Meanwhile, and in part due to this development, Grist reported in November of 2016 that donations and support for environmental groups are on the rise. While browsing through the news, we may see stories about astonishing arctic warming, Bill Gates launching a billion-dollar transformative energy research investment fund, and solar energy having a record-breaking third quarter for new installations.
These dramatic developments and reports reflect a growing awareness of the reality of climate change and the need for a collaborative global response. To engage in environmental advocacy, we must inform ourselves about the severity of climate change and also pause to celebrate positive environmental news stories. In that spirit, here are 10 positive environmental news stories from 2016:
1. President Obama Creates Historic Marine Sanctuaries
President Obama increased the size of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii to more than half a million square miles. He also designated nearly 5,000 square miles near New England as the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. The Washington Post shares that Obama has protected more than twice as much land and water as any other president during his terms, at over 540 million acres.
2. The Paris Agreement Enters Into Force
The Paris Agreement aims to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and limit the increase in the global average temperature. It is the first legally binding global climate agreement. Nearly 200 countries contributed to the writing of the agreement, which was adopted in 2015 at the Paris Climate Conference. By the end of October, enough countries that produced significant greenhouse gasses had signed the agreement for it to go into effect. Rodrigo Estrada, who covers forests, climate, energy, and chemical safety with Greenpeace, explains why this is important:
The Paris Agreement is the signal that the world is moving in the right direction to tackle runaway climate change. It is not a silver bullet but now that we have an agreement, action needs to happen at different levels within the countries to increase the ambition of the commitments to keep rising temperature average below 1.5 C.
3. Patagonia Donates 100 Percent Of Black Friday Sales To Environmental Organizations
One of the most recent environmental news stories: Patagonia gave 100 percent of their Black Friday profits ($10 million) to environmental groups. Rose Marcario, the CEO of Patagonia, shares this reflection with us:
Following the election, we felt it was important to go further and connect more of our customers, who love wild places, with those fighting tirelessly to protect them. Donating 100 percent of global direct sales to grassroots environmental organizations was a great way to show our commitment to the planet. By being active in our local communities, we can raise our voices to protect wildlife and wild places, defend policies and regulations that will reduce carbon emissions, build a modern energy economy based on investment in renewables, and, most crucially, ensure the United States remains fully committed to the vital goals set forth in the Paris Climate Agreement.
4. Historic Protests Lead To Denial Of Dakota Access Pipeline Permit
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, along with the thousands of protesters which included representatives of over 280 indigenous tribes, has been protesting the construction of the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline (DAPL) and making environmental news headlines since April. The semi-permanent camp of protesters called “water protectors” are fighting the pipeline because of its threat to drinking water and sacred sites. The tribe is represented by the environmental law firm, Earth Justice. Earth Justice’s Senior Press Secretary, Phillip Ellis, chose the DAPL case as the most important positive environmental story this year and said that it was “a pretty easy answer for us.” In December, the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit for the current pipeline route. While the Water Protectors remain vigilant and committed, NPR describes this as “a major victory to protesters who have been demonstrating for months.”
5. Scientists Convert Co2 Into Ethanol
In September, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory used a nanotechnology-based catalyst to convert carbon dioxide directly into ethanol. Senior Staff Scientist Adam Justin Rondinone, Ph.D., explained why this is such an important development:
The most exciting aspect of this discovery is the long-term potential for changing the way we power our transportation fleet. There are many hurdles left to jump before we will know if this technology can operate at scale. But if it does, and it proves to be price competitive, then it represents a whole new way of making transportation fuel. We can use it to augment current fuels such as gasoline and corn ethanol. But more importantly, we can use it to store renewable electricity for transportation. Today’s electric cars still need time to charge, which causes range anxiety and not everybody’s circumstances or budget permits adoption of an electric car. With a technology like this, we can convert renewable electricity to transportation fuel at a central location, and distribute that fuel using current methods. Cars can still refuel quickly, which people are accustomed to doing, and the cars don’t cost nearly as much. I see this as a way to enable a more widespread use of renewable energy for transportation, and possibly a better way to fuel cars for long trips and commercial vehicles. I don’t think it would compete with electric cars, but it would (hopefully) offer an alternative for those that want to utilize clean energy.
6. Burlington, VT Goes 100 Percent Renewable
Burlington, Vermont is now the first U.S. city to use 100 percent renewable electricity sources. Burlington is Vermont’s largest city with 42,000 residents and its energy comes from a combination of hydroelectric power, sustainably harvested pine and timber slash, wind turbines, and solar panels. Politico reports that Burlington also hopes to be a “net zero consumer of energy within 10 years” by increasing bike paths and electric vehicle charging stations and heating downtown buildings with the generating station’s wasted heat. How’s that for positive environmental news?!
7. Food Waste Reduction Receives Global Attention
Food waste has a variety of negative environmental impacts, including an increase in the methane produced by landfills and the waste of land, water, and fuel that are used to grow wasted food. Danielle Nierenberg, President and Founder of Food Tank, shares:
One of the most exciting stories in 2016 is the momentum that’s been created over preventing food loss and food waste both globally and domestically. The Food Date Labeling Act was introduced in the House in May and while it hasn’t yet passed the House, it highlights a commitment among legislators to take action on the USDA and EPA’s recommendations to reduce food waste in the U.S. by 50 percent by 2030.
In addition, the Rockefeller Foundation pledged $130 million to reduce global food loss and food waste with the launch of Yieldwise. Currently, the project is focused on Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania to help farmers find better ways to harvest, store, process, and market their crops. Investments like this are important because it is the first time there has been such a large-scale effort to help farmers improve storage, transport, and innovation in financing and technology to stop preventable food waste.
8. Extinct Species Are Rediscovered
Sometimes, animals that are thought to be extinct can make a comeback. The Weather Channel lists some of the rediscovered species of 2016: the Pygmy Tarsier, Eastern Quoll, Jerdon’s Tree Frog, Myanmar’s Jerdon’s Babbler, Pinocchio Lizard, Black Kokanee, Black-Footed Ferret, Omura’s Whale, Kashmir Musk Deer, and Crested Gecko.
9. Arctic And Atlantic Protected From Drilling
The Obama administration removed the Arctic and Atlantic from five-year offshore gas and drilling plans. In December of 2016, President Obama and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau banned drilling in 118.8 million acres of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. data-saferedirecturl=”https://www.google.com/url?hl=en&q=https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/green-life/obama-bans-oil-drilling-arctic-atlantic?utm_medium%3Dsocial%26utm_source%3Dfacebook%26utm_campaign%3Dourwildamerica&source=gmail&ust=1482430084446000&usg=AFQjCNHEivIL0KQaTzfXGpX3RJp8cjc2FA”>The Sierra Club explains that Obama utilized “a provision in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act that should make the withdrawal permanent.”
Here’s more from Estrada of Greenpeace on this environmental news:
The Obama administration listened to the people and decided, in different moments, to keep the Arctic and the Atlantic Oceans off the table for oil and gas drilling. This decision reflects that the transition to 100 percent renewable energy is here to stay and is a clear demonstration that people power can hold governments accountable.
10. A Win For Deep Sea Mining Regulation
Deep sea mining is a new industry that has the potential to grow quickly and do untold harm to our marine landscapes and the deep sea underwater world scientists are only beginning to explore and understand. This settlement helps to ensure that impacts to wildlife like sea turtles, whales, tuna, corals and sea birds are considered before a project can move forward.
The process of deep sea mining is similar to destructive strip mining on land and not subject to the same regulatory oversight and rules. This settlement would sensibly require U.S. companies to “conduct an in-depth analysis of the risks to wildlife and underwater ecosystems” before moving forward with any projects. This case helps to ensure that we don’t make the same mistakes and forever degrade ocean biodiversity in the same way we allowed extraction industries to degrade our lands and rivers.
11. Climate Kids’ Case Against The Federal Government Moves Forward
Twenty-one youth represented by Our Children’s Trust are suing the U.S. government for causing climate change. The complaint they filed asserts that the government “has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.” In November of 2016, a judge denied motions to dismiss the case filed by the U.S. government and fossil fuel industry, so the case is now moving to trial.
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Positive Environmental News Stories Going Forward
Hopefully, these positive environmental news stories, along with the many others from 2016, can be a source of motivation and inspiration as our country and species move forward. While further challenges to the environment undoubtedly await, 2017 surely has the potential to bring many more stories of conservation, restoration, and innovation.
Julia Travers is a writer and journalist. She has written with Not Impossible, Earth Island Journal, SciArt Magazine, and many other publications. Check out more of her work here.
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