It’s Not All Bad—The Year In Positive Environmental News
May 1, 2023
Somewhere between the catastrophizing that often seems appropriate for the circumstances, and our sliding into Pollyanna-like ignorance, we can find a balanced perspective on the environment and our impact on it.
Yes, global warming, acid rain, air pollution, urban sprawl, waste buildup, water depletion, ozone layer degradation, and associated economic disparities distress every nation, human, and animal on Earth. And, yes, the situation is getting worse by the day, according to most experts.
But, notwithstanding these harbingers of looming disaster, we can find several reasons to celebrate on the environmental front. In the year since last Earth Day, the world has come together in unprecedented ways to work on mitigating the climate emergency that affects us all.
Here are four huge and positive environmental stories you might have missed:
- FEWER CLIMATE DENIERS. Although blatant climate denialism surged online in 2022, according to analysis published in January 2023 by a coalition of environmental groups and researchers, the percentage of outright climate deniers in the US has ebbed to its lowest level this year.
In the US in 2020, 6 percent of people said climate change isn’t real, and 9 percent conceded that global warming was happening, but not because of any human action, according to a survey by YouGov. In 2022 – as the US Congress passed landmark climate legislation, there were 7 percent fewer “climate deniers” than during the previous session—and 23 percent fewer than when the Congress convened six years earlier.
- MORE YOUTH INVOLVEMENT. As never before, the UN is now pledging to develop multi-stakeholder partnerships with the 1.2 billion young people aged 15 to 24 – some 16 percent of the global population – as meaningful stakeholders in our shared environmental future. By 2030—the target date for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the number of youth is projected to have grown by 7 per cent, to 1.3 billion.
A central principle of the UN’s 2030 Agenda is the assurance that “no one will be left behind,” especially not young people. Long term sustainability, the UN now says, must include solutions to the complex challenges global youth face daily: unemployment, political marginalization, affordable housing, and health- and education access. All of those things are subject to environmental impact.
Of course, young people are showing up and turning up the pressure as never before to respond to the climate emergency. They are practicing a spectrum of pro-environmental behaviors, such as wasting less, traveling more sustainably, and purchasing environmentally-friendly goods.
- MORE INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENTS. Nations have disputed the best ways to combat climate change for more than three decades. Such debates have led to several key accords, including the Montreal Protocol, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement. But even as those landmark accords were signed, signatories knew they would not be enough.
Mitigation, adaptation, finance, and collaboration were the headline themes of the two-week-long UN Climate Conference (COP27) in November 2022. TheSharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan, published after difficult negotiations overran the summit, both reaffirms the participating nations’ commitment to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial levels—and warns that “a clear emissions gap between current national climate plans and what’s needed” to meet this target remains.
It’s telling that one of the landmark decisions to come out of COP27 was to establish and operationalize a loss-and-damage fund, a financial mechanism that would mainly compensate developing countries in the trenches of the climate emergency. “Adapting to the climate crisis — which could require everything from building sea walls to creating drought-resistant crops — could cost developing countries anywhere from $160-$340 billion annually by 2030. That number could swell to as much as US$565 billion by 2050 if climate change accelerates, found UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP’s) 2022 Adaptation Gap Report.”
- MORE PROTECTED AREAS THROUGH MORE CROSS-SECTOR COLLABORATION. Decision-makers continue to view “climate change policy failures” as one of the gravest future threats. One chief way they’re working to alleviate that failure is through protecting vulnerable lands and their resources. I’ll give you just one example that’s close to my heart, and one I’ve seen up close on a recent visit:
Responding to the urgent needs of nature and people, the indigenous federations of the Amazon Sacred Headwater Initiative (ASHI), who together represent more than 600,000 people, have been vigorously demanding emergency support to stop the governments of Ecuador and Peru from expanding new fossil fuel, mining, and industrial-scale development in the critical headwaters regions of the Amazon River.
Since last Earth Day, the world has heard and joined the cause. This new globally unprecedented alliance, led by 30 indigenous nations, is poised to permanently protect from industrial degradation 86 million acres of dense jungles and intricate waterways spanning the Ecuador-Peru border.
No environmental rescue and restoration project has ever been attempted at this scale. ASHI aims to save and preserve an area nearly the size of Montana. It’s the most biodiverse place on Earth. Tropical rainforests cover less than 3 percent of the planet, yet are home to more than half of all terrestrial animal species. It’s all under imminent threat by an “ongoing industrial onslaught.”
The ASHI plan – to forge a model for the planet wherein local indigenous peoples remain stewards of their own land – has been under development for more than five years. Initiated by a first-time, grassroots alliance among the region’s indigenous nations – some formerly at war – the consortium soon after invited NGOs, the philanthropic community, social entrepreneurs, and governments to join the effort.
Perhaps most importantly, it seems that we mostly agree on the science and are finally waking up to the idea that in any climate action we take we must make equity and justice a priority. In the same way the UN recommends we become more inclusive of youth, we must, too, regard climate justice and social justice as inextricably enmeshed. For one example, food insecurity is directly tied to the climate crisis.
Or, consider the pragmatism of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) conclusion in its latest report, that “outcomes are enhanced by increased support to regions and people with the highest vulnerability to climatic hazards. Integrating climate adaptation into social protection programs improves resilience.”
So, even though most of us now understand the urgency of the climate crisis, it’s easy to become complacent, especially if we fall into the pessimism that often shouts, “THE SKY IS FALLING!” What can I, alone, do? The answer is YOU ARE NOT ALONE. If WE act together, each on our own and through the kinds of cooperation we see above, we can and will turn this tide.
How do we keep up this good work? We keep working. Keep strengthening our collaborations. Act with urgency—but also optimism.
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