Warming Trends: Shakespeare, Dogs and Climate Change on British TV; Less Crowded Hiking Trails; and Toilet Paper Flunks Out

A column highlighting climate-related studies, innovations, books, cultural events and other developments from the global warming frontier.

Rolls of toilet paper move along a conveyor on the production line at a factory in Fuji, Japan, on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. Credit: Toru Hanai/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rolls of toilet paper move along a conveyor on the production line at a factory in Fuji, Japan, on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. Credit: Toru Hanai/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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CULTURE

Dog, Dog, Dog, Dog, Climate Change

“Climate change” was mentioned once for every 22 times the word “dog” was spoken on British television stations, according to a new analysis—about as often as the word “furlough,” and a little less often than the word “Shakespeare.” 

The analysis, from Albert, an environmental organization that advises the TV industry, looked at the 2020 subtitle data from six British TV channels—BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky and UKTV—and counted the number of times different words and phrases, especially words relating to climate change, were mentioned during all programming except daily news.

Climate change “will touch every area of everyone’s life. And a lot of people aren’t aware of that still,” said Carys Taylor, the director of Albert. “It doesn’t matter if you’re interested in sports, or current affairs or baking. It will touch every area of life and you need to be aware of it.” TV shows are one way to make climate change relevant to people, she said. 

One program on Channel 4 that featured climate-related words was a reality show called “Meat the Family” in which families took in cows, pigs and chickens as pets and then later had to decide whether to eat them. Another show on UKTV, called “Jon Richardson: Ultimate Worrier,” featured a comedic and anxious host who sought to find out how bad the climate crisis really is. 

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The analysis, the third in a series of annual reports, found a dip in the number of mentions of climate change from 2019 to 2020, which Taylor attributed to the increased attention to the coronavirus pandemic and the number of reruns due to the lack of new content amid shutdowns. 

The report also found more mentions of climate change solutions with a relatively small impact, like recycling and food choices, than of large-scale solutions like alternative transportation and renewable energy, which account for half of Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

Creators of TV shows are often concerned about touching on tough topics that viewers might not be able to follow, Taylor said, but the pandemic has shown that viewers can quickly learn about new topics if they’re important enough. “There’s a whole load of new words that we’ve never heard about, and everybody’s engaged with them,” she said. “The same can be true for climate change.”

CULTURE

Toilet Tissue From A to F

Several well-known toilet paper brands are still relying on virgin forests for their products’ fibers, according to a new ranking. 

The Natural Resources Defense Council published their annual “Issue With Tissue” sustainable scorecard for toilet paper products this week, giving “A+” grades to Green Forest, made of recycled fibers, and Who Gives a Crap, which offers recycled and bamboo toilet paper products. 

Most brands, however, received “F’s,” for unsustainable use of forests, including Procter & Gamble’s Charmin and Georgia Pacific’s Quilted Northern and Angel Soft. Kimberly-Clark had a recycled version of its Scott brand toilet paper, available for purchase online, that received an “A”—the first time one of the big three tissue manufacturers received high marks in this report—but other products under the Scott brand still received an “F.” 

“Toilet paper is one of those products that we as consumers probably spend seconds, if anything, of our day thinking about,” said Shelley Vinyard, the boreal corporate campaign manager at the NRDC. “The purpose of our scorecard is really to arm consumers with information and give them the power to vote with their dollars.”

The scorecard takes into consideration whether the toilet tissue is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council and whether the fibers are sourced sustainably or made from recycled materials.

A spokeswoman from Procter & Gamble, Tonia Elrod, said the company plants two trees for every tree it cuts down and sources its trees from responsibly managed forests. Elrod also said in an email that Procter & Gamble does not use recycled materials in its toilet paper because “there are significant trade-offs with recycled tissue quality, which causes people to use more product.” 

A spokeswoman from Georgia Pacific, senior communications manager Brooke Lujano, said the company is careful in the way they source raw materials for their products. “We are committed to sustainable forestry and actively take steps to ensure that the virgin fiber (trees) used in our products is responsibly sourced, no matter the location,” Lujano said in an email, adding, “We are committed to helping maintain healthy forests now and into the future—not only to use available resources more efficiently, but to also follow and promote good science-based forest protection and enhancement practices.” 

Kimberly-Clark did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication, but the company details its 2030 sustainability plan on its website.

“We’re living in a climate emergency, and people are witnessing the effects of that every day and start looking at how they can help change our future and make it livable for our children and our grandchildren,” Vinyard said. “Toilet paper is such a simple solution and people are clamoring for those things.”

CULTURE

Calling All Moms (to Fight Climate Change)

“Our window to act on climate change is like watching them grow up,” an announcer says in the Ad Council’s new public service announcement about climate change, over a montage of children’s faces. “We blink, and we miss it.”

The ad, an emotional appeal to mothers that debuts this week, is the council’s first PSA to address the subject in more than 10 years.  

The nonprofit organization, which runs ads with donated time and space, is known for campaigns like Smokey the Bear and “Just Say No.” Now the council is partnering with the Potential Energy Coalition and Science Moms to increase awareness and inspire action on climate change. 

“Given our mission is to really address the most pressing issues facing our country, it’s undeniable that climate change really is at the top of that list,” said Heidi Arthur, chief campaign development officer for the council. “We are at this perfect moment in time where we are joining forces to bring Science Moms to the American public to really create that sense of urgency to provide information and access to resources, so that we can really see action on something that’s really affecting everybody.”

Science Moms is a nonpartisan organization started earlier this year by a group of climate scientists who are also “moms.” Their mission is to encourage other mothers to talk about climate change and advocate for action on the issue to protect their children’s futures. 

Melissa Burt, a scientist at Colorado State University and a founding member of Science Moms, said surveys have shown that while 60 percent of Americans are concerned about climate change, among mothers that number is 83 percent. Plus, she said, once moms are given information about something that affects their children, they are quick to take action.

The campaign’s goal, Burt said, is to get moms to “feel inspired and empowered, to know the issue, to understand the problem, to realize that climate change is not just an environmental issue. It impacts everything from our health to the economy to infrastructure to our food, and then to get folks to really want to demand action at all levels.

SCIENCE

Rising Temps Will  Increase Recreation in Winter, Decrease It in Summer

By 2050, the summer crowds at your favorite national park may be a lot thinner. Demand for outdoor recreation will generally decrease in the summer and increase in the winter and spring, according to a new study from Utah State University.

Using time and location data from photographs taken on public lands between 2006 and 2019 and posted to Flickr, a photo sharing website, the researchers compared the trends in visitation to long-term climate data and conducted a statistical analysis to see how demand would shift amid projected temperature increases by 2050 under two climate change scenarios—a mild warming scenario known as RCP 4.5 and another, more extreme scenario that is likely under current greenhouse gas emissions known as RCP 8.5.

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Under the milder scenario, researchers found that the demand for recreational activities on public lands would decrease by 18 percent in the summer and increase by 12 percent in the winter and 5 percent in the spring, with no significant change in the fall. Under the more extreme scenario, the decrease in summer demand could be as high as 28 percent and the winter demand could increase about 20 percent. 

“Generally people like it hotter up to a point,” said lead author Emily Wilkins, who conducted this research while she was a postdoctoral researcher at Utah State University. “So if it’s getting hotter in the winter, for a lot of people that’s good, but for people that want to visit ski resorts and do snow dependent activities, it can be a problem.” 

Demand is also expected to shift regionally as climate change affects different parts of the country in different ways. In the summer, according to the study, demand will decrease on land in states like Tennessee, Florida and Oregon, while demand will increase in states like Michigan, Montana and Kansas. In the winter, demand is expected to decrease slightly in states like Colorado, where many recreational activities are snow-dependent sports like skiing.

Wilkins said no matter what, managers of public lands will need to prepare for changes in visitation in the years to come as the climate changes. 

“We’re going to see way more visitors in the offseason, some more in the fall and spring too, so it’s going to be really spreading visitor use out over a longer period of time and not just concentrated in the summer,” she said, “which can be really important to know because park managers would need to plan and prepare for that.”