In the wake of the most recent, terrifying climate report, I think it’s important to look at the positive side of the policy ledger.
Although there is plenty of data on the “dark side” (what I sometimes think of as the OMG side), there is also a lot of evidence of progress. (At least what I consider progress; the “take me back to the 1950s” folks will undoubtedly disagree.)
At the beginning of this year, The Guardian ran a story about progress against climate change during the preceding year. Granted, in 2021 we saw a number of climate disasters and what the article called “a grim prognosis from the world’s top experts.” Granted, too, some of the harm is probably irreversible. But as the article documented, a movement to fight climate change is gaining momentum.
As the UN secretary general declared in August, the urgent need to curb carbon emissions marks a “death knell” for the fossil fuel industry.
For decades, Americans were told that standing up to powerful oil and gas companies wasn’t possible. But the reality is that everyday people are making a difference in the fight to cut emissions. These grassroots victories also show that the people who have been made most vulnerable by fossil fuel extraction, including Black and brown communities, already have solutions on hand.
What were some of those victories?
After a nine-year, highly-contentious organizing battle, students with Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard succeeded in pushing the university to divest all of its $42bn endowment – the largest in the world – from fossil fuel-related companies.
That victory wasn’t limited to Harvard. Both Boston University and Wellesley University also divested from fossil fuels in 2021. With respect to Wellesley, divestment was the product of “a decade of student activism from campus groups called Renew Wellesley and Fossil Free Wellesley.” The victory also wasn’t limited to universities: Boston’s mayor signed an ordinance in late November that will require phasing out the city’s investments in fossil fuel, tobacco, and prison industries by 2025.
It’s worth noting that all of these decisions were the result of activism by the young people who are often inaccurately excoriated for their lack of civic engagement.
The Guardian also enumerated several community victories.
In Memphis, Tennessee, a majority-Black neighborhood was able to stop construction of a 49-mile underground pipeline that was slated for approval in mid-2021.
In the north-east, the Delaware River Basin Commission secured a moratorium on new drilling permits. The historic fracking ban covers some 14,000 square miles of the river’s basin.
The board of supervisors for Los Angeles county voted–unanimously– to scrap new and existing oil and gas drilling projects.
The new rule is slated to impact Inglewood Oil Field, the largest urban oil field in the country, which is surrounded by many majority-Black neighborhoods. In April, a pipeline in the oil field spilled 1,600 gallons of oil just a few hundred feet from the nearest playground.
It is heartening to see these victories by minority neighborhoods and young activists, but it is even more significant to consider what the Guardian calls “shareholder revolts.” A primary example occurred when hedge fund activists won election to three of the 12 voting seats on Exxon’s board
The activist hedge fund Engine No 1 staged an upset victory in electing three new directors to Exxon’s board after disgruntled investors hoped to push the oil giant toward a greener future.
Meanwhile, Chevron faced opposition from the Dutch activist campaign group Follow This, which led a shareholder revolt in voting to force the company to implement tougher emissions targets.
Why it matters: Mark van Baal, who founded Follow This, said the shareholder rebellions mark a “paradigm shift” for investors and a “victory in the fight against climate change”.
There were other important victories:Indigenous groups negotiated the return of stolen lands in Maine and Minnesota to halt destruction to the environment; a Dutch court ruled that Shell has to reduce its emissions by nearly half within this decade; and 16 of those young people who are routinely dismissed were victorious plaintiffs in a lawsuit alleging that Montana contributed to the climate crisis and violated their constitutional rights. The judgment requires the state to implement a plan to reduce emissions.
Addressing climate change–and many of the other challenges we face– requires that we change the culture–and culture change is a slow and inevitably incremental process. The term “culture wars” is apt–those who recognize the imperatives of our modern, globalized world are facing the hysterical resistance of people who want to go “back,” or at the very least, cling to the cultural status quo. As a friend once put it, changing the culture is like turning a tanker mid-ocean–neither quick nor nimble.
It’s easy to focus on the barriers to progress, but it’s important to recognize the progress, too.
17 thoughts on “Progress!”
And a small bit of progress in Indianapolis: I have been sending Hydrogen information to IN elected officials for 30 years. NO response — ever. Now this week, there was an announcement that they are going to test a hydrogen fuel cell BUS. This makes so much more sense than the battery nonsense they are doing on the Red Line. Progress comes very slowly but sometimes it comes – Even in Indiana
Grateful for the young people like Greta Thunberg and all the millions who stand with her to make a difference in the world. Better yet, they have the courage to hold truth to power. Listening to her speak at Davos brings so much hope to the young people.
Holding truth to power is what failed the older generations. Greed and pride have caused the global decline, but the rot started within the USA. First, Russia exposes the decaying US/UK empire, followed by China.
Our youth will get what they want and more. I suppose John could say they have God’s retribution on their side. Don’t mess with God and Mother Nature.
If the cost accountants running the oil companies woke to the fact that “business as usual” was killing the planet and thus their revenue source: their customers, they might start using their “depletion allowances” and tax cuts to fund hydro-electric, solar and battery technology instead of punching more holes in the ground, then letting them emit methane. But no…
That’s not how “money-only” people think. It’s the short-term, quarterly report to stockholders that matters; the ONLY thing that matters. Great. Stockholder revolts. Divestitures of grants. The cost accountants just see those as pinpricks; they just use the grant money to fund more wells or increase dividends to the stockholders.
Okay. So what are some solutions that even the most craven money people can get into? How about bio-degradable plastic? Or dismantling oil refineries and using the metal and structures for building electron storage devices for large items like city busses, trains, trucks and the like? What about liquid metal “batteries” that use solar panels and wind to create electrons for the DC systems? A liquid metal device the size of a shipping container can power an entire neighborhood. One as big as a coffee table can power your entire house. My position is: WHY NOT?
Imagine all-electric city bus fleets. Taxi fleets. Local delivery. No, the fossil fuel industry will NOT collapse. The smart ones will adapt in time to actually make a measurable difference in stopping the destruction of our way of life.
No, the planet will not die. Our way of life will be altered. Humans have WAY overpopulated the planet and are voracious in consumption of food and fuel. THAT is the basis of the problem. So, as the most adaptive species ever known, why aren’t we adapting to those things that are killing our lifeboat? Greed. Money. Egoism. The list is long.
Thank you for a bit of hope in the otherwise grim forecast for the future of human life on this planet.
Change may start slowly, but as it picks up momentum I hope for more success stories like these.
When I saw the headline about “progress,” I assumed the blog was about evidence that global warming which is now called “climate change” had tempered due to changes humans had undertaken. Instead, the focus is on more changes.
What happens if all these steps humans take does nothing to change the current climate trajectory? That I believe is the most likely outcome.
Paul: are you suggesting the world does nothing and ignores the effects of climate change while they get more intense? Do you believe, in spite of the evidence to the contrary, that humans had no part in creating it and ergo should be happy to accept the consequences?
Giving the oil companies that depletion allowance all but guaranteed a fight to the finish by those same companies to promote the use of fossil fuels. Take that break out of the tax code and put in breaks that encourage them to move to renewable resources, then watch how quickly they make the changes we need.
Playing a crucial role in organizing students to lead the divestment campaigns is GreenFaith, a multi-faith, now global group created by NJ Episcopal priest and Union Seminary grad (my alma mater) Fletcher Harper. They are brilliant!
Meanwhile, all the rich and cool folks are into crypto currency which is a maga user of energy. And we barely hear a peep about it…
Addressing climate change has the potential to force us–humans, that is–to grow up. We’ve been petty, vindictive and selfish for all of our existence, but it might be time that this starts to really change.
That’s my hope, anyway.
I have been pretty pessimistic about our species’ capacity to act strongly enough. Note, I did not say “in time,” because time
MAY have already run out. But, this does feel bouying (some).
On the other hand, with Putin’s war going on, and nuclear reactors in danger, we have a new crisis on our hands.
Jim “Snowball” Inhofe is retiring early…bye now. It has been, among other things, people like him, almost certainly bought with the
taxpayer provided financial support for fossil fuel companies, that have helped bring us to have our backs against the climate wall.
In accounting terms, taking the biosphere from what life and human civilization is adapted to, to local conditions (temperatures, precipitation, wind speeds, sea level, cloud cover) that neither is that will cause all kinds of disruptions to “normal” life, is an externality and therefor not to be considered as an expense against fossil fuels. So is disruption caused by civil unrest or the cost of restoring peace as we are experiencing now. Taxpayers don’t have that luxury. Why should fossil fuel corporations that serve consumers?
Because fossil fuel corporations are a major source of funding for political campaigning.
Are these insurmountable problems?
In 1969 Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River erupted in flames because of the unabated pollution dumped into the river.
Michigan’s rogue River caught fire repeatedly, the Chicago River caught fire repeatedly, the Buffalo River caught fire repeatedly.
These incidents eventually led to the creation of the EPA and Nixon’s clean water act.
Now, this really wasn’t that long ago all things considered. How many communities get their drinking water from the river system? How many communities get their drinking water from deep wells? And you can guess why you have the oil and gas industry trying to neuter the EPA. The amount of money spent and the amount of ignorance and graft, will dictate how severely the Earth will be polluted.
Fracking pollutes deep wells. Oil pipelines pollute aquifers and thousands upon thousands of acres of land.
Coal-fired plants produce tons of slag and slurry, loaded with Mercury, cyanide and other poisons. When I was younger, and working at fossil station 16 in illinois, we would routinely find deer and other animals dead behind the coal pile because they were drinking from the slag pits.
Folks who live in heavenly fracked areas, actually can light their water on fire! And I mean their tap water.
Of course, much of this stuff happens in rural areas, but not all! It does make it easier to whitewash a lot of this stuff because it happens to the poor folks or those just making it. Folks that don’t have disposable income, and folks whose families are so decimated by illness, cancer, ALS, you name it, they are broken, their will is broken. They’ve resigned themselves to the inevitable. There is no help for them.
Washington State and other states around the country would use agent Orange to spray on the kudzu. We all know how dangerous agent Orange was/is, and how it can cause birth defects, cancer, Crohn’s disease and myriads of other maladies. They claimed to have stopped using this stuff in the ’80s, but the damage has been done. Those population areas are loaded with illness!
Lead poisoning, the amount of lead piping in this country is astronomical. Especially in the older sections of cities and such. And many small towns, because it was cheap and easy to install. Even while they were using lead pipe to bring water to the homes, they knew that there was a correlation between lead and intellectual/behavioral deficit. Millions of homes in every state across the country have led pipes. And, there is no safe level of lead in the blood.
Greta Thunburg? Out of the mouth of babes? I think it’s admirable, but in actuality she’s just a gimmick. In reality nothing ever gets accomplished because of man’s greed. As a side note in relation to greed, Wall Street buying up cheap Russian bonds to keep the money flowing for the war effort. One hand taketh away the other giveth.
Mankind is not an honest broker. Mankind would gladly annihilate their fellow man to acquire whatever their greedy hearts desire/need for it’s satisfaction.
Heavily fracked, oops.
I suppose if you’re in the oil and gas industry, it would be heavenly, but not to those suffering the diseases from it.
Thanks patmcc for your comment:
“…announcement that they are going to test a hydrogen fuel cell BUS.”
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles achieve low/no harmful emissions, and require only tiny on-board batteries.
Clever researchers at Catholic University in Belgium developed a prototype solar collector that concurrently generates hydrogen (for your fuel cell vehicle) from moisture captured from the air.
Sheila – thanks for the positive thoughts to end the work week
John – a great compendium of early environmental woes – you missed one important in EPA history.
Reserve Mining was dumping tailing into Lake Superior, killing all life in the western end of the lake. Some fishermen in villages that lost their livelihood, got the State of Michigan to sue. Reserve Mining told the State of Minnesota that it expected Minnesota to defend them at no cost or they were going to close up. Minnesota agreed and Michigan backed down. Then, the EPA was created (one of the few good things that Nixon did) and the dumping stopped. I think Reserve Mining did close then. Evidently it was only profitable to mine if they could push their clean up costs on everyone else.
Thanks brother, I wasn’t really familiar with that particular situation. It all just gets me riled up, lol!
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