Hope in the Midst of Despair – A Collection of Environmental Success Stories

This is a time of hope, it is also a time of great despair. The United States is ruled by a dangerous man who has declared war on nature. He is an unapologetic racist who is fanning the flames of a deadly pandemic. His actions have directly contributed to the 3,097,538 cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and the 133,991 Americans who have died from the disease.  Worse still, his multiple failings are expected to contribute to the deaths of tens of thousands of additional souls in the coming months.

However, this dark cloud has a silver lining.  We have reason to hope that his rapidly eroding support will finally bring an end to the most environmentally destructive presidency in American history. The outcome of the midterm elections suggest that this hope is not in vain.  

It is easy to be overwhelmed by despair at this administration’s destruction, but a look back at what we have accomplished gives us reason to hope that we can make rapid progress when we have responsible leadership. In the years before this president we saw a wide range of wildlife success stories and significant progress on a number of environmental fronts including asbestos, acid rain, DDT, open-air nuclear tests, endangered species, toxic waste, waste recycling, leaded gasoline, ozone, pollution, mercury emissions and SLCPs

A look at what was achieved seven years ago is a prime example of what we can do.  The accomplishments we saw in 2013 stand out in stark contrast to the events of recent years, and it shows us how much we can accomplish in just one year.  This was the year that President Barack Obama launched the most ambitious government wide climate action plan in the history of the nation. The U.S. joined the U.K. and the World Bank to limit financing of coal power plants and the EPA issued new standards to reduce emissions from U.S. power plants.

In 2013 the President designated 5 new national monuments. The federal government protected wilderness areas including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and they supported the land and animal stewardship of native people. The Department of the Interior issued a final management plan to protect 11 million acres of “Special Areas” from oil and gas drilling including sensitive areas in Alaska. The Bureau of Land Management announced a strategic plan to clean up more than 130 abandoned oil and gas well sites. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services in Denver destroyed six tons of illegal elephant ivory tusks and the President took steps to address wildlife crime around the world including poaching and trafficking.Yosemite National Park was removed from a logging bill and the Washington state legislature passed a bill that protected 50,000 acres of land in the Teanaway River Valley.

In 2013 we saw the positive results after a 15 year global efforts to reign in chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and we saw an agreement to end the use of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). We also saw the business community step up. The number of companies involved in the WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network hit 200 worldwide and Coca-Cola renewed an agreement to conserve the world’s freshwater resources and measurably improve their environmental performance. Responsible forest management and trade practices were adopted by International Paper and Royal Dutch Shell shelved a plan to drill for oil and gas in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

In 2013 we also saw major strides in renewable energy across the country. The American Electric Power company announced it would add enough wind energy to power 200,000 homes in Oklahoma while providing substantial savings to customers. In Colorado, Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law legislation that doubled the state’s renewable energy standard. Minnesota passed legislation to massively increase the state’s solar electricity production and Nebraska passed progressive wind energy legislation. Nevada passed legislation to end the state’s reliance on coal and expand local clean energy development. California’s solar industry reached a major milestone with more than 150,000 homes and businesses with rooftop solar installations. The Long Island Power Authority announced that it was investing in almost 300 MW of renewable energy. New York City announced that it was turning a landfill into a 10 MW solar project in Staten Island. Maryland moved forward with clean energy legislation and Prince George’s County Council voted to require renewable energy in all new and renovated governmental facilities. Environmental groups even partnered with Georgia’s Tea Party to create the Green Tea Coalition which called for the retirement of coal plants and the addition of solar power.

Even under the current administration we have seen some hopeful signs. We saw more than 100 environmental success stories in 2019 and in 2018 we saw a wave of conservation successes..  In 2020 an increasing number of Americans support climate action and there is growing support for a green new deal.

The courts have contained the Trump administration’s fossil fuel agenda including shutting down two major pipelines (the Dakota Access and the Keystone XL).  We are seeing massive fossil fuel divestment as the entire industry gives every indication of being in decline.  Even though we have seen massive job losses across the energy sector, clean energy appear to be well positioned to eclipse fossil fuels in the coming years. It looks as though the pandemic will help renewable energy, and expedite the demise of fossil fuels.. The virus is also providing an impetus to build resilience into our supply chains.

Despite the terrible toll taken by the coronavirus, there is an upside to this deadly plague. This virus has driven down emissions and buoyed hope for climate action. It has changed the way we work and sparked a resurgence of interest in science.

We are in the midst of transformative change. The shift has been underway for some time now but it began in earnest in 2019.  The strong support for BLM protests suggest that Americans are more serious than ever about arresting systemic racism and environmental injustice

We are faced with failed federal leadership, an out of control pandemic, environmental degradation and a climate emergency.   However, upheavals like the one we are seeing are almost always harbingers of profound change.  From darkness emerges light. Just as the economic collapse may augur a better world we may find that the darkness of the Trump administration may give birth to a paradigm change that will augur a spiritual and cultural transformation.

We are faced with a stark choice, we can either avail ourselves of this opportunity to change or we can return to the road to ruin.  The future looks bleak and this is why we need the courage to hope that we can learn to live in harmony with nature. We have the example of Greta Thunberg whose warnings have galvanized a global movement. As Greta said, hope comes from action. Trump’s pessimal presidency may prove to be a catalyst for unprecedented action and it starts with voting for change.