Year-end message for 2020
By Grant Brown, Founder, Happy Eco News
A year of tragedy and discord
For my whole life, the number 2020 was used to describe what is known as perfect vision.
Unfortunately, after the events of the year 2020, instead of clarity, it forever will be associated with death, loneliness, and outrage. The Covid-19 pandemic, George Floyd, wildfires, and hurricanes battered our world and our society. Pretty much everything that could have gone bad did.
But in amongst all the negatives were the everyday people, trying to do their best.
Sure, we can point fingers at small groups of people, sometimes lone individuals who have shown a penchant for anti-social behaviour. Sure, they now have their particular brand of crazy amplified on social media, but for the most part, the vast majority of people have tried to do the right thing. We closed our businesses and isolated when necessary. We protected our elders and our weak. We took to the streets and demanded justice for our brothers and sisters at great risk to our personal safety. Our children became protestors, demanding action for their future.
We are not yet done. We know there is more work ahead, but we are making progress. Just like in the early days of spring, the scent of change is in the air, and it is good. We are winning.
Much has happened in just five years
At around this time in December five years ago, I had just returned from a business trip to Europe. It had been a busy month, starting with a week in New Orleans for a conference, home to Vancouver for one night, then on a plane to Paris. I was to participate in a small presentation about the decarbonization of one of the dirtiest industries in the world, commercial shipping. It was the UN Climate Conference COP21. The month before, 130 people had lost their lives in a vicious terror attack in the city and there were credible threats of more violence. But in spite of these threats, hundreds of world leaders arrived in Paris that December to try to make an agreement that would change human history. These leaders arrived in a show of unity against terror and the threat of climate change.
The optimism, excitement, and fear were palpable; Barack Obama was in the white house, and Justin Trudeau had been elected the month before on a platform that largely included climate action. Everyone there knew the science; our collective society had limited time to address the one thing that threatened us all equally.
Thankfully, all 195 countries agreed and the Paris Accord was ratified. But it wasn’t really the countries that did it, it was the delegates that made the agreement come together. Despite representing 195 very different countries whose national interests didn’t always align, these hardened career negotiators found a way to show their humanity and make an agreement that was for the benefit of all of the world’s citizens, not just the ones that resided between specific borders. The significance can not be overstated. It was a historic achievement that will be remembered for generations as the moment humanity decided to act together for a common good.
The pace is accelerating
Sometimes it feels like we are moving too slow. For some of us, it feels as though the urgency has somehow been lost as of late. I would argue hard against this mindset. In fact, I believe the exact opposite; that there has been incredible progress and the industries and institutions that are often the slowest to change have changed the most. To my mind, the examples below are a harbinger of future successes.
- In 2015, we had only a handful of electric cars on the road. Now, for the 2021 model-year, we have dozens. In 2015, Tesla was still a small startup that many believed wouldn’t make it. Now they are the world’s highest value automaker with traditional manufacturers scrambling to catch up. E-bikes are everywhere and are one of the fastest-growing transportation sectors. Even jet aircraft are now using lower-carbon fuel and there are many who believe we will have zero-emissions commercial aircraft in only five more years.
- The single most important part of our global economy, commercial shipping, has also moved forward and embraced the use of clean technologies. Not long ago it was the dirtiest industry on the planet; in 2015 just 16 large container ships accounted for more emissions than all the world’s cars and trucks combined! Low sulphur fuels have fixed that particular problem and exhaust scrubbers, electrification, and alternative fuels are now in use across all other segments of the marine industry. Huge, international ferries are already running on battery power and the promise of zero emissions trans-oceanic shipping is closer than ever.
- Banking and investment have moved away from dirty industries. They know that these investments are increasingly risky and are unlikely to produce the same returns that they would have, just a few years ago. Religious, educational, and retirement funds are also divesting, and their shareholders are demanding climate accountability from a risk and ethical point of view.
- Major energy companies are moving away from fossil fuels and into renewables. Ørsted, Statoil, British Petroleum, Shell, and others are all now investing in clean energy technology as a way of future-proofing. The others, the ones that have refused to embrace the new reality, are beginning to founder. Once considered a blue-chip stock, a major US oil company is now in trouble. In 2020, it lost 42% of its share value. After 92 consecutive years, the 135-year-old company was removed from the Dow Jones Industrial Average. It was the oldest member.
- The energy industry itself has changed. In 2015, the phrase “energy industry” really meant the “fossil fuel industry”. Now in 2020, renewables are taking over and in just five years the word “energy” no longer means oil to most people. Instead, it now means simply electricity. Five years ago the idea that countries would be making 100% renewable energy pledges was almost unthinkable. Here we are, 60 months later with many countries bragging about how many days of the year they were entirely run from renewable energy. These same countries are now building the infrastructure to achieve publicly stated goals of being 100% renewable, or even carbon neutral. Solar is now cheaper to engineer, build and commission than simply running an existing coal plant. Wind, once considered too ugly and invasive, is everywhere and is almost as cheap as solar.
The Paris effect
All of these actions are directly or indirectly a result of the Paris Accord. Investors and banks are now asking if projects are in line with Paris targets, consumer purchases are now driven by a societal shift toward supporting green companies, and the biggest of organizations now find themselves having to change – or get left behind. The momentum of these massive shifts in society and business are merely five years old but they are so much bigger than that. They are a sign of how fast the change will happen now that the momentum has begun. We are humans after all. We compete.
The climate race is now on and we will all be the winners.
Those who profited from the destruction of our ecosystems and would have things stay the same are now on the defense. Their increased rhetoric and disproven talking points now saying more about them, than the antiquated ideas they attempt to defend. They are on defense, and they are fearful of a future that they no longer control or even influence. Change is coming, and it is coming fast. Like the ocean’s tide, the green shift will not be stopped. Once it begins to flow in earnest, you’d better swim with it or get swept away forever.
2020 has been a rough go, but it showed us that in a real crisis, humans will come together to do what is needed. We are nothing if not resilient. We may procrastinate a while and look for the easy way out, but in the end, just when things look dire, we pull together and find a way to move forward. The harsh truth of reality is that 2020 is nothing compared to the challenges that lie ahead. But this is only if we don’t fix things and start right now.
And that is why I am hopeful for the future. I am hopeful because all the evidence that I see shows that we are already moving in the right direction. I believe that the next five years will be even better than the last. The pandemic will end, a green new deal will provide economic growth all over the world. People will have better jobs, cleaner air, and live better lives than at any other time in our history. Trees will grow, and with them, the planet will begin to heal.
“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it is not yet the end.” – John Lennon
Also this month, Happy Eco News turns three years old. Thank you to all who have helped and followed along for the last three years and 5,400 published posts. With your messages, support, and encouragement we have continued to grow and have become helpful to many more people.
I am truly humbled and honoured to be able to do something so little, that affects so many.
Sincerely, Grant Brown
December 25, 2020