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Big Decisions on Climate Change

Lower Manhattan Skyline

One of the themes for this year’s World Cities Day (October 31) is “Adapting Cities for Climate Resilience.” It reminds me that we’re facing a lot of big decisions these days… as cities, as a nation, and as a global community.

  • Many cities around the world are trying to figure out how to pay for the wreckage caused by severe weather events triggered by climate change – and how to prepare for future events.
  • The U.S. Congress is debating the resources needed to improve the resiliency of our nation’s infrastructure and to combat climate change.
  • The global community soon will come together to grapple with new commitments to drive down greenhouse gas emissions. (And they’ll come together again early next year to determine a path forward on a global agreement to end plastic waste.)

We must make all these decisions in the face of a rising global population that aspires to enter the middle class, typically in urban/city settings. This shift brings with it multiple personal benefits for this growing populace – affordable nutrition, health care, housing, mobility – along with environmental consequences that often coincide with increased consumption. Such as climate change.

To get these decisions right, we need to rely on science, not ideology. And that science leads us to this conclusion: The global community (including cities) cannot realistically meet its climate change commitments without the help of plastics.

Plastics allow us to do more with less. Multiple studies find that switching to alternatives to plastics would significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions, because plastics typically do their job more efficiently than alternative materials. Research finds that plastics typically use four times less material by weight to perform similar functions as alternative materials used in products and packaging. And result in 2.5 times less greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, plastics are critical to achieving the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 11 that among other things endeavors to make cities resilient and sustainable. To help our cities (and non-urban areas) become more resilient and combat climate change, we must rely on and preserve the societal benefits of plastics. A few examples…

  • Homes/buildings – We need to build more robust, resilient homes and buildings that minimize heating/cooling needs and their associated greenhouse gas emissions by using durable, energy-efficient building materials such as structural foam plastic insulation and sealants.
  • Mobility – We need to transition quickly to a low carbon transportation infrastructure, driven by vehicles made lighter and safer with durable, modern plastics. Plus, a nationwide network of weather-resistant, durable charging stations will also be enabled by plastics.
  • Low carbon energy – To improve resiliency of our electrical grid, we need to rapidly scale use of solar and wind power, both of which increasingly rely on plastics to improve efficiencies.

And with the right decisions, we can build a more sustainable future while simultaneously building a circular economy for plastics, in which plastics are reused instead of discarded. And kept out of our environment.

There is an urgent need to make these big decisions soon rather than passing on our responsibilities to future generations. Let’s rely on science and get it right.

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About the Author

As Vice President of ACC’s Plastics Division, Joshua oversees strategic programs to advance a science-based policy agenda, national outreach, and sustainability initiatives on behalf of America’s leading plastics makers. He encourages better understanding of plastics’ advantages in key markets, such as automotive, building and construction, and packaging, and innovations that are helping to address some of our world’s greatest sustainability challenges. Joshua also leads industry initiatives and fosters multi-stakeholder dialogue around helping to end plastic waste by creating a more circular economy.

He previously led public affairs at the American Beverage Association (ABA), where he oversaw the launch of a new plastics sustainability initiative and helped advance community-based recycling projects.

Prior to joining ABA, Joshua served as a managing director at Marathon Strategies and senior vice president at DDC Public Affairs. In both capacities, Joshua directed strategy and implementation of multi-channel issue advocacy and public affairs campaigns on behalf of Fortune 100 companies and leading trade associations. In 2018, Joshua led the defeat of the Border Adjustment Tax on behalf of the retail industry, which was recognized as PR Week’s 2018 global crisis campaign of the year.

He began his career working on Capitol Hill for former U.S. Representative Heather Wilson and as the National Coalitions Director for U.S. Senator Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Joshua has a Master of Arts in Government and Political Communications from The Johns Hopkins University and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Texas Tech University.

American Chemistry Council

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) represents the leading companies engaged in the multibillion-dollar business of chemistry. ACC members apply the science of chemistry to make innovative products, technologies and services that make people's lives better, healthier and safer. ACC is committed to improved environmental, health, safety and security performance through Responsible Care®; common sense advocacy addressing major public policy issues; and health and environmental research and product testing. ACC members and chemistry companies are among the largest investors in research and development, and are advancing products, processes and technologies to address climate change, enhance air and water quality, and progress toward a more sustainable, circular economy.

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