2015 was a year full of surprises. Oxford Dictionary declared an emoji as the word of the year, a Left Shark outshined Katy Perry at the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show, and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was rainbow instead of white to celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling favoring same-sex marriage. Yet one of the greatest surprises of this past year was the rise in global concern for the environment.
Climate change became a celebrity, and many portrayed environmentalism as our modern hero. From the Pope’s encyclical to the Paris Climate conference, environmental efforts provided glimmers of hope in a year filled with tragedies. Just as Star Wars fans have waited for “The Force Awakens,” I imagine that environmentalists have similarly been waiting for a year like 2015. As we look back at 2015, here is a glance at some of the past year’s biggest moments for the environment.
Earlier this year, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that President Barack Obama will “go down in history as the greenest president we’ve ever had,” and 2015 is a good example of why that may be true. In his penultimate year in office, Obama announced the Clean Power Plan under the EPA, which reduces carbon pollution from power plants to fight climate change; vetoed a bill and rejected a proposal for the Keystone XL Pipeline, a 1,200-mile pipeline that would transport oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast and cause damage to the land it crossed; and he found time to hang with TV host Bear Grylls in the Alaskan wilderness for Grylls’s survivalist reality show, in efforts to “highlight the perils of climate change.” The president’s approval rating may be at all-time low for his two terms, but his environmental record will be one of the highest in presidential history.
One of the most important people in Washington, DC this year was not the president in the White House, but the pontiff in the white hat. In 2015, Pope Francis became more than the head of the Catholic Church: he became the foremost fighter against climate change. On June 18, the Vatican released Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato si’: On Care for our Common Home. This document was the Pope’s written call for the world to unite in effort to preserve our planet for posterity and to honor God’s Creation. He echoed his environmental message in his address to U.S. Congress during his historic trip to the United States, where he chided U.S. policymakers for failing to ameliorate climate change and the wealth distribution of the country.
Across the county from the pope’s historic East Coast tour was the historic West Coast drought. California’s four-year drought has crippled the golden state’s agriculture and been declared a state of emergency. Yet the disaster has also rallied Californians and produced successful conservation initiatives, thanks to Governor Jerry Brown. California is short about 20 inches of rain since 2012, which prompted Gov. Brown to order a 25 percent reduction in urban water use. By June 2015 the state had surpassed that conservation target. State-sponsored initiatives such as water tips, subsidized drought-tolerant lawns, efficient water irrigation systems, and more have helped California stay on track. While dumping black “shade balls” in a Los Angeles reservoir was not successful, hopefully other future initiatives will continue to help the thirsty state. (Seriously, who thought that dumping 96 million black plastic balls into a body of water was a good idea?)
2015 was also a year where people responded to environmental issues, made their voices heard, and became activists for the environment. The death of Cecil the Lion, who was lured from a protected wildlife habitat in Zimbabwe to be killed by an American big-game hunter, outraged animal activists, celebrities, and social media users around the world. “Kayaktivists” in Seattle, Washington, protested Shell Oil’s drilling in the Arctic, pressuring the company until Shell announced they have cancelled their Arctic drilling program for the foreseeable future. Renewable energy is also on the rise, and climate activists have been demanding 100 percent renewable energy for all; consequently, solar and wind are now growing faster than the electricity generated by fossil fuels, and by the mid-21st century it is totally possible for the world to run on renewable energy alone. These same climate activists made the Global Climate March a historic event: on the eve of the Paris Climate summit, about 800,000 people marched in about 180 countries, letting their world leaders know that they would not settle for less than a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature increase on global warming.
The Global Climate March was comprised of over 2,300 marches around the world, all leading to the Paris Climate Conference. In early December, world leaders from 195 nations met in Paris, France to reach an international climate agreement. The conference, COP21, produced a “landmark accord that will, for the first time, commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions,” the New York Times reports. The agreement, which United Nations diplomats have been working toward for nine years, signals an end to the fossil fuel era. While the conference negotiations fell short for many who were hoping for stricter, more committing requirements for each country, it was a historic accord nonetheless. “For the first time, we have a truly universal agreement on climate change, one of the most crucial problems on earth,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. It seems that 2015 is the year that more of the world recognized climate change as a crucial problem, and the environmental movement is coming to fruition.
© Rissponsible Living, 2015