Six Reasons to be Hopeful About Tackling Climate Change
Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” A good perspective to remember these days, I think, because Americans are reportedly more depressed than ever, and are often bombarded with news that climate chaos is just around the corner.
In fact, a 2017 survey found that sixty-one percent of people around the world say they hear much more negative news about climate change than they do about our progress tackling it. All of this doom and gloom probably isn’t motivating people to feel hopeful about the future.
But there are a lot of good news stories on our progress dealing with carbon pollution and many environmental solutions are gaining momentum. Here are my top six reasons to be hopeful about tackling climate change (in no particular order):
1. Fossil Fuel Divestment
Earlier this month, New York City’s major, Bill de Blasio, announced the city would be divesting its $5 billion in fossil fuel-linked pension funds over the next five years. As the center of the world’s financial markets, the divestment could also incentivize other major cities to follow suit. Many cities, foundations, and non-profits have already committed to divesting to the tune of about $6 trillion. Our own California Academy of Sciences has committed to completely divesting from fossil fuels.
2. States and Cities are Joining Together to Cut Carbon
More than 50 U.S. cities are working towards 100 percent renewable energy. And nine states have joined a regional cap-and-trade program that commits them to collectively cutting carbon emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants 30 percent between 2020 and 2030. See the updated list of cities committed to 100 percent renewables at the Solutions Project.
3. Renewable energy getting cheaper
Wind and solar energy are now competitive with fossil fuels around the world in terms of dollars per-kilowatt-hour. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, in the western U.S. “it is cheaper to build a new wind or solar project than to operate most existing coal plants in the West. It’s also significantly cheaper than the cost of a new gas plant, often considered the most significant competitor of coal, and renewables provide long-term price stability that gas plants don't.”
4. Major declines in Amazon deforestation
In 2004, about 10,000 square miles (6.4 million acres) of rainforest were cut down in the Amazon rainforest. Forests act as the earth’s lungs, taking in carbon and releasing vital oxygen. Tropical rainforests are also home to over half of the world’s plant and animal diversity. Brazil’s policies to curb deforestation enacted in 2004 reduced deforestation in the Amazon almost 70 percent, a huge win for the climate and biodiversity. Deforestation ticked up slightly in 2016, but forest loss in the Amazon is still much reduced from 2004.
5. The momentum of individual actions
Simply switching from standard incandescent light bulbs to LEDs in homes and businesses reduced carbon emissions by 570 million tons in 2017, the equivalent of closing more than 160 coal power plants. That’s HUGE.
There are other super easy things you can do in your daily life to help the climate, including reducing your food waste, fixing leaky faucets, and switching to renewable energy. Check out PlanetVision’s Action Guide for more actions you can take, including resources that can help you save money on energy-saving technologies.
6. We can grow without polluting more
We used to think that economic growth automatically came with more pollution, because all economic activities require energy. But in recent years we’ve discovered that economic growth doesn’t have to come with more pollution. That’s because countries across the globe are recognizing the investment potential of renewable energies. In the U.S. for example, 95 percent of the net new electricity capacity installed in 2017 was either wind or solar. Greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. have been declining since 2007, and emissions in the European Union have been in decline since 1990!
These are just a few of the signs that the world can get better. If we work together, focus on solutions, and envision a better future, I think we can get there. If your optimism ever needs refueling, keep in touch with PlanetVision’s newsletter.
Emily Cassidy is Sustainability Science Manager at the California Academy of Sciences.