We’re just over halfway through 2020, and it’s hard to overstate just how challenging the ride has been.
As the year opened, record-breaking fires – exacerbated by climate change – were devastating habitats and communities across Australia. Then came the COVID pandemic. And then the large, powerful, and necessary protests against systemic racism across the US.
Our challenge now is to carry the gravity of the pandemic and the ongoing fight for justice with us while continuing our work to solve the climate crisis and create a truly just and healthy future for all. But we know that work can be hard to undertake when the world around you seems, at best, in the throes of an especially dark and complicated moment.
But if you’re wondering if there’s anything left to be hopeful about in 2020, we’ve got some good news for you – there are still many, many reasons to be optimistic about a just, sustainable, clean energy future, and we’d like to share nine of our favorite reasons with you. (Look out for Leading the Way highlights to learn about some of our amazing Climate Reality Leaders who are working in these areas!)
Get ready for a good news deluge!
1. COAL IS BURNING OUT, AND OIL AND GAS AREN’T FAR BEHIND
First, let’s talk about the rapid decline of coal and the impending fall of oil and natural gas, which will do so much more than just reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The fall in fossil fuels will also make our communities cleaner and safer, and reduce susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like COVID-19.
Air pollution already takes around 4.2 million lives worldwide each year, and may be making COVID-19 worse in several complex ways – and the life-threatening effects of pollution are much worse in low-income communities and communities of color, which are often located near fossil fuel infrastructure.
A transition to clean energy means a transition to cleaner air, cleaner water, and healthier families, and utility providers around the world are learning that fossil fuels just don’t make good economic sense anymore.
Take Inland Empire Energy Center in Menifee, California– just one example of a natural gas power plant being demolished years ahead of schedule because it can’t compete economically with electricity from wind and solar.
Leading the Way: Back in 2017, Climate Reality Leaders training in Bellevue, Washington teamed up with the local Carbon Free PSE campaign to urge the Colstrip Power Plant to shut down its last two coal units. Thanks to that mobilization, the coal-burning facility committed to shutting down those coal units 20 years earlier than originally planned.
2. RENEWABLES ARE THE NEW COOL
How are we replacing all that lost energy production from fossil fuels?
With cheap, clean, renewable energy sources!
In the last decade, as clean energy technology has grown vastly more efficient and productive, utility providers and businesses around the globe have jumped on board the renewables bandwagon for the most reliable of reasons – renewable sources of energy are just more cost effective.
Over the last decade, wind energy prices have fallen 70 percent and solar photovoltaics have fallen 89 percent on average in the US. Globally, the cost of solar PV has fallen by 99 percent over the last four decades.
Solar is now cost competitive with fossil fuel energy, even without government subsidies.
In 2019, there were more renewable installations than coal, gas, and nuclear additions combined – and that was for the fifth year in a row. And lest you think the biggest GHG emitters aren’t coming around, China and India are both taking the lead in installing large-scale solar.
Off-grid solar systems are also taking off (with sales up from 0.9 million in 2010 to 23.5 million in 2018), which is great news for rural and off-grid communities the world over.
Energy storage – an essential component of a renewables-based grid – is also surging. In 2018, global annual energy storage additions more than doubled, and the cost of lithium-ion batteries dropped by 85 percent from 2010-2018.
Leading the Way: Trained Climate Reality Leaders have the opportunity to advocate for renewable energy through Climate Reality’s 100% Committed campaign, and some of them have really run with the opportunity. Tim Guinee, with the help of the entire Hudson Valley and Catskills chapter of Climate Reality, has secured 100 percent renewable energy commitments from over 100 businesses, schools, and cities.
3. EFFICIENCY IS EVERYTHING
All that is amazing news, but to reduce GHG emissions quickly enough to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis, we still need to use less energy.
Good news can be found here, too, as the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has estimated that in 2018 about $240 billion was invested in energy efficiency projects across the building, transport, and industry sectors.
IRENA also estimates that with ambitious government climate action, energy efficiency could account for more than 21.3 million jobs by 2050.
Leading the Way: Climate Reality Leader Alicia Dolce is passionate about energy efficiency in the built environment – she is currently the executive director of the CT Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable building practices, and also own a company that builds energy efficient homes.
4. EVS ARE RACING TO THE FRONT
Transportation is the second-largest emitting sector globally, and vehicles are another major source of harmful air pollution. So what’s the good news here? Electrical vehicles (EVs) are taking off! With more and more renewables on the electricity grid, EVs can greatly reduce the carbon footprint of our transportation.
The electric share of total vehicle sales is still small, but it is rising fast. By 2040, projections show over half of all passenger vehicles sold will be electric. Thanks in part to the plummeting costs of lithium-ion batteries, within just a few years, EVs could cost the same or less as internal-combustion vehicles, and many countries (including China, India, Canada, and France) have announced plans to phase out gas engines by 2030 or 2040. On top of that, many cities are also committed to electrifying public transportation, and businesses are transitioning to electric fleets – with that kind of momentum, it’s likely just a matter of time before EVs are the leading form of transport.
Leading the Way: A major distributor of EVs in the US, the Xenon Motor Company, was founded by a Climate Reality Leader – Susan Jones, who also set three Guinness World Records on the electric car, scooter, and bicycle during her famous Ride The Future Tour.
5. AGRICULTURAL SOLUTIONS ARE GROWING FAST
Agriculture holds a rare position in the fight against the climate crisis. As it’s managed now, global agricultural production is a major contributor to global GHG emissions. And yet, some of our most powerful tools for storing carbon (and keeping it out of our atmosphere) are agricultural in nature. Regenerative agriculture has the capacity to restore vast tracts of land and switch them from carbon sources to carbon storage, while at the same time making farmland (and farming communities) more resistant to the impacts of climate change.
Farmers are already leading the way and working together to support these solutions – and it isn’t just small farmers, either. For example, General Mills is taking several steps that support regenerative agriculture, including working to educate and train its farmers.
Even the US government is getting on board – the 2018 farm bill incentivized climate-conscious farming practices.
Leading the Way: Climate Reality Leader JJ Johnson, chair of The Climate Reality Project: Chattanooga, Tennessee Chapter, founded an online community for farmers who are passionate about soil health and regenerative agriculture; he now works as a regenerative field data engineer.
5. THE YOUTH ARE HERE AND THEIR MISSION IS CLEAR
So the solutions exist! We can reduce GHG emissions and get cleaner air, cleaner water, and a more sustainable food system out of the bargain.
But what are we doing to get our leaders to support these ideas so that the transition happens quickly enough to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis?
Let me tell you – there’s a lot happening.
Unless you’ve been living under a retired coal plant, you’ve heard about the global youth movement – last September they led a record-breaking strike with over 10 million participants worldwide.
Some young adults are entering government, to try and make a difference from right inside the halls of power. Take for example, the two young Iowa legislators – one a Republican and one a Democrat – who are working together to take climate action in their state. They’re both part of the growing future caucus movement in the US, which is committed to helping young leaders bridge political divides and come together on issues like the climate crisis.
Leading the Way: Many young Climate Reality Leaders like Haven Coleman, Alexandra Villasenor, Jamie Margolin, and Jerome Foster II have created their own organizations, coalitions, and media outlets to push for urgent solutions.
6. BUSINESSES AND GOVERNMENTS SUPPORT CLEAN ENERGY
Lest you think the entire battle is uphill, there are already many governments and multi-national companies that have made their commitment to clean energy clear.
The list of businesses that are in support of climate action is long because corporations everywhere have realized clean energy is a smart investment.
Take RE100, for example. It’s an initiative that brings together corporate leaders who’ve made a commitment to 100 percent renewable electricity, and as of February 2020, 225 corporations have joined RE100. They include 3M, eBay, Facebook, IKEA, GM, Microsoft, Fujitsu, Google, Tesco, Visa, and Walmart.
Governments of all sizes are getting in on the action, too.
Projected declines in coal use in China and India could reduce global carbon emissions by roughly 2–3 billion metric tons by 2030.Countries like Iceland, Costa Rica, Norway, and Paraguay are already at or near 100 percent renewable power.
In the US, over 150 cities have made public commitments to a transition (or have already made the transition) to 100 percent renewable energy. On top of that, 15 states, along with Washington, DC and Puerto Rico, have made pubic commitments to source at least 50 percent of their electricity from clean energy.
It is up to us to reach out to business leaders and government officials and urge them to make and keep these commitments, but make no mistake – momentum is on our side.
Leading the Way: Climate Reality Leaders have the skills and support to contact leaders and influencers and push for big changes. Climate Reality Leader Sarah Haley, along with other members of The Climate Reality Project: Charlotte, North Carolina chapter, worked together to mobilize their community. Thanks to that work, they successfully got the city of Charlotte to commit to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030.
7. EDUCATORS ARE MAKING THE GRADE
In some the parts of the world – not least of all the US – science denial has been a real obstacle to change. But for every politician who can’t tell weather from climate, there are many, many teachers working hard to increase science literacy and fight denial. And it’s a good thing, too – research indicates that climate education plays a critical role in helping society reach important “social tipping points” in the fight against the climate crisis.
The UN has called on countries to commit to climate education as part of its effort to combat the crisis, and Italy and Mexico have already made pledges to do so. New Zealand already has a countrywide climate curriculum.
In the US, Washington State is supporting climate education by connecting teachers with training opportunities and environmental organizations.
Leading the Way: In 2019, a Washingtonian, Climate Reality Leader, and education expert by the name of Laura Tucker published a book, along with Lois Sherwood, called Understanding Climate Change for Grades 7-12, which has been a valuable resource for teachers in Washington and beyond.
8. NATURAL SOLUTIONS ARE LOOKING PRETTY
We’re fighting the climate crisis to protect our families, communities, and future generations. But we’re also doing it to protect the places we love: the oceans and mountains and forests that sustain our planet and enrich our lives.
And it turns out that the thing we’re trying to save will also be the key to saving us.
Natural climate solutions include both conservation and restoration, and incorporate an array of smart land management practices that together accomplish something amazing – enabling Mother Nature herself to be the most powerful and efficient carbon sequestration system we’ve ever known.
Just by enabling Mother Nature to do more of what she already does best, in the US alone we could remove as much as 21 percent of the nation’s net annual carbon pollution. That’s roughly equal to all the emissions from cars and trucks on US roads last year.
Many conservation organizations are focused on these solutions, working to protect natural ecosystems like forests, grasslands, wetlands, and more, while others are turning resources and innovation toward reforestation and land restoration efforts. For example, tech companies are partnering with conservation groups to use drones to plant millions of trees a year.
Leading the Way: Climate Reality Leader and India Branch Manager Aditya Pundir and his fellow Climate Reality Leaders helped to start a nationwide tree planting drive in India. Since 2016, the branch has planted over 51,000 trees.
9. THE TRANSITION CAN BE JUST
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that what is true for the climate crisis is true for this health crisis – low-income families and communities of color get hit the hardest.
And while renewables are a major source of new jobs, we can’t leave behind the people who are currently make a living in fossil fuel industries as we push for a green recovery from the current economic crisis.
The great news here is that when we bring everyone along on the road to a better future, we all benefit – and that a just transition and a green recovery are both possible.
But a better future isn’t going to happen without advocates who are willing to speak up.
Leading the Way: Climate Reality Leaders and chapter members in The Climate Reality Project: Pittsburgh and Southwestern PA Chapter are actively working with the People Over Petro campaign to push back against the expansion of petrochemical infrastructure in their own communities.
This global movement for climate action is growing, and there are many, many more reasons to hope than the ones outlined here. But we can’t let this momentum waiver – especially not now.