It’s easy to focus on the chaos of the world right now. 2018 was a huge wake-up call for the planet. Species continue to go extinct across the earth. In the U.S., Hurricanes Michael and Florence along with the wildfires in California were catastrophic events made more drastic by human-caused climate change. India, Japan, Nigeria, and North Korea were all hit with major floods. Indonesia was ravaged by earthquakes and tsunamis that claimed the lives of thousands.
We cannot shy away from this harsh reality.
And yet, all over the world, people are working day and night to avert climate disasters like these and to mitigate their effects. Too often, we lose sight of the incredible work that people are doing to drastically change our economies and evolve to a more sustainable way of living.
If we’re going to spend so much time fixated on how bad the situation is, then we must also start to acknowledge the solutions to climate catastrophe, to learn from the successes of others, and to take action to change our way of life.
Here’s a recap of the biggest climate victories of 2018.
1. Big polluters are losing in court and the Earth is winning.
Despite the attempts of the Trump administration, a federal court told the EPA that it must enforce Obama-era safety rules for chemical plants. The EPA was told it broke the law by delaying smog protections, and was also ordered to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos (following Hawaii’s ban of the chemical), which has been linked to learning disabilities in children. Meanwhile, the Clean Water Rule was reinstated for 26 states.
A man won a $289 million lawsuit against Monsanto and now 8,700 similar lawsuits have stacked up against the company behind the toxic weedkiller, Roundup. In Brazil, a federal judge banned the use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. With Monsanto’s strategy of corporate ownership of mono-cropped plant species, these are not only wins for human health, but wins for our planet’s topsoil.
New York attorney general Barbara Underwood sued Exxon, stating the company defrauded investors over climate change. And federal judges rejected (twice) Exxon’s attempts to derail two state-led lawsuits against the company. Rhode Island is suing a number of companies (ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and others) for the damage they caused by recklessly contributing to climate change. New Jersey is suing industrial site polluters after decades of giving them a free pass. Meanwhile, coal executives were indicted in Kentucky and convicted in Alabama.
InsideClimate News has a great running list of where some major climate lawsuits stand today.
2. Conservation is happening at a massive scale.
(Reforestation too, but there’s so much that it gets its own section!)
We continue to learn just how important predators are to thriving ecosystems, so it’s heartening to see the success of efforts to grow their numbers. The population of wild jaguars in Mexico has grown by 20% in the past 8 years. Nepal’s tiger population increased 19% since 2014. A US judge ordered that grizzly bears be returned to the protection of the endangered species list, indefinitely canceling a sport hunt that would have otherwise taken place.
The EU agreed to a total ban on neonicotinoids, pesticides which are known to kill bees.
Over 60 countries introduced bans or fees on single-use plastics, helping protect ocean species and our drinking water, which is becoming ever more precious.
A thriving coral forest was discovered near Sicily’s underwater volcanoes. A giant coral reef was discovered off the coast of South Carolina. Belize’s Barrier Reef System was removed from the endangered species list due to its continued rehabilitation. These are all part of a major global effort that is seeing coral reefs reforested in record numbers. Over 18,000 corals were planted onto reefs in 2018—double the rate of successful plantings 5 years ago.
3. Oil pipeline construction has been repeatedly thwarted.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of activists and legal advocates, progress was halted multiple times on dangerous oil pipelines that disrupt the natural landscape and put waterways in danger.
The Constitution Pipeline was stalled when New York declined to issue a necessary water permit, and the Supreme Court rejected the pipeline company’s challenge to that decision.
The biggest headline of all came three days after the Midterms in November, when a federal judge blocked the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, firing back directly at the Trump administration by stating that the administration “simply discarded prior factual findings related to climate change to support its course reversal.”
4. Reforestation and rewilding efforts are working to make giant carbon sinks.
It’s not enough to switch to renewables. We need to absorb more of the CO2 that’s already in the atmosphere. That’s where trees come in.
Although the country’s methods are not the most democratic, China is reforesting more than 16 million acres of land, an area roughly the size of Ireland. Not to be outdone, Pakistan is committed to planting 10 billion trees.
A group of philanthropist is committing $459 million to land-based solutions to climate change, including recognizing indigenous land rights.
Yet even individuals can make a difference. An Australian man’s simple tree pruning technique has helped regenerate over 15 million acres of forest in west Africa over the last 30 years, with 240 million trees.
Here at The New Climate, we wrote about a community in Mexico that is educating locals to be stewards of the nearby rainforest.
5. Countries and companies are divesting huge amounts from fossil fuels.
In addition to the environmental impact, it no longer makes good financial sense to invest in fossil fuels. A new report showed that oil and gas shares have dropped for the past five years while the rest of the market soared. Companies and countries are taking note and divesting.
The Royal Bank of Scotland made major cuts to fossil fuel investments. The American Medical Association is divesting from fossil fuels. The Church of England is divesting from companies not aligned with the Paris agreement.
All these and more bring the grand total of the fossil fuel divestment movement up to $8 trillion.
Meanwhile, the World Bank and The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development now refuse to invest in coal projects, and Swiss Re won’t insure companies that depend on coal. And more countries are implementing a carbon tax, including Canada where they plan to return 90% of the money collected back to the people. Even the United States is seeing bipartisan groups in support of a carbon tax.
6. The renewable revolution is happening right now!
Renewable energy sources are good for the environment and good for business. Research shows that fighting climate change could boost the global economy by $26 trillion by 2030.
We hit some major milestones in 2018. For the first time, the cost of wind power is competitive with natural gas in some places in the U.S. In the U.K., wind and solar made more electricity than nuclear power for the first time. The world’s largest offshore wind farm opened in the Irish Sea. Portugal made more than enough energy to power the country on renewables. The world’s first hydrogen-powered train launched in Germany.
Over 1 million electric vehicles are now on the road in the EU. The largest network of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations launched in London. Chargepoint is pledging 2.5 million EV charging stations by 2025.
And we’re not stopping there. Companies and countries are investing and renewing their commitment to a more sustainable way of life. The EU is investing €114 billion more to fight climate change. Businesses, local governments, and activists are making sure that the U.S. meets the agreements of the Paris Climate Accords regardless of what administration is in the White House.
All of Apple’s facilities now run on 100% renewable energy. Same goes for Google. Other companies pledged to go 100% renewable in the years to come, including Samsung (2020), Facebook (2020 to go carbon-free), and Sony (2040) among others. Lyft is investing millions to offset the carbon emissions from rides taken with the service and go carbon neutral.
States and countries are making similar pledges. California is beating their emissions targets and plans to go carbon-free by 2045. One way they will accomplish this is with a new law that states that any new home that is built must have solar panels and be more energy efficient. Scottish Power shifted to 100% wind power generation.
This change is happening at the local level all over the planet as well! A solar farm opened on a coal plant in Washington state. Los Angeles is investing in energy-efficient low-income housing. Britain’s first subsidy-free on-site solar farm will be built on a business park and make that location carbon negative.
Here at The New Climate, we wrote about a landfill in Beacon, NY that has now been converted to a solar farm that provides electricity for the city and surrounding area.
So don’t give in to despair. Join the fight. Save the planet.