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Leon Kaye headshot

Seven Urban Meyer Moments in Sustainability That Marked 2021

By Leon Kaye
Urban Meyer

Maybe it isn’t fair to kick them to the ‘urb when they’re down, but then again, maybe Urban Meyer shouldn’t have kicked his team’s kicker, which earlier in the week led to one of the most vivid late-night firings since President Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” in October 1973. In case you’ve had zero screen time of late, one of 2021’s bigger stories in sports is how Meyer, now the former head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, became an unfortunate gift that kept on giving since the Jaguars made a splash in hiring him 11 months ago.

Speaking of Urban Meyer moments, the world of environmental and social sustainability had its own fair share of face-palming incidents during 2021. This list is by no means an exhaustive list, but the following are some of the more head-scratching moments over the past year.

As the UN says eat less meat, COP26 rolls out a meat-heavy menu

While the organizers of COP26 touted a largely plant-based menu with the vast majority of food sourced locally in Scotland, some critics were less than impressed. One attendee noted that almost 60 percent of the menu items available during the annual climate talks were made with animal products. “This is the equivalent of serving cigarettes at a lung cancer conference,” sniffed another COP26 attendee on Twitter. Considering the United Nations itself has said that “if cows were a nation, they would be the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter,” such an oversight is at the very least awkward.

The heavy presence of the global fossil fuels sector, the amount of private jet travel that took leaders to Scotland and accusations of heavy-handed police tactics taken toward activists also contributed to the poor optics in Glasgow.

John Kerry reminds us why he wasn’t elected president

While we’re on the topic of COP26, former presidential candidate and secretary of state John Kerry, and currently the Biden administration’s climate envoy, did a fine job reminding us why the latest round of climate talks was weak tea. Call it death by platitudes.

In a Washington Post op-ed, he opened up rather awkwardly by claiming the Glasgow event “has already achieved success” while saying that “time is running short.”

It gets worse. Kerry commends the Indian government for its commitment to renewables (but doesn’t mention its ongoing commitment to coal); lauds Saudi Arabia and Russia for their net-zero goals (need we say more?); and continues by reminding us that “We have seen remarkable progress in just a matter of months, but we must all accelerate our efforts.”

As just about every character on Schitt’s Creek said during that show’s six-year run, “I don’t know what that means.”

Insisting on having its own grid led to a winter mess in Texas

The February blackout that struck much of Texas evoked gasps of surprise across the U.S., but TriplePundit writer and Austin resident Kate Zerrenner reminded us we should have seen it coming. “The state leadership has resolutely refused to admit that climate change is already wreaking havoc on the state, from droughts to floods, hurricanes to the latest Texas winter storm,” Zerrenner wrote on February 26. “They claim they could not have predicted a storm of this magnitude. They also didn’t think Hurricane Harvey would wreak such havoc.”

Naturally, Lone Star State politicians blamed renewables for causing the deep freeze, but the state’s own grid operator said lost natural gas power generation was the largest culprit.

California’s governor undercuts wildfire prevention issues

Among the reasons why the effort to recall California Governor Gavin Newsom failed so spectacularly back in September was that it came across as a crass power grab; the Golden State’s absurd recall laws allowing someone like Caitlyn Jenner to run didn’t help much, either. But while Newsom’s opponents harped on pandemic restrictions and the governor’s ill-timed visit to the hoity-toity French Laundry, they overlooked one of the governor’s decisions that didn’t bode so well during yet another horrid season of wildfires.

In June, journalists revealed that not only had Newsom overstated the level of wildfire prevention projects accomplished across California, he also cut $150 million from the state’s wildfire prevention budget. A surprise budget surplus in California’s budget this year spurred the governor to boost spending on wildfire prevention. Granted, climate change, manifested in drought, has been the big underlying factor in California’s wildfires. Nevertheless, try explaining the sudden boost in fire prevention as good news to residents who in recent years have lost just about everything to the fires, including their homes.

Canada’s PM just can’t quit the tar sands

It’s not Justin Trudeau’s fault that he reminds many people of that smarmy high school classmate who was captain of the football team, lacrosse team, tennis team, golf team, debate team, Junior UN, Junior OAS, glee club, LGBTQ-straight alliance club, Diner’s Club, future global leaders who sport a tattoo club, and student representative to the PTA – all while (or after?) his mother was partying with the Rolling Stones. He also, unfortunately, reminds us of that annoying colleague or neighbor who harps constantly about their life-changing, and wardrobe-changing, trip to India and how they saw the light and found inner peace and fulfillment.

But it is Trudeau’s fault that when it comes to the environment, he’s trying to have it both ways: positioning himself as a global climate action champion while supporting Canada’s controversial tar sands industry. “Since 2015, Trudeau’s position has been to try meeting Paris Agreement goals while also pumping billions of dollars in corporate welfare to the oil and gas industry,” Taylor C. Noakes wrote for Foreign Policy.

Whatever happened to honoring the legacy of George Floyd?

Pivoting to social sustainability: Remember all those corporate pledges we heard about in the weeks after the murder of George Floyd last year? It turns out a lot of those financial commitments have fallen short, or even worse, have been outright forgotten. In fact, a Washington Post analysis of the financial promises that 50 of America’s largest companies made to Black America last summer shows that those once-bold pledges have so far led to questionable impact.

The fact that many companies have been silent as voting suppression legislation keeps unfolding in statehouses across the U.S. also sows more doubt about whether companies are as committed to social justice as their comms departments makes them out to be. Bottom line, “these pledges ring hollow as state legislatures overturn decades of progress on voting rights, with a ripple effect on women and LGBTQ persons as well as Blacks and other people of color,” 3p’s Tina Casey wrote back in August.

And, why you should never, ever fire people using Zoom

We don’t pile on here at 3p – there are enough news and gossip sites that already do that and do it well. But as for that CEO who fired 900 people via a Zoom meeting earlier this month: What’s up with that? Well, karma bit him back and chomped quite hard, but if there is a Razzie award for corporate leadership, this would be the “winner,” big time.

Image credit: Anita S. via Pixabay

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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