Is there any good news about climate change?

A couple of weeks ago, we found an interesting article that poses the following question:

Do we have any right to feel optimistic about climate change?

The piece urges us to face the facts. We’re in a mess, and its unlikely we can totally undo the damage already reaped on the environment. It argues that we should be hopeful, not optimistic, about tackling climate change:

“Overestimating society’s powers can be as dangerous as false hope, because we start telling Disney-like stories in the midst of a global crisis”…[The] antidote is healthy skepticism… we should settle our hope in our values – in what we believe is right and needed. Our actions can’t be based on the expectations of a happy ending. That outcome is outside of our control.”

The article argues that our hope must be grounded in action. If we do our bit, we can hope: but we should not assume we have ‘saved’ the planet. And we certainly can’t hope if we do nothing, and leave it up to others.

That said: while we can’t assume that everything will be alright, going too far the other way is equally damaging. Environmental anxiety is rising. While it may be naïve to feel totally hopeful about climate change, feeling hopeless won’t help either.

We believe it’s important to celebrate positives, without resting on one’s laurels. So, without being too optimistic, we’d like share just a handful of environmental good news stories from the last year. We still have a long way to go, and we might never get there. But we believe it’s important to recognise that some progress has been made, thanks to the hard work of committed individuals and organisations.

 

UK reliance on fossil fuels hit an all-time low in 2019

If you’re considering the UK’s energy usage, and where that energy came from, 2019 was the greenest year on record. We generated more renewable energy than ever before, and the carbon intensity of our electricity dropped to the lowest it has ever been. Here’s the full breakdown of stats from the National Grid Electricity System Operator:

  • December 10 2019 – highest ever level of wind powered electricity generation, 16873 MW
  • May 14 2019 – highest ever level of solar powered electricity generation, 9550 MW
  • Longest ever period of operation of GB’s electricity system without using coal power to produce electricity (437.5 hours) ending on June 4 2019
  • August 17 2019 – lowest ever carbon intensity: 57g CO2/kWh (carbon intensity of electricity is a measure of C02 emissions produced per kilowatt hour of electricity consumed)

 

EU to ban single use plastics by 2021

In the Autumn of last year, the European Parliament voted to ban single-use plastics by 2021. MEPs argued that if no action was take, there would be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050. By 2021, anything plastic that’s used once then thrown away is banned in the EU: plastic cutlery and plates, cotton buds, straws, drink-stirrers and balloon sticks.

Of course, we can’t celebrate this yet. It is too soon to see any results from this initiative, and does not undo years of wasteful plastic usage. However, perhaps we can feel quietly hopeful. Following the introduction of the 5p plastic bag levy in 2015, public plastic bag usage reduced by 85%. This has already created a positive knock-on effect for the environment. In the first year, the number of plastic bags washed up on UK beaches fell by half.

 

Citizen interest in climate change is increasing

The global conversation around climate change is becoming more open, and more vocal. It makes the news several times a week, and infiltrates other forms of media, too. David Attenborough fans will notice that his more recent documentaries are becoming more and more environmentally focused. 2019’s Netflix series, Our Planet, explores the devastating effects of deforestation, pollution, over-hunting, and climate change. Of course, consuming media and “scrolling for hope” won’t tackle climate change: but citizen action will. Fortunately, we’re seeing more of this too.

Regardless of what you think about their methods, examples of citizen activism like Extinction Rebellion show that normal people feel genuinely passionate about tackling climate change. Extinction Rebellion has staged protests in over 60 cities, with thousands of people arrested for ‘disruptive’ and dangerous behaviour. And this passion that incites protest knows no age limit: across the world, school children take part in regular school strikes for the climate.

Such protests don’t stop climate change on their own. Additionally, we can’t ignore the C02 impact of thousands of people travelling to these events. However, they do send a strong message. Brands and organisations must step up to their environmental responsibilities, or risk losing the trust of customers and stakeholders.

 

Electric vehicles becoming a mainstream option

At the end of 2019, there were almost 265,000  electric vehicles on the roads: that’s 3.2% of the average market share. EVs are shedding their ‘hippie’ reputation, with many of the major car manufacturers releasing electric models in 2019.

Switching to electric vehicles isn’t enough on its own to mitigate climate change. Plus, we need to power them with clean electricity (solar, wind, or hydro). But, an openness to explore more sustainable transport methods is a step in the right direction.

However, in order for this to succeed, we need to invest in improving EV infrastructure. Despite the ban in petrol and diesel vehicles being brought forward, charging an electric car at home is still not a viable option for most people.

 

So, can we feel positive about climate change?

As you can see from the handful of stories above, positive news about climate change is happening. However, these stories are always tinged with a ‘but’. We’re taking steps to tackle to climate change… but it’s never enough on its own.

There is no one perfect solution when it comes to tackling climate change. Despite our best efforts, we might never achieve the results needed to prevent drastic warming.

All we can do is try, celebrate our progress, and then keep trying.