You will hear that 2015 was the hottest year on record, but it was also a year of important environmental breakthroughs. Here are several signs that things are starting to get better:
- Americans finally believe climate change is real. A recent poll shows 76% of Americans now know climate change is happening. Even a majority of Republicans, whose party has been in aggressive denial about this issue, now understand it’s a problem. Our politicians have the population’s mandate to act. They must therefore stop throwing roadblocks in the path of important and necessary policies, like the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan, which will set the first nationwide limits of power plant emissions (the U.S.’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions).
- Other important greenhouse-gas producers, like China, are cutting emissions too. China is a particularly important example — it’s both the world’s largest population center and our largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The Chinese government is experimenting with carbon trading markets in five cities and two provinces, which altogether contain almost a fifth of China’s population and produce a quarter of its gross domestic product (economic output). This is in preparation for launching a Chinese national carbon trading market in 2017. This is a good sign that China is taking its responsibility to act on climate change seriously.
- The U.S. and Cuba are getting along. I posted recently about how Cuba and the U.S. have agreed to work together to monitor marine life in the oceans between the two nations. Because many important marine species cross the international boundary, monitoring them has been challenging. Now the two nations will share data that will make science-based management of fisheries and other ecosystems possible.
- Powerful sensors are becoming commercially available. What this means is that realtime data on the presence of toxic chemicals in our day-to-day environment will now be available on a large scale. For example, a large segment of citizens wearing wristband sensors that detect chemical residues could allow for the creation of a large database of chemical abundance. This would allow policymakers to base their decisions regarding the licensing of certain chemicals on real numbers describing how chemicals spread throughout the population. It also means that groups who lobby for tougher chemical safety regulations will have strong data on their side — countering the too-frequent excuse of chemical companies and their lobbyists that “you can’t prove it.”
- Scientists finally have a handle on methane emissions. Methane, which is many times over a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, is emitted as a byproduct of many processes, particularly those in the oil and gas industries. With new data in hand, states, scientists, and climate activists are now able to push for stronger regulation of methane emissions. Thanks to a series of 16 research projects conducted over the past five years, there is now strong enough data on this pollutant that the federal government has proposed, for the first time, methane-specific regulations for the nation.
Read more details about these issues at the Environmental Defense Fund website. Photo in body of post taken from EDF website.
Header photo from U.S. EPA. View original post here.
A world leader in switching to renewable energy, Germany is expected to reach 33% this year. Relying on solar, wind, and other renewable sources to supply about a quarter of its energy last year, Germany has brought online much more wind energy this year.
Germany is the fourth-largest economy in the world, after only the U.S., China, and Japan. This means that any move it makes is of global importance.
I also posted recently about how Morocco is set to become the world’s solar superpower, with plans to eventually export power to Europe and maybe even the middle East. The world is changing!
Read the Clean Technica post here.
A century ago, Norway’s forests were overharvested and on the decline after centuries of logging for firewood and timber (much of it exported to other European nations). Now, the forest has three times the trees it did 100 years ago, and Norway’s annual tree growth offsets 60% of its carbon emissions (as trees are nature’s best carbon dioxide filters). How has Norway accomplished this? By smart forest planning.
The nation harvests only 50% of its annual tree growth each year. This means that the forests are increasing in size. New policies such as preventing livestock from grazing in harvested areas, which prevents regrowth, as well as an aggressive tree-planting scheme, have contributed to the success.
Challenges remain. Critics complain that Norway is not managing its forests for biodiversity, but is treating them like tree plantations instead. Only a very small percentage of Norwegian forests are protected in national parks and so forth. In addition, far northern climates like Norway’s are among the fastest-warming in the new global climate era. It remains to be seen how well Norway’s trees will adapt to a warmer climate.
I recently posted a story about how Norway is due to complete payment of $1 billion to Brazil for its incredible work in reducing deforestation of the Amazon. What a smart country.
Read more at the BBC here.
Wow! Smart policies do pay off. As many of you know, the Amazon rainforest could be considered the “lungs of the Earth.” We really do need these and other large forests to keep our air breathable, clean, and cool. Thank you to the nation of Brazil for this incredible work.
Strategies included protecting half of the nation’s Amazon acreage as national parks and enforcing laws against illegal logging and burning. Inspired by Brazil’s progress, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged $618 million to the nation, mostly earmarked for rainforest protection.
Read more at the Christian Science Monitor here.
The world’s largest automaker says that, by 2050, almost all of its sales will be hybrids, fuel cell, or electric vehicles. Currently, about 85% of Toyota’s sales are gas or diesel vehicles. The other large automakers have their own plans to go green — today’s diesel villain Volkswagen expects to focus on plug-in hybrids, while Nissan is looking at electric vehicles.
Read more at the Wall Street Journal here.
How cool is this? After trial runs — car-free days or limited car-free districts — various European cities have announced plans to go car-free, at least to some extent. The list featured below includes Paris, Brussels, Oslo, Dublin, Madrid, and Milan. I know the cities that just moved higher on my European Vacation to-do list.
View the Atlantic post here.
Tim Flannery’s new book, Atmosphere of Hope, outlines several ideas that go beyond geoengineering to reduce atmospheric carbon. He describes biological and chemical means of drawing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it safely that may be safer, and less radical, than some of the geoengineering ideas that have been proposed.
Many of the technologies and processes needed to implement these “third way technologies” already exist or are in production.
Read more at Yale Environment 360