England Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, confirmed in a statement that the UK would be making its fair share in environmental protection by banning plastic in the country by April 2020. The UK government will ban plastic straws, cue tips with plastics handles, and stirrers all over the country, however, with some exceptions.
Plastic straws will remain available for individuals with disabilities and medical purposes. Therefore, plastic straws will be made available through registered pharmacies who can sell them over the counter or through online.
Moreover, restaurants, pubs, and bars are also allowed to keep a stock that will be readily available to customers upon request. Notably, establishments cannot publicly display plastic straws and will now serve coffee without stirrers.
Annually, England uses an approximate of 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million stirrers, an 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cue tips, the statement said. About 10% of cue tips used ends up getting flushed down the toilet and into the oceans.
In contrast, a public consultation held by the government showed that over 80% of respondents back a ban on the distribution and sale of plastic straws, 90% a ban on drinks stirrers, and 89% a ban on cotton buds, which led to the ban on plastic.
Companies choose to work with plastic since it is a cheap and versatile material to use. As a society, we have grown dependent on plastic as a universal tool that functions as a disposable form of general materials. We can see this through plastic bags for our groceries or the plastic spoon and fork you use when you’re on a camping trip. It’s also present in a lot of practical uses such as in household appliances, in your car, and basically, everywhere you go.
But the kind of plastic that the UK government is eyeing to ban is specific to the environmental impact these objects create, which are the senseless single-use plastics that continues to pump itself endlessly in the market.
Moreover, the idea of plastic being ‘disposable’ is a double-edged sword: people can use them without having to worry about its worth, while the other end of the spectrum acknowledges that because it’s known to be disposable and cheap, we can buy, use, throw, and repeat without consideration.
We have been desensitized of the impacts of our small actions to the rest of the world. We tend to think that a single piece of plastic can’t hurt but don’t seem to consider that if all of the 7 billion people believe the same way, that would also result to 7 billion pieces of plastic out in the streets or into the ocean.
In the case of plastics, they don’t decompose quickly like materials made from natural resources such as paper and wood-based materials. They often take decades to disappear naturally but only needs seconds to pollute, harm, and possibly kill the entire ecosystem.
It is estimated that there are over 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans, and every year, one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste. A recent report estimates that plastics in the sea is set to triple by 2025 – unless human societies make actions to prevent it from happening.
“Urgent and decisive action is needed to tackle plastic pollution and protect our environment. These items are often used for just a few minutes but take hundreds of years to break down, ending up in our seas and oceans and harming precious marine life. So today I am taking action to turn the tide on plastic pollution and ensure we leave our environment in a better state for future generations,” Secretary Gove said in a statement.
Although plastic straws, cue tips, and stirrers hardly make a portion that’s polluting the ocean, it’s still a significant step into the fight against single-use plastic. With the growing movement in support of being more responsible with our footprint in the environment, the England government’s latest announcement solidifies and strengthens the cause.
It’s Time To Raise The ‘Federal Minimum Wage’
The United States has set a record for maintaining its federal minimum wage without increases for the longest time in the nation’s history. The news calls for immediate action aligned with the economic expansion in the US and increasing inflation rates.
The last increase to the US federal minimum wage was July 2009 — which is almost a decade ago. The federal minimum wage was raised from $6.55 an hour to the current $7.25 an hour.
According to CNN calculations, the current $7.25 an hour minimum wage can barely cover basic expenses with prices for healthcare, oil, and commodities gone up within the past decade. CBS reported that $7.25 in 2009 is valued at only about $6 in 2019. The cost of living has soared 18% since the last increase.
In an estimate, minimum-wage employees working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks, equates to just $15,080 annually. Researchers estimate with the current market that two working parents in a family of four would need to earn $67,146 to cover expenses. That equates to $16.14 an hour for each parent, CNN reported.
The New York Times, meanwhile, reported that the average wage being paid to all minimum wage workers can go as low as $12 an hour, according to an economist who served in the Treasury Department under President Barack Obama.
“There is not a single community in the U.S. where someone can have a decent quality of life at the current federal minimum wage,” said David Cooper, an EPI researcher on the minimum wage. “Congress has never waited this long to lift up the wages of workers at the bottom.”
In line with the report, states have passed bills that raise state minimum wages higher than the federal baseline. As of June this year, 21 states have passed minimum wage hikes—some even at the $15 an hour threshold.
However, the state minimum wage varies. In Florida, the minimum wage stands at $8.46 an hour; in Hawaii, it’s $10.10 an hour; in California, the minimum wage goes up to $12 an hour. Meanwhile, in states like New York and Seattle, the minimum wage reaches $15 an hour and even $16 an hour, respectively.
On the other hand, Republican-led states are known to reject Democrat appeals for minimum wage hikes. An estimate of around 700,000 minimum-wage workers in areas that have not passed local increases are still paid $7.25 an hour, the New York Times said.
Republican-led states like Arkansas, Arizona, and Missouri are some exceptions due to public support via ballot initiatives. In the polls, over 60% in each state voted in favor of minimum wage hikes.
However, in order to gain public support from ballot initiatives state leaders first need to put it in motion. With Republicans abstaining such initiatives, the citizens have resulted to demand higher minimum wages from the federal government directly.
In other efforts, big companies like Amazon and Walmart have raised their minimum wage to $15 and $14.26 an hour, respectively. The move has prompted government states to follow suit.
Additionally, it’s not just large companies that are on board with a wage hike. There are around 800 companies, most of which are small businesses, who are willing to support the raising minimum wage to $15 by 2024.
The record delay also comes after the US experiencing significant economic growth. The US has enjoyed roughly 10 years of economic expansion, which may soon become the longest such expansion in this country’s history, according to USA Today.
Analysts have also shared that raising the minimum wage would improve employee recruitment and retention in a tight labor market—higher wages would easily attract employment-seeking individuals. Moreover, higher pay also means more spending money salary-makers, which boosts the local economy.
Comparatively, May’s employment report showed that there were only 75,000 jobs provided in the month — a disappointing number compared to expectations of 185,000. Furthermore, employment rates are evidence of cracks forming in the economy.
In 2012, Texas had 452,000 workers making the minimum wage or less, according to federal data. By 2017, that number had fallen to 196,000, despite a slight increase in hourly workers, Dallas News reports.
“The minimum wage is still relevant; it just needs to be raised to a level where more workers benefit,” said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, work quality director at the National Employment Law Project.
Adding a dollar or two to the minimum scoops up a lot of people and spills over to other workers. “But at $15 an hour, you’re starting to affect a significant portion of the workforce,” Gebreselassie said.
Pope Tells Oil Execs: The World Needs A “Radical Energy Transition”
Pope Francis has declared a global “climate emergency” and preach to oil companies executives, pointing out that specific measures are needed to alleviate the problem with rising global temperatures. “The climate crisis requires our decisive action, here and now and the Church is fully committed to playing her part.”
“Time is running out!” Francis said. “Deliberations must go beyond mere exploration of what can be done, and concentrate on what needs to be done. We do not have the luxury of waiting for others to step forward, or of prioritizing short-term economic benefits.”
This is the second year that oil executives have gathered in Rome at the invitation of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development and Notre Dame University’s Mendoza College of Business. The theme of this year’s meeting is “The Energy Transition and Care for our Common Home.”
Attendees of the said event were the CEOs of Royal Dutch Shell, Eni, BP, Repsol, Conoco Phillips, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and executives of investment funds.
The Pope took the opportunity to urge oil executives to find solutions to address the rapidly rising global temperatures. “Faced with a climate emergency, we must take action accordingly, in order to avoid [perpetuating] a brutal act of injustice towards the poor and future generations,” he said. “We must take responsible actions bearing in mind their impact in the short and in the long term,” the Pope added.
Particularly, Pope Francis called for “open, transparent, science-based and standardized” reporting of climate risk and a “radical energy transition.” Furthermore, Francis encouraged the idea of carbon pricing.
“Such a transition involves managing the social and employment impact of the move to a low-carbon society,” Francis said. “If managed well, this transition can generate new jobs, reduce inequality and improve the quality of life for those affected by climate change.”
Carbon pricing is a way for governments to encourage innovations in low-carbon technology by implementing higher taxes or emissions trading schemes. It directly applies the costs of using fossil fuels that cause global warming to consumers. The signatories called for a “combination of policies and carbon pricing mechanisms … designed in a way that simultaneously delivers innovation and investment in low-carbon solutions while assisting those least able to pay”.
The Pope also emphasized the 1.5C limit on temperature from a United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report—noting that the world has a decade or so to bring greenhouse gases under control or otherwise let the world face devastating effects such as droughts, floods, heatwaves and damage to agriculture.
However, with the Vatican’s active campaign for climate change action, it has faced criticism and clashing with leaders like U.S. President Donald Trump who doubts the validity of global warming and rejects the idea that the problem is solely due to human activity.
Last year, Trump rejected projections that were outlined in a report by his own government and that projected climate change will cause severe economic harm to the US economy.
Trump also announced his intent for the US to withdraw from the Paris deal, making it the first country to do so among 200 signatories.
By the end of the 2-day event, oil companies made pledges to take action to resolve the global crisis. However, there were no specific conversations on set dates nor concrete plans to achieve a solution.
The Guardian reports that the oil companies’ pledges did not go far enough, as Mel Evans, climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK said, “The oil majors knew all about the risk from climate change many years before most of us first heard about it. They knew where we were heading, they knew their products were the cause, and yet they kept it quiet and lobbied for business as usual. Moreover, “they’re still lobbying for business as usual. When it comes to saving the planet they will do what they are forced to do, and no more, which is why we’re having to block them from drilling new oil wells as we speak. Expecting leadership from them is a path to certain disaster.”
The Pope concluded by saying, as “human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”
New York Moves To Rule Out Religious Exemption For Vaccines
In the face of the worst measles outbreak in the country within the past 25 years, New York has decided to make necessary immunizations in schoolchildren, citing that religious exemption to vaccinizations can no longer be accepted.
In the past, legislation has allowed parents to reason against vaccines due to religious reasons. They have cited that it is their religious freedom to opt out of the science-based system in exchange for their beliefs.
The decision was made Thursday with a Democrat-led Senate and Assembly. The decision has made all schoolchildren take the first round of immunization shots—for those who have opted out—as a requirement before enrollment.
Furthermore, schoolchildren wishing to enroll in the upcoming school year are given up to 30 days to complete the first dose of each required immunization.
The newly-signed measure was met with mixed reactions from the hundreds of people who flocked the streets of New York. Some expressed that it was about time that the government had taken legislative action towards addressing the measles outbreak given that the problem is spiraling out of control. Moreover, some cited that religious beliefs have been used as a counter-action to opt out from vaccinations, which are due to rampant misinformation regarding the vaccine to cause other side effects.
Meanwhile, anti-vaxxers have complained against the measure citing that their religious freedom is being taken away by the vague impression that public health is in a state of fear due to measles.
New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who signed the measure told reporters that he believes public health — and the need to protect those who cannot get vaccinated because for medical reasons — outweighs the concerns about religious freedom.
“I understand freedom of religion,” he said. “I have heard the anti-vaxxers’ theory, but I believe both are overwhelmed by the public health risk.”
Bronx Democrat Jeffrey Dinowitz, the bill’s Assembly sponsor added, “I’m not aware of anything in the Torah, the Bible, the Koran or anything else that suggests you should not get vaccinated.” Moreover, “If you choose to not vaccinate your child, therefore potentially endangering other children … then you’re the one choosing not to send your children to school.”
On the other hand, New York is not completely absolving reasons to opt out of vaccinations. Particularly, the government will still allow children to skip taking the required shots for reasons citing medical concerns (some people are medically compromised and cannot take vaccines or immunizations due to risks from detrimental side effects.) These people can be those with compromised immune systems such as HIV or those who are allergic to said medications, to name a few.
Recently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported an alarmingly increasing number of measles cases in the United States — gaining the highest incidence for the past 25 years.
Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported about 971 cases of measles in 26 states in the US from January 1 to May 30 of this year — threatening the nation’s elimination status.
The report also indicated that the spike in measles outbreaks was centered in hotspots such as Washington and New York. Also, since the disease is common among children, most of the cases reported are from unvaccinated school-age children.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told BBC that “If these outbreaks continue through summer and fall, the United States may lose its measles elimination status. That loss would be a huge blow for the nation and erase the hard work done by all levels of public health.”
The issue is also magnified with misinformation that is being widely spread against the measles vaccine—which prompted Facebook to finally take action and try to mitigate false information that is widespread across its platform.
“These Groups and Pages will not be included in recommendations or predictions when you type into Search,” Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of global policy management, said in a statement. She added that when ads that include misinformation about vaccinations are found, “we will reject them.”
With New York’s move, similar exemptions are still allowed in 45 states, though lawmakers in several of them have introduced their own legislation to eliminate the waiver.
California removed personal belief vaccine exemptions for children in both public and private schools in 2015. Maine ended its religious exemption earlier this year. Mississippi and West Virginia also do not allow religious exemptions.
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