this country together in order to do that,” he said.
    Buttigieg shot back: “The problem isn’t the polls, the problem is the policy. And I don’t need lessons from you on courage, political or personal.”
    “I don’t care what that meant to me or my candidacy,” O’Rourke replied. But to survivors of gun violence, and March For Our Lives, the gun control advocacy group founded by students after the Parkland, Florida, shooting last year, “that was a slap in the face to every single one of those groups,” he said. Moments later, the organization tweeted praise for O’Rourke’s position.

    Klobuchar, unleashed

    With the Democratic National Committee raising its fundraising and polling thresholds for the November debate, Klobuchar walked on stage facing the real possibility that this debate could be her last.
    Her response: Go hard at the Democratic primary’s most ascendant candidate, Warren.
    “The difference between a plan and a pipe dream is something that you can actually get done,” she said of Warren at one point, as she criticized her support for Medicare for All.
    Klobuchar’s performance on Tuesday stands in stark contrast to her first three debate performances, which were more muted.
    And there is a reason for that: After qualifying for the first four debates, Klobuchar is on the verge of not qualifying for the fifth Democratic debate in November. While Klobuchar has the required number of donors, she has yet to reach the polling threshold, something that her team believes she can boost with a well-reviewed debate.
    Then there’s the portion of her approach that’s in the eye of the beholder: One of her trademarks as a candidate — goofy humor — continued on Tuesday night.
    “Vladimir Putin is someone who has shot down planes over Ukraine, who has poisoned his opponent and we have not talked about what we need to do to protect ourselves from Russia invading our election,” Klobuchar said. “This wasn’t meddling. That’s what I do when I call my daughter on a Saturday night and ask her what she’s doing.”

    Yang’s ‘Freedom Dividend’ gets an airing

    Andrew Yang launched his presidential campaign in 2017 with a plan to give every American $1,000 a month to combat job losses and automation — and very little attention from media and voters.
    Almost two years later, Yang’s plan for a universal basic income, which he’s calling a “freedom dividend,” remains his signature policy proposal. But his impact on the race has increased dramatically — a reality that was on display on Tuesday night when the candidates on stage debated a universal basic income and job losses to automation in depth on national television.
    “We have a freedom dividend of $1,000 a month, it recognizes the work in our families and communities. It helps all Americans transition,” Yang said. “When we put the money into our hands, we can build a trickle up economy from our people, our families and our communities up. It will enable us to do the work that we want to do. This is the sort of vision in response to the fourth industrial revolution that we have to embrace.”
    Yang has talked about his universal basic income at previous debates. What made Tuesday different was that other candidates — some of whom largely ignored Yang in previous debates — began to seriously debate automation and a basic income.
    “I believe that we need to address a community being impacted by automation,” said former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.
    “I agree with my friend Andrew Yang. Universal basic income is a good idea to help provide that security so people can make choices that they want to see,” Gabbard said.
      But what clearly cemented Yang’s rise is that the debate over universal basic income got him into a direct argument with Warren, who said the issue is broader.
      After the debate, Yang told CNN that Warren — who, with Biden, is at the top of the Democratic field — had asked him to send her details on his proposal. “She said she wanted to see the data,” he said.

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      Bernie Sanders and the 2020 age debate

      (CNN)With only120daysuntil the Iowa caucuses, the 2020 election will be here before you know it.Every Sunday, I round up the5BIG storylines you need to know to understand the upcoming week on the campaign trail. And they’re ranked — so the No. 1 story is the most important of the coming week.

      5. Trump, unleashed: Donald Trump has spent the last week talking and tweeting almost nonstop as he tries to fight his way out of mounting allegations over his pressure campaign to get the Ukrainians to look into debunked allegations of wrongdoing against Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
      And the rhetoric from Trump has gone to previously unseen heights — even for Trump. He’s accused Rep. Adam Schiff (California) of treason, he’s attacked Mitt Romney in deeply personal terms — more on that directly below — and he’s repeating, repeating, repeating long disproven lies.
      All of which means that when Trump travels to Minneapolis on Thursday for a “Keep America Great” rally, well, look out. Trump is always at his most, well, Trump-y at these campaign rallies — and, given the walls closing in on him in Washington, he could well use the Minnesota rally as a venting session the likes of which even longtime Trump observers rarely see.
      Stay tuned. It’s going to be a doozy.
      4. Any other Mitt Romneys out there?: Republicans have, almost uniformly, closed ranks around Trump even as a second whistleblower has emerged regarding the President allegedly using the power of his office for political gain during interactions over the summer with Ukraine.
      Only Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah) has publicly criticized Trump in any way, calling the President’s urgings of China and Ukraine to investigate the Bidens “wrong” and “appalling.” Trump immediately struck back, referring to Romney as a “pompous ‘ass'” (I have no idea why he put “ass” in quotes) and suggesting that the 2012 Republican nominee was “begging” to be his secretary of state.
      Any Republican who was weighing speaking out about Trump’s behavior with Ukraine (and his plea for China to investigate his main rival for the 2020 nomination) now can have no illusions about what such criticism will be met with: Pure, unadulterated anger from Trump — and likely vilification from the President’s base.
      Is any prominent Republican other than Romney willing to risk speaking out when that reaction is assured? Principle vs. politics, anyone?
      3. Fundraising losers…: With the third fundraising quarter ending at the close of last month, most of the major candidates have released how much they brought in and how much they spent between July 1 and September 30.
      Let’s go through the losers first.
      * Joe Biden: When you are a former vice president and the race’s frontrunner, you need to be at or very close to the top of the money chase. Biden’s $15 million raised in the third quarter is well off the pace and a significant drop-off from when Biden raised $21.5 million from April 1 to June 30 — his first three months of active fundraising. His numbers will re-ignite the debate over whether he has real grassroots energy behind his establishment candidacy. Think about this: The mayor of South Bend, Indiana — Pete Buttigieg — raised $4 million more than Biden in the third quarter and has now out-raised the former vice president for six months straight.
      * Cory Booker: The New Jersey senator’s plea for $1.7 million in the final days of the quarter — in order, he said, for him to remain in the race — drew a ton of publicity. Even though Booker met his goal, he still only brought in $6 million for the entire three-month period. That likely means he will be facing another dire financial deadline in the not-too-distant future.
      2. … and fundraising winners: 
      * Bernie Sanders: Even as his poll numbers have stagnated somewhat, the Vermont senator’s small-dollar, online fundraising network continues to deliver. Sanders topped the field in the third quarter with more than $25 million raised and has now raised more than $71 million this year. That ensures he will not only have real organizations in all of the early states but will also be able to continue fighting for the nomination for months.
      * Elizabeth Warren: While Sanders edged out Warren for the top spot by about $500,000, Warren’s third quarter fundraising is yet another data point proving how much momentum she has built behind her candidacy. Warren already has the best organization in Iowa, and fundraising like she put on the board over the last three months ensures her campaign will be able to fund a (TV) air assault as well.
      * Andrew Yang: The tech entrepreneur raised $10 million in the third quarter, which, at least to me was the single most surprising result of the fundraising race. Yang’s total put him well above what Booker, as well as Sen. Michael Bennet (Colorado) and Gov. Steve Bullock (Montana) raised, and within shouting distance of Sen. Kamala Harris (California). That’s a stunner, and shows how far he’s come since the year started and almost no one knew who he was.
      1. The age/health debate is here: It was probably inevitable, given that the four most likely candidates to be president in 2021 are 70+ years old, but Bernie Sanders’ recent heart attack has officially injected the issue of age and health into the 2020 campaign.
      After several days of uncertainty, Sanders’ campaign confirmed that he had suffered a heart attack on the campaign trail and, following his release from the hospital late last week, he has returned to Vermont. His campaign has canceled its events until further notice but has said Sanders will be at the next debate — set for October 15 in Ohio.
      While the relatively advanced ages of Sanders (78), Joe Biden (76) and Elizabeth Warren (70) has been a sort of low buzz in the background of the Democratic race so far, those days are now over. All three candidates had previously pledged to release their medical records before the Iowa caucuses on February 3, 2020, but the urgency of those releases is significantly higher now than it was even a week ago.
      (Remember that Donald Trump was the oldest person ever elected to a first term when he won the presidency in 2016 at age 70. During the campaign, his personal physician released a letter proclaiming that Trump “would be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Trump is now 73. In January of this year, he underwent a physical which found him in “very good health overall.”)
      In a May Pew Research Center poll, just 3% of Democrats said their ideal candidate would be in their 70s. A near- majority — 47% — said a candidate in their 50s would be best. On the other hand, more than 6 in 10 people told Gallup in May they would vote for a presidential candidate over 70 years old.

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      Trump and RNC raise $125 million for reelection bid in third quarter

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      (CNN)President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee raised $125 million during the July-to-September fundraising quarter as Trump faces a fast-moving impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives and what will be a costly reelection fight in 2020.

      “President Trump has built a juggernaut of a campaign, raising record amounts of money at a record pace,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.
      Ronna McDaniel, the RNC’s chairwoman, said attacks from Democrats have spurred the President’s supporters to open their wallets.
        “We are investing millions on the airwaves and on the ground to hold House Democrats accountable, highlight their obstruction, and take back the House and reelect President Trump in 2020,” she said.
        The haul by Team Trump exceeds the $105 million that Trump and the national party raised through their joint efforts during the second quarter of the year. Trump’s campaign has already announced plans to deploy big sums to mount a defense of the President, running Facebook and television ads that focus on impeachment.
        Some of the Democrats hoping to challenge Trump next year are raising substantial sums, too.
        On Tuesday, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders reported collecting $25.3 million during the third quarter — the largest three-month haul posted so far by any of the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders and a sign of Sanders’ enduring strength with small-dollar contributors.
          South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg raised $19 million, his campaign announced Tuesday. Several other leading candidates — including the frontrunners in recent polling, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President joe Biden — had not disclosed their third quarter totals as of Tuesday evening.
          All candidates must report the details of their fundraising and spending to the Federal Election Commission by October 15.

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          How Fossil Fuel Companies Are Killing Plastic Recycling

          So many things we buy come packaged in plastic containers or wrappers that are meant to be used once, thrown away and forgotten ― but they don’t break down and can linger in the environment long after we’re gone. It’s tempting to think that we can recycle this problem away, that if we’re more diligent about placing discarded bottles and bags into the curbside bin, we’ll somehow make up for all the trash overflowing landfills, choking waterways and killing marine life.

          For decades, big petrochemical companies responsible for extracting and processing the fossil fuels that make plastics have egged on consumers, reassuring them that recycling was the answer to our trash crisis. Just last month, Royal Dutch Shell executive Hilary Mercer told The New York Times that the production of new plastics was not the problem contributing to millions of tons of plastic waste piling up in landfills and drifting in oceans. Instead, she suggested, the problem is one of improper waste disposal. Better recycling, she implied, is the solution.

          “We passionately believe in recycling,” Mercer told the Times.

          But plastic recycling is in trouble. Too much of the indestructible material exists in the world, more than our current recycling networks can handle. And the very same companies that say recycling is the answer are about to unleash a tidal wave of fresh plastics that will drown recyclers struggling to stay afloat.   

          “We’ve been trained [to think] that we can purchase endlessly and recycle everything,” said Genevieve Abedon, a policy advocate at the environmental nonprofit Californians Against Waste. “There is no way that recycling can keep up.” 

          Big oil, natural gas and chemical companies have poured an estimated $200 billion into more than 300 petrochemical expansion projects across America from 2010 to 2018, according to the American Chemistry Council. Fossil fuel giants ExxonMobil and Shell, as well as plastic makers like SABIC and Formosa Plastics, are building and expanding at least five ethane cracker plants in Appalachia and along the Gulf of Mexico. The facilities will turn ethane, a byproduct of natural gas fracking, into polyethylene pellets, which can be made into a variety of products, including milk jugs, shampoo bottles, food packaging and the air pillows that protect your Amazon orders.

          news

          Many consumer goods companies would rather purchase newly made plastic resin pellets than those made from recycled materials.

          Already, over 350 million metric tons of new plastics are produced worldwide annually. In the next decade, production will jump 40%, spurred in part by the new manufacturing plants, according to an analysis by The Guardian. 

          Current rates of recycling are dismal. In Europe, about 30% of plastics are recycled, but the U.S. recycles only 9.1%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s about all our networks can manage without significant improvements and investments in recycling technologies and infrastructure.

          Recycling will suffer when the new manufacturing plants begin pumping out more virgin plastic, said Ted Siegler, a resource economist at waste management company DSM Environmental Services Inc., based in Vermont. 

          “They will hurt recycling,” he said.

          The Making Of A Recycling Emergency

          In theory, more plastics should be good for recyclers. But the industry is already in the midst of a crisis.

          America has grown accustomed to shipping low-value trash overseas for recycling. This practice began on a large scale in the early 2000s. Last year, that system fell apart, leaving recyclers scrambling and consumers confused.

          The country never developed recycling networks that would handle all kinds of plastics, according to Heidi Sanborn, executive director of the nonprofit National Stewardship Action Council. Instead, local recyclers process only the stuff they can make money off of. Most high-value plastics, like soda bottles (which come stamped with a “1” symbol) and milk cartons or shampoo bottles (which bear a “2” stamp), are pulled out and recycled domestically. Everything else ― that’s anything stamped with the numbers 3 through 7 ― remains unsorted and gets shipped as “mixed plastics” to other countries, where they can still turn a profit. (Things like potato chip bags and candy bar wrappers are practically worthless and aren’t considered recyclable. People still try to mix them in with their household paper and plastic, much to the consternation of recyclers.) 

          “We did the world a disservice by not doing our due diligence and saying it’s worth paying American citizens to do the work and keep the jobs and the recycling infrastructure solid at home,” Sanborn said.

          Plenty of other countries export their recyclables as well. Until recently, China had been the world’s largest buyer of recyclables, taking 40% of America’s scrap paper and plastic. At the end of 2017, however, China blocked shipments of foreign recyclables, causing mixed plastics (numbers 3 to 7) and paper to pile up at ports around the world. Prices for these scrap materials tanked, wiping out what little value the plastics had to begin with.

          In the wake of China’s ban, with no place for mixed paper and plastics to go, curbside collection programs from Maine to Michigan to Florida were suspended. Reports have emerged from cities and towns across the country about collected recyclables ending up in landfills and incinerators.

          news

          Recyclers across America have had to cancel service or scale back after China’s clampdown on imports of contaminated foreign waste. Some have had to send recyclables to landfills. 

          The latest big blow to recycling came in early August with the closure of rePlanet, California’s largest chain of recycling centers where consumers could return empty containers and redeem bottle deposits. Even though plastic bottles still have some value in the States, it’s not what it was before the China ban.

          “The scrap value of recycled materials has dropped across the board for every material, some much worse than others,” explained Martin Bourque, who heads up the Berkeley, California-based Ecology Center, home to one of the country’s oldest curbside recycling programs. 

          For recyclers like rePlanet, which made money only on the materials it sold, low scrap prices make it difficult to cover operating costs. In rePlanet’s case, there were other factors at play: For one, a state-run mechanism designed to help recyclers ride out hard times didn’t adapt quickly enough to save the company. 

          But there was another problem, too: Consumer goods companies don’t necessarily want to source recycled plastics for their products, not when they can save money by purchasing freshly made plastic.  

          “It’s so much cheaper to buy new, virgin resin,” Bourque said. 

          A Glut Of Virgin Plastics

          Since oil and natural gas are the raw materials for making plastic, the price of virgin plastic is tied to oil and natural gas prices, which are currently low. Natural gas, in particular, is now very cheap due to the fracking boom in the U.S. Remember the ethane crackers getting built in Appalachia and the Gulf of Mexico? They will only make virgin plastic cheaper, according to Siegler. 

          “All the new plants that are coming online are just going to continue to drive the price of virgin plastics down, which will encourage consumption on new plastic and discourage recycling,” Siegler told HuffPost.

          Some contend that virgin plastic prices are already artificially low. 

          “The government has intervened and subsidized virgin materials extraction and made it impossible for recycling to compete,” said Sanborn. 

          Companies that are building new plastic manufacturing plants are getting help from the government, too. Oil and gas giant Shell is building a massive complex in Pennsylvania that will open in 2020 and produce 1.6 million metric tons of polyethylene every year. The plant will also receive $1.65 billion in tax breaks over 25 years. A Shell official told the Northeast U.S. & Canada Petrochemical Construction Conference in 2016 that without this fiscal package, the company may not have gone ahead with the project. (The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

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          Part of a petrochemical plant being built on the Ohio River in Monaca, Pennsylvania, for the Royal Dutch Shell company. The plant, which is capable of producing 1.6 million tons of raw plastic annually, is expected to begin operations by 2021.

          Recycling efforts, from collection to sorting to reprocessing, have not received comparable subsidies, Sanborn said.

          Some of the big fossil fuel and chemical corporations are funneling money into projects meant to improve recycling ― though not nearly as much cash is going toward this effort. In January, 28 oil and gas, chemical and plastics companies, including Exxon, Shell, SABIC and Formosa, formed the Alliance to End Plastic Waste and collectively pledged $1.5 billion over five years for improving recycling infrastructure. That amount is far short of what’s needed to see real change start to ripple across the recycling industry, Siegler says. 

          Petrochemical companies, if they wanted to, would need to make investments of up to $20 billion every year for a decade to make sure that 50% of global plastics get recycled or reused, according to a McKinsey analysis. The Alliance said in a statement to HuffPost that it hopes its initial investment will encourage governments, banks and other big corporations to spend more on recycling. 

          Where Do We Go From Here?

          Conservationists still believe that recycling is a worthwhile endeavor, just not a silver bullet to fixing our plastic waste crisis.

          Recycling definitely has to be a part of the solution,” Genevieve Abedon, of Californians Against Waste, told HuffPost.

          Siegler years ago proposed a plastic tax to pay for much-needed recycling infrastructure. Charging plastic producers just a penny a pound ― roughly a 1% tax, since most resins cost a dollar a pound ― would raise $4 billion to $5 billion per year, Siegler estimated. 

          “The price of plastic is too low,” he told HuffPost. “It doesn’t reflect the environmental damage associated with plastic.” 

          His idea has not caught on.

          A landmark pair of bills in the California Legislature would help recyclers compete with virgin plastic producers by boosting demand for recycled plastic. The measures seek to force manufacturers to use more recycled materials in their plastic products.

          “If we can increase the demand for recycled plastic, investment will then flow through the whole recycling chain,” said Kara Pochiro, of the Association of Plastic Recyclers.

          Though the bills failed to pass before the end of the legislative session, they’ll be eligible for a vote again next year. 

          Consumer goods companies could make a big difference by signing long-term contracts with recyclers for material, Pochiro says. This would help insulate recycling companies from fluctuations in the commodity market and potentially stop more collapses like that of rePlanet. 

          Last November, beverage maker Nestle Waters North America signed a multiyear contract with CarbonLITE, a company that recycles and produces food-grade PET plastic. With this guaranteed demand, CarbonLITE is now building a new facility in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, that is expected to recycle more than 2 billion used bottles every year. 

          There are things that shoppers can do, too. 

          “Buy recycled,” Pochiro recommended. 

          Sanborn said that consumers who don’t like the plastic packaging they receive with their products should lay it all out on the floor, take a photo of the plastic, upload it to social media, tag the company that sent it to them and complain. 

          “Be really loud and squeaky. The squeaky wheels get greased,” she said. 

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          Bernie Sanders Hails Volunteer Army As Advantage Over Rivals

          Volunteers for the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have organized and hosted over 11,000 events, including more than 2,000 in California, the campaign announced Tuesday evening.

          The achievement, which top Sanders campaign organizers revealed in a conference call with over 7,000 supporters, reflects what the Sanders campaign sees as a secret weapon as it seeks to stand out in a crowded field of candidates: a “distributed” ― or volunteer-run ― organizing system that it innovated in the 2016 race and has fine-tuned.

          Joining the call with volunteers after several of his advisers spoke, Sanders affirmed that, although the campaign would engage in conventional tactics like television and radio advertisements, its strength was the devotion of its supporters, many of whom have become volunteers.

          “We are going to win this campaign because we … are going to have the strongest grassroots movement of any campaign,” he said. “That is how we win this thing. We win this going to our base, our strength of support.”

          The conceit of distributed organizing, which has its fair share of skeptics, is that campaigns can amplify by orders of magnitude the effect of the staff they employ directly by empowering exceptionally motivated volunteers to run their own house parties, lead their own canvasses and develop, and monitor their own voter contacts by phone and text message. It differs from traditional campaign volunteering in terms of the resources and technology the Sanders campaign, and others inspired by it, have expended on creating an infrastructure to facilitate the work of its most dedicated supporters.

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          Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at the Democratic National Committee’s summer meeting in San Francisco on Aug. 23.

          It will be difficult to fully measure the organizing technique’s effectiveness prior to Feb. 3, when Sanders competes in Iowa’s Democratic caucus.

          On Tuesday evening’s call, the campaign said its volunteers had made 2 million calls and sent 30 million text messages to voters in early states. It also recently concluded a two-week campus organizing boot camp, or “summer school,” that it says graduated more than 1,500 college and graduate school students who plan to serve as campaign ambassadors and organizers at their universities.

          A viral initiative earlier this month asking Sanders supporters to share on social media the life experience that brought them to the campaign ― dubbed “#MyBernieStory” ― doubled as a volunteer recruitment technique. The campaign directed Sanders supporters who used the campaign’s organizing app, Bern, to post “#MyBernieStory” on Twitter or Facebook to use a digital tool to contact several other voters by text message and encourage them to get involved in the campaign. The campaign estimates that it reached the equivalent number of voters through those digitally facilitated connections as it would normally reach from knocking on 63,000 doors.

          Critics of distributed organizing argue that it is no substitute for the professionally run field organizing teams that have powered successful presidential campaigns. And on that front, Sanders got a later start than some of his rivals, beginning hiring field organizers in the early states only in May. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, by contrast, already had 50 staff members in Iowa by that time.

          The Sanders campaign insists, though, that distributed organizing aims not to supplant traditional field organizing but to magnify its impact. It now has dozens of paid, full-time field organizers in each of the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, as well as in California, a Super Tuesday state with a primary open to all registered voters.

          The conference call noted the campaign’s distributed organizing strategy has gone from identifying and recruiting volunteers to now putting that volunteer army to work more aggressively. Campaign organizing leaders invited call participants to volunteer in real time to host a “Plan to Win” house party in September, where volunteers will bond with their peers and receive marching orders for the next phase of the campaign. The campaign said it received 1,700 commitments from volunteers on the call to host such house parties.

          The Sanders campaign is hoping to capitalize on the momentum it has developed in recent weeks after a series of high-profile policy rollouts and endorsements, including his first official declaration of support from a national labor union

          The Sanders campaign, which has tangled bitterly with media outlets and pollsters for what it believes is bias against the Vermont senator, touted a national poll released Monday that showed Sanders in a statistical three-way tie for first place with Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden.

          But Sanders still trails Biden in the averages of polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, states that are essential to his success.

          His campaign has argued that polls, which generally survey a universe of likely voters, do not account for the ways in which his campaign is seeking to turn out infrequent and new voters often left out of polling. At least one leading pollster has disputed the Sanders campaign’s analysis of the polls’ shortcomings.

          Still, the Sanders campaign believes its success hinges on reaching those non-traditional voters ― and sees distributed organizing as a key tool to do it.

          “We will win this election ― we will win the Democratic nomination, we will defeat Trump ― because we are going to bring out people who, in many cases, have not participated in politics before,” Sanders said Tuesday evening. “And I’m talking about a generation of young people who in my view are the most progressive generation in the history of our country ― anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobia, anti-religious bigotry.”

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