Who's the Debbie Downer Now?
2018 was a rough year for the environment. We learned that what we do in the next decade will effectively decide the future of our planet, and lawmakers (at least the ones in the news) don't seem concerned with doing much about it. But quietly and behind the scenes, there are many areas where globally we're moving in the right direction. Let's end 2018 optimistic — here are our favorite positive stories from the past year!
Valuing the Forest and the Ocean
The Indonesian government strengthened its forest protections with educational campaigns and better enforcement of forest laws, resulting in a 60% reduction in deforestation in 2017. They also hosted an Ocean Conference on the island of Bali in October, raising $10 billion in funding to protect 5.4 million square miles of the world's oceans from overfishing and climate change. This funding, which is the highest amount ever pledged to ocean initiatives, was a cooperative effort among government representatives, philanthropic organizations, the private sector, and civil society groups.
The second largest reef in the world, located off the shores of Belize, was removed from Unesco's list of endangered world heritage sites. Belizean lawmakers placed a moratorium on all oil exploration in the country's waters in December 2017 (one of only a few countries to do so), taking "visionary" steps to preserve the extremely biodiverse barrier reef.
Abandoning Fossil Fuels
The Spanish energy company Repsol announced it will no longer seek out new oil and gas projects and is the first among its competitors to do so. Repsol's move shows that industry decisions are starting to be influenced by renewable energy growth and questions of future long-term demand. Also, the cost of renewable energy is dropping. In the later half of 2018, the cost of solar dropped by 14% and the cost of wind dropped by 6%. AND in 2018, the capacity of wind and solar passed 1,000 GW (1 GW= 3.125 million solar panels / 431 wind turbines / 3 million horses).
(Not) Bringing Back Coal
22 coal plants in the US closed this year. 11 European countries have committed to closing their coal plants, including France, Italy, the UK, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Chile has quadrupled its clean energy. China committed to 35% clean energy by 2030. And California (the world's 5th largest economy) plans to be carbon neutral by 2045.
Reinventing the Road
Ditching Cheap Plastic
Single-use plastics will be banned in Europe by 2021, and India by 2022. 250 companies (Coca Cola, H&M, L'Oreal, Kellogs, Nestle) pledged that 100% of their plastic packaging will be reused, recycled or composted by 2025.
According to a report from GlobalData, 70% of the world population is "either reducing meat consumption or leaving meat off the table altogether." Experts credit millenials with a large part of this global shift.
A Whale Sale Tale
What's Going On?
Last week Japan announced that it's leaving the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and will start whaling commercially next July. The IWC banned commercial whaling in 1986, when many species teetered on the brink of extinction. Japanese officials claim that eating whales is part of the country's national heritage and that whaling can be done sustainably — they join Norway and Iceland as part of a cadre of nations that continue to whale commercially (Norway and Iceland are still part of the IWC, but register formal objections to the ban).
How Does This Change Things?
Japan never really stopped whaling, exploiting a loophole in IWC rules that allows countries to kill whales for scientific research, then sell the meat for consumption. Many critics viewed this research as a sham that enabled Japan to hunt in a protected area of the Southern Ocean. As a result of leaving the IWC, Japan can no longer hunt in this region, restricting whaling to its own territorial waters (which activists are celebrating).
So is This Good or Bad?
The interesting thing is that people in Japan don't really eat whale meat anymore — sales of meat have dropped from 233,000 tons in 1962 to 3,000 tons today, and most of that ends up in school lunches and pet food. The industry has been heavily subsidized for years due to the government's financing of "scientific research", and it's unclear if it will be able to survive on its own. Although Japan's decision could set a precedent for other countries to leave the IWC, many conservationists view it as an overall positive. They claim it will ultimately lead to fewer whales being hunted and allow the IWC to shift their focus to larger threats, like climate change and plastic pollution.
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