Good News Digest #4
Bad news related to climate change is hitting us at all angles. Fear and urgency are dominating the climate conversation. Yet positive climate stories and solutions are equally, if not more effective drivers of climate action.
They prove that solutions are working and are ready to be scaled. They show that nature is resilient and comes up with surprising ways of preserving itself. They send a clear signal to governments, policymakers, corporations and the wider public that there is a growing demand for cleaner technology and climate policy.
If you feel like you are drowning in bad news, we have collected lasts week’s climate change success stories to get you through the week.
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Climate change at center-stage
Ireland — On Thursday, both the government of Ireland and opposition parties agreed to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency, following the UK parliament as well as the governments of Wales and Scotland.
Scotland — The Scottish government dropped plans to cut its taxes on aviation, as it would have been incompatible with its recent pledge to cut all emissions by 2045. The government faced intense cross-party pressure to uphold the tax.
United States — Former Vice President Joe Biden and candidate for the 2020 elections is being criticized by 2020 rivals and environmental organizations for a weak green agenda. This is a sign that climate change will be playing a central role in the Democratic primary, unlike the last election cycle.
Cambridge, UK — The Centre For Climate Repair was created to radically curb global warming through solutions like refreezing the Earth’s melting polar regions and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Refreezing the polar region would involve spraying salt water high into the atmosphere to “whiten” clouds in the Arctic region in order to reflect heat back into space. Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere could potentially be done by growing plants on sea and on land that would absorb the gases.
Bills, bills, bills
New Zealand — On Wednesday, the government of New Zealand introduced the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill, setting a target for a 10 per cent reduction in biological methane emissions by 2030 and aiming for a provisional reduction ranging from 24 to 47 per cent by 2050.
Washington, USA — Governor Jay Inslee signed a package of bills that mandate renewable energy, subsidize electric vehicles, phase out ‘super pollutant’ hydrofluorocarbons used as refrigerants, and require new conservation standards for energy use in large new buildings and efficiency standards for appliances. By January 1, 2045, all electricity sold in Washington must come from hydroelectricity, wind, solar, geothermal, renewable natural gas, renewable hydrogen, tides and waves, biomass or biodiesel.
California — The California EPA announced on May 8 that the use of the chlorpyrifos insecticide has been banned from the state as a measure to protect farmworkers, children and the environment. It was found to be associated with neurodevelopmental problems and impaired brain function in children. California is the third US state to ban the insecticide following Hawaii and New York. This presents an opportunity for California to develop new, more sustainable alternative pest management practices.
Large-scale waste reduction
United Nations — Last Friday, 186 countries around the world agreed upon a legally binding framework to reduce plastic waste pollution — with the exception of the United States. The agreement stipulates that countries must monitor and track the movements of plastic waste outside their borders in industries such as health care, technology, aerospace, fashion, food and beverages and more. Even the countries that haven’t signed the agreement, like the US, will be affected by the accord when they ship plastic waste to countries that have already signed it.
Australia — Qantas Airways, Australian's largest airline, is the first airline in history to run a flight that produced zero landfill waste. Its flights typically use around 1,000 single-use plastic items, but for this flight, it used a variety of reusable, recyclable, and compostable alternatives (ie. food containers made of sugar cane, utensils made of crop starch). The staff also encouraged customers to download their boarding passes on their phones and helped them recycle any paper boarding passes or bag tags they wound up with.
Scotland — The Scottish Government unveiled a proposal that includes a 20p return value for drinks containers – with all retailers in the country required to comply and accept returns. The scheme is expected to be up and running by the end of the current parliament in 2021 and aims to capture 90 per cent of drinks containers for recycling within three years.
Going green is getting cheaper
Renewable technology has become cost competitive. The total cost of building and operating an electricity-generating plant has fallen by 35% since the first half of 2018, by 24% for offshore wind, and by 10% and 18% for onshore wind and solar respectively. The price of lithium-ion battery storage (allowing us to store energy and cover peaks in demand as well as bridge periods when the wind is calm and the sun does not shine) has dropped by more than three quarters since 2012.
Stock Market — Last Tuesday, as the market was down, there was a spike in Beyond Meat shares, producer of plant-based meat products now sold at Whole Foods, Safeway and featured on the menus of a number of restaurant chains. With the price of meat on the rise, it is likely that the price of plant-based burgers will start to look less expensive in comparison, which could boost demand over the next couple of years.
The rise of renewable energy
Germany — Germany just started testing its eHighway system on a 3.1-mile stretch of the Autobahn between Frankfurt and Darmstadt. It uses electric-diesel hybrid trucks merged into everyday traffic that receive power from overhead cables. When they brake, the trucks feed electricity into the energy grid, which makes the system particularly useful in the event of a traffic jam.
British Columbia — 10 out of 27 staffed lighthouses in British Columbia are scheduled to be upgraded to solar and wind energy in the next few years. Traditionally, they have relied on diesel generators that run 24/7 (as early as 1874). The shift to renewables is environmentally sound, it reduces the need for costly and difficult fuel deliveries to the lighthouses, and it improves the quality of life for lighthouse keepers who live next to diesel generators.
Berlin, Germany — German automotive supplier Bosch is the first major industrial company to become fully carbon neutral by 2020. Bosch aims to increase energy efficiency, expand the share of renewables in its energy supply to as much as 40 per cent, invest in green energy and offset unavoidable CO2 emissions.
Nature is bouncing back
Indian Ocean — According to a study published on Wednesday, the previously extinct Aldabra Atoll bird has re-evolved into existence and claimed its home island in the Indian Ocean. It first went extinct around 136,000 years ago when the island was completely submerged by the sea. Although an extremely rare phenomenon, it shows that it is not impossible for species to re-emerge despite past iterations going extinct.
American Samoa — A new study found corals in warm, shallow pools that have adapted to heat stress from ocean heat waves and could restore reefs that are resistant to bleaching. For four species, researchers demonstrated that the heat tolerance that these corals acquired in hot pools is maintained even when they are transplanted elsewhere, meaning their heat tolerance is ingrained within their DNA. The study suggests that reef communities could be repopulated with “super-corals” that are more resilient to the increasing heat stress that is predicted.
Myanmar — Humans have developed a symbiotic relationship with Asian elephants that could protect both species against climate change. During storms and war times in the forests of Myanmar, elephants have a history of rescuing humans (ie. crossing rising rivers, navigating the rain-soaked terrain or unchartered paths to bring people to safety). In return, caretakers — known as “mahouts” in English (derived from Hindi) — ensure that the animal survives the threat of extinction.
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