Every person affects the planet through consumption. Even if you were to stop driving, recycle, or join rallies against oil corporations, you would still need non-renewably generated electricity to be a student, work a job, use a phone or laptop, or eat anything that needed refrigeration. In addition, widespread plastics and the modern diet are so common and so inextricably linked to unsustainable and polluting methods of production that it is nearly impossible to completely mitigate personal environmental impact. And it seems like fewer and fewer Americans are willing to try. With this as our backdrop, we surveyed 51 students from Purdue about various topics pertaining to the environment. Firstly, we asked in our survey about what the students thought about climate change:
Despite the recent rise in climate change denial, 100% of students we surveyed agreed that global warming is real. This statistic is in comparison to national percentage of 69% who believe global warming is real, which is surprising, however Purdue students are generally better-educated on scientific topics. The surprise continued though, when we questioned whether people were aware that global warming was caused by humans.
As in the previous question, Purdue students bucked the trend of the beliefs of the average American, with 98% of surveyed students saying they were aware of this fact (and one attempting to conceal that they didn’t at least used a flawed rationale). The National average is 52%, a disturbingly lower percentage. According to Gallup and the New York Times, there is even a trend among college-educated Americans to be more skeptical of climate change than if they are less educated if their political beliefs conflict with climate science.
Despite the skepticism of the general public surrounding global warming, Purdue students are well aware of the phenomenon and are already acting to dampen its impacts.
One example of this is the ReNEWW House, an off campus house that tests technologies which enable sustainable living. Purdue students living in this house are testing and validating these technologies to provide insights on how future homes can reduce impacts on the environment. From an economic perspective, the ReNEWW house stays sustainable by harvesting extra power during the summer to mitigate the cost of extra energy usage in the winter. From an environmental standpoint however, the ReNEWW house has some room for improvement. Below demonstrates the energy usage in orange and the energy harvesting in white.
Although the project needs improvement in order to achieve full yearly sustainability, it is a step in the right direction on the behalf of Purdue’s students.
Next we asked whether the students had heard accounts from people they knew or had themselves experienced the impacts of global warming. 34 answered yes, 15 no, and 2 uncertain. We also asked if the students knew about the polar vortex phenomenon, and how the warming of the arctic has caused polar winds to migrate southwards, to which 37 answered yes and 14 no. There was generally no correlation between affirmative responses to the answers. This demonstrates that Purdue students are generally well aware of the currently-occurring environmental impacts of climate change in their own lives.
This question was followed up with when the students expected that global warming would start having major impacts:
As presented, just less than half of respondents thought that severe effects had already happened on a global scale as a result of global warming, with an additional 37.2% estimating that severe effects would become apparent in the next ten years. This indicates Purdue students are keenly aware of the impacts climate change is having on the planet as, whether or not large impacts have occurred, a majority of the students estimated the short-term impacts (<=5 years) of global warming as severe. This was reflected in students’ own awareness of their environmental impacts:
Only one student estimated their impact as negligible with the majority proclaiming self-awareness in regards to their environmental impact.
Their awareness is not simply theoretical - it is backed up by students’ travel choices around campus, with the majority of students driving infrequently and 22 respondents using the CityBus service ‘often’.
This is even in spite of 14 respondents living off campus, with the off campus residents using automobile and public transport and the same rate as on-campus residents. This means that the average carbon pollution generated by the average Purdue student, no matter where they live, is much lower than that of the average American.
Purdue students also appear to be very waste conscious, with the vast majority engaging in recycling, and trying to mitigate the amount of food waste they produce:
Although Purdue students seem to be very environmentally conscious about their transport habits and their waste habits, their dietary habits are not so good for the environment. Purdue students’ diets mirror the average American, with a measly 9 (17.6%) of respondents being vegetarian and 3 (5.9%) being vegan. This is still a vast improvement over the average American, where only 3.4% of people are either vegetarian or vegan . However, there is hope, as a solid majority of Purdue students would restrict their diets in order to reduce their environmental impact, with most of the rest responding with ‘maybe’ rather than ‘no’:
This is mirrored even more strongly when respondents were asked about changing their daily habits to reduce environmental damage:
Only three respondents answered in the negative, with one attempting to hide this behind collective responsibility.
Overall, this survey demonstrates the willingness and capability of the Purdue student body to recognize their own impact on the climate, and to do something about mitigating their environmental impacts.
Regardless of what people believe, 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree that global warming is real . Based off the ethical principle that ‘everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person’, everyone must include future generations as well as ourselves. With the consensus that global warming has been caused by human action, and will cause grievous environmental damage in future, personally we should take responsibility and do what we can to protect ourselves and future generations from the severe effects of climate change.
As a Purdue student there are many lifestyle choices you can take to prevent climate change. Some examples include those we listed in our survey, for example, changing your diet, taking public transport, recycling, conserving food and water, and so on. Outside of your individual impact is your influence on the lifestyles of those around you and your ability to change them. Whilst making one difference is great, your ability to influence others to make many will allow for a much greater impact to prevent climate change and keep future generations safe.
Other things to be done include contacting your dorm or apartment complex to make recycling more accessible and easier accomplished. Develop an idea for policy that Purdue Student Government can introduce to the city council. Create a club on campus or marketing campaign that educates students on climate change statistics. Create a petition for your local representative that communicates what Purdue students and future generations believe. Bring the subject of climate change and what you can do up with your family and friends, and talk about what they can do too. Join or fundraise for an organization like WWF or Greenpeace whose mission is to help safeguard our planet against environmental damage. The list is countless, and climate change is now, so let’s do something about it!
We as students, are constantly interacting with the environment, and we can affect it in many ways. We affect it by our actions, habits, and even our influence. Because we live on earth, essentially anything we do will affect the planet in some way. Staying up late to finish an assignment will use more electricity and shopping online requires processing and shipping, which requires energy and fuel to do. When it comes to habits things like turning off the faucet when brushing your teeth or taking quicker showers can help save water. Finally, when it comes to influence, our actions, habits, and words can influence others around us into taking positive action. If someone were to throw out an aluminum can simply say, “You know you can recycle those?”, can have an influence.
As Purdue students we interact with our environment in many ways. When in the classroom we use things like laptops, phones, and textbooks, which require energy and paper to use. Walking to class we see squirrels and take pictures of them to post on the Purdue Squirrels twitter page. (https://twitter.com/purduesquirrels?lang=en) When it’s cold outside we turn on heaters to stay warm. Weather these interactions have an adverse effect on our environment or not, it is obvious that we need these environments for our daily life. Making these environments sustainable is important to keeping these environments around. Moving to a more sustainable Purdue won’t be easy, but is possible. Doing things like using e-texts (with devices that run on renewable energy) to use less paper, planting trees to keep the squirrel population thriving, and maybe turning the thermostat down a few degrees during the winter are all ways to be more sustainable and protect our and others environments.
When one starts to calculate their planetary impact or footprint, it is hard to find a starting point. There are so many ways in which we consume earth’s resources that it is almost impossible to calculate an exact figure.
Most Purdue students love the taste of avocados. It only costs a dollar to add some to your sandwich at Potbelly. What they don’t realize is that it is not locally grown. They do not realize the amount of fuel that is used to transport the fruit to Indiana from Mexico or California where is it produced.
While calculating the planetary footprint of an average Purdue student, we need to consider the natural resources that are used to produce commodities that are consumed by them. Some of them include food and wood from plants and trees, livestock and fish products land for infrastructure. We also need to consider the impact on the environment while “taking care of” waste. The biggest impact on the planet occurs from carbon emissions from such productions and waste management.
A study conducted at Purdue University in 2007 showed that the entire university’s carbon footprint is 182,400 metric tons. The per capita carbon footprint was less than the national average. Based on these results, one would say that Purdue students are more eco-friendlily than other universities. However, this study was conducted in 2007. With the advancement of technology, the increase in the carbon footprint is inevitable. On calculating my own carbon footprint, I got a shocking number of 12 metric tons. It is safe to say, it is a matter of concern. With the increase in global population and increase in consumption of natural resources, there is a clear increase in the emissions. This trend can only seem to get worse. The rate at which we are going, we need resources from almost “1.5 Earths” to sustain us. In the near future, we will require “5 Earths” to sustain us.
The harm has been done. Now the real question is, how do we improve our condition? I often hear students say, “What is the point of me recycling one plastic bottle, there are millions of people out there who do not recycle.” What these students do not realize is every bottle counts, every contribution is vital.
The little things we do can help save the Earth. These deeds can also help save money especially for a college student. A basic task of turning off the light on leaving the room can help reduce the electricity bills. Switching from bottled water to tap water can save enough for a meal at Chipotle. Using public transportation instead of driving a car can help save money on insurance and gas. Needless to say it saves the trouble of finding parking on campus.
Our relationship to planet earth is long being viewed as son and mother. Indeed, Earth has been nurturing human along with other species. For millions of year, it made us evolve from some simple animal to complicate life form full of sentiments and creativity. To that, we should always remain grateful. But in recent centuries, human technology has rapidly developed, the result is the deep detriment to our mother nature.
It is ungrateful that us human keep asking from planet earth, and in exchange? We left all the waste and pollution back to our mother nature. It’s getting harder and harder to access to fresh air and forest as our society urbanizes. as We cannot anymore take advantage of a selfless “mother” because she is slowly dying. We have grown old enough to realize that we should start to give something positive back.
Throughout the course of study, I have learned various good ways of interacting with our planet earth. Recycling waste, reducing carbon emission etc. are principles we can follow in our daily basis. But a lot of people just do it whenever they feel like, therefore making these principles not sustainable. The main problem is that there is no Moral or ethical boundary when it comes to the problem of our deleterious environment. Some of the environmental problems we covered in this class like global warming, rising sea levels, and active diastrophism still seem to be too minor for people or countries that have not been suffering those problems. Some of those problems like global warming, as a matter of fact, is hard to realize the severity now because it doesn’t harm the majority of the people, and therefore people will try their best to minimize the severity of the environmental problems because they do not want some “fictional problems” or “hoax” to get in the way of their comfortable lifestyle. What people nowadays lack of are cognitions of the penetrance that their activities they are doing right now will harm the well-being of our future generation in both direct and indirect ways. People have to have a set of ethical principle that will alarm them that doing such things is no difference like murdering people, that their lifestyle is destroying the future our generation.
People should be required to have ethical principle for the sake our future. On the positive side, there are still a good amount of people that has kept such principles. In Purdue, I have seen numerous students who got rid of their cars to ride bikes in order to create a low-carbon community for other students and people. I see people resisting using plastic bags in Walmart, and I see even little kids bring their own bags for grocery. Such determination is priceless for our environment, and when I see those little kids are doing what’s right for our community, I start wondering what’s the excuse for adults?
Those principles are really not that hard to follow, you just need to do it from your heart.
For this blog post, we thought we would approach it a slightly different way. Rather than combining all our ideas into one single, overarching interpretation, we wanted to share our individual stories. Over the past few days, we have been collecting our trash and carrying it with us to make us feel our “footprint”. Below, we share our experiences and thoughts about our personal impact on the environment as well as an infographic we created to encourage Purdue students, like yourselves, to decrease your planetary footprint.
I think it's obvious I affect the planet in almost every action I take. The food I consume, light I use, every piece of trash I create has a cost associated with it. Some of those effects are tangible; for example, collecting the trash over the past couple of days has shown me that I do a pretty good job of minimizing physical waste. Others, like CO2 emissions, are harder to count.
As a Purdue student I interact with the environment every single day, both directly and indirectly. I’m studying to be a Civil Engineer, so I have to think about the environmental impact of buildings and structures. Indirectly, I think a lot of students harm the environment, through no fault of their own. Just think about how much energy it must cost to power every single building here on campus considering we have a power plant dedicated solely for Purdue.
We carried trash throughout the week and I didn’t come anywhere close to filling the bag. I just don’t create that much trash. I use recyclable or reusable bottles, I recycle almost all paper and avoid buying extra things I don’t need. But, overall, my impact is large. I am partially responsible for all the CO2 that is released from the power plant, as I need that power to light my dorm. I use a lot of water, on average, my showers last 20 minutes, which translates to about 40 gallons total. Even more water goes into making my food, vegetables or meat. I also drive a ton. Just the past weekend I drove about 220 miles! That alone created about .11 metric tons of CO2 emissions.
I am honestly not sure how to improve the planet. Beyond educating and informing those around me I don’t think I can do much as one person. I can try reducing the electricity I use, the water I use, and changing the types of foods I eat, but if a lot of other people don’t change my effort would be meaningless. I love the planet and if there is a single thing I could change to decrease my footprint I would do it, but there isn’t a magical solution. I take much more from the Earth than I will ever give back, but I try not to harm the environment directly. If I could drive a more fuel efficient car, I would, but money is tight. I recycle when I can and reduce waste but it can be hard. It's a lot of “I want to, but I can’t”.
During the past week, I took trash tracking to a new level, and for three days I carried my trash around campus with me. It was a challenge for sure, but eye-opening in the sense of actually “seeing my planetary footprint”. Over the course of the challenge, I was more aware of my eating choices, knowing that I would have to carry whatever I did not eat around with me for another 3 days. As a Purdue student, our team felt the best way to explore our footprint on campus was to personally track it. I feel that I negatively affect the planet by my choices, and there is plenty of room for improvement. For example, I often study in my room, and leave the TV on even when I am not watching it. Changing behaviors such as these and replacing them with utilizing the library, where lighting is used in a communal manner,conserving energy with this simple choice. Us as Purdue students interact with the environment in a variety of ways, both intentionally and unintentionally. During the winter months, when we crank up our thermostat in the dorms, without even thinking about it, or take a 30 minute scorching hot shower, just because we can. The decisions we make as college students are often motivated by ‘the path of least resistance’, and regarding healthy environmental choices, we tend to push them to the back-burner and stick with the easy options.
My personal planetary footprint is quite large, and is in desperate need of an intervention. My calculated “Earth Overshoot Day” is March 25th, meaning my water and energy usage is very unsustainable and it is vital for me to change my behaviors. I can help improve the state of the planet by not only altering my own personal behaviors, but sharing my knowledge and concerns with other students. Living in the dorms are convenient, but the negative environmental impacts incurred by residents often go unnoticed. In order to create positive environmental change on Purdue’s campus, and in turn a healthier planet, we need to educate ourselves about the harm we are doing, and how to rectify our wrongdoings.
The personal relationship I feel towards Earth has shifted during my time in POL 327, and throughout our “trash bag challenge” because I have learned about ways in which my everyday choices are impacting our planet, and how many of these actions cannot be erased. I feel empowered to make a change in my lifestyle in order to provide a better planet and life for my children. I look forward to spending time playing outside with my children, going to see the Grand Canyon, and taking them to see my alma mater, but in order to make that future a reality, we need to come together as a campus, and not only preserve Purdue, but the planet.
Through our group’s trash collection exercise, I found that I don’t seem to generate very much waste, and most of what I do generate, I recycle. However, there is a deeper story here. Since I live in the dorms and live on a meal plan, much of my planetary footprint is hidden from me. I do not have to pay for the exact amount of electricity or the exact amount of water I use or even the amount and types of food I eat, but I can still create estimates, which I did for our “Track Your Trash” assignment. With all of these planetary costs hidden, it is hard to get a real appreciation for just how big a single student’s footprint is.
With this difficulty in mind, I try to be a good citizen nonetheless. But, this notion of a ‘good citizen’ must be better defined. Pulling from the Global Warming’s Six Americas, I feel I am a concerned with respect to planet Earth (2). I generally try to recycle all I can, take only 5 minutes showers, and create efficient algorithms as a computer scientist. But, doing one’s individual duty will not save the planet. Hidden planetary costs of everyday life are the real contributor to one’s planetary footprint therefore more drastic measures are necessary to make a dent in the current planetary plight.
As discussed in class, individualization of actions is not the only way to contribute to saving to the environment and decreasing planetary footprints and it is certainly not the best way (1). The most effective ways are to recruit other people to join the cause and then recruit even more people. These ways include contacting elected officials, campaigning for future officials, joining and participating in organizations such as Greenpeace, and writing articles to reach a wider audience.
Finally, knowing these more drastic actions I can take, what do I do? I do believe that Earth is a natural Eden that should be preserved for future generations to enjoy and for its uniqueness of life in our little part of the universe. As I feel many people in this class will agree, I should do more to convince others, but this takes time and energy, which can be hard to spare, especially with busy college life. However, time is of the essence with environmental degradation, so if not now, then when? As for my actual actions, I do vote for officials I believe in, but I’ve yet to actively campaign for candidates I believe in because I think this type of response is too lax to save the environment and needs to be strengthened.
Summary: The results of our “trash bag challenge” were informative on different scales for each of us, however we did find common struggles that we all faced. Beyond the trash aspect, by digging deeper into our energy and water consumption, we discovered that we don’t really realize how much we are using in the moment, but realize after it is too late.
(1) Michael F. Maniates, "Individualization: Plant a tree, buy a bike, save the world?", Global Environmental Politics 1(3) (2001): 31-52.
(2) “Global Warming’s Six Americas” Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. Retrieved from “http://climatecommunication.yale.edu/about/projects/global-warmings-six-americas/
(3) “Global Footprint Network” What is Your Ecological Footprint?
(4) “Life Cycle Studies : Pencils” WorldWatch Institute
What is a Planetary Footprint?
A planetary footprint, also known as an ecological footprint, is a measure of ecological resources needed to sustain the world’s population for a given lifestyle. According to the Global Footprint Network, this measure is calculated by tracking the natural resources consumed, waste produced, and carbon emitted over six categories of surface area: cropland, grazing land, fishing grounds, built-up land, forest area, and carbon demand on land. The Global Footprint Network offers a footprint calculator for the public to determine the sustainability of their own individual choices. First, the calculator analyzes the lifestyle of an individual, primarily his or her dietary choices, housing, and common modes of transportation. Next, the calculator determines how many “Earths” are required to support the world if everyone lived as that individual. The number of Earths required is simply the ratio of the amount of Earth’s resources required by that individual to the current amount of resources available. This ratio helps to visualize the planetary footprint, or amount of resources needed to sustain the world for a particular lifestyle.
Results from Purdue Students
To analyze the global Footprint of a Purdue student, our group gathered the questions from the Global Footprint Network’s footprint calculation survey and asked sixty of our peers to answer the questions honestly. The following illustrate the results from the student surveys:
Using the most popular answers from our survey, we tested the footprint calculator from the perspective of a common Purdue student. We found that the world requires at least 4.1 “Earths” to support the world’s population if everyone were to live as an average Purdue student. In other words, if everyone were to live as a Purdue Student, we would require 4.1 times the current amount of resources available to sustain healthy populations.
In Naomi Klein’s article “Capitalism vs. Climate”, she mentions that individual action alone will never be an adequate response to the climate change crisis. So why should individuals care about helping the planet? According to a survey that our group conducted, 60% of Purdue students think about the environment when making their everyday choices, but 61.7% believe that Purdue University does not provide the means necessary to be eco-friendly on campus. So what can a Purdue student do if they want to be more green on campus? One way a Purdue University student can improve the state of the planet is by getting involved in student organizations and campaigns on campus.
Clubs and Organizations
Like most students know, if you want to get involved in a new club or organization the best place to look is Boiler Link. By simply typing in the key words “green” or “sustainable” a dozen or so environmentally focused organizations are generated that you can be a part of. Here are just a few:
Boiler Green Initiative
Boiler Green Initiative is a student organization that focuses on interdisciplinary projects on campus and in the greater Lafayette area each semester. According to their website their mission is to “facilitate green initiatives by challenging the Purdue community to become environmentally engaged”. Currently they have three committees or focus areas which include the Stormwater Management Committee, Recycling Committee, and the Green Roof Committee. Boiler Green Initiative also includes and umbrella of other organizations around campus that activity work together including the Purdue Student Sustainability Council, the Electric Vehicle Club, the Purdue Energy Forum, the Environmental Science Club, and the West Lafayette Go Greener Commission.
The goal of Green Greeks is to make Fraternity, Sorority and Cooperative houses more sustainable by educating members on how to properly implement sustainable practices in their chapter houses. One example would be teaching members on how to correctly recycle. Currently, this club has expanded to also offering a one credit course that is centered around a research project that focuses on finding the best possible way to implement recycling into a chapter house. They recently presented their research plan at the Purdue Undergraduate Research Conference on April 10th.
Engineers for a Sustainable World
The individuals involved in this organization are devoted to finding solutions to local and global sustainability challenges. The goal of this group is to bring together students, faculty members, and community to leaders to incorporate sustainable design in the engineering program at Purdue through projects, courses and outreach. Currently, the organization is working several projects including an app that can turn off lights from anywhere and a reusable bag sharing program with the Environmental Science Club.
On Campus Campaigns
The Final Straw project, which was created by Purdue students and faculty back in 2017, aims to help Purdue students become more aware of how dangerous straws are to the environment, and how there are easy ways to reduce straw waste. The campaigns’ goal is to eventually make Purdue a straw free campus! Look for them around campus to find out more info!
Our group collectively feels we have an obligation to ourselves, future generations, and the planet to maintain a safe and sustainable environment. This begins with an appreciation for what the planet has supplied us with as a home. As humans, we continuously take resources from the planet and use them to our benefit. Ethically, we would focus on principles that would lead to a more sustainable future. The Earth on its own is a finite resource, so as we slowly use what it has provided for us, it is only right that we maximize the utility and reusability of its resources. We also have an obligation to give back to the world as well. People should always be conscious about the way they use petroleum and other non renewable products because the access to them in the future will be limited. The sooner we switch from relying on these quickly disposable products will also be the time when we start giving back to the planet by reducing pollution through industry. We all contribute to air pollution through transportation either indirectly or directly, so to combat that we would also like to take less long car trips and try to bike more often on campus. We feel that we can also limit the amount of freshwater resources that we personally use by being minimalistic in our consumption. This means taking shorter showers, turning off tap water when not in use, and fixing leaks, to start. On a larger scale, these principles would translate to us buying more efficient home products. In our lives and careers, we would also like to contribute to the development of technology that would help to address these sustainability issues.
Ecological Footprint. (2018). Retrieved from
Hilgert, Nick. “Purdue Students Reduce Waste through 'Final Straw' Project.” Purdue Exponent,
20 Mar. 2017, www.purdueexponent.org/features/article_34091775-4f63-5e92-aad7-0dd7b54a5b7c.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=user-share.
“Boiler Green Initiative Official Website.” Boiler Green Initiative Official Website,
The research concerning the health effects of BPAs ultimately led to the multitude of bans on them in plastic products. After extensive research, scientists concluded that BPA exposure has been linked to increased risk for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. This research and these conclusions ignited bans of BPA which has saved many lives (1). This example supports the idea that scientists should be involved in policy making; however, while science is important it should not trump all other factors in making an informed policy decision.
Science is an important part of a lot of policy because the policy makers may not fully understand all aspects of an issue at a level that will allow them to create a fair and reasonable policy on a certain issue. Policy regarding scientific issues should come from scientific conclusions. Scientific research usually is pertinent to the regulations that are put in place and is generally necessary for officials and politicians to make well informed decisions.
Despite the importance of science, scientists cannot create policy on their own. They may not have the same abilities and skills to make effective policy as politicians and representatives. They are not necessarily well practiced in necessary policy making skills such as handling international and diplomatic relations, gaining public support, and enacting behavioral change. Additionally, especially in America public opinion and the voice of the public is crucial due to the style of government. This means, that people want policies enacted by their representatives because these are the people that were voted for and trusted to make reasonable and effective policies. It takes scientific research to evaluate the effectiveness of a policy as well. Therefore, while science is important to policy, policy makers with political savvy are necessary to create rules and regulations.
As Indiana’s Land Grant University, Purdue has a specific focus on agricultural and mechanical sciences. The Hatch Act of 1887 provided Purdue federal funding in exchange for creating agriculture extension which links the agricultural research to the community (2). This sets up Purdue to influence many people as well as policy through their ties with the federal and state governments. In particular, the College of Agriculture has close ties with the Indiana state government. Purdue operates experimental agricultural research stations, runs state science agencies, manages Indiana’s Cooperative Extension Agency and works closely with county and state governments. All of these state agencies are avenues in which Purdue scientists’ research impact state policies. Moreover, examples of Purdue-run state agencies include the Indiana State Chemists Office and the Indiana State Climate Office.
Purdue Cooperative Extension is responsible for providing science-based information and education for fields ranging from agriculture to health and human sciences for the state of Indiana. Purdue professors who are extension agents apply their research to make it applicable to the public. Although extension agents are not always directly involved in the policy making process, their expertise is used to help local communities. Policy makers in the state of Indiana use their scientific information to create some policies. This information provides policy makers reliable scientific data which helps them to make informed decisions. Information and outreach provided by Purdue extension is a valuable tool that supports Indiana’s farmers and the environmental health of the state (3).
The Indiana State Climate Office and the Indiana State Chemist Office both are state funded offices staffed by Purdue faculty. The Indiana State Climate Office serves other state agencies and the public to provide up-to-date climate information and advice. For example, the office is frequently interviewed by state officials during the policy making process. They have been involved in state task forces during drought times (4). Like the Indiana State Climate Office, the Indiana State Chemist Office is a Purdue-operated state agency. They are tasked with enforcing state fertilizer and pesticide laws, and they help to create policies regarding environmental protection (5). Although both offices have bureaucratic roles, they become a trusted source for policy makers, which is valuable for creating lasting policies. Faculty in Purdue’s College of Agriculture have a unique position, their research can directly influence the policy makers.
Outside of Purdue’s College of Agriculture, Purdue faculty conduct research that can potentially influence policy decisions, as the University encourages senior faculty members to become involved in policy making. For example, a group from the Environmental and Ecological Engineering is investigating the chemical emissions into water from the cured-in-place-pipe (CIPP) water pipe repair sites. CIPP is used to repair water pipes after they have been damaged, however, the chemicals used to make this technology feasible cause harm when they enter the environment. The Purdue faculty working on this research are hoping that the conclusions they make will influence regulations regarding the technology so that it is safer for people (6).
Social science is important in the policy making process because it is important to understand how a population functions before imposing policies on them. Policies and regulations directly impact the general public, so it is crucial to fully understand the demographic of these people before deciding on effective policies and regulations. Lawmakers must understand all aspects of a population and be able to perform a proper analysis from a social, psychological, and even economic standpoint before deciding both the best policies to follow through with and how to gain public support for these ideas.
The Purdue Policy Research Institute is a good example of people looking at social science. This is a collection of Purdue students and faculty working on global challenges. They conduct scholarly research or perform scientific experiments to reach conclusions about policies regarding some of the world’s most significant issues. Their three main focus areas are “impacting global health”, “impacting global sustainability”, and “impacting global security”. They evaluate policy and whether it is effective based on the demographic it impacts (7).
Outside of Purdue, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funds Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessment (RISA) programs. The RISA program offers expertise for climate adaptation projects with local, state and tribal nation governments. One example is that the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) is working with tribal nations in the southwest to make climate adaptation policies. Researchers are working with specific groups of people and trying to adapt policies so that they work for their lifestyle (8).
The Intersection of Science and Policy
Science and policy share an important core theme: enriching the lives of people. The goal of any scientific research is to enrich well-being by either enriching understanding of the physical world or humanity. Policy shares the goal to increase the well-being of people, however policy come in downstream of most science. For creating environmental policies, the physical science is the first step, as it identifies problem areas, then policy-makers step in to create feasible methods to address these problems. Social scientists work through the entire chain to help policy makers devise the most effective solution.
Furthermore, science aims to increase our understanding about a system so that this knowledge can be applied. Policy makers are tasked interpreting those facts. Social scientists help in the process of evaluating the policy. The different aspects of social and behavioral science should be analyzed outside of policy making so there are proper conclusions made before regulations are put in place. Science is necessary in conjunction with creating policy. The science in this case is the analysis of a population while the policy is applying what was learned to best serve people.
In order to create the best environmental policies, scientists should be involved in the process, however, politicians are best equipped for creating the policy itself. Policy makers work to apply the scientific knowledge to directly influence the lives of people. Both social and physical sciences have great value in the political realm. Science should be an impartial, unbiased statement the extent of human knowledge, and policy makers should acknowledge science when creating policies.
Science is the “pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systemic methodology based on evidence” so why isn’t it used more when creating public policy? In such a decisive political climate one would think any tool, such as science, that can provide answers and make decision-making easier, would be greatly valued. Yet it often seems that scientists get overlooked in politics. We interviewed two Purdue Professors, Dr. Andy Freed and Dr. Otto Doering to examine the role of scientists in policy. Dr. Freed is a professor in the EAPS department researching earthquakes as well as the tectonic history and dynamics of different planets. He has collaborated internationally to help mitigate damage of future earthquakes by forecasting the locations and scale of futures earthquakes in countries such as Japan and Haiti. Dr. Doering works on the economic analysis of environmental issues and was the director of the Purdue Climate Change Research Center. In 2007 he served on an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which shared the Nobel Peace Prize for its work.
Should scientists be involved in policy making? Purdue professors definitely think so. The Purdue Climate Change Research Center (PCCRC), founded in 2004, has established connections between over 200 faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from 23 different departments. (8) The goal of the PCCRC is to remove barriers between departments and disciplines to explore the “causes and impacts of climate change” as well as to pursue “novel ideas for mitigation and adaptation.” Dr. Doering, an active member and past-director of the PCCRC, says that “being a scientist does not automatically convey expertise to one’s opinions on policy” but agrees that scientists should get involved when they have something to offer and related experience.
The most effective way for scientists like those at the PCCRC to influence policy is to have a seat at the table. As scientists who have have first-hand experience in the scientific method, it is imperative to include those who have deeper insights about research data at a position of influence. Scientists understand the importance of research and are the best advocates for scientific funding. (3) Science relies on evidence to make claims, so including scientists in politics has the potential to help the government take into account of all facts and data before making decisions.
Professor Freed explained that “scientists are effective when they can break down even the most complex studies into basic take home points to policymakers who are actually interested in learning the truth.” This is exactly what the PCCRC is accomplishing with its Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment (IN CCIA). (9) The IN CCIA is a series of reports that aims to provide “accessible, credible climate science to Hoosiers” to help Indiana residents and politicians understand “how a changing climate will affect state and local interests.” Dr. Doering says that one of the biggest challenges faced by scientists in policy is that “Politics is often inherently messy as compared with science. Politicians often find it difficult to understand scientists and want answers, not ambiguity.” The IN CCIA faces this challenge head on––with over 100 climate change experts and over 50 participating organizations––the PCCRC is creating nine topic-based reports that includes “relevant information for decision-makers” and strive to “increase dialogue about Indiana’s changing climate among the public and decision makers.” They’ve worked with many reviewers throughout the process to gather feedback and have discussions to make these reports as easy to understand and useful as possible. Their hope is that making evidence of climate change accessible to everyone and clearly describing its impact will cause more citizens to get involved as well as help politicians and decision makers be more effective when creating climate and environmental policy.
Scientists have a duty to communicate research results to the world, but it is a different realm for scientist to be advocating for a political action. Scientists turn away from being involved in political debate as it would become “stealth advocacy,” or when scientists claim to be focusing on science but are seeking to push a political agenda. (2) The act of a scientist who tries to advance a policy might seem to undermine the scientific advice and come across as stepping outside of their scientific authority. However, we live in a democracy and scientists also have rights to advocate for their personal views. Scientists have an authority in that they specialize in fields that others do not, and they can provide personal views and solutions to problems without discrediting their value as scientists.
Another reason why scientists do not involve themselves in policy making is the frustration with the state of politics. Professor Freed states, “While I am interested in policy and politics, I feel that the agenda of most politicians would render my advice mute. Thus, I am much more interested in devoting my time to teaching, research, and community outreach where I feel I can have more of an impact.” Professor Freed also brought up that “humans in general [...] do not seek the truth” but rather tend to “gravitate to a tribe that we identify with [..]” Then “confirmation bias takes over — the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's beliefs, so as to continue to get along with our community. So if you do not believe that climate change is real or caused by humans, [...] no scientific argument is going to sway you.” To accept scientific finds means setting aside beliefs, personal experiences because they might be wrong. Since scientific findings can be difficult to accept and frequently have policy and economic ramifications, it is often controversial. (5) Along with so many scientists’ aversion towards the possibility of discrediting themselves by getting involved in politics, they have also been frustrated with the resistance from confirmation bias and messy politics. This leads to a lack of scientific representation in public office as seen today.
Currently, there is one physicist, one microbiologist, one chemist, and eight engineers in Congress, with only two Congressmen with PhDs in STEM. (6) Given that so many of the issues we face today depending on science, the involvement of scientists in Congress is incredibly low. Some scientists such as Michael Eisen, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, is running for a seat in the US Senate in 2018 because he is “worried that the basic and critical role of science in policymaking is under a bigger threat.” (7). After President Trump’s election there was a “political awakening” among the scientific community in response to the dwindling number of scientist who are in public office. (1) Professor Freed also sees science as a major role in creating environmental policy, and that the current government is not effectively utilizing scientists. He suggests that the best way to initiate change is “through the ballet box [and] removing all climate change deniers from serving in any political office…” Professor Doering, however, stated that “it is too early to tell [whether the current government is effectively utilizing scientists] with the radical changes that are underway in the federal government’s science [community].
In a country where so many people have benefited from the developments in science, there needs to be more involvement of scientists in government and public policy. Not every political body needs to have a PhD in a STEM field. Science provides us with data and facts, and what we do with the facts is inherently political. Many scientists argue that “they should be quiet and let their data speak for itself.” (1) Nevertheless, not having a seat at the table means the power of influencing further scientific development lies in the hands of those who can interpret the data without having had the experience of the scientific process. Whether climate change is harming the world’s population or not is a scientific question, but deciding what to do with the data has to do with politics. (4) It leads to political questions of whether we should invest in the safety of citizens or the profits of corporations. If the latter is favored by politicians but the intent is masked by the denial of science to attract voters, it is no longer a political question but rather an ethical one. Maybe it is not the duty of a scientist to become a political actor, but the very least there is some civic responsibility to advocate for change that could better the lives of future generations. Engaging in politics is a personal choice for all, including scientists.
1. The New York Times article “In Age of Trump, Scientists Show Signs of a Political Pulse” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/06/science/donald-trump-scientists-politics.html
2. NPR article “When Is It OK For Scientists To Become Political?” https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2014/10/16/356543981/when-is-it-ok-for-scientists-to-become -political
3. Harvard University Opinion Blog Post “Scientists: Why they should run for office and why we should vote for them” http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2017/opinion-scientists-run-office-vote/
4. The Verge article “Yes, Science Is Political” https://www.theverge.com/2017/1/19/14258474/trump-inauguration-science-politics-climate-cha nge-vaccines
5. Psychology Today’s article “Science Is Not Political” https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mental-mishaps/201703/science-is-not-political
6. Profile on Membership of 115th Congress https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R44762.pdf
7. Science Mag Article on Michael Eisen http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/01/qa-michael-eisen-bids-be-first-fly-biologist-us-senate
8. Purdue Climate Change Research Center http://www.purdue.edu/discoverypark/climate
9. Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment https://ag.purdue.edu/indianaclimate/about/
10. NPR article “ Should Scientists March? U.S. Researchers Still Debating Pros And Cons” Photo https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/02/23/515584634/should-scientists-march-u-s-re searchers-still-debating-pros-and-cons
11. “Research concludes WE ARE DESTROYING EARTH Could you kindly rephrase that?” Cartoon https://inel.wordpress.com/2008/07/10/ucs-science-idol-cartoon-contest-vote-b4-8-august-2008/
Counseled by Science: Purdue Scientists and Environmental Policy - Ryan Gansemer, Mikaela Meyer, Bruno Sanchez-Ortiz (Group 18)
Historically, science and policy have had an intimate relationship that has lead to positive direct and indirect effects on society. After research was published exposing the health risks associated with smoking, it did not take long for important smoking bans, like the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act--the first statewide ban on smoking in most public spaces--to start popping up . As soon as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were identified as the primary cause of ozone destruction, the Montreal Protocol phased out their industrial production . Each of these policies were based on the results of scientific research. More specifically, scientists can provide policy-makers information to help them better understand an issue, identify solutions that may not be identifiable by policy makers, and provide the necessary analysis for predicting the effects of policy decisions . People tend to believe that constructing policies around scientific knowledge makes for higher quality solutions. Recently, however, opinions have started to shift regarding the role of science in policy-making. Some people have developed a more cynical mentality, arguing that science is used only to rationalize a specific stance or policy decision made by a political group . This mentality is especially evident in the climate change political arena, where climate change deniers and their opposition accuse each other of supplying false scientific facts, which effectively discredits any factual information applicable to their arguments. The role of science in policy-making will continue to change, but it is a fact that science will always have a place in the process. Science provides results about certain natural processes, and policy-makers attribute values to these results when they make decisions.
Some politicians think that scientists fail to understand all the issues at play in a policy decision . The stereotypical scientist who spends all of his/her time in a lab might not be able to work well with policy-makers who might have less technical backgrounds. To better understand the relationship between science and policy-making, we decided to talk to Purdue scientists about their past experiences with “doing science” and “doing policy.”
Dr. Otto Doering, Agricultural Economics
Dr. Doering began working in public policy after he started working at Purdue in 1972. At Purdue, especially in the 1970’s, it was not unusual for an Agricultural Economist to be “doing science” and “doing policy.” Dr. Doering decided to go along with this norm. Since then, he has played a variety of roles on the state and national levels, ranging from directing the Indiana State Utility Forecasting Group to currently serving on the EPA Science Advisory Board. Dr. Doering’s research has covered a range of policy topics, including preserving water quality and conserving natural resources.
To him, “doing science” differs from “doing policy” because scientists only care about “primary impacts” while policy-makers care about “secondary impacts.” The example he gave to illustrate this distinction is that scientists might see that a tax bill reduces taxes by a certain amount, while policy-makers are concerned about how the bill will affect the income distribution of the population. When “doing science,” scientists can ensure their political views do not influence their results by bouncing ideas and results off of colleagues who have different views.
Because Dr. Doering has seen his own research incorporated into enacted policies, he recognizes how effective scientists can be at informing legislators. For example, he helped to save the public $200 million over the course of ten years with one of the conservation programs he developed while serving with the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS). His experiences helped him realize that scientists are most effective at influencing policy decisions when they “do their homework,” remain respectful, and communicate in terms that help policy makers understand the impacts of certain results. Dr. Doering told a story about a former chief lobbyist for the Audubon Society whose academic background was in biology. When she needed to talk to policy-makers, she “did her homework” by learning the technical aspects of a proposal and gaining an understanding about the political landscape. She was able to talk about the political fallout that could result from enacting or failing to enact a particular proposal. Dr. Doering stressed that scientists should only get involved in policy topics relevant to what they know. 
Dr. David Johnson, Industrial Engineering and Political Science
Dr. Johnson received his Ph.D. in Policy Analysis from the Pardee RAND Graduate School to prepare to work on solving some of the world’s big problems. This unique graduate program gave Dr. Johnson the “bizarre and awesome” opportunity to begin working on a project with the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) in Louisiana. He worked directly with CPRA and others at RAND Corporation to develop a Coastal Louisiana Risk Assessment model. The model has been effectively used to evaluate state-proposed projects on the basis of how well they reduce damage in Louisiana’s coastal region . Today, Dr. Johnson continues evaluating and making improvements to the model, and he works on a variety of other energy and environmental policy projects. 
Dr. Amisha Shah, Civil Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering
Dr. Shah is an assistant professor in Environmental Engineering with research interests in water chemistry processes, specifically with relation to water treatment and sustainable water reuse. According to Dr. Shah, it is common for aspects of environmental engineering research to find its way into environmental policies. Dr. Shah has been involved with a variety of research projects, from evaluating the impacts of carbon capture technology on water quality to assessing the impacts of ultraviolet disinfection of drinking water.
Currently, she is a part of a project that evaluates the impacts of disinfectants on disinfection byproduct formation for different water qualities. This project is getting support from the EPA and is using water samples from across the country. The results of this project could possibly help guide the standards set for processes for drinking water treatment. While she has never done any “pure environmental policy research,” most of the research she has done will always have some sort of potential policy implication. Even though the opportunity to have research directly applied into policy decisions is not always present, Dr. Shah notes that the rules and regulations adopted by organizations like the EPA are definitely informed by the results of scientific experiments, and these organizations have always considered researchers’ data when setting standards.
Dr. Shah sees the value of science in decision-making when it comes to green politics. She feels that without scientists, policy-makers could not make informed regulations about things like water, soil, and air quality; land management; and energy efficiency. It would be like shooting at a target blindfolded. When it comes to defectors, Dr. Shah shares that emphasizing that your results are scientific and as unbiased as possible to these people is the best way to approach them. 
So, should scientists be involved in policy-making?
We agree with the interviewees: scientists have a place in the policy-making process. While it is not advised that scientists use their positions to assert their personal opinions, it should be considered a responsibility of some scientists to help policy-makers, especially if their research is being funded by public dollars and is applicable to the policy at hand. Scientists can help directly or indirectly. According to Robert Lackey of the EPA, scientists have the responsibility to “contribute to the policy process” and to “correct misinterpretations of science” at any stage of policy-making . It is important that scientists remain engaged in environmental policy-making throughout the whole process because their expertise and guidance is necessary for lawmakers to make the most informed decisions when it comes to natural resources and the environment. Michael Mann, a climate scientist from Penn State University, fervently shared that their duty as citizens and their authority as scientists should be used to advocate for more science in policy decisions. In a column for the New York Times, Mann wrote, “If scientists choose not to engage in the public debate, we leave a vacuum that will be filled by those whose agenda is one of short-term self-interest” . Because few lawmakers understand science at the level of a scientist, researchers need to speak up on behalf of the scientific community about the current state of issues surrounding science, such as climate change and its impacts.
Scientists serving as social servants: Subverting subjectivity in sovereignty - Jacob Alcott, Joseph Barr, Namaluba Malawo (Group 17)
Science in Policy
In an era of “fake news” and polarizing politics, it can be hard to discern fact from fiction. Politics by nature is a realm rife with subjectivity, and by extension the policy that emerges from the political process can be convoluted, contradictory, or simply misguided. Science, on the other hand, is a field uniquely oriented around seeking truth, objectivity, and fact. It would be logical, then, to involve science in policy-making, so as to establish the facts as well as possible. Especially regarding environmental policy, science and the understanding of why something occurs is incredibly important. The public is often torn between two perspectives of the future: one in which environmental action sacrifices economic productivity for the good of the planet, and another in which inaction leads to sustained economic growth, but a horrifically damaged environment, perhaps one beyond repair. With such disparate and harrowing views, it can be quite refreshing to have an indisputable truth to which to turn. As such, especially concerning the environment, science should be involved in policy-making as much as possible. Scientists should be consulted whenever it is relevant, because science is not subject to the whims of lobbyists or the desire to be reelected. Policy-makers should base their work on actual research, rather than raw emotion. Science has the potential to reassure the public of its officials’ competence and its own security in the world.
Policy and Purdue Scientists
We discussed the issue with Dr. Daniel Chavas, Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Science here at Purdue University. He specializes in extreme weather events, like tornadoes and tropical cyclones. Chavas stresses the significance of scientists’ ability to answer questions, especially of the public, in an objective and informed manner. However, he also recognizes policy as a function of values, whereas science is one of facts, and that “agreement on science does not necessarily equate to agreement on policy.” It is interesting to consider the role of scientists in policy as more passive than active. Chavas finds his and other scientists’ function to be serving as repository of information to be queried, rather than a moving force in the political sphere. Basing one’s thoughts off popular culture, contrarily, might lead one to believe policy is driven solely by outspoken activists, but Chavas’ view certainly calls that into question. This is logical and parallel to our viewpoint. By staying away from vocal activism, scientists retain their status as impartial purveyors of the truth, leaving the ethicism and interpretations of such up to those for whom it is a livelihood.
Chavas is also enthusiastically positive about his experience in public policy. Like any scientist worth his or her salt, he appreciates the different perspectives offered by discussion with the public. He also noted the frustration involved with disagreeing opinions, and how this can be solved by mutual compassion. This is quite the intriguing proposition one might not consider straight away. Especially in the realm of public policy, it can be quite easy to fall in the trench of one’s own ideology and utterly ignore any contrary reasoning. Chavas, however, offers a refreshing perspective communicating how listening to differing opinions in turn makes one’s own more listenable and facilitates productive discussion as a whole.
Finally, Chavas views his work in policy as ultimately successful. He measures success as how effectively and positively he can spread information. For him, beneficial public work is having a respectful, informed conversation with someone who in turn disseminates the information gained to his or her friends and family. This exposes one of the most significant dichotomies between scientists and policy-makers: while one is motivated by spreading the truth and maximizing the potential of his or her work, the other is motivated primarily by satisfying his or her agenda and pleasing his or her constituents and lobbyists. Where a politician would see simply creating discussion as a neutral activity at best, this is the pinnacle of achievement for a scientist such as Chavas. One of Chavas’ most stringent points is that scientists are supposed to inform, not persuade, and this is most certainly upheld by his measure of success, and the motivations and experiences of his work as a whole.
Policy vs. Science and the “Honest Act”
Taking a current look that the role of environmental science in the world of policy, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently made news by claiming his agency would stop using what he called “secret science”; studies and research whose raw data is not released to the public (Aschwanden). Pruitt’s announcement was inspired by the so called “Honest Act” introduced by Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, which has passed the House and is currently under deliberation of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The critical portion of the legislation reads : “This bill amends the Environmental Research, Development, and Demonstration Authorization Act of 1978 to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating a covered action unless all scientific and technical information relied on to support such action is the best available science, specifically identified, and publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results.”
While Pruitt’s policy could be easily overturned by a new director, the “Honest Act” would invoke Congress’s power of congressional oversight, and would bind the EPA to only use publicly available data until the bill was overturned, much in the same way the CDC has been barred from researching gun violence in the United States and any link it may have to mental illness. While on the surface this may seem like a move to combat potentially unverifyable information, many scientists around the globe reacted with outrage as their work often involves data from participants who only agree to offer their information on the basis it remains confidential, such as health records or identifiable information. (Friedman) So while science can often be brought into the world of policy, policy can certainly shape the way of science, especially if that science gets in the way of pure politics. It’s important then that when merging these two very different worlds, the integrity and intention of research remains to seek the truth. As put by Dr. Chavas; “it is also important to recognize that policy is principally about values -- which can vary from one person to the next -- while science focuses on facts. Agreement on science does not necessarily equate to agreement on policy”.
Aschwanden, Christie. There’s Still No Such Thing As Sound Science. FiveThirtyEight. March 29th 2018. https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/theres-still-no-such-thing-as-sound-science/
Friedman, Lisa. The E.P.A. Says It Wants Research Transparency. Scientists See an Attack on Science.
The New York Times. March 26th 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/26/climate/epa-scientific-transparency-honest-act.html Full text of House Bill 1430:https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/1430
(Special thanks to Dr. Chavas!)
Banning plastic bag bans: Indiana’s Contribution to Ocean Governance? - Yuxuan Chen, Cole Janssen, Sabrina Sutton (Group 16)
Indiana’s ban on plastic bags was signed into effect in March of 2016. The bill prohibits municipalities from banning, taxing, or restricting the use of single use plastic bags. The bill saw mostly Republican support in the Senate. Senator Brent Steele, the bill’s sponsor, said that business and industry groups were opposed to regulating plastic bags as the rationale for the bill (IndyStar).
Multiple municipalities and states across the country have been doing the exact opposite of Indiana’s bill by taxing or restricting single use plastic bags. In fact, several municipalities within Indiana were in the process or already restricting plastic bags. One of these specific municipalities was Bloomington, IN. Bring Your Bag Bloomington was founded in 2014 had been working for two years to get city council members to restrict plastic bag use in Bloomington. Then the bill was signed into law and more or less eliminated all the work this group had done in an attempt to help do their part. Ron Bacon, the bill’s author, says that the state did not want a patch-work of plastic bag policies across the state, and that keeping plastic bags would help save jobs. The members of the group believe that this issue should have been one handled by local governments and not the state (Downing, K).
As mentioned earlier many states across the country have done the opposite of Indiana and banned or restricted in some form the use of single use plastic bags. While in most states this discussion is left to local municipalities, California was the first state to ban plastic bags across the state. It has now been over a year since the plastic bag ban was implemented in California and as the Los Angeles Times put it “this momentous change was not a big deal.” There was no substantial conflict after the ban was implemented; people just had to adjust their lifestyles to live without plastic bags. Businesses that used plastic bags also did not see too much of change after the change was implemented. The only big difference California has seen is less plastic bags on their beaches. In fact, plastic bags now only account for 3.1% of the state’s litter. This is down from 7.4% in 2010.
Indiana is a minority in this issue, meaning that in numerous states and cities within the U.S., England, Mexico, India, Italy, Burma, Bangladesh, Rwanda, and Australia, there are bans against plastic bags. Australia’s ban alone was an attempt to cut down on 6.7 billion plastic bags used annually- and that’s just in one part of that one country! For those who have not banned them, there is an economic tax to disincentivize people from using them. Countries which have enforced this include Belgium, South Africa, and Ireland.
California, well-known as a leader in global environmental politics, banned plastic bags on July 1, 2015. While at first this was a controversial issue solely due to convenience, the culture in California has transformed over the past two and a half years. Now, anyone who visits the sunshine state will notice that everyone has culturally begun to carry reusable bags with them at all times. If they do not have one, they are able to buy one at most stores for less than a dollar, or use paper bags instead.
The statistics are insane. There are 500 billion bags consumed annually, and 1 billion of those are thrown in the trash as soon as the carrier arrives at home. The truth of these statistics are that millions of animals die each year from plastic pollution in the environment, and plastic bags are a huge contribution to them. These bags are suffocating animals, or being eaten by turtles who mistake them for floating jellyfish in the oceans. They also break down to tiny pieces of plastic which are ingested by fish, dolphins, seals, turtles, and other animals unfortunate enough to feed where these bags fatefully end up. There isn’t a person alive today who can’t say they haven’t seen a plastic bag floating in the air, or on the ground, or stuck in a drain pipe we all know leads to water sources and, inevitable, the ocean. The phenomena even made it to fame in Katy Perry’s infamous “Firework,” in the lyric “Do you ever feel | like a plastic bag | drifting through the wind | wanting to start again?”
Furthermore, retail businesses are said to spend about $4 billion dollars on plastic bags each year. The banning bill doesn't even prohibit stores from charging customers for each plastic bag used. Wouldn’t it be a win-win, for customers as inhabitants of planet earth, and businesses as economic vacuums, to reject plastic bags altogether? We think yes. Retail giants like Walmart can start doing so to save money on plastic and promote sustainable shopping, meanwhile showing social responsibility to investors.
As college students, we probably couldn't do much to revert the decision of the bill. What we can do is to become self-aware of the consequences when we use plastic bags in stores, and try not to use them. It is very simple to bring your own reusable bags to Walmart, Target, or grocery stores. People should embrace this plastic-free lifestyle (the way shopping for groceries was like before plastic bags even existed) and responsibly reuse the plastic bags we already have.
So why did Indiana lawmakers make this counterintuitive decision? Well, we know Indiana has been a historically very, very red state. Relative to presidential elections, the state has voted Republican in every election except in 1964 and 2008. When the ever-so-lovely past Republican Governor Mike Pence (now Vice President of the United States) signed the bill into effect in March of 2016, it became effective immediately. The state government was absolutely not considering that they were second-handedly contributing to clogging their sewers, landscapes, and farming equipment. They didn’t consider the wildlife that falls prey to this material. Instead, they were focusing on ensuring that smaller communities from creating policies that could be any threat or detriment to businesses at all. You can read more about this at this Sierra Club link:
Is the pollution our planet suffers really worth the “convenience” of bringing your chips and milk to your car, and then from your car to your home? Those collective 45 seconds contribute to a problem that will persist for hundreds if not thousands of years. Regarding the bill itself, we believe it should be overturned. Conclusively, it can actually benefit businesses economically not to have plastic bags, and there are some things that should just be viewed as more important than this sort of political chess- like the health of our environment, and the suffering wildlife that has no say in what is going on.
-Yuxuan Chen, Cole Janssen, and Sabrina Sutton
**If you want to follow this issue on twitter, here are two accounts that tweet continually about this issue:
Bye Bye Plastic Bags
Ban Plastic Bags UK
Bill banning local plastic bag restrictions signed into law. (2016, March 23). Indy Star. Retrieved March 6, 2018, from https://www.indystar.com/story/news/politics/2016/03/23/bill-banning-local-plastic-bag-restrictions-signed-law/82183114/
Downing, K. (2016, March 25). Bloomington group outraged at Indiana's prohibition on "plastic bag bans". Retrieved March 07, 2018, from http://fox59.com/2016/03/25/bloomington-group-outraged-at-indianas-prohibition-on-plastic-bag-bans/
Plastic Bag Ban Locations (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2018, from
Indiana manufacturers shape the fight for plastic bags - Aayush Dubey, Ryan McAndrews, Elizabeth Tigner (Group 15)
Political Origin of the Ban of Bag Bans
Indiana joined the ranks of banning bag-restriction on Mar. 23, 2016, when Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill into law disallowing local municipalities from limiting consumer bagging options. Pence couldn’t help but secure plastic bag manufacturing for his home state. Hilex Poly LLC, a manufacturer in Indiana, is one of the leading plastic bag manufacturers in the country, as well as co-founder and large contributor to the Progressive Bag Alliance. The ban-of-bans is the least Gov. Pence could have done to help the Alliance, as they were already spending $3M in California for fiscal year 2015 in combating their ban on plastic bags. Other municipalities across the country were battling for the environment, while here in Indiana it is all about jobs.
Plastic Bags as a World Problem
It is estimated that 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used annually worldwide. In the US, only 5% of the 100 billion shopping bags used annually is getting recycled. As these single use bags find their way into our landfills and our environment, they are broken down by the sun into microplastics that disrupt ocean ecosystems and fragment community food chains. Plastic accounts for 70% of all ocean litter, with plastic bags begin the 7th most common item retrieved in cleanup efforts. A reduction in their use and circulation would undoubtedly reduce their impact on our environment.
Why are Plastic Bags so Hard to get rid of?
The hard truth of the matter is that there is no better single-use alternative to the plastic bag. In 2007 the Australian Government Agency released a report on the environmental impact of different plastic, paper, and reusable bags based on a full life-cycle assessment. Their key findings included the following:
• Reusable bags are better than all single use options
• Bags with recycled content had less environmental impact
• A bag’s end of life destination is highly important in deciding its environmental savings.
The most pronounced of their key findings was that any “shift from one single use bag to another single use bag may improve one environmental outcome, but be offset by another another impact”. It continues to say that “as a result, no single use bag produced an overall environmental benefit”. These findings have been at the heart of The Progressive Bag Alliance arguments. So long as there is demand for single-use shopping bags, all options are equally bad. “Green Bags” have shown themselves as the clear winner in our environmental predicament, and now the country is fighting to make them the economical alternative as well.
What does a “Ban of Bans” do?
The ban of bans are used to benefit the suppliers of plastic bags domestically. Groups like The Progressive Bag Alliance spend great deals of money fighting municipal governments as they attempt to implement their own bans of single-use plastic bags. For these groups, a ban-on-the-bans is a preemptive guard that protects them from having to spend money fighting progressive legislation. These groups are funded by the plastic bag manufacturers, and their purpose is to obfuscate and divert the argument.
A ban-of-bans in Indiana means that no single-use bags will be taxed or removed from stores, which is largely to the benefit of the suppliers. Since these bags are identifiably a problem for our local and global environments, this means that we are not actively mitigating a point source pollutant within our community. While a ban-of-bans is ultimately bad at reducing plastic bag use, it may allow for a larger opportunity to remove single-use bags in their entirety. The Progressive Bag Alliance promotes information noting that paper bags have their own environmental impacts, arguing that they are even greater than plastics. To circumvent their well-positioned argument, a move could be made to remove all forms of single-use bags instead. In Indiana’s case a ban of plastic and single-use bags is currently illegal, but a strong defense of this legislation by lobbying groups makes it more vulnerable to more sweeping and aggressive legislation later.
Minnesota fight for Banning Bags
In 2017 Minneapolis politicians drafted an ordinance to ban plastic bags in stores starting May of 2017. The ban forbid stores from providing single use plastic bags for shoppers and stores can offer paper bags to consumers for 5 cents each. The bill was created to keep plastic bags out of the cities garbage burners and to get Minneapolis closer to its zero-waste goals. Even though this ordinance had a lot of support from citizens and major companies such as Target Minnesota had the same fate as Indiana. One day before the start of the ban the Minnesota State government made a state law outlawing cities from prohibiting any kind of bag. This doesn’t mean city leaders will give up on the ordinance. Minneapolis City Council Member Cam Gordon said, “We’ve seen cities go out on their own and do things in the past, including the indoor smoking clean air acts which the state eventually adopted, so [the plastic bag ban] is something that would follow suit”. After this chaos Target and other Minnesota based companies started encouraging customers to not rely on their plastic bags and bring their own by giving customers who bring their own bag a 5 cent discount.
Results on Washington’s Bag Bans
Many cities in Washington State have been making ordinances to ban single use plastic bags. One of the major cities was Seattle. 6 years after ban has been in place (2016) Seattle Public Utilities issued a report on Seattle’s plastic bag ban ordinance which concluded the “ban has been effective in reducing the number of plastic bags distributed throughout the city, [but] there is also opportunities for improvement in compliance.” Highlights from investigation:
• It is harder for smaller businesses to follow the ordinance
• Most stores were aware of the ban, but some were unaware of the requirement to charge a fee for paper bags.
• Between 2010 and 2014, the amount of plastic bags in residential garbage declined from 262 tons to 136 tons.
Concerns from investigation:
• Reusable bags may become contaminated and threaten customers and retail staff.
• Some stores have removed their plastic bag recycling containers, resulting in more bags going into the waste stream.
• There has been an increase in flexible packaging, such as pouches containing food, which are not recyclable.
California’s ban on single-use plastics
On November 8, 2016, California approved the Plastic Bag Ban Veto Referendum (Prop. 67) in a 53-47 approval by its citizens. This proposition enacted the ban of plastic bags to be distributed by stores, and require consumers to bring reusable or paper bags. Approval for this proposition began with local bans since 2010 to reduce plastic bag litter on beaches. This eventually influenced a statewide ban to reduce overall harm on the environment, specifically for plastic entering in bodies of water.
California became the first and only US state to ban the distribution of plastic bags. Initially, they were generating about 35 million single-use plastic grocery bags per day. And for California, it didn’t turn out to be a big deal for consumers as they were able to bring in their own reusable bags, either independently or through the stores themselves. Additionally, it was neither harmful for the state’s environment nor for their economy. As a result of the ban on single-use plastic bags, shoppers did not revolt or campaign against the ban, no problems with transporting groceries to people’s houses, and no problems with reusable bags. Additionally, there was a 72 percent drop in plastic bag litter on their beaches between 2010 to 2017, and now account for 1.5 percent of all litter as opposed to 10 percent in 2010. An important feature to note is that California approved Prop. 67 in 2016, yet the decrease of litter and environmental harm has been significant in more recent years.
Indiana’s Influence on a greener future
Defenders of a ban on plastic bag bans would argue that it is not the government's place to force its citizens to make environmentally friendly decisions. Our group does not see it to be this way. Since the negative effects of an individuals use of plastic bags extends to having global impact, it is the function of government to regulate single-use bags. In support of a global cause, Indiana should reform its ban of bag bans and switch its position to taxation of single-use bags. Research has previously identified that reusable “Green Bags” are the clear environmental solution, and with appropriate taxation we hope to see it become the economical solution as well. If a progressive fight cannot be won to entirely remove single-use bags from our stores, we hope taxation would adequately reduce demand for them. Reduction in single-use bags will lead to a reduction in point source pollution coming from our grocery stores.
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