2019 has been a tough year for work on the climate crisis. From fires in California, Australia, the Amazon and the Arctic, to hurricanes, floods and melting ice sheets, the news is grim. But it is not all doom and gloom. While we certainly have a long way to go, there has been progress we can celebrate. Let’s remember that the climate crisis is large, scary, urgent yet long term, and can seem overwhelming. We work on the climate because it is the right thing to do. The moral thing to do. Success will be over lifetimes, but measuring progress is a way to sustain our work. Here are 10 things that are good signs of progress in the climate movement from this year.
1. Greta Thunberg and the Youth Movement
No major social change has been achieved without a youth movement. 2019 was a year in which young people showed up in tens of millions across the world to march and demand collective action on climate. While every single person who joined this movement contributes, the spark is attributed to the courage of a single person, Greta Thunberg who started the School Strike for the Climate movement. Of course, deniers attacked Thunberg for her courage. Thank you Greta. See you in the streets.
2. A changing mindset of the American public
Data from a variety of polls indicate about an 8 to 10% point change in those that believe in climate change. According to Pew Research, 67% of American’s believe that the government should be doing more to combat climate change. The numbers are higher for Democrats (90%) than Republicans (39%). While belief and action are two separate things, the climate crisis may make it as a top three political issue next year. The climate movement’s next task is to get specific on actions.
3. The Green New Deal
Enter the Green New Deal (GND). The concept has been around for a number of years, but it was given a renewed voice by Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen Ed Markey (D-MA). The GND is a set of goals that combine social, economic reforms to address the climate crisis. These goals were blocked in the Senate by Republicans and attacked by Fox News and right wing think tanks using fear and doubt. Yet the GND has started a positive national dialogue. The GND isn’t going to go away. Since it’s a series of goals, it will begin to be implemented in thousands of ways over the next 10 years.
4. Record US Solar Energy installations
According to Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) Trump’s solar tariffs cost the US more than 62,000 jobs , $19B in investment and 10.5 GWs of new installations. Despite this, SEIA reports, “the U.S. installed 2.6 gigawatts (GW) of solar PV capacity in Q3 2019 to reach 71.3 GW of total installed capacity, enough to power 13.5 million American homes. Residential solar saw its best quarter in history in Q3, and the utility-scale solar pipeline now stands at a record 45.5 GW in Q2.” Think about what we can do when we separate policy from ideology and put our minds to it.
5. Record Wind Energy Installations
I was never out of site of a wind turbine for a full hour while driving through Texas this last spring. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), “the American wind power industry emerged from 2018 stronger than ever and is now able to power 30 million homes after 8% capacity growth last year. The U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report, Year Ending 2018 reveals that U.S. wind power supports a record 114,000 American jobs, over 500 domestic factories, and more than US$1 billion a year in revenue for states and communities that host wind farms.
6. The rise of EVs
Tesla was the most popular selling luxury sedan in the US in 2018 and continues to grow. The good news is that over 20 other manufacturers have introduced and or about to introduce new EV models, including trucks, and EV buses. Analysts forecast the global Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Station market to grow at a CAGR of over 41% during the period 2018–2023.
7. The Volkswagen settlement
Volkswagen was fined over $25B as a result of falsifying the diesel pollution of their vehicles in the US. As part of the settlement, $3B has been set aside for states to spend on clean transportation. States are now investing this money in electric buses and charging networks with their portions of the settlements. Scrutiny of settlement spending is required to make sure the funds are used for clean transportation but strong progress is being made.
8. Regenerative Agriculture
2019 became the year in which awareness of regenerative agriculture started to be a topic of interest for American farmers. “Regenerative Agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services. Regenerative Agriculture aims to capture carbon in soil and aboveground biomass, reversing current global trends of atmospheric accumulation.” Here’s a video on the subject by the American Association of Ranchers and Farmers.
9. Planting Trees
Tree planting came of age in 2019 as one method to sequester carbon and help the climate crisis. Ethiopia claims to have planted over 200 million trees in a day during 2019 requiring around a quarter of their population. This record would supplant (pun intended) India’s record of planting 50 million trees in 2017. The Philippines passed a law that in order to graduate from elementary, high school or college, students need to plant 10 trees before graduating. Accounting for the number of students and a 10% tree survival rate this would mean that at least 175 million trees over the next 10 years.
10. My Neighbors
My neighbor Bob asked what he could do to help with the climate crisis. I sent him on a journey that culminated with him subscribing to a community solar project to power his house. He follows my other neighbor, Kenton who installed rooftop solar, batteries and bought a used electric car. Inspired, I’ve made a commitment not to fly this year. While climate is a collective issue that needs large scale action by governments, individuals can show leadership through their own personal choices.
Like every year, 2020 will again be pivotal with respect to the climate crisis. Thank you for the work you have done. Take a minute to pause, breath and remember what has been accomplished in 2019. To use a common quote from Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Now let’s get back to work. We can do this together.
‘We are all connected. Savor the Earth!’™
L. Hobart Stocking