If you were to judge our civilisation by what’s being put forward by commercial broadcasters and mainstream news and media, you would be forgiven for coming away with a negative impression of human society (narcissistic, self-centred, materialistic, hedonistic, stupid) or feeling a sense of doom and gloom about the future of humankind.
Thankfully, we – and hopefully you – know better than to trust the 24/7 news cycle that feeds off of the human infatuation with drama, delights in emotionally exploiting us and manipulates us through the use of fear.
While 2018 still saw its fair share of ongoing armed conflicts, mass shootings, refugee crises, political corruption, social justice concerns etc, what we aren’t often shown or told, are the positive stories, victories and the many signs of progress, particularly when it comes to the environment.
So we take a look back at the year that was and share some of the biggest environmental triumphs of 2018:
1. Global efforts to end single-use plastic pollution
From Brazil to Canada, governments, companies and
A recent report co-authored by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Resources Institute (WRI) found that 127, or 66%, of the 192 countries surveyed have implemented some type of single-use plastic policy since 2000.
Whether governments are implementing taxes on the production of plastic bags, charging customers to use plastic bags, banning/restricting single-use plastics, or offering rebates or container deposit schemes to encourage recycling of plastics, the policy measures are proving effective.
For example, Australia introduced a plastic bag ban mid-way through 2018, which has resulted in an 80% reduction or 1.5 billion fewer plastic bags being used. In Bali, where plastic bags and single-use plastic now litter the once postcard-perfect beaches, the Indonesian government has implemented a policy to cut the sale, trade and disposal of single-use plastics which have been welcomed by the local and tourist community alike.
That the word “single-use” topped Collins Dictionary’s “2018 Word of the Year” list is indicative of just how concerned the English-speaking world is about disposable plastic and plastic pollution.
2. Students mobilise and demand climate action
The activist of the year award goes to 15-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg who went on a solo school strike in September ahead of the country’s national election demanding climate action (with her parents’ blessing of course) and in so doing, inspired a new generation of young people to join in on the fight against climate change. In Australia, thousands of Australian school students in capital cities and regional centres garnered worldwide press coverage when they skipped a day of school and went on ‘School Strike for Climate Action’ to demand government action to aggressively curb climate change.
Australia isn’t alone in following Thunberg’s lead. According to The Guardian, 20,000 students have now attended school strikes in more than 270 towns and cities in countries across the world including United Kingdom, the US and Japan.
Thunberg’s climate leadership was witnessed again at the recent COP24 United Nations climate negotiations in Katowice, Poland earlier this month, where she delivered a speech to world leaders which went to the heart of the matter:
“Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.
“The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.
“Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself.”
3. The ozone layer is healing
Since the 1980s we’ve been hearing about how the ozone layer has a huge hole in it; concerns which led to the Montreal Protocol, the first multi-national agreement to limit ozone-depleting substances. So a few months ago when the United Nations released its report entitled “Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 2018” revealing that the ozone hole is recovering and may be completely healed by 2060, there was a collective fist pump in the environmental movement.
This news also provides a ray of hope for the climate movement, with writers of the report noting that if the Kigali Amendment, which aims for the phase-down of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) by cutting their production and consumption is fully implemented, “the world can avoid up to 0.4% of global warming this century, meaning that it will play a major role in keeping the global temperature rise below two-degrees Celsius”.
4. Record renewable energy investment
Fossil fuel companies and their political henchmen and henchwomen can try to stall wall renewable energy progress all they want, but the free market knows better. Continuing on from a record-smashing year, government and commercial investment in renewables continues to grow. In Australia, renewable energy projects and investments reached $20 billion while in the US, EU and China, there have been a record number of bioenergy, solar, wind and hydro projects.
“Renewables will continue their expansion in the next five years, covering 40% of global energy consumption growth,” states the International Energy Agency press release published in October. “Their use continues to increase most rapidly in the electricity sector, and will account for almost a third of total world electricity generation in 2023.”
The International Energy Agency recognises China as the global leader in the renewable revolution “as a result of policies to decarbonise all sectors and reduce harmful local air pollution”. The global energy organisation predicts China will become the largest consumer of renewable energy, surpassing the European Union by 2023. This is welcome news given China is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.
5. Green New Deal
With a climate change skeptic President at the helm of the United States and the world’s second biggest greenhouse gas emitter planning to leave the Paris Agreement, limiting global warming to 1.5-degree Celsius will be a difficult task, which is why environmentalists are pegging their hopes on a proposed US climate program called the “Green New Deal”.
When talks of the Green New Deal, a plan to move the US to 100% clean energy surfaced back in November, led by Democrat superstar Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s and supported by youth-led activist organisations Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats, there were just 10 members of Congress who had pledged their support. As this goes to press, that figure has risen to 40.
The Deal is proving popular with voters too, with a recent survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication of 966 registered voters revealing that 81% were either “strongly” or “somewhat” supporting the climate action plan.
While the select committee of the Deal have yet to achieve any ‘wins’ as yet given Republicans have control of the White House and the Senate, will need to work out a strategy of how they will convince the American public that they will be able to stimulate the economy through job creation and improve the lives of all voters. With social media savvy Ocasio-Cortez bringing fresh, new ways of communicating to the public, and many newly elected members of Congress – many of whom are women and those of diverse cultures – swearing to work ‘across the aisle’ to do what’s in the best interest of the country, we’re sure to hear more of the Green New Deal in the years to come.
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