International Policy Digest

The Ocean Cleanup
U.S. News /02 Jan 2019
and 01.02.19

Redeeming 2018

There were many surprises in 2018, but there are some good things that have come from the past year.

Midterm Voter Turnout

2018 marked the highest voter turnout during any midterm election since 1914. More than 50.3 percent of eligible voters chose to exercise their right to vote, delivering a moratorium on the jobs their elected officials are doing.

While 50.3 percent might not seem like a robust win, only 37% turned out for the midterm elections in 2014, down from 41% in 2010.

Democrats took back the House of Representatives and Republicans managed to hold on to the Senate. Suburban voters and women seem to be largely responsible for the most seats Democrats have won in any election since Watergate.

Diversity Wins 2018 Mid-Term Election

More women than ever will serve in Congress come January 3rd. A record number of women, minority and groundbreaking candidates ran and won offices around the country in a sweeping upsurge in spite of cases of voter suppression which remains an issue.

Historic Wins for Women and Minority Candidates

Some candidates ran against deeply entrenched incumbents, some ran unopposed. There were tough races against people with more campaign experience, and an arduous, grueling campaign process that is certainly not for the faint of heart.

But in spite of the crushing work schedules, strain on their families and near-constant travel, candidates across the country persevered and, in a triumph of democracy in action, were elected in record numbers.

Those concerned about the environment and climate change will take some very limited comfort from the following:

The ozone layer, that mortal enemy of all things aerosol, is on the mend and looks likely to heal in some places by as early as 2030. For some more damaged sections it might take until 2060, but that is still great news for the planet and the people who live on it.

The ozone hole over the South Pole peaked at 11.6 million square miles in 2006. According to NASA, in 2018 the hole shrunk to 9.6 million square miles.

Oh, Canada!

Canada, together with the Tallcree First Nation and oil conglomerate Syncrude, created the world’s largest protected boreal forest in 2018. The area is so big you could fit two small countries inside it and includes forests, wetlands and large bodies of water. It is full of protected and endangered species.

Thanks to these protections, future generations will be able to enjoy it.

Pacific Trash Pile Clean-Up

The giant mass of garbage floating along in the Pacific Ocean is a problem for humanity, especially now that it has grown to three times the size of France. The “trashberg” is estimated to contain approximately 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic trash and weighs about 80,000 metric tons.

Considering that our current generation is the first in history to deal with the outcome of mass-produced, single-use plastics, the news that a cleanup effort is beginning to bear fruit is good news indeed.

A specially designed system of floating nets should be able to remove 50 tons of garbage from the Ocean every year, perhaps more if everything works to plan.

Belize Barrier Reef No Longer Endangered

Since 2009 the second largest barrier reef in the world, second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in danger.

A “transformational shift” to eliminate excessive offshore oil drilling and strengthen other protections took place within the Belize government and the barrier reef was removed from the danger list in June of 2018

California Reaches Greenhouse Gas Reduction Goal- Early

Since a law passed in 2006, California has been working diligently to bring down greenhouse gas emissions to pre-1990’s levels by 2020. This year California officials announced they would not be meeting the 2020 deadline.

Because they quietly reached that goal two years ago.

“California set the toughest emissions targets in the nation, tracked progress, and delivered results.” – California Governor Jerry Brown

Further targeted reductions of California greenhouse gas are now required by law; another 40% reduction by 2030. If 2018 is any indication, California is well on track to beat that deadline, too.

U.S. Coal Hits a 35-year Low

U.S. coal consumption has gone down to a 35-year low in 2018. Cleaner alternatives like natural gas, and the high cost of coal, seem to be driving down consumption.

Unemployment 3.7%

In October of 2018, the Department of Labor released the news that unemployment in the U.S. had reached 3.7%, the lowest rate since 1969.

However, many couples and singles are forced to take two or more jobs just to cover their monthly expenses due to low wages.

World Peace

World peace even gained ground in 2018. A historic summit took place between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un aimed at the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula although the results of this summit remain to be seen.

Trump also withdrew from the Iranian nuclear agreement in May.

Criminal Justice Reform

Long the darling of the Democratic Party, criminal justice reform became a Republican rallying cry in 2018 with the passage of the First Step Act. The sweeping criminal justice reform bill passed the House in May 2018 and the Senate in December. For some, it goes too far. For others, not far enough.

Rarely has any issue gained this much bipartisan and widespread support, but considering the vast number of people imprisoned in the U.S., there is little doubt that prison reform is long overdue.

Though the First Step Act is universally acknowledged as a first step, only, it still has a great deal to recommend it:

  • Plans to reduce federal incarceration with a new system for calculating early release using “good time” credits.
  • Plans to immediately release 4,000 people convicted on low-level drug offenses through retroactive credits.
  • Improvement to prison conditions; placement of inmates closer to their families and the banning of shackling women in labor.
  • Increased inmate exposure to rehabilitative programs that helps reduce re-offending.

However, there are concerns about the administration’s encouraging the privatization of prisons which is analogous to owning a hotel and the need to “fill up” the rooms in order to realize a profit.