Fracking and the Election
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Early this year my colleague Shane Goldmacher and I met a group of Western Pennsylvania trade union leaders at an Italian restaurant outside of Pittsburgh to talk about fracking. They were all longtime Democrats, but they told us they were worried the party would choose a candidate who would attack the natural gas industry that provides livelihood for them and for thousands of people in Pennsylvania.
I caught up with the group again last week by phone and found most are now rallying behind Joseph R. Biden Jr.
President Trump has repeatedly and falsely accused the former vice president of planning to ban fracking. Many of the union leaders and members I spoke with said they take Mr. Biden at his word that he will protect fracking — and by extension the natural gas industry — even as he pursues a $2 trillion climate change plan.
“He wants it done properly. I don’t believe he wants to end fracking,” said Thomas Melcher, business manager of the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades Council, referring to Mr. Biden.
“We need to continue fracking to continue on with our gas lines. You take that away and you’re taking hundreds of thousands of jobs, and I don’t believe he wants to do that. He wants to create jobs,” Mr. Melcher said.
For climate activists, however, the goal of eliminating fracking is explicitly intertwined with phasing out natural gas. Reaching a goal of net-zero emissions before 2050, many activists say, is incompatible with new fossil fuel development of any type.
For now, climate activists and union leaders are finding a common cause in their effort to oust President Trump. And Mr. Biden seems to be appeasing both sides. He vowed, after pressure from liberal activists, to bar fossil fuel leaders from his transition team should he be elected, while also repeatedly assuring unions that he won’t ban fracking.
But both sides are likely to keep the pressure on if Mr. Biden wins the White House.
Jim Harding, a steamfitter for 30 years in Allegheny County told me, “I think we have his ear. If not, he’ll hear from us, believe me.”
Clean up your Halloween
Halloween is going to look a bit different this year because of the pandemic, but there could be a green lining: an opportunity to develop a more sustainable outlook on a typically high-waste holiday.
Need an example? Consider pumpkins. American farmers produced more than a billion pounds of them in 2018, according to the Department of Agriculture. Much of that total ends up decomposing in landfills and emitting methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas.
“The biggest issue with a lot of these holidays is that they’re extraordinarily wasteful,” said Amanda Cattermole, who runs a consulting firm that advocates for better chemical and sustainability management in supply chains.
Candy is another culprit. Last year, an estimated $2.6 billion worth of Halloween candy was sold in the United States. Some of those sweet treats, like the ones that contain palm oil, are particularly detrimental to the earth because of their link to deforestation. Then, there’s the problem of packaging. Many recycling centers don’t accept foil or plastic wrappers with food waste, so the tend to end up landfills with all those decomposing jack-o’-lanterns.
This year, by the way, Halloween chocolate and candy sales are up 13 percent over the year before, according to the National Confectioners Association.
Costumes and decorations are also an area of environmental concern. Since most people wear costumes only once or twice, the ones purchased from stores are typically designed with cheap materials. According to Ms. Cattermole, those materials are often among the worst for the planet, often going through hefty chemical processes during production. “There are so many steps involved and we just use more and more chemicals and wash them off with more and more water,” she said.
The good news is, there are some easy shifts you can make to clean up your Halloween, according to Katherine White, a professor at the University of British Columbia who studies sustainability.
The first is to set reasonable limits on how much stuff you acquire and, when possible, use household items you already have on hand instead. For example, skip the plastic treat-or-treating bucket and use a pillowcase.
“If you’re buying some junky decoration that you’re going to use once and it’s going to go in the trash, do you really need it?” she said.
Costume swaps are a growing part of the circular clothing economy worth exploring, Dr. White added. Costume rentals are also available in some cities.
If you’re celebrating with just family and friends this year, you could also try making your own treats, sans the single-use plastic. The New York Times Cooking site has suggestions for Halloween recipes.
And, coming back to those pumpkins: Consider shopping local. And, if you can afford it, buy organic pumpkins that haven’t been grown with pesticides. When the Halloween party is over, try composting. Here’s a guide to home composting from our Climate Team colleague Hiroko Tabuchi.
The changes forced upon people during Halloween this year could actually open the door to adopting new habits, as the normal rules do not apply. At least one study has shown that big life changes can create the perfect mood to adopt other new lifestyles.
“If you’re making a bigger change, you’re not stuck in these old ways anymore,” Dr. White said.
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