The last 12 months have turned out to be quite the year. In the second half of 2019 we had millions of students and their supporters march in #FridaysForFuture climate protests, we had hurricanes, typhoons, floods, and raging fires that nearly covered entire continents. In 2020 so far we have a global pandemic, global protests, and a new awareness of racial abuse and oppression.
But as messed up as it is, it’s not all bad news right now. Even in the above headlines, somehow there is an undercurrent of change. A feeling that the people at the top are afraid and slightly desperate.
No matter how hard they try, they can’t stop us now. There have been a lot of wins that aren’t getting as much press as some of the other bigger social issues yet are also important to know about. Especially if you want to maintain some optimism about the future.
30 Days of No Coal
In April 2020, two of the world’s superpower nations marked a meaningful milestone on the path to a clean future. In the USA, the renewable energy industry (wind, solar, and hydroelectricity) combined to produce more power than that produced by coal – for the entire month. In fact, the run lasted 40 days. April was also a good month for air quality in the UK too. For the first time in almost 140 years, the country went more than 30 days with no electricity produced by coal at all, as shown in the article Renewables Surpass Coal in Both the U.S. and U.K. in Historic Firsts.
The energy industry is heavily subsidized, greatly favouring dirty fossil fuel over renewables. If the subsidies were removed from fossil fuels and given to wind or solar instead, the market for coal could be eliminated overnight. New high paying jobs in clean technology would provide a long-term future for workers, banks, and businesses would feel secure in financing and developing large clean energy projects. As an analogy, imagine this: if instead of taxing cigarettes, America and the UK had subsidized the tobacco industry, ultimately making each pack of cigarettes cheaper than what it actually cost to produce, falsely keeping an industry alive and leading to untold illness and death. That is what we are doing now. By allowing our governments to give private corporations our tax dollars we are literally paying these companies to pollute our air and water.
Estimates by the EESI put U.S. direct subsidies to the coal industry at roughly $4 billion per year. According to the European Commission, UK subsidies are estimated to total 12 billion euros annually (compared to 8.3 billion on renewables).
Imagine the impact those dollars could have if they were spent on clean technology, public health care, and education instead.
Global Deforestation Rate is Down
As the doomed coal industry shrinks and fights for survival, other good news came in the form of carbon capture: Deforestation rate globally declined between 2015 and 2020: FAO report shows that there is hope for us yet. Despite the rapid loss of intact forests around the world (including in my home province of British Columbia), the rate at which deforestation has been occurring has slowed down. Science has proven that intact first growth forests capture the largest amount of carbon per hectare, so saving the existing old-growth forests is critical, but the value of reforestation cannot be underestimated. In areas that have been damaged by development, forest fires or logging, planting of trees can prevent erosion of soil, create habitat for threatened species, provide food security, and provide a financial boost to local economies. Science shows that trees can even change local climates by raising water tables and providing shade in drought-prone areas.
We Can Meet our Climate Targets
In World can likely capture and store enough carbon dioxide to meet climate targets, the writer discusses the ways in which technology is being deployed to help offset some of the carbon emissions from human activity. The newest and most detailed reports suggest that 2,700 gigatons of carbon capture will be required in order to meet the needs of the planet, far less than the 10,000 gigatons that were previously estimated. While carbon capture and storage technology is great and will provide an economic boom for businesses, it is not enough by itself. In order to be effective, it must be used along with carbon reduction technologies like renewable energy, energy efficiency, and electrification of the transportation sector.
Oil Capital of the World Goes Green
Here’s a little known piece of information: Houston says it is the greenest city in America, buying more renewable power than any other, a claim supported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Houston currently powers 92% of all city-owned properties with a combination that includes mostly wind and a little bit of solar. In Built by Oil’s Riches, Houston Goes 100% Green Years Earlier, the writer explains how Houston Texas, the global capital of the oil and gas industry, is now running all city operations on 100% renewable energy. While the title is a little misleading (due to the fact that city-owned buildings account for just 1% of the city’s total energy consumption), the sentiment is great. The city is in the process of building 1,800 miles of bike lanes as well as enlarging parks to reduce the local effects of global warming. Solar installations for homes and businesses in Houston have doubled over the past two years, ending 2019 with 42.5 megawatts. The city is hoping its latest boost in renewable power encourages residents and businesses within the city to follow suit.
Spain Pledges 100% Renewables
All the action is not just in America and the UK. Spain is in on the clean revolution too: Spain approves push for 100% renewables, bans all new fossil fuel projects. The leadership of Spain understands that the road to economic prosperity is paved by clean technology, so it has legislated the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. The Southern European country has a huge opportunity in that its sunny location can also benefit more than vacation getaways for people from Northern climates. The country can gain a leg up from EU green new deal stimulus programs for solar farms by providing itself and adjacent countries with clean energy. The benefits are far-reaching, providing high paying jobs in clean technology as well as energy for business, homes, and transportation. In fact, their announcement also includes a ban on fossil fuel transportation after 2040 which should be effective in spurring a rapid transition to battery-powered cars and trucks.
So, while the world looks pretty messed up at the moment, there is good news happening all the time. Positive change is occurring both socially and environmentally, and while they sometimes seem like separate issues, they are intertwined in many ways.
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