Evaluating Environmental Wins and Losses in 2016
Last year during Earth Day month, we touched on the overwhelming feeling that people were beginning to be more discouraged and that Americans seemed to not care about being eco-friendly anymore. This year, that feeling may weigh even more heavily on you given the results of the 2016 American presidential election and subsequent policy maneuvers. But 2016 wasn’t in any way a complete loss for the environmental movement. In fact, there were many big wins included in the year. As Earth Day 2017 approaches, we wanted to take a moment to summarize both good and bad impacts on the environmental movement in 2016 from our viewpoint.
Let’s Start With the Elephant in the Room
And he is a very orange elephant, and we are not going to apologize for saying that! However, President Trump is not as scary as his appointment to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. Environmentalists have every reason to be concerned about what this means. The Trump administration, and Pruitt in particular, have made a staple of their campaign that they will dismantle the EPA and let go of almost all environmental regulations in favor of “non-regulations” that help “businesses.” Already at the time of this writing, they have allowed coal waste to be dumped into water sources, threatened to pull out of the Paris Climate accord, made selling nationally protected lands easier and approved two new (and completely dangerous) pipelines. Solid work, if you hate the planet.
It’s a loss. Certainly. Having an administration in power who actively doesn’t believe in man-made climate change and caters to corporate sponsors who want to further damage the earth is a loss. But as we pointed out in February, we actually still have hope that the damage won’t be too much. If you missed our “Worry, but it may be ok” article previously, here’s a link to it.
The Paris Climate Accord: That Was a Win
In case you didn’t read it, much of why we still have hope for the environment has to do with the fact that, despite what the current U.S. administration will tell you, there is a “rest of the world” happening outside of the U.S. borders. Much of that rest of the world is moving in the direction of adjusting to climate change and making the necessary changes in fossil fuel infrastructure. A great deal of this can be attributed to the Paris Climate Accord. 195 nations took part in negotiating this action item list to combat global warming and carbon emissions in 2015 and bringing it to life in 2016. Yes, it’s true that the United States is theoretically pulling out. However that leaves 194 nations that have acknowledged and are moving forward with environmentally friendly actions. That’s a win. That may be more than we’ve ever seen, and many of those individual countries are doing things that could be considered a huge win.
China is Investing Big In Solar and Renewable: That Was a Win
In 2016, China announced that it would be investing over $360 billion dollars in renewable energy by the year 2020. We probably don’t need to tell you that China is notorious for its damaging (to the health of its citizens and the planet) levels of smog and pollution. However, since China has always had (and continues to have) such abundant coal stores underground, they are making this switch primarily for environmental and public health reasons. That’s a win. That’s an unqualified win because we’ve all wondered what could truly cause nations to make the push to renewables. Apparently the answer is public health. We wish that it didn’t get to this point, but a huge nation like China moving to renewables is a serious win.
DAPL Was Both a Win and a Loss
It appears that the Dakota Access Pipeline will proceed as industry planned, which is unquestionably a loss. However, the amount of environmental awareness that was raised during the protest and the sense of energy around it is certainly a win. The public got quite the education about how many of these pipelines are creating damage and how few jobs are truly associated with them. It’s unfortunate that the final outcome couldn’t be an actual stoppage of the pipeline, but the army of indigenous rights supporters and the ability to connect with each other can’t be underplayed in value.
Lack of Environmental Discourse During the U.S. Election Was a Loss
There’s no way to spin this one into a positive. The fact that environmental issues were almost entirely absent from the discussion in the election is a loss. We’re not political scientists, but we assume both major Democratic candidates mostly stayed away from it because it’s such a polarizing issue so far and tied so closely to job creation issues. But silence is never good. We can’t address climate concerns if we’re not talking about them, and not talking about them in a very important election doesn’t lead to the type of change that ultimately needs to happen. Maybe as humanity’s current collision course with nature impacts virtually all people soon, the issue won’t be as polarizing.
The Jobs Report Was Both a Win and a Loss
By “jobs report” we’re specifically referring to this one that reliably lays out that solar energy provided more jobs in the United States electricity generation industry than all of the fossil fuels combined. Where the jobs go, eventually policy and individuals will go. This is a win just on the basis of it being evidence of the growing reliance on solar. However, it’s a loss in that this fact was so buried both during the elections and in the larger conversation. Again, silence is nobody’s friend when it comes to the environmental crisis.
In 2016, the environment took some hard blows. However, it had some big wins too. Let’s try to stay focused on the positive while fighting the negatives. After all, we simply have to.
Did we miss a win or loss for the environment in 2016? Tell us about it on the social media channels below.
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