Why do we care? Why is it that the dirt underneath our fingertips and mud on our boots is enough? When the trees can’t speak and the air knows no words, why do we feel so strongly about protecting the land?
I think it might just be love. Those that speak so fervently about the land were inspired at a young age. The threatened dunes that gave shelter to the sea turtles ignited a sense of admiration in a young girl—“moving to Bald Head Island with no other kids” led to a life of navigating the estuaries by kayak and maritime forests by golf cart. With an entire island as your playground and Old Baldy as your treehouse, how could the environment not intrigue you?
For another, her grandparents lived on Long Island Sound when growing up. Visiting them from a young age helped instill in her an appreciation for the environment. “I loved combing the beach for shells, hermit crabs, snails, and would always do my science fair projects on marine creatures. As I grew older, that translated to an interest in marine biology and ultimately environmental science. As for why I continue, the more I know about the state of our environment and how much pressure it is under currently, the more of an obligation I feel to try and do something about it. It’s hard to be well-informed about climate change and current rates of extinction and not be incredibly alarmed. For me, that translates into action.”
For some it came later in life. Hikes were nonexistent as a child and weekend trips were to museums, not national parks. For many years, walks among the looming skyscrapers and through a concrete forest, scrambling onto the subway and through nighttime markets led to a love of the hustle and bustle. A city skyline replaced mountain ridges. Careers in urban planning and sustainable development are their passions.
For me, an abundant amount of habitats and ecosystems nearby overwhelmed. To the west, coastal drives led to tidal pools that were teeming with starfish and anemone. To the east, the Sierras proved that heaven on earth does exist in a granite wonderland. To the north, the tallest and the largest trees in the world towered over forest roads. As I grew older, the fire and drought that ravaged them sparked a need to inform, to act.
As we begin a new year, although climate change claims every other major news headline, there are reasons for hope this year. That love has transformed into action.
- The Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco in September led to a gathering of politicians, advocates, actors, governors, mayors and business leaders from around the world to focus on deep decarbonization and commit to implementing the Paris Agreement.1
- California made history by passing SB100 and committing to reaching 100% renewable energy by 2045.2
- Over 100 U.S. cities have committed to be powered entirely by renewable energy. For most cities, the target year is 2025.3
- Countless lawsuits were taken up against large fossil fuel companies. To name a few: New York sued Exxon-Mobil for misleading the public on climate change. Multiple Bay Area counties filed lawsuits seeking damages from 37 fossil fuel companies over sea level rise. Boulder, Colorado, filed a lawsuit seeking to hold Exxon and Suncor accountable for damages and costs related to climate change.4
- Ireland passed a divestment law to commit to pulling out of more than $10 billion in fossil fuel investments.5
- Costa Rica ran on renewable energy for 300 days.6
- Cape Town cut water usage from 1.2 billion liters per day in 2015 to 516 million liters per day in 2018, helping to avoid Day Zero.7
- Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that a revenue-neutral carbon tax will be implemented this year.8
- Companies are taking the hint too. Facebook plans to cover 100% of its business through renewable energy by 2020. Bank of America, Ikea, Coca Cola, Etsy, HP and more are following suit.. Microsoft and Apple have already done it. 9, 10
- Community Choice Aggregations are taking over counties across the country and purchasing clean electricity for residents.11
- Science has come far. The first CO2 power plant, which captures excess carbon dioxide and uses it to produce power, went online in Texas in 2018. Battery technology is getting better and better with 3.2 million electric cars on the road in the world. The Netherlands has begun deploying electric barges to replace diesel burning cargo ships.12
- COP24 in Poland extended negotiations to reach “a uniform set of standards for measuring [each nation’s] planet-warming emissions and tracking climate policies. And it calls on countries to step up their plans to cut emissions ahead of another round of talks in 2020.”13
As so on those days when it feels a bit gloomier, when rain rolls in and environmental protections are stripped, this is when I take inspiration from that very love. I go to the places that sparked my curiosity in the natural world, secret spots of forest in an urban city, small corners of nature tucked out of sight. This love and these places are the bits of hope that keep us going. And we still are going. That little girl whose best friends were sea turtles, Ali Wisner, now works for the Rachel Carson Council fighting for the environment in the nation’s capital. The other little girl with an obsession for ocean life, Ashley Cooper, now researches environmental decision making processes for USGS. I spend my time implementing climate change adaptation programs and action plans back home in California.
So just maybe the year in review was when the seeds of hope were planted and 2019 is the time to see the small sprouts of change break through.